scholars can be so silly

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Elliot Temple

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Mar 16, 2012, 1:49:28 AM3/16/12
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In "Edmund Burke and Adam Smith - Pioneers in the Field of Law and Economics", Robert W. McGee brings up an interesting topic.

In the 1776 Annual Register was a very positive review of The Wealth of Nations. Perhaps Burke wrote it. And McGee also brings up some other ways Burke helped The Wealth of Nations be an influential success.

McGee has no arguments or information of his own to offer for reaching an answer about whether Burke wrote the review. He makes no contribution.

Instead, McGee provides two footnotes. One for the existence of speculation that Burke wrote it, and a second from someone who attributes the review to Burke "in no uncertain terms".

McGee also fails to provide any useful contextual information -- e.g. that Burke was the editor of the Annual Register at the time, or information about who else helped write it. Good scholarship would help the reader understand the situation so he could make some judgments himself, but McGee doesn't do that.


So I looked up the footnotes. The first one tells us that we can't be sure because, although Burke was the editor and wrote most of the content, he had an assistant. However since Burke was friends with Smith and interested in economics, he probably wrote it.

The second footnote simply asserts that Burke wrote it without discussion. It does this in passing and isn't intended to argue the point.


So one guy doesn't know but provides a good explanation that Burke did write it. He's cited on the side of maybe!

The other guy doesn't know either (or if he does, doesn't speak of it) but provides an assertion and no arguments. He's cited on the side of Burke definitely wrote it!


This is backwards! The first guy persuaded me that Burke wrote it, while the second guy wasn't persuasive at all.


McGee could have provided all the relevant information from both footnotes in two sentences (both of which would cover the first; the second had no relevant information). Instead he appealed to their authority, while misrepresenting them and while declining to think about the topic himself.

McGee could have omitted the second footnote entirely since it's worthless (for this purpose). It only has one relevant sentence, in passing, which says:

> In the *Annual Register*, editor Burke reviewed [The Wealth of Nations]...

This isn't an argument! It's not trying to be one either. It doesn't discuss the topic. Yet it's cited as if it would advance the debate on the topic and have useful information, which it doesn't. McGee cites without judging what's any good or not, what's an argument or not!


McGee's first cite is a better source but his text regarding it is misleading! McGee, again, refuses to think. The source provides a good argument that Burke wrote it, while admitting we can't be certain. McGee calls it speculation and is less impressed than he was by the assertion-in-passing! McGee doesn't realize the message of his first source is that Burke did write it.

What's the point of citing stuff in place of thinking, when you don't understand what the cites even say?

Why are scholarly publication standards so low?

PS of course many similar mistakes, and worse, will exist in animal preferences literature. and cognitive biases literature. and anti-MWI physics literature. and non-Popperian epistemology papers. and so on.


PPS On a related note, a bunch of papers about Godwin have a fake quote in which Burke trashes Godwin. What's going on? Why are they so easily fooled? How come a fake quote can keep being cited and spread? First, they don't investigate it. They don't care to do much research or thinking. Second, they don't understand Burke or Godwin so it doesn't jump out at them as something to investigate.

If you look at the scholarship in whatever field you know the most about, and find it's atrocious, one of the things you should realize is: other fields aren't better. Just because you don't know enough about those other fields to point out the mistakes and gross inaccuracies and terrible arguments doesn't mean they aren't there.

-- Elliot Temple
http://elliottemple.com/

Rami Rustom

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Mar 22, 2012, 12:30:51 PM3/22/12
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On Mar 16, 2012 12:49 AM, "Elliot Temple" <cu...@curi.us> wrote:
>
> In "Edmund Burke and Adam Smith - Pioneers in the Field of Law and Economics", Robert W. McGee brings up an interesting topic.
>
> In the 1776 Annual Register was a very positive review of The Wealth of Nations. Perhaps Burke wrote it. And McGee also brings up some other ways Burke helped The Wealth of Nations be an influential success.
>
> McGee has no arguments or information of his own to offer for reaching an answer about whether Burke wrote the review. He makes no contribution.
>
> Instead, McGee provides two footnotes. One for the existence of speculation that Burke wrote it, and a second from someone who attributes the review to Burke "in no uncertain terms".
>
> McGee also fails to provide any useful contextual information -- e.g. that Burke was the editor of the Annual Register at the time, or information about who else helped write it. Good scholarship would help the reader understand the situation so he could make some judgments himself, but McGee doesn't do that.
>
>
> So I looked up the footnotes. The first one tells us that we can't be sure because, although Burke was the editor and wrote most of the content, he had an assistant. However since Burke was friends with Smith and interested in economics, he probably wrote it.
>
> The second footnote simply asserts that Burke wrote it without discussion. It does this in passing and isn't intended to argue the point.
>
>
> So one guy doesn't know but provides a good explanation that Burke did write it. He's cited on the side of maybe!
>
> The other guy doesn't know either (or if he does, doesn't speak of it) but provides an assertion and no arguments. He's cited on the side of Burke definitely wrote it!
>
>
> This is backwards! The first guy persuaded me that Burke wrote it, while the second guy wasn't persuasive at all.
>
>
> McGee could have provided all the relevant information from both footnotes in two sentences (both of which would cover the first; the second had no relevant information). Instead he appealed to their authority, while misrepresenting them and while declining to think about the topic himself.
>
> McGee could have omitted the second footnote entirely since it's worthless (for this purpose). It only has one relevant sentence, in passing, which says:
>
> > In the *Annual Register*, editor Burke reviewed [The Wealth of Nations]...
>
> This isn't an argument! It's not trying to be one either. It doesn't discuss the topic. Yet it's cited as if it would advance the debate on the topic and have useful information, which it doesn't. McGee cites without judging what's any good or not, what's an argument or not!
>
>
> McGee's first cite is a better source but his text regarding it is misleading! McGee, again, refuses to think. The source provides a good argument that Burke wrote it, while admitting we can't be certain. McGee calls it speculation and is less impressed than he was by the assertion-in-passing! McGee doesn't realize the message of his first source is that Burke did write it.
>
> What's the point of citing stuff in place of thinking, when you don't understand what the cites even say?
>
> Why are scholarly publication standards so low?

All people are affected by memes in much the same way. All the people
that have the authority meme will appeal to authority by citing bald
assertions made by authorities. Some of these authority-meme people
are scholars.


>
> PS of course many similar mistakes, and worse, will exist in animal preferences literature. and cognitive biases literature. and anti-MWI physics literature. and non-Popperian epistemology papers. and so on.
>
>
> PPS On a related note, a bunch of papers about Godwin have a fake quote in which Burke trashes Godwin. What's going on? Why are they so easily fooled? How come a fake quote can keep being cited and spread? First, they don't investigate it. They don't care to do much research or thinking. Second, they don't understand Burke or Godwin so it doesn't jump out at them as something to investigate.

Well the authority meme can cause someone not to question bald
assertions; mainly because they are not accustomed to [or don't even
know that they should] question authority.


>
> If you look at the scholarship in whatever field you know the most about, and find it's atrocious, one of the things you should realize is: other fields aren't better. Just because you don't know enough about those other fields to point out the mistakes and gross inaccuracies and terrible arguments doesn't mean they aren't there.

And it doesn't mean that such a person couldn't point out the
fallacious arguments in those other fields. The ability to notice
fallacious arguments doesn't necessarily require field-specific
knowledge. It may only require epistemological knowledge [which is not
field-specific].

-- Rami

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