How big of an impact would cleaner political debates have on society?

post by adamzerner · 2014-02-06T00:24:41.862Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 85 comments

See this Newsroom clip.

Basically, their news network is trying to change the way political debates work by having the moderator force the candidates to answer the questions that are asked of them, not interrupt each other, justify arguments that are based on obvious falsehoods etc.

How big of a positive impact do you guys think that this would have on society?

My initial thoughts are that it would be huge. It would lead to better politicians, which would be a high level of action. The positive effects would trickle down into many aspects of our society.

The question then becomes, "can we make this happen?". I don't see a way right now, but the idea has enough upside to me that I keep it in the back of my mind in case I come up with a plausible way of implementing the change.

Thoughts?

85 comments

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comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2014-02-06T01:29:51.725Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this would both be hard and not have a large impact on things. If it becomes difficult for candidates to do the usual social ape things in political debates then they'll do the usual social ape things somewhere else, e.g. elsewhere on TV or online.

comment by moridinamael · 2014-02-06T16:37:32.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are definitely people who have spent orders of magnitude more time thinking about the topic of debate than myself; but I daresay the majority of folk have thought about it less than me. From my particular vantage point and life-experience, it seems clear that publicly arguing about a topic is a really poor way of raising the level of discourse and understanding on that topic. Imagine if, in science, instead of papers and conferences we had public debates, where scientists were expected to engage in a ceaseless half-thought out back-and-forth superficial point-scrabbling style policy debate. It would be a nightmare - I mean, I hope that's obvious. For some reason this is a preferred mode of political dialogue.

Replies from: Lumifer, adamzerner, Yosarian2, Stefan_Schubert, mwengler
comment by Lumifer · 2014-02-06T16:47:37.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some reason this is a preferred mode of political dialogue.

The reason is pretty obvious. The goal of the participants in a political dialogue is to become more liked and to make competitors less liked. It has nothing to do with "raising the level of discourse and understanding on that topic" -- that's just NOT the point of the exercise.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-06T20:10:16.540Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It probably continues because of the expectation of debates - no one would introduce them if they didn't already exist today.

comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-06T18:04:49.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a great point! So what if someone held a "written debate"? Where the candidates outlined a dependency tree of their claims, and went through each of them logically?

Replies from: FiftyTwo, Luke_A_Somers
comment by FiftyTwo · 2014-02-07T00:56:41.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thats what manifestos and policy documents are for.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-07T00:09:28.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For a politician to be interested in doing something, it has to translate into political power. How many voters would traverse a logical dependency tree?

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2014-02-07T02:12:30.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not many. But consider this: it might lead to a lot of academics and journalists doing analysis, which might lead to news stories that the general public would pay attention to.

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2014-02-07T11:39:52.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My impression of US politics is that academics and journalists, like everyone else, either have their bottom line already written (i.e. they search for arguments to help their party) or the facts and science themselves become politicized (how do you win with facts if voters deliberately vote against facts?)

If two opposing beliefs are affiliated with the two parties, one of the beliefs being objectively true makes surprisingly little difference, because they are only being used as attire in the first place. At best you get one party labelled as more pro-science than the other. And even then most people think "anti-science" means "anti-scientist-funding", not "anti-truth" or "anti-objectively-correct-policies".

comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-10T20:03:32.548Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not really expected for people to base their opinions on major issues just on what they hear in a debate. But as a source of information for citizens to use to help them improve their decision-making process about which candidate to vote for, it seems reasonably effective to me. Both candidate give their stances on all the major issues, and it communicates to the voters where the candidates stand on them all, a little bit about why they think that and what some major arguments are, and also what the major issues are thought to be in the upcoming election.

Offhand I can't think of a more cost-efficient and time-efficient way to learn a little bit about the political stances of all the candidates on all the major issues then watching a 90 minute debate. That shouldn't be your only source of information, of course, but I think it a very useful starting point for a voter to then do more research on their own.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-02-10T20:07:49.002Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Offhand I can't think of a more cost-efficient and time-efficient way to learn a little bit about the political stances of all the candidates on all the major issues then watching a 90 minute debate.

It's interesting to which degree our views differ.

I would call watching a 90-minute debate to be among the least useful, never mind time-efficient, ways to learn about the political stances of the candidates.

