Credentialed Intellectuals Support Misquoting

Summary: I criticize David Thorstad's reply to me regarding his citation errors. I summarize his supporters' credentials as evidence about problems with academia, think tanks, and the world’s current thought leaders. There's a serious problem with scholarship standards, including misquoting, among credentialed intellectuals.


In Criticizing "Against the singularity hypothesis", I criticized the content of David Thorstad's paper. In Checking Citations from David Thorstad, I criticized quoting and citation errors in the same paper. Thorstad tweeted replies about the quoting and citation issues but didn't reply to the criticisms of his ideas.

For context, Thorstad has a philosophy PhD from Harvard and works at an Oxford think tank (source). The main reason I’m writing this is because I think it reveals a lot about what kind of world and intellectual climate we live in.

The reason I wrote about Thorstad initially was because I let people at the Effective Altruism forum submit literature (that they liked a lot) to me for criticism. I checked three quotations and their citations from the paper partly because some people at the Effective Altruism forum denied that misquotes were a widespread or common problem.

Thorstad’s Tweets

Thorstad wrote four initial tweets in a row, plus one tweet replying to a supporter.

"Is Thorstad just one bad thinker" because ... I made two typos and said one word people don't like. Seriously?

This is a misquote. It suggests that I called Thorstad a bad thinker because of three criticisms which are mischaracterized (straw manned) as two typos and a disliked word.

Here’s what I actually wrote:

Is Thorstad just one bad thinker, while most intellectuals do better? Should we blame Thorstad personally? I don’t think so. Based on doing this kind of thing many times, I think Thorstad’s mistakes are pretty normal. There’s a widespread problem related to intellectual culture and norms. The attitudes of many people need to change, not the actions of a few.

Reading Thorstad, if you figured out that I was writing a question (which isn’t very clear), you’d think my answer to the question was yes. But it wasn’t. My answer was no. I said Thorstad is not “just one bad thinker”, but Thorstad is misleading his audience to believe that I claimed Thorstad is just one bad thinker.

Thorstad misquoted my article that pointed out his misquoting problem, and this misquote substantially changed the meaning of what I said. What I was actually saying is that Thorstad’s errors are representative and illustrative of what many other scholars are like. I was denying that the problem is Thorstad personally.

I also didn’t accuse Thorstad of making two typos and saying one disliked word. That’s an egregious mischaracterization. I accused him of making three errors related to quotes and citations. I didn’t say any of the errors were typos and I didn’t think any of the errors could be explained away as merely typos.

The disliked word comment is vague but I think Thorstad means that the paper noted something, but he said they “lamented” it. As the lead in to a quote, that misrepresented the meaning of the quote. The people Thorstad was talking about expressed themselves using a neutral word. Thorstad misrepresented their neutral writing as highly negative. Thorstad is welcome to form his own opinion, but not to speak for others and abuse quotations to mislead readers about what they said.

Back to quoting Thorstad tweets:

Correction, one mistake. The year on Good isn't wrong:

Here, Thorstad is reiterating his error about the year that Good’s paper was published. It was 1965, but Thorstad mistakenly cited it as 1966. (This is one of the errors he mischaracterized as a typo earlier. But if he’d merely made a typo, he wouldn’t still be defending 1966 as the correct year.)

Instead of learning from my correction, Thorstad has refused to change his mind. He still thinks it’s 1966. Why? He found a modern source that says 1966 and cherrypicked that information. It looks like he really wanted to be right and get me back for accusing him of making errors, so instead of doing unbiased research to find the truth, he just found the first thing he could that backed him up and then he claimed he was right all along. (Or maybe, rather than it being bias, he just doesn’t know how to do effective research on an issue like this.) I don’t think he noticed the text “Copyright © 1965” on the page he linked, which is a hint that 1966 might be an error.

It’s contradictory to, at the same time, claim it’s not a big deal but also be defensive enough to incorrectly claim your error was actually true. If it doesn’t matter, why go find some false information to try to defend yourself with?

How can we settle this issue definitively? Previously I linked a scan of an old reprint showing the date 1965. I thought that was convincing but apparently Thorstad didn’t. I didn’t expect this point to actually be disputed or I would have given more evidence. It’s pretty easy to do a better job of looking it up now that there’s a dispute.

The Internet Archive scanned the original document. It says 1965 on the title page.

It’s one thing to make a factual mistake. It’s much worse to refuse a correction and reiterate the mistake. Even if the original mistake wasn’t a big deal, Thorstad’s reaction to it matters.

Wait a moment ... my "typo" was correcting a grammar error someone else made and not writing [sic] like a jerk!?

What is “typo” a quote of? If it’s me, it’s a misquote. If it’s of himself in his earlier tweet where he wrote “typos”, that’s odd and unclear. It seems like he’s saying that I accused him of making a typo, and using quote marks, but I didn’t say that.

This writing is ambiguous. By “and not” does Thorstad mean “without” or “instead of”?

If Thorstad means “without”, then he’s wrong. You use [sic] when you don’t make edits to fix typos, not when you do.

If Thorstad means “instead of”, then he’s presenting a false alternative. He could have made the correction using square brackets or he could have given the exact quote without writing [sic]. Those were both reasonable alternatives. His choices weren’t just using [sic] or stealth editing a quote.

Also, writing [sic] is fine and doesn’t make one a jerk. [sic] is a scholarly tool used as part of literal, accurate quoting. Having a negative attitude towards using [sic] shows a bad attitude towards quotation literalness and accuracy.

Thorstad seems to be implying/confessing that he edited the quote intentionally. He’s denying it was a typo, or in other words denying it was an accident. I believe intentionally editing quotes (without using one of the few allowed exceptions or properly indicating the edit) is an ethics violation that is against the honor codes at many universities. I actually think the written rules about quotes and cites are often reasonable. The existence of those rules is then sometimes used to deny there’s a problem with intellectual culture. Surely whatever the rules say to do is what most people do, right? Sadly, no. Systemic reform is needed so that most intellectuals actually want to follow those rules and value them instead of considering them overly pedantic.

I didn’t think it was just an accidental typo. I thought it was due to some sort of bad attitude or other problem with Thorstad’s ideas. Thorstad has confirmed that I was right.

@curi42. Sad face.

