The Virtue of Civility: Bringing depth, respectfulness and integrity back to our national discourse

Melvin McLeod led this panel discussion on civility for Shambhala Sun (January 2005). The participants were:

Patricia Schroeder: Member of the US House of Representatives from 1972 to 1996. She is now President and CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

Mark Kingwell: Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and author of eight books on political and cultural theory, including A Civil Tongue (1995), The World We Want (2000), and Practical Judgments (2003).

Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.: Founder and director of educational services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication. He is the author of Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life and Life-Enriching Education.

Jeffrey Dvorkin: Former vice-president of news for National Public Radio, now NPR’s listeners’ ombudsman. He is a former managing editor of radio news of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Melvin McLeod, Shambhala Sun:
How would you assess the state of public discourse in the United States today?…

Mark Kingwell:
…The problem is that there are no standards for what is proper or appropriate commentary. I’m sure I’m not alone in this group in having received astonishingly rude and obscene letters directed at me personally for things that I have said or published. The writers feel entirely unfettered by rules of politeness or civility. Now that doesn’t strike me as good public discourse.

Patricia Schroeder:
Having participated in the political arena for a very long time, I find the meanness is way over the top. One of things we track is the number of women going into politics, and in the last four years the number has been going down instead of up. When you ask women who are more than qualified why they won’t get into politics, they look at you as if to say, “What, do you think I’m nuts?”

…I think a lot of it came out of talk radio, where people felt entitled to use the meanest possible language, and it got to be funny, you know. But I don’t think it’s funny anymore. It’s curbing people from saying what they really think, because they don’t want all that unleashed against them.

Maybe another reason for the meanness is all these little niches and pockets of discussion where people go. One of the problems with the Internet is that people are only communicating with people who agree with them. Then if they wander out and find someone who disagrees, they feel entitled to go crazy…

It is very important to distinguish between volume of participation and depth. What is missing in a lot of the cases, no matter how active people are, is the commitment to a larger project—the virtue of civility.

The virtue of civility comes to us, in the Western tradition, from Aristotle and Cicero through the early modern thinkers. So although we may disagree, even vociferously disagree, we are together committed in this discursive project, and that constrains what we say. We are not going to say just anything at all; we are going to try to work out our disagreements in a democratic fashion that serves the ends of justice for everybody. That’s a commitment I don’t think we see on the part of average citizens…

I think the depth of the discussion has been impeded by the meanness. When I came to Congress and we were discussing things like the Nixon impeachment and the Vietnam War, people had strong passions but the debate would be about the issues. Today, if you bring up an issue that someone thinks is controversial, they don’t come back at you with facts; they come back by attacking you personally. The whole debate shifts from the factual issue to defending your personal integrity. That makes for a very shallow debate…

Wouldn’t it be awful if that pathological corporate invasion of a genuine desire, namely talk radio, became what most people saw as exemplary political discourse. That’s the sort of state we are in right now and that’s really evil, frankly…

Melvin McLeod:
Are we really talking about a problem of discourse per se? Doesn’t the problem go deeper, to the belief that victory is all that really matters politically, and that the integrity of institutions and the rules of civilized discourse can be ignored in the search for tactical advantage? It seems to be a lack of concern for the common good.

I would agree with that. We’ve already mentioned the preponderance of ad hominem argument. Ad hominem is one of the most obvious fallacies in the array of rhetorical strategies, yet it is the most toxic, because it takes issue with the very idea that your opponent has something to contribute. I think if one goes into any debate with that attitude, that is a disservice to the system…

Dvorkin: I think one of the positive developments is that more and more American newspapers are adopting the ombudsman role, and a lot of media organizations also have proclaimed ethics guidelines. I think there is an increasing trend among media organizations to think about what our listeners, viewers and readers need as citizens first, and consumers of information second. And when a news organization thinks of the needs of its viewers and readers and listeners as citizens, they make different kinds of editorial choices than if they are simply delivering eyeballs to advertisers.

I think there is a necessity for public accountability in the media. The media must turn to their listeners, readers and viewers and ask, What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What do you want? How can we use our role as broadcasters and communicators in an educated way? And in turn the media has to raise the level of media literacy and public discourse. That’s the balancing act: public accountability in the media and media literacy in the public, so that people know when they are being manipulated and when they are being fooled.

