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Paying People to Argue With You

CmdrTaco posted more than 6 years ago | from the comon-bennett-fists-at-dawn dept.

The Internet 397

Bennett Haselton has written in with an essay on a strange experiment on-line. He starts When you first hear about Amazon.com's "Mechanical Turk" service, which allows "requesters" to pay "Turk workers" a few pennies to complete some task which is hard to automate but easy for humans, what's the first application that comes to your mind? The system has been discussed previously on Slashdot, but I'll bet a week's wages for a Mechanical Turk worker ($1.45, according to one of them) that I was the first person who used it to pay people to write rebuttals to one of my arguments. Keep reading unless you want to fight about it.

The interesting result was that some of the rebuttals were quite insightful, and resulted in me making changes to the argument that I would make if I had to present it again. Judging by the literacy and intelligence of some of the respondents, most of them probably wouldn't need Mechanical Turk as a source of income, so I assume most of them fit the profile of this Salon.com writer and are doing it just for fun. Hell, you can find enough people on UseNet and Slashdot who will argue with you just for free.

But there were a few reasons I found this preferable to the conventional ways of gathering interesting rebuttals to your own reasoning. If you send out a sample argument to all of your e-mail buddies, you will probably get some useful replies, but they may start to think you're a little weird for asking them to evaluate your thought processes, especially if you do it over and over. Post an opinion on UseNet or Slashdot, and you may have to wade through a lot of crap to find the useful responses (while others may consider your post to be part of the crap that they have to wade through). And in both cases, there's the potential embarrassment of what you're asking for -- the risk of seeming so uncertain about your own opinions that you want other people to check your work for you. (I actually think that being uncertain about your own beliefs is a virtue, but it doesn't seem to be one that our culture prizes very highly.) Using Mechanical Turk addresses most of these problems; even though you're still admitting to total strangers that you might be wrong and asking them to shoot you down if they can, at least the evidence of your insecurity won't turn up when your next employer or Internet date does a Google search for your name. ("Damn it, I want a man who doesn't question his bumper stickers!")

So, while I didn't find it useful enough that I would run every opinion through the Mechanical Turk machinery to see what feedback I could get from it (I'm not paying a bunch of them to proofread this article), I did like enough to recommend it to people for certain arguments in certain settings. The main kinds of arguments that I would try out on the Mechanical Turk service would be about abstract philosophical or moral questions on issues that have been around forever, like abortion or the death penalty -- topics so explosive that you'd risk making your friends very uncomfortable if you test-marketed your arguments on them, and which would seem almost rude to post about in a public forum because the debate topics have been around for so very, very long. But on Mechanical Turk, $1 is apparently enough to get people to ignore the awkwardness and the exhaustedness of the topic and to focus on what you ask.

And what was the argument that I used to test it out? Perhaps the geek crowd will feel more sympathy with this than the general public does. Basically it was that the conventional wisdom behind allowing adults to smoke, but banning cigarettes for people under 18, is wrong. Either you can believe that smoking should be permitted for everybody, or that it should be banned for everybody, but there is no consistent set of assumptions that could lead you to conclude that smoking should be banned for people under 18 but allowed for everyone else. You have two groups of people under consideration -- people under 18 who smoke, and people over 18 who smoke. What possible reason could there be for wanting to protect the health of the people in the first group, but not the people in the second group?

The problem with the conventional reason for smoking age restrictions -- "Younger people have worse judgment, so they are more likely to smoke" -- is that if this is true, all that means is that the first group of people will be proportionally larger, relative to the total population of people in their age range. But even after that assumption, you're still left with two groups of people, who exhibit the same continued bad judgment with regard to smoking cigarettes. Treating the two groups differently, is a bit like saying we should have lighter sentences for female murderers than for male murderers, just because men are more likely to commit murder.

And yet this conclusion did give me pause, so this is a classic example of an argument where you'd want someone to check your work. Off I went to create a Human Intelligence Task (HIT) on Mechanical Turk simply asking people to read the argument and respond. In the first round, most responders missed what I thought was the point of the argument, and responded with some variation of "Minors are more likely to smoke because they have worse judgment", without addressing the question of why the two groups of smokers should be treated differently. A few people responded with variations of "We've always done it that way" (referring to similar restrictions on alcohol, pornography, etc.); fair enough, it just reminded me that if I asked the question again I'd have to say I didn't consider any argument valid that boiled down to "We've always done it that way".

But then came some more interesting responses. One worker replied that I was wrong to assume that the effects of a cigarette were "the same" on adults and minors because cigarette smoke has been shown to be more damaging to developing tissues. OK, that was worth a dollar. On the other hand, that just means that there is some number N cigarettes that would be just as harmful to an adult, as 1 cigarette would be to a minor, so you're still left without a consistent reason for why you'd let the adult buy those N cigarettes but prevent the minor from buying 1 cigarette. Then another user called me out on the opening line of my original argument, "There is no reason to ban cigarettes for minors but not for adults." He said, quite correctly, that I had only attempted to debunk the most commonly given reason, but it was wrong to conclude that there was no such reason.

So, this led me to another idea for how to present an argument and solicit feedback on Mechanical Turk: in the form of a series of mathematically precise statements, each one following from the previous ones. The new HIT was to ask users if they disagreed with the conclusion, and if they disagreed, then to identify the first statement that they disagreed with. The idea was that each statement would follow logically from the ones before it, so identifying any statement as the "first" one that they disagreed with, would be tantamount to a self-contradictory paradox.

