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Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 11:03 AM
Consider this exchange (you can find the relevant BAUT thread easily enough):

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A: Is there a reason stopping plants evolving intelligence as we know it, for example does the use of photosynthesis not produce enough energy to allow large brains?

B: Um, plants do not have nerve systems? The signalling systems plants use are completely different from those used by animals? The adaptations required for plants to have brains involve crossing many, impossibly deep, adaptive chasms?
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Or this one:

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A: It appears that at this present moment of time and since the evolution of complex life there has been a balance between plants and animals and their effect on modifying the planet, carbon / oxygen cycle, ozone and so forth. By advanced/complex I mean multicellular ( hope these terms are correct? ) life, the type that expanded after the Cambrian explosion, the type that general lay people would term "advanced or complex life"

B: I'm curious to know if you think there was some kind of "balance between plants and animals" between the Cambrian explosion and the colonisation of land, by plants (there's a gap of some ~150 million years between the two, which is 1/3, or 1/4, of the total time period you seem to be considering!)
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At least one person seems to feel this re B's answers: "you’re deliberately being pedantic. You manage to be both condescending and uninviting to people at both the same time"

Within BAUT's bounds - the science sections are avowedly science-based, and we make no apologies for being so - how do you think A's questions could have been answered, without eliciting the above response?

For those of you who have not kept up with the enormous changes in evolutionary biology and palaeontology over the past three decades or so, I invite you ask questions about some of those relevant advances, especially wrt the evolution of multi-cellular eukaryotes (plants and animals are such organisms; algae are not plants).

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 11:21 AM
My feeling is that first answer is pretty much a non-answer; B has simply explained the physical facts corresponding to the fact that plants are not intelligent. The question could have been "is there any reason plants have not developed nerve systems [which support the development of intelligence]". I haven't followed the thread in question, but I think there was a response about them not needing that adaptation - I would assume because of things like them being sessile, for example. That seems to have more explanatory power.

The second answer is quite reasonable in principle. There is something about the way it comes across, though. Quite challenging (not that that is necessarily wrong). Perhaps because it starts with such a direct question. If it had been more along the lines of "in the period between .... there were roughly X% plants ... this does not support the balance you claim" (Although, I might argue, in evolutionary terms, you could say that [over the long term] the proportions of plants, animals, etc must, by definition, be roughly in balance with the ecosystems they inhabit).

I dunno. Some people just natuarally come over a little more "blunt" or "abrasive" than others (even in the real world). I usually try and ignore it, because it is hard to tell whether it was intended or just a perecpetion in the recipient.

I have been thinking about this myself, because I get the impression (without any explicit feedback) that I have come across as more negative in some threads than I intended.

Donnie B.
2010-Jul-14, 11:32 AM
One way to tone down the bluntness is to throw in a phrase like "It seems to me..." or "My angle on this is...". You can do this even if you're explaining the mainstream consensus on an issue.

How about something like, "It seems to me that plants have relatively slow signaling systems, unlike the nerves of animals, and that would be a major barrier for evolution to overcome before they could develop intelligence."

(Okay, the second part is too oversimplified and sorta-kinda implies directionality and intent on the part of evolution. But hey, it's just an example!)

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 11:37 AM
One way to tone down the bluntness is to throw in a phrase like "It seems to me..." or "My angle on this is...". You can do this even if you're explaining the mainstream consensus on an issue.

I think I over do this; starting almost every sentence with "I think".

AndreasJ
2010-Jul-14, 11:42 AM
The first answer would be much improved by dropping the "um" and rephrasing as statements rather than rhetorical questions.

As for pedantry, pedantry would be me quibbling about the definitions of "plant" and "alga" (I'm fighting down the urge to do so right now). On the not uncommon definitions that B in the second exchange seems to be assuming, his or her question is perfectly justified. It might have been better expressed, however - the "I'm curious" is easily read in a mocking tone.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 11:48 AM
One way to tone down the bluntness is to throw in a phrase like "It seems to me..." or "My angle on this is...". You can do this even if you're explaining the mainstream consensus on an issue.

How about something like, "It seems to me that plants have relatively slow signaling systems, unlike the nerves of animals, and that would be a major barrier for evolution to overcome before they could develop intelligence."

(Okay, the second part is too oversimplified and sorta-kinda implies directionality and intent on the part of evolution. But hey, it's just an example!)
Thanks for this.

I must say that I am, personally, extremely reluctant to use "I think" and similar, except when I am expressing an unfounded thought.

Personally, I think there is far too great an emphasis, in the popular media, on some kind of equality of ideas. I have no issue with this, except when it comes to having discussions that are, explicitly or implicitly, based on contemporary science. Then the use of "I think" is both misleading and, ultimately, a-scientific.

If you're not sure of the science, by all means say so; if you are, what's to be gained by pretending it's just another random speculation?

(I'm turning up the contrast, of course).

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 11:54 AM
Personally, I think there is far too great an emphasis, in the popular media, on some kind of equality of ideas. I have no issue with this, except when it comes to having discussions that are, explicitly or implicitly, based on contemporary science. Then the use of "I think" is both misleading and, ultimately, a-scientific.

If you're not sure of the science, by all means say so; if you are, what's to be gained by pretending it's just another random speculation?

Maybe "I think" isn't the right qualifier. But, based on the fact that science doesn't always deal in absolutes, there are other qualifiers that could be used ("it seems that" or "the current theory is", for example). It can be equally dangerous to be (or appear to be) too dogmatic about our current best theories.

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 11:56 AM
The first answer would be much improved by dropping the "um" and rephrasing as statements rather than rhetorical questions.

Interesting point. The "um" (and the rhetorical question) could have been intended to soften the statement. But could be intepreted as a sort of "duh, don't you know anything" comment.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 11:58 AM
My feeling is that first answer is pretty much a non-answer; B has simply explained the physical facts corresponding to the fact that plants are not intelligent. The question could have been "is there any reason plants have not developed nerve systems [which support the development of intelligence]". I haven't followed the thread in question, but I think there was a response about them not needing that adaptation - I would assume because of things like them being sessile, for example. That seems to have more explanatory power.
Good points.

More generally, it seems that an answer which is a question - an invitation to think about things a bit more, use some critical thinking for example - is, often, not at all welcome. Some people like this approach (I do, generally), some do not. If you're unsure of how it will go down, don't use it.


