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Aug 08 2012

Addressing Sam Harris

I’m going to try a different approach to Sam Harris’s accusations. Since one of the problems with grappling with the objectionable ideas Harris has thrown out is that they’re fuzzily presented and laced with caveats to hide behind, I’ll just state my position as clearly as I can on a couple of the contentious issues, and why I think that way. Maybe contrasting them with Harris’s arguments will at least clarify the differences.

On blogs

I found this the least of Sam Harris’s objectionable views, so I’ll put it first. He doesn’t like blogs. I do. I think they’re a fine way to engage public discussion, pro and con.

It is difficult to overlook the role that blog comments play in all this. Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers. Many people who read his blog come away convinced that I am a racist who advocates the widespread use of torture and a nuclear first strike against the entire Muslim world. The most despicable claims about me appear in the comment thread, of course, but Myers is responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.

What, exactly, is so destructive of of a person’s integrity about having a large community of readers? I know that Sam Harris has a large community of readers, too; quite likely larger than mine. I also know from the comments that they’ve left here and on twitter that they can be quite sycophantic. What is the secret to the apparently obvious incorruptibility of Sam Harris?

As for what I’ve said, I’ve never addressed the subject of using nuclear weapons against the Muslim world (I’m against it); I haven’t said that Harris advocates the widespread use of torture; I do think he’s racist in his thinking, but then, we all are. That means that if my commenters have expressed despicable distortions of his views in my comments, they must have gotten them from somewhere else. Most of them, apparently, have gotten these ideas from reading Sam Harris’s books. Therefore, the person who should be held responsible is…Sam Harris.

Now also, if he’d bothered to read these comments with an unbiased eye, he’d notice that there are people commenting here who detest Sam Harris and everything about him; some who like some of his ideas, and like others; and others, especially since he recently linked to me, who are vigorously defending him. This isn’t a propaganda organ. People are arguing over the issues in those comment threads. A Sam Harris opponent could also claim that I was circulating and amplifying defenses of the odious views of Sam Harris.

This is the reality of open discussion: you don’t get one view. Not everyone agrees with you. Not everyone agrees with me, even on my own blog.

And yes, I’ve been getting email telling me both that I’ve been too hard and too soft on Harris. I’m more inclined to agree with the latter view right now.

On torture:

I categorically reject it: torture should never be used, under any circumstances, because a) it corrupts the institutions that allow it, b) violates the rule of law, and c) freakin’ doesn’t work.

Sam Harris gave us an independent, straightforward explanation of his position:

Predictably, this article refers to the fact that I have discussed the ethics of torture in the past—and it does so in order to brand me as a moral lunatic. From reading this piece, and hundreds like it, one would never imagine that my position on torture is more or less identical to the one prescribed in that handbook of evil, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Read the entry on torture there, especially the section entitled “The Beating,” and then tell me that being categorically “against torture” is a morally uncomplicated stance to adopt.)

I thought the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article was terrible. It’s largely anti-torture, but goes out of its way to justify “one-off emergencies in which the use of torture is morally justifiable”…which is what I think Harris’s position is. My problem is that every time these mysterious “one-off emergencies” are trotted out, they’re either wildly unlikely hypotheticals or awful after the fact rationalizations of brutality.

Take “The Beating”. It’s a horrible little story: car thief takes a car with a child in it, abandons it, and is shortly arrested at a railway station. According to the account, it was 20 minutes between the time the car was stolen and the time they had the thief in a truck on the way to the police station. There’s urgency in getting the perpetrator to say where the car was abandoned, because a child left in a car on a hot day is at risk. That urgency is used to justify beating the guy into semi-consciousness to get the information.

Part-way through his umpteenth, “It wasn’t me”, a questioner clipped him across the ear as if he were a child, an insult calculated to bring the Islander to his feet to fight, there a body-punch elicited a roar of pain, but he fought back until he lapsed into semi-consciousness under a rain of blows. He quite enjoyed handing out a bit of biffo, but now, kneeling on hands and knees in his own urine, in pain he had never known, he finally realised the beating would go on until he told the police where he had abandoned the child and the car.

My first thought, though, was “wait — they caught the guy on foot shortly after the car was stolen. It isn’t going to be in the next county — they know it’s going to be near the station. Why don’t they look for it?” I read this story as one of the police enjoying an excuse to beat someone to a pulp, rather than just driving around nearby streets to find an abandoned car with a kid in it. Instead of doing police work, they got to play the role of thug. The story would have also had a very different ending if, instead of semi-consciousness, the thief were rendered completely unconscious, or dead. This is not an example to laud or use to guide your ethics, except as a bad example.

It’s also interesting that at the end of the article, it’s said that if torture is allowed in emergencies, the torturers “should resign or be dismissed from their position”. Were they? This ethical consequence is left out of the story.

But this isn’t my main complaint with the article. It’s a fundamental flaw in all the pro-torture arguments: they all assume that torture works, that it is an effective way to extract the truth from someone. I couldn’t believe that the Stanford article didn’t even consider this basic assumption, that you can get useful information by way of torture, and I read it a couple of times to see if I’d missed it — but it really does assume throughout that torture is just a distasteful way to get an answer. All you have to do is beat the car thief long enough, or start pulling the fingernails off the terrorist who planted a nuclear bomb, and eventually they’ll tell you the truth.

It seems to me, though, that what torture is good for is getting the tortured to tell the torturer what he wants to hear. That’s what it has always been used for; truth doesn’t come into play. If the car thief were determined to cause the child harm, he could have sent them off to a random address to get the beatings to stop; if the terrorist were a fanatic determined to wreak destruction at any cost (could that be?), he could send the interrogators off on all kinds of wild goose chases while the timer ticks down.

So this is a difference between us: we both oppose torture, but I’m incapable of finding a single convincing counter-example, and he can.

Profiling

I think that racial profiling is inconscionable and useless. It punishes the innocent for the crimes of a few, it creates new loopholes that a determined terrorist can exploit, and it generates a false sense of security by artificially exonerating whole classes of people for reasons that have nothing to do with their likelihood of committing a crime. It’s also a case of chasing the past without looking to the future; I’m hoping the people responsible for security aren’t sitting there thinking terrorists are idiots and that they’ll just keep doing the same thing, with no creativity in their planning at all.

I can see where behavioral profiling would be useful in some cases; if someone is looking nervous, or is engaging in unusual behavior, sure, check them out a little more carefully, figure out what’s wrong. But that’s not what Sam Harris is talking about. The giveaway is his frequent excuse that it’s not racism because his version of profiling would also target him. Why? It’s not his behavior. I’ve seen Sam at the airport; he’s calm and confident, like always, and doesn’t have any unusual tics; he doesn’t carry a suitcase gingerly, like it contains a bomb that might go off. He’s probably the last person I’d imagine to start praying or haranguing the crowds about their damnably heathenish ways, nor is he going to unfurl a prayer rug and start ululating. There aren’t any behaviors that he exhibits that aren’t the same as the thousands of ordinary businessmen in nice suits milling about in the terminal.

So let’s dismiss these demurrals that he’s not talking about racial profiling. Of course he is. He thinks he’d be likely to be singled out for scrutiny because he looks like he’s of middle-eastern descent. The fact that he’s willing to bear extra examination is nice and socially responsible, but it doesn’t matter: it doesn’t improve our security to have Sam Harris and many other people given preferential rigor.

Now I’ve adressed the profiling issue multiple times: my initial post, some further comments, a response to his rebuttal (where I again point out the absurdity of thinking it’s not racist if it targets yourself), and my appreciation of Bruce Schneier’s arguments. I think I’ve been clear: I do not approve of racial profiling at all, and neither does a real security expert. It doesn’t work!

I won’t say more. But it seems only fair that I leave the last word to one of my “growing army of trolls”, Marcus Ranum, who has a security background and knows a little bit about this subject.

Schneier points out:
(TSA screeners can’t sort based on religion; they have to sort based on something they can detect. And since there’s no such thing as “looking Muslim” — it’s a belief system, not an ethnic group — they’re going to sort on something like “looking Arab,” whatever that ends up meaning.) Then, you’re going to have to analyze the resulting security system. How does it work, and how does it fail? What’s the false-positive and false-negative rate? (You’ll have to do some theoretical analysis, at the very least refuting current research.)

And that’s it, right there. The rest of the debate is just noise. And you gotta hand it to Bruce, he included a link to “Strong Profiling is Not Mathematically Optimal for Discovering Rare Malfeasors” in PNAS ( http://tinyurl.com/cjcbc96 ) I believe he included that reference in “Liars and Outliers” – his latest book. It’s quite good; I recommend it. Though it’ll maybe make the philosophers and social scientists scream.

