Meta - Can we stop arguing by analogy?

Submitted by Captain Obvious on May 27th, 2010 at 12:26 AM

This has pretty much been bugging me since the beginning of time, but the recent sanctions discussions really drive it home--arguing by analogy is a terrible, terrible way to get a point across.  It is what people do when they (i) do not have a strong argument on the substance of the claim (ii) do not know how to articulate their point, and/or (iii) they have exhausted all standard arguments and just want to be argumentative.

The other main problem is that the vast majority of situations just aren't comparable enough to make any sort of analogy worthwhile.  Even if they are, many people aren't able to make the infinite clarifications/caveats/distinctions necessary to satisfy those that will challenge the analogy.  Therein lies the issue: 95% of arguments on this board (and in actual conversations, etc.) involving analogies devolve into a sub-thread debating the merits of the analogy itself rather than the substance of the discussion.

What was the point of this?  I don't know.  Raise awareness about a pretty minor issue?  Is it still the offseason?  Yeah.



May 27th, 2010 at 12:37 AM ^

Is basically asking for analogies. I'm not very good at analogies so I'll avoid it. I don't think you are getting anywhere with this thread, but I guess kudos to you for voicing your opinion. You probably made the "issue" worse with this thread and mgobloggers will crack a joke by making analogies all over the place. 


May 27th, 2010 at 7:28 AM ^

I believe you meant to say "fewer" awful tangents.  Using improper grammer or speling when making a valid argument is like using an analogy to prove a point.  Many who disagree with you will ignore your message, point out your error, and question your intelligence.  Once your intelligence has been questioned, your original argument is thereupon discredited.

It's kind of like wearing a t-shirt saying "The Supreme Court Fellates Donkeys" while arguing a brilliant case in front of the Supreme Court.  They will disregard some of your message, due to their obvious concern over your judgement (get it? - judgement!) and any arguments coming out of the same head that decided to wear that shirt will be seen as tainted.


May 27th, 2010 at 12:56 AM ^

Analogies provide a more nuanced perspective on the issues.  If you think of comments like tuna fish sandwiches, analogies are like the chopped celery.  Sure they're not necessary, but they make it more interesting to chew on.  


May 27th, 2010 at 8:05 AM ^

means that the user doesn't have a valid argument, or that the use of said analogy vitiates an otherwise strong argument. Sometimes, a well-crafted and apppropriate analogy is a perfect way to help others understand complex or overly dry points of argumentation. I can accept that using them in front of the Supreme Court is perhaps not the best method of making a legal case, but in the vast majority of situations in life not pertaining to arcane minutiae of the law, the use of them is reasonable. It all depends on whether the analogy is apt or not.

Can you list some of the bad analogies you've seen here on MGoBlog?

Captain Obvious

May 27th, 2010 at 9:03 AM ^

is bringing up the law - I'm not a litigator and this applies to any argument made anywhere.  I'm not pointing to one or two examples, either.  If you want examples of particularly bad analogies just open up Magnus' posting history and start reading.

Even an apt analogy distracts from whatever the original point was.  People start attacking the analogy and picking it apart, offering counter-examples, etc.  Fifty posts later you have forgotten what the hell the point was.  It you are debating the validity of an analogy rather than the validity of the proposition, you just watered down the argument.  After awhile, the argument becomes meaningless.


May 27th, 2010 at 9:31 AM ^

People argue in front of the Supreme Court in analogies all the time.  In fact, many of the questions asked by the Justices are either hypotheticals or analogies.  It’s a fantastic way to tease out nuances, rather than trying to evaluate things in a vacuum.  I'm a law student, and professors (and students) use them all the time.  Comparing cases is an essential part of the American legal system, and it is an extremely useful tool in real life

Now, if you're saying we should ban BAD analogies, I'd agree. 


May 27th, 2010 at 8:42 AM ^

In the 18th century, the Chinese Qing Dynasty sought to ban the Opium Trade from the west, which was a primary trade product, especially of the British Empire. Since Opium was of major importance with the people, it resulted in massive strife and wars both internal and external. The Qing Dynasty ultimately failed to control the Opium trade and lost the war, thus learning that you don't mess with what people love.


May 27th, 2010 at 10:43 AM ^

I'll have to type it out:


Tyler Durden: Oh, no, I get it.  It's very clever.
Cornelius:  Well, thanks.

Tyler:  How's that working out for you?  Being clever?

Cornelius:  Uh, great, I guess.

Tyler:  Keep it up, then.


May 27th, 2010 at 9:01 AM ^

The main issue here, at least in my mind with regard to the recent events, is that NCAA compliance is such a murky world that few, if any, people understand that we need analogies to try and bring our point across. 

The fact that we so direly need analogies to explain what's going on here I think is the most telling part about the whole investigation/report.  It's pretty easy to understand concepts like "academic fraud" or "improper benefits", but it's not so easy to understand notions like "Countable Athletic Related Activities", "mandatory/voluntary/voluntary but 'mandatory'", and the like.  The rise in analogies is likely due to the fact that many MGoBloggers have desperately been trying to explain the situation to friends and family who have not devoted the time or interest to this and have, themselves, gone to analogies because look how confused the people who have been following this closely are, and now imagine trying to explain it to the uninitiated.

If you want to make the case that the relative aptness of analogies is subject to interpretation, you will get no argument from me, but this is a forum, so you will get argument from somewhere.

Captain Obvious

May 27th, 2010 at 9:11 AM ^

"dumbed down" without the use of analogies?  We went over on allowable practice time by a small amount because we misinterpreted some NCAA regs.  We had a coach present in certain activities that he was not allowed to be at.  Ok.  Now you can talk about whether you think this is particularly bad or whatever.

Besides, everyone is focusing on the "best" uses of analogies here.  They are commonly used for really simple concepts too: "Starting Denard this year would be like [insert bad analogy here, bonus points if it's also a cliche]."


May 27th, 2010 at 9:50 AM ^

What the hell does Meta actually mean, anyway?  I see it all the time and I don't know what it means, and it annoys the hell out of me.