Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘intellectual dishonesty

My body, my choice-my ass!

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In the wake of a text on the Roe v. Wade leak, I have spent some thoughts on that ridiculous and ridiculously self-serving “my body, my choice” slogan. The main problem, which should immediately disqualify it, is that it is actually the body of the fetus at stake—and the core question is when and when not this fetus should be considered a human being, or sufficiently far along the way to have similar rights. (Other questions include when a right to live might be trumped by a danger to the mother and how pragmatical concerns like the risk for “back-alley” abortions should be handled.) As I have noted in the past, abortion is a highly complicated issue, involving e.g. ethics, medicine, and (for many) religion. To reduce this complicated issue to a cheap slogan (and a slogan that misses the point, at that) is inexcusable.

To this repetition, I would like to add two of the scenarios that I have considered these few days:

  1. To illustrate contradictions in thought and consequences when the baby has no rights:

    Two women (A and B) become pregnant at roughly the same time. They spend a few months doing what pregnant women do, be it having morning sickness, shopping for baby clothes, or working in the office.

    Then, again at roughly the same time, the following happens:

    Woman A suddenly decides that she does not want a baby and has an abortion—my body, my choice.

    Women B is peacefully walking down the street, as she fantasizes about first steps and first words, while visibly pregnant. A stranger comes up and bashes her stomach with a baseball bat. The prospective mother survives with no major injuries, but the baby dies.

    Now, in the second event:

    What charges should be filed? Just assault and battery (and/or something else on a similar level) for attacking woman B? Or do we include a murder charge for the dead baby?

    If we forego the murder charge, chances are that the punishment for the perpetrator will be a slap on the wrist in comparison to what most, including, I suspect, a vast majority of pro-abortionists, would consider reasonable. If a first time offender, and if the assault and battery is judged as any similar incident without a (born or unborn) baby involved, a sufficiently contrite or contrite-appearing perpetrator might even be out on probation once the verdict is read—and might have walked the streets on bail before that.

    If we do go with a murder charge, how could we justify not filing a murder charge for woman A concerning the first event? Do we presuppose that woman A had some absolute ownership of the baby, transcending any rights that it might have had? If so, why just woman A and not the father too?* How is this compatible with a “no slavery” or “humans are not property” position?**

    *Note that a father typically has no say, beyond what the mother might allow him, in abortion decisions—and certainly none according to “my body, my choice”.

    **Systems have existed where children were the virtual property of their parents. Such systems have also tended to view the wife as the virtual property of the husband or otherwise contained elements that the Left condemns as outdated, barbaric, or whatnot. Child-as-property could also include a teenage daughter being given to a friend, as Lord Capulet intended. Be careful what you wish for.

    What alternatives do we have? Forego the murder charge, but charge the perpetrator with e.g. property damage, as if that blow had struck a car? File a pure civil suit for damages? (Which will likely remain unpaid, even if the civil suit is won, as the perpetrator is unlikely to be very wealthy.)

    I suspect that something along the lines of property damage, if maybe with a more euphemistic name, would be the necessary consequence, if a “my body, my choice” logic is applied to abortion. Could the average woman live with that? All those pro-abortionists? How does that match up with the ostensible ideology of e.g. the U.S. Democrats?

    For a slightly different perspective, assume that woman A is the perpetrator from the second event. Apart from the assault-and-battery part, how was her bat-abortion of woman B’s child different or worse from her own, regular, abortion? The two babies were at approximately the same stage of development and the same level of self-awareness and intelligence.* They had approximately the same future potential (see excursion) to become grown-ups, study, have a career, found a family of their own. They each had no say in their own demise. They were both killed by the same person.** From their point of view, any injustice done to the one must have equalled that done to the other. The only true difference is their relationship to that same killer.

    *That this level was low is unimportant for this comparison. The point is the similarity.

    **Presumably per instigation in the case of woman A’s own baby, with some type of medical practitioner performing the actual act. In doubt, this need for a third party might disappear over time, without affecting the overall problem under discussion.

  2. To illustrate that other parties than the mother (and the baby) might have rights and interests:

    A couple has no children and great problems conceiving. The husband has no greater wish than for a child (yes, this has been known to happen). The respective parents of the unhappy couple have no other children and only this chance for grandchildren—of which they have dreamt for decades. The wife is approaching menopause and, in desperation, the others all chip in for a (very expensive) in-vitro fertilization. The procedure is successful and everyone is happy for a few months, showering the wife with attention and baby gifts.

    Then the wife unilaterally decides to have an abortion—my body, my choice.

    With that, the hopes, dreams, and money invested of the others is gone, without their having a say, at the whim of someone else.

    Maybe the others could sue* for their money back, but this might do more harm than good, even if successful, and might hit the husband as hard as the wife. As to being successful, there is certainly no guarantee.

    *The likelihood that this type of woman would pay it back voluntarily is minuscule.

    Concerning children, the wife’s parents are entirely out of luck, while the husband and his parents might still have some chance through a divorce and a remarriage. Divorces, however, are messy and costly,* there is no guarantee of finding a suitable new wife, and the husband might still love the old wife—no matter how foolish this might seem, at this stage.

    *And I could see how this would play out in court: a “That sexist bastard just wants to divorce me because I exercised my rights as a woman. Sob! Sob!” followed by a “Poor dear! Here, have a tissue—and the house, and the car, and a large alimony!”.

The second case is also an illustration of the general need to consider the rights and interests of others, even when not encoded in law, as well as any ethical or moral obligations than we might have towards others. I would consider a widespread failure to do this one of the greatest problems in the modern world—and, yes, in my impressions so far, the problem is more common among women. (Some earlier discussion and examples can be found in e.g. [1] and [2].)

Excursion on treatment of humans vs. animals:
If we were to go strictly by criteria like level of intelligence and self-awareness, we would be hard pressed to justify treating many humans better than animals. Consider small children, severely mentally disabled adults, and the highly senile vs., say, dolphins, chimpanzees, elephants, or, sometimes, even dogs and horses.

Now, if we do not have such a justification, we would have to either treat animals better* or live in an even more dystopian world than the current.

*Which would be fine with me, but is likely practically unrealistic. For instance, how many would truly be prepared to spend as much to save the life of the family dog as the life of one of the children?

If we do seek a justification, what would it be? A Christian might argue that a human has a soul and an animal does not, but the rest of us have to find a justification elsewhere. Potential would often be a good way that can be made consistent, e.g. in that an infant is rated over a dog, because the child might grow up to be something far beyond what the dog could ever reach. This might not be enough to solve the case of the highly senile and the severely mentally disabled, but these are, at least, fewer.