Harris’ response to Bruce’s point is pathetic. First he says You have delivered a litany of concerns about profiling that are (in my view) easily answered. and then proceeds not to answer them. Instead he goes off on a tangent about how islamic terrorists have clearly stated their intent and are not shy about talking about their plans in public. Harris ignores the fact that generally terrorists don’t discuss their plans while they are waiting in the security line. Harris continues to ignore (I can’t believe he’s stupid, so I assume he’s arguing in bad faith) the point that you can’t identify a muslim visually unless they are carrying a sign. He then side-tracks about the base-rate fallacy. Ouch, this is really bad.

Bruce isn’t a debater, BTW (though he kicked my ass at the RSA crypto commons this spring when I debated him about software liability) he’s too honest and he’s mostly concerned with educating people, not winning. I am not impressed with Harris’ honesty in this debate.

Harris digs in deeper by arguing about the Israeli behavioral profiling process which is a false equivalence to “religious profiling” or “racial profiling” because, yes, you actually can tell if someone is sweating or clutching a detonator or holding their bag extremely gingerly or the peroxide in their coke bottle is eating a hole in their hand… Most security experts, BTW, are pretty impressed with El Al’s security screening process but will say in the next breath, “… but it doesn’t scale.” I have said that I don’t know how many times, myself.

Schneier tries to get Harris to stick to the point:
That’s behavioral profiling, completely different from what we’re discussing here. I want to stick with your ethnic profiling system.

And Harris dodges it:
Well, I disagree. And the Israelis, who are generally credited with being the masters of behavioral profiling, appear to disagree as well. A person’s behavior can only be interpreted in context. What does a man’s sweating profusely and looking agitated mean? It means one thing if he is a morbidly obese senior from Alabama traveling with his wife and their church group, who is struggling to get all the trinkets he purchased in Jerusalem into a bursting suitcase; it means another if he is a 23-year-old man traveling on a Pakistani passport who is doing his best to not make eye contact with anyone. The distinction between behavioral profiling and everything else that can be noticed about a person is a myth. However, we can table this issue for the time being.

All the things above – passports, ticket purchases, luggage, etc, etc – are legitimate profiling techniques because they actually are something you can decide on.

OK, I’m going to stop here. I had a few bits of respect for Harris going into reviewing the debate closely and now I see that not only is he wrong, he knows it and is dodging the topic and playing debaters’ games rather than arguing in good faith. That’s pathetic. And Bruce is too nice to slam him for it.

As Bruce tries to point out in the debate, the whole profile process revolves around criteria that can be decided – because if they can’t be decided, they can’t be used. Then, once you’ve decided, you can look for correlations. If Harris was being honest he’d say “people with hooked noses” (or whatever the stereotype muslim he has in mind) and then security people could determine whether or not hooked noses are a decent metric. I suspect we know the answer to that. Based on 9/11, there are certain criteria that are searched for: one-way ticket, recently purchased, passport from a certain country, no frequent flier miles, etc.

668 comments

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  1. 501
    Nick Gotts

    Add me to those who don’t believe Harris argues in good faith. His debate with Schneier was one example. Another is his denial that he favours racial/ethnic profiling, when he has demanded that Muslims endorse and exercise it themselves. A third is his repeated desire to have it both ways: to advocate torture or a nuclear first strike in certain circumstances, while claiming he is not an advocate or apologist for those things. A fourth is his absurdly one-sided presentation of the Israel/Palestine issue, where he asserts that the Israeli armed forces do their best to avoid civilian casualties, in the face of evidence from both outside observers, and Israeli human rights organizations.

  2. 502
    PatrickG

    – Harris makes extremely weak arguments when things touch on Islam

    Possibly, though can you give an example?

    Oodles of examples in this thread. The one I’ll cite off the top of my head is his proposal that we screen for Islam on the basis of personal appearance. But it’s not racist, because those people look like him. Even though they might be North African/Malaysian/Pakistani/Caucasian, they still must look like him.

    Harris, it seems to me, tries to follow logic to conclusions, even if those conclusions are unpopular.

    I would find this admirable if he didn’t follow a logical chain derived on demonstrably false assumptions. If he accepted valid criticism, and rederived his conclusions another way, then yeah, sure, that’s sort of what everybody is looking for.

    however my reading of him is that he considers himself to be following logical argument honestly.

    That’s your take. I disagree, mainly because when people point out the gaping holes in his arguments, he becomes highly defensive and either diverts from the subject (e.g. the profiling debate) or resorts to questioning the character of people questioning him (e.g. PZ).

  3. 503
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    What would be gain from being deliberately dishonest and disingenuous on this?

    Really? Without knowing his motives at all, one obvious and very large motivator could well be money. He makes shit-tonnes doing what he does and he is entirely wrong on his major thesis. Morality, wrong. Torture, wrong. First-strike nuclear bombing, wrong. Profiling, wrong. I even find, though on the level of personal distaste and not in any evidenced way (the lack of evidence aside), his mealy-mouthed platitudes to and beliefs in spirituality (Was it in Letter to a Christian Nation or End of Faith or both? I know he does it without of either book in any case) is just bat-shit-crazy wrong.

    If he’s honest, he’s also very stupid. I don’t believe that he’s stupid. That leaves the option that he is dishonest and that there is a motivator for that. Perhaps he was once honest about these things that he purports to believe and that he peddles in books and lectures and interviews, but I find it very difficult to believe that any more. He’s not a stupid person, so I can’t accept that he’s being honest. It’s too glaringly obvious to too many people how wrong he is. He has a vested interest in continuing to dig himself in and I don’t know what it is, but I conclude that it’s there (read above).

  4. 504
    PatrickG

    @ coels

    FWIW, I really appreciate that you’re continuing to engage. I know we’re all very opinionated people and you’re at a numerical disadvantage here (something I tend to find uncomfortable!), so kudos.

  5. 505
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    nigelTheBold, I like your tack. I forgot to add in that he evades responding substantively to critics. That’s another data point important in concluding that he’s being dishonest. I won’t hedge with ‘less-than-honest’, the grey area seems disappeared at this point.

  6. 506
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    kudos

    Seconded. Thank you.

  7. 507
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    kudos.

    Thirded. And I’ll even add: thanks for listening and responding appropriately. I mean, you don’t just keep repeating the same thing, you seem to take what we have to say seriously, and you respond to what we’re saying.

    You didn’t start off well, so I thought for sure you’d turn into just another troll. I’m glad I was wrong on that.

  8. 508
    fenne

    Sure Patrick, I recognize the context. My post was something I’ve been wanting to share for some time, perhaps after 400 comments wasn’t a good place. I do apologize for that, forgive me for not having the time to read them all or find a perfect spot. It’s up to you how you receive and perceive the post. Sure i recognize there are polite posts here too. I never said everybody here enthousiastically dismisses tone trolls.

  9. 509
    coelsblog

    Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist:

    Coel, #441 is not a personal attack. … Okay, someone said you were a lying troll. If that’s the extent of the personal attack, you’re getting of rather lightly. Have you ever read a youtube comments thread? … But seriously, many things will be categorised as personal attacks of a grievous nature if 441 counts.

    OK, so I lead a sheltered life mostly on more-moderated sites! By the standards of many sites that is indeed a personal attack. It’s not just the accusation of being a “lying troll” but the leap to the conclusion that someone is posting dishonestly and in bad faith.

    It’s that sort of thing that lowers the tone (especially when directed at people who largely agree with you, even if not completely). And note that when I asked for clarification of what was a lie I just got an evasive non-answer, so I don’t see how I could have rebutted it.

    If by Pharyngula standards that wasn’t a personal attack then that says quite a lot about the norm here (and, yes, there are many sites far worse, but there are many sites where such things would be not be considered couth).

  10. 510
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    @coels, you have to provide something more than your OPINION to get us to change our minds about Harris’ dishonest arguments. In other words, where is the evidence (your OPINION is not evidence)? Present the “smoking gun” evidence or provide links. Or give up trying to get us to see that Harris is engaged in honest inquiry. We don’t have to give anybody the benefit of doubt when there is as much evidence as there is showing dishonest argumentation on Harris’ part.

  11. 511
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Well 441 from Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle is typical.

    translation: she won’t pretend my lies about Pharyngula are true!

    Yeah, I’d say not letting liars get away with lying is typical for Pharyngula.

  12. 512
    PatrickG

    @ fenne: Thanks for that.

    @ coels: Just a quick note that the standards here are different. It does take some getting used to, and it’s why I lurked for probably a solid 6 months while I learned who was who, why they were like that, and what was considered inappropriate. Even then, I still put my foot in my mouth a few threads ago. I apologized, we moved on.

    It’s been said many times, many ways, and probably better than this, but Pharyngula is designed to be a place where people don’t have to self-censor, where they can feel free to vent their anger. There’s a long history of silencing tactics against disadvantaged groups that unfortunately does exist in many forums. I’d refer you to Camels with Hammers and the discussion about civility there, where many people have explicitly said that the proposed rules will stifle them, and they will not feel comfortable to comment.

