People are Wrong then Ignore Criticism

In my linked comment, I specifically replied to an important idea Scott Aaronson had put in bold. He himself identified it as a key idea of his, and I quoted it for clarity. I then pointed out a (large) problem with it.

I also brought up how his approach was in conflict with a book (The Beginning of Infinity) which he's familiar with and thinks he understands, likes and agrees with. This way he can't just be like, "Some commenter on my blog disagrees with me, who cares?" (which would be irrational because it's not truth-seeking. If the commenter is right, he never finds out and changes his mind). Even if he doesn't care about someone disagreeing with him that his blogs posts weren't good enough to persuade, I brought up a conflict between two of his own ideas. Most arguments bring up a conflict between an idea you have and an idea I have, and if you don't care about my idea maybe you ignore this conflict of ideas. But when an argument points out a conflict between two ideas of one person, that's harder for him to ignore. So I was working around a common issue.

I made my comment extra interesting for Scott Aaronson by replying specifically to what he emphasized in bold as a key point (and pointing out how his key point was wrong!), and by bringing up a conflict with another idea of his own.

I received no answer. Scott Aaronson did continue posting plenty more in the discussion after my comment. Some people who agree with Scott Aaronson also continued discussing, and my argument applied to them too (the main part, maybe not The Beginning of Infinity aspect, though they could wonder how and why they are coming in conflict with that book and if maybe the book could have a good point or at least a point worth refuting).

How can/should this problem of non-answers be dealt with? (The issue also comes up in my Paths Forward essay, which has some answers.)

Fundamentally I think a lot of people have no real answer to the question, "If you're mistaken, how will you learn better?" And since they have no methods set up for error correction, it's really hard to do anything about any of their mistakes. That is what irrationality is.

(BTW it's a pattern, I've posted several other comments which also went unanswered.)

(Also, to be clear, I don't really mean to pick on Scott Aaronson in particular. He's just a convenient recent typical example. Alex Epstein did similar, as have others. I see these as pervasive problems, not problems with a few bad apples. In comparison to his peers and colleagues, I don't think Scott Aaronson is particularly bad about the issues I'm criticizing here.)

I also tried emailing Scott Aaronson who I've spoken with a bit in the past. I brought up a different topic there, which is that I disagree with his approach to climate change issues. I wondered if he was open to debate and criticized his approach of saying the debate was already over. Declaring a debate already over is a common irrational approach that blocks off any further learning. About the debate already being over, he wrote: "Within physics and chemistry and climatology, the people who think anthropogenic climate change exists and is a serious problem have won the argument—but the news of their intellectual victory hasn’t yet spread..." Then true to the idea of the debate being finished, as you'll see below, he didn't want to address criticisms of his position.

He replied to me to assert he was open to debate while subtly blowing me off, then didn't respond to some questions I sent him in reply. I think he's more interested in convincing himself that he's rational – which required dealing with a direction question about his openness to debate – than he is interested in actually discussing the issues.

After some questions, I concluded my reply, "If you don't wish to answer all of these questions, could you tell me where to get answers to my satisfaction which would persuade me about the climate consensus and related issues? (If there is nowhere, what do you suggest?)"

He didn't answer that either. When people don't answer something like that, isn't it disturbing? He says climate change is a settled debate, but he won't answer questions about it, and he won't even refer people to anywhere they can get their doubts answered. (Presumably because there actually isn't anywhere, which means the debate isn't actually settled in a reasonable way. Which is an important enough problem with his side's "victory" on the issue that he ought to have some comment.)

This is a common problem where people are more interested in the social role of a rational intellectual than truth-seeking discussion. They're more interested in feeling smart than being smart. They're more interested in self-image than action. They care about popular opinion and socialized legitimized status, and only feel much need to address arguments with some kind of (social) authority behind them. They look at the source of ideas and then wonder whether, socially, they can get away with ignoring the ideas (ignoring arguments is something they seem to treat as desirable and try to maximize).

It's not about, "Have I already written an answer to this argument? Has someone else written an answer to it that I can endorse? If yes, I'll give a link/cite. If no, maybe I or someone else better write something." That'd be rational but few people think that way.

Instead it's about, "If I don't answer this, will other people think it was a serious argument I should have answered? Am I expected to answer it? Do I have to answer it to protect my social status? Do I have any excuses for not engaging with the argument that most people (weighted by their status/authority) will accept?"

What is to be done about these problems?

I followed up with Scott Aaronson to check if maybe he was on vacation or something. I explained I was trying not to misinterpret. It seemed like he had claimed to be open to debate, then immediately acted the opposite way. But silence is ambiguous, so I wanted to clarify what was happening and not misinterpret. He replied clarifying (indirectly) that he isn't open to debate and doesn't care about answering my questions or criticisms.

I replied explaining why that's a bad idea, and he ignored me. I also showed him my Paths Forward essay which covers these issues, and he didn't want to answer that either.

One thing I said to Scott Aaronson is that no one ever won the climate change debate against me. So in what sense is the debate concluded? Do I not count? He replied that no one had ever won it against him either. I believe him. But isn't this a great opportunity to discuss? At least one of us would learn a lot. At least one of us could lose the debate and learn better. Doesn't it make tons of sense to get people on both sides who've had lots of debates, and won all of them, and then have them debate? Then some people will lose their undefeated streaks and change their minds, that'd be awesome.

(It'd be tricky though because people usually debate too irrationally for the debate or discussion to actually resolve disagreements or reach a conclusion. That's another problem that needs addressing.)

I'm open to discussing it with Scott Aaronson or anyone else. I take on all comers and am undefeated about this particular issue (global warming). Scott Aaronson on the other hand achieves his undefeated status by ignoring critics like myself. He implied symmetry, but actually my undefeated status is a badge of honor, while his is a badge of irrational evasion. I see a great opportunity for learning, but he's too busy being a professor or "intellectual" or whatever to spend his time engaging with criticism.

(No doubt he will claim it's a matter of priorities. So, there's this climate consensus but no one prioritizes answering criticism? If Scott Aaronson wanted to refer me to something he already wrote, or someone else wrote and he endorsed, or another person who'd answer questions/criticism, that'd be fine as long as there is some way I can follow up if the thing he refers me to is mistaken. I want answers, but I don't care if they come from another person or are pre-written or whatever, as long as they are actually answers. He claims he doesn't have time to give answers, but why aren't there any answers for him to refer me to? Isn't that a huge problem with his side of the debate? But he doesn't approach things this way, instead he's content to simply block criticism with no followups or answers, so that even if I'm right he never ever finds out.)

What is to be done when respected "intellectuals" evade intellectual challenges, and ignore real intellectuals?

And, by the way, I'm not some completely random nobody to Scott Aaronson. I don't think it would matter if I was. But for example, he's written to me in the past at different times that, "I basically agree with your analysis" and "Thanks so much for the Godwin ref -- I'll take a look!" But despite recognizing some things I said as good, he still won't engage in a serious discussion or deal with criticism or hard questions from me.

If you won't even consider criticism from people with a track record of good analysis and good references (in your opinion), then ... what the fuck? What else could you want from a potential discussion partner than some previous discussion that you think went well? What are people supposed to do to get his attention? Get a PhD or otherwise get socially sanctioned as having authority? What a hoop to jump through! One that many of best people will not want to jump through. If that's how it works, he's blocking criticism from many of the best people. (And if it works some other way instead of that cultural default, then he'd need to advertise that somewhere. He'd need to tell people his criteria. But he doesn't, implying he does use the cultural default social-authority approach for allocating his attention.)

There is a legitimate concern that people overestimate how good their points are. If someone thinks they have amazing ideas and contacts you, they could easily be wrong. It could be time consuming to explain it all to them. But I don't think that's what's happening here, and if it was he's handling it wrong. (I don't think it's happening from his perspective because I have a demonstrated past ability to say things I think are good points and have him agree that they are good points. Also, I focused on asking questions rather than making bold claims. It's way harder to go wrong with overestimating your knowledge when you ask questions.)

If it was what was happening, he should simply state that he thinks that is the situation (I'm overestimating my knowledge) and link to something explaining the issue that I could learn from. But he doesn't handle it anything like that. He handles things to block off future progress, block off resolving disagreements, block off error correction, rather than allow any paths forward.

Why don't people handle stuff so there is a way forward, a way for progress to happen, a way for disagreements to actually get resolved instead of lasting forever? Why do they block off problem solving? What is to be done about this?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Paths Forward: Additional Thoughts

Have you read my Paths Forward essay yet? Read it first. It's more polished writing. If you like it and you want more, then read this.

These are some additional thoughts about paths forward. They're a little bit disorganized, but that shouldn't stop you from learning. This post has additional points and different ways to look at the topic. It covers some issues with a lot more detail. But seriously do read the Paths Forward essay first.

When two ideas conflict, either or both could be mistaken. Resolving conflicts of ideas is the key to learning, problem solving, and progress. It's one of the big topics in epistemology (the study of knowledge and ideas).

If both ideas are mine, then I must be mistaken about something. I should try to resolve the conflict. I can resolve the conflict by coming up with some better ideas. These ideas will need to solve the same problems as before (or else explain why some of those problems are misconceived), while fixing the conflict. A simple case is if I figure out a conflicting idea is mistaken, then I can replace it with a better idea to resolve the conflict.

Sometimes both ideas are pretty good, and I'm mistaken that they conflict. That's important too. Neither idea was good enough to explain why there wasn't a conflict. There's still something to learn.

Commonly, my idea conflicts with your idea. That's called a disagreement. This is a learning opportunity too. At least one of us is mistaken. And if neither of us knows enough to persuade the other, then we each have more to learn, even if our idea is correct.

It's important to look for conflicts between ideas (disagreements) and resolve them. If we don't do that, then our bad ideas won't get fixed; we won't learn new things and make progress.

Every disagreement (conflict of ideas) involves at least one mistake somewhere. Resolving conflicts of ideas means correcting errors. Correcting errors is how progress is made. It's how things get better. It's the best thing in life.

There are several important topics here. One is how to resolve conflicts between ideas (the answer involves using criticism, among other things). Today, I want to talk about openness to critical discussion (which is one of the important ways to resolve conflicts between ideas in order to find and correct mistakes).

People say things like, "I'm too busy" or "I can't debate everyone". They block off discussion. Then they miss out on learning opportunities, stagnate and die.

Everyone has a time limit of 24 hours per day. Being busy is not some kind of special exception. No matter how empty your schedule is, you still wouldn't have time to debate everyone on the internet or everyone in a big city. Time management is an issue everyone faces and saying you're busy doesn't address anything.

The philosophical issue of how to be open to discussion, while having limited time to talk with everyone who might wish to discuss, has basically the same answer whether you're busy or not.

Bad Approaches

Sometimes people decide who to discuss with by social status or authority. They figure they can't talk with everyone who disagrees with them, so they'll try to pay attention to the best people. But what if they are mistaken about who is the best? Or what if the guy who comes up with a great new idea isn't one of the best people? By looking at the speaker of an idea, instead of the idea itself, they are acting irrationally. Ideas should be judged by stuff like whether they make sense, whether they are logical, whether they give helpful explanations or whether they solve problems. Judging ideas by the social status or authority of the speaker is no good. (Authority actually is a kind of social status.)

This is a "who should rule?" approach as the philosopher Karl Popper called them. It's deciding who (or what) gets to make the decisions, who (or what) matters more than who, which sources of ideas get special privileges, and that kind of stuff. Instead, what we should be doing is making it easy to fix mistakes. People with high social status have enough advantages already, we should be trying to minimize that so reason can operate, rather than reinforce it so if they're wrong they keep their status anyway.

Second bad approach: Sometimes people have a disagreement and they skim over the other guy's conflicting idea. They take a quick look. Then if it seems amazing, they will try to resolve the disagreement. But if they aren't impressed, then they ignore it without resolving the disagreement. This is irrational because an idea that doesn't seem awesome to you immediately could still be true. This approach will miss opportunities to correct your mistakes.

A Path Forward

The rational approach to disagreements involves what I call a "path forward". It has to do with setting things up so there is some way that, if you're mistaken, you could find out and get your mistake corrected. This way progress and learning are never blocked off.

Note the goal here isn't just any path forward. It's a good one. What does that mean? Well, if you ignored every critic in the world, you still might happen to think of your mistakes yourself. Figuring out everything yourself is a path forward that's theoretically capable of correcting any mistake and allowing for unbounded progress. But it's not very realistic. We want a path forward that works better than that.

Thinking of everything yourself is too hard. You have blind spots. Other people can be a source of good ideas including criticisms. (It can work kind of like comparative advantage from economics, because other people have different stuff they are best at than you.) What we really want is to be able to make progress whenever we have a good new idea, or whenever someone else does. That'd be optimal. If no one thinks of something, oh well, what can you do? But if someone else figures something out and we block off that progress instead of learning it, that's bad!

It's important that good ideas can spread. It's important that if I'm wrong, and someone else knows I'm wrong, then I can find out.

But lots of times when someone thinks I'm wrong and tries to tell me, he'll actually be wrong. Just discussing with everyone who disagrees with me – who thinks they have a good idea I should learn – isn't going to work. We all have limited time, and there are a lot of people in the world.

So we need ways for good ideas to be able to reach me, even though I don't personally talk with everyone.


There are some things set up to help spread ideas. Books and other publications help. A decent amount of the good ideas people think of get published via books, journals, magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites, radio or TV. If I read some books, I can find some good ideas there and learn about some of my mistakes.

But how do publications work, exactly? It used to be that it was hard to get published unless you had high social status or a gatekeeper thought you had a good point. This kept the amount of published work manageable, but it also prevented some good ideas from being published.

Today, anyone can publish online. That's great because now everyone with a good idea can share it. Few important ideas go unpublished, if the author wants to share them. However, so much stuff gets published that no one can follow a thousandth of it. It's easy to miss out on good ideas that would be easily available if only you knew the right webpage.

There's a fundamental problem here. If you limit communication and block off some ideas then that will include some good ideas. You'll miss out on opportunities to learn things that someone knows. But if you don't limit communication and block anything off, then there's too much stuff and we run out of time, so we still might miss an opportunity.

There are hard problems here, but there's a lot you can do to deal with it well. And almost no one is handling these issues very well. People routinely ignore those with lower social status without realizing that's irrational. People routinely look at the ideas that make it through gatekeepers or curators and naively think they aren't missing out on anything good. No! Gatekeepers are fallible! Don't assume something is good because a curator liked it, or bad because a curator disliked it. Start thinking for yourself, and with effort and skill you could learn to notice lots of mistakes by curators.