I appreciate that Thorstad tagged me. Without a notification, I wouldn’t have seen these tweets.

I don’t appreciate the “Sad face” comment, which I read as unserious and mean. There are many similar comments – in terms of both style and content – in the replies to Thorstad.

As context for Thorstad’s fifth tweet, Dan Carey replied to Thorstad:

Odd for them to be so nit-picky about citations. This is from their criticism of your piece. Arn't all of these ideas addressed explicitly in Bloom et al (2020) which u cite in their quote of u right above?

I’ve left out an uncropped phone screenshot showing mostly the Error One section of my Criticizing "Against the singularity hypothesis”. Thorstad wrote back agreeing with Carey:

I know, right? I cite my sources like a normal person

Calling me an abnormal person is a social insult. One of its purposes is to pressure me to increase my conformity. Instead of arguing that his way of using citations is good or criticizing my way, Thorstad instead calls his way normal. But calling something normal isn’t a rational argument that it’s good. And I already said Thorstad is normal in my article! He doesn’t seem to comprehend that I’m criticizing something I consider normal instead of trying to fit in and be normal myself.

My article made statements like “I think Thorstad’s mistakes are pretty normal”. My point was that there’s a widespread problem with intellectual culture, not a problem with Thorstad individually. I was saying that what’s currently normal is problematic and should be reformed. In that context, Thorstad asserted something is normal and assumed that makes it good, which is the logical fallacy called begging the question (which basically means assuming a conclusion about one of the points currently under debate, like you don’t understand that it’s being disputed).

Carey’s and Thorstad’s claim is factually false. My points in that section are not “all” addressed “explicitly” in Bloom et al (hereafter just Bloom). I’ll give one example. I said “The healthcare industry, as well as science in general (see e.g. the replication crisis), are really broken”. I text searched the Bloom paper for “crisis” and “replic” but found no discussion of the replication crisis to address my argument. I also skimmed but didn’t see it covered.

Also, even if Bloom had “explicitly” addressed “all” my points – which they didn’t – there was no way to know that from Thorstad’s writing. Thorstad cited Bloom as one of three sources for the claim “As low-hanging fruit is plucked, good ideas become harder to find”. Thorstad provided no information about Bloom addressing specific counter-arguments to a claim (about healthcare research productivity) that Thorstad brought up in a later paragraph with a different citation. In general, you need to repeat a citation each time you use it for a different purpose or else give some kind of explanatory comments.

The Credentials of Thorstad’s Audience

Intellectuals commonly tweet with their real names and state their credentials and employer in their public profiles. I want to review their credentials to show what kind of people make or side with scholarship errors. I’m leaving out their names and refutations of what they said, but if any of them wants to debate me, I can elaborate.

First I’ll share credentials of people who wrote reply tweets. None of their tweets were significantly better than Thorstad’s tweets that I analyzed above. They generally seemed similar to Thorstad although some were worse.

There’s a PhD student at the philosophy department of the London School of Economics (which was founded by Karl Popper), a grantmaker in global priorities research and international policy at Longview who has a philosophy PhD from Rutgers, an assistant professor of philosophy at University of Sheffield who is a fellow-in-residence at a Harvard center, a Ph.D. student at Pardee RAND, an associate professor at University of Pennsylvania, an employee at OpenAI and a PhD student at Oxford.

Second, here are some credentials from people who clicked the like button on Thorstad’s tweets. There’s a Harvard medical doctor PhD student, a University of Minnesota philosophy professor, an executive research coordinator at Rethink Priorities, a philosophy professor who wrote a book, a professor of mathematical statistics, two AGI safety researchers, a philosopher working at Rutgers with a PhD from Ohio State, a philosopher of science at University of Groningen, and a philosopher with a PhD from Cambridge. There’s also a philosopher at University of Bristol, whose name I recognize because he wrote a Bayesian textbook that I’ve looked at. I was trying to find a book explaining Bayesian epistemology premises and reasoning in a way I could engage in debate with, but it wasn’t suitable.

(I gathered these credentials a few months ago. Some could have changed before publication.)

Thorstad Reinforced My Point

Thorstad and the people who replied to his tweets reinforced my point (and they seem unaware of this). My point was that many scholars are OK with misquoting, which is an example of how intellectual culture in general is broken and should be reformed. The people tweeting all seem to think misquoting isn’t a big deal, and that people (like me) who consider it a big deal should be shunned. So they are examples for my claim.

The typical response I get when I criticize misquoting in general is being ignored or being told that everyone already agrees with me that misquotes are bad so there’s no point in talking about it. But the typical responses I get when I criticize specific examples of misquoting are hatred, denials that misquotes matter, etc. I’ve written various things about this including Misquoting and Scholarship Norms at EA and EA Misquoting Discussion Summary.

Rather than say his mistakes were accidents, Thorstad reiterated them. He didn’t retract his inaccurate “lamented” paraphrase. He repeated his false claim that 1966 was the true publication year. He ignored the issue that he changed the type of quotation marks used within a quote. And he implied that he edited the Chalmers quote on purpose, not as an accidental typo, because he thinks that correctly using [sic] makes one a jerk. Thorstad also agreed with a commenter falsely claiming that Bloom had answered all my arguments about a particular issue already.

Who has bad attitudes to scholarship including low standards for quotation accuracy? A lot of the problem is PhD students and people who already have PhDs. These tweeters and the people who like the tweets are (not exclusively) a bunch of graduate students, professors and think tank employees. Many of them went to or work at good universities. Thorstad got his PhD at Harvard and works at Oxford.

In articles like Ignoring “Small” Errors, EA Should Raise Its Standards and “Small” Errors, Frauds and Violences, I explained my view that dismissing errors as “small” can result in large problems like incorrect conclusions. In general, you can’t actually judge which errors are large or important until after you find solutions. In retrospect, you can see how much work they were to solve and how much difference the solution makes. But before you understand the issue, you don’t know how big a deal it is.

Also, I don’t think all small or picky points matter. I say an error is a reason an idea will fail for a goal (that someone involved has). I just think some particular errors, like misquotes, matter to goals like having productive discussions. Lots of “little” errors in discussions add up to the current, widespread problem of most discussions becoming inconclusive messes. I think higher standards for some fairly objective issues like quotation and citation accuracy (as well as logic, reading comprehension, factual accuracy and using arguments instead of insults) is relatively easily achievable and would actually help a lot.