Alternatives? Well, we could postulate some type of inherent superiority of humans, but what is to prevent, in a next step, an inherent superiority of human group X over human group Y? We could, similarly, postulate a “we humans need to stick together—humanity over fairness”, but then we again have that second step with human group X vs. human group Y. (Of course, with regard to the above comparison of babies, they would still be equal with regard to any such postulates in lieu of potential.)

Suggestions are welcome.

Excursion on “free”* this and that:
Many women, Feminists in particular, seem to consider both IVF and abortion something that others should pay for, e.g. within a health-insurance scheme. A slight modification of the second scenario shows how problematic this can be, both with regard to fairness and to incentives: Say that the IVF is paid for by the wife’s insurance—and then she has an abortion paid for by her insurance. This would not only be a gigantic waste of someone else’s money and money that could have been used much better, but a waste that is much more likely to occur in a paid-by-someone-else scheme than when the woman has to carry the cost herself.

*I.e. paid by someone else, usually taxpayers or other insurance members.

Of course, if we do say that a woman has the right to tens of thousands of taxpayer/insurance money to cover IVF, because having a child is sooooo important, how could she deny her husband the right to use her womb for just a few months more? Those who would grant the woman “free” IVF but, absent medical complications, deny the husband would show a grave hypocrisy.

Excursion on a potential duty to have children:
I would not go as far as to stipulate a duty for a woman (or, m.m., a man) to have children to satisfy a husband or a parent,* but I would stipulate that both spouses do have a duty to make an aversion (ditto the physical inability) to having children crystal clear before a marriage takes place—possibly, even before a long-term relationship. For a marriage to result in children is the default assumption, arguably, even, the point of marriage; and unwillingness to live up to this simply must be communicated in advance. Should this unwillingness not have been communicated, then I would see an ethical (if unenforceable) obligation to put the unwillingness aside. This includes, if need be, dropping any “my body, my choice” attitude.

*Note that the second scenario is deliberately constructed to include both a prior willingness on behalf of the woman and a monetary investment on behalf of the others, which was made in light of this prior willingness.

(How to handle an aversion that has arisen during the marriage is a tricky question, and would likely need to be handled on a case-by-case basis. Having insufferable children next door seems too little; nearly dying because of complications during a failed prior pregnancy seems enough.)

Written by michaeleriksson

May 8, 2022 at 7:19 pm

Our elites / Follow-up: Some unfortunate words and uses

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A belated-because-too-long excursion to Some unfortunate words and uses:

A potentially problematic word, and one which should be used much more rarely, is “elite[s]”:

Many of the sources that I read make complaints about e.g. “our elites” or “our ruling elites”. (For various, usually correct, reasons ranging from poor results to a “rules for thee, but not for me” mentality.) Sometimes, the use appears ironic, e.g. when someone with a known low opinion of the competence levels of the “elite” uses the word—and that might be, barely, acceptable. Similarly, sometimes a clear implication of “self-appointed elites consisting of Dunning-Kruger victims” shines through. (Such writers also often use “midwit” or some other more suitable term.) Less acceptable are many uses that seem to take “elite” largely at face value, often with implied or stated ideas of “if only the elites could walk a mile in our shoes” or “[some negative thing] proves that rule by an elite is bad—we must let the people have a greater say”.*

*Note, with an eye on the below, that I do not disagree with the idea that even a true elite might benefit from that mile or that even a true elite needs some type of democratic check.

The latter presuppose that the “elites” actually are elites by a meaningful standard, which is, mostly, a faulty assumption. By all means, a typical U.S. senator (or similar figure in the country at hand) is likely to be above average in both intelligence and education, but the step from there to a true (intellectual) elite is quite large. If we look at some famous U.S. politicians, are Biden,* Hillary, Harris, Pelosi, AOC, or even Obama persons of truly great intellect?** If so, they have hidden it well, as they appear unimpressive even by the standards of politicians. The situation among Big Business leaders (another group often included in these “elites”) might be better, but is still not what it could be—and an increasing proportion of “diversity hires” on the higher levels does not help. Do not get me started on large parts of the academic “elite”.

*Even discounting his apparent severe mental degradation.

**The examples are all Democrat. This because (a) the problem almost consistently appears to be worse on the Left, (b) the Democrats are currently in charge (=> ruling elite), (c) the aforementioned sources tend to be more negative about the Left. Many cases can be found among e.g. Republicans too, however.

Correspondingly, to take current political “elites” as a sign that rule by (real) elites would be a bad thing is incorrect. Speaking for myself, I would be much happier and much more willing to trust or comply with politicians if they were true elite. (And I am on record as a proponent of e.g. IQ cut-offs both for voting and for holding office.) Many of the problems we have arise simply from non-elites presuming to make decisions for others—many of whom are more intelligent, educated, informed, whatnot, than the self-appointed nannies.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 5, 2022 at 12:27 am

Some unfortunate words and uses

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There are many unfortunate words and uses of words, say, abuse of “they” where it does not belong or the abomination that is “homemaker”*. Below, I will discuss some of the more problematic cases. I stress, however, that there are a great many other examples. (Note e.g. earlier texts on “raising awareness”, “leader” (also see excursion), “create” ([1]), and “discrimination”.) There are also a great number of words, e.g. “diversity”, which are not necessarily used incorrectly, but are attributed with positive or negative characteristics in an incorrect manner.

*Consider e.g. the implication that a house or an apartment without a homemaker would be a mere residence—not a home. By PC standards, applied in the other direction, this would make the word offensive to e.g. a working single person, who would, then, be homeless. Or take a family where both parents pursue a career in the office: Would they not rob their children of a home? Would not the implication be a duty for a mother to stay back and make a home?

  1. Deserve:

    Ever more often, claims are made like “X deserves Y”—usually without an explanation. Often, especially in the case of “I deserve”, it is no more than wishful thinking,* a “I want” in disguise, or some cheap propaganda trick. Only rarely does it refer to something that someone has actually earned. (And when someone has earned something, then use “earned”! Do you “deserve” that raise or have you actually earned it?) This as if “deserve” would be a magic phrase that created an entitlement to whatever is desired—abracadabra.

    *Up to and including claims from many stupid and self-centered women that they “deserve” some variation of Prince Charming for a boyfriend—while giving every impression of having more in common with the Evil Step-Mother/Queen than with the Noble Heroine. (I note my extensive readings of relationship forums, maybe, some fifteen years ago.)