    But you know, that’s Daniel’s prerogative – it’s his blog. Similarly, this is PZ’s blog, and he’s on more than one occasion stated that his goal is a rough and tumble environment where the only thing strictly verboten is slurs that cause splash damage (gendered/ageist/ableist/sexist/sexualorientationist* comments).

    Now back to the discussion at hand: Sam Harris – bad faith actor? Discuss!

  13. 513
    PatrickG

    * I totally blanked on a good term for that. I know there is one, but my mind has come to a screeching halt.

  14. 514
    PZ Myers

    Here’s the problem. We’ve got all those Harris fanbois coming over here from his post, which is little more than vicious personal attacks on me (including that really low blow of accusing me of poisoning his daughter against him…you know, my kids know me, and they’re not going to be swayed by the comments of some random guy on the internet). They read my post, which is a criticism of Harris’s claims.

    And then they accuse me of being rude.

    So far, the only specific thing I’ve been accused of doing rudely is gumbifying his quotes (oh, the awesome power of comic sans…). It is beginning to grate.

    Really. You don’t want to make me rude.

  15. 515
    mythbri

    @coelsblog

    I have to say that one of the things that I find really refreshing about Pharyngula is the freedom to call bullshit, in that precise term. It’s nice not to have to tiptoe around what you really want to say just out of fear of violating rules regarding tone. This style has allowed me to refine my own arguments, and has made me more assertive and confident.

    There are some commenters here who are quick on the draw regarding people who might actually be honestly mistaken and/or trying to learn. There are some commenters here who will try to get at the heart of the misunderstanding, and correct it. Pharyngula is not a monolithic community by any means, but in general if you admit it when you’re wrong and apologize when you’re legitimately called on any bullshit you might have put forth, people are pretty forgiving.

  16. 516
    PatrickG

    While hesitant to step in after the PopeKingHat of Atheism has posted, I do want to say that I, at least, learned a great deal from this discussion. Lots of really interesting people, not least of which was Marcus, who, you know works in a relevant area and had mighty cans of whoop-ass to unload.

    I’ll also add that I read more Sam Harris (online content, at least) over the last day or so than I ever had before; unfortunately for Mr. Harris, it swayed this ‘didn’t really care that much’ random person towards the ‘bad faith’ side.

    Probably just groupthink.

    ECHO! Echo! Echo. echo.. e c h o….

  17. 517
    mythbri

    Whoa, look out! PZ’s going to Hulk out at any moment.

  18. 518
    coelsblog

    PatrickG:

    I disagree, mainly because when people point out the gaping holes in his arguments, he becomes highly defensive and either diverts from the subject (e.g. the profiling debate) or resorts to questioning the character of people questioning him (e.g. PZ).

    That sort of thing is a fairly common human failing.

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls:

    @coels, you have to provide something more than your OPINION to get us to change our minds about Harris’ dishonest arguments. In other words, where is the evidence (your OPINION is not evidence)? Present the “smoking gun” evidence or provide links.

    Well that’s tricky, because what we’re disagreeing on is Harris’s state of mind, whether he thinks his arguments are honest or not, and it’s tricky to provide evidence of that state of mind.

    Is he just trying to get page hits? He’d do better to say something outrageous on abortion or gun control to do that! In the end, all Sam Harris has is his reputation as an intellectual; for such a person being deliberately dishonest would be a very dangerous route because it would be a quick end if there ever were a smoking gun (witness Jonah Lehrer). That’s why I give him the benefit of the doubt that he really thinks what he is saying.

    Don’t underestimate the human capacity for blind-spots and non-objectivity, especially in defence of a position one has once expounded. That’s why things like double-blind tests are so necessary.

    PatrickG:

    I know we’re all very opinionated people and you’re at a numerical disadvantage here …

    Don’t worry, I’ve been on the internet long enough (since the days when usenet alt.atheism had fewer than 100 posts a day!) to not let things like that worry me!

  19. 519
    davidjanes

    (oh, the awesome power of comic sans…).

    That is what “gumbifying” means? And people honestly consider doing so to be a substantive argument for being disrespectful?

  20. 520
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    and it’s tricky to provide evidence of that state of mind.

    No it isn’t. Quotations from Harris admitting he made a mistake would work. But you aren’t arguing honestly either. Attempts to evade evidence when that evidence refutes your sorry ass are dishonest. Try again.

  21. 521
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    Well that’s tricky, because what we’re disagreeing on is Harris’s state of mind, whether he thinks his arguments are honest or not, and it’s tricky to provide evidence of that state of mind.

    I didn’t realize we were disagreeing on Harris’s state of mind. I thought we were discussion whether he was arguing in good faith.

    It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s sincere. Many wrong people are sincere. What matters is, Is he interested in potentially changing his mind, based on counter-arguments, logic, and evidence? That is what arguing in good faith is about.

    The evidence suggests he is not ready to change his mind. He would rather ignore the evidence than simply admit he was wrong.

  22. 522
    coelsblog

    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle:

    translation: she won’t pretend my lies about Pharyngula are true!

    You still haven’t told me which part of the post was lying, though I note again your presumption of bad faith.

  23. 523
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    coelsblog, I’m not trying to excuse Pharyngula by comparison. I don’t play the dear Muslima game.

    I won’t defend that comment more. I think it was substantive, if very harsh. And, independently of any response you got for your own, you’ve proven the accusations wrong.

  24. 524
    PatrickG

    Don’t underestimate the human capacity for blind-spots and non-objectivity, especially in defence of a position one has once expounded.

    Oh, believe me, I don’t. :)

    In the end, all Sam Harris has is his reputation as an intellectual; for such a person being deliberately dishonest would be a very dangerous route because it would be a quick end if there ever were a smoking gun (witness Jonah Lehrer). That’s why I give him the benefit of the doubt that he really thinks what he is saying.

    For me, this is what’s so truly frustrating. I see him literally ignoring or misframing arguments, and then turning around to chide people with legitimate concerns for failing to apply proper rigor. At some point, there’s just a tipping point for me, and I hit it over the course of this discussion.

    Just too many instances (see my post 380, I think it was) where Harris either just completely failed to listen, or deliberately decided to engage in dishonest tactics.

    I should probably point out that it’s not like I’ve just washed my hands of Harris. As the Almighty One noted in his original post, Harris has been on the whole a champion of atheism/skepticism; it’s not like him being wrong about this But I’m most likely simply going to skip over anything he writes that even remotely touches on the War On Islam(tm), and I certainly will read him very critically in future when he discusses other subjects, because imo, he’s severely damaged his credibility (his reputation as an intellectual, if you will).

    Don’t worry, I’ve been on the internet long enough (since the days when usenet alt.atheism had fewer than 100 posts a day!) to not let things like that worry me!

    Flying Spaghetti Monster, were Ken Ham’s dinosaurs still roaming the earth?

  25. 525
    vaiyt

    Even Dan “I write the same novel three times and all three become bestsellers” Brown had the inkling of an idea of how useful torture really is. In the beginning of The Da Vinci Code, four people are tortured and killed for answers. All four tell the same lie, and send the torturer to a dead end. Good job, Silas.

  26. 526
    PatrickG

    Preview fail: “it’s not like him being wrong about this means I’m just going to ignore anything he ever says again”.

    And seconding/paraphrasing what other commenters have said… he would redeem himself almost instantly in my eyes if he at any point said:

    “You know what, something’s going on here. People have made valid criticisms, and I obviously am either being unclear or there’s something wrong with my arguments. I’ll think about this and get back to you.”

    Instead, he insults me personally by implying I need a shepherd to do my trolling. Fuck PZ’s shepherd crook, I’ve been living under this bridge for years now!

    (Silliness aside, his attempts at caricature are just lowering his reputation further. He’s got to know that, so I sincerely believe that he’s simply trying to silence dissenting voices. Not cool.)

  27. 527
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle, I don’t think coelsblog was lying or is lying. Wrong, yeah, but not dishonest. Further conversation on the matter has led to at least one concession on the accusations that Pharyngula is a bad place. I suppose coelsblog could offer a generously specific response and tell us whether xe still thinks of Pharyngula as being the place xe believes it to be, which remains not in evidence, in light of the current conversation.

    Coelsblog, how about it?

  28. 528
    coelsblog

    nigelTheBold, Venomous Demonic Hater:

    I didn’t realize we were disagreeing on Harris’s state of mind. I thought we were discussion whether he was arguing in good faith. It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s sincere. Many wrong people are sincere.

    Well, from the wiki “good faith” article:

    “In philosophy, the concept of good faith (Latin: bona fides, or bona fide for “in good faith”) denotes sincere, honest intention or belief, regardless of the outcome of an action; the opposed concepts are bad faith, mala fides (duplicity) and perfidy (pretense). In law, bona fides denotes the mental and moral states of honesty and conviction regarding either the truth or the falsity of a proposition, or of a body of opinion.”

