ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Apr 17, 2014 10:26 pm

vinteuil wrote:I guess this is could be construed as a problem with my playing style, but: I actually do think that each sentence (if not each clue) needs to point directly to the answer; if I didn't get to an answer from a clue, I will in fact throw it out, because I'll assume that it was a properly-formed clue that I just didn't know, and will therefore only distract me from the next one. Every discussion of common links ever has worked off this premise, and people in those discussions usually say that regular tossups are sort of like common links.
I don't have anything useful to contribute to discussions of music, but I do have something to say about this. Look, obviously you want each clue to be a unique indicator that only picks out the answer intended without regard for the context in which it's placed, but sometimes things don't work out that way. This is especially true in the sciences, where sometimes there's just no space to disambiguate between every theoretically possible answer that matches a particular short description. In philosophy it's that way too, sometimes, in that a substantive clue removed from context could conceivably refer to different things. We try to avoid that as much as we can as writers and editors, both by selecting our wording carefully and by disambiguating when possible, but sometimes you have to rely on the context to know what answers make sense and what answers don't. If previous clues are telling you about a work written in the 18th century but you buzz in and say "A Theory of Justice" because it shares some terminology with Kant, then you've made a mistake even if the clue you buzzed on could conceivably point to "A Theory of Justice" as an answer. I don't know whether that caveat applies to these music questions or not, but I think it's useful generally to remember that no matter what my esteemed co-editor tells you, context actually does matter and thinking your way through a question is a useful skill.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Auroni » Thu Apr 17, 2014 10:45 pm

Yeah, a lot of my questions went with an "add up the details" approach, which is perfectly philosophically valid.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by The Ununtiable Twine » Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:39 pm

Did you post the set yet, Auroni?
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:24 am

vinteuil wrote:
Horned Screamer wrote: Now, on to attack some hysterical nonsense-
vinteuil wrote:This first clue is absurd: the third movement (which is NOT a "finale") of this piece has statements of the main theme in so many keys that there is no possible way any of theme could be unexpected.
Calm down dude! It's not an "absurd" clue, it's a little unclear, but kind of correct. Also, it's the final movement of a concerto. There's no reason why normal English speakers should be yelled at for having the audacity to call it a finale, because that's how lots of people use that word.

Fair enough about the wording being a little much, but any clue that is only "kind of correct" and is not at all buzzable is not a proper quizbowl clue, and is therefore just as absurd in context as Subash's "His intermittent surrealist depictions and use of vivid color belied the realism and monochromatic pigments that the public associated with him."
Here's the thing: you are dealing with a populace that doesn't understand why you think that clue is "absurd." The Subash clue is pretty obvious, because you don't have to be an artist to understand why there is nothing of substance in that sentence, all you have to do is think about what the words mean. On the other hand, this sentence lists specific key signatures in the work, mentions that it involves double stopped eighth notes, and says there's an orchestral accompaniment. If you aren't intimately acquainted with music terminology, there's no reason to expect you to think those clues aren't very specific. I understand that, and am empathetic to why those clues exist, and instead of flipping out, I give the suggestion that, perhaps this clue should be preceded by something more concrete, so that this clue is a lot better grounded. If you tacked on an opening sentence like "The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has an annual contest for people to perform this concerto" (to just use the first unique clue I found off of google), it would automatically make the question better since it leaves these nebulous clues to build context, rather than leaving them without an anchor. By the same token, I actually bothered to explain why the trill clue is not good. The exercise won't produce perfect questions, but it will help non-musicians be able to write things that are more usable than they would otherwise, which is really the best you can ask for. That's why I don't like it when I read you saying shit like this:

Yeah, this was not well-worded either, but, come on, if you're trying to describe a great moment, then you want to give people a sense of why it's great, or at least allow people to experience it again, or something.
or this:
Again, could you explain what you meant by the next sentence? I'm not sure how you could have written it understanding all the words and not realized that it's not at all evocative of a single piece.
It really shows some fundamental lack of empathy for you to come down out of the ivory tower of one of the top 5 or so music colleges in America and make the demand that somebody infinitely less well trained than you convey to you in words what makes a beautiful moment in music so incredible, or to even think it's acceptable to write that second quote at all. You have a right to be unhappy about the end result of a question, but you also have a responsibility as somebody who understands music to try and figure out why it is people actually make mistakes (because NO, what you think of as second nature in describing music is not in fact basic to anybody else without the proper training. Don't ever forget that) and try to helpfully explain what the most fixable problems are (hint: getting non-musicians to describe how ecstatic the double stopped passages of the Bach Double make you feel is not in that category), rather than be a dick about it to somebody who is trying pretty hard to help make sure you actually have music questions to play on at nationals. What's better, having more people who are able to at least churn out some music questions that you can answer and have some solid answer choices and decent clues, with some problems, or driving off the only people who are trying to do that and leaving music to be either a subject that is only good at the 3 tournaments a year a real musician edits it and have it be complete shit everywhere else? Try to be a problem solver instead of a bellyacher about this.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by vinteuil » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:28 am

Horned Screamer wrote:
Again, could you explain what you meant by the next sentence? I'm not sure how you could have written it understanding all the words and not realized that it's not at all evocative of a single piece.
It really shows some fundamental lack of empathy for you to...think it's acceptable to write that second quote at all.
I'm really sorry that that (and the other "requests for explanation" in that post) was so dickish.
I guess I'm just attempting to reinforce a point that still doesn't seem to have gotten across: please don't use terminology you don't understand—it's usually possible to look up what the words actually mean or find examples of them being used in context, and it's often not necessary to say something like "cantilena" at all. Similarly, if you can't identify what a clue is referring to, then please don't use it, or you run the risk of it not being useful.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Fri Apr 18, 2014 9:54 pm

Just getting to this after a week away....

Ryan and I have known disagreements about the proper approach to writing quizbowl history. I thought this tournament executed Ryan's vision very well, with straightforward tossups on answer lines that define the upper-level canon. The tossups on the Stalwarts and the Chmelnitsky Uprising exemplify this for me: two things that appear on lists of some category you have to know for QB history. First of all, contra what Ryan said, in both cases I answered those by iteratively excluding other items on said lists, not by buzzing at concrete "buzzpoints." I know Charles does things differently, so I might be unusual in that, but I personally don't think that's the most rewarding way to play quizbowl. It's a pretty constricted, discrete view of history ("X is a clue for the Chmelnitsky Uprising"/"they just said or alluded to Roscoe Conkling so I'll say Stalwarts"). All in all, I much preferred History Bowl, and I'm not sure why everyone seems to assume ACF Nationals has to be so much more conservative in its approach. Sure, Hitler's testicle would be out of place, but there's no reason why you can't get both more inventive and more academically serious with your answer lines and clues.

The only question I came away angry about was the "Continental Navy" question, since the unofficial standard for "this navy" questions courtesy of Bruce is to say a country (or polity, as in the Athenian navy question from some tournament). Also, I'm told the answer of "American Revolutionary navy," which I was negged for after "United States Navy" was prompted, was accepted elsewhere. Also I think multiple people buzzed on the First Salute clue and were screwed over in various ways, like me.

As to the economics, I want to say that this year's version was probably the second best for the four Nationals I've played, but 2012 was much better. I think there was a specific subject editor for it that year and whoever it was should be implored to rejoin the editing team. There were no out-and-out disasters, but a lot of questions were either predictable or baffling. Robert Lucas is the only QB-famous economist who did early work at CMU, so that was an unearned first-clue buzz. I think the Exchange Rate question talked about uncovered interest parity in its first clue, which is very famous. There are plenty of unused early clues available for both. For the "volatility" question, on the other hand, it was clear from about line two that what was wanted was some concept of variability, but I had no idea what word to say, even after the giveaway. It's possible I'm just not that well acquainted with the terminology of financial economics, but in my view that was a classic SS question on a vague word where the author obviously thinks the clues are more uniquely determinative than they are. Were the Olson and Veblen questions economics? I don't mind that they get tossed up, but they really are in the category of 40-year-old (or more) books (or authors) no one reads at this point, and they should get swept under the tidal wave of the social science reform movement I've conjured up in my head.

For bonuses, as usual there were some odd combinations. Was the theme of the bonus part in the finals education? Because otherwise "capital (from human capital clues)/Spence/Moretti" is really a weird choice of three things. And Spence isn't a Nationals-level medium part if you say he won the Nobel Prize with Ackerlof and Stiglitz--that should be clued from a description of the Spence Signaling Model.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri Apr 18, 2014 10:45 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:For the "volatility" question, on the other hand, it was clear from about line two that what was wanted was some concept of variability, but I had no idea what word to say, even after the giveaway.
My thoughts on this question were similar. I got negged for saying "risk" after hearing "beta" which I guess is fine, though in my opinion there should have been a prompt for risk since, at least in a not strictly statistical sense, volatility is often talked about as a source of risk (i.e. higher potential for losses, not necessarily higher mean expected loss value). At the very least, that's the context I've heard the term "beta" often used in discussions of the mathematical analysis of stocks. I didn't manage to figure out what they wanted until near the end, either.
Last edited by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea on Fri Apr 18, 2014 11:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Excelsior (smack) » Fri Apr 18, 2014 10:56 pm

The volatility question was my doing. I don't really have anything to say in defense of it, because I literally don't know the first thing about financial economics. Sorry about that.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Charbroil » Fri Apr 18, 2014 11:43 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:For the "volatility" question, on the other hand, it was clear from about line two that what was wanted was some concept of variability, but I had no idea what word to say, even after the giveaway.
Volatility is actually a pretty well defined concept in finance; I haven't seen the question, but there's no other "concept of variability" that would be associated with beta.
gamegeek2 wrote:
Tees-Exe Line wrote:For the "volatility" question, on the other hand, it was clear from about line two that what was wanted was some concept of variability, but I had no idea what word to say, even after the giveaway.
My thoughts on this question were similar. I got negged for saying "risk" after hearing "beta" which I guess is fine, though in my opinion there should have been a prompt for risk since, at least in a not strictly statistical sense, volatility is often talked about as a source of risk (i.e. higher potential for losses, not necessarily higher mean expected loss value). At the very least, that's the context I've heard the term "beta" often used in discussions of the mathematical analysis of stocks. I didn't manage to figure out what they wanted until near the end, either.
This might be a reasonable argument, though the two concepts aren't the exact same--volatility isn't equivalent to risk, but it is often used as either a quantitative representation of risk or as a source of risk. In other words, you can have risk without volatility, but volatility is a risk.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Fri Apr 18, 2014 11:59 pm