Melvin McLeod:
A great change in the public discourse took place in the sixties, when previous boundaries of courtesy and decorum were thrown off in what was seen as a crusade against hypocrisy, elitism and lack of public accountability. And although that was seen as a left-wing movement at the time, it’s interesting that some of today’s most vituperative voices on the right are also products of that 1960’s environment. My question is, did that search for more open and honest discourse in fact contribute to the unrestrained political speech we have today?

This is something that I’ve discussed in my own work, and I think it’s very important to be clear on this point. There is often a confusion between civility, which is the virtue of citizens engaged in dialogue, and politeness, which is the social carapace of manners and particular ways of talking which may well be wedded to power structures. Genuine civility is about openness and the commitment to risk in order to preserve or create something bigger…

Melvin McLeod:
Having assessed the current state of discourse and some of the reasons we got here, how do we improve it?

The kind of communication that I think is most powerful in political discourse is dialogue, not just people expressing an opinion and hearing others. It’s in dialogue where I think the real changes and real learning take place. What I would like to see is more room created in the total structure for sincere dialogue, where people have the power, by getting together with each other, to bring about the kind of changes they would like to see. As I see it, our nation is not a democracy. It’s an oligarchy, controlled by a few people. The last thing they want is dialogue. They want people to be able to express opinions, but there’s not really anywhere those opinions go, which would happen if we had true dialogue…

You know, the centerpiece of all liberal thinking in the past four hundred years has been that we can disagree on one level as long as we agree on another level. That other level is supposed to be a discursive space that we are willing to share, or at a minimum some kind of legal and electoral constraints that we all sign on for. I think the problem is that we don’t have any clear sense of what that second level is, or even whether there is one…

You know, genuine dialogue means putting your own beliefs at risk of change.

See the complete discussion.

See also, New York Times: “Whatever Happened to Online Etiquette?”

51 thoughts on “The Virtue of Civility: Bringing depth, respectfulness and integrity back to our national discourse

  1. Yes, the people at MoPorn named an award after me. And yes, they subsequently awarded the award to me. And yes, I appreciate their show of appreciation. (Thanks again, guys.)

    And yes, some person went on MoPorn and anonymously engaged in an ad hominem attack, called you and your wife names, and coarsely speculated that you guys don’t have or enjoy sex. And that was mean.

    Does the fact that I “recieved” an “award” from the proprieters of a website where, at a different time and in a different thread, someone anonymously insulted you imply that *I* have been mean to you? I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out weaknesses in your arguments, but I’ve never called you names or engaged in personal attacks on you, your character, or your sex lives. I don’t think I’ve ever been mean to you.

    Of course, you think that Andrew Shelffo was mean to you, which is absurd. When I asked for examples, you just posted links to his every blog post concerning porn, which, as far as I could tell, contained no instances of discourtesy. A further inquiry for more specific examples went unanswered. Your touchiness and inability to accept criticism is well-known among your readers. Perhaps you’re just very thin-skinned.

    You demand that your critics be very thick-skinned, however. The snottiness of the tone with which you replied to Aaron Archambeault astonished and amazed me. And one of your replies to my comments about your attack on Robin Maltz contained such a mean-spirited attack on her character, complete with name-calling, that even you thought better of leaving it up for long.

    I know you’re offended by MoPorn’s “unspoilt jewel” crack, but come on. It’s not discourteous to call an ugly neighborhood ugly. And that section of King St. is ugly.

    So, to answer your question, to me civility means all the things you cite and more. Yes, it means not engaging in name-calling and ad hominem attacks. It also means graciousness in the face of honest criticism. It means employing a respectful tone in response to honest criticism. It means issuing apologies when courtesy suggests one would be appropriate, even if it is not required or demanded by courtesy.

    And as long as we’re asking each other what key concepts mean to one another, and without seeming rude or aggressive, I’d like to politely renew my request for you to explain how you use the word ‘logical.’ You claim to be “logical,” but I’ve seen you employ numerous well-known fallacious and invalid forms of argument, and continue to employ them after their fallaciousness is pointed out. Since I explained what ‘civility’ means to me, could you please explain what ‘logical’ means to you?

