Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Thinking Lessons

Our post "Google Doesn't Love Us Anymore" prompted a response from the pseudonymous "Jobman."

Nonsensical comments are normally best left unanswered unless they are used for instruction. We'll use "Jobman's" comments to help teach others not to make similar mistakes.

"Jobman" charged that our post misled readers in two ways. In his first reply "Jobman" offer this explanation of the first of those two allegedly misleading features:

This post is misleading for two reasons, 1. Because it implies that google is specifically down-ranking your website. (Yes, it still does, even if your little blurb at the bottom tries to tell otherwise. "One of the reasons we started out with and stuck with a Blogger blog for so long has to do with Google's past tendency to give priority to its own." and "But we surmise that some time near the 2016 election Google tweaked its algorithms in a way that seriously eroded our traffic" Prove this point)
We answered that "Jobman" contradicted his claim with his evidence.

Lesson One: Avoid the Non Sequitur

"Jobman" asserts that our post implies Google specifically downranked the "PolitiFact Bias" website. The first evidence he offers is our statement that in the past Google gave priority to its own. Google owns Blogger and could be depended on to rank a Blogger blog fairly quickly. What does that have to do with specifically downranking the (Blogger) website "PolitiFact Bias"? Nothing. We offered it only as a reason we chose and continued with Blogger. Offering evidence that doesn't support a claim is a classic example of a non sequitur.
  • Good arguments use evidence that supports the argument, avoiding non sequiturs.

Lesson Two: Looking Up Words You May Not Understand Can Help Avoid Non Sequiturs

"Jobman" offered a second piece of evidence that likewise counted as a non sequitur. We think "Jobman" doesn't know what the term "surmise" means. Not realizing that "surmise" means coming to a conclusion based on reasoning short of proof might lead a person to claim that one who claims to have surmised something needs to provide proof of that thing. But that's an obvious non sequitur for a person who understands that saying one "surmised" communicates the idea that no proof is offered or implied.
  • Make sure you understand the other person's argument before trying to answer or rebut it. 

Lesson Three: Understand the Burden of Proof

In debate, the burden of proof belongs on the person asserting something. In non-debate contexts, the burden of proof belongs on anyone who wants another person to accept what they say.  In the present case, "Jobman" asserted, without elaborating, that two parts of our post sent the message that Google deliberately downranked "PolitiFact Bias." It turns out he was wrong, as we showed above. But "Jobman" showed little understanding of the burden of proof concept with his second reply:
The evidence that I point to doesn't contradict what I say. Yes, that's my rebuttal. You haven't proven that It does contradict what I say. Maybe try again later?
Who is responsible for showing that what we wrote doesn't mean whatever "Jobman" thinks it means? "Jobman" thinks we are responsible. If "Jobman" thinks what we wrote means X then it means X unless we can show otherwise. That's a classic case of the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof. The critic is responsible for supporting his own case before his target needs to respond.

Jobman added another example of this fallacy in his second reply:
Your title, "Google doesn't love us anymore" and contents of your post prove that you believe that Google somehow wants to push your content lower, yet you give no evidence for this.
"Jobman" says "Google doesn't love us anymore" means X (Google somehow wants to push our content lower). And "Jobman" thinks the burden rightly falls on us to show that "Google doesn't love us anymore" means ~X, such as simply saying Google downranked the site. "Jobman" thinks we are responsible for proving that Google somehow wants to push our content lower even if we already said that we did not think that is what Google did.

That's a criminal misunderstanding of the burden of proof.
  • Making a good argument involves understanding who bears the burden of proof.

Lesson Four: Strive For Coherence & Lesson Five: Avoid Creating Straw Men

In his second reply "Jobman" suggested that we brushed off our lack of evidence (lack of evidence supporting the point we were not making!) by with our claim we were not making the point we were not making.
Then, since you don't have any evidence, you try to brush it off and say "This post isn't about google targeting us" When every part of your post says otherwise.
With that last line we think perhaps "Jobman" meant to say "every part of your post says otherwise except for the part that doesn't." Though "Jobman" obviously overestimates the part that says otherwise.

