September 5th, 2011
I'm taking a break from copyright law for just a moment to post this checklist that Chris and I developed about a month ago for me to share with my students. These are the ideals I hope to strive for in any serious discussion about important ideas. I'm not always perfect at living up to my own standards, but I feel that it is a noble goal to strive to achieve.
Simplistic as it may seem, the chief requirements for scholarly dialogue are honesty, courage, and respect.
- Before making your argument, will you research your topic thoroughly to the best of your ability? Are you willing to diligently and objectively search all possible perspectives and information on this topic?
- Will you use only those sources which are of the highest quality and credibility to support your position on the topic? Will you check and re-check your sources to make sure they are highly credible?
- Will you cite your resources fully and accurately so that others can verify that your resources are credible and reliable?
- Will you refuse, on principle, to distort the evidence or another scholar’s point of view? Will you make sure that you do not take quotations out of context or misrepresent them in any way?
- Are you willing to change your mind on this topic? Are you willing to risk your own ego for the sake of truth and in order to do what’s best for society?
- Are you willing to abandon any long-cherished positions when it is clear that there is substantial evidence to the contrary?
- When your perspectives change, are you willing to acknowledge how and why your mind was changed?
- If one of your arguments or some of your supporting evidence is shown to be flawed, will you revise that argument or stop using that evidence altogether?
- Will you recognize the full complexity of the issue and add qualifications to your argument when necessary?
- If another person concedes that your position is reasonable or correct, will you refrain from belittling them, recognizing that the purpose of scholarly dialogue is not to "win," but to find the best possible solution or perspectives on the topic?
- Will you make sure that you define key terms in a way that can be mutually agreed upon so that your readers will understand the fundamental assumptions of your argument?
- Will you acknowledge counterarguments to your own claims in a fair and balanced manner?
- Will you resist the temptation to disparage the character of persons who take a different position from your own? Will you strive to have empathy for others, recognizing that everyone has valid reasons for believing the things they believe?
This is just my own personal commentary (meaning it's not in the original document), but I feel that unless these conditions are not in place, there can be no argument. You need honesty in order for the debate to be fair and to ensure that everyone has full access to the same information you have access to. I could have easily replaced the word "courage" with "humility" because you need to be willing set your own personal emotions or ambitions aside in order to do what's best for society. And you need respect in order to foster the kind of environment in which it is safe for all members to express their ideas without impunity.