The Fallacy Of “Appeal To The Middle”

(I’m sure there is a real name for the fallacy.) One sometimes hears, often in political arguments between opposed views where someone attempts a moderated stance, that “the truth lies somewhere in the middle.” This may or may not be true; if one side is saying the equivalent of “2+2=4” and the other is saying “2+2=5”, then the answer is not “somewhere in the middle.” Likewise, if one side is saying the equivalent of “2+2=5” and the other is saying “2+2=6” then the answer is still not somewhere in the middle.

Literary Status Envy: “Peddle your angsty crap elsewhere, lit-fic wannabes! Let’s put SF back in the gutter where it belongs!”

The victims of literary status envy resent the likes of David Weber, and their perceived inferiority to the Thomas Pynchons of the world; they think the SF field is broken and need to be fixed. When they transpose this resentment into the key of politics in the way their university educations have taught then to do, they become the Rabbits.

The Evil League of Evil is fighting the wrong war in the wrong way. To truly crush the Rabbits, they should be talking less about politics and more about what has been best and most noble in the traditions of the SF genre itself. I think a lot of fans know there is something fatally gone missing in the Rabbit version of science fiction; what they lack is the language to describe and demand it.

via SF and the damaging effects of literary status envy.

File Under “Smart Is Overrated”: Lack Of Impostor Syndrome Is A Bad Sign

Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything.

Logic is a pretty powerful tool, but it only works if you give it good input. If you know all the constraints and weights – with perfect precision – then you can use logic to find the perfect answer. But when you don’t, which is always, there’s a pretty good chance your logic will lead you very, very far astray.

Most people find this out pretty early on in life, because their logic is imperfect and fails them often. But really, really smart computer geek types may not ever find it out. They start off living in a bubble, they isolate themselves because socializing is unpleasant, and, if they get a good job straight out of school, they may never need to leave that bubble. To such people, it may appear that logic actually works, and that they are themselves logical creatures.

Working at a large, successful company lets you keep your isolation. If you choose, you can just ignore all the inconvenient facts about the world. You can make decisions based on whatever input you choose.

It’s a setup that makes it very easy to describe all your successes in terms of your team’s greatness, and all your failures in terms of other people’s capriciousness.

One of the biggest social problems currently reported at work is lack of confidence, also known as Impostor Syndrome.

But I think Impostor Syndrome is valuable. The people with Impostor Syndrome are the people who *aren’t* sure that a logical proof of their smartness is sufficient. They’re looking around them and finding something wrong, an intuitive sense that around here, logic does not always agree with reality, and the obviously right solution does not lead to obviously happy customers, and it’s unsettling because maybe smartness isn’t enough, and maybe if we don’t feel like we know what we’re doing, it’s because we don’t.

Impostor Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment. The people with the problem are the people who can’t hear that voice.

That’s a “Reader’s Digest” version of the original; I omitted intercessory languauge to improve the flow of the excerpt, but have not changed the meaning. Please read the whole thing at apenwarr.

On Being Right; or, Cassandra Didn’t Get Half The Kicking Around She Deserved

First, you will discover that people in general are extremely reluctant to admit error. People will defend an opinion or an action until the end, even if every bit of logic and evidence runs contrary. Sincere apologies and genuine admissions of error and wrongdoing are the rarest things in this world. There is no point at all in demanding apologies or in becoming resentful when they fail to appear. Just move on. Neither should you expect to always be rewarded for being right. On the contrary, people will often resent you and try to take you down.

Via Tucker on the Young Unemployed, David Henderson | EconLog | Library of Economics and Liberty (and the subtitle is via R. A. Heinlein).

Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers

The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers IEEE, based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.

Just because something is published under the banner of “SCIENCE!” does not mean is it actually scientific. Via Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers : Nature News & Comment.

Facts Are Not Enough; You Need Theory As Well

You want to find empirical studies that show free trade to be harmful to free-trading nations?  No problem; you can find them.  You want to find empirical studies that show government stimulus spending to be a sure-cure for what ails a slumping economy?  There are plenty of such data-rich studies out there.  You want to find empirical studies that show that violent crimes aren’t deterred by the death penalty?  Not a problem.  You want to find empirical evidence that increased rates of handgun ownership increase citizens’ likelihood of dying of gunshot wounds?  Many such studies are available.

