Yesterday I was interviewed for a student radio show, I believe from the USC Annenberg school. I have no quarrel with the staff I worked with, they were all friendly and intelligent.
What depressed me though, as I went through my usual bullet points describing the "lukewarmer" position that is increasingly common among skeptics, was that most of what I said seemed to be new to the interviewer. It was amazing to see that someone presumably well-exposed to the climate debate would actually not have any real idea what one of the two positions really entailed (see here and here for what I outlined). This gets me back to the notion I wrote about a while ago about people relying on their allies to tell them everything they need to know about their opponent's position, without ever actually listening to the opponents.
This topic comes up in the blogosphere from time to time, often framed as being able to pass an ideological Touring test. Can, say, a Republican write a defense of the minimum wage that a reader of the Daily Kos would accept, or will it just come out sounding like a straw man? I feel like I could do it pretty well, despite being a libertarian opposed to the minimum wage. For example:
There is a substantial power imbalance between minimum wage workers and employers, such that employers are able to pay such workers far less than their labor is worth, and far less than they would be willing to pay if they had to. The minimum wage corrects this power imbalance and prevents employers from unfairly exploiting this power imbalance. It forces employers to pay employees something closer to a living wage, though at $7.25 an hour the minimum wage is still too low to be humane and needs to be raised. When companies pay below a living wage, they not only exploit workers but taxpayers as well, since they are accepting a form of corporate welfare when taxpayers (through food stamps and Medicare and the like) help sustain their underpaid workers.
Opponents of the minimum wage will sometimes argue that higher minimum wages reduce employment. However, since in most cases employers of low-skilled workers are paying workers less than they are willing and able to pay, raising the minimum wage has little effect on employment. Studies of the fast food industry by Card and Walker demonstrated that raising the minimum wage had little effect on employment levels. And any loss of employment from higher minimum wages would be more than offset by the Keynesian stimulative effect to the economy as a whole of increasing wages among lower income workers, who tend to consume nearly 100% of incremental income.
Despite the fact that I disagree with this position, I feel I understand it pretty well -- far better, I would say, than most global warming alarmists or even media members bother to try to understand the skeptic position. (I must say that looking back over my argument, it strikes me as more cogent and persuasive than most of the stuff on Daily Kos, so to pass a true Turing test I might have to make it a bit more incoherent).
Back in my consulting days at McKinsey & Company, we had this tradition (in hindsight I would call it almost an affectation) of giving interviewees business cases** to discuss and solve in our job interviews. If I were running a news outlet, I would require interviewees to take an ideological Touring test - take an issue and give me the argument for each side in the way that each side would present it.
This, by the way, is probably why Paul Krugman is my least favorite person in journalism. He knows very well that his opponents have a fairly thoughtful and (to them) well intention-ed argument but pretends to his readers that no such position exists. Which is ironic because in some sense Krugman started the dialog on ideological Turing tests, arguing that liberals can do it easily for conservative positions but conservatives fail at it for liberal positions.
** Want an example? Many of these cases were just strategic choices in some of our consulting work. But some were more generic, meant to test how one might break down and attack a problem. One I used from time to time was, "what is the size of the window glass market in Mexico?" Most applicants were ready for this kind of BS, but I do treasure the look on a few faces of students who had not been warned about such questions. The point of course was to think it through out loud, ie "well there are different sectors, like buildings and autos. Each would have both a new and replacement market. Within buildings there is residential and commercial. Taking one of these, the new residential market would be driven by new home construction times some factor representing windows per house. One might need to understand if Mexican houses used pre-manufactured windows or constructed them from components on the building site." etc. etc.