A Path Forward Example

Let's look at an example of a good path forward. This is pretty generic and illustrates the main concepts.

A critic disagrees with me. I point him to something that's already written. It can be by me, or it can be something I endorse by someone else. Either way, I'm responsible for any mistakes in it. Now there's a path forward. It may persuade him. He can learn. His learning isn't blocked off (while his life isn't exactly my problem, I think it's really great if you leave your critics with a path forward too!). If he finds a mistake in it, he can tell me, and then I can learn.

He may be mistaken about what he thinks is a mistake. If his point is new to me, I should talk with him and we can try to figure out what's true. If I already know about his idea and disagree, I can refer him to something that addresses his misconception, which again I'm responsible for.

This process can repeat a lot with very little time investment on my part. If he's unwilling to deal with pre-written answers to his points, and wants me to write new stuff, that's irrational. What's wrong with pre-written material? If he won't address things I refer him to, he's blocking progress, at which point there's no path forward.

If he blocks the path forward, there isn't a lot I should do about it. That's sad, but some people are irrational and you can't lose sleep trying to help them all. You should try to be forgiving and give people several chances because there could easily be a misunderstanding. But if someone is actually putting their effort towards blocking progress instead of making progress, and they don't want to cooperate for mutual benefit, then let it go and deal with people who care about reason.

The path forward discussion process uses people's time roughly according to how much they already know (that's relevant). If I refer a critic to some argument and he isn't familiar with it, he'll have to put time and effort into studying it. If he doesn't want to do that, he's in no position to correct my thinking on this topic. On the other hand, if he already is familiar with the answer I gave him, then he'll be able to answer me much more quickly. (Note it doesn't matter if the answer is pre-written or not, nothing really changes.)

If he knows a bunch of things I don't, I might find myself being the one spending a bunch of time learning things to continue the discussion. But that's OK if I spend lots of time in the cases where the other guy knows more about the topic than I do! What we wanted to avoid was me spending a lot of time dealing with lots of people who know much less than me. (But without just ignoring them, in case someone I think knows less is actually right about something. Even if I think someone doesn't know much and their idea sounds dumb to me, it's important there be a path forward so potential progress isn't blocked.)

What if I haven't already written an answer to something? Well if I've never addressed a topic before, maybe it'd be good to write an answer. Then if I think my answer is good enough, I can reuse it later to save time. I can and should consider topics in the first place. And I should write down what I think so that it's exposed to criticism and I can reuse it instead of complaining I'm busy.

Writing about every topic would be a lot though. Material written by others works fine too, if I agree with it. As long as someone wrote it down, then people who disagree can learn from it, and it's exposed to potential criticism. But the important thing is, whether I am using my own writing or someone else's, I have to take full responsibility for it. If I use a book to speak for me, I have to be just as concerned with any errors in the book as if I wrote it myself. If the book contains errors and isn't good enough to stand up to criticism, then I can't use it to speak for me. I'll have to find a webpage with better answers or write my own, or write some extra material to fix the problems with the book (or change my mind).

Suppose there is nothing written by you that answers a person's criticism or question. And nothing written by anyone else which is good enough for you to endorse and take personal responsibility for. And nothing in other mediums like an audio recording of a lecture. (Writing is overall the best medium for learning, and I usually use it as my example, but other mediums have some advantages and are OK too.) Then it's really important to deal with this disagreement. If you don't, there is no path forward. If you ignore this, and he's right, you won't find out.

Saving More Time: Agreers

Even referring people who disagree with you to pre-written material could be time consuming if you're popular enough. How can that be handled? Let's look at another example.

When you're a beginner, you talk with many people, and encounter both agreement and disagreement. You read many books and webpages, and decide a few are good enough to speak for you and start referring to them. You write many ideas yourself. Many are refuted by critics and you improve your thinking. Some things you reference get refuted, others don't. Because you change everything that gets refuted, over time you build up a collection of ideas that is harder and harder to refute.

And because you (or others) write things down to expose them to criticism (instead of just thinking of them in your head and deciding they are awesome, without others getting a chance to review them for errors), you build up a collection of difficult-to-refute written material which you can refer new people you meet to, as relevant. Over time, as your collection builds up and you become one of the best intellectuals, you find that when you talk to new people, usually they have nothing to teach you, and you already have material to refer them to which covers all their arguments.

Because example-you is so amazing and so much better than most people, you get popular, and attract people who wish to learn from you. At first you personally help some people learn, but then later on there are too many of them. And now you have so many critics, who so rarely surprise you, that even sending them links to answers is not something you want to be doing anymore.

OK, great, so example-you's time is super valuable. But now you have a bit of a following. These generally go together. If your time is super valuable, normally some of your great material will be public and will impress some people. It's not guaranteed. You could be right but unpopular, or you could do confidential secret work; I won't address those special cases today.

Now what you do is create a discussion place online (if you haven't already). Or you can use a discussion place that someone else created, if you're willing to take personal responsibility for it being good enough. Then what you need is for your fans/followers/students to start answering critics for you. I'm going to call these people agreers, in contrast to the people with disagreements we've been considering how to deal with.

(Don't take these categories too seriously, you should treat people's ideas identically whether they are agreers or disagreers. And people can switch which one they are acting like frequently. They're just rough labels to help explain.)

If someone asks a question that you already have an essay answering, one of your agreers can link him to it. If someone has a question about your essay, one of your agreers can answer it. That saves you time!

In general, if you have agreers who want to learn more about your way of thinking, they will act like you did when you were a beginner, less popular and less awesome. There are people getting started learning what you now know. They can deal with critics similar to how you did when you were initially learning it yourself. They are in the situation you used to be in, and they can deal with the stuff you used to deal with.

You mostly directly help the people who know the most, which isn't too time consuming since that's a smaller group. If your agreers are unable to answer a critic, they ask you, and you deal with it (by explaining an error or learning something or whatever is appropriate). Most things are answered by your agreers. The more awesome and popular you get, and the more valuable your time, then the more agreers you'll have to answer things. Get more awesome, get your time more sheltered; it all works out. This way, all disagreeing ideas can get answered, but your own limited time is conserved.

The big point here is you can save a lot of time while making sure all issues get answered. As long as you take responsibility for every issue having a path forward, then compatible time savers are fine.

If you can't attract any agreers who want to learn the stuff you know about, maybe you're overestimating yourself. If you can, the business problem is solved. If you think you're too busy, apparently you don't have enough agreers of high enough quality (why hasn't your material explained enough to them to make them high quality?) That's your fault and your problem. You think you're busy when actually you're overestimating how good your ideas are. (And possibly you're doing some other mistakes like sharing too few ideas in ways the ideas can be spread around without you repeating yourself. If so, you should get better at teaching and also place a higher value on exposing your ideas to critical examination from the public).

There's a few things to keep in mind, though. What if your agreers think they answered a critic but they're wrong? They have to be good enough that you can take responsibility for what they are doing. To the extent you can't take responsibility for their judgment, you need to be monitoring what's going on.

Monitoring your discussion place lets you understand what's going on there, and if you should answer something. If something gets a lot of attention, take a look. If something's different than you've answered before, take a closer look.

And about your agreers, remember you can't really trust someone else's judgment until there's been a huge amount of communication, which most people never do (they are too "busy", and ineffective at persuasion, to ever have serious intellectual relationships that actually resolve tons of differences). If you've seen how someone deals with a particular issue several times, that helps. If you've criticized their thinking on dozens of issues and seen how they deal with criticism, that helps. If you've given them a book to read and then discussed it with them to see how well they understood it on their own, that helps. Stuff like this. You really have to know all about your agreers or you shouldn't be trusting them with much of anything. And you still need to do some ongoing monitoring no matter what, or else you're irresponsible.

Note that even if your agreers aren't all that amazing, they can still do things like answer a question so you don't have to. Just monitor it. Check that the link they gave is a good answer to the question. Check that you agree with the answer they wrote themselves. Comment if you disagree with something. You can cut down on writing stuff yourself a lot even with some beginner agreers.

When you handle discussion this way, then if you're good enough you can shelter your time enough, and any good idea can still reach you. Answers about your ideas will be available in some way, and people who disagree can learn from and/or criticize those answers. If you know something they don't, they can find out. If they know something you don't, you can find out. That's what rationality is all about – setting things up so there is a path forward, so mistakes can get fixed, and so learning and progress can happen.

Multi-Step Paths Forward

You might write something yourself. You might refer a critic (or agreer!) to something you already wrote. This may itself contain references. You might have an essay that references a book. And that book might footnote another book which footnotes another book. It's OK if a path forward involves lots of steps. It's fundamentally the same thing as long as each step connects and there really is a path the whole way.

(Note, by the way, that it doesn't really matter if you're dealing with a critic or an agreer, the methods stay the same. This is very important because basically everyone and their ideas need to be treated equally, fairly, objectively. All people, regardless of your fallible judgment of their (social) status, are one category. All ideas, regardless of source, are one category. You should be acting with principled methods that deal with the whole categories, not making special exceptions.)

And if you have agreers answering questions for you, there might be multiple steps there too. A critic might have a discussion with your newer agreers. When he raises some issues they don't know how to answer, some intermediate agreers might take an interest and comment. If he manages to bring up questions or criticisms they aren't able to resolve, then some advanced agreers could comment. And if that doesn't settle things, you should have noticed the issue. If you know the answer but no one else does, you ought to explain it. It doesn't hurt anything for the critic to go through several steps. If he knows a lot and his time is valuable, it's OK, he'll be able to say very little and get past the agreers who don't know how to deal with it. Or his own agreers might talk to yours.

These multi-step path are potentially necessary for protecting your time if you're awesome enough. And the structure of knowledge gets complicated as enough good ideas build up. That's fine, because they still allow a path forward. Nothing is being blocked off.


You don’t have to know if you're an agreer, a disagreer, at the top of the pyramid, or whatever. And you can be all of them for different topics. The thing is, you should act the same no matter which place you have. And you should treat people the same. People are people. Ideas are ideas. Treat them rationally and objectively, not according to your prejudgment about who knows a lot (or their social status or whatever else). You don't really know who is who until after the discussion, and even then hindsight is fallible.

Paths forward not only don’t make assumptions about the status of people, they are also better in every way than status-based approaches. They are better if you turn out to be right because acting in the rational paths forward way gives other guy a path forward too, and makes for more rational discussion. And if you help people learn your ideas u can gain agreers who may get awesome enough to teach you stuff or work productively in your field. And not acting like Mr. Awesome is way way better if you're wrong. Don't ever be the asshole who is mistaken, and is going around saying how much of a big authority he is while pompously ignoring criticism. Don't ever do anything that risks being that guy.

Other Paths Forward

The concept of a path forward is useful in multiple ways. We've talked about how setting up a path forward is a good standard for being open to discussion or debate. It makes sure good ideas can spread to you (in case you're mistaken and someone else knows better), and also it's important that there's a path forward for others to learn what you know (in case you aren't mistaken).

It's also important when having a discussion to make comments that leave a path forward. If you are confused, you have to make some clear statements about what the issue is (preferably about the topic, but failing that say that you're confused and not sure how to proceed and ask for help with your confusion). If you don't do that, how will progress happen?

If someone asks questions and you give a vague reply that doesn't actually answer his questions, you're blocking off a path forward. What if his questions were leading to some good points? You won't find out. (If he's particularly patient he might repeat himself, but you shouldn't rely on his patience for your path forward to exist!)

If someone says something long, commenting on one disagreement leaves a path forward. Commenting on the whole thing isn't necessary to keep the possibility of progress. Resolving disagreements one at a time is a multi-step path forward, it's fine. It makes all the difference from not answering even one point, which leaves no path forward.

Final Thoughts

Reason involves a kind of back-and-forth (you can do all the steps yourself, though). When confronted with something, you point out an issue (or concede). Then the issue gets answered and now the ball is in your court again. Or it doesn't get answered, in which case they better concede or else they are irrational and don't understand paths forward.

When dealing with rational people, there's always answers to any doubts you may have. Whenever you can't get answers to your doubts, people are either mistaken or irrational. Tell them about paths forward. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first. Maybe they don't understand reason. Maybe they lost your email. Try a few times to make it clearer what's going on. If they openly refuse to give answers or concede, then you know they are irrational.

Finally, consider that paths forward depend more on how you think about discussion and learning – on your rationality – than on your ideas about specific topics like farming, chess or painting. They are an epistemology issue. To be rational, you should apply them to all discussions about everything.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Paths Forward

I've added a new essay, Paths Forward, to Fallible Ideas. Read it. Comment here or at the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Starting Anew by Angela Ahrendts

Starting Anew by Angela Ahrendts discusses some thoughts about her new job as Senior Vice President, Apple Retail.
In honor of the great American poet Maya Angelou, always remember, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I would argue this is even more important in the early days.
She would argue it? why doesn't she argue it instead of saying she would? will she actually be arguing this in a future post, anywhere, ever? does she actually think she is arguing it?

shouldn't part of her job as an executive/leader/manager be to organize things so she can say stuff it's remembered and acted on? And shouldn't she aim for lasting achievements?

would it make more sense to hire people who care more about thinking than feeling, rather than cater to (often illogical) emotions?

would it be better to have a company culture more focused on how people rationally evaluate your decisions and actions? have people judge with reason rather than via feelings.

don't companies face large problems that don't feel like problems, but need to be solved anyway? aren't some things that feel like problems, actually important solutions to the problems presented by reality (not by arbitrary emotions)?

how will Angela Ahrendts cater to the often conflicting feelings of different people she works with? how will conflicts between feelings be resolved? what about conflicts between feelings and reason?

what good will this focus on feelings do that a focus on reason wouldn't do?

will Angela Ahrendts respect everyone's completely arbitrary feelings? that would allow them to make basically unlimited demands on her. or will she only respect feelings she and her social group consider socially legitimate? if she thinks your feelings are illegitimate, unreasonable, not something you should be feeling, how much effort will she still put into bending to your whims?

will she be doing what she thinks you should feel good about, or what you actually feel good about? the first isn't really caring about your feelings, it's just assuming you already are similar to her (presumably by both being socially-culturally normal). but the second would mean your feelings get to control her, which is not realistic for how an important executive leader would operate. what's going on?
Also, trust your instincts and emotions. Let them guide you in every situation; they will not fail you.
This is mysticism.
create positive energy
This is a vague metaphor. Why doesn't she say what the actual thing is, clearly? What is it?
And don’t be afraid to ask personal questions or share a few of your personal details. Talking about weekend interests, family and friends can give you a more complete view of your peers and partners, their passion and compassion. Building a relationship is also the first step in building trust, which quickly leads towards alignment and unity.
Is a major part of her job to socialize with others and get them to like her? Is this something like a popularity contest from high school? Should companies function that way? Is this like a subtle more nice-seeming version of cutthroat corporate politics?