Now, whether or not you want to use this format when running an argument past the Turk workers, depends on what your goal is. If you want to really find out if your own argument is valid, then breaking it down mathematically is one approach. On the other hand, if you already believe your own argument, and you're just trying to find the most persuasive way of phrasing it, then you may not learn anything useful by breaking it down into a series of mathematical steps, because that's probably not going to be the format of our final persuasive essay.

Anyway, the new mathematical format of the argument was (slightly reworked from what I posted on Amazon):

  1. Government should ban smoking by people under 18, because of the harmful health effects.
  2. If that's true for the entire group of underage smokers, then it's also true for each individual smoker under 18. In other words, even if only one person under 18 smoked in the entire country, it would still be justified for the government to ban them from smoking.
  3. Whatever bad health effects are caused by the average person under 18 smoking 1 cigarette, there is some number N cigarettes that would cause the same bad health effects in the average adult who smoked them.
  4. If banning 1 person under 18 from smoking 1 cigarette is justified (even if they were the last smoker on Earth), and the health effects would be the same for an average adult who smoked N cigarettes, then banning 1 adult from smoking those N cigarettes would also be justified (again, even if they were the last smoker on Earth).
  5. If banning 1 person over 18 from smoking would be justified, then the same logic would apply to every person over 18, which would imply banning smoking for all people over 18.
  6. Hence, if you believe that smoking should be banned for people under 18, then the same logic would lead to a ban on smoking for people over 18 as well.

The response from a lot of workers who responded to this HIT was that... I lost them. Each of them identified the first statement in the list that they disagreed with, as required by the HIT, but many commented that the whole thing was phrased confusingly. There was no clear winner for the first statement that people disagreed with, but several people picked #3 and #4, arguing some version of "People under 18 have less developed judgment." (I still say that doesn't matter, because you're talking about comparing a person under 18 who smokes, with a person over 18 who smokes, and their judgment in both cases is the same, etc.) So this particular experiment failed -- it didn't make it easier to persuade people by formulating the argument as a series of steps, and it also didn't lead to any agreement on what was the Achilles' Heel of the argument itself.

However I think the general idea, of using Mechanical Turk to find sparring partners, may be useful to a lot of people. If you were interested in publishing some kind of persuasive argument, you could use an Amazon HIT to have readers compare several different versions of the same argument and identify the one that they thought was most convincing. If you were feeling more philosophical and simply wanted to know if your argument was correct, you could pay people to look for flaws in it (and here is where the mathematical phrasing could come in handy). If you're crafting an argument for public consumption, you could even have HIT workers build up your argument for you -- start with a position and have them come up with reasons supporting that position -- although to me that feels like a cheapening of the debate process that crosses the line, because you're not even trying to reason your way to a conclusion, instead starting with the conclusion you want and then working backwards (not that this isn't what a lot of debaters do anyway!). My own interest would be to see next if certain types of arguments are more likely to persuade people who are more mathematically inclined (by asking respondents to indicate how well they did at math in school). Perhaps arguments with flowery language are more likely to appeal to people who were English majors, while arguments spelled out as a series of logical steps are more likely to appeal to people who look at things in a mathematical way (also known as the "real" or "right" way of looking at things).

Maybe my preference for the controlled, user-reimbursed process of "debating" that is enabled by Mechanical Turk, has to do with a lifelong focus on bottom-line results: Decide what the result is, and judge the process by how well it brings about that result. I don't think debate and discussion should be like soccer, valued for the fun and the exercise; I think a good debate should actually get somewhere, persuading the participants or the listeners of a new point of view that builds on their old one, or else the debate has failed. If paying HIT workers kills the "spirit" of a good debate but helps achieve the goal, then so much the better. On the other hand, we'll never run out of people who enjoy the process of debating and arguing for its own sake, and will continue to debate things into the ground without anybody paying them. Hey look, here come some of them now!...

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397 comments

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obligatorily (4, Funny)

shawn(at)fsu (447153) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242761)

Do you want to have the full argument, or were you thinking of taking a course?

Re:obligatorily (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242909)

Do you want to have the full argument, or were you thinking of taking a course?

You, Sir, are an idiot.

That'll be 5 cents, please.

Re:obligatorily (4, Insightful)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243081)

Anyway, the new mathematical format of the argument was (slightly reworked from what I posted on Amazon):

Ahh...the Internet. Bringing you in touch with people who think that because they throw an 'N' into their blather, it becomes a 'mathematical' argument. Or that you can quantify things like the "health effect of smoking 1 cigarette on someone less than 18" and plop it into a faux equation. A note to the reviewer: if you're going to pay someone $1.45 to point out the logical flaws in your flawed argument (I would, but someone has already posted a rebuttal), then expect what you pay for.

Re:obligatorily (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243201)

Ahem, argument's already been automated. In fact, I wrote the program [mcgrew.info] , and did so in 1982. Where the hell have you guys been? It's a turing machine program that's supposed to simulate thinking withiut actually being able to think, much like a flight simulator simulates flight without leaving the ground.

I wrote it in a vain attempt to convince people that computers don't think. Unfortunately it usually has the opposite effect. "Thanks, mcgrew", they say, "now my fucking computer hates me!"

-mcgrew (no longer charging for the program, but it's still copyrighted. I dream of catching an RIAA lawyer infringeing...)

Re:obligatorily (1)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243345)

The download link is broken.

Must..resist.... (3, Funny)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242767)

Oh I cant help it! This reminds me too much if Monty Python's Argument Clinic [youtube.com]

Re:Must..resist.... (1)

smitty97 (995791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242867)

Oh, sorry, this is abuse. You want room 12A.