I should have included more praise: I very much enjoyed the abundance of archaeology in the set. That is a trend worth continuing at ACF Nationals. And specifically, more Lelantine War please.
Excelsior (smack) wrote:The volatility question was my doing. I don't really have anything to say in defense of it, because I literally don't know the first thing about financial economics. Sorry about that.
Please don't feel the need to abase yourself over a question like this, though I would encourage you to write about things you know you understand and can clue substantively, without relying on quizbowl buzzwords strung together with gobbledygook (not that you do this, Ashvin: it is a characterization of bad social science writing in general). I would especially say that to you, since I know there are economic concepts you understand and can describe in normal words. Perhaps you were operating under the malevolent influence of someone who believes in submitting Nats questions outside your expertise in order to prevent those topics from coming up in rounds you play....
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by magin » Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:21 am

Tees-Exe Line wrote:As to the economics, I want to say that this year's version was probably the second best for the four Nationals I've played, but 2012 was much better. I think there was a specific subject editor for it that year and whoever it was should be implored to rejoin the editing team.
There wasn't, actually. Dennis Jang and Gautam Kandlikar submitted freelance economics questions in both 2012 and 2013, and I edited the rest of the econ to the best of my ability. I'd be interested in knowing what made the 2012 economics much better, as someone without deep knowledge in economics.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:28 am

magin wrote:
Tees-Exe Line wrote:As to the economics, I want to say that this year's version was probably the second best for the four Nationals I've played, but 2012 was much better. I think there was a specific subject editor for it that year and whoever it was should be implored to rejoin the editing team.
There wasn't, actually. Dennis Jang and Gautam Kandlikar submitted freelance economics questions in both 2012 and 2013, and I edited the rest of the econ to the best of my ability. I'd be interested in knowing what made the 2012 economics much better, as someone without deep knowledge in economics.
The short answer is that the questions were on major topics at the center of the field and used clues that were important and were described well. At some point I can go through and do a close reading of that set, but probably not this week or next. I'm not sure what changed between 2012 and 2013 either, because I remember last year's as being the most frustrating and rage-inducing.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Gautam » Sat Apr 19, 2014 12:30 am

I submitted the bonus on a hodgepodge of labor things. My submission went thusly:

In early studies of his model, Jacob Mincer showed that restricting human capital investment to this quantity fails to adequately explain earnings of individuals with more than a decade of continuous work experience. For 10 points each:
[10] The Mincer-type equation attempt to predict income as a function of this quantity and work-experience.
ANSWER: years of schooling [or years of education; accept equivalents]
[10] This economist’s work suggests that observable values such as years of education is more a signal for ability of a worker rather than the utility of the education in the production process. That work in labor market signaling won him the Nobel prize with Akerlof and Stiglitz in 2001.
ANSWER: Andrew Michael Spence
[10] This UC Berkeley economist identified “thick” labor markets, an ecosystem of intermediate service providers, and human capital spillovers as the three main reasons for the emergence of ‘innovation clusters’ in The New Geography of Jobs.
ANSWER: Enrico Moretti

For the forex tu, I figured if you knew what the uncovered interest parity was you deserved some points. I could have restructured the question a bit I think. Will keep the feedback in mind.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:26 am

I’m working two jobs, so I didn’t have a chance to respond to this thread until now. I want to start out with some boring thank yous—skip ahead to the next paragraph if such things bore you. First of all, I want to express my gratitude to all the other editors. I was a real asshole the last three month’s pushing them to finish the set, and they deserve some sort of medal for surviving my onslaught of emails. Without a doubt, this was the best editing team I’ve ever worked on (Auroni especially impressed me with his unparalleled—and apparently unappreciated—work ethic on his music and literature questions). I also want to thank everyone who helped copyedit or playtest the set. I want to single out Jonathan Magin for providing the most helpful feedback I’ve ever received on questions. In my opinion, his feedback alone improved the tournament at least a half-letter grade. And on a personal note, his calm presence kept me sane during the hellish weeks leading up to the tournament.

Now, onto the controversial stuff. I will respond to John’s misguided criticism in a separate post, but first I wanted to outline my philosophy for the set free of vitriol. I was responsible painting, visual misc. arts, American lit, European lit, and about half of the World/Ancient/Other Lit. I also wrote half the British lit questions for the editors packets. I do not mean to diminish Auroni’s genuinely impressively work with the literature when I say that I was the overseeing editor for the literature. I had veto power over answers lines and the final say on bonuses. Accordingly, all the issues with bonus difficulty in literature fall entirely on me. If I had been less stubborn the bonuses would have been better as Auroni wanted to make a number of bonuses easier.

But I had a distinct vision for this set that guided all the lit and visual arts in the tournament. I had an ambitious goal: something showing you can write about canonical topics in fresh and exciting ways, something showing traditional and experimental answers can coexist, something where both the hard and the easy answers are filled with clues that people actually know and buzz on. In short, something that might forge a path for the future development of quizbowl writing. I could have written a boringly competent tournament like Cane Ridge Revival—a tournament so competent that people can barely muster the energy to discuss it for more than ten posts—but I decided to attempt something that would break new ground. Did I achieve this goal: Not quite. I aimed incredibly high and think I got about 85% of the way there. I especially overestimated the middle parts of my bonuses, and this was a major flaw. I have never been a “B“ student, and I will live with the disappointment of failing to reach my goal for the rest of my career.


But on a less poetic note, I followed a number of specific guidelines. Here are the distinct principles I tried to follow.

1) A range of difficulty in tossups. I have always been a fierce advocate of canonical questions, but at the same time I think canonical answers need to be balanced with difficult tossups on unexpected topics. I find this helps to fight transparency and guarantees a good range of answers from accessible to challenging that will engage a large swathe of players. Accordingly, in the editors packets I deliberately planned every category to follow a 1-5 difficulty scale. (1 is high-school, 2 is ACF Fall answer, 3 is Regionals, 4 is Nationals, and 5 is an extra-canonical answer that is important within the topic but has not been covered in quizbowl.) Across the ten editors packets, in each category I wanted one 1, two 2s, three 3s, three 4s, and one 5. Below is the difficulty scale for American literature.

1- Mississippi River
2- Ezra Pound, Benjy Compson
3- Mary Tyrone, Up From Slavery, A Fable for Critics
4-, David Ives, The Magic Barrel, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
5- Steeple Jack


Now you can quibble about the individual classifications (perhaps A Fable for Critics is a 4 and Mary Tyrone is a 2, but these are meant to be rough guidelines). Initially, David Ives was a 5 (as the perfect example of someone who has never been a tossup in quizbowl but anyone who cares about modern American drama will know), but I saw Ives come up a couple times and was confident people would answer him. So I moved Ives down to a four and looked to write on a poem that doesn’t come up in quizbowl but someone who cares about modern American poetry will definitely have read. And the tossup on “Steeple Jack” played this role exactly as I hoped it would. I also deliberately planned the order of the tossups across the editors packets to keep players honest, so a round with a tossup on Velasquez might be followed by a round with a tossup on Diebenkorn.

2) Buzzable Early Clues. I chose to fill my tossups (especially on canonical topics) with clues that I thought people with knowledge on the topic would know. I approached it with the mentality of looking for clues I thought people would know rather than clues that I would be surprised if someone knew. This was a direct departure from Yaphe’s approach to writing on canonical topics for the ICT. This is not the approach I would take for writing on canonical topics for CO or a master’s lit tournament, but for this field—where there was not a single lit grad student and very few top fiction players—I felt it was an appropriate and, in fact, responsible decision. I thought most players buzzing on canonical works would have read them once in class and probably not devoted significant time to detailed rereading or critical study, so I used many more middle clues than leadins. I definitely made a few mistakes on the Goethe, Mary Tyrone, and Mississippi River tossups. (Fucking up the Mississippi River tossup, in particular, will haunt me because that was my favorite answer-line in the tournament.) But my personal, mechanical mistakes on a few tossups don’t disprove the larger philosophy.

Let me clarify this philosophy by comparing two tossups: Stephen Dedalus and Benjy Compson. Now, the Dedalus tossup was originally written for my abandoned lit tournament and was designed to distinguish fairly between Yaphe and Magin. But at this tournament, John Lawrence was only able to buzz on the eighth of eleven lines. In a superficial sense, the Dedalus tossup is invulnerable to criticism (no one will buzzer race early in the question), but in a deeper sense it was probably a bad tossup for the field. The Benjy Compson tossup was originally fifteen lines long, but I decided while editing it down to ten lines to favor clues that I thought people who had read the novel would recognize. I could have swapped out a later middle clue for another leadin, and everyone in the field except maybe one guy would have waited an extra line before it was answered. But I actually think it would make it a worse tossup for this particular field.

3) Hard bonus parts on canonical works. I find bonuses are an ideal format to test different types of knowledge on canonical works. I think people should experiment less with tossups and more with bonuses. I wrote many bonus parts on images and phrases from poems, dialogue from plays, motifs from paintings, and notable ideas and events associated with authors (like “le mot juste” for Flaubert or lachrimae rerum for Virgil). Essentially, I tried to convert middle clues into the hard part of the bonus (i.e. asking for “mansion” from “mansion for all lovely forms” or “zero” from “zero at the bone”). This experiment was not entirely successful, and at times lead to overly difficult bonus parts. In particular, I want to apologize to Yale for the dreadfully misjudged bonus on quotes from Lady Windermere’s Fan. You guys got screwed. But I hope this discussion will look at the parts of this experiment that worked rather than fixating on the one place it definitely failed.

4) Interdisciplinary Arts Questions on Locations and Buildings. I wrote misc arts tossups on the New York Library, Trinity Church, Chartres, Park Guell, and the Rothko Chapel. In my opinion, misc arts has the broadest possibility of any category for accessible canon expansion. There are countless physical places like universities, parks, churches, performance centers, or museums that make for accessible answers and about which people have real knowledge. (One of my big regrets was not writing a museum tossup on something like the Met or the Art Institute of Chicago to reward people who actually go to museums.) These tossups can reward a range of interdisciplinary knowledge about the arts, as these locations often have architecture, sculpture, and painting clues. Moreover, I strongly disagree with the push to make film a majority of the misc arts distribution and think there should be more of these interdisciplinary visual arts questions at all levels.