  2. You are known by the company you keep, Doug.

    It’s fine to acknowledge that King Street could be better, but MoPorn’s stance appears to be that it’s silly to care or try to improve it.

    Logical to me means that if someone watches porn regularly and stimulates themselves with it, there’s a significant chance it will affect their attitudes and interactions with the real world. That’s what most researchers find, and that’s what the phenomenon of secondary effects suggests.

    Logical to me means doing what is likely to have good results. Which is a better life plan, wasting your time and energy with porn, or pursuing a quality relationship with a real human being?

  3. NPNAdmin,

    We all need you to understand this, so imagine this next sentence in italics: It’s possible to disagree with the position and the tactics of NPN and not be a fan of porn. One of your more egregious default arguments is to smear the person who disagrees with you with the label of “pro-porn”, ending your argument with something to the effect of “well, it’s all well and good to love porn as much as you obviously do, but we here at NPN hope for a better tomorrow”. You tried to do it to Doug not two days ago when you suggested he “try an experiment”, and I don’t think I’ve ever read Doug say or even suggest a single good thing about porn.

    It’s an extremely dishonest tactic, and if you want to discuss civility, you can perhaps see how that (unfounded) accusation rubs your readers the wrong way. Maybe if you stopped using that particular argument, your relationship with your readers — your readers, who as far as I can tell, consist solely of mopo, paco, Peter and Doug — would improve.


  4. I wanted to know what you think the word ‘logical’ means, not some examples of things you think are logical. I already knew you thought these things were logical. I wanted to know what you thought you were saying about them when you said they were logical.

    Here’s what I think it means: Logic, as a field of study, is the study of arguments and patterns of inference. The most important aim of logic is to identify and explain the key difference between good arguments and bad ones. The key difference is that a good argument is unlikely to allow us to pass from true premises to a false conclusion. The very best sort of argument, formally speaking, are deductively valid. If an argument is deductively valid, then it is impossible for its premises to all be true while its conclusion is false.

    Another imortant aim of logic is to identify the principles and axioms that, if followed correctly, guarantee that the argument will not be likely to lead from true premises to a false conclusion. Some of these axioms include the Modus Ponens rule and the Modus Tollens rule.

    Another important aim of logic is to identify patterns of inference that appear to be valid but are not–fallacies. This field of inquiry is particularly important because of the ease and ubiquity of this sort of mistake. Fallacious patterns of inference I’ve seen you make on this blog include: the post hoc ergo propter hoc; the circular argument; inferring causation from correlation; inferring causation from anecdotes; the proof by verbosity; and the slippery slope. And that’s just off the top of my head.

    So, I guess if I were to call something “logical,” I’d probably mean that a) it’s an argument, not just a sentence or a stand-alone claim, b) it conforms to the principles and axioms that serve to guarantee that the argument won’t allow us to infer a false conclusion from true premises, and c) it aviods fallacious patterns of inference.

    The frequency with which you make errors of logic and employ fallacious patterns of inference makes me suspect that you don’t know very much about logic. You seem to use the term simply to indicate that the sentence you apply it to sounds good or correct to you. For example, you say above that the sentence ‘if someone watches porn regularly…there’s a significant chance it will affect his attitudes and interactions with the real world’ is logical.

    Your use of the term ‘logical’ in connection with the sentence is merely designed to trick your reader into sharing an unjustified assumption. The thesis that we are profoundly affected by the media we consume is controversial and is under investigation. It is not settled. Your saying it’s “logical” just means you think it’s probably correct. It does not mean that it’s well-supported by the available evidence or arrived at by a deductively valid argument with all true premises.

  5. I was careful to make no assumption about Doug’s media diet. I wrote, “If you or your friends consume porn, watch over the next few years for
    how it affects your emotional life, your perception of women, your
    relationships, and your overall happiness. Compare that to your peers
    who don’t consume porn.” Please note the “if”.

    Since porn reaches more than two-fifths of American online users, it seems reasonable to assume that Doug probably knows some people who consume porn. Since Doug has trouble giving credence to our scientific data or individual narratives, perhaps his own personal observations might convince him that porn can have an effect on viewers.