The second answer is quite reasonable in principle. There is something about the way it comes across, though. Quite challenging (not that that is necessarily wrong). Perhaps because it starts with such a direct question. If it had been more along the lines of "in the period between .... there were roughly X% plants ... this does not support the balance you claim" (Although, I might argue, in evolutionary terms, you could say that [over the long term] the proportions of plants, animals, etc must, by definition, be roughly in balance with the ecosystems they inhabit).
Thanks.

This one is particularly hard, because the apparent confusion and misconceptions built into the question make a straight, solid-science, answer nigh on impossible*.

A para or two summarising the current consensus might help, but absent evidence of understanding of the basics of evolutionary biology, how can this question be answered?

One approach that may not work: be direct, even blunt, and start with a statement about the need to get some facts straight first ... I get the impression that this would be perceived as even more pedantic/condescending/uninviting.


I dunno. Some people just natuarally come over a little more "blunt" or "abrasive" than others (even in the real world). I usually try and ignore it, because it is hard to tell whether it was intended or just a perecpetion in the recipient.

I have been thinking about this myself, because I get the impression (without any explicit feedback) that I have come across as more negative in some threads than I intended.
For me, there is never (or very, very rarely) an intention to be pedantic/condescending/uninviting. Yet I think my posts are sometimes-to-often perceived that way.

I struggle to understand this.

* contrary views, backed up by good examples, welcome!

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 12:06 PM
Excellent points, thanks very much! :)
The first answer would be much improved by dropping the "um" and rephrasing as statements rather than rhetorical questions.
The "um" was intended to soften the reply, an expression of humble incredulity.

Clearly it did not work as intended.


As for pedantry, pedantry would be me quibbling about the definitions of "plant" and "alga" (I'm fighting down the urge to do so right now). On the not uncommon definitions that B in the second exchange seems to be assuming, his or her question is perfectly justified. It might have been better expressed, however - the "I'm curious" is easily read in a mocking tone.
I had never thought that "I'm curious" could be considered (read) as being a mocking tone! This is a terrific insight, thanks very much.

Without going into the full context, suffice it to say that the plant-algae distinction had come up before, so to see it re-appearing was, um, disappointing.

More generally, if you perceive the distinction between plants and algae to be very important - wrt the question, and any answer - how do you get that across, without being perceived as pedantic?

More generally still, wouldn't a good description of the whole of science be "systematic pedantry"? (It's more than just that, of course).

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 12:37 PM
More generally, it seems that an answer which is a question - an invitation to think about things a bit more, use some critical thinking for example - is, often, not at all welcome. Some people like this approach (I do, generally), some do not. If you're unsure of how it will go down, don't use it.

I guess it depends how the question is phrased, and therefore how it is intepreted. Your question could, perhaps, be more easily read as a rhetorical put down than a genuine enquiry.


One approach that may not work: be direct, even blunt, and start with a statement about the need to get some facts straight first ... I get the impression that this would be perceived as even more pedantic/condescending/uninviting.

I think it might. :)

AndreasJ
2010-Jul-14, 12:41 PM
Excellent points, thanks very much! :)
The "um" was intended to soften the reply, an expression of humble incredulity.

Clearly it did not work as intended.
I think that incredulity is a dangerous attitude to express in these sorts of situations - it's easily perceived as "I can't believe how stupid/ignorant you are!"



Without going into the full context, suffice it to say that the plant-algae distinction had come up before, so to see it re-appearing was, um, disappointing.

More generally, if you perceive the distinction between plants and algae to be very important - wrt the question, and any answer - how do you get that across, without being perceived as pedantic?
Well, there's no fool-proof method - some would find it pedantic if you pointed out that black isn't white - but I thought B did pretty well on that front in your example. I do not understand why a reasonable person would find it pedantic.

More generally still, wouldn't a good description of the whole of science be "systematic pedantry"? (It's more than just that, of course).
There's definitely a good portion of truth in that.

(Given that I'm an incorregible pedant and nitpicker myself, I should perhaps have become a scientist ...)

(Oh, some have suggested I am one, but I'd quibble with their definition of the word.)

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 12:41 PM
More generally, if you perceive the distinction between plants and algae to be very important - wrt the question, and any answer - how do you get that across, without being perceived as pedantic?

Another important point is to make it clear that you are talking about the subject rather than the person. So, rather than "You need to understand the fundamental difference between ..." (which can sound like an attack on the ignorance or intelligence of the reader) how about "It is important to understand that there is a fundamental difference between..." (which, hopefully, sounds like a more general statement about the sort of information needed by anyone).

Just out of interest, do you have some form of mild autism? I guess that could make it harder to percieve how you might be interpreted (which is hard enough anyway).

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 01:19 PM
Personally, I think there is far too great an emphasis, in the popular media, on some kind of equality of ideas. I have no issue with this, except when it comes to having discussions that are, explicitly or implicitly, based on contemporary science. Then the use of "I think" is both misleading and, ultimately, a-scientific.

If you're not sure of the science, by all means say so; if you are, what's to be gained by pretending it's just another random speculation?Maybe "I think" isn't the right qualifier. But, based on the fact that science doesn't always deal in absolutes, there are other qualifiers that could be used ("it seems that" or "the current theory is", for example). It can be equally dangerous to be (or appear to be) too dogmatic about our current best theories.
Good point.

So, some boilerplate to the effect that "this here's what I understand to be the current, mainstream models/theory/etc", to be used to introduce things.

What's a good boilerplate? Something to work on ...

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 01:25 PM
Another important point is to make it clear that you are talking about the subject rather than the person. So, rather than "You need to understand the fundamental difference between ..." (which can sound like an attack on the ignorance or intelligence of the reader) how about "It is important to understand that there is a fundamental difference between..." (which, hopefully, sounds like a more general statement about the sort of information needed by anyone).
Good advice, which I often think of giving, myself (not giving myself!)


Just out of interest, do you have some form of mild autism? I guess that could make it harder to percieve how you might be interpreted (which is hard enough anyway).
Well, if you've seen some episodes of the TV series "Bones", this may make sense (if not, then not): I have found myself, rather often, thinking that Bones (Temperance Brennan) expresses things, and reacts, similarly to my own thoughts and reactions. I am not at all good on nuances ...

Argos
2010-Jul-14, 01:26 PM
One way to tone down the bluntness is to throw in a phrase like "It seems to me..." or "My angle on this is...". You can do this even if you're explaining the mainstream consensus on an issue.