5) Questions on Literary Practice rather than Literary Theory. I wrote a number of questions on concepts, tools, motifs, and terms that are used in discussions in English classes but not discussed individually. These questions included the tossups on close reading and the grotesque, and the bonuses on reader response theory, literary nonsense, different types of sonnets, alazon/stock characters, narrative theory, theories of translation, and Aristotle terms. I distinguished literary practice from literary theory by asking if a topic was something that a teacher would explain in a lecture or class discussion, or if it was something that a person would have to learn independently by reading the book in question. So, a question on the concept of a “writerly” or “readerly” text would be literature while a tossup on Mythologies would fall into social science.

Small Things:

6) I wanted a lit tossup on an ACF Fall answer line in every packet (which we achieved for 23 out of 25 packets).

7) I had minimum sub-distributions for categories in the submitted packets. It’s nigh impossible to sub-distribute perfectly across genre and time periods for the submitted packets. For example, this year five of the first six packets we received had a tossup on Elizabethan drama, while across all the submissions for American literature we only received one good tossup on a play. Accordingly, I imposed certain lower limits for categories: at least two tossups on ancient drama, at least one tossup on Romantic poetry, at least one tossup on a canonical American short story, etc.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Sat Apr 19, 2014 1:00 pm

Magister Ludi wrote: I approached it with the mentality of looking for clues I thought people would know rather than clues that I would be surprised if someone knew. This was a direct departure from Yaphe’s approach to writing on canonical topics for the ICT.
This is obviously not pertinent to the discussion of ACF nationals, but since Ted has name-checked me, I will note that "using clues that I would be surprised if anyone knew" is not actually my "approach" to question writing. That would indeed be a very odd approach.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Apr 19, 2014 3:13 pm

As a member of both the 2012 and the 2014 editing teams, I'd say that the difference between that year and this year is myself editing social science in 2014 vs. Jonathan doing so in 2012. I'm not sure how much of a difference that made overall, but I am probably more prone to a slightly more "technical" treatment (e.g. that bonus on DSGE models) vs. Jonathan's more "institutional" approach. A few things to say about Marshall's response:
Tees-Exe Line wrote: Robert Lucas is the only QB-famous economist who did early work at CMU, so that was an unearned first-clue buzz.
This is inaccurate. At least three Nobel Prize-winning economists who could potentially have been answers at Nationals have done significant early work at CMU. I don't think this is a particularly ridiculous clue.
For the "volatility" question, on the other hand, it was clear from about line two that what was wanted was some concept of variability, but I had no idea what word to say, even after the giveaway. It's possible I'm just not that well acquainted with the terminology of financial economics, but in my view that was a classic SS question on a vague word where the author obviously thinks the clues are more uniquely determinative than they are.
So, I edited that question, and I can assure you that I checked every single clue and that "volatility" is definitely a term of art in finance. This was not at all a "vague" question but one whose clues pointed to a specific quantity in financial modeling that has a particular meaning.
Were the Olson and Veblen questions economics? I don't mind that they get tossed up, but they really are in the category of 40-year-old (or more) books (or authors) no one reads at this point, and they should get swept under the tidal wave of the social science reform movement I've conjured up in my head.
As far as I know, the Veblen tossup wasn't classed as anything like "economics" because we simply did not make that distinction at the subdistributional level. He was referred to as "this economist" in the question, but of course none of that indicates "a question on economics only." Veblen to me is like Marx in that regardless of whether he was right or wrong, the echo of his work resounds throughout history. I have no problem with questions on him because he's someone whose social thought has had a great deal of influence.
For bonuses, as usual there were some odd combinations. Was the theme of the bonus part in the finals education? Because otherwise "capital (from human capital clues)/Spence/Moretti" is really a weird choice of three things. And Spence isn't a Nationals-level medium part if you say he won the Nobel Prize with Ackerlof and Stiglitz--that should be clued from a description of the Spence Signaling Model.
There was not a "theme" to this bonus, really. I'm not sure what the complaint is other than "Spence is too easy from given clues." I didn't write that question, but I thought it was fine; I can't necessarily expect everyone to automatically come up with the least famous (to laypeople) of those three Nobelists.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Sat Apr 19, 2014 3:55 pm

Unfortunately, writing that music writing guide drained my time, and so I only now have a chance to respond to Tommy's post in this thread. And I will probably have to wait till tomorrow to respond to Ted.

If you are reporting correctly, Tommy, I am sorry to hear that the community thinks that my complaints about the music questions are petulant. I don't want to come across that way. Let me explain where I'm coming from.

In my first post, I acknowledged that I was knowingly coming to this discussion holding a minority position. It was clear that many people thought that this was a great tournament and regard this is as the finest Nationals.

As I stated, I thought the music cluing was terrible. This was not hyperbole on my part. It was certainly systematically worse than what I experienced at ACF Nats 2011-2013, ACF Regionals 2011-2014, Minnesota Opens 2010-2012, and Chicago Opens 2012-2013, all of which have had music that I've praised. In an era in which the flagship tournaments look like they all have strong music questions, this seemed like a major step backwards, because the questions were filled with inaccuracies and vagaries that rendered the questions unbuzzable till quite late. It is important to me that the good work that has been done in the past few years not be undone. And since almost all of the standard mistakes appeared in this tournament, I wanted to make them clear, so that future writers and editors can learn from it. But, as I said, I wanted this to be productive. I therefore asked whether I should start a new thread or post in here.

In the meantime, Auroni and I briefly corresponded, and I asked him whether he might be willing to reveal his sources for his Bach Double Violin Concerto question, as I thought the most useful thing I could do would be to show how I would try to edit that tossup if it were submitted to me. In this thread, I also stated my intention to post this by Friday.

When I returned to the thread I found that the response was basically to tell me to sit down and shut up; to remember that music questions used to be even worse years ago, so I should be grateful that people are making an effort to write good clues at all and shouldn't complain; and that because I still beat the field to nearly all the questions, my complaints were unseemly. Finally, there was a comment from you, Tommy, explaining how I should take a leaf out of your book, and follow how you've helped change film questions.

I'll start with the last of these points: Your post was able to spur a film revolution, because quizbowlers already loved film, and though many of us lack a great deal of the technical vocabulary of the trade, most of us are nonetheless conversant enough with the works and how to talk about them. Thus, all you really needed to do was convince people that yours was a good way to approach writing film questions; you didn't actually have to coach them through all the basic steps of execution. By way of contrast, the revolution in writing music questions started years ago, when people realized that just dropping titles of obscure pieces was not the way to go. The struggle since then has been in trying to get people to execute content-based clues competently, which is very difficult, because most people don't have training in how to talk about music with precision.

I don't want to diminish the importance of your film post, Tommy, but even to get music questions to the stage they are at now, I personally have had to invest an extraordinary amount of time in hands-on work to see this through. Beyond doing lots of writing and editing, I have playtested tons of sets over the past two years, in each case giving very detailed explanations of why I was proposing each change that I was proposing, in the hopes of helping those writers get to the point where playtesting was no longer essential. For one tournament, the editor sent me each music tossup before it went into the set, and I gave a careful explanation of which clues were unhelpfully worded or should be replaced and why. Most people, when they complain about a question, have the benefit of knowing that the writer his own sentences, and that the complaint will therefore mean something to the writer. Nearly every time there is a problem with a music question, I need to explain the problem in great detail to be understood, because the writer is using terminology he doesn't understand to write a kind of clue that he himself could never buzz on, and he can't yet comprehend the kind of thinking that his clue was meant to reward.

Some of the responses in this thread suggest a gap between what I think tournament discussion is for and what others think it is for. Unlike many of you, I did not play this game in high school, and I did not have the benefit of arriving at a school with a strong team, where there were people who could give me advice on how to improve as a player or as a writer. The forums were my only teacher. I wrote for a tournament. People yelled at me for writing bad questions, and told me why they were bad. And so, I wrote better questions next time. Then the process repeated. I get the sense that tournament discussion now is often mainly about publicly deciding the reputation of the tournament, vying for a place in some Quizbowl History Forum Top 10 of the future. I wrote my first post in this thread knowing that this tournament's reputation was secure in opposition to my opinion of it, and I didn't post to change that. I posted to identify the things that I thought were executed badly and how I think they could be solved, in the hopes that people would consider those proposals for future.

To return to film: I've been attempting to write good film questions (incorporating descriptions of particular shots and such) going back to 2010, when I submitted an obviously too hard Jules et Jim tossup to Penn Bowl. Tommy, your post says that you think that I have contributed positively to the improvement of film questions, but that my description of shots was imprecise. Well, this is the first I've heard anything of your reaction to my questions! I've submitted or edited film questions for a large number of tournaments that you've played. If I was doing good work, why didn't you ever encourage me? And considering that I'm likely to continue writing and editing, why wouldn't you tell me that I'm not describing shots well, so I can improve? If you were shy about posting publicly, you could have always e-mail or PM'd me. (In fact, if you'd still like to do that. I'd appreciate it.)

I would like to think that I am one of the best music editors in the game right now. I'm very happy when people who know music really well tell me about the rewarding early buzz they got, but I'm even happier when people who aren't all that good at music tell me that they got their first score clue buzz, or thank me for including clues about a particular performer or historical fact, for making music more accessible. If when I started out, people said "Gee, kid, you clearly know music theory and are trying hard. Don't worry about your mistakes. Just keep writing.", I would be a shitty writer. If I am a good writer today, it's because for the first couple of years, people on the forum beat the crap out of my questions. If you read those forum posts, you may find me arguing back. But if you look at how I responded in my writing, I incorporated each criticism into my next tournament, even when I disagreed with it. THUNDER 2009's music is very different from MAGNI's, which is very different from ACF Regionals 2012's (a couple of months later).

