Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mapping Sunday Arguments

John Quiggin  who kindly links to Cold River and Media Dragon has  Three predictions for 2015 and  Did the Romans (Tiberius) try QE

In addition, Paul Krugman on Mongols and the herring trade.

Philosophers on why they went into philosophy

Brendan Greeley has the scoop:
Before she won an Academy Award in 2014 for her role in 12 Years a Slave, Lupita Nyong’o starred in two seasons of the TV drama Shuga. Set first in Nairobi and then in Lagos, Shuga features young, attractive people who sleep with each other. It’s wildly popular and shown on broadcast channels that reach 500 million people, mostly in Africa.
“I would say that it’s an African version of Gossip Girl, but with sexual-health messages weaved through,” says Georgia Arnold, executive director of MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation, which produces the show with the twin goals of promoting safer sex and removing the taboo around HIV. Shuga isn’t a commercial project; it’s sponsored by donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Now in its fourth season, the show recently added a new member to its production team: Eliana La Ferrara, a professor at the University of Bocconi in Italy who specializes in a mix of behavioral and development economics. La Ferrara wasn’t hired for her writing talent. MTV and its donors want to apply a more rigorous approach to make sure Shuga’s message actually creates change where it airs.

The students sit in pairs at a computer terminal, and after reading Cullen’s synopsis of a particular argument, they try to map it. The room fills up with whispered suggestions, lines tested and rejected, double negatives made positive. Most of the boxes into which they enter text are red or green. The green ones contain evidence supporting the above premise; the red ones offer arguments against it. No doubt you could achieve a similar effect using brightly colored sticky notes, but it’s much quicker mapping an argument with the help of a software program… which generates the boxes and assigns them colors. 

Simon Cullen teaches a freshman seminar called “Philosophical Analysis Using Argument Maps” and has done some highly interesting research about their effectiveness. There’s an article about it here. I asked him to say a bit more about his work with argument mapping, and he kindly sent in the following remarks.

High school curricula are dominated by textbooks and fiction, and engaging with serious argumentative prose, like playing the guitar, is not something we’re naturally very good at. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that many students haven’t developed the analytical skills that college-level humanities courses presuppose. I wanted to design a philosophy course that would address this problem. Teaching students to create argument maps—diagrams that lay bare the structure and content of argumentative prose—seemed to me a promising idea because my own litmus test for whether I understand an argument is whether I can map it.
This three-minute video should give Daily Nous readers a good sense of what the resulting class is all about. The students are working on one to two page arguments that we’ve adapted from papers or written ourselves. They read these in class and then analyze them in groups. Here are two examples, adapted from A.J. Ayer’s “Freedom and Necessity” and David Lewis’ “Are We Free To Break The Laws?”. Each seminar consists of around three such exercises. Students prepare for class by attending a lab and attempting a problem set that requires them to read a reasonably short piece *very* closely. At the beginning of the semester, the problem sets are straightforward fill-in-the-blank mapping problems; by the end, we’re throwing difficult papers at them with instructions like, “Map Chisholm’s argument for the claim that we can be responsible for our actions only if we are the uncaused causes of those actions.”
I can’t make our experimental results public before they’re published (we hope this will happen soon), but I can say that they are, to our knowledge, completely unprecedented. Using the most rigorous standardized test of analytical reasoning skills available, we found improvements far larger than those we found with the control group, and we replicated these findings in the second year of the study. While we were interested in transfer to topic-neutral analytical skills, we also wanted to study the effect of the seminar on students’ writing and their comprehension of the philosophical material covered in the seminar. So we ran an experiment in which blind graders scored both seminar essays and control-group essays, drawn from a concurrent Princeton philosophy course, written on the same topics, using the same readings. Here we found even larger effects on six different scales ranging from how well the student understood and presented the philosophical terrain, to how much of an original contribution they made.
So why do our students seem to improve so much? My guess is that while visualization provides real benefits, the main ingredient has little to do with maps or computers. As with any other sophisticated and acquired skill, the main ingredient is lots of practice guided by regular, targeted feedback. In our class, students work closely with each other and their instructors for upwards of four hours each week; then they spend an additional five to six hours working on problem sets, often collaboratively. They work hard, and it shows. But I also don’t want to downplay the role of visualization. Arguments have structure: this claim supports that one, which, in concert with yet another, opposes some further claim . . . . It’s possible to extract this structure from (clearly written) prose, but it’s far from trivial, especially for students whose cognitive resources are already heavily taxed by the argument’s content. It’s a bit like asking them to play tic-tac-toe in their heads: just remembering the positions of all the pieces is so taxing, they’ll spend hardly any effort on their game. Much better just to draw out the board. And so it seems with students and arguments: much better they just make a map!
Cullen says he would be glad to answer any questions that might come up in the comments.
Before we get to that, though, I wanted to draw your attention to an opportunity to join a group led by Michael Hoffman (Georgia Tech), who is applying for a $325,000 NEH Digital Humanities grant “focusing on using web-based argument mapping software to support problem-based learning (PBL) in philosophy argument mapping.” The grant “could pay for course releases or summer salary so that you can find the time that is necessary to participate in workshops,” learn the software, and design a new course (via Nathan Nobis).
An announcement posted at In Socrates Wake explains how to apply.

A bigger and better classical music meta-list (the mega-meta list?).