    In another direction, actual rights are often diminished by a “deserve”. For instance, the public in a democracy and Rechtsstaat does not*deserve free speech, secure and fair elections, answers about this-and-that government action, whatnot—it has a right to these things. A writer fighting for free speech should not hide under a wishy-washy “deserve”, thereby implying that there is no right and that the government is allowed to limit free speech, but should speak out loudly and clearly for the right.

    *Or, rather, whether it does or does not in some sense “deserve” is irrelevant.

    There might be need to clarify whether a particular right is based in law, e.g. the Bill of Rights in the U.S., whether it arises from an ethical principle (that a law might well violate), or whether some other set of principles, conventions, international treaties, … is the basis. Even so, a right is a right and should not be diminished to a mere privilege by words like “deserve”.

  2. Conversation:

    When used correctly, there is nothing wrong with “conversation”—say, for a talk about some trivial matter over tea and biscuits. However, now there appear to be “conversations” over the war in the Ukraine, the climate, the energy crisis, election laws, whatnot. These are not, and should not be, conversations, be it in private or on some general national or international level. These are topics for discussions, debates, and arguments* (which depends on circumstances and details).

    *In the strong-disagreement-or-worse sense; not in the support-of-my-claim sense used in most of the rest of this text.

    Whether the main problem is that the topic is diminished or that the approach is faulty, is unclear—but not that it is a problem. As to faulty approach: A conversation will often contain opposing views and disagreements, but only within limits, as pushing too hard will sour the mood or turn the conversation into an argument. At the same time, big issues must be open to strongly opposing views, the presentation of strong arguments for and against the respective views, etc. A conversation about whether Putin is trying to conquer Europe or protect the Donbas republics would be a pointless triviality. Even over tea and biscuits, nothing less than a discussion will do.

  3. Science:

    Again, when used correctly …

    During the COVID era, “science”* has degenerated into a mere slogan in the mouths of politicians, journalists, etc.—and use has often been problematic even before that. No, Fauci is not science incarnated—no matter what he likes to believe. On the contrary, he has shown a very un-, maybe even anti-, scientific mindset. Science journalists usually have a shallow and flawed understanding of science; politicians are the same; and there is little doubt that the official message has not been driven by science—no matter what they like to claim.

    *Here I refer to the word, as this is a text on words, but a similar discussion around science-with-scare-quotes would be quite possible.

    Science, by its nature, demands free debate, exchange of opinions and arguments, that factual arguments and observations take precedence over preconceived opinions, etc. A scientist supports his position with science—and abandons this position, if the other side has better arguments. The point is not to win* the argument, but to find the truth. A good scientist does not scream “Fake news! Fake news!”, does not proclaim himself to be science, does not attack* his opponents* with ad hominem in order to defeat* their positions (but does put the positions to the test by facts and arguments), etc.

    *Indeed, even thinking in terms of “win”, “attack”, “opponent” (let alone, “enemy”), etc. is contrary to a sound scientific mindset. While scientists might compete to get a certain result first, or hope that their pet hypothesis wins out over another hypothesis, they should view themselves as allies in the search for a greater scientific understanding. Only when someone, e.g. the likes of Fauci, puts science aside and engages in un-/anti-scientific behavior might an attack or the image of an enemy be justified.

    Similarly, consider “climate science”: There is real climate science (and I do not necessarily disagree with it), but what is reported as “science” (or “settled science”) is often fear-mongering, exaggerations, speculation based on models that have, at best, a checkered record, … Screaming that the world will end and that anyone who thinks differently should be ignored is not science—not even should the world actually be ending.

    Great doubts has to be raised against the use of “science” to refer to many (most? all?) softer sciences. (But historical reasons make this use hard to avoid.) To consider e.g. literary science a science is very dubious. Some social sciences could potentially be better off, but rarely actually are, as they have been polluted by ideology and a lack of scientific thinking—the “truth” is known and reality has to bend to fit “truth”. Some texts by Philip Carl Salzman at Minding the Campus describe a depressing degeneration of anthropology.* (Many other texts there deal with related issues in academia, but Salzman has an unusually long-term perspective on this field.) Certainly, grave doubts must be raised against any field dominated by postmodernism, postcolonialism, Marxism, …

    *I do not vouch for his view being correct and correct in detail, as these are one-sided accounts, but (a) he is well-placed to judge the issue, (b) his observations broadly match what I have seen in or been told about large parts of the softer sciences, in general.

  4. A very great number of words and expressions introduced, abused, or distorted by the PC crowd, the Left, and similar groupings could be added. I point e.g. to the long standing abuse of “racism” to denote much which is not racist and the newer attempts to redefine “racism” to exclude Black-on-White racism (generally, Black-on-X and Minority-on-White). A particular perfidious example is use of terms like “justice” and “equality” in a manner that is in direction contradiction to the meanings of these words, often by prefixing a “social”. As a joint example, “social justice” usually has implications of equality of outcome, which is both highly unjust and not equality at all—equality demands equality of opportunity and denying this in order to ensure equal outcomes is a great injustice.

Excursion on models:
It appears, both with COVID and the climate, that models are made and trained, used to make predictions, and then policy is made based on these predictions. This is sloppy and likely a strong reason why so many policy-influencing predictions have been wrong. Specifically, the first few rounds of predictions should be used to test the model—not to make policy. If these predictions match reality, then later rounds of predictions can be given at least some influence on policy; if not, it is back to the drawing board. (And great caution is needed, even when the tests are successful, especially for predictions that are far into the future, involve many unknowns, and/or involve chaotic systems.)

Excursion on “leader”:
I have already discussed “leader” in [1]. However, reading it again, I notice a major overlooked case: the use of “leader” to imply e.g. “administrator”. This is often a case of flattery or self-flattery, in that a school administrator might be addressed with nonsense like “educational leader” in an attempt to score points in a letter. (I saw an example of this quite recently, but do not remember where.) In some cases, e.g. with a school principal, it has some semi-justification in that a principal can be seen as the leader of the school. (Whether this makes for an educational leader might still be debated. Certainly, a formulation with e.g. “principal” would be fairer and more accurate, even here.) In most cases, however, these administrators are not leaders at all, notwithstanding that they might have some decision- or policy-making power.

Moreover, it is usually a bad idea to make or consider administrators leaders. Doing so makes for a flawed system, where persons of often lower understanding of the actual work, lower intelligence, and lower general ability are in charge. Look at a typical U.S. college: is that diversity manager of even remotely comparable competence and intellectual capacity to the physics professor whom (usually) she bosses around? Highly unlikely. Chances are that (usually) he is levels above her, and that he would be able to get a better grasp than she of what little of value her field contains within days—should he be so inclined. Or look at my own work experiences as a software developer: Hardly ever has the middle-manager or project leader in charge been the intellectual number one (even discounting my own presence). Often he has been above average, by developer standards, but about as often below average. Complete disasters have been found.

