Fwd: Fallible Ideas Newsletter 3

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Elliot Temple

Oct 6, 2016, 3:19:54 PM10/6/16
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my newsletter from today:

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Fallible Ideas Newsletter

(View this email in your web browser.)

Political philosophy is the second area I learned to apply philosophy of ideas to, after parenting. (Read more about my background in my previous newsletters). I consider philosophical questions like: What kind of society helps people find and fix their mistakes? And how do we design government so it isn't a disaster when our fallible leaders inevitably make some mistakes? I've found this fruitful.


I'm currently writing an essay about liberalism. Liberalism means freedom, individualism, limited government, and capitalism.

Freedom means individuals make their own choices. So they can judge what is a mistake themselves, and can take action to fix it. This works pretty well because people know and care the most about their own life.

When a dictator bosses you around, then your thinking doesn't matter much. You do as you're told, even if you know it's a mistake and you know a better way.

What about a committee of experts or philosopher kings? They should give persuasive advice instead of orders.

Unlimited majority rule doesn't work well either because innovative new ideas are usually minority opinions. People need freedom to develop ideas before they're accepted by the majority.

That doesn't mean democracy is bad. Democracy allows for changing leaders and policies without violence. A bad leader is a mistake which an election can fix. (This view is from Karl Popper.) Democracy works well with a limited government where voting to take away people's freedom isn't on the ballot.

The purpose of government is to limit violence, not to limit freedom. We don't want might-makes-right anarchy and fighting. So we have government to handle violent conflicts and conflicts which could escalate to violence (like fraud, stalking and contract disputes).

But the government is dangerous because it's allowed to use violence to enforce its laws. So we need safeguards against abuse of power. That includes limited powers and checks and balances.

Small government is a safeguard too. The less government there is, the less potential for misuse of violence. Non-government groups should do all they can. They're safer because the government prevents them from using violence or fraud. (But there's no more powerful group watching over the government!)

So the government shouldn't run our healthcare or schools. The special power to use violence isn't helpful to teaching or healing, and should be kept completely separate as a safeguard.

Violence is irrational and hurts people. Tank battles are bad at improving our ideas. Stabbing someone doesn't figure out who is mistaken. When you argue your case with words, other people can double check if you're right. When you point a gun at them, you stop them from looking for mistakes. (The only good reason to use violence is for defense, when an aggressor isn't allowing any peaceful options.)

A liberal government provides laws which address conflicts between people, courts to adjudicate problems, and defense against violence. Laws should be simple and predictable so people know what's allowed before they do something wrong. Unclear laws also give more room for judges and juries to be biased.

A limited government is limited from trampling on people's freedom and abusing its guns.

Free speech allows for criticism – which helps point out and fix mistakes.

Free action allows for science experiments (even if they violate a taboo) – which helps us understand reality more correctly. Freedom of action also lets you live according to your best judgement, rather than taking actions you consider mistakes.

Free trade allows people to fix problems with the current allocation of resources. E.g. I really want your old iPod, and you really want my old bike, so we trade. Any trade for mutual benefit improves the allocation of resources according to the judgement of the traders. That's because they each believe they end up with something more useful to them – or they would decline to trade. (This only works when people are free to decline trades with no fear of violence.)

Money is a tool that helps make trading more convenient. I can sell my bike and buy an iPod on different days, with different people. And using money still works if the the bike and iPod have different values (then they wouldn't be a fair trade).

These are some of the issues I write about. I aim to make them easier to understand in detail. FYI you can reply to this email with your comments.

Flawed Psychology Papers

I've long known that you can't trust published academic papers or books (let alone the mainstream articles covering them). When I read them myself, I usually find mistakes. I'm not the only one to notice problems:

Statcheck is new software which automatically checks for math errors in psychology papers. It found lots of errors, which offended many of the mistaken authors. It also found bias:

Most striking was that the errors weren’t entirely random. Most of the errors tipped the results in favor of statistical significance.

Princeton's Susan Fiske suggests:

These are ad-hominem attacks.

and calls criticism:

methodological terrorism

What sort of stuff does she consider ad-hominem?

The problem is where he accuses me of having published statistically faulty research.


He identified one correction ... When this was pointed out to us, we issued a correction.

The former president of the Association for Psychological Science considers true criticism of statistics errors to be ad hominem! And comparable to terrorism! She also objects to discussing errors in public (for publicly published papers).

This is very sad. But it's worthwhile to be aware of problems. Knowing what's going on helps us be less gullible. And this is worth fixing. I hope to help by explaining better methods of thinking (e.g. Paths Forward) which are more focused on finding and fixing mistakes.

News and Links

Related: over half of medical studies may be flawed.

Over a 10-year stretch ... Amgen’s scientists had tried to replicate the findings of 53 “landmark” studies in cancer biology. Just six of them came up with positive results.

My pro Trump video, Make Detroit Great Again, was featured on Truth Revolt! It now has over 1900 views.

Liberalism: The Classical Tradition (free) by Ludwig von Mises is my favorite book explaining what liberalism is.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand is a wonderful book.

I've been learning about video editing and encoding which is pretty neat. I reported a bug in Screenflow. I found a problem in my video using analysis of keyframes. I enjoyed reading some details. I think videos can help share my thinking and writing process.

I made a video presentation sharing some thoughts on pricing. Buy here.

By Elliot Temple. Want more? View my essays and blog.

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