I think it is not only recommended but required. All great minds I know behaved like that [including the proverbial scientist Albert Einstein]. Carl Sagan did dedicate long passages in his "Demon-Haunted World" to remark the need for humility in science, where all truths are provisional. Lets leave the arrogance for TV starlets and football players.

Gillianren
2010-Jul-14, 06:46 PM
I can't help wondering if the best tutorial for writing clear but non-condescending answers mightn't be to read the posts of someone you think is already doing a good job in the field. I do know that, unfortunately, there are people who don't see what the difference is in what they said and what the other person said, or at least can't represent it in their own writing. It might be a good place to start.

An issue to me is that, while we may or may not be on the same intellectual level as the other person, and of course they're talking to us in the hope of taking advantage of some of our education above theirs, being either too dismissive or too scholarly can feel as though we're rejecting their worth. A lot of writers are never any good at finding that place, but I do think it's valuable to try.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 07:28 PM
I think it is not only recommended but required. All great minds I know behaved like that [including the proverbial scientist Albert Einstein]. Carl Sagan did dedicate long passages in his "Demon-Haunted World" to remark the need for humility in science, where all truths are provisional. Lets leave the arrogance for TV starlets and football players.
How, then, to deal with the (apparently widespread) belief that all ideas are equal? That ill-informed speculation is on a par with a detailed analysis based on rock-solid experiments and observations?

I have no problems with some boilerplate to the effect that this is what the conclusions are, today, in field-of-science-X (and that all science is provisional, permanently); I do have a problem with pretending, in a forum explicitly dedicated to explaining (and discussing) things from a scientific basis, that random musings are just as valid, scientifically, as heavily cited landmark papers.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 07:32 PM
I can't help wondering if the best tutorial for writing clear but non-condescending answers mightn't be to read the posts of someone you think is already doing a good job in the field. I do know that, unfortunately, there are people who don't see what the difference is in what they said and what the other person said, or at least can't represent it in their own writing. It might be a good place to start.
Good point.

Do you have any such posts you could recommend? Doesn't have to be about evolutionary biology or fossils; any field of science would do.

Any other suggestions, from other BAUTians?


An issue to me is that, while we may or may not be on the same intellectual level as the other person, and of course they're talking to us in the hope of taking advantage of some of our education above theirs, being either too dismissive or too scholarly can feel as though we're rejecting their worth.
How does one go about determining whether one is coming across as too dismissive or scholarly? Short of waiting to get curt responses ...


A lot of writers are never any good at finding that place, but I do think it's valuable to try.
I concur.

Argos
2010-Jul-14, 07:48 PM
How, then, to deal with the (apparently widespread) belief that all ideas are equal? That ill-informed speculation is on a par with a detailed analysis based on rock-solid experiments and observations?

In my humble opinion [;)] it can be addressed without derision or arrogance. Regarding Gillian´s post [#17] I think Ken G. does a helluva job in explaining things.

Strange
2010-Jul-14, 08:08 PM
How, then, to deal with the (apparently widespread) belief that all ideas are equal? That ill-informed speculation is on a par with a detailed analysis based on rock-solid experiments and observations?

Is that a big problem? At least in Q&A or generally, outside of ATM? And, if it is, I think it is a slightly different issue.

It did occur to me though, that a number of posters do phrase their questions in the form of speculative statements; how they think things could be. I don't think that necessarily means they have a strong believe they are right (or just as valid) as what the science say. It is just a way of introducing their question, perhaps based on the way they have been mulling over these half-formed ideas. They usually seem to accept the mainstream idea, after some explanation. Except when they are trying to sneak an ATM idea into mainstream discussion.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 08:40 PM
In my humble opinion [;)] it can be addressed without derision or arrogance.
Yep, derision and arrogance will get you nowhere.

However, my questions have more to do with how, specifically, to make a clear distinction between just-any-old-speculation and some rock-solid scientific result ... without creating the perception of arrogance or derision (however unintended they may be).

Specifically, how better to answer the questions, from A, in the OP?


Regarding Gillian´s post [#17] I think Ken G. does a helluva job in explaining things.
What an ironic choice! :p

There is no shortage of posts, in a couple of Feedback threads, taking Ken G's posting style to task, in no uncertain terms! I guess this is, truly, a case where YMMV.

Argos
2010-Jul-14, 08:52 PM
However, my questions have more to do with how, specifically, to make a clear distinction between just-any-old-speculation and some rock-solid scientific result ... without creating the perception of arrogance or derision (however unintended they may be).

Well, there´s a threshold at which you lose control of your intentions, if the listener is paranoid enough. :) Maybe adding an introduction like **This is not to be taken as arrogance**


There is no shortage of posts, in a couple of Feedback threads, taking Ken G's posting style to task, in no uncertain terms! I guess this is, truly, a case where YMMV.

Indeed. His posts seem neutral [I´d say polite] and informative to me. But lets not forget that a fine irony can spice [what some would call] the aridity of the scientific discourse.

Swift
2010-Jul-14, 09:02 PM
There is no shortage of posts, in a couple of Feedback threads, taking Ken G's posting style to task, in no uncertain terms! I guess this is, truly, a case where YMMV.
A little preemptive moderation....

I know you did not take Ken G's posting to style to task, but I wanted to issue a general warning that no one's posting style should be taken to task. It is OK for people to give examples of good ones, but there should be no examples of bad ones. That may seem unbalanced, but in this case niceness will triumph over balance.

Thank you everyone for your cooperation.

Gillianren
2010-Jul-14, 09:21 PM
Yeah, I was going to go with someone a bit more universally respected. I was going to avoid the subject of Ken G altogether. My prime example is Jay.

Tinaa
2010-Jul-14, 09:41 PM
Yes, JayUtah is outstanding. I also think astrophoptographer (Tim Printy) does a really fine job. Both have web pages that thoroughly rip apart the moon hoax and Roswell conspiracy theories, respectively, in easy-to-understand language. They are excellent educators.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 09:42 PM
Yeah, I was going to go with someone a bit more universally respected. I was going to avoid the subject of Ken G altogether. My prime example is Jay.
Jay is indeed a good model, IMHO.

However, unless I have missed it completely, he does not post much on topics such as relativity, cosmology, or even evolutionary biology. What field, or fields, of science would you say he does post on?

I'm particularly interested because discussions on fields like cosmology seem to invariably lead to matters (topics) that do not lend themselves to Jay's writing style. At least, that's my impression (I'd love to be proven wrong!)

