Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Harris-Klein Debate and Benefit of the Doubt

 

Jacob Falkovich, of PutANumOnIt fame, published a post-mortem on the Harris-Klein debate over IQ and race in Quillette. Not just the Quillette article, but the blog post inspiring it, The Context is the Conflict, are both worth a read. As Falkovich sees it, the Harris-Klein debate was merely one example of conflicting forms of political reasoning, pitting those who see political opponents as mistaken against those who see political opposition as conflict, and also pitting cognitive decoupling against contextualizing. To summarize the story the way Falkovich sees it, Sam Harris tells Ezra Klein, “Ezra, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with the social implications of the data that you discount what the data has to say,” and Klein shoots right back, “Sam, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with what the data allegedly says that you discount its social implications,” that is, whose interest is served by treating the data in question as reputable, and whose interests are harmed.

Both Klein and Harris have a point. We on the right are fairly open in our mistrust of “scientism,” after all. We know that, no matter how much data might seem to speak for itself, the scientific validity of data can’t be entirely separated from the nonscientific interests of the ones gathering, analyzing, publishing, and popularizing the data. Who funded a study, we wonder? Would funding have biased it? Was one study widely reported on while studies contradicting it were not; reflecting media bias? We aren’t fools for asking these questions, merely fools if we take them to their paranoid extreme: at some point, data must matter, even though it’s collected and interpreted by biased humans. Nonetheless, we suspect, probably rightly, that even good science can’t be wholly divorced from its social implications once it’s fodder for political dispute.

***

Harris represents what Falkovich and others call cognitive decoupling: “Let’s set aside context for a moment, and just consider these facts on their merit.” Klein, on the other hand, represents contextualizing: “No, we can’t ignore context, we must contextualize facts in order to be truly honest.” Nobody is all-decoupler or all-contextualizer. Rather, we alternate between both forms of cognition as needed — and we tend to disagree on what’s “needed”. Furthermore, we also alternate between two models of politics, “mistake theory”, which sees our political opponents as mistaken, and “conflict theory”, which sees politics as war. As Scott Alexander puts it at Slate Star Codex,

Mistake theorists treat politics as science, engineering, or medicine. The State is diseased. We’re all doctors, standing around arguing over the best diagnosis and cure. Some of us have good ideas, others have bad ideas that wouldn’t help, or that would cause too many side effects.

Conflict theorists treat politics as war. Different blocs with different interests are forever fighting to determine whether the State exists to enrich the Elites or to help the People.

Mistake theory is technocratic in mindset. This doesn’t mean mistake-theorists must favor technocratic solutions. Indeed, Hayekian arguments for why technocracy fails are mistake-theoretic arguments!

It’s perfectly possible to be an anti-technocrat mistake theorist. Nonetheless, mistake theory arguments tend toward the technical, favoring cognitive decoupling over contextualizing politics as conflict. Conflict theory, on the other hand, is tribal in mindset. Never mind who’s right, some side’s gotta win, so whose side will it be? Conflict theory correctly acknowledges that cognition surrounding politics is cultural, always done in the context of identity and affiliation, then turns this acknowledgement up to eleven.

We on the right often mix mistake theory with conflict theory, just as we mix decoupling with contextualizing. For example, when right-leaning STEM logic “decoupling blackbelts” express skepticism of the data in a study because they suspect left-wing institutional bias, they’re contextualizing, just in a very decouply way. Public choice theory? Classically a discipline populated by mistake-theorists, but one used to detect conflicts of interest arising in government. And so on. When we label one another mistake or conflict theorists, decouplers or contextualizers, these labels are provisional, reflecting who’s playing what role when, rather than innate identities. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to notice some general trends.

***

Some people consider it a matter of principle to play politics in decoupling mistake-theory mode as much as possible, while others consider it a matter of realism to play politics as much as possible in contextualizing conflict mode. Wonkishness is a decoupling mistake-theory trait; partisanship, a contextualizing conflict-theory trait. The horse-race aspects of politics are particularly oriented toward conflict theory, and the spread of a conflict-theory worldview corresponds to rising political polarization.

