Category: Reason Hell

Follow up to ‘Trump, Cruz, Rabid & Sad’

In a previous post I looked at how the US Republican Party nomination process was playing out in Sad Land and Rabidonia. This is a short update.

The main thing to note is that, as far as I can tell, most notable Puppies aren’t saying a great deal about it. Which is wise and maybe some are quiet Bernie Sanders supporters (OK probably not). However the vocal ones are very vocal.

The two major voices are:

  • Vox Day – supporting Donald Trump
  • Sarah Hoyt – supporting Ted Cruz

This discussion is getting a tad heated with each poster refering to the other’s position. Sarah Hoyt avoids naming Vox, I think to avoid summoning anti-Vox trolls. Vox is lambasting Sarah and is throwing some nasty digs her way:

Now, she is right about one thing. I will not be Portuguese or Italian or German no matter how long I live in Europe. Here, you can move from a neighboring village that is a 10-minute walk away and you will always be stranieri to the locals. But what Sarah fails to understand is that she is no more American than I am Portuguese. She is a US resident, perhaps even a US citizen, but she is not an American. America is not an idea. America is not a concept. America is not a proposition nation. One cannot, contra her past assertions, become a genuine American just because one happens to believe one thinks a certain way.

Vox’s minions are nastier in the comments although the man himself claims that relations are not strained between the two of them.

Vox’s piece was in response to this piece by Sarah Hoyt

The Carol Of The Bells – A Blast From The Past, 2/20/2014

It does meander a bit and some of the more overt anti-Trump/VD parts are in the comments.

Oh, because Trump isn’t? Have you actually looked at Trump’s history? He talks game. He’s not any better.
Look, he is “European Right Wing” which is why VD likes him. Americans following VD MUST understand he’s not an American conservative. He’s an European right winger. They’re not the same. And here in the states, they’re both socialists. The only difference is leftists in Europe are INTERNATIONAL socialists, and right wing is NATIONAL socialist. That’s all.
You want national socialism here? Yeah. Trump is your man. He’s into the banks for millions and he’s corrupted everything he touched. But you guys believe he’s a white Knight sans peur et sans reproche. Good LORD.

As always Vox writes better, argues more effectively and for a position that is more absurd and dangerous. Sarah Hoyt gets at the core aspect that infuriates people opposed to Trump: the guy is an obvious fraud.

Meanwhile the previously Pro-Carson, John C Wright has declared his prefered choice…and it is BERNIE SANDERS! OMG! Ha, no only kidding, its Donald Trump.

John C Wright Endorses The Devil

To be fair to Mr Wright he doesn’t seem too happy about it. Naturally, given the right’s deep and implacable commitment to free-speech in all its forms Wright identifies the key political issue of the day:

That is not what I believe. I say the main enemy is the Press. Destroy the Press, and the federal government can be driven back into its proper constitutional limitations. With the Press at large acting as the False Prophet for the Beast, it cannot be driven back, because the people are deceived into thinking the Beast will not consume their lives.

[That quote isn’t on JCW’s blog which only has an excerpt of his longer column here

Yup, that’s how the JCW’s will restore ‘freedom’ – they’ll first destroy the press. I’m guessing they’ll then protect freedom by taking away those other terrible threats like voting, differences of opinion, women having lives beyond what JCW thinks they should have, stuff like that…

Reason Hell: False Balance

Guilty as charged. I had a lot of fun with my recent map but it also neatly demonstrates a modern scourge – false balance.

In a conflict it is easy to treat two sides of a conflict as being equal in all things in an attempt to appear impartial. Even from a particular perspective (e.g. me, a person opposed to the Puppies drawing a map) it is easy to give your opponents greater prominence by simply virtue of regarding your own opinions as being of significance and hence the people in opposition to your opinion must be of significance.

However, this is an obvious fallacy and yet one easy to indulge in. The significance of a viewpoint or a person in an argument or a dispute is no indication of their wider importance or the validity of the position. It seems so obvious that the truth of an argument is not a function of how loudly or how persistently somebody speak buts we are confronted with this fallcy on a regular basis by the news media.

