Wheat/chaff, signal/noise, valuable/rubbish etc.

Having read Daniel Dennett’s seven tools for thinking I suggested that users of Twitter could particularly think about points two and six on the list.

Point two:

Respect your opponent – “[E]asy targets are typically irrelevant to the real issues at stake and simply waste everybody’s time and patience, even if they give amusement to your supporters. The best antidote I know for this tendency to caricature one’s opponent is a list of rules promulgated many years ago by social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport [on h]ow to compose a successful critical commentary.”

Point six:

Don’t waste your time on rubbish – “Sturgeon’s law is usually expressed thus: 90% of everything is crap… A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you want to criticise a field, a genre, a discipline, an art form …don’t waste your time and ours hooting at the crap! Go after the good stuff or leave it alone…

Let’s stipulate at the outset that there is a great deal of deplorable, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patience, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship examples extolled by the leaders of the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs.”

At various times thoughts like this have come across my mind, in much less articulate and much more verbose ways. Each time, I have thought they are particularly relevant to Twitter, since it’s the place where the vast majority of interaction and debate I come across now takes place.

(The only other place I regularly personally encounter debate is at conferences or seminars, usually after the two words that strike fear into any rational being: “Any questions?”)

As Dennett himself notes, points two and six are related: people who use poor methods of argument probably constitute those who primarily engage with or generate 90% of rubbish.

It reminds me of the hierarchy of disagreements: level zero is name-calling and level 2 is ad hominem attacks, whilst level 5 is refutation and level 6 is refutation of the central argument. (I’d hazard that Question Time on Thursdays and Any Questions? on Fridays rarely venture above level 3 (contradiction) and the occasional level 4 (counterargument).)

This runs the risk of being labelled elitist, and to some extent it probably is. But I’d contend that many folks don’t have the time to engage with the chaff / noise / rubbish etc. when there’s so much wheat / signal / good stuff out there, and so there has to be a way of filtering things as you want.

What this personally means for me on Twitter is this (broadly speaking a 1-in-4 rule):

  • My ratio of following to followers is around 1:4 – this has a natural filtering effect
  • I consciously look at around 1 in 4 tweets, which…
  • … reflects the 25% of people I follow who I sense contribute genuinely valuable things.

I haven’t gone so far as to create lists of who is in the “1” and who is in the other “3”, though. That would just be rude.


Mental health and the social model (plus a bit of nonsense from the Guardian’s sub-editors) (updated)

For the past 10 years or so, my work has been in the area of disability rights, especially from a user perspective.

One of the great privileges of that work is observing the reactions of people – disabled and non-disabled people alike – when they are introduced to the Social Model of Disability, and how it affects their attitudes and everyday life in the subsequent weeks, months and years.

To recap: there are various models of disability. The two most common are the “medical” model and the “social” model.

The medical model focuses on the medical condition of a person – their impairment; their condition; their disease. And it looks for ways for these to be diagnosed, categorised and ultimately cured. What flows from the medical model of disability is typically a focus on someone’s physical or mental condition rather than the person themselves.

The social model of disability puts the person at the centre. It says that a person is disabled by society around them – not just physical barriers such as steps or revolving doors, but also by attitudes towards disabled people (such as pity, charity or fear). Though a disabled person still has an impairment (i.e. in the broadest sense their condition), what makes them disabled is not their condition, it’s society.

Many important things flow from this shift in thinking, and it’s how people approach this shift in thinking that’s such a great privilege to observe.

(For anyone who is interested in more about different models of disability and their implications this guide is an excellent introduction, and I’ve written at further length about this here.)

Why am I blogging on this now? It’s because there’s a fascinating debate at the moment about how the social model of disability (or other models) apply, or not, or some version of it, specifically to the area of mental health.

The latest manifestation of this debate is prompted by the division of clinical psychology (DCP), part of the British Psychological Society, who will be publishing a statement that calls for a “paradigm shift” in how mental health is understood.

(Update: here’s the statement (pdf)).

It’s great that this professional body is engaging in the debate in this way. It draws on a significant literature that mental health users/survivors and others have been writing for a considerable time – see, for example, this paper from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation from 2010 or pretty much anything on the social model from the Centre for Disability Studies at Leeds. This is also a significant theme that runs through the literature on recovery and mental health (such as these papers from the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change project).

It will be interesting to see how the debate progresses, and good on DCP for going with it.

In their usual subtle contribution to the issue at hand, the Guardian’s sub-editors have called this a “battle” between the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. To ensure maximum helpfulness, the Guardian also poses the question “Do we need to change the way we are thinking about mental illness?” and asks people from both “sides” to argue either “yes” (clinical psychologist) or “no” (clinical psychiatrist).

In understanding this to be a debate that perhaps can’t be characterised in such black and white terms, below are 3 principles I modestly suggest it will be useful to keep in mind:

  1. It’s not an either/or between a social and medical way of thinking about mental health – these things are complicated, endlessly fascinating and subject to however people choose to perceive them from whatever their perspective might happen to be at any particular time
  2. Let’s ensure that all people have a chance to contribute to and define this debate: it’s particularly important – paramount, actually – that people with mental health conditions themselves are central to the debate, with professionals, family, carers and others all contributing
  3. We mustn’t forget that these debates – genuinely fascinating and important as they are – don’t always have an immediate impact on the lives of people with mental health conditions and their day-to-day experiences of public services. Alongside the theoretical debates, there is a lot we can all practically do to improve people’s experience of mental health services and their lives as part of their local communities.

Redistributing my rebate: Hello to CiFers

As part of the Comment is Free’s People’s Panel, I’ve made a small contribution to their feature today on giving to charity. Anyone visiting there from there: hello!

The first full post with details of the tax rebate and my plan is here. The follow-up of suggestions so far is here.

On Monday I’ll post the shortlist of 5 organisations and details of how to vote.

Feel free to say hi in the comments, or get in touch via Twitter: @rich_w.