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-14, 09:46 PM
How about "Say what you mean and mean what you say"? And assume that the questioner is using the same approach, unless there is evidence to suppose otherwise (e.g. the post contains the expression "so-called scientists").

Prefacing an answer with "I think" or "It seems to me" is a terrible idea unless it really is just an opinion. It's fake humility. "It seems to me that the Earth is 93 million miles from the sun..." "I think the Viking spacecraft first landed on Mars in 1976..." Don't do it. It is of course acceptable to state, "The mainstream view is X... an alternative view favoured by some scientists is Y but there is currently little evidence to support this..."

It's perfectly possible for someone to ask a question which is so ill-informed that it cannot be answered without unravelling the misconceptions. ("What was Emily Dickinson thinking when he wrote Grate Expectorations?") It may seem condescending to do this, but it would be more condescending not to. I think it was Asimov who said he was sometimes asked, "Do you think there's life in other galaxies?" He would respond with, "What do you mean by galaxy?" This might seem uninviting, but surely it's better than assuming the person meant "solar systems" (which they might not have) and, if so, allowing them to persist with the error?

If I ask a question, I hope I will receive an answer to the question I asked. If my question was flawed, I would like to know what the flaw is - and as long as it was politely worded, I would not object to being shown to be woefully ignorant. I don't think the answerer needs to restrict him/herself to just answering the question, but I would welcome a clear border between the answer and further discussion ("An interesting consequence of this is...").

At the end of the day, if the questioner is genuinely interested in finding things out, and the answerer is genuinely interested in spreading knowledge, the only thing anyone should be worrying about is the failure to communicate information, not whether or not something could be interpreted as patronising or dry or whatever.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-14, 09:51 PM
Jay is indeed a good model, IMHO.

However, unless I have missed it completely, he does not post much on topics such as relativity, cosmology, or even evolutionary biology. What field, or fields, of science would you say he does post on?

I'm particularly interested because discussions on fields like cosmology seem to invariably lead to matters (topics) that do not lend themselves to Jay's writing style. At least, that's my impression (I'd love to be proven wrong!)

I'm not sure "style" is an issue. Jay simply writes with clarity and knowledge.

Put like that it sounds easy, doesn't it?

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 09:53 PM
Yes, JayUtah is outstanding. I also think astrophoptographer (Tim Printy) does a really fine job. Both have web pages that thoroughly rip apart the moon hoax and Roswell conspiracy theories, respectively, in easy-to-understand language. They are excellent educators.
That's for sure!

Do you have any suggestions re BAUTians who post on topics which involve intellectually challenging concepts? For example, have you ever come across anyone who could, to your satisfaction, explain why gravity is not a force, in General Relativity? Or why it can be incredibly misleading to consider algae as plants? These are, of course, just examples; it's the ability to explain what are, to most people, incredibly counter-intuitive concepts (but ones firmly established, in contemporary mainstream science) without being perceived as {insert negative here}, by an audience you know next to nothing about ... and do it in no more than a couple of short paragraphs.

Nereid
2010-Jul-14, 09:56 PM
I'm not sure "style" is an issue. Jay simply writes with clarity and knowledge.

Put like that it sounds easy, doesn't it?
It does.

But, as I said in a couple of other recent posts, I'd like to have some suggestions for BAUTians who write with clarity and knowledge on highly counter-intuitive concepts.

Van Rijn
2010-Jul-14, 11:14 PM
Jay is indeed a good model, IMHO.

However, unless I have missed it completely, he does not post much on topics such as relativity, cosmology, or even evolutionary biology. What field, or fields, of science would you say he does post on?

I'm particularly interested because discussions on fields like cosmology seem to invariably lead to matters (topics) that do not lend themselves to Jay's writing style. At least, that's my impression (I'd love to be proven wrong!)

First off, I want to say I very much like Jay's writing style. He does explain things well, if you have enough background to follow the explanations.

But, it seems to me that Jay does some of the same things that seem to be annoying people in Q&A. The key differences, in my opinion, are context, who the reader identifies with, and how much "scaffolding" they have to understand Jay's explanations.

An example might be a conspiracy theorist that starts a thread on Apollo where they make a claim based on a gross misunderstanding of heat transfer. Jay might explain their mistake, but in the CTs response it becomes clear that the explanation went completely over their head, and they reject it outright. Jay might then point out that he is a subject matter expert and the claimant is not. Other readers at this point are either amused or shaking their heads at the CT's mistake.

Now, this is a different context from the typical Q&A thread. The CT is making a claim based on his misunderstanding, not asking a question, in a forum where debate is expected. Most of the readers identify with Jay's general position on the Apollo hoax claims, and typically have more understanding of the relevant subjects than the claimant. Often the claim is one that they've seen dozens of times, and seen the answer dozens of times as well.

But imagine this in Q&A context, if you identify with the questioner, on a subject where you don't have the "scaffolding" to understand the response. I think it would look like someone who is saying that they're the expert, you're not, and giving you a response that looks like gobbledigook. That, it seems to me, is much of what people are complaining about in Q&A.

Nereid
2010-Jul-15, 12:25 AM
FYI, the material in the OP did not come from a thread in the Q&A section.

Gillianren
2010-Jul-15, 01:48 AM
Honestly, I've seen Jay backtrack and simplify. The issue in CT, I think, is the ever-popular "I don't have to be an expert to know you're wrong!" Which, yeah. It's a matter of both parties' bringing respect into the conversation. (I had a librarian patronizing me the other day, which drove me crazy, since I was showing her at every step that, if anything, I knew more about the computer system than she.) Also, I really don't think the subject matter is entirely relevant. as there are complicated subjects in all fields. I consider much of engineering to be just as impenetrable as a lot of the discussions about Relativity around here, but Jay has never treated me as though I should know what he's talking about despite the differences in our educational backgrounds.

mugaliens
2010-Jul-15, 03:09 AM
Answer the question without commenting or alluding to any personal opinion of the person posing the question. If a clarifying question needs to be asked, attempt to answer the question as it exists, if at all possible.

In the first question, I do not understand the use of questions, and it fails to answer the question. A more appropriate response would be: "Whether or not the use of photosynthesis provides enough energy to support a central nervous system, plant evolution has resulted in signalling systems quite different than those used in animals, but well-suited for the purposes of plants.