Replies from: Yosarian2
comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-10T20:33:11.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting.

I view it as a useful way to find out what the currently stated political stance of a candidate is. Once you know that, then if it's an issue you care about, you can take some time and look into the candidate's background and see if his record matches his current political stance. It's also worthwhile to use to keep track of a candidate's positions and see how they change over time based on the next state to have a primary election or from the primary season to the general election season; every politician has some issues he is firm on and some issues on which he is willing to bend on in order to get votes or political support, and it's useful to know which are which.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2014-02-10T20:55:43.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I view it as a useful way to find out what the currently stated political stance of a candidate is.

It not useful for me. An hour and a half of frantic signaling at the stupider half of the electorate, a popularity contest driven by the necessity to pretend to be the BFF of everyone? I can get a much better idea of a candidate's political stance after spending 10 minutes with Google, compared to cringing and feeling my brain cells atrophy for 90 minutes X-/

Replies from: Yosarian2
comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-10T21:27:28.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough. There certainly are plenty of things in those debates that are cringe-worthy.

After the 2012 debates, I half-jokingly suggested that there should be a set of referees at each debate fact-checking each statement made by each candidate, who then blow a whistle and throw a flag when a candidate says something that is just factually untrue. "15 yard penalty- roughing the constitution." ;)

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2014-02-06T20:30:29.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point. I think, though, that even in the academia there is too much focus on oral communication. It's often easier to get away with vague ideas in seminars (if you're confident and respected) than in written communication. Of course there is a place for talks and debates in the academia but I think what I'm pointing to is too often neglected. So what you say holds true of academic oral discussions as well, though to a lesser degree. For this reason I've sometimes played with the idea of replacing the seminars with online written texts on chats or fora. I think, though, that most academics would find that less fun - for much the same reasons people would find written political debates less fun. People are very social and like to interact irl, and see others interact irl.

comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T11:35:51.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In science you are primarily trying to figure out what is true.

In politics, you are primarily trying to gain support for preferences which are neither true nor false. It is a much harder problem. At least in science, there is a single standard for truth external to the participants. In politics, pretty clearly different people have different preferences.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-06T20:15:50.348Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Almost no one changes their mind in elections; Almost everything that goes on in elections is

(1) motivating people who have already made up their mind to go vote or

(2) theater to convince the least-attentive least-well-informed voters.

Raising the level of discourse of the theater is probably not going to have a significant effect; the theater is targeted at the people least interested in how much sense things make.

Source: I worked for the DNC during the 2012 cycle.

Replies from: CronoDAS, jobe_smith, Nornagest, None
comment by CronoDAS · 2014-02-07T01:32:33.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I, too, have heard that "undecided" voters tend to be those who have no idea what's going on.

comment by jobe_smith · 2014-02-07T18:09:07.386Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems reasonable for general elections but what about primaries? A lot of people changed their mind about Rick Perry after his debate performances in the 2012 republican primaries. If better debates during the primaries produced better candidates from both parties, that seems like it would be a win.

Replies from: None, ThisSpaceAvailable
comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-07T19:13:57.955Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a good point. My argument is kind of specific to high-profile elections with very-well-defined tribes.

comment by ThisSpaceAvailable · 2014-02-08T04:12:42.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But was that because of substantive policy issues, or was it because of Perry's lack of public speaking skills?

Replies from: Yosarian2
comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-10T20:10:40.738Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it was more a perception of a general lack of competence on the part of Perry during the debate then either one of those things.

People aren't just voting on the issue, at least not for president; trying to find someone who will intelligently and competently run a large bureaucracy and make decisions about new issues and foreign affairs on the fly is probably just as important. If someone seems like they're not competent enough to do the job properly, then that seems like a rational reason to vote against them.

(Now, if Perry is actually incompetent or if he just came across that way is an issue that could be debated, but I think it's a rational thing for voters to consider.)

comment by Nornagest · 2014-02-06T20:42:11.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not that I disagree, but in the interest of playing devil's advocate, where's this coming from? Is the reasoning evidence-based, or is it just stuff that "everyone knows"?