I’m aware that some people will respond to this article by thinking I’m even more unreasonably pedantic than they thought before. I wrote this anyway because I disagree and I think I’m commenting on some important, widespread social-intellectual problems that are making society, philosophy and science worse.


I wrote about how misquotes and citation errors are a widespread problem. The response – primarily from credentialed intellectuals – was basically to mock me for caring about details like those. In other words, people agreed with my position that many intellectuals, like them, think inaccurate quotes and citations are OK. Credentialed intellectuals aren’t even close to as rational as the general public views them as. This is one of the factors making it really difficult to have productive discussions about intellectual issues.

While it may be tempting for many academics (who aren’t Thorstad’s Twitter buddies) to place the blame on Thorstad, I believe it’s a widespread issue and Thorstad is merely a typical example. I’ve seen similar attitudes in many other places, and I’ve failed to find better attitudes anywhere. If you know of a group with better attitudes, please tell me.

Do you disagree? I’m open to organized, serious debate following explicit methods and aimed at reaching conclusions. See my debate policy.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Thiamin, Vitamins and Derrick Lonsdale

I’m reading Why I Left Orthodox Medicine: Healing for the 21st Century (1994) by Derrick Lonsdale (you may be able to legally get a free ebook here). I’ve finished chapter 5. So far I think it’s really good and think that the author is a reasonable thinker. I’m impressed.

Lonsdale had high quality, mainstream medical training and work experience. He became disliked by most of his colleagues after he had some experiences treating patients, and did research in the library, which led him to believe nutrition (primarily vitamins and minerals) could improve many medical problems. Many of his own patients recovered after he gave them nutrients.

The most important tool he used is thiamin (vitamin B1, also spelled “thiamine”). It’s crucial to energy metabolism, which is in turn crucial to many things in the body. Thiamin is also important for the automatic functions of the brain (like controlling heart rate). Thiamin may help with fatigue, diabetes, heart issues, dysautonomia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Megadoses of vitamins (much more than the typical amount in a healthy diet) are often important for recovery and are sometimes helpful in the long term.

Many people, due to genetics and sometimes other factors, need more than the typical amount of some vitamins, which can lead to deficiencies. Diet can also lead to deficiencies.

Many vitamins and minerals are essential, which means basically that if you eat none of them for too long you will definitely die. I think our maximum storage capacity for B vitamins tends to be less than we’d need for a month, while some other fat-soluble vitamins may be stored in larger amounts.

The US government has recommendations on how much to eat of different vitamins and minerals. These are called RDAs. The RDA for thiamin was set too low. Most Americans would get less than the low RDA of thiamin without fortification. Fortification is adding vitamins and minerals to foods. Fortification varies by country, but in America vitamins B1, B2 and B3 are added to flour while vitamins A and D are added to milk. Even with the thiamin added to flour, many Americans only eat a little more than the low RDA of thiamin. The result is that many Americans probably have mild thiamin deficiency, which may be causing a large number of health problems nationwide.

Also, RDA’s are designed to be enough for 97-98% of healthy adults. That’s the goal. If they succeed at that goal, then a few percent of people following the government guidelines will be harmed – and possibly never figure out the cause of their troubles. And there are RDAs for 14 vitamins and 15 minerals. If one’s need for each nutrient were independent, then approximately half of people eating the RDA amounts would be deficient in at least one nutrient. I don’t think nutrient needs are independent, but I don’t know how correlated they are. So somewhere between 2% and 50% of people would be harmed by RDAs, by design, if they were set correctly and followed exactly. It’s hard to say how many people need more than the RDA of at least one nutrient (assuming unrealistically that all RDAs were set correctly), but maybe 10% is a reasonable very rough estimate.

And nutrient needs vary by your circumstances. They aren’t just innate facts about a person that are affected by only a few factors like genetic mutations, age, gender and pregnancy. Your thiamin needs increase when you eat more carbs (carbohydrates) because thiamin is used for processing carbs into energy. Consuming alcohol, coffee or tea increases your thiamin needs. You also need more thiamin when your metabolism runs faster, which is part of how our bodies react to many stressors including exercise, mild illnesses and vaccinations.

Mainstream doctors have missed this problem because they look for thiamin deficiency in terms of old descriptions of beriberi, from poor, malnourished people, but it presents differently and less blatantly in well-fed Americans. Beriberi is one of the three most well known or important nutrient deficiency diseases, along with scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and pellagra (niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency). You may be most familiar with scurvy, so you can think of beriberi as somewhat similar but with a different vitamin. It too was discovered partly in the context of sailors with limited diets, as well as in the context of Japanese people switching from brown to white rice as they became more wealthy (the brown rice hull contains B vitamins).

Note: Some of what I’m saying is partially based on other sources, like Hiding in Plain Sight: Modern Thiamine Deficiency (academic paper by Marrs and Lonsdale) and Beriberi: The Great Imitator (article for lay people, by Lonsdale).

Our body uses a lot of chemical reactions which require a lot of pretty precise factors for them to work correctly. Lonsdale says medicine has neglected our biochemistry to focus on infections (e.g. bacteria, viruses, fungi) and structural defects. He says medicine incorrectly has a “kill the enemy” mindset with little consideration of helping support the body to heal itself.

Lonsdale also discusses how the medical field is a social hierarchy with few people actually trying to discover new things, and the innovators are often resisted and punished. If Lonsdale is right, then most doctors are follower-type people who mostly just do customary/mainstream treatments, and most of the medical leaders and researchers (the people that most doctors are following the lead of) are irrational.

Why I Left Orthodox Medicine: Healing for the 21st Century is somewhat autobiographical and gives many examples of how resistant other doctors were to using vitamins and minerals. They would consider vitamins to be quackery, and refuse to even try it, even though the vitamins were cheap and harmless. While Lonsdale cured many people with vitamins, his peers often refused to even try vitamins on patients with similar conditions, despite the low cost and low risk. And the people in authority broadly weren’t willing to debate the matter and actually consider what Lonsdale was saying; they were dismissive.