In the second question, I don't feel B's "I'm curious to know if you think..." is appropriate, as it alludes to the person posing the question as having thought such a balance might exist.

AndreasJ
2010-Jul-15, 03:46 PM
It's perfectly possible for someone to ask a question which is so ill-informed that it cannot be answered without unravelling the misconceptions. ("What was Emily Dickinson thinking when he wrote Grate Expectorations?") It may seem condescending to do this, but it would be more condescending not to. I think it was Asimov who said he was sometimes asked, "Do you think there's life in other galaxies?" He would respond with, "What do you mean by galaxy?" This might seem uninviting, but surely it's better than assuming the person meant "solar systems" (which they might not have) and, if so, allowing them to persist with the error?

Why did he suspect error at all? "Is there life in other galaxies?" is not an unreasonable question.

AndreasJ
2010-Jul-15, 03:58 PM
An example might be a conspiracy theorist that starts a thread on Apollo where they make a claim based on a gross misunderstanding of heat transfer. Jay might explain their mistake, but in the CTs response it becomes clear that the explanation went completely over their head, and they reject it outright. Jay might then point out that he is a subject matter expert and the claimant is not. Other readers at this point are either amused or shaking their heads at the CT's mistake.

While the CT themself, one suspects, is shaking their head at Jay's arrogance and NASA stooge-dom.

Which connects to what I said about reasonable people on the previous page - not everyone is. If you're coming across as arrogant, condescending, pedantic, etc, it may be that you are those things, or that you're expressing yourself poorly, but it may also be that your interlocutor's perceptions are unreasonable.

Nereid
2010-Jul-15, 04:16 PM
An example might be a conspiracy theorist that starts a thread on Apollo where they make a claim based on a gross misunderstanding of heat transfer. Jay might explain their mistake, but in the CTs response it becomes clear that the explanation went completely over their head, and they reject it outright. Jay might then point out that he is a subject matter expert and the claimant is not. Other readers at this point are either amused or shaking their heads at the CT's mistake.While the CT themself, one suspects, is shaking their head at Jay's arrogance and NASA stooge-dom.

Which connects to what I said about reasonable people on the previous page - not everyone is. If you're coming across as arrogant, condescending, pedantic, etc, it may be that you are those things, or that you're expressing yourself poorly, but it may also be that your interlocutor's perceptions are unreasonable.
I can't comment on those promoting CT ideas, but it is most certainly the case with some promoting ATM ideas. If you visit some of the websites where such people hang out, you'll see that *everything* anyone says about the ATM ideas (except praise and support) is characterised, by not a few, as being arrogant, condescending, pedantic, etc!

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-15, 04:38 PM
Why did he suspect error at all? "Is there life in other galaxies?" is not an unreasonable question.

My post addresses this. It is perfectly possible that the questioner does indeed want to know Asimov's opinion about other galaxies, but it seems much more likely that they simply want to know if there's life out there in space, and are unsure of the terminology - especially given how much astronomical terms are misused in the media. It is, after all, an odd level to pitch the question.

If the questioner is fully aware of what a galaxy is, this should be quickly established. If not, they might learn something, rather than receive an opinion about something they didn't mean to ask.

AndreasJ
2010-Jul-15, 05:00 PM
My post addresses this. It is perfectly possible that the questioner does indeed want to know Asimov's opinion about other galaxies, but it seems much more likely that they simply want to know if there's life out there in space, and are unsure of the terminology - especially given how much astronomical terms are misused in the media. It is, after all, an odd level to pitch the question.
The question is somewhat odd, but not so odd that I would have immediately suspected confusion on the part of the asker. (And I haven't run into enough confusion about what a galaxy is - unlike, say, mutation - that the word itself would put me on the look out for misconceptions.)

grant hutchison
2010-Jul-15, 05:17 PM
The question is somewhat odd, but not so odd that I would have immediately suspected confusion on the part of the asker. (And I haven't run into enough confusion about what a galaxy is - unlike, say, mutation - that the word itself would put me on the look out for misconceptions.)Using the word "galaxy" instead of "solar system" seems to be a very common error among those who don't know any astronomy; about as common as mixing "astronomy" and "astrology", I'd say.
That said, I think there are better responses than a bald "What do you mean by galaxy?" It seems pretty clear that the questioner wants an opinion on the existence of life beyond the Earth, unless they're very, very confused about the meaning of the word "galaxy". One can frame a reply to that inferred question which makes clear the difference between a solar system and a galaxy, without ever calling the questioner on their understanding of the word.

Grant Hutchison

AndreasJ
2010-Jul-15, 05:31 PM
Using the word "galaxy" instead of "solar system" seems to be a very common error among those who don't know any astronomy; about as common as mixing "astronomy" and "astrology", I'd say.
I guess I must have been lucky then, because I really can't recall coming across it very often (unlike, say the astronomy/astrology confusion). Or perhaps I do encounter it and just haven't realized people aren't meaning what they say. (It may make very little difference, say, if a fictional alien is said to come from another solar system or another galaxy.)

JohnD
2010-Jul-15, 05:52 PM
It's putting the answer as a question.

Questions in spoken English are marked by a rising intonation at the end of the sentence. "Have you ^slept^?"
This "High rising terminal" mode of speech has been adopted as normal for other expressions in many accents, suhc as Australian, or English 'Estuary' (as in Thames Estuary), where many sentences end in the same way. It can give an agressive, dominating affect to a non-speaker, when the speaker has no such intent.

Writing an answer as a question has the same affect. You are challenging the questioner. Try saying that again as a question. "You are challenging the ^questioner^?"
See how it gets up your nose? (No offence to Aussies!)

John

Gillianren
2010-Jul-15, 06:37 PM
While the CT themself, one suspects, is shaking their head at Jay's arrogance and NASA stooge-dom.

Heck, you don't even have to suspect. They'll tell you!


Which connects to what I said about reasonable people on the previous page - not everyone is. If you're coming across as arrogant, condescending, pedantic, etc, it may be that you are those things, or that you're expressing yourself poorly, but it may also be that your interlocutor's perceptions are unreasonable.

Which is why you should look at other statements on the part of your interlocutor, I guess, and consider how rational they are. But conversation, even on a forum, is all about give and take, and teaching is in many ways a directed conversation.


I guess I must have been lucky then, because I really can't recall coming across it very often (unlike, say the astronomy/astrology confusion). Or perhaps I do encounter it and just haven't realized people aren't meaning what they say. (It may make very little difference, say, if a fictional alien is said to come from another solar system or another galaxy.)

