For Better Understanding and Focus, Avoid Adverbs

I once witnessed an exchange in a courtroom.  One attorney was arguing some point and decided that in her zeal she would go a step further.  I can’t even remember the point she was arguing because her choice of words caused her to changed the subject.  She used “clearly.”  As in the legislature clearly intended to or the evidence clearly showed x.

The response on the other side was quick and accurate.  The lawyer said, “If it was clear then we would not be arguing.”  That attorney then focused on the points.  He did not use adverbs.  Did not use adjectives. He went point by point with facts.  The other attorney responded and did not argue the points, but instead argued how clear it was.

I have no idea what the judge did with it. But in my totally disinterested viewpoint, the attorney who focused on facts was far more convincing.  That lawyer did not argue why, subjectively, something was the case.  That lawyer put out information in such a way as to seem to have no need to argue the point.  He did not say it was clear.  His presentation was one of clarity.

Who does one believe?  IT my own informal review, I tend to put greater deference toward the person who is unemotional in presenting an issue.  Does one look to somebody who is ranting with the same degree of understanding and respect as the person who is calm and collected?  In general, it seems the answer is negative.

Which brings me to a quote that I read this morning by climate scientist Richard Tol.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the literature on climate change overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that climate change is caused by humans. I have very little reason to doubt that the consensus is indeed correct.”  Source: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=111

This to me sounds less like science and more like advocating.  Dr. Tol is advocating a position and in order to stress his belief used subjective language.  He used “overwhelmingly.”  He used “very.”  This is in many circumstances fine.  Indeed, when one gathers among like-minded individuals, it would be a fine description of a group ethos.

On the other hand, the quote was given as a response to something.  To what?  I would suggest that it was to the suggestion of others that perhaps stated “clearly climate changes in absence of human activity.”  Of course, we see this sort of advocacy on the other side of the issue, as well.

Advocacy is something everybody does.  But it usually only works among those who already believe the same thing.  A positive feedback is obtained by those who agree, and the communications do nothing to achieve some understanding on the other side.

What could Richard Toll have done?  He could have increased the impact of the statement and lowered the objectionability of the statement with a few minor changes.

The literature on climate change supports the hypothesis that humans are a cause of it.  My personal opinion is based on this literature.”  

This works to bring the listener or reader into the discussion by inherently suggesting the answer. In this statement Tol is not giving his explicit opinion, but is suggesting it.  Tol is not telling anybody how clear it is, he is stating a fact.  Verifiable.  And is saying that is opinion is based on the literature without saying what his opinion is.

Such techniques for communication allow a point to be made.  Overwhelmingly and very are left out because those are subjective and reasonable minds are supposed to disagree on subjective things.

Once both sides of the climate debate seek to engage the other side, some progress can be made.  When both sides use adverbs and individual feelings, there will be argument about the meaning.


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