Is she setting things up to say "I was always very respectful of his feelings and reached out to him by asking about non-work stuff, but I felt disrespected when he didn't run that decision by me"? Is that how she wins disputes? If so, this method doesn't depend at all on whether her ideas in dispute are good or bad. This kind of contest isn't truth-seeking.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fact Checking Ann Coulter

I've encountered a lot of scholarship errors in books (and elsewhere) and learned to watch out for false claims. Even if a book gives a lot of footnotes, it can easily still be wrong. I often check the sources for claims, rather than trusting footnotes, and I've caught problems. I've written about the bad scholarship of the Cato Institute, the Ayn Rand Institute, the New York Times, Thomas Sowell, Robert Zubrin, Alex Epstein, Steven Mosher, Isaac Kramnick, Fred Pearce, Matthew Connelly, Robert McGee, and Ari Armstrong.

I didn't have to look for scholarship errors to find any of those. I just read things normally and investigated issues that stood out to me. With Coulter, I did the same thing when reading her books. I investigated several of her claims. The difference is, with everyone else I found an error within the first few issues I investigated. With Coulter, I never found an error, so I decided she was a good scholar.

But Coulter's weekly column rarely gives sources for its many factual claims. I find that uncomfortable. I was concerned I was being too trusting by reading her column and generally believing its facts. Plus, I disagree with Coulter on some important issues (like psychiatry). When you have substantial disagreements with someone, that indicates you think about the world in some different ways, so it's good to tread carefully. Perhaps she treats factual accuracy differently than I do (I know many people take it less seriously than me). So I decided to fact check Ann Coulter more thoroughly.

To be objective, I used a random method. I'd already tried checking things that stood out to me. This time I investigated 10 random footnotes from her books. For each one, I picked a book, then I selected a chapter with a random number generator, then I went to the footnotes for that chapter and selected one with a random number generator. Whatever was randomly chosen, I committed to investigate it and reach a conclusion, even if it was hard; reselecting any footnotes would compromise objectivity.

This is not a perfect approach. If 1% of Coulter's footnotes are mistaken, I could miss it. Maybe she approaches her columns with a different respect for scholarship than the books I'm checking (why?). Maybe she has mistakes with no footnote. If I missed something, please tell me (with specifics!). Leave a comment below or email me [email protected]

In my experience, I often find scholarship errors within the first three things I check for an author. Because errors are so common, I think a spot check like this is valuable. If you doubt how common errors are, I recommend you fact check some other authors. Plus, I've already read Coulter's books and checked a few claims I found suspicious, so adding random checking provides good variety and objectivity. And, while reading, I already had the opportunity to spot claims in her books that should have a footnote but don't, or notice other issues.

I checked 10 randomly selected footnotes from 5 Ann Coulter books. For each one, I present my analysis below and I score Coulter's scholarship from 0 to 5 points. Her final average score was 5, which is perfect. (I decided on the scoring system before I started.) I found no scholarship errors. Well done!

In addition to fact checking Coulter myself, I also reviewed other people's criticism and fact checking of Coulter. Click through for details; in summary, their own scholarship was terrible. Also, my friend fact checked one random Coulter cite I gave him, which was correct.

Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America

Cite: Chapter 12: 29. Lynn Sweet, “Dems Seek Strategy Against ‘Birthers,’ ” Chicago Sun-Times, August 5, 2009.
The Democratic National Committee called the Tea Party movement “rabid right-wing extremists” and “angry mobs.”29
(Yellow quotes are from Coulter's books, teal quotes are from her sources, red indicates other quotes.)

Here, Coulter has given two quotes. I found the article here. It has the text Coulter quoted:
The Obama-controlled Democratic National Committee is portraying its foes as on the political fringe, accusing "Republicans and their allied groups" of "inciting angry mobs," calling them "a small number of rabid right wing extremists."
The only difference is Coulter added a hyphen in "right-wing". I think that's a reasonable English style change, not a misquote.

The article's source is the author personally speaking with Democratic Senator Dick Durban and providing quotes. Good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 25. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 170–71.
Reminiscent of France’s “Cult of Reason,” the Nazis planned to replace Christianity with the “Reich Church,” based on a 30-point plan drawn up by Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg. Crosses were to be stripped from churches, cathedrals, and chapels and replaced by the swastika. Bibles, crucifixes, and saints would be forbidden from the altars, which would instead display a copy of Mein Kampf and a sword.25 (If they had thought of it, they might have put Christ in a jar of urine.)
I got the book. Page 170 says:
Rosenberg was an "outspoken pagan" who, during the war, developed a thirty-point program for the "National Reich Church."
Five of the thirty points are given in the book on page 171. Coulter gets everything right:
18. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German nation and therefore God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.

30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels ... and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.
But what about this book's source? I was worried for a second because there's no footnotes. But it does have endnotes with sources, they just go by page number and brief quotes rather than by footnote number. There are five reasonable-looking sources given for pages 170-171.

And if you search for this material on Google you get lots of hits with these points, some of which give more sources. For example:
(The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, p. 240 in some editions, p. 332 in others. Chapter headed "Triumph and Consolidation", subsection "The Persecution of the Christian Churches")
He even checked the page numbers for different editions! That Shirer book is actually one of Bonhoeffer's sources. Let's see if there are any Amazon reviews criticizing Shirer's scholarship. There are 16 1 star reviews out of 930 reviews. Looking through them:
This review is not of the excellent scholarly work of William Shirer but of the Kindle version of this book
The serious flaw in this book is the extremely poor editing by the publisher [for the Kindle version]
The book is excellent..a classic. There is a problem with the new audiobook service and the Kindle Fire HD.
Lots of 1 star reviews are either about problems with the e-book or the audio book. One guy wants to defend Nietzsche from charges of anti-semitism, but I didn't find his comments persuasive. Someone says Shirer's book is outdated and there is new information available, but doesn't point out specific mistakes. Someone even says:
The simple fact is if I want an anti Nazi soapbox filled with opinion and no facts, I will read a political blog or something along those lines.
Shirer's book is anti-Nazi? Fine with me. These Amazon reviews look like what you would expect for an accurate book that offends a few people. I'm giving Coulter full credit.

Score: 5/5

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton

Cite: Chapter 4: 9 John M. Broder, “Testing of a President: The Investigation,” New York Times, March 7, 1998.
Jordan told the grand jury that he personally gave the president regular progress reports on his efforts to get Lewinsky a job. He partially confirmed Clinton’s statement that Betty Currie was the one who referred Lewinsky to him. Yet he also explained that he assumed the referral was made at the president’s request.9
Here's the article.
Mr. Clinton, in his deposition, acknowledged talking to Mr. Jordan about finding a job for Ms. Lewinsky. And Mr. Jordan has told his lawyers and the grand jury that he personally kept the President up to date on his job search efforts.


Mr. Jordan has said that it was Mrs. Currie who referred Ms. Lewinsky to him. But his attorney, William G. Hundley, said this week that Mr. Jordan assumed that Mrs. Currie was acting at the President's behest.
The footnote does have the material for all three of Coulter's sentences, and she presented it accurately. A problem I've seen before is a section of text makes multiple claims and then gives a footnote for one of the claims. Then the other claims have no source. But Coulter did it right.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 12: 6 Investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on “Filegate” in 1996, discovered this.
This was not the sort of thing that tended to promote the appearance of innocent bungling. In addition, a six-month gap in the log used to sign out the sensitive files from the White House Security Office was never explained. One page of the looseleaf log ends on March 29, 1994, and the next page picks up again with September 21, 1994.6
I'm not very happy with this cite because it doesn't give any source to look up. But there is information online:
(e) Secret Service entry logs indicate Craig Livingstone's access to the White House residence when he had no logical reason for being there, other than perhaps to share FBI files with its occupants. Indeed, a "check out" log of FBI files from his office shows a six (6) month "gap" -- from March 29, 1994 to September 21, 1994 -- where there are no entries, reminiscent of the eighteen (18) minute gap in the Nixon tapes during Watergate. See Secret Service Entry Logs, attached as Exhibit 9.
Looks like Coulter had it right. I'm still not happy about the lack of a source I could directly check, but I'm hesitant to subtract any points when she was factually correct. To resolve this, I searched for newspaper articles from the time. If it was common knowledge, then I'll give her full credit.

LA Times:
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the gap troubling and asked former White House aide D. Craig Livingstone to explain missing entries in the log between March 29, 1994, and Sept. 21, 1994.


"There was a period of time evidently that the log wasn't kept," Livingstone testified.
Well, OK, Livingstone admitted it himself, in Senate testimony, and it was in a major newspaper. And it's not that hard to find, even 18 years later.

Score: 5/5

Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama

Cite: Chapter 14: 62. Mark Hosenball, “The Death-Threat Debate,” Newsweek, October 27, 2008. Available at
The Obama campaign responded to Newsweek’s inquiries about the candidate’s lie by saying that even if the report wasn’t true, “what is true is that the tone of the rhetoric at McCain–Palin campaign events has gotten out of hand.”62
I like cites with URLs! Coulter's quote exactly matches the webpage. The source is, "An Obama campaign spokesman told NEWSWEEK". Looks good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 18. Mark Mooney, “Obama Aide Concedes ‘Dollar Bill’ Remark Referred to His Race,” ABC News, August 1, 2008. Available at
Maybe he’d be the first Hawaiian on a dollar bill. Apparently, there were limits to the press’s credulity and eventually, the Obama campaign admitted that, yes, the dollar bill line was about race.18
Another URL, and another correct cite. Easy one.
But Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged on "Good Morning America" Friday that the candidate was referring, at least in part, to his ethnic background.

When pressed to explain the comment, Axelrod told "GMA" it meant, "He's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American."
Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 4: 33. Jim Dwyer, “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids,” (New York) Newsday, January 8, 1992.
The only definitive proof that the paint attacks were hoaxes was that the police, the mayor and the New York Times suddenly dropped the subject, never mentioning the white-paint attacks again. Needless to say, there would be no investigation into whether the alleged victims had wasted police resources by falsely reporting a crime.

The shoe-polish hate crime had made the front page of the New York Times and the cover of New York Newsday in massive in-depth interviews with the “victims.” The Times’s story, titled “Victim of Bias Attack, 14, Wrestles with His Anger,” was 1,228 words long.32 Newsday’s account, written by the most easily fooled journalist in America, Jim Dwyer, clocked in at 1,016 words and was titled “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids.”33 The racist attack was talked about in France, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, on the MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour, in endless stories on National Public Radio and still today, in Anna Quindlen’s living room.
I quoted a lot in this case to make the context and issue clear. This article is tough to find. The only thing Google found was from Coulter's book. found nothing. Newsday's website search is broken. Searching for the author "Dwyer" brings up a bunch of sports articles that give an error when clicked on. Jim Dwyer may have won a Pulitzer Prize while at Newsday, but their link to his articles is broken.

But I eventually managed to find it. Coulter's cite is correct except for two punctuation changes. The version I found online has the apostrophe moved to the wrong place and has quotes around the dialog from the mother:
Race Victims' Mom: `I Wanted A Better Life For My Kids'
I don't see a meaningful problem. And the visible text of the article fits what Coulter was talking about.

Score: 5/5

Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right

Cite: Chapter 2: 3. Editorial, Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 14, 2002.
The California Coastal Commission was forced to intervene to demand that the Hollywood left stop blocking access to the beach. Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club, expressed shock at the arrogance of what he called "some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu."3
The issue here is the Hoye quote. Although the Las Vegas Review-Journal deleted the article from their website, the Internet Archive still has a copy:
"Some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu turned their backs on me over this issue," said Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club and now a champion of open beaches, to the Los Angeles Times.
I think their source is this L.A. Times article. Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 8: 12. Jo Mannies, "Bradley Touts New Book, Ideologies; Public Trust Tops Priorities in New Appeal," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1996, p. 1C.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Bradley's run-of-the-mill, tax-and-spend liberalism as "his cerebral approach to politics."12
The article is behind a paywall. I paid.
His personal disclosures, in the book and in interviews, are a departure for Bradley, a private man known for his prowess in basketball and his cerebral approach to politics.
Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism

Cite: Chapter 6: 78. Lawrence Van Gelder, "Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer," New York Times, October 25, 1995; William Glaberson, "F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild," New York Times.
The New York Times has variously referred to the Guild as "a nation-wide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights" and "a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes."78
These articles were easy to find and the quotes are correct. Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer:
Mr. Cammer was also a founder and active member of the National Lawyers Guild, a nationwide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights, as well as a volunteer lawyer in the civil rights movement in the South in the 1960's.
F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild:
The Guild, a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes, was tarred for years with charges that it was a "Communist front" organization.
Ann added a hyphen in "nation-wide". That's fine. Otherwise the quotes are exact.

Score: 5/5

Congratulations to Ann Coulter for her perfect score. It's great – and too rare – to see high quality scholarship.

EDIT: I want to be extra clear about a misconception some readers have had. Of course checking random cites is not comprehensive. First, I checked anything that stood out to me as suspicious or interesting, like I do with everyone. Other people never pass that phase 1 checking. Then for phase 2, I checked random cites for Ann Coulter as a supplement. I wanted to be extra hard on Coulter, rather than treat phase 1 checking as adequate. Coulter passed both phases, her rivals all failed in phase 1.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reviewing Ann Coulter's Critics

In this post, I review criticisms and fact checks of Ann Coulter. Teal quotes are Coulter, yellow quotes are from critics, red is other stuff.
"No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare."
lol. I remember reading that. This site considers that "pants on fire" lying, and says:
Our experts say: "outrageous," "ridiculous," "ludicrous"
They are appealing to the authority of people who suck at reading comprehension. Sigh. It wasn't meant at a factual-literal statement. This criticism is stupid. They try to defend it:
We are sure the claim wasn't intended as a joke, because it's included in a bullet-point list of straightforward criticisms of the law.
I don't think these people are familiar with Coulter's style. Also on that list was
-- Merely to be eligible for millions of dollars in grants from the federal government under Obamacare, programs are required to meet racial, ethnic, gender, linguistic and sexual orientation quotas. (That's going to make health care MUCH better!)
Using sarcasm isn't what I consider a list of "straightforward criticisms" which couldn't include a joke. Ann (who is not alone in this) has often mixed serious points and humor. Just assuming she wasn't joking about this isn't a reasonable way to interpret her.

in a "lie of the year" contest, Coulter is given a runner up award because:
Conservative author Ann Coulter’s claim that “no doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare.” It received the “pants on fire” rating, the most extreme type of lie by PolitiFact’s rating.
Same issue again. I'm including this because I just clicked everything I saw on Google, I wanted to be thorough. Coulter was not making a literal-factual claim. she was making a correct point about how Obamacare screws up market incentives. BTW she explained in a column how she herself couldn't get any medical care she valued above $0 from any obamacare plan, so the half-joking quote doesn't even seem like much of an exaggeration.
Coulter said Fox News broke the story of George W. Bush’s 1976 drunk driving arrest. In terms of being the first to broadcast the story, that is correct.