Let the people with real brains and the domain expertise do the leading and use administrators to take busywork off their backs. Just like accountants are hired to do the accounting, administrators should be hired to administrate—not lead. (Admittedly, there is a danger that the nature of an administrator’s position allows for gradual power grabs over time, implying that a sound original intention might be perverted over the years.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 2, 2022 at 7:40 am

Further problems with freedom of speech, etc.

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After my recent text on Odd reactions around Putin and Russia / Problems with cancellations, freedom of speech, etc. ([1]), it seems that I run into examples of issues with freedom of speech everywhere, especially of the “conform or else” type.

To give some examples:

  1. Swedish blogger Gunnar Wall writes that he and others have been condemned as “farliga” (“dangerous”) och “skadliga” (“harmful”) for questioning the very dubious and widely criitcized quasi-identification* of Stig Engström as the murderer of Olaf Palme and because they “sår tvivel” (“sow doubt[s]”), which society would not need. Should we conclude that it is more important to have an undisputed “truth” than to have a debate about what the (real) truth is? That anything claimed by officials must be taken as true and beyond discussion?

    *See [2] and a number of backlinked texts for more information on my own take.

    Commenter “Michael” (not me) has a particularly insightful comment at “12 mars 2022 kl. 19:45”. A part (and approximate translation) of this long comment:

    Det tycks som om totalitära tänkesätt nästan blivit mode även i västliga demokratier. Anklagelserna mot de som åtminstone försökt […] sakligt klarlägga vad som faktiskt hände den där mordnatten […] faller tillbaka på de som yttrat dem. Att benämna fria debattörer och journalister som både “farliga” och “skadliga” är oanständigt i en demokrati. Har man invändningar eller tycker att något inte stämmer bemöter man på ett civiliserat och sakligt sätt. Absolut tilltro till staten är minst lika farlig som dess absoluta motsats.

    Translation:

    It appears that the totalitarian way of thinking has become fashionable even in Western democracies. The accusations against those who at least have tried […] to factually clarify what actually happened during the night of the murder […] condemns* the accusers. To call independent debaters and journalists “dangerous” and “harmful” is indecent in a democracy. If one has objections, or believes that something is wrong, one meets them** in a civilized and factual manner. Absolute trust in the state is at least as dangerous as the opposite.

    *Literally, “falls back on”. Think “I’m rubber; you’re glue”.

    **The “them” is arguably an interpolation. Both “them” and “meets” are slightly speculative for “bemöter”.

  2. A U.S. source claims that the DHS will target those with non-conforming opinions, specifically those with concerns over the 2020 elections and the official COVID claims. This despite the former being very legitimate and despite the latter being highly problematic. Notably, problems with COVID claims include repeated changes* to the official line and valid scientific criticisms that have not been debated with facts and arguments but attacked with “Fake news! Fake news!”.

    *That the official position changes in light of more information is not a problem; however, such changes (a) validate prior criticism, (b) clearly imply that other claims might turn out to be in need of revision or be outright faulty—and must therefore be open to criticism.

    Based on what I have seen of the U.S. in the Biden era, and often before that, this is more likely to be a bad-faith political attack on the Conservatives than a good-faith attempt at anything. (The source, Gateway Pundit, should be taken with a grain of salt in its interpretations, as it is almost as partial, in the other direction, as most of MSM. However, I have seen enough from other sources and my own observations to not give the DHS the benefit of the doubt here. Indeed, there seems to be a strong drift to mark large areas of non-Leftist opinions (!) as “domestic terrorism”.)

    This is particularly dangerous with regard to the elections, as the result, should this approach be used permanently, is that even a clearly fraudulent election, as when a Socialist dictator gains 99 percent of the votes, could not be criticized. Effectively: We have a count from the election—and that count must be accepted, no matter what irregularities, miscounting, misreporting, ballot harvesting, whatnot, took place. Democracy, my ass!

  3. Multiple sources concern how DeSantis is pushing a bill to remove opportunities for early brainwashing of children in Florida. Firstly, this bill appears to hava been grossly misrepresented by the Left as a “don’t say gay” bill. (The more absurd, as the Left is far more likely to push for the ban of words and phrases and/or to prescribe other words and phrases than the non-Left.) Secondly, extremely childish Leftists have made a point, based on this gross misrepresentation, to get into the faces of Republicans and chant “Gay! Gay! Gay!” or to perform similarly idiotic stunts.

    That reality distortion is a core strategy of the Left is nothing new, but this is an extremely illustrative example, both of the type of “we are good and tolerant; they are evil and intolerant” distortions that are so often used (and, as here, often prove the exact opposite in the process), and what type of harassment is considered legitimate or illegitimate based on who is the perpetrator and who is the victim (instead of the act and the facts)—reverse the roles and the same act might be condemned as hate speech. Violate the increasingly far-Left teachings and you will be slandered and mocked.

  4. The Daily Sceptic discusses Roger Harbin and the BBC respectively their anti-scientific take on climate change. The problems include a 2006 unilateral decision that the science would now be settled (of course, with condemnation of gainsayers as “climate deniers” or some other derogatory term) and odd terminology changes like replacing “global warming” with “global heating”.

    The latter is not only extremely misleading in its natural connotations*, but (according to the article) was brought on by a lack of warming over a prolonged time—absent what we warn of, we must warn the harder and use the more alarming words, lest our support diminishes. (Note that this well matches my observations on the Left, e.g. in that Feminists cry the louder how disadvantaged women would be the less disadvantaged they actually are—let alone when women are actually advantaged, as in e.g. my native Sweden, where public debate might create the impression of 19th-century conditions for women.)

    *Contrast e.g. “warm day/air/water” with “hot day/air/water” with an eye at the temperatures involved. Indeed, with water as a baseline, even “teppid” might be an exaggeration.

    The former, more on topic, is a splendid example of an “Official Truth” that must not be opposed—or else. This is the more sad as my own take on global warming, climate change, whatnot, has become increasingly sceptical the more I have informed myself. While I have yet to arrive at a firm conclusion, I note that there is a disturbing tendency to just shout “Climate denier! Climate denier!” instead of rationally debating the many concerns raised by various scientists and debaters—up to and including whether a warming trend or trend towards more CO2 is automatically a bad thing. (Something, which is more assumed, as another indisputable “Official Truth”, than it is explained by factual arguments.) Of course, as with COVID, this refusal to engage in scientific debate makes it the harder for us laymen to actually develop a valid opinion.

