Fisking

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The term fisking, or to fisk, is blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived errors, or disputes the analysis in a statement, article, or essay.[1] Eric S. Raymond, in the Jargon File, defined the term as:

A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form.[2]

The term was named for Robert Fisk, a British journalist whom the Jargon File entry identifies as "a frequent (and deserving) early target of such treatment." While initially popularized by bloggers on the libertarian-conservative spectrum, thus complicating any effort to present the term as a purely neutral synonym for "point-by-point rebuttal," the term has broadened in scope beyond the specific political circumstances of its origin.

The British newspaper The Observer defined fisking as "...the practice of savaging an argument and scattering the tattered remnants to the four corners of the internet (named after Robert Fisk of the Independent, whose columns are considered soft targets)"[3]

The technique has its critics. Andrew Orlowski in The Register commented that "Many of today's debaters prefer 'Fisking'—line-by-line rebuttals where facts are dropped like radar chaff—to rational debate or building a coherent argument."[4] Software engineering writer Joel Spolsky has commented that it is the same as the "line-by-line nitpick" reply style common on Usenet and not a new phenomenon, also writing "It's fun for the nitpicker but never worth reading."[5]

As for Robert Fisk himself, in a 2005 interview he stated that he was unaware of the term. "I have to be honest: I don't use the Internet. I've never seen a blog in my life. I don't even use email, I don't waste my time with this. I am not interested. I couldn't care less. I think the Internet has become a hate machine for a lot of people and I want nothing to do with it."[6]

Origin

"Fisking" was coined by bloggers in December 2001, following a short three-paragraph attack by Andrew Sullivan[7] in response to a The Sunday Independent article written by Fisk earlier that month that recounted Fisk's beating at the hands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan.[8] Though the term was not coined by Sullivan at that time, it appeared soon after on Instapundit and Sullivan's weblog.

Comparisons and distinctions

Fisking can be compared to the Usenet style of responding to an argument's specific points by quoting lines prefixed with the ">" character [5] (which contrasts with the style often found in e-mail of top-posting a reply, all in one piece[9]).

Fisking is different from flaming, with which it is sometimes confused. Fisking is not merely verbal abuse, although it may contain a substantial amount of derision, scorn or even profanity.

Fisking is similar to the line-by-line method in policy debate[10], where one debater addresses each point of an argument in turn, as opposed to addressing the entire thesis of his or her opponent, the purpose being to demonstrate that the underlying foundation is poorly constructed, so the resulting edifice of reasoning cannot be trusted.

References

  1. William Safire, Blargon, The New York Times, February 19, 2006.
  2. Jargon File entry fisking
  3. Archbishop on end of a good Fisking, The Observer, Sunday June 19, 2005
  4. How computers make kids dumb, The Register, Monday March 21, 2005
  5. 5.0 5.1 Spolsky, Joel (2004-09-06). "It's Not Just Usability". http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/NotJustUsability.html. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  6. Antonia Zerbisias, Author Doesn't Give a Flying Fisk About Fisking, Toronto Star, Tuesday, November 29, 2005
  7. The Daily Dish, Sunday, December 9, 2001, Internet Archive
  8. Fisk, Robert (December 9, 2001). "My beating by refugees is a symbol of the hatred and fury of this filthy war". The Sunday Independent. Independent News & Media. http://web.archive.org/web/20011210065358/http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia_china/story.jsp?story=109257. Retrieved 2008-03-09.  (Internet Archive, posted and archived the day after it was written and responded to, perhaps due to time zone differences)
  9. Top-post definition, from "the Jargon File": http://catb.org/jargon/html/T/top-post.html
  10. Introduction to Policy Debateby John R. Prager, Copyright © 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002: "ADAPT TO THE AFFIRMATIVE STRUCTURE. Occasional overviews in 1NC are acceptable, but the main thrust of the speech should be on point-by-point refutation in the same order that 1AC was presented. Don’t reorganize the Affirmative case structure. Don’t try to give several overviews on case issues instead of point-by-point refutation." http://webpages.charter.net/johnprager/IPD/Chapter16.htm
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