I'd like to close by quoting a post you wrote in the discussion about the science (particularly the Biology) in last year's ACF Nationals:
In general, I don't think it's too much to ask that for ACF Nationals, every question should be looked over by at least one person with some expertise in the subcategory, which was obviously not the case for this set, resulting in the field being forced to play many downright bad questions that could have been easily fixed with more thorough editing. As is usual, this thread has already degenerated into an extended debate over the merits of a single mildly controversial tossup, and not nearly enough attention will be given to the glaring fact Eric has singlehandedly illustrated (without even going beyond science): the number of simply bad questions in this set was totally unacceptable. I took high school biology five years ago, and even I knew that none of those clues in the tossup on paramecia were uniquely identifying, and even one question like that per ACF Nationals is too many. (Again, by "like that" I mean "a bad question that anyone with the relevant knowledge could have identified as bad and fixed.")
The points you make in this post are extraordinarily similar to the ones Jacob made in this thread, except yours are far more outlandish. You point out how little deep knowledge of the subject it would take to fix the questions or to realize that the clues were not uniquely identifying. You even demand that someone who does have the necessary real knowledge be consulted when the editor is out of his depth.

I'm quoting this not to make a point about you in particular, Tommy, but rather a general point. This post is entirely characteristic of the posts that the science players make on this forum, after nearly every tournament. Eric makes them quite often. The community response is not to tell Eric to shut up and to remind him that several years ago, science questions were written by non-scientists, and that he should be grateful that someone is doing something other than just dropping doubly-eponymous formulas; nor is the response to tell Eric that it is unseemly for him to complain, because he beat everyone to the science anyway, so it doesn't matter.

A lot of things go into this double standard, I think; many of them are totally reasonable, practical divides between the two subjects. Even though Biology and Music are both 1/1 of the distribution, there are more biologists in quizbowl than there are music majors. Biology is more important in real life. Even if not that many generalists have college-level biology experience, they all probably took it in high school. But also, I think the science players that complain are simply more well-liked as people than the music players that do so, and it has become fashionable to make fun of the phenomenon of complaining about music questions.

I understand that musical language is quite technical and many people haven't learned it in school, but the level of music theory knowledge required to understand quizbowl clues does not extended beyond what's on the Music Theory AP, or what a music major would learn in his first or second semester at college. It's galling to me that people happily read high-level college science textbooks to learn how to write and edit science, but no one will read a high-school level music textbook to help them edit music. I have learned that is unreasonable to expect a music editor to understand the words they use, even though that's the base-line for most categories. My posts on music over the years have been my efforts to find a way to encourage good music-writing, even in light of this problem.

I have just written a long guide explaining how to approach writing and editing music, even if you can't understand the terminology you use. It has almost all that I have to say on the subject. I'm going to keep writing, editing, and playtesting questions, and giving feedback via e-mail to people who ask for it. But I'm exhausted by how much time I've spent working in ways other people have found unhelpful, and I'm tired of accidentally pissing people off year after year, and I really don't know what more I can do to try to improve the music questions in this game. This post and my posts in the writing guide thread are my last public posts on the subject of other people's music questions in quizbowl for the near future (though I will continue to post about other aspects of writing). So, I refer you to that guide for general advice. If you are an editor or question-writer who wants specific feedback from me, from here forward, please e-mail me or PM me.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by vinteuil » Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:07 pm

Hey guys, reading John's post above is a tiny bit heartbreaking for me, and I can't help but feel that my posting has contributed to people being more antagonistic toward's John's—I promise I'll be looking to post much more constructively in the future.
[EDIT: spelling]
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:12 pm

vinteuil wrote:Hey guys, reading John's post above is a tiny bit heartbreaking for me, and I can't help but feel that my posting has contributing to people being more antagonistic toward's John's—I promise I'll be looking to post much more constructively in the future.
Yes, you should have STFUed and rendered obeisance to the debt we all owe Tommy Casalaspi. I can't believe he even deigned to post in this thread after your supreme petulance and nastiness, but we can at least be grateful now for the awareness of all he's done for quizbowl.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Sat Apr 19, 2014 4:19 pm

Please don't make this into something big. I'm not trying to be melodramatic. I'm not being "driven out" or "pressured out" of posting, or anything like that. The community's treatment of me has always been perfectly civilized. And as I said, I think robust criticism is the lifeblood of this community. But I've been saying the same things in music posts, year after year for a long time. I feel that I don't have much more new to say that I haven't said by now. And there's no point in my just repeating it, when I've known for a long time that it mostly annoys lots of people on the forums, and it's doing much less good than one-on-one e-mail feedback and playtesting.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat Apr 19, 2014 5:07 pm

That volatility tossup had clues right in the middle about the "volatility smile" in the Black-Scholes model - that term has been a fixture of the upper-level canon for forever! How can you claim that it was unclear what to say even at the end? Wait, what am I talking about - the "Canon" - does quizbowl even know what that idea is anymore, or is that just a thing that generalist dinosaurs of the early 2000's knew about?!


You know, I think anyone who is familiar with me as an editor knows me as a person who is extremely obsessive, meticulous, and careful with my questions. I read them over a bunch of times to toy with grammar, rearrange clues and reorder sentence constructions, change and re-change parts of bonuses, etc. I'm one of the slower writers in quizbowl, and I've always been the opposite of the "quantity-over-quality" approach in both writing and editing.

So, it's always amusing to me how often I now find myself in the position of being the person that is preaching for people to be realistic about question writing, and stop placing unreasonable demands on questions writers, or demanding that tournaments be written by 20-person teams so that every single sub-distribution has an "expert" (defined, of course, as the one or two people in all of QB who write that subject the way that you prefer). Forget that this would mean that there'd be noone left to play the tournament.

I have a little exercise that I'd love to see people try - just for kicks. Maybe on the next major tournament to come out (CO, I guess). Avoid analyzing the one or two areas that you specialize in. If you're Marshall, stay away from economics. If you're John Lawrence, forget about music and literature and analyze the myth instead. If you're Jacob Reed, take a crack at analyzing the social science. It would be really refreshing to me to start seeing people embrace that kind of generalism, instead of sliding further and further into specialism-specific commentary on the game that leads to these stilted 30-post exchanges between two or three people. It's gotten to the point where the community seems to just defer to specialism in a way that's getting pretty tired.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Cheynem » Sat Apr 19, 2014 5:16 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote: It's gotten to the point where the community seems to just defer to specialism in a way that's getting pretty tired.
While I certainly don't want to disparage anyone's efforts to improve question writing (John's music guides are quite good and should be read), I agree with this statement wholeheartedly.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat Apr 19, 2014 6:11 pm

Or maybe it's not quite that dire. Maybe the specialists are just the ones who care so much that they write the tomes and have the arguments, and you get a disproportionate amount of their voice in the discourse of the QB zeitgeist.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sat Apr 19, 2014 6:23 pm

Ryan, while I agree with the criticism of the pure "defer to specialism" approach, I would not consider myself a specialist in economics at all (despite being an economics major) and I find your dismissal of criticism about the volatility question rather ridiculous:
No Rules Westbrook wrote:That volatility tossup had clues right in the middle about the "volatility smile" in the Black-Scholes model - that term has been a fixture of the upper-level canon for forever! How can you claim that it was unclear what to say even at the end? Wait, what am I talking about - the "Canon" - does quizbowl even know what that idea is anymore, or is that just a thing that generalist dinosaurs of the early 2000's knew about?!
No, I have not in fact spent that much time combing pre-2010 packets for clues about economics questions. Maybe it's just because I've only really studied regular-level packets (almost none of my high-level canon knowledge comes from this kind of studying) but I am not familiar with these precious little buzzwords. My exposure to discussions of "volatility" as an economic term consists entirely of a mention or two in a financial markets and intermediaries class I took, plus the term I spent attending meetings of a club that invests money in stocks in order to raise money to donate to charity. I readily admit that my knowledge of the subject is not very high, but dismissing the confusion of people with some degree of "real knowledge" about the subject is silly.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by felgon123 » Sat Apr 19, 2014 6:33 pm

John, I think you misread several aspects of my post, and took it to be more hostile than I intended.
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:When I returned to the thread I found that the response was basically to tell me to sit down and shut up; to remember that music questions used to be even worse years ago, so I should be grateful that people are making an effort to write good clues at all and shouldn't complain; and that because I still beat the field to nearly all the questions, my complaints were unseemly.
I’m sorry if you think this is a response I did or would endorse. No one is maintaining that you should shut up and refrain from criticizing the music questions. As you can see, Charlie was not shy about offering strong criticisms of some of Auroni’s clues. What I was objecting to by seconding him was your instant recourse to rhetoric like this:
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:I suppose, then, I should get out of the way the category where my objections are strongest: the Music answer-lines had many excellent answer choices (though I might be prejudiced in favor of this, because the sub-distribution seemed heavily skewed in favor of the eras and genres I care about, and was not very balanced), but the actual cluing of tossups was by far the worst I have encountered at any ACF tournament I have played. In fact, the tossup cluing was generally downright terrible.
Let’s break this down. First, you say the answer choices were excellent, then instantly turn your lone compliment into an insult by saying you only enjoyed them because the distribution was “heavily skewed” towards things you like and “not very balanced.” Then you say the clues were “by far the worst I have encountered at any ACF tournament I have played.” This is needlessly inflammatory and unhelpful, but that’s not enough, because just in case we didn’t already understand that you hated the questions, you add that they were “generally downright terrible.” You then leave us with the promise that once you are at your leisure and prepared to speak ex cathedra on such matters, only then will you enlighten us by breaking down specific questions. Had you given even a single example of a question or clue you didn’t like in this initial outcry, I, at least, would have felt much more that you were talking with the community rather than at the community.
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:But I would have thought that it would have been obvious at first glance even to non-"specialists" that very many of the early clues were generic or unhelpful non-clues, and that a lot of these questions required rewriting. The fact that we are still not at the stage where some of these clues raise red flags is not a good sign.
“Obvious at first glance even to non-specialists”?! Why would you ever have thought this? I’m not a “specialist,” but I am a musician with some technical knowledge, and while I can generally recognize the difference between helpful and unhelpful music clues, I couldn’t take apart these questions with anything approaching the degree of precision that you, Charlie, and Jacob can. So when you say “How is it possible that non-musicians are still such barbarians that they don’t realize these early clues aren’t all that great?” it comes across as an insult, even if you didn’t intend it that way.
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:Finally, there was a comment from you, Tommy, explaining how I should take a leaf out of your book, and follow how you've helped change film questions.
This was an unfortunate misunderstanding. The analogy I was drawing was between what it’s like for me to play film questions and what it’s like for you to play music questions, not between my efforts to improve film questions and your much longer and more involved efforts to improve music questions. I was not at all saying, “Look, this is how you can improve music questions: by being like me!” which wouldn’t make much sense for a variety of reasons. My point was that you seemed to be overreacting to the failure of writers and editors to live up to the impeccable standards you try to set for them. I just think the people responding to your suggestions and trying to write better questions are deserving of a little more respect than you're giving them. If, as you say, you think this tournament marks a dramatic step backwards from the improvements of prior years, obviously that is a legitimate concern that you have every right to voice.
ThisIsMyUsername wrote:If I was doing good work, why didn't you ever encourage me? And considering that I'm likely to continue writing and editing, why wouldn't you tell me that I'm not describing shots well, so I can improve? If you were shy about posting publicly, you could have always e-mail or PM'd me. (In fact, if you'd still like to do that. I'd appreciate it.)
I’d be happy to, and will do so shortly.