It's not too surprising to me that established political orgs like the DNC believe almost all the available leverage to be found in rallying the base or theatrics targeted at uninformed voters; that is after all what we observe them doing. But beliefs like that often turn out to have more to do with culture than the outside world. If the DNC is basing them on data that hasn't been widely disseminated, on the other hand, that could be surprising and useful.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-07T05:17:51.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Political science corroborating observed evidence; The polls barely moved at all during the entire 2012 cycle, including internal very-expansive-and-ultimately-accurate polls. I very much doubt this is a cultural-belief based thing - if anything, political operatives tended to believe they had more ability to influence results than reality would suggest.

Political organizations have algorithms to predict how an individual will vote, how likely they are to vote, and how likely they are to volunteer to work for a candidate. These algorithms are actually pretty simple, with a ton of accuracy coming from not-very-much data (and severely diminishing returns on increased accuracy as you pour in massive amounts of marginally-useful data). They run experiments (testing different methods of GOTV, different email subject lines) using control groups and decently-large sample sizes to see if any discernible change is induced by any of these approaches. Spoiler: After thousands of experiments, nothing earth-shaking was discovered. The biggest discovery of the last cycle was "using short, casual subject lines in email raises somewhat more money which can be used to very-slightly-marginally increase voter turnout among less-motivated voters".

A lot of this has been publicly discussed, especially in post-election articles about the campaign - you can look it up. None of those accounts are entirely accurate, and the specific data is confidential, but the gist is there. You can get an idea of what's probably possible by what people got excited about.

Disclaimer: All of this is about change at the margin of the current climate/system. A drastic overhaul (with something totally mind-bogglingly sane like anything-but-first-past-the-goalpost-voting) probably would enable some actually-effective approaches (at least for a while until a new equilibrium was found).

Replies from: Yosarian2
comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-10T20:18:44.719Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with you, but I do wonder how much of that is just because they're just looking at short-term effects ("how many votes can I swing over the next 6 months"). Major changes to a person's belief system (or to a borderline tribal identity like political parties can be) can happen, but they usually happen over years or decades, not weeks or months.

Edit: Although I should mention that a person's parents political view tend to be a fairly good predictor of your political party affiliation, so perhaps even the long-term effects are moderate at best.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-07T12:10:59.841Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But among the people who care and who have a favorite before the campaigning period, would not some change their minds if they saw their favorite being intellectually humiliated on TV? (For the first time ever, that is.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-07T13:05:14.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably not

comment by bramflakes · 2014-02-06T01:15:07.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first questions to ask are "why isn't this being done already?" and "has anyone tried doing this already?" and "if yes, what happened?"

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2014-02-06T12:06:01.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think BBC's "Hardtalk" is doing something like this, thought it is just doing interviews (I think).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HARDtalk

Basically, he's not letting politicians get away with all their usual BS. However, one could go much further than this - be more systematic, even tougher, etc. Moderating debates using the same principle is a logical next step (perhaps it has been done).

My understanding is that HARDtalk is quite succesful.

I think the idea of this post is very good (indeed I have similar ideas myself which I'll probably write something on later) and have a hard time understanding why it's being voted down.

Replies from: deskglass
comment by deskglass · 2014-02-07T03:55:12.524Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the recommendation. I've watched a couple Hardtalk interviews and they were great. Hardtalk definitely suffers the limitations of oral discussion that people talk about elsewhere in this thread, but, for what it is, it's great.

comment by mbitton24 · 2014-02-06T19:28:53.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure it would lead to better politicians as much as would it lead to politicians adapting their bullshit skills to better fit the new interview set up.

Many of the bullshit explanations politicians give are perceived as perfectly acceptable to the wider public.

MODERATOR: Should gay marriage be legal?

POLITICIAN: Nope.

MODERATOR: Why not?

POLITICIAN: It goes against the teachings of my religion. It says in passage X:YZ of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. I refuse to go against the command of God in my time in office.

That answer is fine to many, maybe most, Americans. If the moderator presses the politician on his religious beliefs at this point, he comes off as biased, far too biased to be interviewing presidential candidates.

In general, I do think demanding more of politicians is a safe bet to be a Good Thing though.

Replies from: None, ChristianKl
comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-07T14:11:33.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It says in passage X:YZ of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin.

Well, passage X+1:YZ+6 says the same thing about tattoos.