    For clarification, in suggesting that Harris is acting “in good faith”, I was suggesting that his state of mind was honest and sincere and that he believes what he writes.

    The evidence suggests he is not ready to change his mind. He would rather ignore the evidence than simply admit he was wrong.

    It’s not so simple. Humans are not perfectly disinterested and objective rational agents. Humans are always prone to biases when evaluating evidence and arguments. And a very common bias is in how one assesses evidence that contradicts ones previous opinion. E.g. confirmation bias.

    Since all humans are prone to confirmation bias (which, as I said, is why we have double-blind trials etc), I don’t think that everyone guilty of such bias is guilty of acting in bad faith. What matters is their state of mind, whether they are sincere.

  29. 529
    PatrickG

    What matters is their state of mind, whether they are sincere.

    Well, we’re at an impasse then. I and several others have laid out arguments, using Harris’s own words and actions, to attempt to make the case that Harris is acting in bad faith.

    You don’t think that’s the case. That’s fine, but you should really respond to our specific contention that what he’s said/done demonstrates state of mind.

    Beyond that, even if he is acting in “good faith”, I would still argue that he’s demonstrating truly subpar rationalism and skepticism, ignoring evidence to the contrary, and lashing out with ridiculous attacks.

    More so, even if he is acting in good faith, he’s unwilling to acknowledge the secondary effects (unintended consequences) of his actions. His words and positions are part of a larger discussion that actively works to deny rights and cause harm.

    In short, “good faith” and “being totally wrong while causing harm and damaging one’s reputation” are not mutually exclusive, but I still come down on the side of “bad faith”.

  30. 530
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    Well, from the wiki “good faith” article:

    I stand corrected. Thank you.

    It’s not so simple. Humans are not perfectly disinterested and objective rational agents. Humans are always prone to biases when evaluating evidence and arguments.

    I’m perfectly aware of biases. My point has been this:

    He’s not interpreting something differently. He’s ignoring the fact that there is no evidence to support the effectiveness or utility of torture for interrogation. He hasn’t addressed that simple fact. As the assumption of the effectiveness in torture is central to his argument, it appears he is acting dishonestly. In fact, his continued defense of torture indicates he insists torture does work, which is contrary to our best knowledge. This isn’t bias — it’s an outright falsehood.

    So, whether or not his bias renders him intellectually incapable of addressing the issue, he is not being intellectually honest. For someone who prides themselves on their intellectual rigor, this is not a good thing.

    For someone who’s reputation is predicated on their intellectual rigor, it’s damning.

  31. 531
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Thomathy:

    Wrong, yeah, but not dishonest. Further conversation on the matter has led to at least one concession on the accusations that Pharyngula is a bad place. I suppose coelsblog could offer a generously specific response and tell us whether xe still thinks of Pharyngula as being the place xe believes it to be, which remains not in evidence, in light of the current conversation

    I would agree, had his bullshit about Pharyngula not been, as I said, straight out of the slimepitters script. If coel was honest enough to admit he was lying (or, was wrong, if that’s easier to say) about Pharyngula, then I’ll happily agree with you.

    That said, this is a lie : “You still haven’t told me which part of the post was lying, though I note again your presumption of bad faith.” I did answer him. And, since his bullshit complaints about Pharyngula are the well-known complaints of the Anti-FTB crowd, OF COURSE I assume bad faith on his part. Notice, though, I have not argued against his statements about Harris. Only his ridiculous lies about Pharyngula.

    So, how much are we hedging our bets?

  32. 532
    Nick Gotts

    my reading of him is that he considers himself to be following logical argument honestly – coelsblog

    I expect he does. But as nigelTheBold says, arguing in good faith requires more than that: specifically, a real effort to understand criticism and respond to it substantively, even if it’s expressed in ways you don’t like. (That might sound one-sided, but I’m not saying you shouldn’t respond to insult with insult, just that if there is a substantive point, you should also respond to that substantively.).

  33. 533
    coelsblog

    Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist:

    I suppose coelsblog could offer a generously specific response and tell us whether xe still thinks of Pharyngula as being the place xe believes it to be, which remains not in evidence, in light of the current conversation.

    I’ve been reading Pharyngula for about seven years, so am pretty familiar with what it is like. So do I stand by my earlier comments? Well, by the standards of many other sites the comment threads here are very much a flame pit, with lots of personal attacks and a very trigger-happy presumption of bad faith on the part of anyone disagreeing.

    Of course opinions on what is or not a flame or a personal attack differ, and many people like the Pharyngula style (obviously, given its popularity), and it’s good that there is a diversity of sites, so people can find what suits them. My personal style is to prefer sites that are less of a flame pit (except on occasions such as today when I think, what the heck, I’ll wade in for the fun of it). Personally I consider much of the aggression on Pharyngula comment threads to be counter-productive. But that’s just my opniion, and others can legitimately differ.

    In saying that, the comment threads are often worse than PZ’s posts (I still read most of those, though these days I less-often read the comments). But I think PZ has veered more in that direction over the years also (when gumby-quoting started it was used only for the most crackpot statements, whereas now it’s for anyone PZ disagrees with; it surprises me a bit that PZ would use it in a post intended to be a reasoned rebuttal of Harris).

    So, overall I prefer the tone of sites such as Jerry Coyne’s blog (yes, I’m a tone troll), but I still read PZ (even though the comment threads can indeed be vitriolic flame fests).

    And I can understand people *liking* vitriolic flame fests and wanting Pharyngula to be like that, but I’m a bit surprised that anyone would argue that it isn’t like that (especially how it’s been over the last 18 months). Do regulars here seriously not see that?

  34. 534
    PatrickG

    Not to preempt Thomathy, but let’s do consider that most “flame pit” instances are when this blog is invaded by what are textbook cases of trolls. Notice also that when those trolls leave, the flames subside to some degree (but certainly the flamethrowers are ready!).

    There might be a case to be made that Pharyngula regulars get a little trigger-happy at times, but it’s just one lil corner of the ‘tubes, after all. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter except to PZ’s Papal Ambitions? Well, except that from everything people have said (no source here, one would be nifty), readership just keeps going up!

    That said, there’s no real FLAMES OF DOOM atm, so back on topic! Flames do rise when we continue talking about tone in the context of an existing discussion.

  35. 535
    Anthony K

    Ah, I see that others have responded to coelsblog, and the discussion is proceeding along at a fine clip, so I hope coelsblog won’t think I’m refusing to engage by lurking for a bit.

    I will speak to this, though: “Is he just trying to get page hits?”

    On some level, isn’t that goal of every writer or thinker? It’s not necessarily an idictment. What I do think is (one of) Harris’ problem is that he’s naive enough to think that he’s said something novel or interesting in this regard. As he states, his position is identical to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (it isn’t entirely, as others have shown in this thread) and others have noted that it is the same as every episode of the eight season primetime show that began over a decade ago called 24. And torture happens. This is not some “exploratory, philosophical topic” as fenne called it.

    Frankly, if there is any irresponsibility here whatsoever, it’s Harris’ continual tendency to pat himself on the back for some incredibly poor and mainstream (at least for a skeptic) thinking dressed up in quasi-philosophical trappings. His posts on profiling are textbook examples of dilettantism.

    He’d do better to say something outrageous on abortion or gun control to do that!

    You know we had at least a few fans crying about how incredibly brave Harris is for taking the positions he did on torture and profiling and maybe preemtively nuking the Arabs? That he’s a beacon of integrity and courage? For being the ‘intellectual’ version of a Toby Keith song?

    If there’s anything else needing my particular brand of vitriol*, I’ll jump in.

    *Scholars may note that my position on vitriol is identical to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Fuck That Noise

  36. 536
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    consciousness razor:

    SEP isn’t a book. Its articles are usually fairly thorough about the limitations and counter-arguments involved with a given claim or issue, so it is somewhat surprising. Philosophy isn’t all wanking. Epistemology, which is the kind of problem which makes this sort hypothetical unrealistic, is itself a philosophical issue.

    Fair enough. I allow that philosophy has some uses, but what I have seen of philosophers themselves has not impressed me at all.

    Tony in Batavia:

    Er, wouldn’t that be umbilical cord?

    Naw, that’s the built-in bookmark.

    Lachlan:

    Everybody agrees that torture and profiling are bad things…Torture is a terrible thing. Who denies it?

    You are laughably sheltered.

    One consistent theme I’ve seen in this blog of late is the whole “you either agree with us, or you’re a misogynist, or you’re a moral deviant, or you’re a terrible atheist”. This is the only group-think nonsense going on around here.

    Aw, you brave little soldier, you, standing up for the status quo against those mean ‘n’ nasty feminists and people who think child molestation is bad.

    so many of his tweets contain “fuck you” as a response, an embarrassing way for a middle-aged biologist to behave

    Another asshole whose undies get into a tighter twist over profanity than they do over “clean” comments that degrade other human beings.