There are a lot of conflict theorists on the right as well as the left these days. Many conflict theorists on the right will tell you they’ve been bullied into favoring the conflict-theory worldview: they didn’t start out as conflict theorists, they didn’t want to be conflict theorist, but they believe the left has left them no choice, and so conflict theory it is. They tend to see those on the right who remain mistake theorists as wimps and dupes. Ironically for righties who feel bullied into conflict theory, conflict theorists often come across as bullies to their opponents, and especially to the opponents who are also other conflict theorists.

Conflict theorists tend to see their opponents as oppressors, either actual or potential, and consequently believe that “taking the oppressors down a peg” isn’t bullying, but merely retributive justice and self-defense — necessary for the good order of society as well as the survival of their own kind. The uncharitable term for this would be “crybullying”. We on the right see Ezra Klein as a crybully. When Klein doesn’t like the facts, he throws a tantrum of moral indignation to socially manipulate purveyors of inconvenient facts, like Harris, into shutting up. We on the right look upon Harris as heroic by comparison: look at him being all principled and reasonable and stuff! Bask in the radiance of his pure STEMlogic! Nonetheless, the tables could easily be turned.

***

As I mentioned earlier, we righties are also quite ready to contextualize scientific claims which raise our hackles. Whose interest, after all, is served by calling studies which threaten our tribe’s worldview good science? If some neuroscientists reportedly claim there really is no difference between male and female brains, do we believe them, or is our immediate hunch that something’s off? If Ezra Klein pelted us with study after study to show we were in the wrong, would we believe him? No. In fact, our argument with him might run something like this:

Klein: Look at all these studies! I have so many studies!
Us: Yeah, government studies.
Klein: What’s wrong with government studies? Do you think your Uncle Sam would lie to you?
Us: Yeah, we do. Deep state. Public choice. Whatever you want to call it, it means lies.
Klein: OK, then show me your data.
Us: If you insist, here are some industry studies.
Klein: ???!!!
Us: Industries can’t lie very much to themselves and still expect to turn a profit. This limits their bias, which maybe ain’t saying much, but it’s still closer than government work.

Almost immediately, what started as wonky mistake-theoretic data comparison devolves into one side shouting “But Big Government!!!” while the other side shouts, “But Big Business!!!” What started all nice and decoupled is now contextualized and tribal. It’s now not a matter of facts, but of whose facts you trust. Mere data by itself is no longer the source of conflict. Instead, the context is conflict.

***

Whose facts do you trust? Ezra Klein is wrong about many things, but he’s right that facts in isolation can’t tell the whole story. Whose facts they are matters, even when we wish it didn’t. Even in matters of science, trust in the people involved comes into play. So who gets the benefit of your doubt?

***

@drbastiat recently posted on a friend of his, Bob. Bob’s advanced training in chemistry makes Bob sound like a paragon of STEMlogic decoupling. And yet, to Dr Bastiat’s puzzlement, Bob is a flaming leftist. How can this be? My best guess is that Dr Bastiat and Bob probably differ on whom they give the benefit of the doubt.

The benefit of the doubt is more than charitable mental hygiene. It’s also a powerful social statement. Who gets it, and how much? Harris, used to playing in mistake-theory land where trust is high and benefit of the doubt is relatively mutual, naturally sees Klein’s objections to him as mistaken. For, as Scott Alexander says,

Mistake theorists naturally think conflict theorists are making a mistake… [that] conflict theorists don’t understand the Principle of Charity, or Hanlon’s Razor of “never attribute to malice what can be better explained by stupidity”…The correct response is to teach them…

…Conflict theorists naturally think mistake theorists are the enemy in their conflict… [that] they’ve become part of a class that’s more interested in protecting its own privileges than in helping the poor or working for the good of all. The best that can be said about the best of them is that they’re trying to protect their own neutrality, unaware that in the struggle between the powerful and the powerless neutrality always favors the powerful. The correct response is to crush them.

Or, if not crush them, then at the very least distrust them. To Harris, Klein not giving the data Harris cites the benefit of the doubt is a massive display of bad faith. It’s morally wrong. To Klein, giving untrustworthy people the benefit of the doubt by, for example, accepting their data as data rather than propaganda, is likewise morally wrong: the benefit of the doubt is too socially powerful to bestow so lightly.