His incoherence is palpable, and given that we specifically said that we were not saying Google specifically targeted the PolitiFact Bias site a critic needs an incredibly good argument to claim that we were arguing the opposite of what we argued. "Jobman" does not have that. He has a straw man fallacy supported only by his own non sequiturs.
  • It's a good idea to review your argument to makes sure you don't contradict yourself.
  • Resist the temptation to argue against a distortion of the other person's argument. That path leads to the straw man fallacy.

Lesson Three Review: Understand the Burden of Proof

The burden of proof falls on the one claiming something in the debate context, or on anyone who wants somebody else to believe something in everyday life.
When you claim that Google has made changes that have negatively impacted your website, you DO have to prove that. For now, I'll just dismiss your claim entirely until you provide evidence that google has made these changes, and that your website was previously ranked on the top of the list.
We said we surmised that Google's tweaking of its algorithms resulted in the downranking. As noted earlier, "Jobman" apparently thinks that claiming something while admitting it isn't proven obligates the claimant to prove the claim. Claiming to have proof carries with it the natural expectation that one may obtain that proof by asking. Recognizing when proof is claimed and when it isn't helps prevent mistakes in assigning the burden of proof.

In fact, the PFB post does offer evidence short of proof in the form of screenshots showing top-ranked searches from Bing and DuckDuckGo along with a much lower ranking from Google. Specific evidence of the Google downranking comes from reported evidence of past observations of a consistent top ranking. Evidence of Google tweaking its algorithms is not hard to find, so the argument in our post counted that as common knowledge for which the average reader would require no proof. And others we could expect to research the issue if they questioned it.

As for the promise to dismiss our claims for lack of proof, that is the prerogative of every reader no matter the literature. Readers who trust us will tend to accept our claims about our Google rank. Others can judge based on our accuracy with other matters. Others will use the "Jobman" method. That's up to the reader. And that's fine with us.

Lesson Five Review: Avoid Creating Straw Men

It was news to us that we posted the Bing and DuckDuckGo search results to prove Google is specifically biased against the PolitiFact Bias website. We thought we were showing that we rank No. 1 on Bing and DuckDuckGo while ranking much lower on Google.

We suppose "Jobman" will never buy that explanation:

Every single web indexing website in the history of the internet has had the purpose of putting forth the most relevant search results. You could prove that by literally googling anything, then saying "'X' Irrelevant thing didn't show up on the search results", but you compared search results of google and other search engines In order to convey the theme that google is somehow biased in their web searches because your website isn't at the top for theirs.
All search engines are biased toward their managers' vision of relevant search results. The bias at Bing and DuckDuckGo is friendlier to the PolitiFact Bias website than the bias at Google.

"Jobman" finished his second reply by telling us about ways we could improve our website's page rank without blaming Google for it. If that part of his comment was supposed to imply that we blame our website traffic on Google, that's misleading. 

Obviously, though, it's true that if Google gave us the same rank we get from Bing and DuckDuckGo we would probably enjoy healthier traffic. The bulk of our traffic comes from Google referrals, and we would expect a higher ranking to result in more of those referrals.

Like we said in the earlier PFB post, it comes down to Google's vision of what constitutes relevance. And clearly that vision, as the algorithm expresses it, is not identical to the ones expressed in the Bing and DuckDuckGo algorithms.

We did not and do not argue that Google targeted "PolitiFact Bias" specifically for downranking. Saying otherwise results in the creation of a straw man fallacy.

Note: "Jobman" has exhausted his reply privileges with the second reply that we quoted extensively above. He can take up the above argument using a verifiable identify if he wishes, and we will host comments (under other posts) he submits under a different pseudonym. Within limits.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. "Jobman" keeps posting links to his reply, opining that he is not required, as requested, to post his replies using a verifiable identity.

    Need we point out that we are not obligated to allow replies at all?

    It is common courtesy that should keep "Jobman" from persisting in trying to have his say outside the parameters we specified. It is not our fault that he prefers anonymity to having his response posted.

  4. We repeat that it is common courtesy to respect the wishes of a blog administrator in posting comments.

  5. "You can't hide the name of who's commenting."

    I can't?

    "You can either continue to delete my comments or shut off comments all together."

    There's no third option? You're sure about that?

    This is an illustration of how I am doing you and the audience a favor by setting limits on participation.


Thanks to commenters who refuse to honor various requests from the blog administrators, all comments are now moderated. Pseudonymous commenters who do not choose distinctive pseudonyms will not be published, period. No "Anonymous." No "Unknown." Etc.