Re:Must..resist.... (4, Funny)

Eggplant62 (120514) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242897)

Shamelessly stolen from http://www.mindspring.com/~mfpatton/sketch.htm [mindspring.com] :

Q: WHAT DO YOU WANT?
M: Well, I was told outside that...
Q: Don't give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!
M: What?
Q: Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, malodorous pervert!!!
M: Look, I CAME HERE FOR AN ARGUMENT, I'm not going to just stand...!!
Q: OH, oh I'm sorry, but this is abuse.
M: Oh, I see, well, that explains it.
Q: Ah yes, you want room 12A, Just along the corridor.
M: Oh, Thank you very much. Sorry.
Q: Not at all.
M: Thank You. (Under his breath) Stupid git!!

Re:Must..resist.... (1)

Volante3192 (953645) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242955)

If you didn't do it, someone else easily would have... Including myself.

Re:Must..resist.... (5, Funny)

sfjoe (470510) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243285)

Oh I cant help it! This reminds me too much if Monty Python's Argument Clinic

No it doesn't.

Re:Must..resist.... (3, Informative)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243415)

yes. But you did it in a most unfunny manor, spoiling it for everyone. You're supposed to wait for some stupid troll to start calling you names (its slashdot,so the first post or so should contain some reference to your fat, ugly, promiscuous mother), then reference it subtly by saying "I came here for an argument!"

nope. (5, Funny)

user24 (854467) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242779)

"Hell, you can find enough people on UseNet and Slashdot who will argue with you just for free."

no you can't.

Re:nope. (5, Funny)

weeboo0104 (644849) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242851)

Now you're just contradicting.

Re:nope. (5, Funny)

mOdQuArK! (87332) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242959)

No he's not.

Re:nope. (1)

ickoonite (639305) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243037)

Yes he is.

Re:nope. (0, Redundant)

Joey Patterson (547891) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243041)

Yes he is.

Re:nope. (1)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243383)

No I'm not [xkcd.com]

Re:nope. (2, Funny)

ameoba (173803) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242907)

Actually, I think you could.

Re:nope. (1, Redundant)

ickoonite (639305) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242993)

No, you can't.

Re:nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243209)

yeah well....YOUR MOM!

Re:nope. (2, Funny)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243563)

The best thing about arguing in a bar is you can get drunk while doing it.

Re:nope. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242911)

yes you can you MORON

Re:nope. (1)

Joey Patterson (547891) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242931)

Yes, you can!

Re:nope. (1)

_xeno_ (155264) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242953)

Of course you can, it's just that it's just a matter of time until they start calling you a Nazi. You Nazi.

Re:nope. (1)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242963)

"no you can't."

Um, I'd beg to differ. You can find anyone willing to argue for arguments sake. Take me for example, who would have thought that arguing over a "no you can't" statement was even possible. But then again, I'm reminded of children who argue over everything. Suffice it to say, you are just plain wrong or aren't looking hard enough.

Nice try though.

Oh, and the correct answer "Why yes! Yes you can!"

Re:nope. (1)

Fizzl (209397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243063)

Yes I can. And this is not merely contradiction!

Re:nope. (1)

neo (4625) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243363)

"no you can't."

Yes he can. It's easy to find rebuttals here.

Re:nope. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243409)

That's not an argument, that's just contradiction!

Here's a HIT task (5, Funny)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242789)

What the fuck are you blabbering about? Is there any way you can summarize it into 100 words or less?

Dialectic? (1)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242797)

Maybe if there was ONE useful class in High School, no one would even consider a paying service to people who actually can think all by themselves of different ways to look at things.

Re:Dialectic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242939)

Maybe if there was ONE useful class in High School, no one would even consider a paying service to people who actually can think all by themselves of different ways to look at things.

But how would one score this class on a standardized nationwide test? Think of the children who are being left behind!1!!

Re:Dialectic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243073)

But how would one score this class on a standardized nationwide test?
Kind like the SAT Writing test -- grade it on length.

Re:Dialectic? (1)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243153)

Well, if the Mechanical Turk service fails to follow a step-by-step reasoning, then the standardized nationwide test can be said to have been failed by pretty much everyone already.

Re:Dialectic? (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242965)

How long before some enterprising teacher makes being an arguer on Turk an assignment?

Wait for people to start paying for abuse! (3, Funny)

neuro.slug (628600) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242819)

Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, maloderous, pervert!!!

Re:Wait for people to start paying for abuse! (2, Funny)

CruddyBuddy (918901) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242887)

All I wanted was an argument!

Well, this is abuse. You want room 11a.

Thank you.

Not at all. Stupid git.

Re:Wait for people to start paying for abuse! (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243297)

but I can get abuse from you and your ilk for free, and sending your abuse through google translator to other langauges and back to English means I can even create 12 new abuses for every one of yours

Is this where I go for abuse? (2, Funny)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242843)

Or is that in another office down the hall?

Er, what? (4, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242849)

No offense, but your argument's not that good, or maybe I'm not understanding your point.

-You just "proved" that no paternalistic intervention is ever justified, *even by parents to newborns*. Hey, if you believe compelling someone to eat is okay if they're under 2 years old, obviously, there must be some insufficient amount of eating you can do when over 2 years old that would justify force-feeding. Er, yes, there is, it's just not encoded in any specific law that way.

-The "judgment" argument is completely unrelated to the "health results" argument (up to a limit). You seem to think the argument is that

"People under 18 shouldn't be allowed to smoke, because if they did, they would smoke a lot due to bad judgment, and people over 18 would not excessively smoke due to bad judgment."

