I first wanted to note my bemusement that the original tossup sparking this entire debate is a conglomeration of a barebones tossup Daichi wrote as a high schooler with a Luna Brothers bonus that included the exciting 2-point clue, "It's about myth in primitive society."
It shouldn't surprise anyone that I have a lot of problems with supporting the arguments Shantanu is making here, even though (or perhaps because) I am certainly no armchair social scientist.
I think Shantanu is making a giant assumption in his argument and it's one that I don't necessarily find all that correct. Specifically, he makes an argument about how questions on real classroom knowledge are likely to stump people who use some sort of straw man Westbrookian studying style, but then comes back with this:
Megalomaniacal Panda on Absinthe wrote:This has little to do with expertise and more to do with our expectations about what "amateurs" learn. As an amateur of many fields, I find quizbowl does a pretty poor job of testing my basic knowledge of a number of them.
It's fairly clear to me from his previous posts (and should be pointed out to any non-dinosaur quizbowlers who are lurking out there reading this debate) that Shantanu's definition of "amateur" is mostly or possibly wholly incompatible with "person whose non-quizbowl knowledge in a subject comes from that one random GE class he took two years ago." Most people playing quizbowl do in fact derive a great majority of their non-quizbowl knowledge from stuff they learned in random classes; it's the single biggest argument for keeping some sort of loose tie between what is taught in colleges and what is asked in quizbowl.
I looked at the websites for two current "intro to sociocultural anthropology" courses at UC Irvine. One's assigned reading includes Edward Said and a bunch of people I've never heard of. The other requires reading from Malinowski, Boas, Benedict, Mead, Geertz, and a bunch of people I've never heard of. This doesn't mean that those other people aren't important; I have piss-poor non-quizbowl knowledge of anthropologists. But it also doesn't mean that so-called "amateurs" aren't reading those people just because Shantanu and the "experts" think they're overrated or unimportant. Similarly, in my piss-poor sociology class that I have ranted about and will continue to rant about to anyone who wants to listen, we had readings from Mills, Durkheim, Weber, Marx, and some guy named Elijah Anderson, whose reading excerpt formed the basis for that terrible Sun N Fun tossup on "the ghetto." In my experience, the readings for any given lower-division anthro/sociology class will probably be about as much help in quizbowl as randomly picking the Wikipedia pages of an equivalent number of anthropologists/sociologists.
Shantanu further claims:
Megalomaniacal Panda on Absinthe wrote:it's not really obvious to me that someone interested in economics is more likely to read Alfred Marshall or Keynes than to learn about the Chamley-Judd result.
It's not intuitively obvious to me that the reverse of this statement is any more correct (Disclaimer: my entire experience with econometrics is limited to helping my brother figure out some statistics program he needed to learn for his econometrics class and knowing the definition of the word "heteroscedasticity"). In fact, it seems fairly obvious to me that someone who has little interest in economics (say, me) is more likely to be exposed to the theories of Keynes than anything in econometrics. At some point, we have to say that Keynes and his theories are things that someone with some "amateur" interest in economics would be likely to have at least stumbled across, while the Chamley-Judd result requires significantly more interest to find and significantly more conceptual foundation to understand.
My understanding is that non-Shantanu people who are "interested" in academic topics do not go out and read textbooks on those topics for fun. Instead they start by reading some reasonably popular book that explains things in a way that non-experts can understand, or watching some PBS or Discovery Channel or History Channel special, or doing something else that is specifically designed to both educate and entertain. And then maybe, if they find some things particularly interesting, they go on and they try to read the technical stuff that gets referenced in the footnotes, or something along those lines. For all I know, whatever this Chamley-Judd result is (I am certainly no amateur economist), it's explained in books on business and finance written for the general public. If it is, then I'm horribly mistaken and wrong about how many "amateur" economists know or care about the Chamley-Judd; however, since all I can find on Amazon is this book by Cristophe Chamley that "promises to be the key reference on rational models of social learning in economics" (whatever that means), and pretty much everything on Google Books is a compilation of journal articles and/or conference proceedings, I'm going to take a wild guess that I'm not.
Then there are so-called amateurs who "accidentally" pick things up from totally unrelated interests, often including pop culture. Should I be somehow "punished" by quizbowl questions on The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
because everything I know about it comes from a science fiction novel I recently read? What about the legions of quizbowlers whose only "real" Japanese history knowledge comes from video games?
I guess that my overall problem with Shantanu's whole argument is that he's asking us to shoehorn his definition of amateur (someone who trains informally) to match the Arthurian description of "not directly involved in the relevant academic field." Semantically, this makes perfect sense, but I don't think that Bruce's concept of "amateur at geography" includes reading about things that are currently of interest to modern "expert" geographers, whoever those people might be; similarly, I doubt that a great many "amateur" chemistry players religiously read JACS to find out the latest hot topics among "expert" chemists. Certainly we need to at some level reward the so-called "experts" in the field and the people like Shantanu who consider themselves amateurs but approach the field like experts do. Certainly we need to enliven the tossups so that they don't read like a boring list of works. But we also need to remember that at some level the social science questions have to be gettable by the "amateurs" on William and Mary B. I think the only points at which Shantanu and I agree are that writing six lines on the minor works of Malinowski is useful to neither experts nor amateurs and creates some kind of knowledge bubble that rewards having played quizbowl for a long time over being interested in the subject at an appreciable level, and that maybe the only way to truly rectify this situation is to increase the number and quality of concept tossups that allow for "expert" knowledge at the beginning and "amateur" knowledge at the end.
As a coda to this, it's a similar distinction that's driving the debate between the "amateur" quizbowl players and the misnamed "professional" quizbowl players. The "amateur" players are fiercely defending their right to show up to tournaments, answer a bunch of questions on things they've heard of, and have fun without putting in any substantial effort to learn whatever the "professional" players think is important - they're not the ones studying the lead-ins mentioning quizbowl's favorite feminist anthropologist du jour
so that they can be ready when someone decides it's a great hard part at Nats or CO. By that same token, I'd argue that pretty much everyone commenting in this thread is an "amateur" quizbowl player in one sense of the term (no one is getting paid to play quizbowl), but none of us is really an "amateur" quizbowl player in the sense of the term used by the self-described "amateur" players, since we've all spent many hours doing things for the sole or secondary purpose of getting better at quizbowl. It's this other amateurism dichotomy that we really need to be careful about when discussing the proper place of "expert" knowledge in the game.