Fordham Splits the Baby


Extremist position #1: The earth is flat.

Extremist position #2: The earth is round.

Reasonable middle ground: The earth is a hemisphere.

HT Math Is Fun

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Fordham has just released a new report on how voucher programs should be regulated. Their methodology seems to be that they don’t care about finding the truth, they only care about finding “middle ground.” It doesn’t matter whether a policy makes any sense, as long as falls 50% of the way between the policy on the right and the policy on the left, it must be the best policy.

They collect opinions from a bunch of education experts and then propose, as their preferred policy, something that falls roughly in the middle of the spectrum – they want to subject different voucher schools to different levels of regulation based on how many voucher students each school has. Naturally, since their proposal isn’t guided by any principle other than that of political triangulation, it accomplishes neither the goals held by one side nor the goals held by the other side, and will therefore please nobody. But no one can accuse Fordham of not seeking middle ground!

They’re just like Solomon splitting the baby – except that Solomon’s proposal was a ruse. Fordham really wants to actually take out their knives and split the baby.

Inspired by their example, I’ve decided to end the age-old debate over the shape of the earth. Some people hold the earth is round, which has the merit of providing a parsimonious explanation of the observed data. Other people hold that the earth is flat, which has the merit of being an ancient, time-tested view. But this tired old debate between two extremist positions is getting us nowhere.

First I convened a panel of experts, some from the National Astronomical Society and some from the Flat Earth Society. The experts achieved consensus on the following important points:

  • The shape of the earth is an important subject.
  • The earth is not cubical.
  • The earth is not made of green cheese.

Unfortunately, we were not able to achieve consensus on one issue: the earth’s actual shape.

To move beyond this tired old debate and find reasonable middle ground, I propose that the earth is hemispherical – flat on one side and round on the other. Since this position is 50% of the way between the two extremist positions, it must be true. QED.

Now we move on to the next great debate: which side do we live on, the flat side or the round side? I’m convening a conference in the Antipodes to begin exploring new research on this question.

17 Responses to Fordham Splits the Baby

  1. Patrick says:

    I wonder how a half sphere planet would rotate. Would it spin on its side or as a top? Would it even spin at all? Or could we only survive on the flat side? If it did rotate to provide gravity could we move from the round side to the flat side and back?

    • Greg Forster says:

      It would spin on an axis running through it at exactly a 45 degree angle relative to the line that runs between the apex of the round half and the center of the flat half.

      Why? Because that’s the reasonable middle ground between the two tired old extremist alternatives of spinning on its side and spinning like a top.

  2. A committee is being formed to address these questions. Isn’t that how all scientific questions are resolved?

  3. CodyPT says:

    Well said. I thought that 50% compromise made no sense whatsoever.

  4. Not only is this a tired, old argument, but the world-is-round movement is just a political dead-end. With the exception of two-dozen victories for the round-world movement, voters have regularly said that they prefer a flat world-view. The ground doesn’t feel round to them when they walk on it, so let’s just accept the political reality and go with the flat-earth folks (ignoring, of course, the two-dozen round-world victories).

    • Greg Forster says:

      Moreover, it is obvious that the round-world movement has produced no systemic improvement. It may have had a positive effect on its immediate participants, but it has had no wider impact on society.

      Never mind the fact that all empirical analyses of the question report the exact opposite – that the round-world theory has revolutionized society. If you ignore all the empirical analyses and use the far superior method of just looking around and getting a vague impression, you see that we still have lots of problems that haven’t been solved by the round-world movement. Therefore, the round-world movement has had no positive impact.

  5. Patrick says:

    And we all know that the moon landing was faked by round-world reformists – the union sponsored flat-earth conspiracy theorists proved that.

  6. Robert Enlow says:

    I was wondering what happens to water as it goes over the edge of the round side to the flat side? Does all the water pool on the flat side? Wouldn’t all the water on the round side flow to the edge of the flat side?

  7. Dave says:

    Robert makes an excellent report which will obviously require a subcommittee and a subsequent report in the Journal of Anecdotal Evidence.

  8. ryan marsh says:

    Don’t worry, Robert. With this new planet shape, the rim would act like mountains in a continental divide, so water would flow away from it. That also means that people would be forced to live near the rims, and that gravity would be lowest near the centers of the two parts.

  9. Brian says:

    I just have to ask–is the hemisphere compromise an original Control G output? It is a really fun analogy that I am sure I will borrow many times in the future.

    • Greg Forster says:

      “Control-G” is an inside joke. The gist of the joke is the humorous pretense that I’m always right. So I guess everything I say is implicitly Control-G content.

      But it is something that I came up with myself, if that’s what you’re asking, and you’re free to “borrow” it all you like.

  10. Brian says:

    Oops, sorry I didn’t ask that right. I know what Control G is. What I was asking was whether the “hemisphere compromise” analogy was an original product of Control G. In other words, did you come up with the hemisphere compromise analogy?

  11. Brian says:

    I expect it to become a go-to analogy for those who regularly cite the argument to moderation fallacy. Your example is better than the ones wikipedia currently gives.

    Argument to moderation (Latin: argumentum ad temperantiam, also known as middle ground, false compromise, gray fallacy and the golden mean fallacy) is a logical fallacy which asserts that a compromise between two positions is correct. The middle ground is often invoked when there are sharply contrasting views that are deeply entrenched. While an outcome that accommodates both parties to some extent is more desirable than an outcome that pleases nobody, it is not necessarily correct.

    The concept of neutrality during wars, or the various third way economic movements can sometimes be considered an argument for taking the middle ground.

    Examples (not as good as yours):

    “Opinions on abortion range from banning it altogether to allowing it on demand; thus the correct view is restricted abortions.”
    The potential outcome of the Judgement of Solomon in the Old Testament — when confronted with two women who each claimed the same baby to be their own — that the baby be cut in half and each purported mother given half. This was of course a plan to determine the true mother, but had it actually come down to cutting the baby in half, it would have been done on the false pretense that half for one, half for the other — that is to say, the middle ground — would have been a reasonable decision for the parties involved.
    The choice of 48 bytes as the ATM cell payload size, as a compromise between the 64 bytes proposed by parties from the United States and the 32 bytes proposed by European parties; the compromise was made for entirely political reasons, since it did not technically favor any of the parties.
    “Some would say that arsenic is a delicious and necessary part of the human diet, but others claim it is a toxic and dangerous substance. The truth is somewhere in between…”
    “Bill owns a cake. Jake would like to have half of the cake. Bill wants to keep it all. Therefore, 1/4 of the cake should be given to Jake.”
    “Jane says she is not pregnant, but Bill says that she is. Jane is therefore exactly one-half pregnant.”
    “Jane and Bill are married. Jane believes they should be monogamous, but Bill would like to have an extramarital affair. As a compromise, Bill offers to be faithful on weekdays and only spend weekends with his lover.”
    “Should array indices start at 0 or 1? My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration.” – Stan Kelly-Bootle

  12. […] sounding policy proposals. It’s a grating, superficial tactic employed by Fordham that Jay Greene and his gang have long harped […]

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