As for my criticism of last year’s science:
Auroni wrote:I went through each question with Jonathan Magin by email and playtested with a crowd that included Miriam Nussbaum, Saul Hankin, and Rob Carson, all of whom have considerable music knowledge. While I obviously couldn't read the questions to you from beforehand, they didn't notice any systematic clue uniqueness issues in any of the tossups, and any issues they did notice were promptly fixed.
Perhaps you’re overestimating the ease with which anyone with any expertise could identify the faultiness of some of these clues? If last year’s biology editor had followed a comparable procedure, I assure you, the set would have looked very different. I stand by my comments from last year, and I agree you have the right to demand the same thing of music questions. But it sounds like Auroni really did do what you would expect of him, so I don’t think it’s fair to act like the problems you have with the music arose from deficiencies comparable to those exhibited by some of the editors last year.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Apr 19, 2014 6:40 pm

gamegeek2 wrote:Ryan, while I agree with the criticism of the pure "defer to specialism" approach, I would not consider myself a specialist in economics at all (despite being an economics major) and I find your dismissal of criticism about the volatility question rather ridiculous:
No Rules Westbrook wrote:That volatility tossup had clues right in the middle about the "volatility smile" in the Black-Scholes model - that term has been a fixture of the upper-level canon for forever! How can you claim that it was unclear what to say even at the end? Wait, what am I talking about - the "Canon" - does quizbowl even know what that idea is anymore, or is that just a thing that generalist dinosaurs of the early 2000's knew about?!
No, I have not in fact spent that much time combing pre-2010 packets for clues about economics questions. Maybe it's just because I've only really studied regular-level packets (almost none of my high-level canon knowledge comes from this kind of studying) but I am not familiar with these precious little buzzwords. My exposure to discussions of "volatility" as an economic term consists entirely of a mention or two in a financial markets and intermediaries class I took, plus the term I spent attending meetings of a club that invests money in stocks in order to raise money to donate to charity. I readily admit that my knowledge of the subject is not very high, but dismissing the confusion of people with some degree of "real knowledge" about the subject is silly.
It would be much more helpful if you could explain just what your criticism is. "I was confused and named a related thing but not the thing the question was asking for" is not a criticism. As I said before: volatility is a term of art in the finance literature. I tracked down pretty much every clue in that question to confirm that it was, in fact, about volatility. I'm certainly open to the possibility that I've made a mistake on either point, but I haven't seen any indication that this is so apart from vague misgivings two people seem to have about the question. Ryan was, I'm guessing, being facetious.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by vinteuil » Sat Apr 19, 2014 7:49 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote: I have a little exercise that I'd love to see people try - just for kicks. Maybe on the next major tournament to come out (CO, I guess). Avoid analyzing the one or two areas that you specialize in. If you're Marshall, stay away from economics. If you're John Lawrence, forget about music and literature and analyze the myth instead. If you're Jacob Reed, take a crack at analyzing the social science. It would be really refreshing to me to start seeing people embrace that kind of generalism, instead of sliding further and further into specialism-specific commentary on the game that leads to these stilted 30-post exchanges between two or three people. It's gotten to the point where the community seems to just defer to specialism in a way that's getting pretty tired.
I know this isn't a completely serious post, but I'm genuinely curious, Ryan: what exactly do you think would be the benefit of, say, everyone who played a tournament (?) posting about the categories they're not super-familiar (i.e. I know pretty much zilch about economics)? It seems to me like a lot of that would be superfluous, but I could be wrong (and, hey, it might be a good way to learn about that topic, so I will in fact try to come up with some sort of commentary on the social science at the next tournament I play, even if I don't post it).
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:01 pm

I'm being a little facetious. And, I had no part in editing that volatility question, so I have no dog in this fight.

But, it does seem pretty weird to me that noted economics-lover Marshall originally made the point about not even being sure what to say at the end. "Volatility smile" sure seems like the hammer clue to me...but perhaps it just serves to illustrate my barb about the "Canon" not having a lot of cache among the crowd today.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:26 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
gamegeek2 wrote:Ryan, while I agree with the criticism of the pure "defer to specialism" approach, I would not consider myself a specialist in economics at all (despite being an economics major) and I find your dismissal of criticism about the volatility question rather ridiculous:
No Rules Westbrook wrote:That volatility tossup had clues right in the middle about the "volatility smile" in the Black-Scholes model - that term has been a fixture of the upper-level canon for forever! How can you claim that it was unclear what to say even at the end? Wait, what am I talking about - the "Canon" - does quizbowl even know what that idea is anymore, or is that just a thing that generalist dinosaurs of the early 2000's knew about?!
No, I have not in fact spent that much time combing pre-2010 packets for clues about economics questions. Maybe it's just because I've only really studied regular-level packets (almost none of my high-level canon knowledge comes from this kind of studying) but I am not familiar with these precious little buzzwords. My exposure to discussions of "volatility" as an economic term consists entirely of a mention or two in a financial markets and intermediaries class I took, plus the term I spent attending meetings of a club that invests money in stocks in order to raise money to donate to charity. I readily admit that my knowledge of the subject is not very high, but dismissing the confusion of people with some degree of "real knowledge" about the subject is silly.
It would be much more helpful if you could explain just what your criticism is. "I was confused and named a related thing but not the thing the question was asking for" is not a criticism. As I said before: volatility is a term of art in the finance literature. I tracked down pretty much every clue in that question to confirm that it was, in fact, about volatility. I'm certainly open to the possibility that I've made a mistake on either point, but I haven't seen any indication that this is so apart from vague misgivings two people seem to have about the question. Ryan was, I'm guessing, being facetious.
My only real criticism is that I think there should have been a prompt for "risk" since volatility is certainly discussed as a form of "risk" though not necessarily in a strictly mathematical sense (which is not really the context in which I have heard risk and volatility discussed, for the most part). I have no problem with the answerline selection (in fact, like Ankit, I was quite happy with it) I think Marshall should also define his criticism more clearly than "I didn't really know what to say" since "volatilty" is, indeed, a specific term that you should definitely need to say in order to get points.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:30 pm

No, Jacob, my point is precisely that it's not superfluous for people to comment on areas on which they don't have specialist knowledge. What I'm decrying is this phenomenon where everyone acts like only the experts are able to act as any kind of authority on how questions should be written.

That's not to say I don't appreciate the input of specialists, or that I object to object to guides of the type that John wrote - to the extent those things provide helpful suggestions to writers that can be implemented on occasion, they're great.

But, it's not sustainable to rely exclusively on that input. The fact is that the majority of questions are written by non-experts in the field and, a majority of the time, questions are answered using "fake/quizbowl knowledge" rather than "real academic" knowledge. I'm not willing to just dismiss the value of that "quizbowl knowledge" and its relevance to the game we play.

It used to be commonplace for a good generalist to evaluate a tossup on which he had no particular academic knowledge - he'd come in and say "look, I've written a tossup on that...and I've played like eight tossups on that thing...that clue is in the wrong place, damn it!" We don't do that anymore - we demand you prove that you've read a textbook or taken a class on the subject, or we just turn to the guy who has as the sole authority on the correct structure of the tossup.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:45 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:But, it does seem pretty weird to me that noted economics-lover Marshall originally made the point about not even being sure what to say at the end. "Volatility smile" sure seems like the hammer clue to me...but perhaps it just serves to illustrate my barb about the "Canon" not having a lot of cache among the crowd today.
No indeed, I don't recall playing any question in which the volatility smile was a clue in my career, though it may have happened. And that's for the best! Please, explain to me right now what the volatility smile is.

My point is that you're relying on the formulation "if they say 'smile,' I say 'volatility,'" and that's dumb. I'd be the first to admit that I know little about financial economics, which is part of why it would be completely fine if this tournament had a financial economics question I couldn't get, even at the end. But clinging to buzzwords and invoking the long-lost canon is the quizbowl version of insisting "he looks like a ball-player, goddamnit" in light of statistical evidence to the contrary. And frankly, non-specialists ought to embrace that out of intellectual honesty. It's entirely proper for most of the debate about the substance of clues and the significance of answer lines to be left to experts if we're lucky enough to have them. As John said, the cult of the amateur that's being bandied about in this thread would never fly for science questions, nor should it.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat Apr 19, 2014 8:53 pm

Deficiencies in two other bonus parts occurred to me earlier today: the one on DSGE basically said, IIRC, "in this class of models, representative agents perform dynamic optimization with an understanding of the stochastic processes that affect them." I think I said "rational expectations," which is a completely reasonable answer given the clues. DSGE was formulated under the (strong) influence of the rational expectations revolution, and (hilariously) its current exponents defend it on the grounds that it has no implications, so it's really hard to see what could possibly have been said to uniquely identify it. (Since identification is those models' biggest problem! Like for real!) If you're going to go with that, you need a generous answer line, and, gasp, a specialist to at least try to help you make sure you've listed all the possibilities.

The other one is that I think the Solow model bonus part didn't differentiate it from the Neoclassical Growth Model, so it was a 50/50 guess. You need to state outright that household saving is (or is not) exogenous. Otherwise they're identical. I don't think the text of the bonus did that, or at least not how I parsed it.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:45 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:No, Jacob, my point is precisely that it's not superfluous for people to comment on areas on which they don't have specialist knowledge. What I'm decrying is this phenomenon where everyone acts like only the experts are able to act as any kind of authority on how questions should be written.