    As for our readership, we served 1,290 article views yesterday.


    BTW, if we haven’t seen a greater variety of people participate in the online discussions, might the nasty ad hominem attacks at places like Moporn be a factor in discouraging participation?

  6. Your abstract speculations and Latin terms are doing little to help us understand porn and its impacts, or what a person should do to lead a good life. Professor Gail Dines puts it succinctly, “In a world cleansed of pain and passion, the realities of [porn victim’s] lives are lost in the maze of postmodern terminology and
    intellectual games.”

    At bottom, your position seems to be that we don’t know if people are affected by what they read and see. This stance is absurd, and contradicted by thousands of years of history.

  7. Humans, being complex and having free will, will always be somewhat unpredictable. That’s why we need the tools and language of history and sociology to describe human behavior, and not just those of logic and hard science.

  8. I thought you guys went to Harvard and Columbia and stuff. You shouldn’t have any trouble understanding the latin names of the various fallacies and inference forms I mentioned. If all else fails, look them up on Google or in Wikipedia. I think this kind of goes to show that when you say something is “logical,” you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    My position is that we don’t know the degree or manner in which we are affected by what they read and see. The human mind is too complex and hard to study.

    Whenever I ask you for better data, you always point out that the human mind is complex and hard to study. You also mention that ethics boards have a hard time green-lighting studies. So the studies aren’t there, either. It’s weird that you keep pointing out how complex the mind is, how hard it is to study, and how there haven’t been very many studies, and then you say that we have an adequate understanding of how we are affected by what we read and see. Kind of a non sequitur.

  9. While the human mind is complex and hard to study, that doesn’t mean there’s no data available, that more can’t be obtained, that certain patterns can’t be observed, or that we should simply give up investigating the influence of porn on people. In a society such as ours, with unacceptable levels of divorce, rape and child molestation, the answers affect large numbers of people and have an urgent cast. You might be satisfied to throw up your hands and let the porn merchants do whatever they want no questions asked. We are not.

    It’s false to say there are no studies. There are actually quite a few and we have presented many of them. It’s true that ethics boards are unlikely to approve studies of porn on children. We will not halt the debate for this reason. We’ll just have to use other types of evidence, such as historical and sociological studies and testimony from porn viewers and others affected by porn. And let’s put in a word for using your common sense and listening to your emotions.

    If “we don’t know the degree or manner in which we are affected by what they read and see”, why do you trouble to keep contributing to this debate? What does it matter what you say or we say?

  10. I don’t deny a link. I deny that I know very much about it. How does the link work? What is the magnitude of the effect? What is its nature? How much media violence does it take to make a person violent, on average? What other factors are relvant?

    Tell me Adam, do you deny that this link, if there is one, is poorly understood and notoriously difficult to study? Given the complexity of the human mind and the incredible number of stimuli it is subjected to as it develops, do you think you know precisely how it works, and precisely how it is affected by the media? If you do, what’s wrong with you?

  11. We do ok — a couple hundred hits a day, depending. But try to keep in mind our advertising budget was $5.00, which we spent in its entirety in fiscal year 2006; you’ve spent at least $17,000, and I’m going to guess probably more like $20,000 at this point. So there’s that.

  12. Again, Doug, the point is that we are affected by what we read and watch. Maybe you can’t stick a neat number on it, but that doesn’t excuse people to mindlessly view violence and pornography with no care for the consequences. Really, is it too much to ask people to monitor and care about their inner life? To give them some clues about how media might affect them? Your blind scientism is blocking knowledge in this area, not advancing it.

  13. If you’re suggesting that somehow Doug’s ideas are unworthy because he’s been given an award from another website, what are we to think about NoPorn when content you’ve written appears on a pornography website?

  14. You’re holding it against us that news about our activities is being reported on by the adult news media? It’s not like they are signaling approval.

    By all means, we invite people to visit Moporn and gauge the merits of being praised by them.

  15. Suppose some person or agency I regard as vile endorsed your arguments. Would that have anything to do with their quality as arguments? Should I regard that endorsement as a sign, sufficient in itself, that you are to be ignored?