***

Falkovich observes,

[“Crush them”] points to a key asymmetry between conflict theorists and mistake theorists. It takes two to tango, and it takes two to have an honest debate, which is the mistake theorist’s favored approach to disagreement. But it only takes one to declare war. When conflict theorists and mistake theorists meet, the result is more often war than an honest debate.

As my fictional Klein-vs-us skit illustrated, even when two sides of an issue agree to meet in mistake-theory land, if there’s enough distrust, their debate will devolve into war. Who gets the benefit of your doubt, and how much? That’s the key to so much of our political conflict.

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  1. HeavyWater Inactive

    That’s a very dense post, with lots of information and arguments I had not been familiar with.

    The reason why I sided with Sam Harris (and implicitly, Charles Murray) and against Ezra Klein in the IQ debate is that to accept Klein’s arguments with respect to IQ, one must ignore far too much evidence. To accept Sam Harris’s view does not require dismissing nearly as much evidence.

    For example, how does one account for the spectacular academic success of Asian-Americans? Do Asian-Americans go to schools that have more per pupil funding? Do the parents of Asian-American students read more to their children?

    Perhaps admitting that, on average, Asian-Americans are smarter than Italian-Irish Americans is a blow to my ego. But I am inclined to accept the bad news anyway. Does this make me a mistake-theorist? 

    • #1
    • July 15, 2018, at 3:43 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Given the replication crisis, it is best to review any scientific data with a degree of skepticism. Too many studies are being reported without sufficient effort to replicate the results.

    • #2
    • July 15, 2018, at 3:50 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. low key Inactive

    Percival (View Comment):

    Given the replication crisis, it is best to review any scientific data with a degree of skepticism. Too many studies are being reported without sufficient effort to replicate the results.

    Absolutely. I don’t know how many times I have seen a headline “A new study shows …” only to shake my head in disbelief while reading the article. Of course this is never about some new heart medication, for example, but usually some aspect of human behavior where the results of the “study” fly in the face of common sense. I was unsurprised when reading that WEIRDs were not the most representative sample to go with.

    • #3
    • July 15, 2018, at 4:03 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  4. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    Perhaps admitting that, on average, Asian-Americans are smarter than Italian-Irish Americans is a blow to my ego. But I am inclined to accept the bad news anyway. Does this make me a mistake-theorist? 

    Accepting news against your interest or self-image? Yes, probably, at least in that domain.

    • #4
    • July 15, 2018, at 4:25 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    I’m cross-posting something @drewinwisconsin wrote elsewhere:

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    This is some fascinating context, by the way.

    Harris to Klein:

    . . . so let me be clear about what happened here: You and Vox publicly attacked my reputation, and in ways that even you have been forced to acknowledge weren’t warranted (e.g. the Flynn effect). You have also neglected to do something trivially easy that could help set the record straight (publish Haier’s piece). In the aftermath, we’ve both wasted an impressive amount of time sorting through the rubble. You should be under no illusions that our grievances against one another are the same.

    You’ve proven to be someone who is better spoken about than spoken to. However, if you want to encourage me to stop speaking about you, here is what I recommend: Tell people that after a long email exchange, it became obvious to both of us that a podcast would be pointless… and then stop publishing libelous articles about me.

    NOTE (3/28/18)

    Judging from the response to this post on social media, my decision to publish these emails appears to have backfired. I was relying on readers to follow the plot and notice Ezra’s evasiveness and gaslighting (e.g. his denial of misrepresentations and slurs that are in the very article he published). Many people seem to have judged from his politeness that Ezra was the one behaving honestly and ethically. This is frustrating, to say the least.

    Many readers seem mystified by the anger I expressed in this email exchange. Why care so much about “criticism” or even “insults”? But this has nothing to do with criticism and insults. What has been accomplished in Murray’s case, and is being attempted in mine, is nothing less than the total destruction of a person’s reputation for the crime of honestly discussing scientific data. Klein published fringe, ideologically-driven, and cherry-picked science as though it were the consensus of experts in the field and declined to publish a far more mainstream opinion in my and Murray’s defense—all to the purpose of tarring us as racists and enablers of racists. This comes at immense personal and social cost. It is also dishonest.