That's not to say I don't appreciate the input of specialists, or that I object to object to guides of the type that John wrote - to the extent those things provide helpful suggestions to writers that can be implemented on occasion, they're great.

But, it's not sustainable to rely exclusively on that input. The fact is that the majority of questions are written by non-experts in the field and, a majority of the time, questions are answered using "fake/quizbowl knowledge" rather than "real academic" knowledge. I'm not willing to just dismiss the value of that "quizbowl knowledge" and its relevance to the game we play.

It used to be commonplace for a good generalist to evaluate a tossup on which he had no particular academic knowledge - he'd come in and say "look, I've written a tossup on that...and I've played like eight tossups on that thing...that clue is in the wrong place, damn it!" We don't do that anymore - we demand you prove that you've read a textbook or taken a class on the subject, or we just turn to the guy who has as the sole authority on the correct structure of the tossup.
It's not often that Ryan and I see eye to eye, but I have to say that I strongly agree with the view he has been advancing in this thread. In particular, I am in entire agreement with his views about the unfortunate tendency of automatically deferring to self-declared experts (i.e., specialists in one particular niche of the distribution) when they pontificate about how questions in their "particular niche" ought to be written.

As I see it, there are at least two ways of advancing the position that Ryan is putting forward here. First, there is an epistemological approach, for which I'll take as my proof-text Ryan's assertion that "everyone acts like only the experts are able to act as any kind of authority on how questions should be written." I agree with this. From the mere fact that someone may be an expert in a given field (whatever "expertise" even means in this context), it does not follow that that person speaks infallibly when he sets forth his views on how questions in that field should be written. Rather, when that person opines on how questions in his field should look, he is offering his own idiosyncratic perspective. If other people find that the perspective is compelling, and that it yields questions that they also find more satisfying to play, so be it. But, like Ryan, I often find people saying things like "I am very knowledgeable about this category, and I declare that questions in this category should have the following characteristics," as if that were the end of the discussion.

The second way of advancing the position is the pragmatic one suggested by Ryan's entirely correct observation that "the majority of questions are written by non-experts in the field." This is entirely true, has always been true, and is likely to be true for the foreseeable future. In particular, nobody has as their full-time job "writing and editing ACF nationals"--the tournament has always been a labor of love to which a handful of people devote huge amounts of time for virtually no money. This isn't to say that those people shouldn't be criticized if they do a subpar job. But, for as long as tournaments are produced by a small number of people working very hard, at effective rates that are well below minimum wage, to produce the best sets they can, it seems unrealistic to expect the kind of perfection that a number of posts in this thread appear to take for granted as an entitlement.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by kayli » Sat Apr 19, 2014 9:53 pm

gamegeek2 wrote:My only real criticism is that I think there should have been a prompt for "risk" since volatility is certainly discussed as a form of "risk" though not necessarily in a strictly mathematical sense (which is not really the context in which I have heard risk and volatility discussed, for the most part). I have no problem with the answerline selection (in fact, like Ankit, I was quite happy with it) I think Marshall should also define his criticism more clearly than "I didn't really know what to say" since "volatilty" is, indeed, a specific term that you should definitely need to say in order to get points.
Risk is too coarse of a term to really be acceptable for volatility. There are multiple, very distinct components to risk (of which volatility is one), and even more risk sensitivity measures w/r/t those components, though now we enter the ever present debate over what is or is not promptable. Anyway, I don't want to belabor this single question more than it has been but I thought the clues themselves were good. Volatility smiles are a very real phenomenon (though I don't think this detracts from Marshall's other points which are more second order).

Anyway, the only other subject I can really comment on in this tournament was the math, which I thought was quite excellent, so kudos to Jerry on that. In particular, there was a lot of excellent clue selection for relatively easy answer lines, and future editors should be careful to follow this example lest we devolve into more 19th century mathematician bowl or whatever nonsense they teach in the Heart of Dixie.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by theMoMA » Sat Apr 19, 2014 10:20 pm

I'll interject with a (hopefully useful) distinction. I lump John's criticisms into two piles. The first is objective: "these questions objectively made mistakes that should be eliminated." The second is subjective: "these questions did not meet my subjective vision of what ideal music questions should look like."

I find John's objective arguments entirely persuasive, because we really should be working toward mistake-free questions in all areas of the distribution. And I think John's expertise is only relevant to these arguments to the extent it allows him to recognize that questions are actually making mistakes (that non-experts wouldn't be able to find).

I find his subjective arguments perhaps less persuasive, but I think it's good that people who are well-versed in particular categories are taking the initiative to advance ideas about what those categories should look like, even if their word isn't perhaps the final one on the subject.

EDIT: As I've said to Ryan, I think that both he and Andrew are advocating for a world in which experts and generalists alike have a place at the table for a discussion of what quizbowl questions in a particular category should look like. I know that I personally find it incredibly helpful to get an expert's perspective on something like science or music or economics, but I might nevertheless have my disagreements with a given expert's subjective conception of what constitutes a good answer in a particular area of the distribution.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by The Ununtiable Twine » Sat Apr 19, 2014 10:28 pm

Touko Kettunen wrote:Anyway, the only other subject I can really comment on in this tournament was the math, which I thought was quite excellent, so kudos to Jerry on that. In particular, there was a lot of excellent clue selection for relatively easy answer lines, and future editors should be careful to follow this example lest we devolve into more 19th century mathematician bowl or whatever nonsense they teach in the Heart of Dixie.
I shall subject you to an eternity of tossups on metabelian groups and augmentation ideals for your snarky comment!
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Apr 19, 2014 10:53 pm

Touko Kettunen wrote:Anyway, the only other subject I can really comment on in this tournament was the math, which I thought was quite excellent, so kudos to Jerry on that. In particular, there was a lot of excellent clue selection for relatively easy answer lines, and future editors should be careful to follow this example lest we devolve into more 19th century mathematician bowl or whatever nonsense they teach in the Heart of Dixie.
Glad you liked it. Most of the credit for that should go to the submitting teams, which mostly wrote some pretty good questions. I did a little cleanup around the edges and edited for clarity, but most of the substance of the questions came from the submissions.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:06 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:Deficiencies in two other bonus parts occurred to me earlier today: the one on DSGE basically said, IIRC, "in this class of models, representative agents perform dynamic optimization with an understanding of the stochastic processes that affect them." I think I said "rational expectations," which is a completely reasonable answer given the clues. DSGE was formulated under the (strong) influence of the rational expectations revolution, and (hilariously) its current exponents defend it on the grounds that it has no implications, so it's really hard to see what could possibly have been said to uniquely identify it. (Since identification is those models' biggest problem! Like for real!) If you're going to go with that, you need a generous answer line, and, gasp, a specialist to at least try to help you make sure you've listed all the possibilities.

The other one is that I think the Solow model bonus part didn't differentiate it from the Neoclassical Growth Model, so it was a 50/50 guess. You need to state outright that household saving is (or is not) exogenous. Otherwise they're identical. I don't think the text of the bonus did that, or at least not how I parsed it.
Here's the DSGE bonus:
Models of this type consist of interactions between supply, demand, and monetary policy, formalized as interactions between representative agents in clearing markets, with agent actions driven by expectations about future monetary policy. For 10 points each:
[10] Identify this popular class of economic models in which agents are taken to perform intertemporal optimization subject to budget constraints, while reacting to random supply, demand, and monetary shocks.
ANSWER: dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models
[10] One early application of DSGE formalisms was in Kydland and Prescott’s 1982 paper, “Time to Build and Aggregate Fluctuations,” which presented a “real” theory of these phenomena, the secular fluctuations of macroeconomic indicators such as GDP and employment.
ANSWER: business cycles
[10] This institution relies on the Smets-Wouters DSGE model in order to forecast quarterly macroeconomic phenomena.
ANSWER: European Central Bank
I realize that I did not say "rational expectations" explicitly, but I did use the word "expectations" which was intended to clue people into the same concept, and, Cheever goof aside, it's pretty accepted form to not use the term you're looking for in an answer in the question. The larger idea here is that "intetemporal optimization" is the "dynamic" component, the shocks are the "stochastic," and the clearing markets are the "general equilibrium." I spent a lot of time working out the exact wording for this part that I thought would point pretty directly to the desired answer. What identification in DSGE models has to do with the form of this question is unclear to me, but everything I looked at indicated to me that "DSGE" is an established usage in the economic literature. As far as the neoclassical growth model is concerned, I didn't know this was a thing distinct from the Solow-Swann model, so I did not know to distinguish between them.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:13 pm

I mean, seeing what the answer is I get why you wrote the clues the way you did, but it's not a totally accurate description of DSGE models, and my point is that it would be really hard to write a bonus part that uniquely identifies them. It would increase convertibility to be more explicit, e.g "the three concepts that characterize this class of models are that agents optimize intertemporally, that they are subjected to primitive*, random shocks, and that the solution concept imposes rationality, price-taking, and market-clearing in all markets."

*"primitive" because the shocks are to preferences, technology, and policy (if the latter is present), not "supply and demand."

There's extraneous information in the way it's phrased, which could be part of the problem in playability.