Yeah, I haven't come across it much, either. Regionalism, maybe?

grant hutchison
2010-Jul-15, 07:00 PM
Yeah, I haven't come across it much, either. Regionalism, maybe?It seems fairly widespread. Here are just my first three Google hits, looking for pages that explain the difference between a solar system and a galaxy:
NASA (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/faq/index.cfm?Category=SolarSys#q10)
Astronomy Answers (http://www.astro.uu.nl/~strous/AA/en/antwoorden/zonnestelsel.html)
WikiAnswers (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Difference_between_solar_system_and_galaxy)

Grant Hutchison

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-15, 07:30 PM
One can frame a reply to that inferred question which makes clear the difference between a solar system and a galaxy, without ever calling the questioner on their understanding of the word.

But why do this? Why go to the effort of sparing someone's feelings when they are almost certainly more interested in learning (including learning from their mistakes) than being treated with kid gloves? Saying something like, "Are you sure you mean galaxy rather than solar system?" is not going to cause inquiring minds to violetly shrink.

If I posed a non-astronomy question such as, "If antihistamines can't kill viruses, why do we take them for colds?" I would far rather someone simply say to me, "You're confusing antihistamines with antibiotics. This is the reason..." In my experience, being told where I've gone wrong is far more instructive than having someone beating about the bush to avoid telling me I've got something wrong.

Gillianren
2010-Jul-15, 07:42 PM
Yes, but galaxies could be what they mean. It's not as though the only possible answer is "you mean solar systems." Ergo the comparison to a confusion between antihistamine and antibiotic isn't a good one.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-15, 07:58 PM
Yes, but galaxies could be what they mean. It's not as though the only possible answer is "you mean solar systems."

Again, I mentioned this possibility in an earlier post, which is precisely why Asimov asked what they meant by a galaxy. But there seems to be far too much worry in this thread that asking this is somehow going to undermine the questioner by highlighting their ignorance if they didn't mean galaxy.


Ergo the comparison to a confusion between antihistamine and antibiotic isn't a good one.

It's not a comparison. I'm making the point (counter to Grant's) that I don't want someone to frame an answer in such a way that it avoids pointing out my mistake to me. (I realise that antihistamines is clearly a mistake whereas galaxy only might be a mistake, but in both cases the answerer has to choose whether to point out the questioner's (definite or possible) mistake.)

HenrikOlsen
2010-Jul-15, 08:05 PM
If I posed a non-astronomy question such as, "If antihistamines can't kill viruses, why do we take them for colds?" I would far rather someone simply say to me, "You're confusing antihistamines with antibiotics. This is the reason...
...and since the cold is viral, antibiotics doesn't work anyway and shouldn't really be used at all for it, as you'll only be helping to increase the number of resistant bacteria.

Swift
2010-Jul-15, 08:17 PM
<snip>
But why do this? Why go to the effort of sparing someone's feelings when they are almost certainly more interested in learning (including learning from their mistakes) than being treated with kid gloves?
Maybe its just me, but I don't understand why there is a dichotomy. I don't understand why it is so difficult to make an effort to spare people's feelings (be nice) and to teach them. I have rarely had a problem doing both. Why are people (not just Paul Beardsley) making this an either/or problem?

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-15, 08:53 PM
Maybe its just me, but I don't understand why there is a dichotomy. I don't understand why it is so difficult to make an effort to spare people's feelings (be nice) and to teach them. I have rarely had a problem doing both. Why are people (not just Paul Beardsley) making this an either/or problem?

I don't think I am making it a dichotomy at all - indeed, my issue with this thread is that it seems to be making something of nothing. My problem is with people falling over themselves to avoid offence which is extremely unlikely to be taken in the first place.

I am a teacher by profession. (English as a Foreign Language for adult learners, although I have also worked with other age groups in other subjects.) I often have to tell students that they've got something wrong. It's generally not a big deal. I've created a very nice environment in which they support each other, and have a good-humoured attitude towards mistakes. I made a mistake myself today (having not had time to read through the material, due to a major train delay) and so this time I was on the receiving end of the good humour.

To my mind, the only circumstance in which you might cause offense when telling someone they've got it wrong would be if you said something along the lines of, "You're an idiot if you don't know the difference between a solar system and a galaxy." If you are polite and respectful to people who really want to learn, there is no need to disguise the fact that you are correcting them.

Gillianren
2010-Jul-15, 09:31 PM
I don't think I am making it a dichotomy at all - indeed, my issue with this thread is that it seems to be making something of nothing. My problem is with people falling over themselves to avoid offence which is extremely unlikely to be taken in the first place.

There is a difference between falling over yourself to avoid offense and using more diplomatic language. In part, the example about galaxies--which I think to be a poor one for the purposes of this conversation--should be phrased in a way to determine whether or not they do know what they're talking about, and I think "Galaxies or solar systems?" works better than a brusque "Define galaxy."

grant hutchison
2010-Jul-15, 09:37 PM
But why do this? Why go to the effort of sparing someone's feelings ...Because it's actually worth the effort to spare someone's feelings if you can correct their error without hurting their feelings? Just frame the response so that it answers their question and highlights the difference between a solar system and a galaxy. The questioner learns the difference as part of the answer.


I am a teacher by profession. (English as a Foreign Language for adult learners, although I have also worked with other age groups in other subjects.) I often have to tell students that they've got something wrong.And when I teach, I often do, too. And it's no big deal. We're in a recognized teaching context, and the learner has bought into that.
But this thread is about Q&A, when someone opportunistically pops in to ask a question. Your Asimov example seemed to have the same context: "Hey, there's Isaac Asimov; I'll ask him!" That's a different social setting, and Nereid is asking specifically about that situation, and how to avoid appearing "condescending and uninviting" under those circumstances.

Grant Hutchison

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-15, 09:43 PM
Because it's actually worth the effort to spare someone's feelings if you can correct their error without hurting their feelings? Just frame the response so that it answers their question and highlights the difference between a solar system and a galaxy. The questioner learns the difference as part of the answer.

So you quote part of what I say but snip the important bit so that I look like an insensitive jerk?

I am really tiring of this discussion.

grant hutchison
2010-Jul-15, 10:01 PM
So you quote part of what I say but snip the important bit so that I look like an insensitive jerk?No, I snip the part I'm replying to, so that my answer directly follows the relevant question. And I carefully mark the elided text with ellipsis, to show that I've left something out, secure in the knowledge that the rest of your discussion is right there where you wrote it, and immediately accessible to anyone who cares to click on the link-back at the head of the quote.