You can also find plenty of empirical studies showing the opposite of what is shown by all of the above studies.  And these other studies are, as a group, no less carefully done than are the studies that they contradict.  And these other studies, also, are done by scholars no less credentialed and no less objective than are those scholars who produce the contrary findings.

That’s the reality of the social sciences.  It’s not an exercise in simple observation of simple and self-defining facts, only one or two of which change at any time.

via Where Are My Data?!.

It’s Not Enough To Have Data; You Also Need A Theory. Multiple Theories Can Fit The Same Data.

You want to find empirical studies that show free trade to be harmful to free-trading nations?  No problem; you can find them.  You want to find empirical studies that show government stimulus spending to be a sure-cure for what ails a slumping economy?  There are plenty of such data-rich studies out there.  You want to find empirical studies that show that violent crimes aren’t deterred by the death penalty?  Not a problem.  You want to find empirical evidence that increased rates of handgun ownership increase citizens’ likelihood of dying of gunshot wounds?  Many such studies are available.

You can also find plenty of empirical studies showing the opposite of what is shown by all of the above studies.  And these other studies are, as a group, no less carefully done than are the studies that they contradict.  And these other studies, also, are done by scholars no less credentialed and no less objective than are those scholars who produce the contrary findings.

That’s the reality of the social sciences.  It’s not an exercise in simple observation of simple and self-defining facts, only one or two of which change at any time.

Therefore, theory is important.  Among other roles, theory directs our attention to what patterns to look for, and helps us to better understand what empirical findings warrant our suspicion more than others.  Obviously, theory should never be used as dogma to prevent our learning from careful empirical studies.  Nor, however, should well-accepted and coherent theories be tossed aside simply because a handful of people produce a few studies that are inconsistent with that theory – especially if other careful empirical studies support the theory.

So while it’s always a good instinct to ask “What do the data say?  What does history tell us about this matter?”, it’s just as scientifically naive to ridicule thoughtful discussion of theory (including discussion of pitfalls in interpreting data) by suggesting that the discussion is useless because it presents no data as it is to suggest that theory should never be subjected to empirical tests.

via Where Are My Data?!.

The Voodoo Sciences: The Difference Between “Data” and “Evidence”

Go to any U.S. university. You will hear lamentation and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Washington has become unfeeling and stupidly refuses to support higher education: don’t those idiots on the Potomac know that education is a investment in the future? Don’t they know that human resources are our most valuable resources, that public higher education is necessary preparation for a democratic future? That we must invest in the future?

But now wander about the campus, and look at how our typical university allocates that all-important investment dollar. You will find that the “social science” departments are far larger than the “hard sciences,” and indeed have more students than are enrolled in liberal arts. You will find that even in states with tens of thousands of unemployed teachers, the Department of Education is among the very largest departments on campus.

The social sciences will be large and important departments, with many members of faculty and much classroom space. One wonders what it is that graduates in the social sciences are prepared to do. It must be an important skill; we are spending a large part of our scarce but all-important investment funds to acquire it. Oddly enough, though, we’re not training so many engineers and scientists, physicists and mathematicians. Why?

But of course the answer is well known. In most universities, our education investment funds are allocated by entering freshmen. They go to a kind of oriental bazaar, where they are seduced into choosing a major; the number of majors then determines the department’s share of the university’s budget funds. It does seem an odd way to allocate an important resource.

One might suppose a better way: that the legislature, or other public authority, determine the number of engineers, biologists, physicists, medicos, sociologists, etc., that might reasonably be required in the future, and allocate public funds among the departments accordingly. Students wishing to declare various majors could do so; but when the number that the taxpayers will support is exceeded, the next student to enroll in that major gets to pay tuition accordingly. If tax-supported higher education is an investment–and what other theory justifies sending the tax collector, policeman, and eventually the public hangman to extort the funds from the taxpayers? — then might we have some care in the way that investment is allocated? The present scheme looks like a bad parody invented by an inept science fiction writer. Who’d believe it if it weren’t happening?

The real difference between arts and sciences is the difference between data and evidence; and the “social sciences” don’t know one from the other.

When this was put to Dr. Paul Bohannon (5), dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Southern California, he replied that Mead’s value didn’t lie in her data-gathering. She stretched imaginations and made people think larger thoughts.

Granted this may be true, but it seems more the job of a science fiction writer than a scientist.