  5. A Substack interview with Eugyppius goes into related issues with an eye (mostly) on COVID.

    To just quote a portion of the first question, as it sets the scene well (and note that “random internet denizens” are increasingly prevented from speaking their minds):

    Over the last 6 years or so I’ve seen a kind of (as of yet) unidentified sclerosis creep into widely used online infrastructure; the internet as I knew it became less responsive to my questions and interests, more prone to elevating mainstream sources to satisfy query inputs, less likely to guide me to the individuals actually concerned with whatever problems I was facing. The usual channels for learning more about niche experiences like Google and YouTube became virtually useless, and I began to spend more of my time looking to people on Twitter or rustic web forums for answers, most of whom were anonymous like yourself. But this phenomenon seemed intuitively backward—random internet denizens were somehow producing more insightful commentary on pretty much every matter than highly credentialed experts and capital-heavy institutions.

    (I recommend reading the entire text.)

Finally, I point to a long discussion of both free speech and Russia–Ukraine by a Catholic archbishop. While the free-speech part probably does not add anything new relative my own writings, the Russia–Ukraine part goes through much of what amounts to the other (non-Western) side of the story in [1], which makes it a good complement to that text.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 14, 2022 at 9:52 pm

The intellectually dishonest harming their own causes / Follow-up: various

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As I have discussed in some earlier texts (e.g. [1]), the problems associated with replacing a fair debate with “Fake news! Fake news!”, censorship, and other anti-intellectual and intellectually dishonest methods can be grave. An interesting issue is that this type of “argumentation” often backfires, both in that the intellectually dishonest lose credibility, much like the boy who cried wolf, and that they will lose an audience for solid arguments (should they exist) resp. the chance to present these arguments.

In particular, those who are strong critical thinkers, know science and logic, are used to think for themselves, etc., are exactly those who tend to be put off by this type of “argumentation”. In contrast, those who fall for it tends to be the gullible, those who cannot or will not think for themselves. (Note the stark contrast with official propaganda around COVID, where, somehow, the gullible are the enlightened and the thinkers in need of “education” or whatnot. Also note [2], where I discuss by own vaccine situation and the issues of intellectually dishonest, sometimes even outright terrifying, propaganda.)

Consider the case of side-effects from the COVID-vaccines. There appear to be two camps over the last year-or-so:

Firstly, the mainstream camp, which claims that side-effects are far too rare to be of concern—and which supports this opinion more with defamation of the other camp than with arguments, statistics, science, whatnot. An important special case is the sometime identification of those skeptical towards the current COVID-vaccines or their use with the older and more general anti-vaccine movement. (Yes, members of the latter are highly likely to be members of the former, but the opposite does not automatically apply and there are legitimate concerns around the COVID-vaccines and their use that are not relevant to the debate on vaccines in general.)

Secondly, the opposing camp, which claims that the side-effects outweigh the benefits for those not in a risk-group, and at least try to support this stance with arguments, statistics, science, whatnot.

This second camp, however, contains a spectrum ranging from those who believe that the risks, while unnecessary and not outweighed by any vaccine benefits, are very small, to those who believe that the risks are very large. (And especially the latter might make further going claims than those mentioned above.)

If (!) the mainstream camp is correct, or at least approximately correct, in that the “very small” side of the opposing spectrum is correct, why not take the debate, clarify the situation, and avoid fears in the population that the “very large” side of the opposing spectrum is correct? Vice versa, if the mainstream camp is incorrect, this should be established as soon as possible, to reduce the risks to the people.

Example: Apparently, a great number of athletes have dropped dead after taking a vaccine and are making the headlines of alternative media,* while being ignored or explained away with (often) weak arguments in mainstream media. Assume that we were instead to perform some type of baseline comparison, to establish whether the aggregate numbers are higher than they normally are and/or whether the rate of death is higher within some time after taking the vaccine than among the unvaccinated. If they are not, this would be a significant (and, for once, legitimate gain) for the mainstream camp; if they are, this should be brought to common knowledge and begin** to influence policy as soon as possible.

*Sometimes, regrettably, after merely dropping dead, with only a speculated connection to the vaccine—neither camp is perfect.

**However, an increase does not automatically give us vaccines as the cause of that increase. The conclusion would be tentative and the correct measure would be to scale back vaccinations (outside risk groups) while further investigations are made.

Similarly, the mainstream camp has pushed a narrative that the unvaccinated would be a threat, would allow the virus to survive*/mutate/become more virulent/whatnot. This usually through argumentation-by-assertion. The opposing camp has the opposite take—that “over-vaccination” creates more dangerous versions of the virus, and that the vaccine is better left to risk groups. This stance is supported by arguments, empirical knowledge about viruses in general,** and reason. Indeed, when it comes to antibiotics, the mainstream stance is (or has historically been) the same—we should use antibiotics with restraint, lest some bacterial strains develop immunity and leave us defenseless. Again: if the mainstream camp has it right, it should take the debate and try to win that debate based on better arguments; if it has it wrong, we must learn this as soon as possible and policy must be adapted.

*A particular perfidious claim as there is no greater chance of exterminating COVID than the flu—even with a fully vaccinated population.

**Where the characteristics of different viruses have to be factored in. As has been noted repeatedly by experts, the characteristics of e.g. the viruses behind smallpox and COVID are very different, making the successful anti-smallpox strategy pointless with COVID. In contrast, COVID does have much in common with the flu, and lessons from major flu epidemics are more valuable.

Speaking for myself, I am genuinely concerned about at some point being forced to take one of the current vaccines. This, and pay attention here, not because I believe that the risks are very large, but because the risks are unknown to me. In particular, as things currently stand, there is no possibility for me to give “informed consent” in any reasonable sense of the phrase—the behavior of the mainstream camp has ensured that I am uninformed*. In contrast, COVID is a known risk—and that risk is very small for me, as I am not a member of a risk group. I would effectively be weighing a known very small risk against an unknown risk somewhere in the range from very small to very large.**

*Note that this is a type of uninformed that differs from that of the ignorant average citizen: I have a considerable, if still layman-level, amount of information on various topics and sub-topics, but they are often subject to great uncertainties and conflicts of “presumed-expert-A says one thing and presumed-expert-B another”—and where clarity cannot be found, because the one side refuses the debate with the other, implying that any single source will present its arguments (or “arguments”) unopposed. (To which, cf. the next footnote, must be added that some items might still be unknown or unknowable even to competent experts.)