    Once Harris asks his readers to “follow the plot and notice Ezra’s evasiveness and gaslighting” he’s acknowledging that he’s now working in conflict-theory mode, where he feels obligated to demonstrate Klein is untrustworthy, not just wrong. Harris probably didn’t want it to devolve into conflict, rather than debate, but as Falkovich said,

    It takes two to tango, and it takes two to have an honest debate, which is the mistake theorist’s favored approach to disagreement. But it only takes one to declare war. When conflict theorists and mistake theorists meet, the result is more often war than an honest debate.

    • #5
    • July 15, 2018, at 5:15 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. Brian Wolf Coolidge

    This post is awesome! Lovely, lovely post. I will chew it over a while and see if I have something more to add then just my fanboy love of this post. Enjoyed every word of it.

    • #6
    • July 15, 2018, at 5:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. tigerlily Member

    Nice post Midge, although I think it’s a little over my head. As for Ezra Klein – I find him an insufferable, dishonest and not-so-bright little twit. Some of his journalistic highlights include Journolist, the role of which was to protect Barack Obama, support of star chamber justice for men accused of rape on college campuses and his stated opinion that the constitution is hard to understand because it’s over 100 years old.

     

    • #7
    • July 15, 2018, at 6:07 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Guruforhire Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    where he feels obligated to demonstrate Klein is untrustworthy, not just wrong

    Hasn’t this been established since like 2008?

    • #8
    • July 15, 2018, at 6:57 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    where he feels obligated to demonstrate Klein is untrustworthy, not just wrong

    Hasn’t this been established since like 2008?

    But Harris, at first, was willing to give Klein the benefit of the doubt, in hopes of a good debate.

    • #9
    • July 15, 2018, at 7:43 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  10. Nick H Coolidge

    Excellent post. I’ll have to give it some thought. It does not fill me with optimism about the future of political discussion, and given the tendency on the left to make everything political…

    Anyway, more tomorrow.

    • #10
    • July 15, 2018, at 8:50 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    That’s a very dense post, with lots of information and arguments I had not been familiar with.

    The reason why I sided with Sam Harris (and implicitly, Charles Murray) and against Ezra Klein in the IQ debate is that to accept Klein’s arguments with respect to IQ, one must ignore far too much evidence. To accept Sam Harris’s view does not require dismissing nearly as much evidence.

    For example, how does one account for the spectacular academic success of Asian-Americans? Do Asian-Americans go to schools that have more per pupil funding? Do the parents of Asian-American students read more to their children?

    Perhaps admitting that, on average, Asian-Americans are smarter than Italian-Irish Americans is a blow to my ego. But I am inclined to accept the bad news anyway. Does this make me a mistake-theorist?

    It occurs to me that coming in second or third gives one a medal and some notoriety, while coming in dead last gets one pity and a near-universal belief that you shouldn’t have bothered competing. 

    This is not meant to be contrary – I’ve said much the same thing about Asians before, but only now does it occur to me that while the example is compelling evidence (I’m convinced) against the ‘we’re all the same smartness’ position, for those at the bottom, it isn’t so much unpalatable, as it is poisonous. 

    • #11
    • July 15, 2018, at 9:38 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Guruforhire Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Guruforhire (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    where he feels obligated to demonstrate Klein is untrustworthy, not just wrong

    Hasn’t this been established since like 2008?

    But Harris, at first, was willing to give Klein the benefit of the doubt, in hopes of a good debate.

    I think the problem for Harris is that he is a liberal and therefore wasn’t aware of things like Journ-o-list, because the hyper-partisan mainstream media hurts the left most of all.

    • #12
    • July 16, 2018, at 4:45 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I don’t feel like anyone really wants to have the discussion around context. Our society does not want to have any difficult conversations about anything, but yell at each other. To take IQ as an issue, the reality is that our culture is fast moving towards a world where there is not a lot for someone with an IQ below 80 to do. Then what? They won’t be able to just “get a job” like the right wants them too, and we know that just giving them a stipend and the left wants to do wrecks them. This is a pending problem on which no one wants to focus and no one has a solution. 

