14 March 2005

test:analogies::night:stars

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:12 am

Further to yesterday’s brief reference to dodgy Nazi analogies (is there any other kind?), Adam Cohen of the New York Times reports today that the famous “X is to Y as…” questions have been dropped from the SATs and predicts the rise of a savage underclass who can’t properly use an analogy:

When Grover Norquist, a leading conservative activist, was on the NPR program “Fresh Air” a while back, he casually made a comparison that left the host, Terry Gross, sputtering in disbelief. “Excuse me,” she said. “Did you just … compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?” Yes, he did.

We are living in the age of the false, and often shameless, analogy. A slick advertising campaign compares the politicians working to dismantle Social Security to Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a new documentary, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” Kenneth Lay compares attacks on his company to the terrorist attacks on the United States.

Intentionally misleading comparisons are becoming the dominant mode of public discourse. The ability to tell true analogies from false ones has never been more important.

Like Cohen, I always kind of enjoyed the analogy questions in the various tests we had to take through school. They were so efficiently expressed, with all those colons, and I think they really did make us think in the right way about the relationships between things. Of course the analogies used in tests aren’t perfectly analogous (heh) with the analogies we really have to think about, like Iraq:Vietnam, war:&#8220war on terror&#8221 and so on. But they’re useful tools and so I suppose it is a shame that they’re going out of style. You can practise your old-school analogies here.

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