Wikidebates:Frequently Asked Questions
Why not represent each debate as one or more mind maps ?
Mind maps are a great visual tool, especially for visualising word relations (such as maps of meaning or concept maps) and smaller ensembles. Entire debates, however, often present several dozens of arguments and their respective objections, each the size of a small paragraph. A corresponding map (with all of its links) would be too big for most monitors. Consequently, one might zoom-in and read a part of the map, but loose track of the “bigger picture” (the map), or browse through a map of which the content is too small to read. Because of this, Wikidebates has chosen not to use the mapping format.
This is why Wikidebates chooses to list arguments as “pros” and “cons”, each argument grouped within its corresponding family of arguments. These “families” are then presented within a table of two columns (like a table of contents), so one can visualise the global scope of each debate’s arguments.
Why not represent each debate as one or more argument maps ?
Argument maps’ primary goal is to help understand, both for the author and the reader, the logical relation between debates and arguments. These tree-like representations are predicated upon the idea that a better understanding of the logical relations between different arguments is an essential means for forming an opinion on a given debate.
We choose to doubt of such a proposition. A debate isn’t just a mathematical demonstration or a complex logical reasoning; it is in fact a structure of “pro” and “con” arguments, each of which itself have a series of sub-propositions and objections.
Hence we chose a presentation of two “lists” (“pro” and “con”), themselves made-up of “sub-lists”. In the same way, we do not believe that an argument’s structure should be made explicit in its different premisses: even if it hadn’t been perceived first-hand, this would simply clutter the text. One may argue that such a process might help verify an argument’s logical validity, but this would be assuming that logical or formal fallacies are the norm, when they are in fact the exception.
To summarise, mapping tends to overlook Wikidebates’s strength of focusing on the content of each argument and objection. This doesn’t mean that presentation isn’t important, but showing visual logical connexions is neither useful nor practical when most debates involve many arguments and counterarguments.
Why give equal treatment to proven, valid arguments and pseudoscientific ones?
On Wikidebates, all arguments are presented equally, regardless of the amount of evidence backing them, in accordance with the principle of neutrality. The reason is simple: how could one determine that an argument is absolutely true? Moreover, who decides that a claim or study is worthy? Scientific institutions can be criticised, for their ties to industrial lobbies for instance, in their claims regarding environmental or nuclear issues. “Pseudoscientific” claims are considered science literature by those who may agree with them. In what name could Wikidebates dismiss anything beforehand as “pseudoscience”? It is in the best interest of debating to conclude that a made claim is pseudoscientific, rather than to assume that it is.
Neutrality is simply a starting point: it is about asking every side to present its claims, with no exclusion a priori. This will not prevent poor claims, or pseudoscientific claims from being called-out as such, and therefore a posteriori, valid claims will be de facto separated from poor ones. Wikidebates’s philosophy is that any valid theory or point made has to be demonstrable each time required, and thus cannot be pushed simply as an authority argument from experts or institutions.
Instead of transforming scientific claims into definitive dogmatic truths, the goal is to demonstrate why these claims are better than opposing ones, in a strictly rational and verifiable way.
About the Wikidebates project
One can observe an increase in electoral abstentionism as well as populisms. These can be seen as a flight of citizens from politics. During the process of Brexit, there was a national debate about the utility of referendums. Many European leaders were worried that referendums might fuel populism, in that they tend to appeal to emotional narratives. But the proposed alternative always seems to be to give more power to expert-based bodies, technical or legal. There are thus two dead-ends: either citizenship-based decisions (i.e. referendums) are to be considered too emotionally influenced, and therefore easily manipulated, or the exercise of power is to to be entrusted to “experts”. Inventing new tools like Wikidebates, facilitating Citizen awareness, can help us escape this dichotomy.
Wikidebates, by allowing one to see contradictory claims and arguments on a given problem is the best way for one to acquire an informed opinion. Wikidebates also allows one to deconstruct fallacies or false truisms, not through dogmatic rejection or demonisation, but rather by showing why a claim is poor or bad. Using such a tool can thus allow one to go beyond common mistakes or false rhetoric. With informed individual Citizen deliberation, based on structured and balanced information, it becomes possible to organise valid referendums.
“The European Union is at a crossroads: either it continues its headlong rush towards an increasing political disenfranchisement, in favour of experts capable of navigating through increasingly complex and grey structures; or key decisions are to be made by the people of Europe, with new mechanisms. At the center of this idea is the need to create a “missing link”, a worthy tool for democracy and debate allowing citizens to make truly reasoned and reasonable decisions. Let’s pause to remember that such processes were convincingly exercised during the Deliberatorium experiment in the United States, or even during the so-called “Consensus conferences”. If we fail at creating this new tool, one of enlightening and methodical debate, we may have to give up the very ideal of democracy – the power of the People for the People – and may see an unimaginable regression towards a system of power exercised by the new reigning philosophers: the experts and legal advisors of the European institutions.”
Emmanuel-Juste Duits, “Après le Brexit, inventer une démocratie éclairée”.
Thus we profess our affiliation to the “civic tech” movement, which proposes to use new technologies in order to better democracy.