Rebuttal depth and the mainvisionist dogstream

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As is so often true, xkcd points to an important topic so far ignored by linguists:

Mouseover title: "The mainstream dogma sparked a wave of dogmatic revisionism, and this revisionist mainstream dogmatism has now given way to a more rematic mainvisionist dogstream."

As is generally true for discourse analysis, rebuttal depth is a concept that transcends sentence boundaries, and may be a more general graph structure rather than a tree

And of course there's a tendency for all areas of study to descend into an ever-narrower spiral of points and counterpoints.


  1. John Baker said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 10:53 am


  2. KeithB said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 11:49 am

    Which creationists use to their advantage. Every time someone comes up with an observation that makes us "rethink evolution", creationists say, "Aha! How can you say that Evolution is settled science if it is changing all the time?" Even though this observation is some small change in a small corner of the Evolutionary big picture.

  3. Mark Liberman said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 1:01 pm

    @John Baker:

    re+visionist main+stream dog+matism ->
    re+matism main+visionist dog+stream ->
    re+matic main+visionist dog+stream

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 1:22 pm

    John — "rematic" goes with "mainvisionist" and "dogstream", all formed by pairing the head of one real word with the tail of another, where the real words are "mainstream", "dogma", "dogmatic", "revisionism", "revisionist", "mainstream" and "dogmatism".

  5. MattF said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 5:45 pm

    That final ‘However…’ needs subscripts.

  6. Jason said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 7:18 pm

    They are still only about one level deep in psychology (Stanford Prison Experiment only rebutted in the past 5 years, still a huge bunfight over whether it should be formally retracted (answer: yes.))

    In my very limited understanding, certain dogmas of Chomskyan linguistics (the alleged "poverty of the stimulus") have only come in for serious criticism in the past decade or so, with syntax learning programs with no preconceptions able to extract allegedly impossible to extract grammatical rules from "poverty-stricken" real world corpuses.

  7. Seth said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 8:08 pm

    The sentence is constructed in a convoluted way, for humor: [state 3] [state 2] [state 1] [state 4] [state 5]

    But the situation could be unpacked and described in a more linear way:

    "The original prevailing consensus [state 1] produced a backlash [state 2], where it's become conventional wisdom [state 3] that it led researchers to ignore inconvient new evidence [state 4]. However [state 5] ..

    That's still multiple levels, but the progression is much clearer.

  8. AntC said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 8:41 pm

    @Jason (the alleged "poverty of the stimulus") have only come in for serious criticism in the past decade or so,

    The ludicrous "poverty of the stimulus" bollox serious criticism was front and centre in the Undergraduate 'Introduction to Linguistics' I took ~1974. We looked at Halliday's work on Child Language Learning. Nobody outside a very small coterie of Chomskyans has ever taken it seriously. I'm wondering if you've somehow been living a very sheltered existence for several decades.

  9. HCP said,

    November 22, 2023 @ 9:02 pm

    On a longer scale, is this perhaps a lemma of the Planck principle?
    (The one about science advancing one funeral at a time.)
    Then again, an originator's demise is hardly a rebuttal of those works, but merely the loss of one defender against upcoming rebuttals.

  10. Jerry Packard said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 9:25 am

    I don’t consider myself a hard-core Chomskyan, but I would think that the poverty of stimulus argument must be true at some level, because, e.g., of the absence or at least scarcity of crossed dependencies in syntax that we’re all familiar with, and in discourse (e.g., rebuttal depth) as in the cited Wolf and Gibson work.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 10:41 am

    It just struck me that the one-funeral-at-a-time theory of scientific advance generates a testable hypothesis that increasing lifespans should slow the rate of progress, and now I'm curious if anyone has tried to empirically test that hypothesis. (Obviously you'd have to control for lots of other variables.) For professional-if-not-literal lifespan you could also evaluate the impact of the slowdown in scholarly turnover at U.S. universities caused by the change of law (I think early 1990's but could be wrong about that) eliminating the traditional right of the universities to force tenured faculty to retire at 65, ideally thus creating (directly or indirectly) an opening for the hiring of a junior scholar.

  12. Rodger Cunningham said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 12:52 pm

    J. W. Brewer: I seem to think that happened in the late 70s, just as I was entering the job market.

  13. Jon W said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 4:36 pm

    University retirement ages were largely unregulated until mid-1970s ADEA amendments brought most university faculty within the scope of already-existing, economy-wide rules forbidding employers from imposing mandatory retirement before 65. Amendments to the ADEA in 1978 raised that age to 70 for most American employees, but (by virtue of extensive higher ed lobbying) *not* for tenured faculty, who could still be mandatorily retired at age 65 until 1982. University faculty did get the benefit of the age-70 retirement age when the exemption expired in 1982. Congress in 1986 forbade mandatory retirement at any age for most workers. Once again, though, it included a provision exempting tenured faculty from that benefit until 1994.

  14. KevinM said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 4:53 pm

    For those tuning in late, however, it may be enough to know whether it is an odd or even number of levels.

  15. Viseguy said,

    November 24, 2023 @ 6:43 pm

    "Rebuttal depth and the mainvisionist dogstream" should be a near-future required humanities course — assuming that a required humanities course (or any humanities course) will be a thing in the near future. You know, the sort of course that inspires young people to wonder whether this is the sort of thing I'd like to spend the rest of my life thinking, researching, and teaching about….

  16. ktschwarz said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 10:59 am

    One of the major rebuttals of the "poverty of the stimulus" is by Language Log's own Geoff Pullum, with Barbara Scholz; Pullum refers to it in an early Language Log post: Ever heard a Chomsky sentence? Chomsky had claimed that the rule for fronting auxiliaries to form questions such as "Is the unit you will be delivering to me similar to this one?" or "How radical are the changes you're having to make?" must be innate because such questions are never heard in real conversations — yes, Chomsky really claimed that! Even more bizarrely, Geoffrey Sampson, arguing against nativism, *agreed* that people never hear such questions, and that they therefore can't produce them in spontaneous speech!

    The claim seems obviously ridiculous now, but 2003 was a primitive time, when Pullum didn't have access to an easily searchable corpus of spontaneous spoken adult speech; he had to rely on whatever he happened to notice while listening to the BBC (in unscripted interviews). Today it would be easy to show how common these questions are.

  17. ktschwarz said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 12:52 pm

    Pullum's 2002 paper is posted at his website. I always remember it for citing examples from "Mork and Mindy" of the questions that Chomsky claimed don't exist. Actually, it's not clear why he says in the Language Log post that "Whether Chomsky-sentences occur in spoken English is a real bone of contention", since the paper had already shown that they do, in the CHILDES database of speech by adults to a child: e.g., "Where's the other dolly that was in here?" I guess he was looking specifically for conversation between adults.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 25, 2023 @ 3:49 pm

    @ktschwarz: Wouldn't examples used when addressing children be even stronger evidence against the poverty-of-the-stimulus thesis, by providing the non-impoverished stimulus to the stimulatee at a younger age?

  19. ktschwarz said,

    November 28, 2023 @ 12:36 am

    I would think so, yes. If Language Log had had comments in 2003, somebody might have asked that question.

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