The bias occurs partly as a natural outcome of explaining why there is a controversy. On my recent map I show Vox Day and John C Wright at a size equivalent to George R.R. Martin. Whatever we may think of Mr Wright or Mr. Day, it is clear their impact on the SF/F genre is not currently on the scale of GRRM. Yet in trying to explain the Puppy Kerfuffle I have to devote a lot of space to both Wright and Day.

So false balance is not just a fallacy but also a dilemma. To explain a controversy leads a person into false balance. To explain why global warming is politically controversial requires paying attention to the views of climate change deniers. To explain recent measles outbreaks requires discussing the views of anti-vaccination activists. In both cases an explanation of an issue unintentionally promotes and gives credence to error filled perspectives.


Reason Hell: The Dunning Kruger effect

A short Reason Hell this week. The Dunning-Kruger effect has had a lot of publicity bu one of the things I really like about it is that one of the papers by Justin Kruger and David Dunning is just so readable. It also has one of the best anecdotes ever used in a serious and influential paper:

In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o-clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. “But I wore the juice,” he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheller was under the impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras
Originally sourced from: Fuocco 1996 M A 1996 March 21 Pittsburg Post-Gazette Trial and error: They had larceny in their hearts but little in their heads

There is a copy of the whole paper here

Reason Hell: Ad Hominem arguments (Authority, Ad-Hominem, and credibility Part 4)

The flip side of an appeal to somebody else credibility are arguments that question that person’s credibility. To see what is fair and what is not you need to consider what is relevant when making an appeal to authority of one kind or another. However I would suggest that three over-arching principles apply:

  1. Questions of credibility should be avoided whenever possible. Even if the intent is not a personal attack, it is naturally difficult to question the credibility of somebody without it seeming like a personal attack. That is even more so if it is the credibility of the person you are directly addressing. Even so, if somebody says they saw an alien kidnapping a yeti you may have to ask questions…
  2. Questions of credibility should be targeted and limited in scope. Any challenge should be constrained to the issue at hand whenever possible.
  3. Questions of credibility should be pertinent. A person maybe a criminal or a murderer or disreputable in some way but a challenge to their credibility should be pertinent to the issue.
  4. Questions of credibility must themselves be sound and based on evidence and reason.

So what kinds of challenges to a person’s credibility are likely to be pertinent?

  • Competence – is the claim being made by somebody with the technical skill to make the claim. If it is a medical claim, is the person a medical practitioner and if so is the claim within their specialism?
  • Experience – is the claim being made by somebody with the relevant experience of the situation. If it is cooking advice is it from somebody who does a lot of cooking?
  • Reliability – is the person making the claim reliable? Do they have a track record of making claims that are true?
  • Honesty – is the person honest or do they instead have a track record of telling untruths?
  • Unbiased – is the person making claims on issue in which they could be expected to have an unbiased viewpoint?

Reason Hell: Arguments from Authority (Authority, Ad-Hominem, and credibility Part 3)

How should we distinguish good appeals to authority from bad ones?