    Andrew’s point is that it is not a sign. Your fans, whoever they may be, have no direct bearing on the quality of your arguments. And my fans, whatever you may think of them, have no direct bearing on the quality of mine.

    This line of discussion is another of your cheap personal attacks. Your argument is that my views are wrong because they are endorsed by MoPorn and you don’t like the people who run that website. It’s an ad hominem, pure and simple. You’re attacking me as a person, for being allied with and praised by MoPorn, rather than pointing out actual flaws in what I’ve actually said.

    For shame.

  16. Doug, if I were praised by a website like Moporn, I would indeed take another look at the quality of my arguments. Not only were you praised by them, but you accepted their praise and thanked them for it. It would be reasonable to infer you approve of, or at least don’t object to, their tactics, which include coarse speculation about people’s private lives, despair about neighborhoods and namecalling.

    You are always free to reject praise or assistance from anyone. Politicians sometimes do this, as in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

  17. Lest people get the wrong idea, and just in case you’ve forgotten, the adult website in question didn’t “report” on NoPorn’s actions, but reprinted in full a NoPorn press release on a page filled with ads for pornography. If you’re going to accuse people of conflating things, please keep in mind that reporting and re-publishing are two distinct things.

  18. Andrew’s point, if I understand him, is that it doesn’t make sense to evaluate a person’s arguments based on the other websites in which the person’s arguments appear, or based on the other people who find the arguments compelling. I don’t think he was suggesting that the adult news media approves of your activities; he was pointing out that adult news websites mention your arguments. He’s pointing out that this fact is not enough to discredit them.

    So, I guess I’d be hesitant to apply the word ‘logical,’ or any of its cognates or antonyms, to his comments. Andrew’s not making a big argument, he’s drawing a comparison between something you’re doing to me, and something similar someone could do to you, that would be dumb. He’s sort of saying that both things are dumb.

    If you were to put a gun to my head, I’d say it was logical. It’s an argument from analogy. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. A lot depends on the analogy. But I’d also point out that I think you’ve misunderstood his analogy.

    This “logical” stuff is your word, not mine. I mentioned it because I thought it was interesting that someone who routinely infers facts about causation from anecdotes and correlations in a way that’s well-known to be unreliable, who makes frequent use of other well-known fallacies, and who has called modus tollens a “maze of logic,” would also brag about how logical he was.

    Andrew’s merely pointing out that arguments between blogger and commentator should stand or fall on their own merits. Whether MoPorn likes me or not is beside the point. Whether I appreciate their gesture is also beside the point.

    I thought that the issue here, in this thread, was civility. You’ve pointed out, correctly, that some people have said some not-very-nice things about you on MoPorn. I’ve just been trying to point out that you give almost as well as you get, even if you can’t see it. You’ve said some pretty not-nice things to your critics. You’ve resorted to ad hominems and to name-calling. And your tone, when you deal with us, could hardly be more condescending. So maybe you should come off your high horse.

  19. I think it’s important to distinguish between people like Jack Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to involvement in fraud and corruption at the highest levels of the federal government, and the people at MoPorn, who have made fun of a rough part of King St, and who once called you a jerk.

    It’s also important to distinguish between the operators of the website and the anonymous user of the website who speculated in a course manner about your private lives. Because the comment was posted anonymously, you have no evidence that Jeff or Jennifer said those things. More likely, it was just some guy who was PO’ed at you and who blew off some steam by writing something he knew would hurt your feelings. It worked; he obviously has hurt your feelings. (You might consider getting over it already. The stuff you’re talking about happened before Halloween.)

    So, it’s important to realize that accepting praise from MoPorn is not at all like accepting money from Jack Abramoff. And it’s important to realize that accepting their praise is not also to accept praise from the person who anonymously said those mean things about you.

    You’ve pointed out several times that agreeing with one thing someone says does not entail that you agree with everything they say. For example, you have claimed that you don’t agree with everything Andrea Dworkin and Dan Quayle say, although you’ve publicly agreed with one thing each has said. So I didn’t think I had to explain to you that agreeing with some things MoPorn says doesn’t entail that I agree with everything they say, or with everything that appears on their website, or with all the tactics that are employed there.