  It's not. It's more like,

"People under 18 shouldn't be allowed to smoke because their poor judgment makes them unable to accurately weigh long-term consequences of smoking. Therefore, they will smoke, and later regret the poor health and addiction. Adults may do it in the exact same amount, but then it would be with accurate judgment of the consequences. The rational self would not be victimized by the previous irrational self."

-You perform a reductio saying that banning smoking for minors would imply banning some amount of smoking (N) for adults. There is such a ban, so there's no contradiction. Namely, if you smoke so much at once as to nearly kill yourself, that can be considered a suicide attempt, and people can legally restrain you from doing it further until your body can cope.

(I'm not saying 18 is right age to ban smoking. I'm not saying there should be any one age. I'm just saying that this is a poor representation of the case for banning underage smoking, and a poor argument for a change in policy.)

Now, give me my $1.

Re:Er, what? (5, Insightful)

Lemmeoutada Collecti (588075) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243169)

Also, the assumption that if 1 cigarette will cause health effect X to a child under 18, then N cigarettes will cause the same health effect to an adult is false correlation. There are many processes occurring in a growing child, from the initial growth of nervous tissue, to the rapid replication of cells from the stem cell forms, that are significantly reduced or even eliminated when the person reaches adulthood. Damage can be caused by a growing person smoking that is impossible to replicate in an adult.Likewise, cigarettes have a different effect on the systems of a grown adult that are not necessarily present in a child.

If you are going to use an equivalence class in your argument, you must make sure that for all cases related to the argument that the equivalence holds true.

Re:Er, what? (1)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243373)

This h is the one point I've seen discussed twice already.

Morons!!! Can't you understand it's THE FACT IT'S MORE HARMFUL to minors and not THE PRECISE QUANTITY that makes all the difference. It's even THE POINT of that stupid useless law.

I'm not sure consequences are weighed (2, Interesting)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243283)

You imply that adults "weigh" the long-term consequences of smoking and then make a rational choice to continue smoking. As a former smoker, I'm not sure that's an accurate reflection of what's happening with smokers (adults or children) nor a compelling answer to why we ban underage smoking.

A clearer explanation, in my opinion, would be that we expect adults to accept the consequences of their actions as a matter of personal responsibility. In other words, adults could reasonably know that smoking is dangerous and choose to smoke anyway, but they have to live with the consequences; lung cancer, emphysema, etc. We don't necessarily hold "minors" to the same standard. If a child gets their father's gun, takes it to school, and shoots another child, the consequences (should) fall mainly on the parent.

Of course, in our modern society, there are some really wacky things going on. People can sue corporations for the result of bad choices they've made, because we've pretty much abdicated on the idea of personal responsibility in non-criminal cases, while at the same time a five-year-old can be tried as an adult and sent up to the Big House if they use crayons to draw a gun in kindergarten.

But my take on this is more that (historically) we've decided that kids aren't held to the same standard of personal responsibility that we've (historically) assigned to adults.

Re:I'm not sure consequences are weighed (2, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243413)

You imply that adults "weigh" the long-term consequences of smoking and then make a rational choice to continue smoking. As a former smoker, I'm not sure that's an accurate reflection of what's happening with smokers (adults or children) nor a compelling answer to why we ban underage smoking.

No, I said they're better *able* to weigh the consquences. (Please give more emphasis to my actual text than to how it makes you feel.) Whether they choose to sit down and write out a table is essentially irrelevant. The distinction is that they are able to make judgments better than minors. Ideally, we'd allow e.g. 16-year-olds to take some test to get rights early, but that's beyond the scope of this debate.

And course I should add that obviously, in real life, nothing magical happens at 18. There are shades of judgment capability that we get as we grow, and, in the absence of a cheap process to accurantely ascertain where someone is, we use heuristics, one of them being the age 18 cutoff.

A clearer explanation, in my opinion, would be that we expect adults to accept the consequences of their actions as a matter of personal responsibility.

Forest, trees. The reason we give them that personal resposibility is because we believe they are sufficiently capable of exercising it.

Re:I'm not sure consequences are weighed (1)

Non-Huffable Kitten (1142561) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243493)

You imply that adults "weigh" the long-term consequences of smoking and then make a rational choice to continue smoking.

I think the argument was about beginning to smoke. IMHO someone that first starts smoking as an adult would be far more likely to have weighed the pros and cons - as opposed to youths, who are more suspectible to peer pressure.

Continuing to smoke if you started in youth is a whole different beast.

Btw, for any rational adults considering whether to start smoking, in my opinion nicotine gum would be a better choice ;)

Religion (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242853)

If your argument has anything to do with religion, you can get free "rebuttals" by posting about it on Slashdot.

...that is, if the quality the reasoning is not important.

Re:Religion (1, Insightful)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242979)

What? Quality of reasoning and religion? Those don't mix. Even "reasoning" and "religion" don't mix. The only ones in any religion who are permitted to think are the ones who are Allowed By God to explain the book in a way that will confuse sheeple anough so that they don't ask questions.

Re:Religion (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243095)

You've just proven the OP's point. Well done..

Re:Religion (0, Flamebait)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243301)

Yeah, right. If you don't see how religion forbids thinking, then go give back your brain to God, he's got more use for it than you ever will. Rebutting religion? Easy as hell : "THERE IS NO BEARDED GUY WITH A SIN LIST ABOVE"

Re:Religion (0, Offtopic)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243339)

Arguing with me about religion is like a blind man arguing with me about the color red. You don't believe in the color red? Fine. I don't care. I'm not going to argue about it.