**And this just looking at the somewhat near future. In addition, I have seen some raise concern about unknown long-term damage. This is both natural and valid, but it is interesting that the mainstream camp raised early such concerns about COVID, but is now trying to squash any such concerns about the vaccinations. Again, the argumentation is not directed at rational decision making but at increasing COVID fears or avoiding vaccine fears—and never mind the underlying reality.

To this I might add that the incorrectness of claims from the mainstream camp is often indisputable—not merely an issue of something unknowable, a difference in opinion, or similar. For instance, some months back, I read a text where some utter idiot argued that because our school children would be extra super-duper vulnerable to COVID, it would be extra super-duper important to prioritize vaccinations for said school children. However, experiences gathered over roughly two years show indisputably that school children are extremely unlikely to fall victim—either they avoid infection to begin with or the infection, with very, very few exceptions, never moves beyond something trivial. Indeed, school children might be the single age group(s) who are naturally the safest.

On the upside, there seems to be a trend towards more common sense at the moment, including positive claims by the WHO and the U.K., but it is too early to be truly hopeful—and it has yet to make any noticeable change in Germany (where I live).

Written by michaeleriksson

January 20, 2022 at 3:49 pm

The power of a false consensus / Follow-up: Various

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Pondering a few recent texts (most notably: [1], [2]), I recalled something long forgotten:

The Asch conformity experiments.

The general idea: Many bow to a near-consensus opinion that they do not actually share—or, worse, actually change their opinions to conform with the near-consensus, for no better reason than the status as near-consensus. This even when we look at a situation where it is fairly obvious that the majority has it wrong.

What, then, might happen, when we look at an issue with no obvious answer? One where the answer might be clear to those who have put in the research, but where most individuals will not have done so?* Consider the many issues around COVID that have been fraught with uncertainty or where the science has changed over time. Consider various Leftist claims about women’s earnings, systemic racism, and similar, which seem convincing on a casual glance but collapse when someone actually looks at the facts at hand—which far too few have actually done.

*Which might sometimes be a failing; sometimes, merely a result of how little time there is for so many topics.

In light of this, various acts of censorship, straw-manning, defamation, etc. suddenly make more sense. Ditto the constant cries of “Fake news! Fake news!”.

What if the reason is not what I have always assumed, namely to prevent debate and to prevent others from being exposed to arguments, facts, and statistics—but to create a false* feeling of a consensus, with the object that the skeptics be “Aschered” towards the preferred opinion? (Be it by actually changing their minds or by making them conform in their claimed opinions.) For this to work, the perceived consensus must be near unanimous—or the existing dissenters must be so thoroughly discredited that they do not give the skeptics reason to continue their skepticism or, worse, turn into new dissenters.

*Note that this, in a worst case, could take place even in face of a true near consensus in the opposite direction, provided that the power of misrepresentation is sufficiently large. A potential example is that, as I have mentioned on a great number of occasions, journalists, politicians, and social scientists very stubbornly ignore inconvenient biological results, even to the point of claiming the exact opposite. (Including a great many claims relating to I.Q.) What proportion of the population reads the papers and what proportion actually has an exposure to biological scientific results?

The problem for the censors and whatnots: One individual standing up against a near consensus might find himself alone, without support, doubting himself (“Am I right—and all the others wrong?!?”), or otherwise have a weak position. Switch just one other to his side, let alone two or three, and the situation is very different, and the chances that he will stick to his guns are that much greater. Next, what if these few turn into even just a noticeable minority in society, making every potential dissenter or skeptic know that he is not alone?

Apart from the general observation with regard to e.g. Leftist propaganda and COVID-scaremongering, there is the important lesson to never change one’s mind for reasons like being in a minority. Being in a majority or a minority is only very rarely a useful argument—and a mind should be changed only if sufficiently strong and convincing real and relevant arguments are presented.

Excursion on the reporting of Asch’s results:
I was slightly disappointed by the discussion of results on the linked-to Wikipedia page, where the tendency to switch opinion was nowhere near as large as I wished to remember. This is explained by claims like “However, a 1990 survey of US social psychology textbooks found that most ignored independence, instead reported a misleading summary of the results as reflecting complete power of the situation to produce conformity of behavior and belief.”, i.e. a considerable distortion of the findings with a potential false consensus … (I do not see a conspiracy here, but it is an interesting coincidence, and an example of how science can be falsified when reported by middlemen, be it deliberately or accidentally.)

I would, however, not truly see this as weakening my above speculation. In part, the belief of the perpetrators that they would be successful is more important than their actual chances at success; in part, as stated above, the greater uncertainties around e.g. COVID (relative the clear decisions in the experiments) are likely to make the victims considerably more compliant than in the experiments.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2021 at 3:45 pm

Not perfect; ergo, useless

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Quite a few odd human behaviors, especially on the political Left, could be explained by assuming a “not perfect; ergo, useless” principle, be it as a logical fallacy or as an intellectually dishonest line of pseudo-argumentation. (To the latter, I note that this principle seems to be applied hypocritically to the ideas of opponents but not to own ideas.)

A typical use is to find some flaw or disadvantage and use it to discredit the whole. (If a small flaw, usually combined with rhetorical exaggeration.) This without weighing the overall pros-and-cons, without acknowledging similar flaws in other ideas, products, whatnot, and without considering whether the flaw is repairable*. Consider e.g. an infomercial that I watched at a tender age: A hyper-energetic salesman ran around comparing “his” fitness product to the competition’s:** “The X is great—but, unlike my product, you can’t stow it under the bed!”, “The Y is great—but twice as expensive!”, “The Z is great—but not portable!”, etc., without comparing stowability, price, portability, and whatnot, over all products. It was simply not a fair comparison or an attempt to find the best choice, just a series of excuses to “prove” that any given competing product was inferior to the one sold by him.

*As a good counter-example, complicated mathematical proofs often turn out to contain defects. While these are sometimes fatal, they are often repairable and often the proof can still stand by limiting the conclusion to a subset of the original scope. Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s wild claim is a good example.

**This was likely more than 30 years ago, so I cannot vouch for the exact comparisons (let alone formulations), but the idea should be clear.