    I wish you’d stop making the rest of us look bad.

    It’s not us who’s doing that, cupcake.

    Søren Kongstad, thank you so much for bringing those facts to the argument. Their preceding absence was a grievous oversight.

    HotspurPHD, I recommend you read that comment from Søren Kongstad, and re-read it until it begins to penetrate.

    Tkreacher, thank you for the heavy lifting you’ve been doing in this thread.

    Coelsblog:

    One could, perhaps, accept that different people see things differently and, even when acting in good faith, evaluate ideas and evidence differently.

    Let me put it to you in a way that you might be able to hear.

    There are moral issues on which people cannot “agree to disagree,” because some of them would be advocating evil. It’s clear that this is less important to you than are tone and “civility.”

    This is a moral failing on your part. A serious one.

  37. 537
    coelsblog

    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle:

    If coel was honest enough to admit he was lying (or, was wrong, if that’s easier to say) about Pharyngula, then I’ll happily agree with you.

    Sorry, I wasn’t lying, and I also stand by what I said in the post you replied to, which outlined a style of commentator behaviour common on Pharyngula threads, and which is typified by your attitude.

    That said, this is a lie : “You still haven’t told me which part of the post was lying, though I note again your presumption of bad faith.” I did answer him.

    Sorry, that was not a lie. Your answer consisted of: “LOL that’s cute. What part wasn’t lying, troll?”. That is not an answer to my question about what statements of mine you consider to be lies.

    And, since his bullshit complaints about Pharyngula are the well-known complaints of the Anti-FTB crowd, OF COURSE I assume bad faith on his part. Notice, though, I have not argued against his statements about Harris. Only his ridiculous lies about Pharyngula.

    Ironic that in the act of rejecting my statements about Pharyngula-commentator behaviour you exemplify the very behaviour I was commenting on.

  38. 538
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    Well, by the standards of many other sites the comment threads here are very much a flame pit, with lots of personal attacks and a very trigger-happy presumption of bad faith on the part of anyone disagreeing.

    Again, look to Quinn, or look to yourself (after your first few posts) for counter-examples.

    It isn’t a matter of disagreeing. It’s a matter of understanding what it is you’re arguing against, and your approach to disagreement. Too many people start in with bare assertions and nothing to back them up. If it’s a subject that’s been discussed many times, they get flamed.

    Folks who come in rationally, with supporting evidence and an actual argument, are typically engaged as we have with you.

    And I can understand people *liking* vitriolic flame fests and wanting Pharyngula to be like that, but I’m a bit surprised that anyone would argue that it isn’t like that (especially how it’s been over the last 18 months). Do regulars here seriously not see that?

    What I see is a bunch of people who loathe unsupported assertions presented as fact. What I see is a bunch of people who are passionate about truth, about social justice, about knowledge, and about intelligent (though rowdy) debate.

    I prefer it like this. It’s not a flame fest, though. Look at any discussion. Yes, you’ll see plenty of flammage. But don’t look at the flames — look at the target. In some cases, the target may simply be ignorant of the culture here, and make a stupid first impression. (Truthfully, your introduction into this thread was less-than-stellar. Maybe if you go back and read it, you might see why.)

    Or it might be that someone comes in presenting their opinion as fact. Opinions really don’t count for a lot here (though they do get thrown around a lot). What counts is your ability to present a rational argument with supporting evidence, your ability to refute counter-arguments logically and completely, all while potentially being under fire.

    That’s what I see, anyway.

  39. 539
    PatrickG

    @ Brownian

    WTB Pharyngula Karaoke night. That’s one of my favorite songs to sing, mainly because I did it when it came out at The Mint in San Francisco and watching people’s jaws drop was just so much fun. Now that I’m Kentucky, it wouldn’t be so eye-rolling, I think.

    I always prefaced it with “I do not endorse the content of this song, I just find it fun to sing”. I have a weakness for patriotic country, it’s just so mockably fun.

    Clint Black’s Iraq and I Roll was priceless too.

    Anyway, complete non sequitur.

  40. 540
    coelsblog

    PatrickG:

    Pharyngula regulars get a little trigger-happy at times, but it’s just one lil corner of the ‘tubes, after all. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter except to PZ’s Papal Ambitions? Well, except that from everything people have said (no source here, one would be nifty), readership just keeps going up!

    Well that’s the point, Pharyngula is one of the biggest and most widely read atheist blogs. Thus it is influential and it matters.

  41. 541
    PatrickG

    Well that’s the point, Pharyngula is one of the biggest and most widely read atheist blogs. Thus it is influential and it matters.

    I would suggest that maybe one of the reasons it’s read so widely is precisely because of the uncouth nature of PZ and his Horde.

    But really, this is the last time I’ll ask: can we stop talking about the tone and talk about the substance? Several posts up there directed specifically at you. Continuing to talk about tone is disheartening*.

    I don’t mind multitasking, in that if you want to respond to substantive comments and then tack on responses about the tone, that’s fine by me.

    By which I mean: ***Molotov cocktail prepared, lighter in hand, your call as to what happens next***

  42. 542
    Anthony K

    I always prefaced it with “I do not endorse the content of this song, I just find it fun to sing”.

    My closer is “Mack the Knife”, but I’ve never thought of prefacing it with a disclaimer.

  43. 543
    PatrickG

    Yeah well, when I was really belting out the line “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”, I sometimes wondered if I was going to get thrown off stage. And that’s with the disclaimer.

    Darryl Worley (of Have You Forgotten? fame) was the only one that I couldn’t just find laughably silly. That lying piece of shit has an awful lot to answer for.

  44. 544
    Anthony K

    Well that’s the point, Pharyngula is one of the biggest and most widely read atheist blogs. Thus it is influential and it matters.

    And here we’re always being told that nobody likes and respects us.

    How come rationalists sound and act exactly like non-rationalists?

  45. 545
    coelsblog

    Ms. Daisy Cutter, Vile Human Being:

    Let me put it to you in a way that you might be able to hear. There are moral issues on which people cannot “agree to disagree,” because some of them would be advocating evil. It’s clear that this is less important to you than are tone and “civility.” This is a moral failing on your part. A serious one.

    Let me respond in a way that you might be able to hear. No, this is not a moral failing on my part, let alone a serious one.

    In society we all have to “agree to disagree” over moral disagreements. What’s the alternative? Would you accept an anti-abortion activist saying: “you are advocating evil, therefore I can’t agree to disagree, therefore I need to gun you down”?

    And on the “less important to you than are tone and civility”, note that at no point have I suggested that people should desist from criticizing Harris or torture; nothing I’ve said says you shouldn’t argue your case or try to influence society as you think it should be.

  46. 546
    PatrickG

    Substance, please?

    *Ominous sound of lighter being clicked on*

  47. 547
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Would you accept an anti-abortion activist saying: “you are advocating evil, therefore I can’t agree to disagree, therefore I need to gun you down”?

    You really don’t understand that there are these things called facts, do you, and that some people’s opinions are more valid than others’?

  48. 548
    coelsblog

    nigelTheBold, Venomous Demonic Hater:

    What I see is a bunch of people who are passionate about truth, about social justice, about knowledge, and about intelligent (though rowdy) debate. … Yes, you’ll see plenty of flammage. But don’t look at the flames — look at the target.

    I must have participated in dozens of sites over the decades, so am aware of a whole range of “styles”. I do appreciate the rigorous critique, I just think it equally possible to have that without the somewhat vitriolic culture and trigger-happy presumptions of bad faith (and, yes, by comparison with many other sites, that’s what Pharyngula is like; any regulars not agreeing are too used to it to notice!).

    But, as I say, I think a range of sites with a range of styles is a good thing, and people can easily find more moderated sites if they prefer. As one of the biggest, though, Pharyngula does have a big influence.

  49. 549
    Anthony K

    Yeah well, when I was really belting out the line “We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”, I sometimes wondered if I was going to get thrown off stage.

    I kind of wanted to do that to someone who was singing Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, nowhere as well as Tammy does.

    But of course, the Karaoke Code demands that one applaud every singer who gives it a good honest shot, no matter how terrible they may be.

    Darryl Worley (of Have You Forgotten? fame) was the only one that I couldn’t just find laughably silly. That lying piece of shit has an awful lot to answer for.

    Ugh. You should come visit Canada. You’ll be all like, “What’s that sound?” and I’ll be like, “What sound?”, and you’ll respond, “That’s just it: it’s more like the absence of sound” and I’ll say, “Oh, that’s just the lack of pugnacious exceptionalist patriotic bullshit.”

    You know around here, unless you’re a college kid in an apartment who can’t afford proper drapes, it’s kind of uncommon to fly a Canadian flag from your home?

  50. 550
    coelsblog

    Ms. Daisy Cutter, Vile Human Being:

    You really don’t understand that there are these things called facts, do you, and that some people’s opinions are more valid than others’?