EDIT: General equilibrium is usually taken to mean competitive equilibrium, though there are models that effectively bring monopolistic competition into the DSGE framework. So as long as you say "rational[ity]'" and "market clearing in more than one market" you're probably fine.
Last edited by Tees-Exe Line on Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by The Ununtiable Twine » Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:15 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Touko Kettunen wrote:Anyway, the only other subject I can really comment on in this tournament was the math, which I thought was quite excellent, so kudos to Jerry on that. In particular, there was a lot of excellent clue selection for relatively easy answer lines, and future editors should be careful to follow this example lest we devolve into more 19th century mathematician bowl or whatever nonsense they teach in the Heart of Dixie.
Glad you liked it. Most of the credit for that should go to the submitting teams, which mostly wrote some pretty good questions. I did a little cleanup around the edges and edited for clarity, but most of the substance of the questions came from the submissions.
It is my professional opinion that the quality of math questions has been increasing over the last two or so years. Sure, some of the questions could be better but I don't think we're anywhere near the point where I need to write up a list of suggestions because the submissions aren't in need of drastic improvement. I would like to look over the questions from this year's tournament but can't seem to find them anywhere. Have you guys posted the set yet?
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:19 pm

The Ununtiable Twine wrote: It is my professional opinion that the quality of math questions has been increasing over the last two or so years. Sure, some of the questions could be better but I don't think we're anywhere near the point where I need to write up a list of suggestions because the submissions aren't in need of drastic improvement. I would like to look over the questions from this year's tournament but can't seem to find them anywhere. Have you guys posted the set yet?
I'm unsure as to who has the permissions to upload the set to the DB. I think Jon Pinyan may be the "official" owner and is the person with the correct permissions; I'd be happy to forward him the set.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sat Apr 19, 2014 11:27 pm

On a more general note, as a specialist myself, I obviously respect the input of other specialists into categories of their expertise. And I think the proposition that we should strive for questions without mistakes is beyond dispute. However, some of the arguments taking place in this thread strike as heading in the wrong direction. For example, telling someone that "this musical clue is not useful because it does not distinguish between any number of works that also have this feature," seems like pretty useful advice; telling someone that the wording they used in insufficiently "evocative" seems like a total dead end, because I'm not sure how anyone is supposed to evaluate whether anything is "evocative" or not to someone else. In general, these types of subjective arguments aren't going to give anyone a good handle on what they should be doing.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by vinteuil » Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:44 am

grapesmoker wrote:On a more general note, as a specialist myself, I obviously respect the input of other specialists into categories of their expertise. And I think the proposition that we should strive for questions without mistakes is beyond dispute. However, some of the arguments taking place in this thread strike as heading in the wrong direction. For example, telling someone that "this musical clue is not useful because it does not distinguish between any number of works that also have this feature," seems like pretty useful advice; telling someone that the wording they used in insufficiently "evocative" seems like a total dead end, because I'm not sure how anyone is supposed to evaluate whether anything is "evocative" or not to someone else. In general, these types of subjective arguments aren't going to give anyone a good handle on what they should be doing.
I was attempting to use that word in a way that John has in the past; in his guide, he explains pretty thoroughly why "unevocative" clues are useless. In the future, I'll try to do a better job of turning that word into a more objective statement (i.e. one that could help future editors) of what was not helpful about a clue.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by grapesmoker » Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:47 am

Tees-Exe Line wrote:I mean, seeing what the answer is I get why you wrote the clues the way you did, but it's not a totally accurate description of DSGE models, and my point is that it would be really hard to write a bonus part that uniquely identifies them. It would increase convertibility to be more explicit, e.g "the three concepts that characterize this class of models are that agents optimize intertemporally, that they are subjected to primitive*, random shocks, and that the solution concept imposes rationality, price-taking, and market-clearing in all markets."

*"primitive" because the shocks are to preferences, technology, and policy (if the latter is present), not "supply and demand."

There's extraneous information in the way it's phrased, which could be part of the problem in playability.

EDIT: General equilibrium is usually taken to mean competitive equilibrium, though there are models that effectively bring monopolistic competition into the DSGE framework. So as long as you say "rational[ity]'" and "market clearing in more than one market" you're probably fine.
So, this bonus isn't particularly a hill I want to die on (if this is the most serious charge that can be leveled against me with regard to this tournament, I will sleep soundly indeed), but I think I can use it to make some constructive points about question writing and criticism.

First, let me start by noting that while I am not an economist, I am a mathematically literate layperson. So concepts like constrained optimization, stochasticity, and equilibrium are not exactly foreign to me. Some of those terms have slightly different meanings in the economic literature, but their semantics maps reasonably well to the semantics of the same terms in disciplines like physics. Also, while I do not keep up on all the latest economics literature, I do try to keep as abreast of the large picture as a layperson reasonably can, and to that end, I've had the experience of reading some of that primary literature, as well as various debates between economists. Throughout that reading, I have encountered the term "DSGE" used in a fairly consistent fashion to refer to models which have the features I outlined above. I assume Marshall's description is even "more correct" than mine, but it's hard for me to see daylight between the two phrasings; it looks like we both cover pretty much the same substantive ground. I can hardly imagine that omitting the use of the term "primitive" makes such a huge difference as to render the entire question unintelligible, especially since in the same literature I mention above, the shocks I reference are routinely described as being "demand" or "supply" shocks; Marshall's description just makes it clear what mechanisms are driving them.

Now, let me compare this question to two other questions I've written for this tournament, which I feel much more confident in because they are in my areas of expertise: the tossups on MHD and the path integral. I pick these two because I think they (especially MHD) play an analogous conceptual role in physics to that which DSGE models play in economics. That is, all three are a kind of formalism which is intended to make tractable some specific problem of interest by making particular assumptions about the various factors involved. Just as one makes certain assumptions about economic actors (e.g. they intertemporally optimize on the basis of rational expectations), one also assumes certain things about plasmas, namely that they behave like a conducting fluid.

The relevance of this comparison is as follows: suppose I write (as I in fact did) a giveaway or bonus part that says something like "For 10 points, identify this theoretical framework which treats plasma interacting with a magnetic field as a continuous fluid medium." Presumably, anyone with a reasonably decent physics background would answer "MHD" to this. But of course, there are any number of additional things I could have written here; for example, I could have told you that it was a predominantly collisional formalism. This is a core assumption of MHD, so in some sense, saying this would make it "more right," in that I would be giving more (true) details about just what MHD is. But it would be hard to argue that a giveaway or bonus part that leaves out this detail is somehow wrong or confusing. The really important information about what basic ideas constitute the MHD formalism are there. Just the same way, it seems to me that the core assumptions of what the DSGE formalism entails are pretty adequately captured by my description of it. I don't deny that Marshall's phrasing is "more right" but to me it looks about the same degree "more right" as my hypothetical adjusted MHD giveaway would be "more right." Certainly, if someone wrote the above and asked me to answer it, it would never occur to me to complain that the question is somehow vague or misleading on the grounds that it omits a description of a core MHD assumption; it tells me enough correct things for me to understand what the answer is, and that's enough for me.

I'm going to all this trouble not, again, because I'm terribly invested in defending this question, but because I think it represents a very solipsistic line of criticism, which argues against a question from the perspective not just of what an expert in general might say, but from the perspective of what this specific expert might say about it. I dug through a bunch of economic literature to write this bonus; I was (I thought) very careful in phrasing my clues to point to those things that I thought picked out pretty well the distinctive features of the answer I was looking for; and I used terminology that on my reading was consistent with the terminology used by various academic economists to describe DSGE models. The criticisms of the question seems to be that it's not phrased quite the same way as one particular person would have phrased it, but nothing about this question is, as far as I can tell, actually incorrect; at worst it's somewhat incomplete, but features all the core information necessary to derive the answer.

The reason I think this is unproductive is that there's no instruction that one can derive from this that would allow some other future writer or editor in my position to write a question that Marshall would find satisfactory. I have no idea how one could translate these comments into useful rules for question writing, unless the advice one is supposed to follow in this case is "write 6-line bonus parts to make sure you include every possible thing you can think of," which is clearly unrealistic. The general method one should follow when writing questions that draw on technical material is to make sure that what you say is correct and consistent with the technical usage in the discipline in question, and I think this question pretty much does all of that. The (approximately) equivalent physics question, as I've tried to demonstrate above, would be regarded as generally satisfactory by all the science players I know; no one would think to quibble with that description of MHD even though it's not 100% complete.

I value technical accuracy in questions, obviously, but at some point, exhaustive critiques reach a stage of diminishing returns. In order for a critique to have real value, I think it should be generalizable to some sort of principle about how one would write a similar question in the future, and my problem with the debate around this question is that I don't see how one could do that for the comments offered.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Sun Apr 20, 2014 1:22 am

As far as I know, I've been interpreting the word "evocative" to mean "descriptive in a way that is accurate or fleshed-out enough to bring out specific memories in players' minds if they have them". That's relatively simple and describes a property of clues which is pretty straightforwardly desirable on its face -- e.g.: a clue like "A bunch of paper towels are thrown on the camera, which is angled upwards, in one scene from this film, which ends with a character using one of those towels to remove spit from his lips" [Michigan packet] is pretty evocative of the material it describes, because it helpfully describes a specific moment, whereas "In one scene from this film, some objects are thrown outwards and a character touches one to his face" [hypothetical, worse version of the same clue] would not be. Am I missing something? Does "evocative" really mean much more than "specific and helpful"?
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Sun Apr 20, 2014 8:42 am

To build on what Matt Jackson just said, one thing that I often do as an editor is to look up someone's leadin or second clue - and if there's a way that I can make it more descriptive, I'll do that. If I can take a very simple description and flesh it out by adding some details, I figure that gives people a lot more to sink their teeth into, if they're trying to recall reading the work or seeing the movie, or whatever.

A related effect is that this leads to questions that bloat into 10 and 11 liners...because when that first clue takes you between 2 and 3 lines to describe in detail, the question inevitably ends up at that length. I'm fine with that side-effect for ACF Nats, but I'm just identifying that there's a certain push-pull that's present in deciding just how detailed to get in your description.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Sun Apr 20, 2014 12:12 pm

theMoMA wrote:I'll interject with a (hopefully useful) distinction. I lump John's criticisms into two piles. The first is objective: "these questions objectively made mistakes that should be eliminated." The second is subjective: "these questions did not meet my subjective vision of what ideal music questions should look like."

I find John's objective arguments entirely persuasive, because we really should be working toward mistake-free questions in all areas of the distribution. And I think John's expertise is only relevant to these arguments to the extent it allows him to recognize that questions are actually making mistakes (that non-experts wouldn't be able to find).

I find his subjective arguments perhaps less persuasive, but I think it's good that people who are well-versed in particular categories are taking the initiative to advance ideas about what those categories should look like, even if their word isn't perhaps the final one on the subject.

EDIT: As I've said to Ryan, I think that both he and Andrew are advocating for a world in which experts and generalists alike have a place at the table for a discussion of what quizbowl questions in a particular category should look like. I know that I personally find it incredibly helpful to get an expert's perspective on something like science or music or economics, but I might nevertheless have my disagreements with a given expert's subjective conception of what constitutes a good answer in a particular area of the distribution.
This is getting pretty far afield from ACF nationals discussion, but I wanted to follow up on this, and for better or worse, this is the thread in which this conversation is happening.