    • #13
    • July 16, 2018, at 5:29 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  14. Guruforhire Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I don’t feel like anyone really wants to have the discussion around context. Our society does not want to have any difficult conversations about anything, but yell at each other. To take IQ as an issue, the reality is that our culture is fast moving towards a world where there is not a lot for someone with an IQ below 80 to do. Then what? They won’t be able to just “get a job” like the right wants them too, and we know that just giving them a stipend and the left wants to do wrecks them. This is a pending problem on which no one wants to focus and no one has a solution.

    Ain’t that the truth. The failure of reality to cash political philisophy’s checks is going to have some pretty harsh consequences that nobody wants to talk about.

     

    • #14
    • July 16, 2018, at 6:33 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Guruforhire (View Comment):
    I think the problem for Harris is that he is a liberal and therefore wasn’t aware of things like Journ-o-list, because the hyper-partisan mainstream media hurts the left most of all.

    The fact that Harris has gone to such lengths to demonstrate Klein’s mendacity – and then declared him to be so at great reputational risk – is a great testament to the fact that he tends to be more concerned with intellectual honesty than either tribal loyalty or even his admitted liberal personal politics.

    I think it’s true that the left media filter tends to downplay these sorts of incidents and are in deep denial about the nature of how their personal biases affect the way that news is covered, but it’s also clear to me that Harris has done yeoman’s work in this regard, even if we may disagree with him about individual aspects of his personal philosophy. Sam at least will tell you where he sits before he tells you where he stands, and doesn’t play-act as a supposedly neutral observer.

    • #15
    • July 16, 2018, at 6:52 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  16. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Shawn Buell (Majestyk) (View Comment):
    testament to the fact that he tends to be more concerned with intellectual honesty

    That’s the IDW. Intellectual honesty is important. Perhaps the most important (being right or at least reasonable is pretty important too, though). It certainly fosters an environment where productive exchange and exploration can even occur. 

    Klein’s fault is twofold:

    1. he treats value judgements as matters of fact
    2. he treats matters of fact which are in dispute or discovery as “settled science” – so therefore the only reasons to question that science are either stupidity or evil, that old classic.

    The thing I can’t figure out is whether he’s doing these things knowingly as a political weapon or if he really is missing teh distinctions and the genuine disputes.

    • #16
    • July 16, 2018, at 8:31 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    I don’t feel like anyone really wants to have the discussion around context. Our society does not want to have any difficult conversations about anything, but yell at each other. To take IQ as an issue, the reality is that our culture is fast moving towards a world where there is not a lot for someone with an IQ below 80 to do. Then what? They won’t be able to just “get a job” like the right wants them too, and we know that just giving them a stipend and the left wants to do wrecks them. This is a pending problem on which no one wants to focus and no one has a solution.

    I think it’s a bit worse than this. My impression is that the cutoff is somewhere in the 83-85 range, and that we’re not just heading toward such a world, we’re already there. My main two sources for this are Jordan Peterson (who points out that the US military minimum IQ is 83) and Linda Gottfredson (I don’t recall the exact figure, but it’s something like 15% of the population can’t read well enough to follow simple written instructions — this would imply a cutoff around 85).

    The facts about IQ are quite dismal, but ignoring them will not help.

    • #17
    • July 16, 2018, at 8:38 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  18. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Falkovich’s article was pretty good, but he’s wrong about something important. He wrote:

    I’m a big fan of the bell curve: the bell curve of soccer ability, of attitudes on racism and on feminism, of tennis skill, of worrying about climate change. But none of these deserve to be capitalized.

    That honor is apparently reserved for “The Bell Curve” of IQ scores in a population, and the book on said subject by Charles Murray. The book contains 900 pages that not a single person has ever read, and a chapter on the differences in IQ distributions among self-identified races. 

    I read the entirety of The Bell Curve, including the relevant appendices. Ha! Take that!

    OK, I know that this fact makes me really, really weird. I was once a grad student in math, focusing on probability and statistics.

    • #18
    • July 16, 2018, at 8:48 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  19. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    The facts about IQ are quite dismal, but ignoring them will not help.

    I like this not out of finding it to be triumphal or anything, but as a blunt statement of truth which many people on the right and on the left must increasingly wrestle with.

    The notion of meritocracy which is embraced (I think appropriately) on the right would seem to imply that in extremis there is a hard core of people who are unable to display the sort of “merit” which we would insist they must in order to enjoy even moderate material success in light of this data.