I guess a lot of people reading this should consider taking a B-complex vitamin supplement (a multivitamin containing all eight B vitamins) and megadose thiamin. (If you take a regular multivitamin, it already contains the B vitamins, so a B complex isn’t needed. Regular multivitamins have some downsides but they are OK, easy and cheap.) I know some more about this but I don’t actually want to give out detailed diet and nutrition advice, so do your own research. Here’s one additional research lead: High-Dose Thiamine (HDT) Therapy For Parkinson's Disease.

Disclaimer: I’m a philosopher, not a medical professional, and this is not medical advice. I take absolutely no responsibility for your health outcomes. Many factual statements in this post are based on Lonsdale’s claims without additional fact checking by me.

I’d be interested in criticism, counter-arguments and fact checking related to Lonsdale or thiamin. If these ideas are incorrect, I’d like to know. You can post on my forum or email me.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Big Picture Reasons People Give Up on Learning Philosophy

Why might people give up on learning philosophy or learning to be a great (critical) thinker?

I think maybe no one has ever quit my community while making rapid progress.

Maybe people only quit when they get fully stuck or progress gets too slow.

How/why do they get stuck?

People are very resistant to doing easy/childish/basic stuff. They want to do complex stuff which they think is more interesting, less boring, more impressive, more important, etc. When they do harder and more complicated stuff, I regard it as skipping steps/prerequisites which leads directly to an overwhelmingly high error rate. They may experience their high error rate as e.g. me having 10 criticisms for each of their posts, which they can't deal with so they might blame the messenger, me. They may be blind to their high error rate because they don't understand what they're doing enough to spot or understand the errors (due to the missing prerequisites, skipped steps) or because they have low standards (they're used to being partially confused and calling that success and moving on – that's how they have dealt with everything complicated since age 5).

People may be disorganized. If you successfully do many tiny projects which don't skip steps, that will only translate into substantive progress if you are following some plan/path towards more advanced stuff and/or you integrate multiple smaller things into more complex stuff.

People may have some hangup/bias and be unwilling to question/reconsider some particular idea.

People are often very hostile to meta discussion. This prevents a lot of problem solving, like doing workarounds. Like if they are biased about X, you could have a meta discussion about how to make progress in a way that avoids dealing with X. It’s completely reasonable to claim “You may be biased about X. I think you are. If you are and we ignore it and assume you aren’t, that could make you stuck. So let’s come up with a plan that works if you are biased about X and also works if you aren’t biased about X.” In other words, we disagree about something (whether you’re biased or wrong about X) and can’t easily agree, so we can come up with a plan that works regardless of who is right about the disagreement. People have trouble treating some of their knowledge as unreliable when it feels reliable to them. Their subconscious intuitions treat it as reliable, and they are bad at temporarily turning those off (in a selective way for just X) or relying on conscious thought processes for dealing with this specific thing. They’re also bad at quickly (and potentially temporarily) retraining their subconscious intuitions.

More broadly if there is any impasse in a discussion, you could meta-discuss a way to proceed productively that avoids assuming a conclusion about the impasse, but people tend to be unwilling to engage in that sort of (meta) problem solving. You can keep going productively in discussions, despite disagreements, if you are willing to come up with neutral plans for continuing that can get a good result regardless of who was right about the disagreement. But people usually won’t do that kind of meta planning and seem unwilling to take seriously that they might be wrong unless you actually convince them that they are wrong. They just want to debate the issue directly, and if that gets stuck, then there’s no way to make progress because they won’t do the meta technique. Or if they will do a meta level, they probably won’t do 5 meta levels to get past 5 disagreements (even with no nesting – just 5 separate, independent disagreements, which is easier than nested disagreements), so you’ll get stuck later.

The two big themes here are people get stuck because they try to build advanced knowledge on an inadequate foundation and they don’t want to work on the foundation. And they have issues with problem solving and get stuck on problems and won’t meta discuss the problems (talking about the problem itself, rather than continuing the original discussion).

Lots of this stuff happens alone. Like biased people might get stuck because they’re biased. And even if they realize they might be wrong or biased about a specific thing, they can still get stuck similar to if I pointed out a potential error or bias.

One pattern I’ve seen is people make progress at first, and then the first time they run into a problem that they get stuck on for a week, they never solve it. That can lead to quitting pretty quickly or sometimes many months later if they keep trying other stuff. When trying other stuff, they will occasionally run into another problem they don’t solve, so the list of unsolved problems grows. They made initial progress by solving problems they found easy (ones their intuitions were good at or whatever), but unless they can solve problems they find hard, they are screwed in the long run.

Regarding going back to less complex stuff to improve knowledge quality, sometimes people try that but run into a few problems. One, they go back to a lot more basic than they’re used to and still make tons of errors and they don’t want to go back way further. Two, they do some basic stuff but are not able to connect it to the more advanced stuff and use it – they aren’t organized enough, don’t integrate enough, do conscious review but don’t change their subconscious, or don’t understand the chain of connections from the basic stuff to the advanced stuff well enough.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

[Product] [Screencast] Elliot Reads Critical Fallibilism Forum, 2023-03-08

I recorded myself catching up on CF forum posts and put it up for sale. Find details on the product page:

I wanted to let everyone know: Future small products might only be announced on my forum, not here. I'm also not going to add this to but you can find it on my gumroad store page and follow me there for notifications.

Big products will be announced as a CF post and/or here, in addition to on my forum. (I'm not planning any big products soon. I want to make better free essays explaining CF first.)

I recommend anyone interested in my stuff sign up to receive emails at the CF site. If you want more than that, here's a page with forum posts by me that you can bookmark. My posts include topics linking to all my CF and curi blog posts and YouTube videos, which is done with an automated system, so it's a way to find everything in one place if you aren't using an RSS reader. Creating a forum topic for each thing also gives people a space to comment on it and discuss it.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Visible and Hidden Problems

Some problems are easier to see than others. If you look for problems, there are some that are pretty easy to find, and some that are hard to find. Some problems are so easy to find that you’ll find them without even looking for problems. Other problems are so hard to find that you could fail to find them after a lifetime of searching.

There are often many related problems. Having no money is a problem that’s easy to notice. But it’s not the whole story. What’s the cause or underlying issue? Maybe it’s because you disliked the jobs you tried and spend most of your time intentionally unemployed. That’s not very hidden either. Why do you dislike those jobs? Maybe you didn’t like being bossed around to do things that you consider unwise. Maybe you didn’t like being bossed around because you’d rather boss others around. Maybe you’re lazy. There are lots of potential problems here.