Or consider the example that was the impulse to write this text: In Hans Fallada’s Kleiner Mann — was nun?, the protagonist (Pinneberg) tries to get a payment from an insurance company, is met with an unexpected request for must-be-provided-before-payout documents, and inquires at some type of supervisory agency whether these were justified. He obtains and sends all the documents in a batch to the insurance company (in parallel). Now, some of these document were obtainable sooner (e.g. a birth certificate); others later. Pinneberg’s actions are then limited by the availability of the last of the documents that the insurance company requested. When the insurance company replies to the supervisory agency, it, among other things, tries to pawn off the delay on Pinneberg: he had the birth certificate at date X and sent it at date Y; ergo, the delay from date X to date Y was his own fault.*

*The book is not sufficiently detailed for me to judge whether these documents were reasonable and exactly how the blame is to be divided. However, this particular reasoning remains faulty, as Pinneberg could not have expected more than very marginally faster treatment through sending in a partial set of documents at an earlier time, and as the extra costs might have been unconscionable. (Pinneberg was a low earner with wife and child in the depression era, and want of money, unexpected expenses, risk of unemployment, etc., were constant issues.)

A more common example is IQ, which (among many other invalid attacks) is often met by e.g. variations of “there are poor high-IQ individuals; ergo, IQ is useless”, “the correlation between scholastic achievement and IQ is not perfect; ergo, IQ is useless”, “IQ is only X% heritable; ergo, we should ignore heritability of IQ”, …*

*Note the difference between these and perfectly legitimate and correct ones, e.g. “there are poor high-IQ individuals; ergo, IQ is not the sole determinant of wealth and income”. These, however, appear to be rarer in politics.

The last points to another common example: nature vs. nurture: too many* seem to think that because “nature” only explains some portion of individual** variation, it can or should be ignored entirely. Note e.g. calls for very high female quotas even in absurd areas, as with a 50% quota within a Conservative party, or various forms of distortive U.S. college recruiting to “help minorities”, unless these minorities happen to be Jewish or Asian. (Or male, for that matter.)

*Even among those who do not blindly deny any non-trivial influence of nature at all, whose position is solidly refuted by the biological sciences. It is rarely clear to me which school any given debater belongs to, which makes the division and the giving of examples tricky.

**This also relates to another fallacy: assuming that a small difference (in e.g. characteristics or outcomes) between typical individual members of different groups implies small group differences. This is sometimes the case, but not always, and especially not on the tails of a distribution.

The possibly paramount example, however, is postmodernism and its take on knowledge and science (logic, whatnot):* because science cannot give us perfect knowledge, science is a waste of time (or, even, quackery). Worse, even attitudes like “because we cannot have perfect knowledge, all hypotheses are equal”, “[…], we can decide what the truth is”, “[…], we can each have our own truth”, are common in, at least, the political and pseudo-academical use. However, even absent perfect knowledge, science can achieve much, say, finding what hypotheses are likely resp. unlikely, what models are good and bad at approximating the results from the unknown “true” model, or increasingly better approximations of various truths. Certainly, I would not be writing this text on a computer had it not been for science and the practical work done based on science.

*At least, as applied practically and/or by those less insightful. I cannot rule out that some brighter theorists have a much more nuanced view.

Excursion on fatal flaws:
Of course, there are cases when a flaw is fatal enough that the whole or most of the whole must be given up. A good example is, again, nature–nurture: if someone wants to base policy on a “nurture only” assumption, any non-trivial “nature” component could invalidate the policy.* A good family of examples is “yes, X would be great, but we cannot afford it”.

*And vice versa, but I cannot recall anyone basing policy on “nature only” in today’s world, while a “nurture only” or a “too little nature to bother with” assumption is ubiquitous. Cf. above.

Excursion on nature vs. nurture and removed variability:
A common error is to assume that the relative influence of “nature” and “nurture” is fix, which is not the case: both depend strongly on how much variability is present. Notably, if we remove variability from “nurture”, which appears to be the big policy goal for many on the Left, then the variability of “nature” will be relatively more important—and when we look at group outcomes, where the individual variation through chance evens out, then “nature” will increasingly be the dominant determinant. In other words, if “nature” (strictly hypothetically) could have been mostly ignored in the Sweden of 1920, a century of Leftist hyper-egalitarianism would almost certainly have made it quite important today. Similarly, note how attempts at removing “cultural bias” from IQ tests have not eliminated the many group differences in test results, of which it allegedly was the cause. Indeed, the group differences have sometimes even grown larger, because the influence of “culture”/“nurture” has been diminished in favor of “nature”.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 24, 2020 at 3:58 pm

Tolkningsföreträde

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I find myself, again, wanting to reference the Swedish concept of tolkningsföreträde. To make this easier, I publish this text as a considerable modification of an excursion from an older text:

An apparently international problem with many members of the Left is that they presume to have, using a Swedish word, “tolkningsföreträde”—it is their way or the high way: They decide what a word should mean. They decide what is sexism, racism, xenophobia, whatnot. They decide what is acceptable. They decide what is fair and unfair. They decide what is science and what quackery.* Etc. Often, they even presume to decide what someone else meant by a statement and what his motivations were.** Have the audacity to question this right in Sweden,*** even by pointing to the possibility of another interpretation or by pointing out that their use does not match the established one, and what happens: You (!) are accused of demanding tolkningsföreträde …

*Often mixing the two up in a manner that would be comedy if it was not so tragic, as with the blanket condemnations of anything related to IQ or the influence of “nature”, despite solid evidence, and the blanket acceptance of e.g. “gender studies” claims and a “nurture only” view, despite very severe problems with lack of proof, ideological bias, an adapt-the-facts-to-fit-the-hypothesis attitude, and whatnot.

**Not to be confused with the often observed (and it self disputable) attitude that it is solely the subjective perception of the “target” which counts to determine e.g. whether a statement is offensive: Here I mean the case of e.g. unilaterally deciding which interpretation of a statement the speaker intended and unilaterally deciding that the speaker was motivated by e.g. racism or sexism—not e.g. by concerns over sustainability of this-or-that or by the wish to make a joke. For instance, someone who says “White lives matter” is actually a racist shit who means that Black lives do not matter—not someone who, just maybe, might try to point to problems with the current attitudes against Whites or who wants to push for a more inclusive approach.

***The principle holds internationally too, if to a lesser degree and without use of the word “tolkningsföreträde”. Consider e.g. the very deliberate misdefinitions of “racism” pushed by some groups, which are simultaneously illogical and contrary to established use, but where even the attempt to push the correct meaning can lead to condemnation.

The behavior often goes beyond what can be taken as good faith based in stupidity and ignorance, and moves into outright Orwellian areas, where deliberate attempts to manipulate the debate and suppress dissent must be suspected. This especially when the Left reverses the accusation by complaining about tolkningsföreträde in others. Then again, the level of hypocrisy and blindness is often disturbingly large, and, even here, I cannot rule out an inability to see the hypocrisy.