    The left are repelled by the notion of meritocracy as a surrogate for racism, sexism or an infinite number of other isms.

    Both ultimately must come to grips with the fact that technology will increasingly obviate certain, low-skill, low cognitive demand jobs and that this has nothing to do with either merit or any of the isms.

    • #19
    • July 16, 2018, at 8:48 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Ed G. (View Comment):

    Klein’s fault is twofold:

    1. he treats value judgements as matters of fact
    2. he treats matters of fact which are in dispute or discovery as “settled science” – so therefore the only reasons to question that science are either stupidity or evil, that old classic.

    The thing I can’t figure out is whether he’s doing these things knowingly as a political weapon or if he really is missing teh distinctions and the genuine disputes.

    Someone really deep down conflict-theory rabbit-hole would see political weapons as all that really exist, and would likely believe he had no choice but to use them.

    • #20
    • July 16, 2018, at 8:59 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Mendel Member
    Mendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This post is giving me acid flashbacks to reading Gödel Escher Bach: sudden jumping from historical narrative to theoretical context to fictional conversation back to historical narrative.

    And it also shares GEB‘s love for the meta-level. If I’m counting correctly, this is a commentary by Midge about a commentary on Quilette about an article by Falkovich about a debate between Harris and Klein about Charles Murray writing about race.

    And in all honesty, I think everyone is investing way too much effort in a debate that was, at its core, pretty darn worthless and not a suitable representative for the “decoupling vs. contextualization” debate (or however else people want to frame it).

    Primarily because Ezra Klein is not so much a prototypical contextualizer as he is an unintellectual partisan hack who speaks in a calm tone. But Sam Harris is also far from blameless in rendering an important conversation into a time-wasting goat rope. His initial error was hitching himself to Charles Murray the person instead of the controversial data in the Bell Curve. By defending Murray on a personal level, he opened the door to let Klein make the first half of the discussion about whether Murray is a racist. And there is no more futile conversation than trying to debate whether a third (non-present) person is a racist, because that is not knowable from the outside.

    If Harris had simply opened the conversation with “look, I think some of the data in the Bell Curve is worth discussing, but for all I know Charles is a actually closet racist. Now, Ezra, how do you think slavery and Jim Crow are impacting the IQ of modern African Americans?” he could brought the conversation to a more substantial level much more quickly.

    • #21
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:03 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  22. Ontheleftcoast Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Bob’s advanced training in chemistry makes Bob sound like a paragon of STEMlogic decoupling. And yet, to Dr Bastiat’s puzzlement, Bob is a flaming leftist. How can this be? My best guess is that Dr Bastiat and Bob probably differ on whom they give the benefit of the doubt.

    In general, scientists who like the idea of a technocratic elite like thinking of themselves as logical, virtuous, and superior in every significant way to the plebs who fix their cars and plumbing. Since this is self-evidently the case, they – or their kind – are ideally equipped to run things. This is why they have an affinity for the Left.

    • #22
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:04 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    I think that I disagree with the OP’s “benefit of the doubt” proposal, in part. We should not give the “benefit of the doubt” to any data. We should give the “benefit of the doubt” to scientists, researchers, and debaters, and not assume bad faith until there is some indicia of such bad faith.

    I think that Jonathan Haidt is on the right track about this. We need systems of institutional disconfirmation, which means that we need scientists on both sides politically to be debating with each other. The problem in academia right now is that most fields are virtually entirely Leftist. 

    This means that it is rational to automatically discount any reported finding that supports the Left, but rational to accept the credibility of any reported finding that supports a Conservative position. This is a simple application of the “statement against interest” rule (a hearsay exception in the law).

    I’ll have to listen to the Harris-Klein discussion, which I’ve avoided thus far because I am quite confident that Klein is being consciously dishonest, just as I believe that Stephen Jay Gould was dishonest in his Mismeasure of Man. I’m not a big fan of Harris, who can come across as insufferable to a conservative Christian like me, but he did a fine job with the Charles Murray interview, and I agree with Maj that Harris has a strong commitment to the search for truth.

    Given the summary of Klein’s position that I’ve seen thus far, it is ironic that Harris had the same reaction when he interviewed Murray, questioning the motives of anyone who wanted to research racial IQ differences. I actually recall Harris puzzling over the point of such research.