We rate Coulter’s statement Half True.
So Coulter was correct, but they rate it "Half True". I don't get it. (They make some excuses about Fox News only broadcasting it first, but one of Fox's affiliates having done the research.)

This guy complains that Coulter dislikes Ezekiel Emanuel. Emanuel is an Obama health care advisor and a would-be philosopher. What is wrong with Coulter's position? He says Emanuel has been misunderstood and links to Unfortunately the Youtube video with Coulter's comments is no longer available and he only quoted Coulter as saying, "Zeke Emanuel is on my death list."
McCaughey, a former New York lieutenant governor, claimed that Ezekiel Emanuel advocated that "medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens.’ "
What did Emanuel actually say?
Emanuel, Hastings Center Report, 1996: Communitarians endorse civic republicanism and a growing number of liberals endorse some version of deliberative democracy. … This civic republican or deliberative democratic conception of the good provides both procedural and substantive insights for developing a just allocation of health care resources. … Substantively, it suggests services that promote the continuation of the polity – those that ensure healthy future generations, ensure development of practical reasoning skills, and ensure full and active participation by citizens in public deliberations – are to be socially guaranteed as basic. Conversely, services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia. A less obvious example is guaranteeing neuropsychological services to ensure children with learning disabilities can read and learn to reason.
Sounds awful. For those who missed the meaning, he basically wants the government authorities to be in charge of healthcare and decide who gets what by deciding which healthcare services are "basic" (government provided at taxpayer expense) or not. So like, death panels. Emanuel's defense is:
Emanuel conceded that the article is "pretty abstract" and may be difficult to follow for those who are not academics, but he said that one should not then "take two sentences out of context."

"This is clearly not written in my own voice," he said. "I am not advocating this."

We’ll leave it to you to determine the merits of Emanuel’s philosophical observations. But the context makes it clear that Emanuel is describing the implications of a particular philosophical trend, not offering a policy prescription.
So his defense is that he was just writing about bad stuff, not advocating it? And also he's smarter than us, so we shouldn't try to use our own judgment. I'm not sold. Oh and the link to the report doesn't actually work. And I don't trust this site because it screws up the next issue really badly:
McCaughey also pushes the idea that Emanuel would want to ration care for seniors by quoting from a January 2009 article that Emanuel coauthored in The Lancet journal. Here, McCaughey says, he "explicitly defends discrimination against older patients."

What Emanuel and his two coauthors were actually writing about was how to decide which patients are to receive organ transplants, vaccines or other "very scarce medical interventions" when there are not enough to go around. The three authors advocated favoring younger patients over older patients as part of a "complete lives" decision-making system aimed at saving the most years of life using the available resources. Age would be only one factor, however. Also weighing in the "complete lives" system would be such factors as a patient’s likelihood of full recovery (prognosis) and the use of a lottery when deciding between two "roughly equal" patients.

The authors disputed the idea that this system discriminates against older people in the way that favoring one race or one sex over another would discriminate. "Treating 65-year-olds differently because of stereotypes or falsehoods would be ageist; treating them differently because they have already had more life-years is not." The authors stated that the complete lives system "empowers us to decide fairly whom to save when genuine scarcity makes saving everyone impossible."
So it's not OK to accuse him of explicitly discriminating against older patients because he has the excuse that he's doing it rationally instead of due to bigotry? Umm. No. Discrimination for any reason is discrimination. That doesn't necessarily make it bad, but it does make it discrimination. He did explicitly advocate treating old people differently due to their age. And, no, also considering other factors does not change that. If I discriminate against homosexuals unless they're white, thus considering multiple factors, that does not make it stop being discrimination.

If you want to do credible fact checking you can't attack factually accurate statements like this. I'm done with this guy.

Despite this guy being dumb, I found another copy of the report he brought up anyway, and took a look. It begins:
Is there a relationship between defects in our medical ethics and the reason the United States has repeatedly failed to enact universal health coverage?
This is politics disguised as academics. Read it if you can stomach it. He's a power-hungry statist authoritarian.

Oh and I found a copy of the video of what Coulter said.

She was joking. Here's the quote:
"Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel."
The assholes at didn't bother mentioning that Coulter was making a joke about personally being on Obama death panels, prefaced with "Totally ironically".

Again, quoted "Totally ironically, Zeke Emanuel is on my death list. Hold the applause. I'm going to be on the death panel." as "Zeke Emanuel is on my death list."

I guess misquoting was the only way they could come up with to attack Coulter.

This site does not have permalinks for some stupid reason. Anyway in a section called "The Lies" we read:
Regarding the War On Terror, on page 5 and 6, Coulter makes the accusations that “[i]n lieu of a military response against terrorists abroad and security precautions at home, liberals wanted to get the whole thing over with and just throw conservatives in jail” and “[l]iberals hate America, they hate ‘flag-wavers,’ they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam (post 9/11). Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.”
Coulter having different political opinions than you does not make her a liar.
Two of the sources Coulter uses to arrive at these scurrilous conclusions are New York Times columns by Frank Rich and Bruce Ackerman. On page 5, Coulter writes, “New York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that [Attorney General] Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.”

REALITY: I checked the column Coulter cited and found that nowhere in the column does Rich even remotely suggest that Ashcroft curtail efforts against Islamic terrorists. In fact, I checked every post-9/11 Times column by Rich and found that Rich has not made any such demands of Ashcroft. This is one of Coulter’s lies that I e-mailed to Alan Colmes who interviewed Coulter last night (6/25/02) on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes show. Colmes confronted Coulter with this. Coulter’s response: “that is an accurate paraphrase...” (For a transcript of Coulter and Colmes’s exchange, check the addendum at the bottom of this post).
ok let's see the addendum
Addendum: Partial transcript of Hannity & Colmes, June 25, 2002. Interview with Ann Coulter

Colmes : [ Quoting from Slander, pg. 5] ‘New York Times columnist Frank Rich demanded that [Attorney General] Ashcroft stop monkeying around with Muslim terrorists and concentrate on anti-abortion extremists.’ You referred to a particular column that Frank Rich wrote. He never said that in the column. He never said that Ashcroft should stop monkeying around. I can’t show you what he didn’t say because he didn’t say it. It wasn’t in the column.

Coulter: Yes, he did. I mean, I do know what the column says. No, I wasn’t quoting him precisely—

Colmes: I read it today.

Coulter: That is an accurate paraphrase—unlike his quotes of me, I might add, which are, I can show you how they are deceptive. But, no, he was specifically saying, here just so the viewers don’t have to go to the trouble of looking it up. He was specifically complaining that Ashcroft was not meeting with the head of Planned Parenthood when he was purporting to investigate terrorism. That is true and you can’t deny it.

Colmes: That’s not what you said—

[Hannity interrupts and begins to interview Coulter]
ok and what's the article say? "Planned Parenthood, which has been on the front lines of anthrax scares for years and has by grim necessity marshaled the medical and security expertise to combat them, has sought a meeting with the attorney general since he took office but has never been granted one."

so, Coulter was right? what's the problem? the article was complaining that Ashcroft didn't meet with planned parenthood when he was supposed to be dealing with terrorism. the article also said, "A close friend of George W. Bush, [Mr. Ridge] should have been in the administration from the get-go, and was widely rumored to be a candidate for various jobs, including the vice presidency. But after being pilloried by the right because he supports abortion rights, he got zilch. Instead of Mr. Ridge, the administration signed on the pro-life John Ashcroft". so the article really did focus on the abortion issue. and for those who don't know, Ashcroft was busy working on stuff like the patriot act. his resignation letter stated, "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

These people seem to consider anything an error if they don't like it and it involves any interpretation they disagree with. They ought to learn the difference between false factual statements and disagreeable (to them) opinion statements.

moving on to another website by the same guy
Now that it's been thoroughly established that Coulter engaged in plagiarism, not only in the book Godless but for her syndicated column
the link to the plagiarism info doesn't work. (there was also a second link but it went to a blog mainpage with no mention of plagiarism to be found)
I can only speculate but here's my hypothesis: Coulter is a mendacious and venal cynic who has no heart. As an educated person, she hardly believes her own bullshit
OK I guess this guy is just a political opponent of Coulter's who isn't doing objective analysis. done with him. let's google for plagiarism though, that sounds interesting.

i laughed out loud when i saw Daily Kos defending Ann Coulter from the plagiarism charges. the Kos article says all Coulter did is use some arguments she didn't come up with herself, which it considers "lazy" but recognizes isn't plagiarism. so it's like when I use arguments that Ayn Rand thought of – does studying Objectivism make me lazy? Kos links to details but the link doesn't work.

the plagiarism accusation was made using software plagiarism checking. this kind of thing needs manual checking. also apparently the accuser didn't release his detailed evidence initially. An executive at Coulter's book publisher said, "The number of words used by our author in these snippets is so minimal that there is no requirement for attribution."

things get more fun as Coulter herself addresses the issue. Coulter says:
You can't plagiarize the name 'George Bush.'
See? Fun issue. I laughed. and even more fun:
And if I'm plagiarizing I want to know who's saying all those awful thing about the Jersey Girls. Liberals can't really get it straight. Either I'm writing vile horrible books or I'm not writing vile horrible books.
...[E]ven liberal lunatic Daily Kos says it's not plagiarism.
lol, similar to my reaction (except the "lunatic" psychiatry part).

discussing libel, Coulter says she won't sue, she's a public figure, people can and do say whatever they want about her. then:
Cavuto, interrupting:

Do you find that a touch ironic? You've blasted public figures all your life. They turn around and blast you and you can't do a lick about it.


I don't lie about them. I mean, we ought to have the same libel law, and I've always believed this, that Britain does and that is pure truth or falsity. Fine, put a cap on damages. Have a pure truth or falsity here but that is not what libel law is. You can say anything about a public figure.
Truth or falsity sounds like a good criterion for libel to me.

And, indeed, Ann does not lie about the people she criticizes. I've fact checked her, plus I did this big post you're reading right now. i've looked through her stuff and what her critics say. (let me spoil the ending for you: her critics are incompetent).

ok let's get back to wading through the less fun stuff.
Misleading quotation and sourcing of claims

Coulter engages in a series of deceptive practices in quoting people and sourcing her claims. Most commonly, she distorts the authorship of articles she's citing. Throughout the book, she attributes outside book reviews, magazine profiles and op-eds to media outlets as if they were staff-written news reports, feeding the perception of bias on the part of these institutions. These include a New York Times Week in Review article by historian Richard Gid Powers cited as "According to the Times..." (p. 6); a Washington Post book review by Patricia Aufderheide described as "the Washington Post said..." (p. 97) and "The Washington Post called..." (p. 98); and a New York Times Magazine article by reporter Leslie Gelb cited as "the New York Times reported..." (p. 171). At one point, she cites a single Washington Post magazine article by journalist Orville Schell four separate ways (implying multiple stories to the casual reader), in one case calling it "a two-part, four-billion-column-inch Washington Post story" in which "the Post said..." (p. 92).
if you want the exact details of a cite, look it up. if someone is lazy, that is their own fault, not Coulter's. you can't expect Coulter to provide every detail about something you might be interested in, upfront. people who don't check cites are going to make mistakes no matter what Coulter does.

and why doesn't Spinsanity, so concerned about cites, give us links to the articles it's talking about?

in general, organizations are responsible for what they publish, so I don't see what's wrong with referring to it that way. Unless it's something like a letter to the editor.

when something like the Times' Week in Review or Magazine shares the website (same domain) and logo (their name in that iconic font) with the Times, they are choosing not to be a clearly separate entity. they should clearly separate their own stuff before demanding Coulter add words to her book about the separation.
Coulter also repeatedly cites quotations out of context from the original source material, implying that reporters reached conclusions that were actually presented by sources quoted in the piece. In one particularly dishonest case, she claims that the New York Times "reminded readers that Reagan was a 'cowboy, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat'" after the invasion of Grenada (p. 179). However, the "cowboy" quote is actually from a Reagan administration official quoted in a Week in Review story who said, ''I suppose our biggest minus from the operation is that there now is a resurgence of the caricature of Ronald Reagan, the cowboy, ready to shoot at the drop of a hat.''
Bringing something up (which the NYT did) does remind people about it. ok two strikes and we'll move on to the next article by the same website.
Yet if readers can leave aside all of these problems (admittedly not an easy task), Coulter is actually driving at something important about the state of political debate in the media. She's right, for example, that left-leaning politicians and editorial pages sometimes mount sophisticated and unfair rhetorical campaigns against their political enemies. The example she chooses -- attacks against former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his policies -- is exactly on point. She also chooses other examples to good effect, such as Rep. Charlie Rangel's equation of Gingrich's policies with those of Nazi Germany. Absurdly, though, she steadfastly refuses to admit that conservatives can be guilty of exactly the same thing -- an asymmetry so glaring that only the most partisan readers can accept it at face value.
Coulter is certainly not shy about criticizing conservatives. Anyway, what problems? apparently she wrote "sweeping judgements":
"Even Islamic terrorists don't hate America like liberals do."
"[T]he left is itching to silence conservatives once and for all."
"[I]f Americans knew what they [liberals] really believed, the public would boil them in oil."
""Principle is nothing to liberals. Winning is everything."
So basically the "problems" are Coulter's political ideas.
Another problem plaguing Slander is the deceptive way Coulter uses footnotes to lend a false sense of legitimacy to questionable points. To take one example, in her discussion of media treatment of former Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., she provides a list of 10 quotes alternating between positive coverage prior to his political demise following allegations of sexual harassment, and negative coverage afterward. Coulter introduces the list with the claim that "What happened to Packwood is a stunning example of the media's power both to destroy and protect ... In the case of Packwood, the media's good dog/bad dog descriptions were applied to the exact same human being."