(Which is particularly hilarious when people get a tattoo of the former passage.)

Replies from: Yosarian2
comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-10T20:23:33.883Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's not necessarily an inconstant view, by the way; most Christians follow the teachings of Paul where he said that most of the old testament "ritual purity" rules (keeping kosher, circumcision, ect) do not apply to Christians (for theological reasons that probably aren't worth going into here), but that old testament "ethical teachings" do still apply.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-23T15:39:55.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, but how do people know where the gerrymandered border between ritual purity and ethical teachings is, so that homosexuality is in the latter?

Replies from: Yosarian2
comment by Yosarian2 · 2014-02-24T01:25:33.432Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(nods) That's actually an argument used by the more moderate Christian groups (some of the "mainline Protestant" churches, for example) who don't have a problem with gay people and want to allow things like gay marriage in their church

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-07T20:42:48.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many of the bullshit explanations politicians give are perceived as perfectly acceptable to the wider public.

Some of them are, but a lot of the them aren't. Opposing gay marriage because you think it's violates a your religion is a straightfoward thing. There no lying or deception involved if the politician fulfills his promise and votes against gay marriage after the election. If you don't like those politicans you can elect other ones. The debate did it's job of accurately informing the voters about the politicians.

On the other hand a lot of things politicians evade questions and don't accurately inform the voters about their positions.

Replies from: mbitton24
comment by mbitton24 · 2014-02-07T23:11:20.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, tougher debate moderators could make it clearer what each candidate really believes by reducing deception and vagueness, but probably wouldn't have any effect on making straightforward dumb-but-popular views any less popular.

comment by asr · 2014-02-06T15:40:13.904Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The more responsibility you put on the moderator, the more dispute there will be about which moderators are impartial, and the likelier the process is to break down.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-02-06T02:07:22.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We would need better informed and more intelligent voters for this to have much of an impact, and even then I doubt it would matter because high IQ, well informed voters already have a very good idea of what candidates will do when elected.

I would much rather have candidates take IQ and general knowledge tests than participate in honest debates. And in the near future what I would like to see is a DNA analysis of Presidential candidates to identify those with genes predisposing them to being sociopaths.

Replies from: Prismattic, ChristianKl, scrafty, mwengler
comment by Prismattic · 2014-02-06T03:48:54.603Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

to identify those with genes predisposing them to being sociopaths.

I continue not to understand this. A high-functioning sociopath is not the same thing as a sadist. The sociopath's objective is amassing power and aggrandizement, not making people suffer. There's no reason to assume the policies they support would be different from those of any other office-holder who wants to keep getting elected.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-02-06T03:52:02.808Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that the chance of a President doing something very bad (such as make himself a dictator) would be higher if he was a sociopath.

Replies from: FiftyTwo
comment by FiftyTwo · 2014-02-07T00:59:06.621Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternatively they might be more willing to shut up and multiply than a candidate who was swayed by their emotions, I want a leader who will happily kick a puppy to increase GDP by 1%.

Replies from: michaelkeenan
comment by michaelkeenan · 2014-02-07T07:20:00.907Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FiftyTwo might be referring to studies showing that sociopaths are more likely to flip the switch in the trolley problem, or as put in the abstract:

"[Experiment participants] who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness"

We probably want politicians who will do things like push for iodized salt even though it kills older people in formerly-iodine-deficient areas.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-06T14:08:00.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you focus to much on the individual candidate themselves. When trying to understand what a president will do after an election, look at the kind of people who he picks as his advisers.

If president takes mainstream economists as his economy advisers instead of a bunch of bankers, that says something that might be more important than a quiz on economic knowledge. A president isn't going to write his own economic policy anyway. It's the job of the president to pick the right expert to write the economic policy.

comment by scrafty · 2014-02-07T01:24:49.755Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I doubt an IQ test would be useful at all. One has to be quite intelligent to be a real candidate for presidency.

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2014-02-07T04:34:22.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But it could make a big difference if a president is only two as opposed to, say, three standard deviations above the mean.

comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T11:51:16.456Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would much rather have candidates take IQ and general knowledge tests than participate in honest debates

Sure you would. And if even a significant minority of the electorate agreed with you, you might see something like that happen.

what I would like to see is a DNA analysis of Presidential candidates to identify those with genes predisposing them to being sociopaths.