    Eh?? My comment was a reply to your statement: “There are moral issues on which people cannot “agree to disagree,” because some of them would be advocating evil”.

    Moral issues are *always* matters of opinion, there is no absolute morality or objective “evil”.

  51. 551
    PatrickG

    Molotov cocktail time!

    We’ll just take the question of Sam Harris acting in bad faith as having been answered by: Yes, he is acting in bad faith.

    Done?

    Not much of a cocktail, I know.

    But really, it’s not like people here only read this blog. We get our comparison of “here to there” every day, so it’s a little bizarre for you to assert that regulars “are too used to it to notice”. I don’t know if I’ve been here long enough to qualify as a Certified Regular (is there a vetting process?), but I notice it every time I go to comments!

    And I droolz.

  52. 552
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Oh, god-damnit. Now we’re a flame pit? I take it back Illuminata.

    Coelsblog, I can’t do anything about your own observations. I can contradict with mine, but that won’t necessarily affect yours, to say that this is the least flame-pit place I have ever been (to the extent that the flames are righteously directed at people who the vast majority of are text-book trolls) and that I cannot see what you see, and I’ve been looking for a long time.

    I think you are wrong and being a tone-troll is no excuse. At least you could admit that you merely don’t like the language or the attitude here because you’re a tone-troll and not try to paint the place as an objective flame-pit. Or was that just your opinion? Because, very frankly and in a way most abhorrent to a tone-troll, you’re opinion ain’t shit. It’s especially unimportant when you tar the place as a flame-pit without seeing what’s being roasted. There’s no way I’m going to be nice to liars, anti-intellectuals, bigots of any stripe or plain old trolls.

    You may believe you are being polite, but you’ve just insulted me. That’s not nice. And you’ve done it baselessly. You raise my ire with what you’ve said. Meanie!

  53. 553
    coelsblog

    PatrickG:

    But really, this is the last time I’ll ask: can we stop talking about the tone and talk about the substance? Several posts up there directed specifically at you.

    Sorry, I’ve lost track (I’m posting in between chunks of work, and Pharyngula threads lengthen so fast!), can you point me to post numbers that you’d like a response to?

  54. 554
    Anthony K
    Let me put it to you in a way that you might be able to hear. There are moral issues on which people cannot “agree to disagree,” because some of them would be advocating evil. It’s clear that this is less important to you than are tone and “civility.” This is a moral failing on your part. A serious one.

    Let me respond in a way that you might be able to hear. No, this is not a moral failing on my part, let alone a serious one.

    In society we all have to “agree to disagree” over moral disagreements. What’s the alternative? Would you accept an anti-abortion activist saying: “you are advocating evil, therefore I can’t agree to disagree, therefore I need to gun you down”?

    I would fucking torture Sam Harris right now if there was a chance that it would achieve a world in which anti-abortion activists congregated on a blog to engage in Pharyngula-like vitriol and assumptions of bad faith, rather than what they currently do.

  55. 555
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    And I can understand people *liking* vitriolic flame fests and wanting Pharyngula to be like that, but I’m a bit surprised that anyone would argue that it isn’t like that (especially how it’s been over the last 18 months). Do regulars here seriously not see that?

    Ahhhhh, I think see the issue now. He thinks I’m saying the Horde isn’t feisty, which *would* be absurd.

    no, I’m saying your characterization of Pharyngula being nothing but “slagging off” people or becoming “caricature” of itself is bullshit.

    And, surprise, surprise, this thread is clear proof that it is, in fact, bullshit.

    And, given how many times we’ve heard from lurkers thanking to Horde for being as it is, opening eyes, etc., tone trolls aren’t just dishonest, they’re demonstrably wrong.

  56. 556
    Anthony K

    and Pharyngula threads lengthen so fast

    I know. It’s having to deal with this same goddamn tone-trolling bullshit day after day.

    This shit would be dealt with so much faster if fucking dipshits like Sam Harris would do some fucking research before they opened their goddamn mouths.

  57. 557
    PatrickG

    FWIW, coelsblog, continuing to talk about tone as you’re doing is like walking up to the Flame Pit, seeing a shiny red button, and asking “I wonder what this does?”

    If you’ve been reading here as long as you’ve said, you must know that tone trolling is one of the most popular recreational activities by trolls. Thus, tone trolling will at some point get you irretrievably labeled a troll.

    You don’t like the tone here. We do. You get that. We get that. Not much more to talk about there, is there?

  58. 558
    PatrickG

    And fair warning, Brownian has delurked. This is your final chance to not provoke the DIFFUSION OF DOOM.

    /popcorn

  59. 559
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    You know around here, unless you’re a college kid in an apartment who can’t afford proper drapes, it’s kind of uncommon to fly a Canadian flag from your home?

    Not even just uncommon, but weird. Who doesn’t make fun of those people? Most High Schools don’t even have a flag.

    Brownian, get that fainting chesterfield ready!

  60. 560
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Why is this whole argument reminding me of when someone made a rape joke and PZ wrote about it. Oh yes, some concerned person showed up, kept up the BS that the joke writer was misunderstood, but presented absolutely no evidence to back up the claim. But wouldn’t go back to the main source and complain about the joke there. Coels you need to go to the source, Harris, and complain to him about his appearance of dishonest. Quit bothering us, who only note his dishonesty.

    Either you have to smoking gun evidence to convince us or you don’t. If you do, present it. If you don’t, shut up about our conclusions. That is what a person of honesty and integrity would do. Plus take the complaint to the source, which isn’t us. Only a dishonest person lacking honesty and integrity would blame us for reasonable conclusions based on the public record of a public person. So, let’s see if you are person of honesty and integrity, or a liar and bullshitter, which is the opposite.

  61. 561
    coelsblog

    Thomathy, Holy Trinity of Conflation: Atheist-Secularist-Darwinist:

    At least you could admit that you merely don’t like the language or the attitude here because you’re a tone-troll and not try to paint the place as an objective flame-pit. Or was that just your opinion?

    All such assessment are really ones of opnion surely? Yes, it’s my opinion that this is much more of a “flame pit” than many other sites (I’ll also accept that there are plenty far worse, but I’m unfamiliar with them since they’re not where I hang out).

    It’s especially unimportant when you tar the place as a flame-pit without seeing what’s being roasted.

    Well, as I say, I consider that I have browsed Pharyngula enough over the years to know what it’s like. My main objection is the over-trigger-happy assumptions of bad faith and resort to flaming of posters who may have only a relatively minor disagreement with you.

    Seriously, if you’re a regular here, how do you think things appear to a newbie? But, I do accept that tastes on such things can differ.

  62. 562
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Thomathy – I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not. When one’s first post is “pharyngula is so mean!”, does anything worthwhile ever follow? Tone trolls just can’t get off their favorite hobby horse.

  63. 563
    PatrickG

    Screw popcorn, I’m getting some bourbon.

  64. 564
    mythbri

    @colesblog

    Moral issues are *always* matters of opinion, there is no absolute morality or objective “evil”.

    Which is why people think that they can justify atrocities. Like torture.

  65. 565
    coelsblog

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls:

    Coels you need to go to the source, Harris, and complain to him about his appearance of dishonest.

    Harris doesn’t allow comments on his site, otherwise I might, and anyhow his site isn’t one I read regularly whereas Pharyngula is.

    Either you have to smoking gun evidence to convince us or you don’t. If you do, present it. If you don’t, shut up about our conclusions.

    No I don’t have smoking-gun evidence that he is sincere in what he is writing on this (indeed I’m not sure what would constitute such evidence).

    But I note that neither do you have smoking-gun evidence that he is being insincere. Anyone who considers that to be a slam-dunk is underestimating the human capacity for blind-spots, bias and confirmation bias while still being sincere.

  66. 566
    Anthony K

    Seriously, if you’re a regular here, how do you think things appear to a newbie?

    If you’re a regular here, how do you think things appear to a newbie?

    If you’ve been on Pharyngula as long as you say, you’ll have read enough comments by newbies (both pro and con) to know exactly how it looks to those of them who’ve commented on it.

  67. 567
    Anthony K

    And fair warning, Brownian has delurked.

    Oh, I’m not that terrible, am I?

    Just hungover.

    Fairly warned, be ye.

  68. 568
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    coelsblog, then there’s nothing to actually talk about, is there? I suggest you leave off noting anymore how much of a flame-pit you think this place is and that you’re a tone-troll. It’s not a worthwhile conversation, especially if it’s merely a matter of taste and opinion, and it certainly isn’t going to be resolved by being repetitious.

  69. 569
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Seriously, if you’re a regular here, how do you think things appear to a newbie?

    A newbie tone troll? or an actual commenter?

  70. 570
    coelsblog

    PatrickG:

    FWIW, coelsblog, continuing to talk about tone as you’re doing is like walking up to the Flame Pit, seeing a shiny red button, and asking “I wonder what this does?”