To the casual reader, the list must seem fairly damning. Yet if one flips to the back of the book and checks her sources, it turns out that her claim about "the media" rests on a very small sample. Rather than the 10 different articles the casual reader would assume Coulter is quoting, she relies on one article for four of the five negative quotes, a second for three of the five positive quotes, and a third for the other two positive quotes. In all, the list comes down to four articles -- thin evidence at best for the broad suggestion that coverage of Packwood proves "[t]here is no intellectual honesty whatsoever in media descriptions of politicians," which she makes two paragraphs later.
OK let me check the book. Coulter writes, "There are literally hundreds of news items using these words in connection with Bob Packwood." What words? "Maverick", "gadfly", "courage" and "political savvy". so why is spinsanity claiming Coulter cherrypicked a couple quotes and misled people about there being more, when she actually explicitly said there were hundreds? Why didn't they quote and investigate the much bigger claim?

I think because it's not an issue they can win, and they are scum. Google for "Bob Packwood" and each of the 4 terms. I got 10k hits for maverick, 6k hits for gadfly, 30k hits for courage, and 300 hits for "political savvy". they aren't all news items, but at a glance i can see some are. there's far more news sources for this than the four articles spinsanity dishonestly pretends is the whole story after dishonestly selectively quoting Coulter.

these guys are mad that Coulter described liberals defending evil with the word "praise". Coulter answered the issue, saying in part, "among the praise for the perpetrators of the hoax hate crime was a statement by the president of Duke in a baccalaureate address reprinted in the Duke magazine". the media matters folks screwed up the link Coulter provided, but i managed to find the article
At your opening convocation in August 1997, I spoke on the theme of freedom -- the kind of freedom you might expect at Duke, and my advice on how to use it wisely. I also told you about some of the things you would need to grapple with, freely and responsibly, during your Duke years. One of those predictions was that race would surely matter in your lives. During your first semester, students hung a black doll in effigy on the quad to protest what they saw as our inhospitable environment for African Americans.
The issue is the black doll in effigy. Media Matters thinks this distorted picture of events (no mention that it was hung by a noose by lying scumbags) isn't praise because it was just saying race was relevant when it whitewashed a very nasty hoax. Media Matters refusing to understand what this kind of statement means does not make Coulter a poor scholar.

Next up, a little variety. I ran into a fact check of an attack on Coulter's scholarship. Read it if you want:

Moving on, this is amusing:
If you can find every single problem with American society and put them into one person, it's [Ann Coulter].
That's from "Rational Wiki". I'm not seeing how opening with this kind of hateful flaming is a rational approach. They don't bother trying to present a serious critical case against Coulter or fact checking her. Mostly they quote a bunch of things she said without comment, as if "rational" thinking means assuming your political views are too obvious to need explaining.
Why Ann Coulter Is a Cunt, Part 1856 - The Plagiarism Edition
You might have expected left-wing Coulter haters to be more sensitive to feminist issues, gender respect, or that kind of stuff. If you did, you were wrong. The left likes to lie about having such values far more than it wants to bother having them. And I already covered the plagiarism issue earlier.

also, speaking of obamacare, some people are mad about this:

first of all, dying from obamacare is different than dying of cancer. umm, sure, i know. also there's a blue shield issue.
But the claim that someone "died from Obamacare" because Blue Shield "completely just pulled out of California" is something we can fact-check.
ok and they do check it:
Like other insurers across California and the country, Blue Shield of California could no longer offer some health insurance plans because they did not include "essential health benefits" required by the Affordable Care Act.

These plans could not be grandfathered in under the new law. Blue Shield of California sent letters to 119,000 customers in September notifying them their current plans would end "but we can still have you covered in 2014." PunditFact obtained a sample cancellation letter from the company.
Sounds complaint-worthy to me.
The letters went to 57 percent of the insurer’s individual market customers, she said. For two-thirds of the people who lost their plan, the recommended option was more expensive, the Los Angeles Times reported.
hmm. since the complaints don't provide enough details about the Blue Shield, let's look up what their organization is like:
In 2006, Blue Shield agreed to a $6.5 million settlement relating to its alleged modifying of the risk tier structure of its individual and family health care plans. In 2008, the organization agreed to a settlement with the California Department of Managed Health Care to resolve allegations of improper rescission of individual health plan coverage. Blue Shield agreed to pay $3 million as a penalty. The organization reinstated coverage to 450 members whose plans had been cancelled and agreed to provide compensation for any medical debts incurred by these policyholders due to the rescission.
wikipedia's source link may be dead, but you can still find the source here:
Two of California's biggest health insurers have agreed to collectively pay $13 million and reinstate more than 2,000 insurance policies to settle claims with the state that they illegally dropped policyholders from coverage.
so Blue Shield has a history of illegally dropping people's insurance. given that history, i think critics need to present a little research about the current events before we should trust Blue Shield.

But politifact basically says no one lost their insurance (but lots of people had their rates raised. but they all had spare money to pay higher rates?) so, ok, at this point do i know what happened? no not really. do Coulter's critics know what happened? i don't think so. if they do, why couldn't they write more convincing material with detailed factual information with good sources? and all this is because maybe Coulter exaggerated a bit when speaking on TV, not in writing? at worst she said Blue Shield pulled out of California over Obamacare when actually they just changed a bunch of stuff around and made things worse for more than a hundred thousand people? if this vague stuff is the best criticism of Coulter that anyone has, i'm not impressed.

finally there's this book, Soulless: Ann Coulter and the Right-Wing Church of Hate by Susan Estrich. ok i can respect that parody title, but let's see what it says. (In these quotes, bolding names of speakers in interviews and italics are from the book, bolding other stuff is my emphasis.)

It says if you want to see all of Coulter's errors documented, go to [p10] but i'd already been there above, and i don't see anything about Coulter on their homepage, and when I do a search on the site for "Ann Coulter" it doesn't come up with some organized documentation of her errors as promised. This book is from 2006, but it's Estrich's own fault for linking a homepage and pretending it was a source of something specific.

Estrich isn't big on specifics:
[Coulter] makes you so angry sometimes that you become a mirror of her. That is her power. That's why people throw pies and nitpick footnotes. [p11]
When I fact checked Coulter footnotes, was I nitpicking? Was it because I hate Coulter? No. Scholarship matters! Well to me at least, not to Estrich.

Estrich is an angry person. It's a pattern:
I had to erase everything I wrote here, I got so mad. Better write nothing, my mother would have said. What can you say to hate? [p9]
And that's just in the first 11 pages. I tried to look for more anger in the index, but there isn't an index.

Estrich's book isn't about fact checking Coulter. It's about arguing with principles. That would be OK but the method is awful:
Social scientists argue, using polling data, that there is no culture war. Ann needs to create one in order to destroy the possibility that a decent progressive majority might triumph over the forces of hate. [p6]
The book has footnotes, but not for that factual claim about polling data. And note the appeal to the authority of "scientists" as an arguing method.

But the important thing is Estrich thinks there's no disagreement, no debate, Coulter is just inventing one. If Coulter would just shut up and stop spreading divisive hate, then America could be a calm, progressive (left-wing) country. Estrich wants to win by a method other than winning the debate.

"progressive" really does mean left-wing to Estrich, btw
[Coulter] asks: What does liberalism believe? (We're supposed to call ourselves progressives, by the way; it polls much better.) [p12]
now back to denying there are significant political disagreements:
What's clear to everyone except Ann is that the president [George W. Bush] has failed. The war in Iraq has failed. [p6]
Estrich claims everyone except Coulter agrees with "decent progressive" politics like that George W. Bush and the Iraq war were failures.

Coulter recognizes that people disagree and argues her case, strongly. I respect that.

Estrich denies that people disagree (except a few extremists like Coulter). Then instead of arguing for her political views, Estrich writes a book attacking an extremist for not having the "decent progressive" views Estrich is sure all the Americans who count would agree with her about.

You think Estrich doesn't really mean it? That she isn't trying to smooth over political debate so everyone can just agree with her? That she isn't trying to be the reasonable moderate most Americans already agree with, to Coulter's divisive extremism?
You look at every poll and what you find is a decent, moderate, tolerant nation, being torn apart by the divisive, polarizing, mean-spirited politics of a selfish few. You find that on the fundamental issues that are supposed to be tearing us apart, we're far more united than you think, and we're being divided for sport. [p2]
Estrich tries to frame things so everyone already agrees with her and there's no need to debate. Instead of debate, she'll just flame Coulter and anyone else who disagrees as a tiny mean-spirited divisive minority. Polarizing people and being divisive is bad – Estrich claims – unless you're attacking people like Coulter (or, I suppose, me).

Coulter is the intellectual here who argues her points. Estrich is the venom-spewing hater. Ironically Estrich keeps talking about Coulter with phrases like "venom [p5]", "rants [p6]", "forces of hate [p6]", "polarizing [p6]", "trades on hate for the fun of it [p2]", "mean-spirited [p2]", "selfish [p2]". Other than that last one, they all apply to Estrich more than to Coulter. (I'm not sure if Estrich has a self. If you don't understand this comment but want to, read The Fountainhead.)

Look at this attack:
... Ann uses God as a gimmick. [...] She admits this. ... [p7]
This is a flame which Estrich doesn't argue. It's just the sort of wordplay Coulter is frequently accused of doing (but actually Coulter has integrity and standards. She does something kind of similar but better). Coulter did not and would not admit to using God as a "gimmick". Coulter would never say that in her own words or agree with it, and didn't. Estrich has no evidence or argument to the contrary. But Estrich is twisting Coulter's position and paraphrasing to create something mean. Then the big problem comes when Estrich attributes her twist to Coulter. If Estrich wants to claim Coulter uses God as a gimmick, whatever, but claiming that Coulter agrees is over the line.

Bigger picture, Estrich hasn't written a serious fact-checking book and wouldn't claim she did. ("What's wrong with Ann, in my judgment, is not that she is sloppier than anybody else in the political world, but that she's meaner... [p11]").

Estrich has written a book of political rhetoric, but her methods begin by claiming she doesn't need to argue her point. She just assumes her reader already agrees with her, and if not then he must be a tiny minority of non-decent non-progressive people like Coulter. Because of this method, I don't have much to say about the book.

I disagree. If you (Estrich) want a rational debate, I'm open to that. Coulter and I accept that you disagree with us and are willing to argue about politics. When you are willing to analyze the issues instead of putting all your effort into saying that's unnecessary, get back to me.

You doubt Estrich means it this way? "... And why drop the last line, if not to fool us progressives? [p13]", "Since we think the Earth is actually precious, we have to protect it. [p13]", "She is turning us into cartoons [p14]". It's all about "the rest of us [p11]" against "Ann". And immediately preceding this assumption that all of her readers agree with her, Estrich accuses Coulter of "talking to her base [p13]".

So we're pretty much done here. I just wanted to show you one more thing about the book.
[From an interview] Lauer: Do you believe everything in this book—do you believe everything in the book, or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?

[Estrich commenting] She really does believe them. This is the amazing but true part. Scary, but true.

Coulter: No, of course I believe everything. [p62]
When I saw this I thought maybe I could respect something about Estrich. Estrich admits Coulter means what she says. Except it turned out it was just a tactic to call Coulter "scary". A little later Estrich contradicts herself:
[This is another interview, and the question is whether the 9/11 widows would give up their celebrity, notoriety and money to have their husbands back. Colmes and Shwartz think it's obvious that the widows would make that trade. Coulter isn't sure and says:]

Coulter: I don't know. I can't read into their hearts. But it isn't as obvious to me as it apparently is to you.

[Estrich comments] How can you say this, Ann? How can anyone say it? Even if it's just for effect, how can you say it? [p76]
Part of Colmes' reply is "You've got to be kidding me. [p76]".

But it's not just for effect, Coulter is not kidding, she believes it. And I for one agree with her about the 9/11 widows.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Coal and Progress are Good

In part 1, we discussed "He said, she said" reporting. In part 2, we did a little philosophical analysis. We asked, "Will burning less coal in power plants save lives?" The key issue for government regulation of coal power is whether it's within the government's proper purpose of protecting people. Read the previous parts first. This is the conclusion.

Coal has fans and haters. Electricity has proponents and opponents. Progress in general can be divisive. Some people see potential, others see new dangers. Some see improvement, others see disruption. The potential, new dangers, improvement and disruption all exist. Many people reply that we have to compromise. But we don't.

Burning less coal not only won't protect people, it would hurt people. It's a huge mistake for the government to push for it.

Philosophy is important here because it's the field which addresses fundamental issues like progress and compromise. Compromise and limiting progress are popular bad philosophy. Those mistakes make it hard to clearly see the value of coal. Bad philosophy helps enable mistakes for specific issues like industrial progress, abortion, emotions, dating and parenting.

Coal is mistakenly seen as a compromise with substantial negatives because everyone expects and seeks out compromises. A compromise is an outcome where some problem wasn't solved; it's a partial solution. People think that's the best you can do. Better philosophy explains how genuine full solutions to life's problems can be possible and should be sought. (If you are interested in more about full solutions, look over my archives or ask here.)

Progress (including industrial and scientific progress) is not a compromise. Progress looks like a compromise because it brings with it new dangers. But people have misunderstood the human condition.

The human condition is one of infinite problems. This is a good thing. It means there is infinite improvement possible, life can always be better. Whenever you make life better, it raises new problems – new opportunities. There is no way to avoid problems. If you do nothing, you will die. If humanity tries to live a "sustainable" lifestyle indefinitely, everyone will die. A meteor or plague may come, or something else. The only defense against the unknown potential problems of the future, like new diseases, is progress. The more progress we make, the more we can increase our general purpose problem solving power, giving us a chance against new problems.

Progress brings new problems, but they were coming anyway. Since that isn't avoidable by any means, it isn't a downside. And it doesn't make life bad, it's part of a good active life.

In broad outline, coal electricity, like other progress, brings massive benefits and some new problems. It has transformed life for the better. If you selectively look at the dangers it has brought (e.g. radioactivity in the smoke created), those may seem scary, and coal can look like a compromise. But if you look in a more broad way, instead of selectively, you can see the massive dangers coal solves (like working yourself to death with manual labor), as well as that new dangers are a part of life whether we use coal or not (so coal isn't really to blame).

Examining specifics, electricity makes life better with features like electric lights, computers, phones, stoves, refrigerators and motors. Electric lights give you more usable time, effectively extending your life. Computers automate tasks, saving time and effectively extending human lives. Phones enable friendships that would otherwise be impossible, making life better. Stoves make cooking safer by not having to burn wood or dung (comparing to coal plants, remember smoke is a lot worse when it's right next to you). Refrigerators reduce food poisoning. Electric motors help with transportation and factories. Factories allow mass production, which allows you to have products cheaply (meaning you work fewer hours, effectively extending your life) which help make your life better – example products include medicines, safe portable foods, tools that let you work more effectively, and luxuries that people value.