Would you vote for the more sociopathic or the less? I'm pretty sure in a competition between societies the last thing you want in a leader is someone who constrains how your team competes, especially if the other team is not so constrained. And given the competitive nature of the world, there will be teams out there that are barely or unconstrained.

Replies from: ThisSpaceAvailable
comment by ThisSpaceAvailable · 2014-02-08T06:41:12.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sort of argument doesn't make sense to me. If I'm operating purely on self-interest, the rational thing to do is to not bother voting. If I'm motivated by altruism, why should I give preference to people who live in the same country as me over people who live in another country?

comment by shminux · 2014-02-06T01:08:16.506Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First consider the reasons why the primary debates are not like that, despite the arguments presented in the clip that it would both make for a great TV show and make the candidates more prepared for the US presidential election debates. Win-win, right? Not quite.

Replies from: buybuydandavis
comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-02-06T01:20:53.142Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First consider the reasons why the primary debates are not like that

Things are the way they are for reasons. It's not magic. It's not quantum fluctuation.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2014-02-07T00:56:00.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a comparison case, the general public has had far greater access to statistics and other data relevant to elections since the advent of the internet, has there been any corresponding change in behaviour?*

*This isn't rhetorical, I genuinely don't know.

Replies from: ChristianKl, None
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-07T20:38:08.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a comparison case, the general public has had far greater access to statistics and other data relevant to elections since the advent of the internet, has there been any corresponding change in behaviour?*

I think there are a lot of systematic changes that happened in the last 20 years politics.

Newspaper have less money that they can spend on investigative reporters. The cold war ended. 9/11 happened. I think there more political distrust of the main parties.

In Germany there are a bunch of smaller parties such as the pirate party who take a bigger share of the vote than they did 20 years ago. A new party with an age of less than a year got got 4.9% of the vote at the last election (the need 5% to enter parliament). There seems to be room for a new party to arise. The last real new party that did arise in Germany was the Green party that was born out of the environmentalist movement decades ago.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-02-07T14:24:39.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my country, I doubt this many people would have voted for this party if the Internet hadn't existed.

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-02-07T23:48:46.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What assumptions are you making about the news media that you think they could choose to be correct?

comment by drethelin · 2014-02-06T00:54:19.745Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the people in power had the desire to enforce honesty and and goodwill in politics the problem would be solved already.

Replies from: ChristianKl, mwengler
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-06T14:19:40.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the people in power had the desire to enforce honesty and and goodwill in politics the problem would be solved already.

How do you know that it's not some sort of prison dilemma situation, where everyone would want to be more honest but it just doesn't pay off for any player to move in that direction?

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-02-06T21:38:19.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know that! I don't think it's the situation, but even if it was, whatever payoff matrix exists that keeps it from happening is the same as what would keep THIS suggestion from happening.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-07T00:12:03.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not necessarily. The metagame doesn't have to have the same structure as the game.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-02-08T00:52:19.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Insofar as you need to win the game to even be able to play the metagame it doesn't matter what structure the metagame is.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-08T00:59:13.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The metagame here is the media environment and campaign habits. It doesn't seem to me like you have to already be in office to affect it at least some.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-02-08T01:02:08.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

in that case the metagame is way HARDER than the actual game, and if you could control the media then you wouldn't need to etc.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-08T01:08:07.902Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. It is easier to get elected than to change the entire election system. People get elected year after year, and the system doesn't change.

comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T11:56:08.933Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only if they got elected. People who would like to enforce honesty and goodwill in politics simply don't get pushed forward by the electorate in to higher offices.

Replies from: drethelin
comment by drethelin · 2014-02-08T00:51:21.663Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

you seem to have completely missed my point.

Replies from: mwengler
comment by mwengler · 2014-02-08T07:02:17.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes.

comment by ntroPi · 2014-02-10T00:18:29.541Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The positive effects would trickle down into many aspects of our society.

I think the opposite way is more probable. We first need a better culture of debate in society. Only if debate is more accepted and expected by the general population this change may trickle up to the politicians and the mass media. It could be pushed back down by the powerful if they feel threatened.