    I know, but it’s fun!

    If you’ve been reading here as long as you’ve said, you must know that tone trolling is one of the most popular recreational activities by trolls. Thus, tone trolling will at some point get you irretrievably labeled a troll.

    Yep, I’m entirely aware of that. Doesn’t the fact that tone trolling is so popular here ever give you pause? Isn’t it evidence that Pharyngula *is* very much a flame-pit? Yes, ok, you like it being a flame pit; just don’t pretend that it isn’t!

    You don’t like the tone here. We do. You get that. We get that. Not much more to talk about there, is there?

    Nope. Though at this point I’m just responding to anyone posting to me …

  71. 571
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Harris doesn’t allow comments on his site, otherwise I might, and anyhow his site isn’t one I read regularly whereas Pharyngula is.

    That’s your explanation, but not your excuse. The only excuse for further posting is your having and presenting evidence to back your claims.

  72. 572
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    But I note that neither do you have smoking-gun evidence that he is being insincere.

    See above, it is there, as all of us see it except you…Evidence, unlike you, doesn’t lie.

  73. 573
    Anthony K

    Yep, I’m entirely aware of that. Doesn’t the fact that tone trolling is so popular here ever give you pause? Isn’t it evidence that Pharyngula *is* very much a flame-pit? Yes, ok, you like it being a flame pit; just don’t pretend that it isn’t!

    Disingenuous. Let’s turn it around:

    Doesn’t the fact that Pharyngula is one of the biggest and most widely read atheist blogs and *is* a flamepit give you pause?

  74. 574
    coelsblog

    Brownian:

    If you’re a regular here, how do you think things appear to a newbie?

    At the risk of repetition (and, honestly, I’m not trying to repeat ad nauseum for the sake of it, but just answer questions) I think it looks to most newbies as a flame pit with a bunch of very trigger-happy commentators.

  75. 575
    Anthony K

    Yes, ok, you like it being a flame pit; just don’t pretend that it isn’t!

    So do all the people who make it one of the biggest and most widely read atheist blogs, apparently.

  76. 576
    Anthony K

    At the risk of repetition (and, honestly, I’m not trying to repeat ad nauseum for the sake of it, but just answer questions) I think it looks to most newbies as a flame pit with a bunch of very trigger-happy commentators.

    Why do you think that?

  77. 577
    coelsblog

    Brownian:

    Doesn’t the fact that Pharyngula is one of the biggest and most widely read atheist blogs and *is* a flamepit give you pause?

    Why, yes, and I readily accept that many people like it being a flamepit. [And thanks for admitting that it *is* a flame pit; I was upbraided above for asserting that. ;-)]

  78. 578
    PatrickG

    @ Brownian

    Your exquisite eviscerations can be quite scary! Of course, once I overcame my irrational fear and delurked, you’ve been nothing but nice (well, except that one time…). Clearly because I’m just that awesome.

    @ coelsblog

    As long as you’re aware of the consequences, at this point I’ll continue you a meta-tone-troll. This offer is valid only for me, and remember Brownian’s hungover!

    Nope. Though at this point I’m just responding to anyone posting to me.

    Well, then I’ll go back on topic and say that at some point, a blind spot is so big it extends all the way around one’s head. At which point one should just be unable to write about anything!

    More than that, he just refuses to acknowledge the blind spot’s existence, which to me is basically refusing to act in good faith. Particularly since multiple people have pointed it out in respectful ways over the years, way before PZ even weighed in.

  79. 579
    PZ Myers

    Yes. It’s a terrible hellish pit of fire and the commenters are like little demons with pitchforks.

    Keep whining about it, coelsblog, and I’ll confine you to the Thunderdome, where you can learn what it’s like when the commentariat aren’t trying to be polite. Yes, that’s a warning. I don’t like tone trolls.

  80. 580
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    But I note that neither do you have smoking-gun evidence that he is being insincere.

    Actually, we do. I’ve mentioned it several times. You’ve just not really addressed it.

    Just to be sure you don’t have to dig it up through this rapidly-expanding thread, here it is again:

    The central assumption of Harris’s torture defense is that torture is an effective and reliable interrogation technique. Torture has proven to be neither effective nor reliable. Therefore, Harris’s apologia for torture is fundamentally wrong.

    Harris has, to the best of my knowledge, not addressed this point. Any assertion that torture is effective and reliable would be contrary to current observation and understanding, and so would require much additional support.

    Harris has been evasive and even dismissive of this point. That evasion is indication of bad faith, as it is a tactic used to deflect criticism, not address criticism.

    As further evidence, Harris’s debate with Bruce Schneier was rife with evasion, conflation, and goalpost-shifting, all traits of someone arguing in bad faith.

    These are smoking guns for bad faith. It indicates he’s aware of the arguments against him, but choose to ignore them, or obfuscate the argument.

    Note these are the same tactics that generally cause our “trigger happy” horde to spark up, too. Nothing is more obnoxious than a self-professed intellectual avoiding engaging in serious debate simply because they don’t like the evidence or argument being arrayed against them.

  81. 581
    Anthony K

    And thanks for admitting that it *is* a flame pit; I was upbraided above for asserting that. ;-)

    Don’t be stupid. I’m just using your own premises to demonstrate the failure in your reasoning.

  82. 582
    PatrickG

    This offer is valid only for me, and remember Brownian’s hungover!

    I didn’t even say PZ’s name, yet he was summoned with his mighty crook!

  83. 583
    Anthony K

    As for whether or not it’s a flame pit, I agree very much with Nigel’s characterisation:

    What I see is a bunch of people who loathe unsupported assertions presented as fact. What I see is a bunch of people who are passionate about truth, about social justice, about knowledge, and about intelligent (though rowdy) debate.

    I prefer it like this. It’s not a flame fest, though. Look at any discussion. Yes, you’ll see plenty of flammage. But don’t look at the flames — look at the target. In some cases, the target may simply be ignorant of the culture here, and make a stupid first impression. (Truthfully, your introduction into this thread was less-than-stellar. Maybe if you go back and read it, you might see why.)

    Or it might be that someone comes in presenting their opinion as fact. Opinions really don’t count for a lot here (though they do get thrown around a lot). What counts is your ability to present a rational argument with supporting evidence, your ability to refute counter-arguments logically and completely, all while potentially being under fire.

    That’s what I see, anyway.

  84. 584
    PatrickG

    @ Nigel

    Nice summary there. /salute

  85. 585
    coelsblog

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls:

    The only excuse for further posting is your having and presenting evidence to back your claims.

    As I see it, you are not presenting evidence for *your* claims (that Harris is being insincere in his writings on this). It seems to me that all the evidence is compatible with sincerity coupled with human foibles concerning blind-spots and confirmation bias.

    See what I mean about reasonable people of good faith being able to come to differing conclusions about the evidence?

    [No doubt I'll now be accused of posting in bad faith in that assessment of Harris ;-)].

  86. 586
    mythbri

    @coelsblog

    Nope. Though at this point I’m just responding to anyone posting to me.

    Not everyone. *Coughs meaningfully*

    Sure, Pharyngula is a flame-pit. But the flames are typically as precise as a blowtorch, rather than a raging wildfire. The regulars and PZ have made it a space that is usually free of slurs that cause splash damage, which means that the commenters being flamed are not being flamed with gendered, racial, homophobic or trans*phobic, ableist slurs. That’s important. That’s a big deal. There aren’t a lot of places on the internet that get as rowdy as Pharyngula that make that distinction.

  87. 587
    Anthony K

    But the flames are typically as precise as a blowtorch, rather than a raging wildfire.

    Or a guy who burns down a bar for the insurance money, if you make it look like an electrical thing.

  88. 588
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    As I see it, you are not presenting evidence for *your* claims (that Harris is being insincere in his writings on this). It seems to me that all the evidence is compatible with sincerity coupled with human foibles concerning blind-spots and confirmation bias.

    Sorry, I and the horde come to different conclusion. You have to convince us you are right with your evidence. We don’t have to convince you of squat, since you are the interloper here, and Harris’ dishonesty is the null hypothesis due to the evidence. What part of reality are you having trouble with, that where you don’t control things?

  89. 589
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    See what I mean about reasonable people of good faith being able to come to differing conclusions about the evidence?

    But that’s it: we’re not talking about evidence. We’re talking about a fundamental logical flaw, one that is incontrovertible. If you assume torture is neither effective nor reliable for interrogation, Harris’s defense of torture falls completely apart. His logic cannot hold it together, because his logic is predicated on the effectiveness of torture.

    This is all based on a matter of fact, not interpretation.

    Given all this, and given Harris’s evasion concerning this, what other conclusion do you expect us to reach? Whether Harris is sincere or not doesn’t matter. He’s acting as if he is insincere. Not in his belief that torture is morally acceptable under certain highly artificial circumstances. No, rather, he is insincere in his debate about it. He doesn’t want to debate it. He wants to be right. He dismisses those with actual points, and only engages those who address only the morality of it.