    But since they’re not a political organization, and neither am I, and since you don’t agree with anything I say anyway (no matter how obviously right I am), I don’t see much point in distancing myself from them. Though I’ve never met them, I like them; I think they’re funny. But you should assume that my views are represented by what I actually say, not by what some anonymous guy says on some website I have no control over.

  20. It doesn’t matter who is posting to the Moporn site. Jeff Hobbs and Jennifer Ruggieri have the power to edit and remove posts. It’s reasonable to hold them accountable for material they help publicize.

    Every time Moporn makes fun of a neighborhood or a person’s private life, they underscore the fundamental weakness of their arguments. By accepting praise from them, your own credibility and judgment comes into question.

  21. It’s true that Jeff and Jennifer left the offensive post up when they could have taken it down. But since they’ve dedicated their website to free speech, it would be weird, and inconsistent with their mission, for them to do that.

    It would help your case a lot more if you could point to actual flaws in my actual arguments and call my judgment and credibility into question that way. These ad hominem attacks and suggestions of guilt-by-online-association are worthless if you can’t actually point to something wrong with what I’ve been saying.

    Since you haven’t done that, I interpret your recent harping on my having won a Doug Schubert award as evidence that you’re having trouble thinking of more legitimate responses to my comments. I’ve noticed that this is a significant pattern with you. If someone points out a flaw in your reasoning, rather than confronting the arguments head-on, you try to find a way to discredit the person. You ask for credentials, or ask for proof that the guy doesn’t work for Capital Video, or suggest that his other political views mean that you don’t have to listen to him, or you suggest that the disagreement stems from the selfishness of the other person. I’d be happy to provide examples of each behavior if you’d like.

  22. What it says, Andrew, is that I have no control over what people choose to do with our press releases. I am mystified by the point you are trying to make here. Of the 300+ posts on our blog, you seem to be focusing on a bizarre fifth-order side point of no relevance to anything.

  23. “It would help your case a lot more if you could point to actual flaws
    in my actual arguments and call my judgment and credibility into
    question that way.”

    I welcome this invitation. You have been clamoring for scientific evidence for our claims, and we recently provided a large new shipment of it in this post: Porn Use Correlates with Infidelity, Prostitution, Aggression, Rape-Supportive Beliefs. I have been puzzled that you have declined to comment on this post so far.

    Lest you claim that attitudes don’t matter, they sure matter when a jury is sitting on a rape trial, or when a disciplinary board is evaluating a charge of sexual harassment.

  24. I’m not surprised you don’t get it, because throughout this debate you’ve proven to be exceptionally myopic when it comes to your own hypocrisy. Let me try to spell it out for you:

    You’re trying to besmirch Doug because some website he has nothing to do with gave him an “award.” At the same time, when your content is being used to sell pornography, you say it’s no big deal. You can’t have it both ways.

  25. I haven’t commented because I didn’t see the point. Why would you suddenly start listening to me now?

    Since you ask, there are a lot of questions I’d want answered about these “findings”:

    1. How were the meta-analyses carried out? What procedures were followed? Were the studies scrutinized for methodological mistakes, or for bias, or for any other errors? Were any discovered? What were they?

    2. Who funded the meta-analyses and studies? A university? A federal research grant? A think-tank? A private industry? Could any bias have infected the meta-analyses or studies in this way?

    3. How were studies selected for inclusion in meta-analysis? Were they selected at random, or on some other basis? Was an effort made to be as inclusive as possible? What about the regular studies you cite: does aim to provide a complete record, or do they pick and choose? On what basis do they choose? Which studies have been rejected by them?

    4. What were the actual details of the studies and meta-analyses you cite? How were they designed? How were the test subjects selected? (You say in some cases, but not in others.) Was the process random? How were the pornographic images selected? Were the levels of violence and “graphic-ness” well-controlled?

    5. If, as one blurb claims, the content of the pornography affects the subsequent attitudes, how does this work? In *what specific way* does the content affect the attitudes? Was the effect uniform across the studies that were meta-analyzed? The blurb isn’t specific at all, and contains no information about which were the relevant factors. What were they?

    6. Are there other meta-analyses and studies, that aren’t telling us about, whose results are in conflict with these ones?