-mcgrew

What are you smoking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242861)

I skimmed the detailed list of arguments, and there's apparently no mention of the fundamental premise to this restriction: people under 18 can't be trusted to make their own decisions. This is why children can't vote either, or do you think my 4-year-old should be allowed to cast a ballot?

Re:What are you smoking (4, Insightful)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243149)

and there's apparently no mention of the fundamental premise to this restriction: people under 18 can't be trusted to make their own decisions.

Not quite; people of any age are allowed to make their own decisions.

The thing that happens when you're 18 or older, though, is that you then have to be responsible for your decisions. When you're less than 18, the consequences get handled by society at large.

That's the difference that sets the line for smoking at 18. Doesn't have anything to do with health issues except for who has to pay the majority to fix those issues. (Here's a hint: what tax burden is paid by those younger than 18?)

Re:What are you smoking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243207)

Big Bird for prezdent?!

It's a fair cop (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242885)

Please tag this apropriately : )

Cardinal Fang! Fetch... (1)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242889)

THE MONTY PYTHON REFERENCES.

Re:Cardinal Fang! Fetch... (1)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 6 years ago | (#21242945)

Wait, wait. I thought you couldn't make a post in all-caps on /.?

Re:Cardinal Fang! Fetch... (1)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243083)

YOU CAN IF IT IS SHORT ENOUGH

Re:Cardinal Fang! Fetch... (1)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243519)

TEST - 29 CHARS WORKS, NOT 30

Mechanical Turk ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242893)

Quite disrespectfull to a lot of Turks I know

There was a time the word 'turk' meant: dirty human (in the Netherlands, in the previous century)....when 'I was young I saw that with my own eyes in a very respectable dictionary.

Good friends of mine at that time I called Ahmet, Mesut and Bekir (Turks), I felt very ashamed :(

Re:Mechanical Turk ... (1)

Cally (10873) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243047)

There's an adult comic called "Viz" in the UK which features a character called "Mrs Brady, Old Lady [wikipedia.org] ". The gist of it is "aren't old people funny (and they smell of wee)" -- variations on that theme, highly unsympathetic on the subjects of elderly working class women, dementia, loneliness, physical ailments (described in appallingly vivid detail) and of course reminiscences of the past. At one point they had her frequently using the words j"jew" and "turk" as terms of abuse in a context I'd never heard them (as in, "watch out for that new greengrover, he'll jew you out of your change, the nasty turk" -- of course these are wildly offensive, but interesting as the presumably date to at least the time of the Ottomans (pre-1914) and certainly before the Holocaust finally made casual like that anti-semitism unacceptable.

Legacy of the Ottoman Empire (2, Funny)

Latent Heat (558884) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243211)

Being of a Near Eastern heritage having elements of Turkish culture owing to Ottoman rule, my wife could have told you we are the go-to people if you want a detailed parsing of a logical argument or want a long, philosophical discussion about almost anything. My wife often gets the detailed parsing or the philosophical discussion even when she hasn't requested it.

I don't see any problem about this disrespecting people in Turkey or this being offensive to anyone of Turkish or Near Eastern heritage. The one problem I see is if you use this service for any kind of serious scholarship. Low-wage labor is used in scholarship all of the time (grad students, undergrad hourly workers), but if someone makes a significant contribution, a co-authorship may be in order, and for a more minor contribution, even the undergrad hourly often gets acknowledged. If one of these low-wage anomymous knowledge workers helps you make a key argument, how do you properly cite this in your journal article?

Re:Mechanical Turk ... (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243395)

You should have seen the flak a boss of mine (now retired) got when he tried to explain Reverse Polish Notation to a non-nerd in the office.

-mcgrew

tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21242937)

I suppose I can also pay a Turk $1.45 to read this long-ass article for me.

Re:tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243495)

No, that would be 2.90 as it would take 2 weeks.

amazing nobody apparently suggested.. (1)

Diss Champ (934796) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243005)

.. that your logic is flawed insofar as you ignore the difference between someone starting to smoke and someone continuing to smoke, when considering judgement. What percentage of those >18 smoking started smoking below 18? Smoking is highly addictive, and I suspect therefore that whether one starts smoking early in life is an excellent predictor of whether one will continue to smoke later. If one starts smoking below 18 due to bad judgement, but would have not started after 18 due to an improvement in judgement, one might still CONTINUE smoking after 18 due to the extra difficulties in dealing with an addiction.

Of course, the other reason is that people below 18 are less likely to be able to vote the politicos banning the tobacco sales out of office, than the addicts above 18 who may be driven to become single-issue voters from such a ban.

Nah. (5, Funny)

cdr_data (916869) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243007)

I don't need to pay someone to argue with me. I have children.

Re:Nah. (1)

DarkSarin (651985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243365)

Paying someone to argue with you will be cheaper in the long-run, and certainly by the time the children are old enough to actually argue, rather than simply contradict you (see Monty Python for the difference). Certainly by the time your children are old enough to actually argue, then you will have forgotten whatever it was you wanted to argue about.

Re:Nah. (1)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243485)

Paying someone to argue would have been cheaper.

An Argument (4, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243019)

Here's the first argument I thought in favor of the under-18 ban. It has nothing to do with "people under 18 have worse judgement".

(1) Adults inherently have more rights, and are expected to shoulder more responsibility, than those who are minors (e.g., voting, driving, running for office, registering for military service, medical care, curfews, etc.)

(2) Granted that smoking is bad, we have considered banning it for everybody.

(3) It's been decided that this is not so critical an issue that it trumps adult rights and self-responsibility; therefore we feel it would be improper to make a ban for adults. However, it does rise to a level above the threshold for minor rights, and therefore a ban for minors is considered an acceptable prohibition.