There can be many, many layers of problems, and the deeper layers are often harder to analyze, so the problems there are more hidden.

Hard to find problems can be impactful. People often see negative consequences in their lives but don’t understand enough about what is causing those consequences.

Like maybe you don’t have many friends and you want more. But you keep not really getting along with people. But you don’t know much about what’s going wrong. Or you might think you know what the problems are, but be wrong – it’s actually mainly something else you never thought of. People often try to solve the wrong problem.

One problem solving strategy people have is to find all the most visible, easy-to-find problems they can and solve them.

This is like going around and cutting off the tips of icebergs. You have these problem-icebergs and you get rid of the visible part and leave the hidden part as a trap. That actually makes things worse and will lead to more boats crashing because now the icebergs are still there but are harder to see. (Actually I’m guessing if you cut the tip of the iceberg then off the rest would float up a little higher and become visible. But pretend it wouldn’t.)

Your visible problems are your guide to where your hidden problems are. They’re not a perfect, reliable or complete guide. But they give pretty good hints. Lots of your invisible problems are related to your visible problems. If you get rid of the visible problems and then start looking for more problems, it’ll be hard to find anything. You basically went around and destroyed most of your evidence about what invisible problems you have.

What should you do instead?

Don’t rush to make changes. Do investigations and post mortems when you identify problems. Look for related problems. Take your time and try to understand root causes more deeply.

Once you have a deeper understanding of the situation, you can try to come up with the right high-power solutions that will solve many related problems at once.

If you target a solution at one problem, you’re likely to fix it in a parochial, unprincipled way – put a band-aid on it.

If you figure out ten problems including some that were harder to see, and you come up with ten solutions, then each of the solutions is likely to be superficial.

But if you figure out ten problems and come up with one solution to address all ten at once, then that solution has high leverage. There’s some conceptual reasoning for how it works. It involves a good explanation. It has wider reach or applicability. It’s more principled or general purpose.

So, not only will this solution solve ten problems at once, it will probably solve twenty more you didn’t know about. It works on some whole categories of problems, not just one or a few specific problems. So it’ll also solve many similar problems that you didn’t even realize you had.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Nonfinite Verbs

I’m going to explain nonfinite verbs because I’ve been unable to find a good conceptual explanation for them that I could refer people to. They’re very common in English and they come up frequently when analyzing text in detail (as philosophers sometimes do).

This is an intermediate level article. You should already be familiar with gerunds, participles and infinitives, and have done some grammar practice involving them. Otherwise start with English Language, Analysis & Grammar and my Text Analysis video playlist.

My main goal here is to explain some concepts that will help people who already have a learning process underway. I skip some steps like giving examples of typical non-finite verbs.

A complete, independent thought in English requires a verb, subject and tense. The verb is the action of the sentence. The subject is the actor. The tense tells us about the timing of the action. There’s often an object, which is the thing acted on. And there are often modifiers which provide additional details.

Conjunctions allow us to put multiple thoughts in one sentence. Without something to combine thoughts together, we express one complete thought per sentence.

Besides action verbs, there are linking verbs. They link two things together. For example, in “The ball is red.” the linking verb “is” links “ball” with “red”. Linking verbs can be thought of like a “being” action. For the rest of this article, I’ll talk about verbs as involving action, without differentiating links. (English has lots of special cases. The rules aren’t 100% consistent. Anything in this article may have exceptions.)

When a verb is used for a complete thought, it’s called a “finite” verb because its possibilities are limited to that specific thought. It’s a regular, normal verb.

We can also use verbs for incomplete thoughts. These are called “nonfinite” verbs. In terms of the roles words have in a sentence, nonfinite verbs function as a noun or modifier. Although they have some characteristics of verbs, they don’t perform the verb role and can’t be used to replace a (finite) verb.

Nonfinite verbs let us reuse the concepts from verbs for other speech. They let us get more use of the words we have instead of having to invent more words.

Being Specific

Verbs are the starting points of sentences and thoughts. They play a leading, governing role. So let’s look at a verb by itself.

“throw” isn’t a complete thought. (Unless it’s a command that’s telling you to throw in the present, so there’s an implied subject.)

We can make “throw” more specific and complete by adding details.

“throw the ball” tells us what should be thrown.

“throw over there” tells us where to throw.

“throw quickly” tells us in what manner to throw.

“throw well” tells us the quality of the throwing.

“threw” tells us the throwing happened in the past.

These examples are incomplete thoughts.

“John throw” tells us who does the throwing, but it’s still incomplete. The base form of the verb, “throw”, hasn’t been conjugated to tell us the tense and agree with the subject. (Besides being the base form, “throw” is also the present tense that agrees with the first and second person subjects “I” and “you”. English often uses the same word for multiple purposes which can be confusing.)

“John threw great pitches in the baseball game.” is a complete thought. It’s a valid sentence. It tells us that throwing happened in the past and was performed by John. It also provides additional, optional detail about what was thrown (pitches) and the context (the baseball game).

“John throws.” and “John threw.” are valid, complete sentences too, but they’re somewhat confusing with no context because we don’t know what was thrown, why or how. They don’t leave out mandatory grammatical information, but they’re poor communication in isolation. They do provide the information of an action, time and actor, which are required by English for completeness. (We don’t usually specify exact times, but some information about time is required. At minimum, a complete thought specifies present or past.)

You can think of the process of building a (simple) sentence as starting with a verb. Then you add details until your thought is complete. But a nonfinite verb is inherently incomplete, so you can’t form a sentence around it.

Complete things are finite. Nothing is left unbounded or unspecified. Incomplete things have details left blank which could be completed in an unlimited number of ways. They’re infinitely variable based on all the possibilities for how they could be completed.

Complete things are also independent. They stand alone, by themselves. If something doesn’t work by itself, then it’s incomplete in some way. When a verb is used for a noun or modifier meaning, it doesn’t form a complete, independent thought, just as nouns or modifiers depend on other words.

Actions and Concepts

The word “running” is a nonfinite verb based on the verb “run”. It’s often a noun which refers to the concept of running rather than saying that a running action happened at some time. The concept of running can be considered in the abstract with no runner. “Running” can also be a modifier, e.g. in “I saw running water.”.