I'm very sorry if my usual economy of quotation looked like an effort to distort what you'd said. I have absolutely no interest in feeble attempts at stitching someone up to look like something they're not. It would make me look like an idiot, for one thing. And it would be setting out to give offence on a thread about how not to give offence, which would be unbearably ironic.

Grant Hutchison

Van Rijn
2010-Jul-15, 10:21 PM
Maybe its just me, but I don't understand why there is a dichotomy. I don't understand why it is so difficult to make an effort to spare people's feelings (be nice) and to teach them.


One big issue is that perceptions differ. I might think I'm being nice, and helpful, writing a post with a friendly smile on my face, and get back a response where it is obvious the reader did not consider my post nice, or helpful.

Van Rijn
2010-Jul-15, 10:29 PM
I guess I must have been lucky then, because I really can't recall coming across it very often (unlike, say the astronomy/astrology confusion). Or perhaps I do encounter it and just haven't realized people aren't meaning what they say. (It may make very little difference, say, if a fictional alien is said to come from another solar system or another galaxy.)

Try watching '50s or '60s Hollywood alien movies, or some of the TV shows going up through at least the '70s, though perhaps not so much in more recent stuff. In the old movies, aliens always seemed to be coming from another galaxy. I think the writers liked the word "galaxy" better, didn't have a clue, or both. I think that has helped to confuse a lot of people.

Van Rijn
2010-Jul-15, 10:39 PM
Which connects to what I said about reasonable people on the previous page - not everyone is. If you're coming across as arrogant, condescending, pedantic, etc, it may be that you are those things, or that you're expressing yourself poorly, but it may also be that your interlocutor's perceptions are unreasonable.

Yes, exactly. My view is that the recent Q&A issues involve a bit of both of those.

ETA: To clarify a bit, I do think some folks were not trying to be very diplomatic. On the other hand, I think some were reading things into posts that weren't intended.

Nereid
2010-Jul-16, 12:44 AM
FYI, here is B's second attempt to answer the questions.

Note that the ones in the OP, by A, are 1. and 3., and that 2. is: "Is there a geographical model for complex life to evolve without a relationship between between two life forms, that is an “environmental” way to control bi products. If plants / animals died out would it effect animals / plants or would the planet find a different way of regulating waste products?"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If I may, I'd like to start by summarising what I understand to be some key aspects of contemporary evolutionary biology and palaeontology, relevant to the questions.

It used to be thought that there are three kingdoms (I think that's the right word) within the eukaryotes (lifeforms with a clearly defined nucleus); namely, plants, animals, and protists (single celled organisms, not prokaryotes). Later, fungi were added as an extra kingdom within the eukaryotes.

Then came the revolution in biology, the detailed study of the DNA of all lifeforms.

This enabled, at last, an objective and unambiguous way of classifying the eukaryotes^, built around the concept of a clade, or monophyletic group: an ancestor and all of, and only, its descendents.

And what a strange new picture emerged! The eukaryotes seem to comprise six supergroups:

* Amoebozoa – most lobose amoeboids and slime moulds
* Opisthokonta – animals, fungi, choanoflagellates, etc.
* Rhizaria – Foraminifera, Radiolaria, and various other amoeboid protozoa
* Archaeplastida (or Primoplantae) – Land plants, green algae, red algae, and glaucophytes
* Chromalveolata – Stramenopiles (or Heterokonta), Haptophyta, Cryptophyta (or cryptomonads), and Alveolata
* Excavata – Various flagellate protozoa

What used to be considered major kingdoms - plants, animals, fungi - are now merely groups within just two (of six) supergroups; and these erstwhile kingdoms share the supergroups with unicellular organisms.

Another revolution: most animal (and fungi) phyla were well-established by the time of the Cambrian explosion; the parting-of-the-ways, in the relevant trees, seems to have occurred many million - perhaps hundreds of millions - of years earlier.

Then there's some conclusions from older work in biology; for example, bacteria play an essential role in the carbon cycle. Indeed, without bacteria (almost?) all complex (differentiated) multi-cellular eukaryotes (i.e. all plants, animals, and fungi) would go extinct in a geological-time-scale instant.

With this background, here's one attempt at some answers.

1. and 2. Ecological systems are, generally, extremely complex, in terms of the dependence of any one organism in such a system on others. There are also important - sometimes crucial - dependencies on the non-biological environment, from the climate, to the salinity (etc) of the ocean, to the minerals which comprise the bedrock. Lifeforms, both complex and simple, do modify the environment, both the microenvironment (of the ecological niche; inside a termite mound, for example) and the global one (photosynthesising organisms, from bacteria to algae to land plants, for example). For these reasons alone these two questions seem, to me, to be impossible to answer.

3. As intelligence has been defined, earlier in this thread, brains are essential. Brains are built using neurons, which are specialist cells whose main function is, or can be considered to be, signalling. Plants do not have neurons, and their signaling systems work in very different ways from neurons. Could plants evolve in such a way as to produce neurons, the first (necessary) evolutionary step? Almost certainly not. Why not? Because the genes (DNA) which code for neurons are not present in plants' DNA, and even the regulatory genes (DNA) for the general class of cells (of which neurons are but one type) are absent in plants. So there seems to be no sequence of mutations which could give plants neurons.

I think it is very important to keep in mind that evolution is blind, and that eukaryote adaptations can only arise by mutations to the DNA which the organism actually has (with some minor caveats about viruses).

^ it doesn't work so well for Bacteria and Archaea, because of horizontal gene transfer (HGT)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Comments?

Tinaa
2010-Jul-16, 03:48 AM
I'm not sure if the answers were condescending but I learned something new. I'm going to be googling for a while now.

Donnie B.
2010-Jul-16, 10:42 AM
And there you have the reason it's so hard to overcome conspiracy theories or misconceptions. The conspiracy can be expressed in a sound byte ("Apollo was a hoax, they never landed on the Moon!"), but the reality requires careful and lengthy explanation that encapsulates centuries of careful study (c.f. Clavius).

In Nereid's example, the one- or two-sentence questions required half a page of buildup even before the answer could be attempted. A genuinely curious reader will be willing to go through it and learn something, as Tinaa did (me too!). But if the reader is reluctant to change his/her viewpoint, or even just lazy, that very clear and useful answer will boil down to something akin to the teacher's dialog in Peanuts, in the mind of the interlocutor. In some cases it may even increase confusion -- why are they going on about amoebas?