    7. Although the website contains almost no information about the Family Facts organization, the copyright notice indicates that the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank known for its conservative agenda, holds the copyright. Does this conservative agenda infect FamilyFacts? How can you be sure that their “Findings,” or its reporting of them, are neutral and unbiased?

    8. Where can I get detailed information concerning these studies? There are no actual details concerning any of these studies on

    9. Have you seen any of the articles cited yourselves? Have you read them? Can you verify that the words you’ve copied from are accurate and true? Just pasting sentences, especially if they were written by an organization with a political agenda, is not providing “scientific evidence.”

    There’s a lot you’re not telling us. Although the post you make reference to seems to carry legitimate information, it is, in reality, so incomplete, vague, devoid of detail, and potentially infected with bias that it contains no real information at all.

  26. It’s false to say that Doug has nothing to do with Moporn, since, far from ignoring or disavowing their content, he thanked them for their praise.

    I also dispute that the pickup of our press releases on adult news sites helps, on balance, to sell porn. The press release in question clearly opposes the porn industry and describes a citizen victory against the opposition of one of America’s largest porn retailers. The ratio of porn to anti-porn content on the adult news sites (or the web in general) is obviously heavily skewed in favor of porn. Anything that moves this ratio closer to parity would be a big win in my book.

    Researchers have found that when you expose ‘pornified’ people to anti-porn education, you can have a measurable and beneficial effect on their attitudes. If our information appears on adult news sites, that’s exactly what we hope will happen.

  27. It’s a lot easier to ask questions than to find facts, isn’t it, Doug? It’s an endless and inexhaustible way to avoid engaging with our ever-growing mountain of evidence. I doubt you will win many to your cause in this way.

  28. It’s hard to do research, Adam and Jendi. No one said that it would be easy. I admit it: knowing what questions to ask is much easier. So easy that you should be doing it yourselves.

    You cited this “research.” You claim it’s legit. You claim it shows that porn is bad. I just want to know more. I want to know why I should agree, other than your say so, or that of the Heritage Foundation.

    Do you mean to suggest that your readers aren’t entitled to know how the research you cite was conducted, who’s funding it, where you get your information from, or whether you’ve actually read the research yourselves?

    These are all completely legitimate things for your readers to ask you, especially since you ask them to engage in activism on your behalf. You say, write to the mayor. Write to your city councilperson. Write to the Goldbergs. Write to Michael Pill. Support the zoning ordinance. Write to Send us a check.

    Before I’d be willing to even think about doing any of that stuff, I’d want to know that the research you’re waving in front of me is real, was well-designed and well-executed, and was performed honestly and in good faith. In cases where you’re learning of the research from an outside source, I’d want to know that you’ve verified that the research is what they say it is, and that their agenda, if they have one, hasn’t infected it or their reporting of it.

    There’s nothing wrong with asking questions like that. Your readers have a right to know. Please answer.

  29. You should be asking precisely the same questions Doug is asking of the sources you cite. Instead, you tend to take everything at face value and then belittle anyone who dares looks closer than you have at the sources of your material.

  30. Doug, you should know that your approach–essentially a giant dodge from engaging with the evidence–has been tried and discredited for some decades now. By all means continue to play your logic games. Those of us who actually want to do something for communities and people affected by porn will move forward.

  31. My approach has been discredited? What approach? The approach where you read the article you cite before you cite it? The approach where you ask how the study was performed before you say that it proves something? The approach where you think about who’s telling you about the study, *why* he might be doing it, and whether has a reason to lie? The approach where you consider the political agenda of the organization you use as a source?

    How could that approach have been discredited? When was it discredited? Can you cite some evidence? Evidence that you’ve actually read?

    No, you can’t. Because that’s how responsible people conduct research. To fail to ask questions like that is to fail to be a responsible researcher.

    I think your readers deserve better. I think your readers deserve to know how the studies you cite were conducted, where you’re getting your information, who you’re getting it from, what their biases are, and how you know that the research you’re getting from them isn’t biased.

    You ask us for money, but you won’t tell us whether you’ve actually read the articles you claim prove your point.

    Don’t you think your readers deserve to know that stuff before they write you a check? Please answer “yes” or “no.”