As usual, I want to pick an example to illustrate my point; and as usual, I'll try to pick an example that will piss off a vocal member of the community! Since John has been picked on so extensively in this thread, however, I turn for my example to the film "manifesto" that Tommy wrote a few years ago. I confess that I didn't read this at the time, but I have just looked it up after seeing it alluded to elsewhere. I'm not interested in reviving any of the issues that it raises; I'm just taking it as a convenient example for purposes of my argument here.

This manifesto is useful for my purposes, because it neatly offers both what Andrew Hart refers to as "objective" and "subjective" arguments about the film canon. The first part of the manifesto consists of a list of significant figures in the world of film who, in Tommy's view, should come up more. I'm a bit surprised to learn that a number of these people struck Tommy as never coming up in quizbowl; certainly, I've written questions over the years on most of them, both at my CO trash tournaments (where I actually tried to implement a film distribution similar to the one Tommy outlined in his post) and elsewhere. But, assuming that Tommy's post correctly describes the state of circuit quizbowl c. 2012, I regard this "objective" part of his post as entirely salutary. It's always helpful when an informed person says something like "hey, guys, why are we endlessly asking about the same handful of things, when we could also be asking about these other interesting, important things?" So I found myself entirely in agreement with that part of his post, perhaps simply because Tommy and I appear to share a lot of the same tastes in directors. (Though I was also amused to see that Tommy appears to think of film exclusively in terms of directors--I guess the auteur theory is alive and well in quizbowl!)

But after providing this helpful summary of "things in the world of film that quizbowlers might profitably mine for question material," Tommy's post takes a sharp turn toward the "subjective." This is when Tommy prescribes that "All film questions should make use of at least one or two clues describing elements of the mise-en-scene, editing techniques, camera position and movements, or the use of music and non-diegetic sound." To use the words of my earlier post in this thread, this strikes me as a textbook example of a "self-declared expert" in a field purporting to "speak infallibly" about how questions in the field should look, when in fact he is just "offering his own idiosyncratic perspective." If things like editing techniques and the use of non-diegetic sound interest you, sure, write about them. But you can be seriously interested in, and knowledgeable about, film without caring about or closely attending to such things. (For instance, I would claim that I am seriously interested in, and knowledgeable about, film; and I do not care about, or closely attend to, such things.)

My general point, following on Ryan's post, is that there is a tendency for people to act as if their knowledge of a given category affords them a privileged position from which to decree how all questions in that category must be written. Against this, my view is that a person's knowledge of a category doesn't give that person license to declare, ex cathedra, which modes of writing about that category are "legitimate" and which are "illegitimate."
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Sun Apr 20, 2014 3:14 pm

This argument that expertise entitles a critic to correct misleading or unhelpful information but not to decree the proper content of questions is helpful to an extent,* but it's based on an empirically false distinction. Expertise is how you can tell what clues are important and how to word them. That is inevitably going to impinge on the latter sphere.

As to a larger takeaway from my critique of the DSGE question, it's simply that you (by which I mean writers generally, not Jerry specifically) should make sure that you do have the technical equipment available to do justice to the answer lines you choose, and if you don't, choose something else. In response to this debate, and specifically my call to explain the volatility smile, there was IRC chatter to the effect that you can rustle up a finance textbook and transcribe the description of the volatility smile to create a perfectly decent clue that the writer doesn't understand. Unfortunately, in that case, as in most cases, the result was gobbledygook. Jerry writing on DSGE is probably the absolute best case scenario for a non-expert writing on a technical answer line to come up with a playable question, and it was okay but not great. If the takeaway from this is "anyone should try anything. As long as you work for a long time and access materials written at a reasonably high level in the field, the result is good enough," that will be bad.

Furthermore the defense that talented people spend hours writing these questions out of altruism isn't a very good one. That fact is, in general, a reason to be grateful for their effort, but not a defense against individually suboptimal questions. There are tons of other social science answer lines available! Choose one of them, or create a new one. I've championed the use of basic empirical phenomena as answer lines, with clues from more than one social science. Part of the reason that's a good idea is because the relevant descriptions are much easier to write.

*For instance, I try to separate my distaste for financial economics in general from critiques of such questions. At times while editing tournaments, I have directed writers to take a different approach to writing questions because of what might be termed my aesthetic preferences, and I consider that to be justified in tournaments that have my name at the top of them. But I would agree that critiquing other tournaments based on those aesthetic preferences is not the right way to do tournament discussion.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by felgon123 » Sun Apr 20, 2014 5:01 pm

Birdofredum Sawin wrote:As usual, I want to pick an example to illustrate my point; and as usual, I'll try to pick an example that will piss off a vocal member of the community!
I'm amused at the celerity with which I have risen to the dubious distinction of "vocal member of the community"! Actually, far from being pissed off, I think you raise a very interesting point. On a side note:
Birdofredum Sawin wrote:(Though I was also amused to see that Tommy appears to think of film exclusively in terms of directors--I guess the auteur theory is alive and well in quizbowl!)
I don't, actually, but it seems like the most useful way of approaching film for quizbowl purposes.

As for the central issue:
Birdofredum Sawin wrote:But after providing this helpful summary of "things in the world of film that quizbowlers might profitably mine for question material," Tommy's post takes a sharp turn toward the "subjective." This is when Tommy prescribes that "All film questions should make use of at least one or two clues describing elements of the mise-en-scene, editing techniques, camera position and movements, or the use of music and non-diegetic sound." To use the words of my earlier post in this thread, this strikes me as a textbook example of a "self-declared expert" in a field purporting to "speak infallibly" about how questions in the field should look, when in fact he is just "offering his own idiosyncratic perspective." If things like editing techniques and the use of non-diegetic sound interest you, sure, write about them. But you can be seriously interested in, and knowledgeable about, film without caring about or closely attending to such things. (For instance, I would claim that I am seriously interested in, and knowledgeable about, film; and I do not care about, or closely attend to, such things.)
Insofar as there is no such thing as a perspective that is not idiosyncratic, I must concede that much of your argument. To be clear, I have played and enjoyed some perfectly fine film questions in the last couple years that did not include audiovisual clues, and I do not regard approaches other than my own as automatically "illegitimate." But I'm curious: would you give your blessing to writers to pick whatever "interests" them and use those clues to construct questions? Surely we can agree that just because something is true does not necessarily mean it is important. For instance, a hypothetical tossup on chromium that included clues about its melting and boiling points, its heat capacity, and its ionization energies would incense science players. Is this simply an unresolvable conflict between one idiosyncratic perspective (that the question should describe things about chromium that chemists might know, like its use in various catalysts) and another idiosyncratic perspective (that boiling points are interesting, too, and are just as valid material for questions)? In order to avoid devolving into an "all clues are equal, so long as they're true" approach, I don't think it's the worst solution to allow people with considerable knowledge in a given category to have a hand in shaping how those questions are written. But I'd be happy to hear any other ideas you have on the matter.
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Re: ACF Nationals congratulations, thanks, and discussion

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Sun Apr 20, 2014 6:02 pm

I’m going to try to bring the discussion back into actually talking about ACF nationals questions. Not to mention I haven’t gotten a chance to grind my usual ideological axes yet and everyone else has.

I thought the science at this tournament was really good overall, both in terms of answer choices and cluing. In particular, I really liked the tossups on LTP and isobaric processes, because they both rewarded knowledge of their categories pretty well (though LTP was pretty difficult), and the question on molecular dynamics was interesting in a canon-busting sort of way.

That being said, since this is ACF nationals, there are some higher-level things going on in the science that I wanted to point out. In line with the latest progressive thinking on quizbowl criticism, I’m going to try to find trends in question construction that I found problematic. Keep in mind that the vast majority of my issues with these questions are much higher on the hierarchy of needs than things like incorrect cluing or poor answer choices, so they should be taken as such.

SUBOPTIMAL LEADIN CHOICES

Image

The leadin to this question is not useful whatsoever, and this wasn’t the only instance of this. Retinoic acid does a lot of things in cell differentiation, so the only way the clue is useful is if you knew the specific paper. Unfortunately, the paper is from a really lower tier journal and didn’t exactly make headlines. You could argue that it gives you some context, but the context is basically that you’re talking about cells.

On top of that, the next line is very important but not explained that well. The fact that doxorubicin and other anthracyclines cause cardiomyopathy is important (it’s in board review books, for instance), and could be clued out somewhat better than saying that gene expression in [answer] is changed. Maybe saying “Dexrazoxane protects these cells from anthracycline chemotherapeutics like doxorubicin, which damage the organ containing these cells” would work somewhat better. Keep in mind when you write this clue, you have to write it in a way that it fairly tests for knowledge of the underlying fact – that doxorubicin damages the heart. The clue does get at this, but it could get at this a little better.

The take-home lesson is that random papers make for poor leadins, and that you can take those out and free up space to expand on and expound upon more important clues. Compare this leadin to this question from the physics distribution:


Image

That leadin (which I believe was buzzed on by nanotechnologist/future-nicest-mad-scientist-ever Aaron Rosenberg) is straight from a textbook, and actually makes a lot of sense if you understand the underlying concept of how to calculate the density of states. That seems infinitely more helpful than the kind of throwaway leadin presented here.

IRRELEVANT THIRD PARTS

The ones I’m thinking of here include ITAC for the proteomics bonus (grad level proteomics didn’t cover this), nastic movements in that plant bonus (which had two easy parts, incidentally), phorbol (???), interfacial mechanism, and maybe “milking the cow” (I don’t know how well known this is – did anyone get this?). Comparing these to other parts like “free parameters in the standard model” and “acute phase proteins” would pretty easily demonstrate that those are outliers and don’t necessarily flow from knowledge of the same subject.

EARLY CLUE DROPS

In general, pushing named things down as far as possible is worth doing. For example, in the B mesons tossup, B-tagging was very early. Given recent trends in quizbowl writing, I’m guessing that the things people know the best about B mesons are that they have a bottom quark and that B-tagging exists. Van Hove singularities have been making the rounds as a clue (cf 2013 ICT). The Meermin-Wagner theorem’s well-known. I recognize that it’s impossible for writers to have perfect “canon sense”, so I’m only pointing these things out as FYIs. I’m a fan of searching packet archives as a final editing step to make sure that my clues are dense enough, which I think would have helped in these instances.

I have thoughts on the larger ideological question about the role of specialists and question content, but I'll get into that later.
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