Swift
2010-Jul-16, 02:24 PM
No, I snip the part I'm replying to, so that my answer directly follows the relevant question. And I carefully mark the elided text with ellipsis, to show that I've left something out, secure in the knowledge that the rest of your discussion is right there where you wrote it, and immediately accessible to anyone who cares to click on the link-back at the head of the quote.

I'm very sorry if my usual economy of quotation looked like an effort to distort what you'd said. I have absolutely no interest in feeble attempts at stitching someone up to look like something they're not. It would make me look like an idiot, for one thing. And it would be setting out to give offence on a thread about how not to give offence, which would be unbearably ironic.

Grant Hutchison
Since people want examples... IMHO, a very nice example of politely answering a question and diffusing a difficult difference of opinions.

Nereid
2010-Jul-16, 02:25 PM
BTW, the questions - referenced in the OP (and my last post) were not in the CT section, nor the ATM one. And, as I said earlier, not in the Q&A section either.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-16, 02:39 PM
Grant: I do not doubt that you did not intend to distort the meaning of what I said, and I am sorry I flew off the handle. But surely you appreciate that a line like this:

"Why worry about hurting people's feelings when they are not going to be hurt anyway?"

carries a very different meaning to a line like this:

"Why worry about hurting people's feelings..."

Gillian: The antihistamines/antibiotics was not intended as an analogy for galaxy/solar system confusion. It was an example of a misunderstanding that has to be addressed before any further communication about the issue is possible. Furthermore, the mistake might be different, or more deep-rooted, to what you suppose. For instance, the questioner might (also) have confused a cold with hay fever. Asking, "Are you sure you mean antihistamines?" is acceptable and necessary.

Galaxies and solar systems: Even if it's apparently rare for the two to be confused nowadays, I think it's evident from other posts that laypersons had vague (at best) understanding of the two terms in the past - certainly at the time Asimov was talking about.

grant hutchison
2010-Jul-16, 04:15 PM
Grant: I do not doubt that you did not intend to distort the meaning of what I said, and I am sorry I flew off the handle. But surely you appreciate that a line like this:

"Why worry about hurting people's feelings when they are not going to be hurt anyway?"

carries a very different meaning to a line like this:

"Why worry about hurting people's feelings..."It certainly does.
But your original text was longer and more nuanced, saying that people would only "almost certainly" not be hurt. Which seemed to suggest an acceptance of the idea that, after enough trials of the direct approach you advocated, some (albeit a tiny number of) people would be hurt. I was arguing that, given the different social setting (in particular the lack of a formal teaching context) of Nereid's scenario, more people might be hurt than you expected.
So it seemed to me we were actually agreed that some people might get hurt, and were arguing only about whether that proportion was negligible or not. I believed I was responding to a statement analogous to "Why worry about being struck by a meteorite ..." My response was an attempt to justify anti-meteorite precautions, with no intention of suggesting that you had a foolish disregard for danger generally, or that you would stupidly go and stand at the Ground Zero of a predicted impact.

For what it's worth, that's what I thought I was doing. From subsequent events, it's evident that I misinterpreted your post in some way.

Grant Hutchison

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-16, 04:29 PM
I believed I was responding to a statement analogous to "Why worry about being struck by a meteorite ..." My response was an attempt to justify anti-meteorite precautions, with no intention of suggesting that you had a foolish disregard for danger generally, or that you would stupidly go and stand at the Ground Zero of a predicted impact.

For what it's worth, that's what I thought I was doing. From subsequent events, it's evident that I misinterpreted your post in some way.

Oh well. At least it generated one great analogy! ;)

Gillianren
2010-Jul-16, 05:15 PM
Gillian: The antihistamines/antibiotics was not intended as an analogy for galaxy/solar system confusion. It was an example of a misunderstanding that has to be addressed before any further communication about the issue is possible. Furthermore, the mistake might be different, or more deep-rooted, to what you suppose. For instance, the questioner might (also) have confused a cold with hay fever. Asking, "Are you sure you mean antihistamines?" is acceptable and necessary.

Maybe not in those words. I'd start with "antihistamines don't fight bacteria; they fight symptoms of colds and things. Antibiotics fight bacterial infection, but only bacterial. They don't work on viruses, because viruses are very different, to the point that we're not sure they're alive." I think putting it as a flat question makes it a little blunter than it needs to be.


Galaxies and solar systems: Even if it's apparently rare for the two to be confused nowadays, I think it's evident from other posts that laypersons had vague (at best) understanding of the two terms in the past - certainly at the time Asimov was talking about.

At least for some, anyway. I'd say there were still plenty of people who didn't confuse them, and even if they did, I think the question is a little off-putting.

grant hutchison
2010-Jul-16, 06:13 PM
Oh well. At least it generated one great analogy! ;)Better than my first draft, certainly.
My first analogy was built around the "now we're just arguing about the price" story often attributed to George Bernard Shaw. It took a while for me to realize that this made you the cheap prostitute and me the expensive prostitute. But at least I realized before I posted. :lol:

Grant Hutchison

HenrikOlsen
2010-Jul-16, 06:28 PM
Maybe not in those words. I'd start with "antihistamines don't fight bacteria; they fight symptoms of colds and things. Antibiotics fight bacterial infection, but only bacterial. They don't work on viruses, because viruses are very different, to the point that we're not sure they're alive." I think putting it as a flat question makes it a little blunter than it needs to be.
Or how about "Even if you meant antibiotics, the answer would still be no, because the cold is viral and though antihistamines help other things (like some allergies) with symptoms similar to the cold, neither help for viral infections."?

Paul Beardsley
2010-Jul-16, 08:51 PM
What about secondary infections?

Gillianren
2010-Jul-16, 11:38 PM
If they're bacterial. I had a friend in college who ended up on antibiotics after initially coming down with a viral medication, but it ravaged her body enough so that she ended up on a lot of things. She also had a congenital heart defect, which may have had something to do with it. By the time we took her to the hospital, she was so dehydrated that she went through two bags of saline solution--and she weighed about a hundred pounds!

Nereid
2010-Jul-18, 10:21 AM
My thanks to Tinaa and Donnie B. for your comments on B's second answer (it's the penultimate post on page 2 of this thread).