Some time ago I promised Nick that I would comment on the Rob Watts vs Andrew Bolt debate. Before reading this, go and listen to the debate.

“Debates” like this would suit Andrew Bolt down to the gound. While he likes to try to create the impression that he’s a brave conservative boldly stepping into the bearpit, he would love this sort of situation. Look at the terms: he gets to argue in favour of a vague assertion: that most staff and many students of universities are engaged in a left-wing “group think” that sees them all believing and saying the same things about the same issues. Quite a nebulous proposition, and of course he can cite various anecdotes to support this assertion. More on anecdotes later.

Of course, when it comes to his opponent, Rob Watts, if he attempts to make any generalisations about conservative columnists, we find that Bolt does not identify with those columnists. He will only engage over specific things he has written. So Watts has to defend all academia, but Bolt only has to defend specific things he’s written.

Looks like a pretty lopsided debate.

The “citing of anecdotes” I mentioned above is the core technique of many conservatives. One or more experiences are taken and a view formed that is then applied to all members of any specific group. This is garden-variety bigotry. For example, recently I read that John Howard still believes he was in the right over the children overboard saga because “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water”. I still recall his lemon-mouthed comment that “these people” were the sort of people that would throw their children overboard. He lumps every asylum seeker into a basket of “these people”, based on the alleged (and subseqently proven to be false) actions of a few of them.

This is a favourite technique of Bolt and many other conservative columnists: you don’t need statistics, studies or other scientific facts when you have anecdotes and/or personal experiences that can be extrapolated into sweeping generalisations. After all, things that happened to you or your friends are facts. You can’t question the validity of what someone experienced. Some conservatives seem to like anecdotes more than personal experiences – you don’t have to defend or justify anecdotes. But the real fact is that the experiences of an individual have nothing to do with the characteristics of a population.

Now it’s time for a game of Andrew Bolt Bingo.