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More metablogging

September 28th, 2002

Neither Jason Soon nor Scott Wickstein likes the definition of “Fisking” by Volokh, which was suggested by Bargarz in response to my earlier remarks. I assume they feel the same about my own definition “a sharp putdown in which vigorous abuse is essential and logical reasoning is optional”
Scott, in email, points me to this definition from the Libertarian Samizdata glossary
verb. To deconstruct an article on a point by point basis in a highly critical manner. Derived from the name of journalist Robert Fisk, a frequent target of such critical articles in the blogosphere (qv).
Usage: “Orrin Judd did a severe fisking of an idiotic article in the New York Times today…”
Comparing this to the Volokh definition, it’s focused mainly on formal structure. That is, just as a sonnet must have 14 lines, a Fisking, in this sense, must include a substantial reposting of the original article, interspersed with critical comments.
The other point about the example is the absence of any direct element of personal attack. The example refers to “an idiotic article” whereas the Volokh definition, and my personal observation, suggests that Fisking is typically directed at an individual, based on hostility to their total position, rather than the ideas expressed in an individual article. As I said in my last post, the same word is used in different ways by different people, and any quest for the “right” definition is doomed to failure.
I also had an interesting email exchange with John Ray, who makes the point that some right-brain or rightwing blogs are, more or less explicitly, “preaching to the converted” and shouldn’t be expected to respond to criticism from the (political or neurological) left. I agree that this is right in some cases, and certainly it applies to his own blog, explicitly titled “Dissecting Leftism”. But I think the political blog norm is one of open debate, and any exceptions should be announced openly. I’ll put the entire exchange in my files when I get time.

Also, don’t miss the comment thread below, where Tim Dunlop suggests “Steynwalling” as a term for a failure to respond to criticism.

A final point is that everyone has assumed I’m condemning Fisking. I was about to say that I enjoy a good Fisking as much as anybody, but given that I think there is too much Fisking in the blogosphere, while others can’t get enough of it, this is obviously not true. Still, I get plenty of enjoyment out of what I regard as a good Fisking, namely a sharp putdown backed by a good logical critique.

Update 30/9 My full exchange with John Ray is here.

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