When a thought is incomplete, that makes it ambiguous. There are multiple possibilities for what it could mean. For example, when a verb has no subject, then anyone or anything could be the subject. There are infinitely many possibilities. That’s why the incomplete verbs are called “nonfinite”.

Finite verbs tell us that some action actually happened or is happening (though we can use finite verbs to speak hypothetically, fictionally or abstractly). And they tell us the subject: who or what acted or is acting. The core ideas of a finite verb are an action at a time by an actor.

Nonfinite verbs are used to refer to actions without them actually happening. In “I want to leave.”, the nonfinite verb “to leave” talks about an action without anyone doing it. The action here is wanting. Leaving is a concept.

In “I want him to leave.”, leaving is still a concept. The sentence expresses that I want something, and what I want is the concept of him leaving. By contrast, “I requested that he leave.” uses “leave” as a finite verb (“requested” is also a finite verb). I requested an action not a concept.

In “I saw running water.”, “running” tells us a trait of the water rather than telling us an action. In “I like running.”, “running” is a concept not an action. “Running is fun.” uses running as a thing (a concept), and the action of the sentence is the link between running and the trait “fun”. “I ran yesterday.” tells us an action while “I was running yesterday.” uses “running” as a trait and the action of the sentence is to link “I” to a trait.

Nonfinite verbs use a word that’s based on a verb to communicate an idea, concept, trait or thing instead of communicating a complete thought about an action that happened or is happening.

Grammar Details

Nonfinite verbs usually don’t have a subject, but they sometimes do. They can be incomplete in other ways too, for example by having no tense. Tense tells you when a verb’s action happened, like in the past or present. They’re also incomplete by functioning as a noun or modifier, not a complete, independent idea.

In English, there are three types of nonfinite verbs. Gerunds and infinitives never have tense. Participles do have past and present tense, though it may not be identical to the way finite verbs have tense.

Gerunds are nouns which end in “ing”. Participles are modifiers which normally end in “ing” (present tense) or “ed” (past tense). Infinitives are nouns or modifiers. Infinitives sometimes have “to” in front, and always use the base form of the verb which sounds correct with “to” in front (e.g. “to clean” or “to paint”). Infinitives don’t use the verb forms ending with “s” or “ed” (like “cleans” or “cleaned”).

Tips: Words ending with “ing” are always nonfinite verbs. Words with “to” in front aren’t finite verbs.

In what ways can a nonfinite verb be incomplete? Common missing things include tense, subject, object, mood and case.

New Oxford Dictionary explains verb mood:

Grammar a category or form which indicates whether a verb expresses fact (indicative mood), command (imperative mood), question (interrogative mood), wish (optative mood), or conditionality (subjunctive mood)

English has three main cases which are primarily used with pronouns. For example, “I” is the case indicating a subject, “me” indicates an object, and “my” indicates possessive. I/me/my are different forms of the same word which indicate different cases. When we aren’t using pronouns, the subject and object case are the same, e.g. “John” or “ball” can be a subject or object. The possessive case (“John’s” or “ball’s”) is different though.

Finite verbs use subject case for their subject and object case for their object. E.g. “He saw him.” shows different cases of the same word for the subject (“he”) and object (“him”).

Nonfinite verbs don’t specify case. They use object case for both subjects and objects. For example, consider “I regretted him leaving the company.” or “Him leaving the company was really hard for us.”. In both examples, the subject of the gerund “leaving” is “him” not “he”, even though “he” is the subject form of the word. Similarly, in “I wanted him to sing”, the subject of the infinitive “to sing” is “him” not “he”. Note, in the first example, “leaving” is the object of “regretted”. In the second example, “leaving” is the subject of “was” and “to sing” is the object of “wanted”. “Leaving” and “to sing” both play a noun role. The finite verbs are “regretted” and “was”.

If you want to read more about nonfinite verbs, Wikipedia is actually one of the best online sources of detailed grammar information. Links: nonfinite verbs, participles, gerunds, infinitives, the -ing suffix, using nonfinite verbs.

Another Explanation

Finite verbs lead clauses. They, along with the rest of their clause, provide some reasonably specific information. Because they’re specific, there are limited (“finite”) possibilities for the meaning.

Non-finite verbs don’t lead clauses. They’re instead involved in a grammatical construction (group of words) that is smaller than a clause and is nested within a clause. Because their group doesn’t have all the information of a clause, something is left out, missing, unspecified. In some sense, the unspecified part could be anything. In other words, in some sense, there are unlimited (infinite) possibilities for how to fill in the blank.

A finite verb and its clause don’t have a blank spot like that, thus limiting the possibilities. A non-finite verb always does – it’s word grouping is always incomplete in some way compared to a clause.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch’s Gossip and Harassment Leadership

One of my new forum members expressed doubt that the harassment campaign against me is “led by Deutsch” as I claim. He said:

I’d definitely agree with his [Deutsch’s] actions being tacit endorsement [of the harassment campaign] (i.e. being publicly silent on the matter) and instigation (e.g. the lie about no contact requests). But I don’t understand him to have an ongoing active involvement which I infer from “led”.

I’ve written a lot about this, but not recently, and it’s quite long. So I’ll try explaining again by focusing on two lists of key points. Be aware that this explanation leaves a lot out. If you want additional details or evidence, check out my previous writing, or contact me at my forum or by email.

Also, this post is about DD’s leadership role and gossip. It’s not about explaining the more direct harassment. Incidents have included hundreds of harassing comments from many false identities, ban evasion, DDoSing, doxxing, plagiarism, no contact request violation, spam, fraud, threats, and lying to people that I threatened violence. Because DD’s fans have been so unwilling to leave me alone, year after year, I’m now using a paywalled forum to minimize the direct harassment.

DD’s Responsibility

If DD started and caused the harassment but then stopped doing anything and just watched it actively continue by itself, then I’d hold him responsible until he stopped it. It’s like if you turn a machine on, then you’re responsible for it running until you press the off button.

If DD made vigorous efforts to stop the harassment but found that he couldn’t, that would remove lots of his responsibility, but instead he has publicly tacitly endorsed it and defamed me.