Re:An Argument (2, Interesting)

Fallus Shempus (793462) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243117)

You can also add:

4) The purpose of the ban is to stop people from starting smoking.
Since most people start smoking in their teens a ban to the age of 18
is there to stop these people from picking up the habit.

As the parent states there is not a total ban as this is possibly a rights issue with an adult.

Re:An Argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243127)

"(1) Adults inherently have more rights, and are expected to shoulder more responsibility, than those who are minors (e.g., voting, driving, running for office, registering for military service, medical care, curfews, etc.)"

Why do they inherently have more rights than minors? Why are they expected to shoulder more responsibility? I think the unspoken there is that they are granted more simply because they are older, and because they are expected to have better judgment. Which makes your argument, as it appears to me, not that minors have worse judgment but that adults have better judgment.

Re:An Argument (1)

cdr_data (916869) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243161)

The only problem I have with this sort of argument is that once you've started down the road of "Save the Children from the evils/dangers of X", you can therefore justify banning just about anything. "Save the childen". No reasonable voice can stand against you -- they'd be instantly shouted down as "anti-child". I read an article a few years ago, and by changing about 3 words in the article, it would have been a diatribe against children smoking. However, the article was on suing soft drink manufacturers for putting caffeine in soft drinks to "addict" children.

Re:An Argument (1)

Sirch (82595) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243267)

(1) Adults inherently have more rights, and are expected to shoulder more responsibility, than those who are minors (e.g., voting, driving, running for office, registering for military service, medical care, curfews, etc.)
You say your argument has "nothing to do with 'people under 18 have worse judgement'":

1) How do you classify a person as an adult? Is it someone over 18? An adult used to be someone over 21...
2) Why do adults "inherently have more rights"? - surely it's something to do with their judgement? Or do you think it is something else?

Plus, how do you define your "threshold for minor rights"?

Re:An Argument (1)

Cheesey (70139) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243527)

There has to be a cut-off point. It could be zero (anyone may smoke) or infinity (WAR ON SMOKING!). But something in the range 16..21 seems to be generally accepted by the community, as balancing the rights of adults to make their own choices against the need to protect children from bad choices.

Looking for an exact logical justification for a partial prohibition is probably a futile quest. You might as well ask why some addictive substances are permitted while others are prohibited. In many cases, there isn't a good reason. It's just about the general perception of what is morally right, which is ultimately based on both society and superstition.

Re:An Argument (1)

imstanny (722685) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243545)

Correction: Some things that you mention like driving and running for office are privileges - not rights. A right is something you can do without asking someone else's permission. Once you have to ask permission, being giving permission to that act makes that act a privilege, as it is with driving & running for office.

When we talk about smoking, the question is posed is this a right or a privilege. One of the major qualities of a person's right (though it is repeatedly taken away as I will demosntrate in a minute) is that a person has a right to do whatever they want as long as they don't infringe on other's ability to do what they want. With the case of cigarettes, or drugs, or prostitution, or even suicide, a person is doing what they want to themselves - I'd say exercising their Right to freedom. If they have to get permission from someone to do those acts, then that it is no longer a right- and a greater implication is that you do not own/control yourself; someone else does.

With an age limitation to smoking, it brings up an interesting question. Which I will answer using a different right we're familiar with.We have a 'right to bear arms', but certainly it'd be foolish to hand a 7 year old a loaded weapon. I would say that the 7 year old cannot exercise the right to bear arms, if they are not old enough to be responsible for exercising that right. The same thing be said with smoking -- and while I agree that a line has to be drawn somewhere, I can debate infinitely whether that line should exist at 18 years of age. I say, if you can die for your country at that age - you should be granted all rights.

The perfect service for Facebook newbies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243089)

So maybe your a Facebook or MySpace weenie, you have no friends or social life, but you can now hire people to pretend their interested in what you write to argue with you and perhaps make it look like your newbie blog is interesting. Hmm...sounds like a service that some here will likely make use of!

Alternate rationale. (3, Insightful)

kebes (861706) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243107)

The presented rationale for not banning smoking for youngsters misses, I think, the real reasoning for having the ban. The reasoning goes something like:

1. Smoking is bad, and should be discouraged as much as possible.
2. All people should have the freedom to do what they like to themselves. However, an exception to this rule can be made when it comes to minors, who may make poor choices. The freedom of a minor can be abridged if it can be shown that this is "for their own safety". In any case, adults (defined as 18+ in most jurisdictions) shall have full freedom to do what they want to their own possessions and bodies.
3. Smoking is sufficiently "bad" that it warrants the restricting of a minor's freedom.

In this argument, the difference between the minor and the adult is not the harm it causes them, but the assessment about personal responsibility. Our society views the safety of minors as being a communal responsibility. Until the minor is old enough to reason for themselves (arbitrarily set at age 18), then their parents and/or society will make certain choices on their behalf. If they still select the harmful behavior as an adult, that's their choice. But it would be immoral for society to allow those without full cognitive ability to make harmful decisions. (Same rationale applies to adults who have impaired cognitive abilities; in which case someone is designated to make responsible choices on their behalf.)

We "allow" adults to smoke not because the consensus is that it isn't "bad" but rather because personal freedom and self-determination are viewed as being more important than saving someone from themselves.

Re:Alternate rationale. (1)

HolyCrapSCOsux (700114) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243499)

Pose that same argument where $argument =~ s/cigarettes/marijuana/ and see if it is still valid.

