Improving online discourse: Encourage critical thinking with Argument Maps

Most forms of online discourse is done via comment threads that are either linear (this forum) or hierarchical (e.g. Reddit). Comment threads are well-suited to general conversation, but are a rather poor tool to have real structured discussion especially when the threads get longer and veer off-topic.

What alternatives exist, are they used in actual implementation, and are they effective?

I think for humanetech and HTC it is interesting to collect these alternatives. I recently bumped into a free software project that uses Argument Maps to guide a discussion:

Wikipedia: Argument maps are commonly used in the context of teaching and applying critical thinking. The purpose of mapping is to uncover the logical structure of arguments, identify unstated assumptions, evaluate the support an argument offers for a conclusion, and aid understanding of debates. Argument maps are often designed to support deliberation of issues, ideas and arguments in wicked problems.

In our current post-truth era anything that encourages critical thinking online is a good thing, so this fits well with humane tech.

The software I found was Arguman:

arguman.org is an argument analysis platform. […]

Argument mapping improves our ability to articulate, comprehend and communicate reasoning, thereby promoting critical thinking. […]

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

And, as said, Arguman is free and open source software: https://github.com/arguman

Here is an basic argument map which demonstrates the concepts (some maps are way more elaborate):

When I looked on their Reddit I found another argument platform (non-commercial, but not open source): Socratic Trees.

Another nice example is Debate Map, also open source. Here is the argument map for Climate Change.

Last but not least I want to add a link to Argdown. Argdown is an extension to Markdown (the same text-based formatting language you use in this forum when posting). With Argdown this text:

[Argdown is the best]: Argdown is the best
tool for analyzing complex argumentation
and creating argument maps.
  - <Editors easier>: Argument map editors
    are way easier to use. #pro-editor
    + <WYSIWYG>: In argument map editors what
      you see during editing is what you get
      at the end: an argument map. #pro-editor
  + <Pure Data>: With Argdown no user interface
    gets in your way. You can focus on writing
    without getting distracted.

Is transformed to this map:

argdown-argument-map-example

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These arguments maps are definitely interesting, but I get why forums don’t structure threads this way by default. Human IRL debates/discussions/conversations are sequential too (with all ensuing problems :smirk:), it’s more natural to copy that.

Missing from this list is the for-profit platform Kialo, which offers a simplified version of the above argument maps. You can only map a tree of “pro” and “con” arguments, no additional logical relationships such as “because” and “but” exist explicitly. The platform has many ongoing debates, including “Modern technology is a disadvantage to society”. I’ve been browsing some of these for a while, but I feel that they’re so extensive that they become yet another internet rabbit hole.

In the end I think it’s easier to deal with a contained article or discussion that elaborates on a few pro and con arguments in a story form. Then you might get only a part of the puzzle (or rather, a particular frame), but reading a few articles “from the other side” could help with construing a more complete picture.

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You are right. Another possibility is to construct the argument maps in parallel and in the background of an ongoing discussion. Either automatically or manually triggered. It could be used later to get an overview of pros and cons and to ‘jump into’ the appropriate part of the discussion.

Edit: Kialo looks like a nice implementation of argument maps.

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That’s a good point, that might also help with not repeating what was already said in giant discussion threads. (“Want to add something to this discussion? Check this map first!”). I believe Kialo has comment threads on every argument, a bit like the Wikipedia “Talk” page.

And of course, not every thread has the intention of being a debate. It would be cool as an optional add-on for those that are intended to be!

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