Also, TV mob bosses often don’t give direct orders but still communicate what they want and are responsible for the murders that other people carry out.

But DD isn’t just passively watching while giving a few public hints that he wants me to be harassed. He actively gossips and lies about me, but only where you can’t observe it. His actions are the root cause of most of the harassment.

How do I know that DD privately says bad things about me? I’ll give six points. Then I’ll give seven more points elaborating on one case of his gossip.

DD Gossips

First, like many people, DD is a two-faced, mean gossip. That is his personality, as he revealed to me on a regular basis for a decade. (I didn’t participate but was somewhat oblivious at the time. I saw it a lot more when reviewing chat logs and emails after being harassed.) DD even treats people that way when he’s publicly friendly with them, like with Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. I shared some examples towards the bottom here.

Second, a decade ago, DD personally tried to turn two of my current forum members against me. Due to the severe, direct harassment, they forwarded those emails to me. One case was blatant and one was subtle enough that the person didn’t recognize it, at the time, as an action against me. I’ve also received reports of DD’s close associates trying to turn people against me. My information sources don’t offer any kind of completeness, so there’s probably a lot more that I don’t know. I presume everything I’m sharing to be representative examples.

Third, the behavior of multiple people towards me has been really unusual, but this only happens with people interested in Critical Rationalism. This includes people speaking to me in a friendly way but then abruptly refusing to speak to me at all with no explanation. It has also included some people never speaking to me in scenarios where that’d normally be unlikely. My best explanation for this phenomenon is that these people were told some gossip about me. I’d guess that was mostly done by DD’s associates rather than DD personally. I think some people wouldn’t speak to me because they’d already heard the gossip, and others were told gossip after they were seen publicly speaking with me which is why they abruptly stopped (I have lots of evidence that multiple DD fans closely watch my public discussions). I know some specific false claims that are likely being spread by gossip which are nasty enough to get results like this.

Fourth, Lulie Tanett (LT) repeatedly observed DD gossiping about me and shared examples. She observed this in person as a frequent visitor in DD’s home, and he also sends her copies of tons of his emails and often tells her about his recent activities by instant messages, in person or on the phone. LT recruited many of the Popper-interested young people that DD talks with in person, so she’s often present when he talks with someone she brought to him, and she can also talk with them about him afterwards. LT also shared her opinions with me and summarized some trends outside the specific examples she shared, e.g. that DD disliked me and was repeatedly speaking negatively about me.

In one example, DD told someone that an anonymous post might be written by me because it had some ideas similar to mine (it actually wasn’t by me). This undermines me by suggesting my community is small and that few people agree with me (so if someone has ideas like mine, there’s a good chance it’s my sockpuppet). On multiple occasions that I know of, DD relied on information from our personal friendship to help him speculate more effectively about which anonymous posters were me, so he was violating my privacy, which mistreated me. Mistreating me himself is a way of leading by example that encourages others to mistreat me too. DD also came up with the idea that my fans should be treated like my sockpuppets, even if they aren’t, because if someone talks like me they count as a copy of me instead of an independent person (meanwhile he denies responsibility for the actions of his fans that he won’t say anything against). I think this contributed to my fans also being harassed during the harassment campaign, not just me.

Fifth, DD’s negative ideas about me have repeatedly been said later by harassers. That shows that he shares his hateful ideas and then the gossip spreads, including to people who do direct harassment actions. For example, Andy B brought up the idea that many anonymous posters in my community are my sockpuppets.

Sixth, DD spent around 5 years turning LT against me. As context, he’s a father figure to her. I know DD did this because LT told me about it. DD often made negative comments about me to LT that she disliked and found coercive. She told me that he scared her that, unless she turned against me and otherwise believed and behaved as he wanted, he would cut her off from further help with her career and money (she has had severe financial problems). She found that extremely pressuring and coercive. DD has pushed her into being a philosopher since she was a young child even though she’s never been very good at it (she tried to pursue art and photography but DD preferred she do philosophy instead). She has no other career prospects and relies on DD’s social status and influence to get followers and career opportunities, as well as relying on his help in order for her to try to learn philosophy and to have philosophical ideas to say (besides teaching her, he lets her take credit for some of his ideas that he tells her privately). The majority of the pressure took place before she had even started her Twitter account, which now has 12,350 followers thanks to DD’s help. Later, after she turned against me, DD let her move into his house.

There have been no signs that DD has changed his behavior to stop thinking and gossiping about me. It’s been over ten years since DD stopped being friends with me, six years since he turned LT against me, and two years since I wrote most of my complaints about the harassment campaign. But DD hasn’t gotten over his grievances (that he won’t tell me); he remains very hostile.

The Impact of DD’s Gossip to LT

DD’s gossip to LT was his most impactful gossiping. It’s both an example of the kind of gossiping he does and, out of all his actions that I’m aware of, it did the most harm. Let’s examine the impacts and what we can learn from this evidence.

First, LT very likely could have stopped the harassment campaign after I caught Andy B’s sockpuppets, if she wanted to. (I contacted both DD and LT privately before publicly complaining, so almost all the public drama could have been avoided if either of them had wanted to avoid it.) LT had the social contacts, community reputation and influence to do that. Previously, for example, someone in her social network anonymously pointed an automatic spam bot at my blog and she quickly identified the person and got them to stop. She could have spoken to Andy B directly (he admires her) and also influenced DD fan community leaders.

Second, I was good friends with only two people now in the DD’s community: DD and LT. They’re the two people who personally betrayed me. One consequence is they can spread false personal information about me and be believed, because they’re actually in a realistic position to know those kinds of things about me. This makes their gossip more effective than anyone else’s and enables lies about me personally to circulate (other people can spread false personal information too given the understanding that DD or LT was the original source who could have actually known it).

Third, DD is fairly distant from most of his fans. He only gossips to a limited number of people. He needs people like LT to spread his messages to the broader community. When he wants to say something publicly he can just tweet it and his fans will see it, but when he wants to spread gossip without taking responsibility for it then he needs helpers to signal boost it. DD might only tell a dozen people but they can spread it to a hundred additional people for him. I also know that LT is a gossip who would spread this stuff (in the past, she shared many examples of her gossiping with me).