The word, it self, means roughly “precedence of interpretation” and originated as a legal term* implying that one person/organization/whatnot has the power of interpretation of e.g. an agreement or a set of rules or by-laws, in case of ambiguity or dispute.

*An English/U.S./common-law equivalent might well exist, but I am not aware of it.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2020 at 10:32 am

Another journalist speaks up / Follow-up: Poor journalism and journalism as a source of fake news (The New York Times)

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About two months ago, I wrote about problems with the New York Times, including criticism by a 16-year insider of that paper.

Today, I encountered another insiders’ view and see a further validation of both my take on this particular paper and the press and media in general (to some degree, society in general). This long resignation letter by Bari Weiss is worthy of being quoted in full and picking cherries out of it is hard, but the below is an attempt to do so:

[Lessons after Trump’s election:] the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.

Indeed, one of my largest criticism of the press is not that it has the wrong opinions (from my POV), but that journalists see themselves as the “enlightened few” and the rest of us (even those vastly more intelligent, better educated, and well informed) as ignorants who need to be fed pre-processed opinions.

Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.

To this I note the two possible interpretations of “BILD dir deine Meinung”, the slogan of BILD, Germany’s largest (and likely worst) news-paper: It could be read as an imperative to “Form your own opinion!”; it could be read as a presumptuous and reader despising “BILD [gives] you your opinion”.

Indeed, the distortions by the press regularly includes filtering out facts that could be interpreted in the “wrong” manner by the readers, leading them to opinions other than the journalists.

My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; […] [On Slack], some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name.

This repeats the enormous problems that exist e.g. in U.S. colleges, on sports teams, and whatnots. Moreover, note the hypocrisy of using claims for inclusiveness to exclude someone.

Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.

Note: Not “conservative”, not “rightist”, not “Trump supporter”, but actually just “centrist”. The linked to Wikipedia page says “Bari Weiss describes herself as a ‘left-leaning centrist.’ ”, making it even worse … Apparently, someone not solidly “leftist” is not welcome.

But the truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times. […] And so self-censorship has become the norm.

But how can a journalist who is not intellectually curious possibly do a good job? One who self-censors? Both are antithetical to good journalism.

Op-eds that would have easily been published just two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble, if not fired.

Persons being fired over expressing the wrong opinion is (sadly) nothing remarkable today and not unheard of even two decades ago. There are two particularly disturbing aspects here, however: (a) The short time-span, which points to a disastrous and disastrously fast trend.* (b) That even journalism is affected. Indeed, here and with some other quotes, it pays to bear in mind that the justification for the press is to a large degree to ensure expression of opinions that might otherwise be silenced and to ensure that someone criticizes what is wrong with society, the government, whatnot, even in the face of suppression attempts. When the press cannot do that or, worse, is complicit in the suppression of opinion, something is very, very foul.

*Note that both this resignation letter and the previous insider view seem to see the Trump election as something of a watershed. (But I consider this to be a bit optimistic about the age of the problems.)

Even now, I am confident that most people at The Times do not hold these [PC, Leftist, SJW, …] views. Yet they are cowed by those who do.

I have heard similar claims about e.g. the U.S. college situation (at least outside the social sciences) and e.g. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton points in the same direction for the overall population. However, this makes it the more important to take a stand, to not bow to threats, to not “apologize” for having said something “inappropriate” (“racist”, “sexist”, whatnot), to not have a “two thousand ants can’t be wrong—this is a great place for a picnic!” attitude, etc.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 15, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Poor journalism and journalism as a source of fake news (The New York Times)

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A while back, I encountered a quite interesting article, in which a renowned* journalist deplores the The 2016 Election and the Demise of Journalistic Standards.

*One Michael Goodwin. While unknown to me, apparently he is “the chief political columnist for The New York Post” and “he worked for 16 years at The New York Times”, among other qualifications relevant for the current discussion.

He is, obviously correct, but too optimistic, e.g. in that he says “We were generally seen as trying to report the news in a fair and straightforward manner. Today, all that has changed. For that, we can blame the 2016 election or, more accurately, how some news organizations chose to cover it.”: The problem in lacking standards has existed for a very long time before that, although it is conceivable that the trend has been slower in the U.S. than in e.g. Germany and Sweden. If the public has acquired a greater awareness of this problem through the reporting around the 2016 election, then this is a good thing—but, make no mistake, many were aware long before that. My own first complaints in writing are likely more than ten years old by now, and I had been an unhappy camper for a long time before that.

A particularly interesting claim:

The [New York] Times’ previous reputation for having the highest standards was legitimate. Those standards were developed over decades to force reporters and editors to be fair and to gain public trust. The commitment to fairness made The New York Times the flagship of American journalism. But standards are like laws in the sense that they are designed to guide your behavior in good times and in bad. Consistent adherence to them was the source of the Times’ credibility. And eliminating them has made the paper less than ordinary. Its only standards now are double standards.

While I cannot vouch for his estimate of the past of this paper, the trend well matches the problems and trends that I have seen elsewhere. Cf. e.g. portions of the my discussion of the Relotius fraud or my suggestions for a new press ethics [1] (and a number of links from these pages). In fact, if his claims about The New York Times hold true, it can be argued that my new press ethics is on many points just a return to an older press ethics …

Earlier today, I found an article on Minding the Campus dealing with the New York Times, specifically a recent, highly problematic Pulitzer Prize awarded for its highly problematic “The 1619 Project”. As discussed in this article and several preceding on the same site, there are grave problems with historically incorrect claims that even fairly basic fact checking would have caught—and which appear to have been made out of a wish to push a certain political angle relating to slavery, exploitation of Blacks, and similar, beyond what is warranted by actual history. (The alternative is gross incompetence, which, obviously, can never be ruled out when it comes to journalists.)

This, too, plays in well with some of my past writings, including (again) [1] and a portions of a recent text on fake news and COVID-19. In particular, we have here publications that at least partially* are “fake news”, journalistic fraud, “bad science”, or whatnot, yet are not only accepted as “non-fake news”—but actually wins Pulitzers …

*I have not studied the project in detail, myself, and I do not rule out that there is considerable valuable and correct content (but neither do I rule out that there is not). The deficits repeatedly detailed by Minding the Campus are, however, sufficiently extensive and severe as to make the whole irredeemably bad journalism, the type that rightfully should get journalists fired and “you will never work in this town again”-ed. But instead, again, it wins prestigious prizes …

Written by michaeleriksson

May 11, 2020 at 8:03 pm