The social sciences have made an art of forgetting embarrassing facts. If a fact doesn’t fit the theory, leave the fact for another discipline. Sociology has nothing to learn from anthropology, which has nothing to learn from social psychology. None of these has anything to learn from the mathematics, physics, or chemistry departments.

The poet who believes he knows something of science having taken “Sosh 103” and “Ed Stat” is far more dangerous than ever he would have been if he had remained ignorant.

Meanwhile, novelists have as much right to be called “experts” on human behavior as any social scientist, which is to say we can learn as much about our fellow humans from a good novel as from a sociological treatise; and I know which I would rather read. Similarly, the poet may find beauty in the theory of probability, and will learn something of the difference between data and evidence while studying it; “Stat for Social Scientists” teaches nothing, and is dull in the bargain.

When the social scientists are challenged as unscientific, their usual plea is that their subject matter is very complex and thus the methodology of physical science won’t work. This is an interesting argument, but it would carry more weight if students of social science knew something of physical science’s methodologies. Granted that the “social sciences” have an intrinsically more difficult job; is this any reason to abandon the tools of science?

The article is long but well worth reading in its entirety. Via The Voodoo Sciences.

Nazi Family Values: “The architects of the Third Reich thought of themselves as artists and intellectuals”

The architects of the Third Reich thought of themselves as artists and intellectuals, determined to secure “freedom for the healthy.”

One can now turn to specific examples from the albums of such “artists” to see what they had in mind when Goebbels spoke of eliminating “the diseased” and creating “freedom for the healthy.” At the end, the reader should have a good idea of just what a “healthy” official of the Third Reich was, and what values he espoused among his family of fellow Nazis.

Throughout his two albums, for example, Himmler is shown in variety of uniforms, all of which were custom tailored according to his designs. It was Himmler the “artist” or costume designer who added details and flourishes to these uniforms. In a work of popular history, Sydney D. Kirkpatrick describes Himmler the couturier at work on an SS line of uniforms.

And yet for all the oddities of their personal lives, there is the side of the Nazis that seems normal. Many Nazi officials came from the educated middle class of German society, and in his comments on the trial of Einsatzgruppen members in Nuremberg after the war, the British historian Gerald Reitlinger (author of The SS, Alibi of a Nation, a superb study of the SS) observed of the defendants that “the only common denominator was that nearly all had been to a university and the majority had achieved the doctorate so dear to the German middle class.” The idea of Nazi intellectuals may be troubling to some, but as has long been known, intellectuals rose to power in the systems of both fascism (meaning both Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy) and the Leninist-Stalinist version of communism. Hitler and Stalin required the talents of writers, organizers, and, yes, artists to accomplish their ends.

Be sure to look at the pictures; disturbing throughout, not because they are obviously abnormal but because they are horribly normal: Nazi Family Values | Hoover Institution. I suppose the lesson here is that they thought they were the good guys. If you are an educated, erudite, academic intellectual, you think you’re one of the good guys. It’s not necessarily so.

Vicious Stereotypes in Polite Society

One of the less attractive patterns in human behavior is our tendency to stereotype those with whom we disagree, those whose interests conflict with our own, or those who are simply different from ourselves. Such stereotypes create and reinforce prejudice, and they distort our politics, our policy debates, and our constitutional debates. These evils are of course well known; they are an important part of racism, sexism, and discrimination against lesbians and gays. But we do not appear to have generalized the lessons.

Among the educated classes that have been most sensitized to the dangers of the most widely condemned stereotypes, other stereotypes and prejudices flourish. Respected academics and journalists, and respected journals who pride themselves on their tolerance, publish extraordinary statements about groups that have generally failed to engage the sympathies of intellectuals.

In this brief comment, I wish to illustrate the point with a few clear examples. Some involve religion; one involves a potpourri of political and class biases. These are by no means the only examples; the problem is pervasive. Many of us-probably most of us-have acted on unstated and unexamined assumptions that would be as offensive as these if we committed them to print without the veil of euphemisms. Printed or unprinted, flagrant or veiled, these stereotypes are corrosive of the social fabric. The only way to resist is to highlight them and to sensitize ourselves to them.

This is a fantastic piece. I think it took real guts to publish. It and bears reading in its entirety, especially by smart people, academics, and intellectuals. Via VICIOUS STEREOTYPES IN POLITE SOCIETY.