Mass debate is very difficult though.

comment by Emile · 2014-02-06T08:59:46.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presidential candidate interview setup that would have more of an impact:

Candidates present their program to a panel of experts (mostly economists, some foreign policy experts). The experts are then asked to give a probability of various future events (unemployment goes up/down, enter a new war, etc.) in 1, 2, 4, 10 years after the election, conditional on either candidate being elected. Some of the question are "standard", but some come from a poll of the public (or more exactly of people watching the show). Then after the election, the same experts are brought back and their past predictions are evaluated. The worst performers aren't invited back for the next pre-election show.

Replies from: ygert
comment by ygert · 2014-02-06T10:17:09.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or, prediction markets.

Same thing really, just cleaner and more elegant.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2014-02-06T07:42:54.441Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, their news network is trying to change the way political debates work by having the moderator force the candidates to answer the questions that are asked of them, not interrupt each other, justify arguments that are based on obvious falsehoods etc.

This can only work if the moderator is not sufficiently mind-killed. I believe a moderator tried to do this in a debate for the last election, except the "obvious falsehood" turned out to actually be true.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-06T14:01:00.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe a moderator tried to do this in a debate for the last election, except the "obvious falsehood" turned out to actually be true.

Which "obvious falsehood" are you referring to?

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2014-02-06T01:06:07.446Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This might just be high levels of baseline cynicism, but I don't really see changing the particular debate tactics used to change much of anything.

By the time it gets to televised debates, the choices have already been narrowed down to Blue policy vs Red policy (with a small change in the relevant party's policy, based on the individual candidates). It's still a debate between two people who are disproportionately wealthy, educated (particularly in law), and well-connected. The vast majority of the vetting goes on in local politics, finding those who are able to curry favor, run campaigns, do PR, and be politically savvy in general.

And given that it's essentially a choice between Red and Blue policy, the way to do better at that game is deciding whose policy is better, supporting that side, and leaning on both to make better choices. Changing the debate rules is just going to change how the same politicians prepare for debates, and maybe flip an election outcome or three. Everyone with political influence is going to have roughly the same amount of influence.

Replies from: buybuydandavis
comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-02-06T01:24:43.728Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the way to do better at that game is deciding whose policy is better, supporting that side, and leaning on both to make better choices.

Once you've given your support, it's only the threat of stopping that support which provides pressure. Instead, you could support a minor party, or agitate for a particular issue, which may put pressure on both parties to move in your direction, seeking your vote.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-06T14:14:36.776Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For many questions the correct answer would be: "This is a difficult question which no easy answer, I would have to spent a few hours thinking about the issue and then come back with an answer that doesn't fit into the 1 minute time slot that the debate gives me to address the point."

I don't think that deep and meaningful debate happens in a hour of TV. It's the job of journalists to ask candidates and their parties questions on issues. If a New York Times reporter asks for an on-the-record answer and doesn't get one in a day he should simply write in his article: "John Smith from the Green party had to say X while nobody from the Blue party was willing answer the question on-the-record."

If that would be the standard of the way New York Times reporters write their stories it wouldn't take long till they would nearly always get answers. Even if the Green party would generally answer and the Blue party wouldn't, that would be important information for voters.

Replies from: mwengler, Luke_A_Somers
comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T11:42:59.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The hours of thought should have occurred before the debate. Its not like the debater has been chosen at random from the audience.

The New York Times has published many articles where they have a comment from one and state they could get no comment from the other. There is nothing new here and any change that was going to happen because the NYT was going to do this has already occurred.

ALL political debate and interview is presentation of ideas, not the place where ideas are born and develop in real time. Any candidate who is evolving his response in real time is unprepared, and if she is any good at all, will be prepared every time after that that she is asked about this same issue.

Replies from: ChristianKl, ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-07T12:13:42.008Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The New York Times has published many articles where they have a comment from one and state they could get no comment from the other.

The New York Times frequently mentions party position without quoting an on-the-record source by name. They generally try to provide both sides the story even when one side isn't willing to give a on-the-record answer.

Whenever you read in a New York Times article: "A senior democrat told us XY about policy Z", that democrat asked the journalist to treat his statement as off-the-record in the sense that he doesn't want to be publically on record with voicing the opinion he gave the journalist.