Why pay for what you can get for free (4, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243115)

Linux is a terrible, insecure operating system with a higher TCO than Windows.

Bill Gates is more enigmatic than Jobs and more intelligent than Stallman
The MPAA/RIAA are well within their rights when they sue people.
Darl was right.
I love the PS3 and hate the Wii

Discuss!

Re:Why pay for what you can get for free (5, Funny)

andreyvul (1176115) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243183)

great. now we have an article where troll comments are on-topic.

Re:Why pay for what you can get for free (1)

LordEd (840443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243463)

Do not fear the on-topic troll. You should only fear the on-topic goat.cx page.

Number 4 (1)

Tharkban (877186) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243155)

I disagree at #4.

"children" under 18 don't have the same judgment as adults (18 is an arbitrary age, but has some precedence).
It is justified to protect "children" from themselves, by making it illegal for them to smoke.
Adults, on the other hand, are allowed more freedom. In effect they are assumed to know better than to engage in self destructive actions (because they can judge what those things are better than anyone else).
As a society we have chosen not to protect adults from themselves to the same extent.

This is a varient of the "don't have the same judgment" argument...so I'll address your counterpoint.

I still say that doesn't matter, because you're talking about comparing a person under 18 who smokes, with a person over 18 who smokes, and their judgment in both cases is the same
The fact that both the "child" and adult smoke has no bearing on their judgment, and whether society trusts it.
The "child" is assumed to not know better than to smoke.
In the case of the adult, the person is assumed to know the risks involved and be able to choose what is best for themself.

As far as using "Mechanical Turk", that's a very interesting use for the service.

Sheep (2, Interesting)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243167)

This is a much better use of the Mechanical Turk service:

http://www.thesheepmarket.com/ [thesheepmarket.com]

Get 1,000 random Internet users to draw you a left-facing sheep.

missing assumption (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243179)

Your smoking argument falls flat for at least one major oversight: the two groups you distinguish (under-18 and over-18 people) are not independent. Male smokers don't (often) go on in life to become female smokers, and most female smokers didn't begin their habit as a judgement-impaired male. But smoking kids leads to smoking adults, and a very many smoking adults (I would guess) started as smoking kids. Stopping any smoker from smoking is much more difficult than keeping a non-smoker from starting. So since babies aren't (often?) born smoking, then one rational approach is to try and keep people from smoking until they are old enough to realize how bad an idea it really is.

For free (1)

naoursla (99850) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243195)

If that's true for the entire group of underage smokers, then it's also true for each individual smoker under 18. In other words, even if only one person under 18 smoked in the entire country, it would still be justified for the government to ban them from smoking.

I disagree. There is a societal cost to the damage smoking causes in young people in the form of increased medical burden. There is also a societal cost in enforcing an under 18 ban on smoking. If the cost of the ban is less than the cost eliminated by the ban then the ban is good for society and should be enacted. If the cost of the ban is more than the cost eliminated by the ban then the ban is a waste and should not be enacted.

A ban that affects a single person has to identify that person and enforce the rule. That is not very cost effective and is bad for society. If we looked at all the of the ways that minors die, I am sure we would find all sorts of crazy scenarios. That does not mean we should pass a law banning each and every one of those scenarios.

Interesting concept (1)

ultramk (470198) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243197)

I think the idea of micropayments for individual tasks is an interesting one. The biggest flaw in the system I see is that there is a wide variety of skill levels, worker to worker, which will effect the results you get, and I don't see any way of ensuring that you get someone whose work you can trust.

Incidentally, the biggest flaw in your thesis is your basic statement: the reason that smoking (and alcohol, and driving, and legal contracts, and consensual sex, etc etc etc) are limited in age is because below a certain age threshold, we as a society have agreed that children are not capable of making an informed decision that will effect their health, and the health of others. These things are not left in the hands of parents (in most cases) because of the great number of incompetent, neglectful parents out there.

In other words, we don't keep kids from smoking because it's bad for them, we keep them from smoking because we know that at that age, they can't understand how bad it is for them.

GET A LIFE! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243205)

You are paying people to argue with you?!? If the thing(s) that you are arguing are valid enough to really be argued about, maybe you should submit your arguments to a scientific periodical and ask for comment or response.

There are clinics that can help people with overly aggressive behaviors. If you are willing to pay good money to get people to argue with you, maybe you should look in to one of those places because it sounds like consiously, or maybe subconsiously, you are too damned aggressive and want all the answers, and want to prove your side of the argument is always right in the end..

Since you started with moral debate and stuff in your experiment, it sounds like you are on of those idiots that posts to belief.net or considers yourself a Bright or something. I think sometimes athiests overthink everything, get paranoid, and as you can see in this post, develop aggressive personality disorders.

Gov Policies don't lend themselves to reason (1)

bsy-1 (169906) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243243)

There isn't a factual reason for cigarettes being illegal for minors and legal for adults. The Bill of Rights gave us personal liberties, Congress has determined that the right of self determination is flawed, as only they and a few others know what is best for us. As for children, they suffer because adults before them proved they couldn't handle teaching Johnny good judgement, so the government now does that for you, not by teaching good judgement, but by limiting the number of choices to the 'safe' choices. A 14 year old can choose to have a baby or not, but can't choose to smoke. I am sure we are headed in the right direction. not.

Wrong argument (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21243245)

In most places, it is not illegal for people under 18 to smoke. It is illegal to _sell_ or _give_ cigarettes to people under 18. And although 18 is probably excessive (I'd say 16, or maybe even 14), I think it makes perfect sense to impose some limits on advertising targetted at children and young teens, especially when we're talking about addictive and / or unhealthy products.