The massive benefit to human life is a theme of progress, and should be kept in mind as the main issue. People are too eager to dismissively say, "Sure there are benefits, but why not do it in moderation? Let's look at the downsides." Selectively focusing on the downsides of progress, while glossing over the upsides of progress and the downsides of non-progress, results in a biased non-objective understanding of reality.

People are worried the oceans might rise. Some lowland areas may flood. So what? That's way better than dying of cholera like people did before industrial progress. If it were a compromise, it'd be a great deal. But why compromise? Thanks to having an industrial civilization, we are powerful enough to solve problems like increasing temperatures or rising ocean levels. We can build walls, fans, or air conditioning. We can put mirrors in space or moisture in the atmosphere to reflect light. We have a lot of options.

The problems from industrial progress are speculative potential problems. It wasn't long ago that we were warned about global cooling due to industrial progress. But even if they are right, an industrial civilization is so much more able to solve arbitrary problems than a non-industrial civilization. Problems are always a concern, and technologies like coal power plants give us much better ways to solve them, including ways unthinkable to a pre-industrial civilization.

By attacking coal power, the Obama administration is making a huge mistake. Rather than protect people, it's endangering the future. Rather than try to solve the problems associated with coal, Obama wants to avoid them. But there is no such thing as a problem-free technology. Coal alternatives have plenty of problems too.

When should we switch? When other technologies work better. The government, which ruined the cleanest power industry – nuclear – needs to stop micromanaging. People will buy stuff with no coal involved on their own when it's the best option for their lives. Instead, taxpayers work to better their lives and the government takes a cut and uses it to subsidize technologies that can't stand on their own, because the Obama administration thinks its smarter than the rest of us. Obama wants to control people rather than protect people.

(This post has some ideas inspired by the book The Beginning of Infinity. I recommend reading it.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Cato Institute

Cato tweeted a graph from their Human Progress project:

This graph is dishonest lying with statistics in several ways.

On the left, the numbers go from 200 to 800. These are millions of chinese people living in some definition of poverty. What happened to 0? They designed the graph so the change goes from above the top to bellow the bottom. A more accurate graph would show numbers from 0 up to China's population size (now around 1.35 billion). Cato cut off around 40% of the numbers on the left to make the graph look bigger, and leaving out 0 is a well known dirty trick.

On the right, it's even worse. The right side shows some kind of economic freedom number, from 1 to 10. But they numbered their graph from 0 to 6. They made the bottom actually go lower than is possible with their own metric. Why? To make the change from around 4.75 to 6 look way bigger than it is and to have it reach the top of the graph. A 6 out of 10 should not be at the very top of the graph! And the graph shouldn't go down to 0 when dealing with something that can only start at 1.

The graph title also suggests the graph has to do with economic freedom for the whole world by using the phrase "Economic Freedom of the World", but the graph is only about China (I think, going by how the two lines are both labelled as being for China only).

Overall, Cato is trying to show economic freedom going up and poverty going down. Eyeballing it, it looks to me like poverty went down more than economic freedom went up, using these metrics. Rather than discuss how correlated they are, or try to explain the right way to think about the issue, Cato created a grossly dishonest graph to mislead people. Cato is prioritizing shiny publicity over truth.

I also made a better chart so you can compare. For the data points, I eyeballed them from Cato's chart (not all of them, that's why it's smoother). Don't it super seriously as a fact about the world, I just wanted to see how it looked with the left and right axes fixed.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

NYT Praises War

The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth

Not enough broken windows lately, The New York Times reports some supposed economists saying. Sort of. They claim what they mean is that people get fat and lazy during peace, and the threat of war keeps everyone on their toes better.

Maybe we should start using the death penalty on people who don't produce over $20,000 of wealth per year in order to better motivate them. What do you think?

Explanations of how destruction results in economic harm are easily available. (I suggest Economics in One Lesson.) Advocating war for its own sake, and own intrinsic benefits, is disgusting. The only legitimate purpose of war or other uses of force should be defense (including indirect defense).

These people are advocating death and destruction – literally – because of their half-baked theorizing. They don't think about human suffering, or how the equivalent of whipping people to motivate them might not work well in reality. It's ivory tower "intellectuals" at their worst.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The New York Times Lying with Statistics

Tim Cook, Making Apple His Own from The New York Times:
By comparison, Microsoft says that, on average, it donates $2 million a day in software to nonprofits, and its employees have donated over $1 billion, inclusive of the corporate match, since 1983. In the last two years, Apple employees have donated $50 million, including the match.
The dishonest implication here is the Microsoft employees donate over 20 times as much money to charity, compared with Apple employees. Over $1 billion compared with $50 million. But the time periods compared are 31 years against 2 years. The per-year figures here (in millions) are over $32m/year for Microsoft against $25m/year for Apple, a much smaller difference.

A more meaningful comparison would compare the same time periods. It would also consider the number of employees of each company as well as their salaries. That would have made for better reporting.

The New York Times presents Microsoft's employee culture as being over 1900% more charitable than Apple's, but their own figures make the correct statistic 29%. By comparing absolute numbers from different time periods, they misled their audience by a factor of 65 in terms of the percent difference.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Ari Armstrong
The fact that the Bible advocates the murder of homosexuals (as well as the murder of “witches,” of those who worship other gods, of blasphemers, of children who “curse” their parents, of adulterers, and of non-virgins whose husbands hate them—among others) indicates that the Bible, far from being a guidebook for morality, is largely an absurd book of mindless and evil prohibitions and commandments rooted in nothing more than ancient superstitions.
In the original, six of those claims about the Bible saying to murder people are linked with sources. One is non-virgins:

What the Bible actually says is she needs to be a virgin when they marry. If a man hates his wife and accuses her of shameful things and says she wasn't a virgin when they married, then she is to be stoned. (Unless it was a false accusation and she actually was a virgin when they married, in which case the man is fined and has to keep her as a wife. I'm unclear on how it's to be decided whether she was a virgin or not using a garment.)

Armstrong said if a women is hated by her husband and a non-virgin (now), then the Bible advocates her murder. But the Bible actually only advocates her murder if her husband hates her and she was a non-virgin when they got married. The difference is her husband's taking of her virginity doesn't count against her.

After finding this scholarship error, I decided to check the other four claims using Armstrong's own links. The witches, children cursing parents, blasphemers, and adultery ones are accurate. The worshipping other gods one is wrong.

This Bible passage is saying if a family member or friend tries to "secretly" "entice" you to "serve other gods", then don't do it and kill him. So it's specifically about people who worship other gods and try to convert you. Armstrong misrepresented it.

To be clear, in none of these cases do I agree with the Biblical position.

Two misrepresentations of the Bible out of six references is a really bad error rate (33%). And this is basic stuff. Did Armstrong click on the links he gave, and read them? I'm not even sure. I don't think Armstrong should tell people they "must discard" a Bible he misrepresents and misunderstands.

Armstrong claims to offer Objectivism as a rational alternative to the Bible. But bad scholarship is irrational. Reason demands using methods of scholarship that are good at avoiding error and finding the truth. Armstrong linked this on twitter. I've tweeted him back informing him of the problem, and will update my post if he fixes his mistakes.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Alex Epstein Scholarship Problem

Alex Epstein wrote:
In the US, 30 years ago the average household had 3 electronic devices—today it has 25, overwhelmingly thanks to fossil fuels.
For a source, he linked this youtube video from "Alphanr" (Alpha Natural Resources). It's titled "Did You Know" and has no description. It's 89 seconds long and packed full of factual claims including the one Epstein asserted, but lacks sources. It ends with a link to their website. Searching for "Did You Know" on the site to try to find extra details results in an error. Their site says, "Alpha is a leading global coal company and the world’s third largest metallurgical coal supplier". I doubt they have expertise at surveying household electronic device usage.

Sourcing your assertion to someone else's unsourced assertion isn't scholarship. It's how lies spread.

I've investigated this topic. Several studies have been done about electronic device usage in U.S. households. However, none of them would be acceptable sources. All the ones I found have a large methodological error. For example:
Of the 37 CE [Consumer Electronic] devices surveyed, the average U.S. household owns 24, the same number as last year, and spent $961 on consumer electronics over the past 12 months, down more than $200 from last year. The average adult individually reports spending $552 on CE in the past 12 months, down $100.
They are surveying how many devices U.S. households have from a list of 37 devices. That list is incomplete. The number of devices from the list that a household has is different than the number of consumer electronic devices the household has.

There is an additional problem here. When the surveys use a specific list of devices, they change it over time. Today we would expect smartphones to be on the list. Thirty years ago, they would not have been. Changing the list of which devices count means the surveys from different years are not comparable because they measure different lists.

When you pretend what's being measured is "(consumer) electronic devices", then it would make sense to compare studies from different years, because they appear to measure the same thing. But really one survey is about list A and another survey from another year is about list B, and calling the two lists by the same name doesn't make them the same thing. Epstein's comparison between the present and thirty years ago, using two different surveys of two different things, is a mistake.

I informed Epstein of these scholarship errors and he did not fix them. He should not repeat unsourced claims from Youtube that are presumably based on misusing the readily available invalid research. The truth matters.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Applying Philosophy to Politics

In part 1, we took a look at some "He said, she said" reporting. (Read that first.) It was poor reporting because it didn't do any research into which claims are true, nor did it suggest the reader investigate. It left people to simply listen to the claims of whoever fits their political affiliation. It's not a rational approach to listen to and believe the unargued, uninvestigated claims of Democrats if you're a Democrat, or of Republicans if you're a Republican. But Fox News didn't aim for anything better.

Correctly understanding a political issue like power plant emissions regulations requires philosophical background knowledge. Most political pundits do not have this knowledge and therefore do their jobs incompetently.

A good example of philosophical background knowledge is an understanding of the role of government in society. Without a concept of what the purpose of government regulations is, and when and why they should (and shouldn't) be created, the issue cannot be rationally evaluated.

This raises a tricky issue. Everyone has philosophical ideas. They are not avoidable. Political commentators do have ideas about the proper role of government. The problem is they don't treat their ideas about the proper role of government as a major issue to talk about. So the topic doesn't get an appropriate critical examination. Unexamined (and sometimes even unstated) philosophical ideas are no substitute for ones which are stated clearly, critically considered, and integrated into one's explanations.

I know where my philosophical ideas come from. I know which authors I'm agreeing with, and why. I know the history of ideas I've accepted. I know what the competing philosophical claims are, who advocated them, their history, and why I disagree. This is what it means to take a serious philosophical approach, as opposed to just having some philosophy you picked up somewhere and don't think about much. Everyone should do this, especially people involved in intellectual pursuits like politics. Most people do not do this. (I don't know every detail of everything. But I know a lot about this stuff, especially for issues I write about.)

The proper role of government in society is to protect its citizens from force. That is my philosophical position. Arguing for it in full would take a long time, and I don't want to go into that right now. I want to illustrate how to use this philosophical position to sort through political claims. Fortunately, arguments on this topic have already been written down. If you're interested, you can read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand, especially "The Nature of Government". Atlas Shrugged also helps explain. If you read those two books and still have any questions or arguments, contact me and I'll be happy to talk about the issue more.

Now let's look at some of those political claims:
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
At face value, it's hard to tell who is right. I don't know the details of these proposed power plant regulations, and I doubt you do either. Different prestigious groups are making directly contradictory claims. At least one group must be mistaken. Many people would decide which group is mistaken by political affiliation, but that method is incapable of figuring out the truth.

However, this issue is easy to evaluate using an understanding of the role of government. The key issue here is not whether it will create or destroy jobs. The key issue is not whether it will cut bills or cost billions. A more fundamental issue is whether the government is acting according to its proper role.

Creating jobs is not the role of the government. The free market should take care of that. The government is like a giant bureaucratic company with 20 levels of management, except way bigger and with less accountability. The government is huge, heavy-handed and clumsy. I don't mean that as an attack on the government, merely facts (for details, see the books mentioned earlier). That is OK. The government doesn't have to be agile and efficient. It has a particularly hard job to do; as long as it does that job decently then that's good enough. It should not try to do everything well, it should stick to its purpose.

Given this perspective, we can ignore a lot of claims being made. Given that its government action designed to hinder companies from making the choices they think are economically best, I would expect it to do economic damage (that's another philosophical issue, though I've just mentioned it briefly and don't have space to explain today). However, that isn't the point. The government should not be in the business of creating or destroying jobs, raising or lowering bills, or otherwise trying to control the economy. The government should stick to protecting people against force.

The only defense of a regulation is that it protects people against force. The Obama administration does mention this by saying, "save thousands of lives". Saving lives is a legitimate purpose of government. The political commentary should focus on whether the regulation will or will not protect people. (This is complicated because doing economic harm does cost lives in the big picture, e.g. by leaving less wealth left over that can be used for medical research. As emotionally awkward as it may be, saving specific lives in the short term does not have unlimited value.)

So, key issue: Will burning less coal in power plants save lives? Will it protect people? No. (And neither side of the political debate is focusing on arguing this key issue.)

Coal power plants provide electricity which saves lives. Coal-based electricity helps people better control their lives and environment (for example, air conditioning saves lives during heat waves), and do less back-breaking manual labor. It dramatically improves quality of life. Reducing access to electricity does not protect people, it hurts people, so the government shouldn't do it. In part 3, I elaborate more on this view of electricity, and the related philosophy.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Attitudes to Criticism

in the social popularity game, criticism is a negative.

in the truth-seeking game, criticism is a positive.

you can get an idea of which game people are playing by their reactions to criticism.

if someone wants public praise and private criticism, they may be trying to play both games. but the games contradict, and the contradiction will destroy them.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (17)

ARI's False Statistics

What could your share of the national debt buy? The Ayn Rand Institute says 5558 iPhones.

ARI is using $199.99 as the price of an iPhone (16gb 5s). That is not what iPhones cost. They cost $199 (not $199.99) when you sign a contract agreeing to pay more money later. "Bill Me Later" type plans are not lower prices. The actual price is $649, meaning you could buy 1712 iPhones for your share of the national debt. (Which is still a ton, so why fudge the numbers?)

ARI's purpose is to complain about the large US national debt. By pointing out how big it is in concrete terms like 49 cars per American, they hope to help people understand it better. Campaigning for smaller government is a good cause. It should have the truth on its side. But using bullshit stats ruins that. Please don't taint good causes with irresponsibly sloppy, false claims.

In a competition with only true claims allowed, ideas like capitalism, liberalism, science and reason can win. In a competition of who can tell the most appealing lies, true ideas lose their inherent advantage. If you want to help promote the truth, stick to rational competitions only. Don't sanction irrational truth-ignoring competitions based around the most shocking headlines, popularity, social status, etc...