  32. The problem is this: Your readers can’t respond to research without a full accounting of the test design and an analysis of the methods, biases, and conclusions of the researchers. You provide links to partial sources without exhaustive documentation and then, when people ask for more detail, respond that they are refusing to engage with ‘evidence’, which you have not actually provided. Saying that you provided evidence is not the same thing as actually providing evidence.

  33. Your approach, Doug, is to come up with an infinity of excuses to avoid engaging with anti-porn evidence in a straightforward way. Your approach is to paralyze people from thinking and acting so the status quo can continue. Robert Jensen and Diana Russell do an excellent job discrediting this approach.

    Since you rarely put forward any concrete evidence for your own side, you almost never provide anything someone can question. Your case is about as weightless as it could be.

  34. You are woefully confused as to your rhetorical responsibilities in this dialog, NPNAdmin. It is not Doug’s responsibility to provide evidence. He’s not the one with the anti-porn website. You are. You are the one advocating social change; change in attitudes, and more seriously, change in laws. As the instigator of this proposed legal change, it is your responsibility to provide reasons why we should consider this change. If Doug engages with your “evidence” and does not find your evidence compelling, and then provides reasons why — which he always does — then that’s his perfectly valid point of view.

    For the example of the “evidence” you’ve provided via the FamilyFacts website, it’s closer to science than you’ve come before but it’s still extremely dubious. I personally could not find enough evidence on the Heritage Foundation’s funding or political affiliations for my liking.

    Could this text column *be* any thinner?


  35. My approach is just to ask questions. It’s not an unreasonable one; this was also the approach of Socrates. Like you, Socrates’s interlocuters often grew annoyed and frustrated with him, and would sometimes castigate him for asking so many irritating questions. This was a way for them to avoid having to admit that they did not know the answers.

    My approach does not obscure the issues or paralyze people from thinking. Like Socrates, I try to stimulate clarity of thought. When I ask you a bunch of questions about some study or group of studies you’ve cited, I am trying to get you to think more carefully than you currently do.

    The questions I ask are not pointless. They’re serious attempts to get to the bottom of the issue. Asking about how a study was conducted is a fundamentally important way to engage the evidence.

    I find it hard to believe that Jensen and Russell say that you shouldn’t wonder about how the studies you cite are conducted, who funds them, or who’s reporting them and why. I couldn’t find where they say that.

    It’s important to know how the studies you cite are conducted. How a study is conducted determines what it proves, and if it’s conducted improperly then it doesn’t prove anything. (It’s therefore also important to know how it *ought* to be conducted.)

    It’s important to know who funds the studies. Studies about the dangers of smoking that are funded by tobacco companies tend to conflict with studies funded by independent agencies. Look it up.

    It’s important to know the agendas and biases of the organizations whose resources you avail yourselves of. An organization with a stated political agenda might misrepresent the facts, manipulate statistics or present them in a misleading way, fail to report controversies or problems, or give certian facts a prominence they don’t deserve.

    It’s important for your readers to know whether you’re actually reading the articles before you post entries about them on your website saying how the prove thus-and-so. If you haven’t read the articles yourselves, you don’t know for sure what they say or how they were conducted, so you don’t know what they prove.

    It would be incredibly irresponsible to reference studies on your website and then to encourage your readers to engage in activism (and also solicit funds from them) on the basis of those studies without having bothered to read them.

    The fact that you won’t just come out and say you’ve read them makes me very suspicious that you haven’t done it. I know how much you hate a stonewaller, Adam. So stop stonewalling. Did you read those articles before you posted that entry, or not? Please state for the record whether you read them before you cited them.

  36. When carefully considering evidence for credibility and validity, the first step is to read the relevant journal articles, before you write about them. If you’ve been doing this, I can’t imagine why you won’t just say so. If you haven’t, I can’t imagine how you could possibly justify saying that you carefully consider evidence for credibility and validity.

    Either way, this stonewalling–refusing to say whether or not you’ve been reading the articles before you post entries about them here–demnostrates a shocking level of contempt for your readers.

    It’s particularly disturbing because you’re attempting to influence public policy, and soliciting funds, based on this research. It would be extremely irresponsible to do this without first reading the research.

    Why don’t you just come clean?

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