Fourth, turning LT against me took a huge amount of effort sustained for years. Why? Because she was a huge fan of mine and a friend and she vigorously resisted the pressure to turn against me. DD intentionally took a thing she liked (my philosophy) and ruined it for her, and ruined the friendship, which was mean. And it shows the huge level of effort DD is willing to put into harming me and controlling people. He has written nothing of note about philosophy for over a decade now, and he’s willing to spend a lot of energy working against me instead of doing philosophy.

Fifth, DD encouraged me to become friends with LT in the first place, and also encouraged LT to become friends with me in the first place. He knew us both, wanted us to be friends, and influenced both of us. That didn’t work initially, but he kept encouraging it for years until we eventually became friends. That makes it especially awful for him to later destroy that friendship that he had pushed both of us into. He also told LT basically that her philosophical success and rationality depended on learning from me (she was pretty stuck and having trouble learning philosophy or being good at it). After years of persuading her that she needed me or else she was doomed to be an irrational failure, he then decided that he didn’t like me anymore and therefore decided to deny that resource (my ideas) to LT. DD may have actually done even more harm to her than he’s done to me.

Sixth, after turning against me, LT spent the next couple years frequently tweeting negative things about me without using my name. She no longer does that very much. But, for years, she posted lots of stuff to undermine CF. She was getting her followers to preemptively dislike ideas related to me so that if they ever found me and read my essays, they’d quickly find something that they already “knew” was bad and stop listening. She used lots of straw men and distortions to do this. This wasn’t all an intentional plan. A lot of it was her coming up with rationalizations for disliking me in order to feel better, but publicly tweeting about those rationalizations primed other people to use the same rationalizations to dislike me.

LT also frequently attacked Ayn Rand (sometimes openly, sometimes not) who she used as a proxy for me. This is DD’s strategy: he couldn’t call me a non-Popperian but needed to differentiate me and himself philosophically, so he turned against Rand (after previously being her fan and recommending her books to me) and started basically saying that I’m bad because of a few mistakes I got from Rand. DD and LT both specifically attack some of Rand’s ideas that they think have something to do with me, and apart from that they generally don’t mention Rand. I believe they explain the connection between Rand’s alleged errors, and me personally, in private gossip.

Seventh, Andy B (the worst direct harasser) admired LT and brought her up multiple times, when he was trying to learn from me, before he harassed me. That was after she had turned against me, so I didn’t want to talk about her much. Andy B was bothered by the conflict between my community and DD’s community. (Similar things happened with multiple other DD fans who talked with me but also liked LT and DD, and were bothered by the schism, before they turned against me.) Andy B wanted to be friends with both groups, especially me and LT.

As explained in the sixth point, many of LT’s ideas (or DD’s ideas she was spreading) were designed to subtly or indirectly undermine me. (They keep it subtle in public, while their private gossip is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle.) So discussing her tweets basically meant trying to explain first how it’s actually a poisonous attack on me followed by then trying to neutralize the poison (that I’d just made worse by clarifying it) by explaining how it’s false. It wasn’t good faith philosophy. I wanted Andy B and others to stop reading and bringing up LT’s veiled attacks on me, which I was trying to ignore. Especially because they didn’t actually understand her points (which she didn’t explain much), so they wanted me to explain her criticisms for them. I would have been happy to debate the matter if DD, LT or someone who could speak accurately to their perspective was willing to debate, but they weren’t. So the undermining tweets (in addition to private gossip) worked to stir up conflict in my community.


DD is a gossip who has been working to make people hostile to me for over ten years. That makes him the active leader of the harassment campaign even though he’s only taken a few direct, public actions against me. Eventually, the hostility he intentionally caused spread to a big enough group that some of them started taking more direct actions against me, like leaving hundreds of harassing comments on my blog from many false identities.

DD’s five-year gossip campaign to LT is the largest and most impactful example of his gossiping. He presumably also does some ongoing maintenance – keeps saying some negative things about me to remind her never to change her mind. He’s done similar types of gossiping with other people. Many of them, like LT, have then repeated his messages to others.

DD socializes with a limited number of people, but LT and some of DD’s other friends socialize with a ton of people which is how his gossip reaches his wider fan community. The direct harassment activities are downstream of this gossip campaign that he’s still doing today.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

David Deutsch Harassment Campaign Update for Feb 2023

I wrote a new article which attempts to better explain why I blame Deutsch: David Deutsch’s Gossip and Harassment Leadership.

Here are some updates on David Deutsch’s (DD’s) ongoing harassment campaign against me.

A DD fan repeatedly broke my no contact request and e.g. emailed me about their support of DD.

Someone who appears to be a DD fan has been editing subtle attacks against me onto Wikipedia.

A while ago a different DD fan harassed me a bit and I directly asked him to stop contacting me. He said he agreed then later purposefully broke that no contact request to harass me again, but then went back to leaving me alone. Now he has subscribed to my curi YouTube channel. These people are so obsessed with me and won’t go away and just forget I exist. If you hate me so much and are unwilling to speak with me at all or do any problem solving about this conflict, stop following my stuff and keeping me active in your minds. Their refusal to keep their distance from me leads to more harassment. (I do not actively follow/read/watch any of them.)

A CritRat leader did something so bad that I don’t want to repeat it or draw attention to it. DD has pretty direct responsibility in this case.

A CritRat community leader tried to promote CritRats (including multiple harassers) on one of my old forums. I never interacted with that person before, so I wrote an explanation of the situation in case it was an innocent mistake. They were unwilling to speak to me at all or attempt any kind of problem solving, so now I doubt it was innocent. Dear CritRats: As I’ve said before, if you aren’t willing to engage in any problem solving regarding the harassment issue, you’re not welcome on my forums; leave me alone.

I’m pretty confident those were five different people. I don’t think Andy B was involved. He may not have done anything bad for over a year, and I heard a rumor a while back that he’s not an active CritRat anymore. He has come back after taking a break before so who knows; I haven’t investigated. The situation with DD, on the other hand, hasn’t improved.

Overall, my strategy of closing all my forums (and largely staying off social media and other forums) except my paywalled CF forum has reduced the direct harassment incidents to a more tolerable, manageable amount. But it really sucks to have my conversations with the world significantly reduced due to the harassment campaign. And they’re still spreading lies to harm my reputation.

Help with solving this problem would be highly appreciated.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)