Friday, October 23, 2009

Crafting an Argument

I just finished my analysis of the development of Integrated Coastal Management in the United States from its inception with the publication of the Stratton Commission report in 1969 and through the first 13 years of the Coastal Zone Management Act's implementation up to1985. After that I took a look at how ICM promoters exported ICM management principles to a couple of developing countries, Ecuador and Tanzania, from 1985 right up to almost the present day.

During the research for this analysis, I tried to show how, and why, ICM is a deeply culturally and historically entrenched management system. Following that in my review of ICM development efforts abroad I discussed how ICM promoters have failed to develop coastal management systems that are sustainable in contexts which are very foreign to the ones in which ICM itself developed in the United States.

My supervisor likes my argument but thinks it needs to be crafted more persuasively. I agree with him.

Then over on Bill Easterly's blog, which always manages to get people talking, I read this post in which Easterly suggests that the Aid community "hates" criticism while the Medical community "appreciates" it. His point was not a very radical one, namely that Medicine benefits from continuous rigorous testing of its efforts and that Aid should be more open to the possibility that such testing of its own efforts might improve its ability to support development. The need to evaluate one's progress should not be controversial. Society starts doing it to every 5 year old child when they enter kindergarten.

And yet the commentaries on this post picked away at Easterly's argument like vultures on a dead carcass. Some accused him of picking fights, while others accused him of being condescending, while still others quibbled with the extent to which the Medical community really appreciates criticism. Few actually engaged with his broader point.

Now comment sections on any blog are rarely known for their civility, but many of the people who do follow Easterly's blog are fairly knowledgeable people in fairly high-up places.

Being careful and deliberate in the way one crafts an argument is of course extremely important. But it certainly isn't heartening to know that no matter what you write someone, and these days it seems like a lot of people, are going to try and drag you into a fight.

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