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

"He said, she said" Reporting

Obama to announce controversial emissions limit on power plants. Coal-state lawmakers rally against power plant emissions crackdown. Fox News' prominent reporting of this major issue, unfortunately, falls short.

"The Environmental Protection Agency will ask existing plants to cut pollution by 30 percent by 2030". Major changes to power plants is a big deal, which could affect our use of power and the economy. But Fox News reports on it poorly. (In fairness, I don't think their major competitors do better.)

The first problem is visible in the headlines. Obama's attack on the free market is not objectionable only to people living in coal-states. It will hurt everyone. Fox News incorrectly treats opposition to Big Government as a special interest group issue only affecting the particular market segment under attack. (It's an "attack" because it's ultimately backed by government guns if disobeyed.)

It may be true that Coal-state lawmakers are rallying. However, plenty of other people are concerned too. By framing the issue in terms of a single biased group, Fox News discredits the opposition to Obama's expansion of government regulation.

Obama claims his policies will benefit everyone. "We don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children". He's lying and we all know it. His policies will at least be bad for the coal industry. He's trying to sacrifice some to benefit others. Fox News reinforces Obama's approach by giving the more realistic claims Obama doesn't want to personally admit to. Fox News is helping spread the idea that there is a conflict between the coal special interest group, and everyone else, and that Obama's policies could sacrifice a few to benefit the many.

Fox News fails to point out that this is not an issue of favored or disfavored groups. We aren't dealing with a special interest group. Coal accounted for 39% of US electricity production in 2013. We all need power, and coal is providing power to the country. Without coal, there would be a massive electricity shortfall and we would all suffer.

There are bigger problems with Fox News' reporting than shoddy thinking that plays into Obama's storytelling. Fox News presents the issue as a "he said, she said" debate. This treats which side you take as arbitrary (or perhaps chosen by class interest). It leaves readers confused, without knowing how to objectively evaluate the issue. Treating issues in this way always helps the people who do not have the truth on their side.

Fox News reports:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the rule will kill jobs and close power plants across the country.

The group is releasing a study that finds the rule will result in the loss of 224,000 jobs every year through 2030 and impose $50 billion in annual costs.
[Obama said] “As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”
Among the plants that have to comply will be hundreds of coal-burning plants, which has resulted in strong opposition from the energy industry, big business and congressional Democrats and Republicans, who argue Obama’s green-energy agenda is tantamount to a “War on Coal.”
Coal-state lawmakers, accusing President Obama of using a back door to impose strict emissions limits on power plants, are rallying to slam that door shut -- claiming the plan would cost jobs and jack up electric bills.
(Note again the implications that opposition to this regulation is biased by being part of the energy industry or big business.)
"We have a moral obligation to act," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, in announcing the plan Monday morning.
"We will introduce bipartisan legislation that will prevent these disastrous new rules from wreaking havoc on our economy in West Virginia," Rahall said in a statement.
On Saturday, Obama tried to bolster public support for the new rule by arguing that carbon-dioxide emissions are a national health crisis -- beyond hurting the economy and causing global warming.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, called it a "dagger in the heart of the American middle class" -- and predicted higher power costs and less reliable energy as a result.
The Obama administration claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.
Can you tell what's true from these contradictory assertions? I can't. It's a mess. Fox News simply lets people claim whatever they want, and then repeats it if they're prestigious enough. Fox News should investigate the issues and provide some useful research or context to help readers understand the actual facts.

By presenting a "he said, she said" debate and implying that respected Americans take sides according to bias, Fox News is doing a disservice to the truth.

Imagine for a moment, hypothetically, that the claims on one side of this issue are largely true, and the claims on the other side are largely false. That'd be important, right? And useful writing on the topic would help readers learn about that and make intelligent judgments. And when Fox News discourages rationally considering the issues, and promotes acting on bias, then it would be betraying the side which is speaking the truth, and aiding the side which is in the wrong.

Instead, Fox News repeats assertions without investigating whether they are true. It even does this with factual assertions, which is inexcusable. And if Fox News doesn't want to take sides or do research, it could at least hint that maybe its readers should. Does Fox News have no respect for the human mind?

This is not just the fault of Fox News. Everyone quoted could have made better statements. No one is attempting to guide the public to use rational thinking methods to find the truth of this issue. No one is bringing up the key philosophical issues which allow a person to correctly work out arguments like this. In part 2, Applying Philosophy to Politics, I use philosophical methods to sort out the confusing mess of competing claims. In part 3, I discuss philosophy, progress and coal.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Duet (iOS) Finesse

Want to get an amazing score in the hit iPhone and iPad game Duet by Kumobius? (View on the App Store.) I can help. I love the game and have played a ton. I wasn't very good when I started, I've died thousands of times, but I'm now one of the best players (there's hope for everyone!). I am tied for first place in the competitive Total Finesse category. That puts me ahead of 409,613 other players as I first write this.

I'm also tied for first in Revolution and Quickening Finesse, and I have untied first place for Resilience Finesse (edit: FYI my current Resilience Finesse score of 36 is a bug, my real score is 50). I also have every achievement except for completing 100 daily challenges.

Finesse is the number of touches you use to complete the levels. The fewer the better. When you replay any level, it counts the touches you use in the top left corner, so you can see how you're doing. If beat the level when the counter hits 0, without getting into red territory, then you have perfected the level and a small green triangle appears for that level on the level selection screen.

Perfecting every level is a good start. But how do you get a really world class score? The secret is some levels can be completed with a better than perfect score. But how do you find them? It's a lot of work, but I'm going to help you out. Here is a list of all my better than perfect levels and the number of touches possible to save. This took a lot of work to create, which you won't have to do. Use my list and you can save time by not carefully analyzing levels where the "perfect" score really is the best possible. (But analyzing the levels is fun, so it's up to you!)

Denial VI +2
Anger IV +1
Bargaining III +1
Bargaining IV +1
Bargaining V +1
Bargaining VI +1
Hope I +1 (Thanks AWPrince)
Hope III +2
Hope IV +4 (Had +3, several people told me +4, thanks)
Hope V +1 (Thanks Adrian Ensan)
Acceptance IV +1
Acceptance VI +1
Acceptance VIII +1
Acceptance IX +1

If you get every level perfect and then match these scores for better than perfect results, you will achieve a total finesse score of 384, pass hundreds of thousands of other players and reach the very tip top of the leaderboard.

Epilogue Finesse:

July 31, 2014 brought Duet version 2.0 with 48 new Epilogue levels with their own finesse leaderboard. I scored 311 right after release which was first place by a large lead. Want to see me learning the game for the first time? I've got videos with commentary:

Epilogue patch day part 1 video
Epilogue patch day part 2 video
(Two parts because Windows crashed.)

My current score is 260. I was the first player to get every level perfect, which I did in under 24 hours from release.

Here are the Epilogue Finesse tricks found so far:

Trust VI +1 (Thanks Keiran)
Control VI +1 (Thanks Keiran)
Initiative V +1 (Thanks Keiran. VERY HARD)
Identity VI +1 (Thanks Keiran. left-touch-death, spin through first arrow)
Intimacy VII + 1 (Thanks Adrian Ensan)
Intimacy VIII +2 (Thanks Keiran for the +2)
Intimacy IX +2
Integrity III +1 (2 spike tricks then very hard spin around block and end at glide through 5th spike angle. VERY HARD)
Integrity IV +3 (left-touch-death, see below)
Integrity V +2 (Thanks Keiran for the +2)
Integrity VI +1
Integrity VII +2 (Thanks Keiran for the +2)
Integrity XI +1 (perfect angle can go between last 4 squares)

Duet's Three Positionings: To do all the tricks you have to understand a bug in the game. When you die, you will start the level in a slightly different position depending on whether you were holding left, right, or nothing. When you first enter a level, you will begin with right-death positioning. The slight change in positioning changes which tricks are possible. The change is visible if you watch the animation very closely at the end of the rewind after a death. It's easier to see with a left-death. With a right-death, there is a tiny stutter that's barely visible.

Some levels require you intentionally die while holding the right direction before you can do all the finesse tricks. Note that you have to do this on every other life, because the effect only controls your next life.

The best level to test the death positioning physics on is Revolution 1. If you do a left-death, you can then do two right edge spinners with one touch on your next life. If you do a right-death, you can then do two left edge spinners with one touch on your next life.

This bug was very hard to find and understand, but is easy to use. Try to appreciate the work that went into it, lol. Although a specific death is only required on a couple levels, it makes a number of other levels a little bit easier. If you're having trouble with any level, try right and left touch deaths and see if either one helps. For example, I believe Integrity III might be easier with a right-touch death.

Videos: I also made some videos to show tricks:

Understanding II Perfect Finesse Video
Integrity VII Finesse Trick Video
Integrity VIII Finesse Trick Video

If you get everything perfect, you'll score 279 finesse. Add these tricks to reach 260 Epilogue Finesse.

And here's a general tip: for the two moving small dots, or the two spike pieces that move together or apart, you can go through infinitely many in a row in one touch, if they are all lined up at the same angle. If they are straight up-and-down vertical, you just have to place your top ball at around 1:30 or 10:30 on the clock and then don't move. This works even if you get both different types of small dots (the ones that are together or apart when you pass them).

The concept of how to get the right angle before these blocks, and then go through them without moving, is really important for getting good finesse on the early levels which introduce those types of blocks. It's also needed on more complicated levels. But just to get started and do early levels, you need to know this!

My endless score is currently 29,100 (in the top 25). Practice, practice, practice!

Secret Bonus Level: Did you know Duet has a secret level? It's called "Transcendence S", and it's like a cross between Transcendence and Quickening. It's hard, but tons of fun. To play Transcendence S, beat Transcendence III without dying. (If you die, you can exit out of the level and restart it.)

To further help your Duet leaderboard aspirations, I've also decided to share my scores and notes about the other finesse categories. This will help you understand what a good score on each level is, where you can improve, and the odds of getting really good level layouts on the randomized levels. All of the B-side levels are randomized except for Resilience III. The numbers in parentheses are the number of touches the level considers "perfect", and a +6 would mean I saved 6 touches better than "perfect".

revolution score: 14, untied first place
revolution 1 ( 7) +3 (cannot improve)
revolution 2 ( 7) +3 (cannot improve)
revolution 3 (13) +7 (cannot improve. note +7 requires estimated 1/359 odds layout)

The trick to Revolution is to do two spinners at a time with one touch. This requires both spinners to go the same direction. Think of direction as which thumb you press to spin around it. If both spinners use the same thumb, then they are the same direction, and you can do two of them with one spin. This is easiest when both spinners are in the middle. If one spinner is in the middle and one on the edge, it still works but the timing is more exact. If both spinners are on the edge, then it's impossible to do those two spinners together with one touch.

Edit: Getting above +0 on revolution 1 requires using a bug. See the information above about killing yourself while holding left or right.

quickening part 1 score: 3, first place
quickening 1 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 2 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 3 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening part 2 score: 3, first place
quickening 4 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 5 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
quickening 6 (7) +6 (cannot improve)
Note: Estimated 1/50 chance for 1 touch quickening layouts
Edit: Adrian Ensan pointed out that you might be able to get a level with all middle blocks for some quickenings and get a 0 touch (+7) result.

I recommend playing through all the quickening levels in a row until you have the no death achievement, don't die very often, and get several one-touch levels completed. Doing it that way is fun and good practice. Then to finish things up at the end, you can play individual levels and reset the moment you're forced to use a second touch.

resilience score: 50
resilience 1 (25) +13 (good score, better is possible)
resilience 2 (35) +20 (good score, better is possible)
resilience 3 (25) +2 (This non-random level was formerly "Acceptance VI" in older versions of Duet, and was the hardest A-side level which blocked many players from finishing the game)

transcendence score: 14
transcendence 1 (12) +11 (cannot improve)
transcendence 2 (25) +21 (good score, better is possible)
transcendence 3 (50) +41 (good score, better is possible)

Do you know somewhere to save finesse that I missed? Do you have a better score than me in anything Duet related? Got any good strategies? Post in the comments below.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (50)

Anti-Israel Bias at Hacker News

Paul Graham created the social news website Hacker News, associated it with his well-known Silicon Valley startup Y Combinator (which is hosting President Obama in May), and ran it until recently. It works similarly to reddit, so you would expect democratic content determined by its users. What most people don't know is how much behind-the-scenes moderators are controlling the stories. They were recently caught penalizing a story on SpaceX merely because a space launch didn't seem like a "major story" to them, and they routinely edit the titles of front page stories.

Covert moderator slant on a user-run news site is a problem. But I want to talk about something more serious. Graham is a political ideologue, and Hacker News is used to present a slanted perspective on Israel and Jewish issues, while claiming neutrality. When it comes to Israel, rather than enforce the site rules, a disturbing double standard is applied.

Israel is a free, democratic country, and a key U.S. ally. It made the desert bloom, turning a wasteland into a modern civilization. Israel is a humane, tolerant country and has Arab members of its government. It has a free press, productive industry, and contributes to scientific progress. Israel provides a home to millions of Jews, who were persecuted in most other countries around the globe. Now some anti-Semites hide under the guise of only being anti-Israel.

Israeli culture values life, while many of its enemies don't. Despite – or perhaps because of – these virtues, Israel has been under attack for pretty much its entire history. It has been violently attacked by Arab states and terrorists, and it has come under political attack from many Western countries which have a history of persecuting Jews. Israel has repeatedly faced existential threats, and survived. In this context, bias against Israel is particularly unwarranted, dangerous, sad and important.

Paul Graham

Let's begin with some background on Graham. His personal website has a revealing 2004 essay. Graham shows us his political leanings by comparing Winston Churchill's speeches to a German "purge". And in the full context of the essay, he is actually setting up Churchill's political opponents as brave Galileos, with Churchill as the Inquisition.
The word "defeatist" ... in Germany in 1917 ... was a weapon, used by Ludendorff in a purge ... At the start of World War II it was used extensively by Churchill and his supporters to silence their opponents. In 1940, any argument against Churchill's aggressive policy was "defeatist". Was it right or wrong? Ideally, no one got far enough to ask that. (emphasis added)
In 1940, Germany was waging an aggressive war in which it conquered a large chunk of Europe and then started bombing Britain. In this context, Graham thinks Churchill was too aggressive, while London was under attack. Now that you have a sense of what kind of political ideologue Graham is, and what sort of essay he wrote, let's examine what it says about Israel:
I admit it seems cowardly to keep quiet. When I read ... that pro-Israel groups are "compiling dossiers" on those who speak out against Israeli human rights abuses ... part of me wants to say, "All right, you bastards, bring it on." The problem is, there are so many things you can't say. If you said them all you'd have no time left for your real work. You'd have to turn into Noam Chomsky.
Graham is misquoting from this article. It reads:
No school has announced plans to divest from Israel, but leaders of the [academic divestment-from-Israel] campaign are seeking to ratchet up the pressure, and plan to plot strategy at the University of Michigan in mid-October.