What I'm suggesting is a heavy breach with the way things are done at the moment, if you think it's not new, you might to pay more attention at the way things currently work.

Replies from: mwengler
comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T22:32:50.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The heart of my objection is the idea that you can change the world by changing the new york times. Especially now, but not even back when newspapers mattered do I think that would work in a lasting way.

The New York Times isn't/wasn't the paper-of-record that gets to decide how everybody will get their news. They are/were a paper with certain journalistic standards and practices that rose in the marketplace of ideas to a level of trust and importance. When the NYT changes what it does, in some short run it is likely influential, but in a longer run if the change is not appealing to its audience, the audience loses faith in the NYT. If NYT articles became somewhat consistently one-sided because they were no longer publishing only partially-attributable information, would the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Huff Post, NPR, NBC, etc etc etc follow suit? Or would they instead aggressively market the stories they were able to cover that the NYT could not because of its policy?

We may or may not get the quality of new that we deserve. We absolutely get the quality of news that we are willing to pay attention to. And shifting the tastes of the public is not as simple as an editorial decision.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-07T12:00:53.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The hours of thought should have occurred before the debate. Its not like the debater has been chosen at random from the audience.

They did spent hours of thoughts and prepare to answer specific questions. Then they answer the questions that they prepared to answer regardless of the question that the moderator gives them.

You argue that they should actually answer the question they are given by the moderator. That logically means that they can't rely on hours of preparations because they can't prepare for every possible question.

Replies from: mwengler
comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T22:24:12.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You argue that they should actually answer the question they are given by the moderator. That logically means that they can't rely on hours of preparations because they can't prepare for every possible question.

For years I took exams in college and graduate school courses, as have millions of other people. I couldn't, and didn't know the questions before I took the exams, again similarly to millions of other people. And yet, not only did most of us millions of students spend a lot of time preparing for the exams, I have not heard of anyone who disagrees that preparation for these exams, for answering these unpredicted questions. was not central to our success in answering them.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-07T22:37:02.185Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And yet, not only did most of us millions of students spend a lot of time preparing for the exams, I have not heard of anyone who disagrees that preparation for these exams, for answering these unpredicted questions. was not central to our success in answering them.

And yet if I wanted to know the position of a student on a particular issue of philosophy I would rather read a 1 week homework assignment than a answer that's written in 2 hours without access to outside sources.

I also would think that even in an exam most student would spent a minute about exactly what argument they want to make before starting to write the argument.

We also don't have debates for the purpose that politicians spend a lot of time preparing for debates. If debate preparation is central for success in debates that's not a feature but a bug.

We want that the positions that politicans argue during the debate informs the viewer of the sort of policy that the politician wants to put into place should he be elected.

If asked for a policy on issue XY towards which the politician hasn't put much attention a good politician shouldn't make up an idea of a policy on the spot. If forced to do so, the politicians is likely to make promises about policy that he won't hold.

We might win the debate by making up a policy on the spot that sounds nice to the audience but that's not what you want to encourage.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-07T00:14:02.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. What if the candidates were given the questions in advance, so they only needed to present their answers?

And their answers are given to the opponents before airing so the rebuttals can be prepared at length as well?

Replies from: mwengler, ChristianKl
comment by mwengler · 2014-02-07T11:44:48.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and the rebuttals are given to the candidates in advance... and the rebuttals to the rebuttals are given to the candidates in advance... and so on and so on.

In fact, the candidates have pretty good ideas what the positions of their opponents are, and the nicest thing about the debates are that when candidates mischaracterize their opponents on purpose they are responded to in real time.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-08T00:56:44.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your second paragraph explains why the events in your first paragraph are not needed.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-02-07T11:13:49.692Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. What if the candidates were given the questions in advance, so they only needed to present their answers?

That's not that far from what happens today. If a politician is asked a question toward which he didn't prepare he just answer question towards which he did prepare.

Replies from: Luke_A_Somers
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-02-08T00:56:06.082Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, we'd get some control over what questions they answer.

comment by drethelin · 2014-02-06T00:55:40.259Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

separately, a large amount of the people HONESTLY and with no equivocating thinks another large portion of this country are going to hell for being evil. I don't think public debates with people honestly fighting about disagreements will do anything to help this.