    This struck me as astonishing Left-wing blindness, in a very smart guy. Even a hyper-intellect like Harris with a notable commitment to the search for truth can fail to see something glaringly obvious, when it violates his ideological preconceptions.

    Have Harris and Klein not noticed that differentials in outcomes between blacks and whites — in everything from education, to income, to wealth, to family creation and illegitimacy, to criminality — has been at the center of our politics for our entire lives? Have they not noticed that the position that such differences are the result of systemic discrimination and racism are probably the largest, most divisive issue in our political conversation, and that the Leftist position on this is assumed to be true in the absence of a shred of evidence?

    Well, the evidence that they produce is of differential outcomes. But that might be explicable in terms of something other than racism and systemic discrimination. IQ turns out to be one of the biggest single factors in any such analysis. So, obviously, it needs to be studied in order to evaluate the racism accusation, which can be estimated only as the residual in a multivariate analysis. Thus, IQ must be considered.

    • #23
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:14 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  24. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Mendel (View Comment):

    This post is giving me acid flashbacks to reading Gödel Escher Bach: sudden jumping from historical narrative to theoretical context to fictional conversation back to historical narrative.

    <blush> This is really tremendously flattering!

    And it also shares GEB‘s love for the meta-level. If I’m counting correctly, this is a commentary by Midge about a commentary on Quilette about an article by Falkovich about a debate between Harris and Klein about Charles Murray writing about race.

    And in all honesty, I think everyone is investing way too much effort in a debate that was, at its core, pretty darn worthless and not a suitable representative for the “decoupling vs. contextualization” debate (or however else people want to frame it).

    I didn’t pay much attention to the debate itself — it was the meta stuff that got me to pay attention. Namely, Falkovich’s summary of it which I then summarized as follows:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Sam Harris tells Ezra Klein, “Ezra, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with the social implications of the data that you discount what the data has to say,” and Klein shoots right back, “Sam, it’s dishonest of you to be so concerned with what the data allegedly says that you discount its social implications,”

    Why this caught my attention is because of how remarkably ambidexterous we on the right are in our own argumentative habits, to a degree we may not even acknowledge.

    Many of us STEMlords (to coin an ugly but probably appropriate phrase) on the right who take such pride in our STEMlogic might honestly fail to realize how much goalpoast-shifting we ourselves can do when we alternate between decoupling and conflict-oriented contextualizing. (And STEMlords on the right who realize it, and do it anyhow, are being pretty Machiavellian.) Of course, goalpost-shifting in political argument might really be the oldest profession, beating out even prostitution, so it’s not like it’s anything new. But Falkovich and Scott Alexander’s commentary makes the meta-argument (really meta-argument: it is argument about argument) fresh and accessible.

    • #24
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:17 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Shawn Buell, Jeopardy Champ! Contributor

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    This struck me as astonishing Left-wing blindness, in a very smart guy. Even a hyper-intellect like Harris with a notable commitment to the search for truth can fail to see something glaringly obvious, when it violates his ideological preconceptions.

    I completely agree with Sam when he questions the wisdom of going looking for these sorts of differences because of the automatic assumption that they will (as they have been in the past) be used to make invidious comparisons between the races as a blunt instrument.

    Clearly, even though it violates his “ideological preconceptions” he views the facts such as they are objectively and seems to want to find means by which the results of those facts can be ameliorated.

    There’s a difference between noting that this statistical phenomenon is true and then using it as the prism through which we focus our entire picture of the world. Klein of course is totally bananas to say (in essence) that there is no lens, and to suggest that there is a lens is de facto evidence of latent racism.

    • #25
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:24 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I think that I disagree with the OP’s “benefit of the doubt” proposal, in part. We should not give the “benefit of the doubt” to any data. We should give the “benefit of the doubt” to scientists, researchers, and debaters, and not assume bad faith until there is some indicia of such bad faith.

    I agree we should not give the benefit of the doubt to any data. Not even for the sake of argument, if we start out with good-enough reason to distrust the data. The benefit of the doubt is ultimately something given to people. That’s why its so socially powerful: it’s not just argumentative hygiene, it’s social acceptance.