Finding Quality Arguers (1)

unlametheweak (1102159) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243287)

Finding people for a quality argument would be difficult though. It's not like programming where you make a mistake and it doesn't work. Garbage-in does not always lead to garbage out with programming; it often leads to nothing out. Not so with verbal communication.

Finding people to argue with who use Logic as opposed to logical fallacies would be the difficult part. In the case of something controversial like smoking (especially underage smoking), it would be easy to presume that most people would concentrate their arguments (more) on their own biased world view instead of concentrating on the logical process of the argumentation itself. I see this enough on Slashdot itself. You criticize an argument, and some people seem to think that you are criticizing them, or their products or ideals.

you did all this for a bunch of virgins? (4, Funny)

night_flyer (453866) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243309)

are you kidding me? i'd kill you for a klondike bar.

4) and 5) don't follow (1)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243331)

4) If banning 1 person under 18 from smoking 1 cigarette is justified (even if they were the last smoker on Earth), and the health effects would be the same for an average adult who smoked N cigarettes, then banning 1 adult from smoking those N cigarettes would also be justified (again, even if they were the last smoker on Earth).

5) If banning 1 person over 18 from smoking would be justified, then the same logic would apply to every person over 18, which would imply banning smoking for all people over 18.

In statement 5, you dropped the very important clause "(from smonking) those N cigarettes", therefore extending conclusion 4 to any number of cigarettes, not just "N or more". Therefore, you violated your own rule of "every statement follows logically from the previous statement".
Now, I understand you wanted this problem to serve as an example for testing argument techniques, but remember: garbage in, garbage out. Your example was faulty with respect to the rules of the method you wanted to discuss, so you can't be certain to draw correct conclusions about that specific method.

Hey, you wanted mathematical precision, so there you have it. Maybe take it as a piece of evidence that social interaction (of which laws are a part of) does not always care about logic and mathematical precision to the maximum extent possible.

Free answer to the question (4, Interesting)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243347)

The benefit of a ban is possibly improved health in the group of people the ban effects.
The cost of the ban is decreased freedom in the group the ban effects.

Your argument address the possibility that the value of the benefit might differ with age.
You argument fail to address the possibility that the value of the cost might differ with age.

Since society value freedom for adults much higher than freedom for minors, the age discrimination is justified in this case. QED.

(A totally different discussion is whether society should value freedom for adults higher than freedom for minors, but it clearly does).

Arguing with you for free (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243355)

I only skimmed your argument, so forgive me if this has been covered. But one reason is that people who start smoking after about age 18 are far less likely to get addicted to it than those who start younger. Most "casual smokers" picked up the habit in college or later.

I would argue that you really only have the choice to start smoking; after that, each subsequent cigarette is less of a conscious choice and more your body taking over, until you make another conscious (and more difficult) choice to quit. If minors are less able to make a well-reasoned decision to start smoking, AND they are more likely to wind up addicted and thus not really choosing each additional cigarette as adults, you wind up with more adults who have never made a well-reasoned decision to smoke. If you make them wait until they are a bit older, when they are less likely to get addicted, you are giving them the opportunity to make a well-reasoned decision every time they light up. (This is my super-fast gotta-catch-the-bus-but-can't-resist version of this argument, just so you know.)

A flaw in the hypothesis (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243379)

FTFA:

There was no clear winner for the first statement that people disagreed with, but several people picked #3 and #4, arguing some version of "People under 18 have less developed judgment." (I still say that doesn't matter, because you're talking about comparing a person under 18 who smokes, with a person over 18 who smokes, and their judgment in both cases is the same, etc.)
No, it's not. The decision might be the same, but the process of arriving at that decision may not be. For example, both a 13-yea-old driver and a 30-year-old driver may decide that it is safe to pass a truck on the right. Both made the same poor decision, but to claim that 13-year-olds should be allowed to drive because adults may make the same poor decisions is ludicrous.

"Pay"? Why pay? (3, Funny)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243385)

Just come to /. and quarrel for free.

Well, not really for free. You employer pays.

Forget paying people to argue for you.... (1, Funny)

SirLurksAlot (1169039) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243405)

Why not simply charge people for disagreeing with you?

That will be $1/response (unless you plan to agree with me) by the way!

Missed effect (3, Insightful)

devnullkac (223246) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243435)

On the topic of underage smoking, I think the author has missed the effect that smoking has on the very judgment that is considered inadequate before a person turns 18. Because of addiction effects, having chosen and been allowed to smoke as a child permanently inhibits the ability to apply reasoned arguments to the choice to continue smoking even after the age of 18.

Consistency (2, Insightful)

jpfed (1095443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243517)

Why aren't all drugs given a consistent set of regulations under the FDA? If someone needs to get morphine, they get a prescription. If someone gets morphine without a prescription, they're being naughty. If someone needs to get marijuana, they get a prescription. If someone gets marijuana without a prescription, they're being naughty. If someone needs to get cigarettes, they get a prescription. If someone gets cigarettes without a prescription, they're being naughty.

First point of disagreement (1)

EngrBohn (5364) | more than 6 years ago | (#21243551)

There appears to be an implicit assumption in your line of reasoning, and that would be MY first point of disagreement:

0. It is the government's responsibility to protect the health of citizens and residents, even protecting them from their own judgement.

As a matter of personal philosophy, people who are assumed to be capable of making informed decisions have a fundamental right to make bad decisions (subject to the limitation that those bad decisions don't harm others). This re-frames the question to: are people under 18 capable of making informed decisions about smoking?
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