Bad Appeals to Authority

  • Appeals based purely on somebody’s profession, or social status. Police officer, priests, academics, politicians will lie or make false statements for all sorts of reasons. They aren’t a source of truth simply by virtue of wearing a uniform, having a position of authority or even having studied. A scientist isn’t a reliable authority because they are a scientist but because of the process the claims they are making have gone through.
  • Appeals to authorities past their sell-by date. Sigmund Freud is a sound authority on the opinions of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx is a sound authority on the opinions of Karl Marx but Freud is not a sound authority on modern psychology (the science has moved on and Freud’s theories have been largely debunked. Marx has fared even worse as it isn’t even the case that Marx is an authority on Marxism as the movement went off in a hundred different directions after Marx died. Charles Darwin is not an authority on the theory of evolution by natural selection – even though his work is still impressive and brilliant, the science has advanced far past what Darwin could have known.
  • The decontextualized authority. Quotes, anecdotes, sayings from notable people stripped of their surrounding context including either the social/cultural situation in which they spoke or even the surrounding text.
  • The fake authority. Both people who have been shown to be frauds and invented quotes or sayings of historical people fit here.
  • The authority by virtue of being a great man. The gendered term there is intentional as it is likely to be a man. Thomas Jefferson often falls into the other points listed above, as a victim of made quotes, real decontextualized quotes, his views on 18th century politics poorly applied to 21st century realities, or simply an assumption of him being right by virtue of being a very notable US President. Additionally his being regarded as being a particularly sage and insightful thinker makes him somebody often cited.
  • The talking our their hat authority. A noted expert may strongly assert an opinion perhaps on a matter of science – but if they are asserting that opinion just as their opinion without it being backed by research and peer review then it really doesn’t count for much more than ‘a notable person said something’. It doesn’t make what they said wrong and possibly it is something to pay attention to but it isn’t something you should put too much weight on.
  • The not really saying anything authority. Petitions, list, signatories – again these kinds of things when signed by noted authorities aren’t entirely nonsensical or necessarily wrong but they don’t carry a lot of evidential value. They show a group of notable people agree with a position and not much more. They may indicate that you should pay attention to this issue but they aren’t themselves strong evidence.
  • The authority by single experience. A single instance of a person from a given social or ethnic group is not necessarily an authority on the experience of the group in general. Of course they are an authority on their own experience.
  • The degraded by transmission authority. Not every supposed fact that is cited is as sound as it looks. Sometimes zombie factoids live on independent of actual evidence. Such zombie facts then live on by being cited back and forth. Tracking claims back to their original source is important.

Good appeals to authority

  • Referencing books by noted academics. A book can be wrong, an academic can be mistaken, lying, talking out of their hat or just plain crazy. However pointing somebody to a book allows for others to firstly check what the book says in context but also to find criticisms of the book and dissenting opinion. Evidence that can be further verified is good.
  • Referencing peer reviewed scholarship. Peer review has its flaws and lots of peer reviewed papers have flaws or are published selectively (publication bias where negative or disappointing results don’t get papers written or published). However like the first point a peer reviewed paper allows others to check and consider the way a study was done or to find critics of what was done.
  • Broad consensus of experts. Assuming this can be demonstrated and that the expertise is relevant, it is notable if many people in the same field all agree on a conclusion based on evidence and process.
  • Witnesses to an event, individuals about their own experiences. Without evidence to the contrary (including the plausibility of the claim made) people usually tell the truth.

Reason Hell special: Scares and authority

As anybody reading this blog may have noticed, I’m having a nice old chat with John C Wright about global warming. I’m sticking the global warming replies here but there is another issue in Wright’s post that I’m pulling out separately and which is best exemplified by this paragraph.

The hoax was clear from the beginning for those with eyes to see because of the hysteria surrounding it. It was a scare, a panic, and there was no more evidence for it than for the DDT scare, the ALAR scare, the radon scare, the mercury in the fish scare, the acid rain scare, the hole in the ozone layer scare, the power cables causing cancer scare, mobile phone towers causing cancer scare, the chloroflourocarbons scare, the overpopulation scare, the salmonella scare, the Mad Cow disease scare, and so on. Have you ever heard even one retraction or apology for any of these false alarms, even long after the fraud was exposed? Is DDT available even thought Rachel Carson’s mass-murdering fraud is well known to have been scientifically absurd?

In a more recent reply Wright has offered me a challenge:

I offer you the following challenge: name for me the environmentalist
scare that turned out to be wrong or exaggerated. It can be one I have
listed here, or another famous one.

Either put up or shut up. Either name the false alarm or admit that you cannot.

If you cannot admit that there are any false alarms in the system, not
even one, then you attribute unrealistic if not supernatural accuracy
and perspicacity to the system.

Which is really kind of fun – particularly as it ties in so neatly with the recent theme of authority and credibility. So, I’ve put Timothy the Talking Cat outside to chase small animals (he is no use at a time like this) and sharpened my debunkotron, fired up Google and off we go!

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