    When a study superficially appears to conform to acceptable scientific practice, it can be genuinely hard to tell whether it’s mendacious in some way. The charitable approach — and the one we should take in a high-trust environment, such as scientist often really do have — is to presume that, if the study is mistaken, it’s simply mistaken, not mendacious. Among people who know their craft well enough to trust one another with it, it should take considerable evidence before mendacity rather than error is suspected.

    The studies cited in political debate, though, are often studies which have attracted the attention of those who don’t really know the craft. Even a fellow scientist from a different discipline doesn’t know the craft as well as someone in the discipline. Occasionally, outsiders to a craft can correct an error that insiders miss. And there certainly is such a thing as good science reporting. Nonetheless, most discussion, even fairly informed discussion, about the political implications of science take place at a level pretty far removed from the actual data, where who trusts whom becomes extremely important.

    • #26
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Mendel Member
    Mendel Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It seems to me that a simplification (perhaps unfair oversimplification) of this framework is simply to call it hearts vs. minds. That’s certainly the superficial impression one gets from the debate, in which Klein is constantly trying to put Murray on trial for being a racist and trying to turn the issue into whether Harris has taken the suffering of blacks sufficiently into account.

    The problem is that the hearts vs. minds dichotomy is not symmetrical: we’re all slaves to our own emotions, and none of us can achieve true objectivity. That immediately puts the onus on the person in the conversation trying to take the “decoupling” approach, because no level of “acknowledging one’s own biases” can decouple someone like Harris to the extent we would wish.

    • #27
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • Like
  28. Ed G. Member
    Ed G. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mendel (View Comment):

    And in all honesty, I think everyone is investing way too much effort in a debate that was, at its core, pretty darn worthless and not a suitable representative for the “decoupling vs. contextualization” debate (or however else people want to frame it).

    Primarily because Ezra Klein is not so much a prototypical contextualizer as he is an unintellectual partisan hack who speaks in a calm tone. But Sam Harris is also far from blameless in rendering an important conversation into a time-wasting goat rope. His initial error was hitching himself to Charles Murray the person instead of the controversial data in the Bell Curve.

    Hmm, I think Harris was attempting to separate the data/argument from the person. To depersonalize the discussion. He just didn’t do a good job of it. Harris’s problem (one of them) was that he kinda sorta agrees with Klein that to even be interested in the topic is kinda sorta an indicator of possible racism and that conservative/libertarian policy prescriptions compound the suspicion (as distinguished from Klein who thinks it’s proof positive of racism). The argument would have been more productive if Harris had defended the idea that there are good non-racist reasons 1) to inquire on the topic, 2) to conclude non PC things, and 3) to advocate for non-progressive policy prescriptions. 

    • #28
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. KentForrester Moderator

    There are millions of jobs that are available for people with 80 IQs: supermarket baggers, janitors, street repairmen, etc. Almost any simple, repetitive job can be done by those with 80 IQs. My local Safeway has hired a few people with Down Syndrome to be baggers. And I have seen Down Syndrome people—some with IQs in the 60s and 70s—in a variety of jobs. And there are many jobs in construction that can use workers with low intelligence—and that pay very well indeed.

    Automation is not going to do away with most of these jobs—at least not until we have flying cars. 

     

    • #29
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Mendel (View Comment):
    It seems to me that a simplification (perhaps unfair oversimplification) of this framework is simply to call it hearts vs. minds.

    Yeah, I’d say that’s not a fair simplification.

    Decoupling-vs-contextualizing is more like a mind-vs-mind thing: which kind of cognition are you more adept at using? Even in what are thought of as highly decoupled fields, degree of coupling is really relevant (see this comment here for what it’s like to do highly-coupled math vs decoupled math).

    Mistake-theory-vs-conflict-theory is more like a heart-vs-heart thing: how do you incline your heart to those you disagree with? 

    In practice, it can be really hard to have a mistake-theory conversation overflowing with social contextualization, but between flesh and blood people, those can be some of the most fulfilling, broadening conversations to have, even if they’re not easily generalized into theories or condensed into talking points (talking points are pretty conflict-oriented).

    • #30
    • July 16, 2018, at 9:46 AM PDT
    • 1 like

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