Supporters of Israel in academia have been organizing as well. The Middle East Forum, a non-profit organization led by several scholars and writers, this week began compiling "dossiers" on professors who criticize Israel and offer "biased" views about the Middle East, Islam, and foreign policy issues.
Graham, in a rejection of scholarship, removed the quotes around "dossiers". Worse, he misrepresented the article and cited it out of context. The article was saying how anti-Israel academics have an organized campaign going on, and some supporters of Israel are organizing as well. Their defense of Israel includes gathering information about biased professors, which isn't sinister. The article isn't, as Graham would have us believe, saying something bad about "pro-Israel groups".

What does Graham think of defenders of Israel? They are "bastards" who he implies are trying to silence their opponents with underhanded tactics that his own source doesn't back up. And in the full context of his essay, Graham has compared professors who oppose divesting from Israel to the Inquisition.

Now you know who Graham is. But what hidden role do his political views play on Hacker News?

Banning Dissent

While running Hacker News, Graham enforced the rules in a selective manner and banned dissent. The most stunning example occurred when the anti-Israel article Propaganda war: trusting what we see? by Paul Reynolds was posted. Reynolds himself received hundreds of emails regarding his inflammatory political article. The article is inappropriate for Hacker News, which has the following policy:
The focus of Hacker News is going to be anything that good hackers would find interesting ... anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

It may be easier to say what that doesn't include. It doesn't include most stories about politics ... Basically, if they'd cover it on TV news, it's off-topic.
Reynolds' political article is something that would be covered on TV news, not something to gratify intellectual curiosity. Recognizing that it was inappropriate for Hacker News, user qqq wrote, "No politics. No anti-semitism. Go away. Flagged." (Disclosure: qqq is Elliot Temple.) Graham replied, 'Following the sentence "no politics" with one equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is a bit hypocritical. It does show why stories that intersect with politics are dangerous though; the topic seems to bring out the most irrational in people.' After implying that qqq is irrational, later that day Paul Graham banned qqq from Hacker News without giving any further reason.

Graham was saying the article merely contains criticism of Israel, and was appropriate for Hacker News, even though it blatantly violated the site guidelines. This shows how Hacker News works: off-topic political articles are allowed when they have the right slant but (as we'll see below) are buried when they don't. The selective enforcement of rules creates a biased environment. Graham doesn't keep his political positions separate from Hacker News.

Anti-Israel or Anti-Semitic?

Does Reynolds' article contain anti-Semitism, as qqq said, or is it merely legitimate criticism of Israel as Graham claimed?

Reynolds calls Israeli public relations "propaganda". That is a strong term. You don't normally see it used when discussing the public relations of others countries like USA, France or Japan. When Israel is attacked in a way other countries aren't, that is a vicious double standard, not reasoned criticism. Now let's look over a condensed version of the article, quoting key parts:
Israel released video of an air attack on 28 December, which appeared to show rockets being loaded onto a lorry. The truck and those close to it were then destroyed by a missile.

a 55-year-old Gaza resident named Ahmed Sanur ... claimed that the truck was his and that he and members of his family and his workers were moving oxygen cylinders from his workshop.

Mr Sanur said that eight people, one of them his son, had been killed. He subsequently told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "These were not Hamas, they were our children... They were not Grad missiles.".

The Israeli response was that the "materiel" was being taken from a site that had stored weapons.

But the incident shows how an apparently definitive piece of video can turn into something much more doubtful.

It is reminiscent of an event in the Nato war against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. In that case, a video taken from the air seemed to show a military convoy which was then attacked.

On the ground however it was discovered that the "trucks" were in fact tractors towing cartloads of civilian refugees, many of whom were killed.

Whether Israel retains any propaganda initiative is not all certain. Pictures of dead and wounded children have undermined its claim to pinpoint accuracy...
Take note of the methods Reynolds uses.

Statements of the free, accountable and democratic Israeli government are held up against the claims of the unknown and unaccountable Ahmed Sanur. Is that a fair comparison? Should those be given equal credence? Would other governments have their statements treated as equally credible to the unsubstantiated story of a hostile foreigner? No, this is a double standard.

Notice how the unsubstantiated claim that Israel killed "children" is echoed later in the article. But has Reynolds determined that Israel killed the children in the unspecified pictures? Or has Reynolds analyzed whether Israeli military actions are justified due to necessary self-defense? No. He's taken events out of the context of ongoing terrorist actions against Israel in order to demonize Israel as child-killer.

Another tactic Reynolds uses is, rather than accusing Israel of murdering civilians, he reminisces about a different unsourced incident. Then he describes "cartloads of civilian refugees" being killed. How do you argue with someone who is just reminiscing? The point isn't to present critical arguments, it's to paint a picture which blows the incident out of proportion.

The thinker Natan Sharansky has published a 3D test for judging anti-Semitism. The three Ds are demonization, double standards, and delegitimization. It only takes one to qualify for anti-Semitism; Reynolds' article fits two. "[W]hen Israel's actions are blown out of all sensible proportion", that is demonization. "When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out", that is a double standard.

For more information about these issues, I recommend starting with The Israel Double Standard by Victor Davis Hanson. In it he argues: "The prejudice against Israel in diplomatic matters is as troubling as more crude bigotry against Jews."

So, Reynolds' argument meets criteria for anti-Semitism. But Graham sided with it, claiming it was merely legitimate "criticism of Israel". Despite it violating site guidelines, he kept it on the site. He even banned a user for dissenting. This demonstrates how Graham's anti-Israel views guide Hacker News moderation and create bias.

Continuing Legacy

Several weeks ago, Graham put Daniel Gackle in charge of Hacker News. Gackle is following in Graham's footsteps. He promptly buried a USA Today article reporting on anti-Semitism.

Gackle explained, "The story is (a) off-topic, (b) designed for outrage, (c) if it isn't propaganda, would require careful sourcing to show it—something that HN is the wrong place for." When an article has the wrong politics, it's promptly moderated as off-topic.

Two days later Gackle's integrity was tested. The political article, Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States? from The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was posted. Gackle refused to take any action against it, even though it met the same criteria he'd said justified "killing" the USA Today article.

The Bulletin's article was (a) an off-topic political article. It was (b) designed for outrage, as you can see from the title accusing Israel of stealing. And, (c) it would require better sourcing. As I explain below, The Bulletin isn't a reputable source. Unfortunately, Gackle moderates with the same double standard as Graham, selectively burying articles with political views he doesn't like, while keeping articles he agrees with.

Gackle ignored a prompt email explaining the problem in time to act. During the six hours the article was on the front page, he wrote in detail about some minor downvoting issues, proving he was available to moderate. When pressed about the issue, he admitted two days later that he had made an intentional decision as head moderator. Gackle then told the user who raised the issue to stop sending emails. He expressed his unwillingness to consider facts or arguments which contradict him about Israel.

Gackle also emailed, "I see no double standard or even any particular connection between the two stories", ignoring the explanation he'd received. He added that the USA Today story "was a sensational article about an ongoing political battle" and "obviously off-topic". But an article accusing Israel of stealing is also sensational, political, and off-topic. So why doesn't Gackle see any double standard?

In defense of The Bulletin's article, Gackle simply called it "a fairly substantive historical piece". That was after he had already been informed that The Bulletin publishes extreme anti-Semitic revisionist history:
First, Israel cannot be said to face an existential threat when, in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts that have occurred since World War II, Israel has almost always been the aggressor.
This kind of historical lie goes far beyond mere criticism of Israel or a factual error. (Israel has not been the aggressor in its wars. For the real history, read this or any reputable source.) It's so far away from substantive historical analysis that it boggles the mind. But Gackle closed his eyes to his role in spreading this kind of anti-Semitic material. Like Graham before him, Gackle lets his political views guide his moderator actions, and applies a vicious double standard when it comes to Israel.

I call on Hacker News to make immediate changes. Instead of working behind the scenes to promote political biases, take responsibility for creating a fair and neutral forum. Or at least admit how the site works, instead of trying to mislead readers. Israel deserves better treatment.

Update: (2015-10-16) The people behind the scenes at Hacker News now hand pick stories they want on the front page. It's not a user-generated voting-controlled news site. But it pretends to be one and tries to look like one. It's deeply dishonest.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Anti-Semitism at Hacker News

EDIT: I wrote a new more detailed article about this.

Paul Graham created the social news website Hacker News (HN), associated it with his company Y Combinator, and ran it until recently. Graham's website contains anti-Israel material. Graham also compares Winston Churchill's speeches to a German "purge". As head HN moderator, Graham banned the user qqq for referring to an inflammatory, off-topic anti-semitic article as "anti-semitism" and suggesting it shouldn't be on a non-political technology news site. The article stayed on HN; anti-semitism, Graham (username pg) believes, is merely legitimate "criticism of Israel".

The article, by Paul Reynolds, applies double standards to Israel, such as calling their public relations "propaganda", when the same public relations by the USA would not be called "propaganda". Reynolds also questions whatever Israel's accountable, democratic government says, while promoting the unsubstantiated claims of a random, unaccountable Palestinian. That is an evidential double standard. Double standards like this are not merely "criticism of Israel", they are anti-semitism.

Reynolds posted updates admitting it was an inflammatory political article that caused outrage. Reynolds acknowledged and commented on the accusation that he was siding with the anti-semitic terrorist organization Hamas. To his slight credit, Reynolds considered it par-for-the-course that his article – which took some similar positions to Hamas – could draw serious complaints, so he spoke to the issue. Graham, on the other hand, has more extreme views than Reynolds and won't admit there's any controversy. Graham banned a user for a criticism that even Reynolds would find understandable, thus trying to silence any defense of Israel on HN.

The new head moderator of HN, Daniel Gackle (username dang), is following in Graham's footsteps. He took moderator action against a recent USA Today article reporting on anti-semitism. Then he applied a double standard by refusing to take action against an anti-Israel article meeting the same criteria which he had said justified burying the other article.

Gackle ignored a prompt email explaining the problem in time to act. At the same time, he replied at great length to some minor comments about downvoting, proving he was available to moderate. When pressed about the issue, Gackle admitted two days later that he had made an intentional decision as HN's head moderator. Gackle told the user who raised the issue to stop sending emails; Gackle is unwilling to consider facts or arguments which contradict him about Israel.

How bad is it? Gackle's best defense was to claim the anti-Israel article was a "fairly substantive historical piece". But we are talking about a site which Gackle had already been informed publishes extreme anti-semitic revisionist history like this:
First, Israel cannot be said to face an existential threat when, in the many Arab-Israeli conflicts that have occurred since World War II, Israel has almost always been the aggressor.
Gackle closed his eyes to his role in spreading this kind of material. HN moderation has a clear bias. It's fair to call it anti-semitism.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (16)

Philosophy - Fill In The Blanks

My answers to some philosophical prompts (try answering the prompts yourself in the comments below!):

Initiative means... It's important because...

Living life. Doing things instead of doing an impersonation of a rock.

Personal, individual responsibility is... It's good because...

Living life. Doing things for yourself instead of doing an impersonation of a rock.

Taking responsibility for your life means recognizing that other people won't solve your problems for you, and taking initiative to solve them yourself.

Taking responsibility also means choosing to control your own life. (You cannot be responsible for things you do not control.) That requires initiative rather than passively letting things happen – you have to actually do stuff to have any control.

Living irresponsibly-passively means letting external stuff control you, like memes, people ("authorities" or not), or even the weather (e.g. a passive person outside could live in the sun and die in the snow, the weather chooses).

One thing a responsible person does is never evade. He deals with things. Evading is irresponsible because it leaves you with no control over the evaded issue.

Criticism is... It has the following benefits...

A criticism is an explanation of a flaw an idea has. Identifying and understanding flaws makes it a lot easier to fix them (to figure out how to change your ideas to no longer have those flaws).

Persuasion is... It is good because...

Persuasion is about suggesting an idea that someone prefers over some idea(s) they already had. It's straightforwardly good if someone changes ideas to ones that they judge to be better.

Persuasion does not require multiple people. It can be self-persuasion. Persuasion, including self- and external, is how rational learning works.

Fallibility is... It is important to understand because...

People commonly make mistakes, so it's important to use methods of doing things which can identify and correct mistakes that occur along the way, rather than relying on everything going perfectly.

Learning and knowledge...

Want something? Prefer anything? What you need is knowledge. (Learning is getting knowledge.)

Learn how to get what you want. Learn how to meet your preference or goal. If you know how, you'll succeed.

The only exception is if you want something impossible or immoral. In those cases, learning is still the best approach. You can learn that it's impossible or immoral (and why), learn what a better preference/goal/want would be (and why), and learn how to change your mind to have that better preference/goal/want instead with zero hesitation or regrets.

Have any doubts about this? Any questions? The answers are all learnable knowledge. You can learn whether your doubts or correct or not and what's best to do about them. You can learn answers to questions (or learn that a question has no answer, perhaps because it's self-contradictory or nonsense, in which case you can learn how to make better questions, what related questions you'd want answers to instead, etc)

All of this is pure awesome with no drawbacks. It's the right way to live.

Reason has to do with correcting errors. What I mean is...

Rationality is commonly confused with being right. Actually, it's about how one takes into account the possibility of being wrong. Rationality is ability to find and correct errors. It's about being able to make changes going forward.

Without rationality, it doesn't matter how great one is today; long term one is screwed without change, because all people are only at the beginning of infinity. There's still unlimited progress, change and greatness ahead. However great you are today, if you don't change, you will be passed. (That you might die before this issue has maximum effect is not exactly comforting.)

Authority is... It is bad because...

Authority is the enemy of all of the above, especially life.

Following authority means not living on your own initiative. Following authority means not taking responsibility for your life and controlling it, but rather letting the authority be the primary responsible party making choices and controlling outcomes. (One would still be responsible for the choice to follow authority, thus allowing for plenty of moral guilt, but not much else.)

Authority isn't rational. It doesn't control things by having the best most persuasive ideas that have been exposed to lots of criticism in order to figure out the best ideas. It's not about learning, it's not designed for each person to control his life using his judgment and knowledge.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)