    Further, it’s not up to us to give only the kindest possible interpretation to everyone who refuses to engage in actual debate. The various ways people refuse to debate tells us much about them, their personal beliefs, and their willingness to change their mind should they be shown wrong.

  90. 590
    coelsblog

    mythbri:

    Not everyone. *Coughs meaningfully*

    Sorry if I’ve omitted to reply to anything substantive, as I said I’ve been posting while doing other things so may have overlooked posts. Feel free to point me to a comment number.

    Sure, Pharyngula is a flame-pit.

    The regulars seem a little inconsistent on this. ;-)

    nigelTheBold, Venomous Demonic Hater:

    Just to be sure you don’t have to dig it up through this rapidly-expanding thread, here it is again

    Yes, I see your points. To me they still seem compatible with the usual human foibles of blind-spots and confirmation bias, rather than outright insincerity. Perhaps we have different thresholds as to when we give people the benefit of the doubt.

    PZ:

    I don’t like tone trolls.

    Yep, I gather that Pharyngula in general doesn’t like tone trolls. I’m off to eat anyhow.

  91. 591
    consciousness razor

    Personally, I deeply respect people who care more about writing mean comments than people advocating torture. I would never, ever “flame” them, because the very last thing I would want to be is trigger-happy. I’d rather join the Inquisition and burn me some witches before I ever started insulting a nice, decent person who whines so respectfully about tone.

  92. 592
    insipidmoniker, 37th Emu of the Mild Dyspepsia

    As a frequent lurker the *ahem* flame-pit status of this place is most welcome. Partly because I’m aware that I have a tremendous capacity to be full of shit and I know that won’t fly here. Yup, it can be intimidating, yup sometimes people get jumped on hard who don’t fully deserve it, but apologies fly as easily as insults when that happens.

    Personally, it helps me think very hard about my reasoning and evidence when I know there are people who will not only question it, but mock it openly when it’s just plain wrong. How is that a bad thing in a rational community?

  93. 593
    consciousness razor

    I also love people who can’t shut the fuck up and have to comment about every damn thing by saying the same shit over and over.

  94. 594
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle
    Sure, Pharyngula is a flame-pit.

    The regulars seem a little inconsistent on this. ;-)

    Sure, divorced from all context and deliberately misrepresented.

    So . .. what was that about you NOT being a liar, again? [insert passive aggressive smiley here]

  95. 595
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    Yes, I see your points. To me they still seem compatible with the usual human foibles of blind-spots and confirmation bias, rather than outright insincerity.

    That’s true of everybody but real trolls. Even shysters and con men — they deserve the benefit of the doubt, I imagine. Everybody thinks they’re right, whether it’s a dentist in Texas trying to push the teaching of intelligent design to schoolchildren, or those that execute gays in Africa. They think they’re doing right, they are sincere, so they are acting in good faith.

    Sorry. I can’t go there. I judge people by their actions, by all their words, not just by their stated motives. That’s all we really have to go on.

  96. 596
    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts

    Real trolls? How’d the Norwegians let them out!

  97. 597
    Amphiox

    Define and quantify “flame-pit”, coelsblog. Otherwise, the concave top of a birthday cake candle and an active nuclear weapons test site would both qualify.

  98. 598
    coelsblog

    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls:

    I really am about to take a break to go eat, but since people are asking for replies:

    You have to convince us you are right with your evidence. We don’t have to convince you of squat, since you are the interloper here, and Harris’ dishonesty is the null hypothesis due to the evidence.

    First of all, can I quote from above:

    What I see is a bunch of people who loathe unsupported assertions presented as fact. What I see is a bunch of people who are passionate about truth

    Nothing in evaluation of evidence depends on who is the interloper and who isn’t, it’s only about evidence. Second, you can’t assert: “dishonesty is the null hypothesis due to the evidence”, the null hypothesis is something you consider *before* you add in evidence. I don’t accept that a presumption of insincerity should be a null hypothesis (I do accept that it can be a conclusion *after* evidence).

    nigelTheBold, Venomous Demonic Hater

    But that’s it: we’re not talking about evidence. … We’re talking about a fundamental logical flaw, one that is incontrovertible. [...] [Harris's] logic is predicated on the effectiveness of torture.

    Harris clearly believes that torture can *sometimes* be effective (please don’t take that as me agreeing with him). That position is an evaluation of *evidence*. If Harris is sincere in thinking that sometimes torture is effective then there is no “logical flaw” here, just a different interpretation of evidence. Again, this seems to me consistent with Harris’s sincerity (even if wrong).

    Further, it’s not up to us to give only the kindest possible interpretation to everyone who refuses to engage in actual debate.

    I do agree that it is a discredit to Harris that he hides on his blog, not allowing comments, and not always engaging. However it is surely much to his credit that he did engage with an expert and present on his blog a full debate that many regard as refuting him. Surely he gets credit for that? Surely if he were being insincere he wouldn’t have done that or would delete the debate. So it’s not quite fair to say he “refuses to engage in actual debate”.

  99. 599
    thunk: y'all know ageism is a thing?

    Coelsblog:

    I think it looks to most newbies as a flame pit with a bunch of very trigger-happy commentators.

    Yes. Great! I’ve had enough of my IRL interactions being “oh, so you’re wrong, let’s just agree to disagree”. I’m glad that sort of thing doesn’t fly here. If you say something wrong, expect to get pounced on. Even the regulars.

    <3 pharyngula.

  100. 600
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Second, you can’t assert: “dishonesty is the null hypothesis due to the evidence”, the null hypothesis is something you consider *before* you add in evidence

    Gee, when tested with evidence Harris came out dishonest, like you. Why? We don’t try to spin the evidence, which is a lie. Sorry, you also miss that we have a conclusion, like a scientific consensus, and if you wish to change the consensus, you are required to provide information/evidence to do so. Why aren’t you providing that evidence? OH, that’s right, we’ve already seen it and come to the correct conclusion, Harris is dishonest, unlike your conclusion. Gee, still nothing from you to change our minds….There won’t be anything, will there, as all you have is political spin???

  101. 601
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    Harris clearly believes that torture can *sometimes* be effective (please don’t take that as me agreeing with him). That position is an evaluation of *evidence*.

    Not really. He’s neither presented evidence supporting his assertion that torture can sometimes be effective, nor has he presented an evaluation of the criteria under which torture is effective. As his assertion that it is sometimes effective does not strengthen his position. It’s like saying homeopathy is sometimes effective, and basing a moral decision on that.

    In any case, an assertion is not an interpretation of evidence. It is merely that: an assertion.

    However it is surely much to his credit that he did engage with an expert and present on his blog a full debate that many regard as refuting him. Surely he gets credit for that?

    And he has received accolades for that, not just when it happened, but in this very thread.

    But you still didn’t address the fact that he was patently evasive and equivocating in that debate. Deleting that debate would’ve done him more harm than good, but he still came off as defensive and insincere in his willingness to debate his points honestly.

  102. 602
    PatrickG

    However it is surely much to his credit that he did engage with an expert and present on his blog a full debate that many regard as refuting him. Surely he gets credit for that?

    Of course he does. Credit is given in the original post! But then we get:

    I then engaged in a long and rather tedious debate with him. It seems that few minds were changed, including my own. I heard from many readers who took my side in the debate—including those who have worked in airport security, U.S. Customs, the FBI, Delta Force, fraud detection, and other areas where real-time threat assessments must be made. I also received unequivocal support from Saudis, Pakistanis, Indians, and others who are regularly profiled. However, I heard as well from many people who thought that Schneier mopped the floor with me. Some of these readers continue to wonder why I, being ostensibly committed to reason, haven’t publicly conceded defeat and changed my view.

    And we do continue to wonder, because his behavior in that debate pretty clearly showed (see the many, many posts above on this subject) that he engaged in debate tactics completely beneath someone “ostensibly committed to reason”.

    Especially when he does this:

    In the end, Schneier’s argument came down to a claim about limited resources: He argued that we are too poor (and, perhaps, too stupid) to effectively copy the Israeli approach. That may be true. But pleading poverty and ineptitude is very different from proving that profiling doesn’t work, or that it is unethical, or that the link between the tenets of Islam and jihadist violence isn’t causal.

    Schneier’s argument against profiling has almost nothing to do with the reasons that many people find profiling controversial. But none of my critics seemed to notice this.

    That is such a fundamentally dishonest characterization of the debate that I just kind of throw up my hands. As an exercise, I encourage people who believe that Harris is being simply honest (even if mistaken) in this case to go reread the debate. Come back and tell me if that’s even remotely what Schneier was saying.

    To be very clear, Schneier did make points along those lines. That wasn’t the entirety of his argument. Even implying such is just dishonest. But this point won’t be rebutted by coming back with a quotemine and saying “but he did say that!” He said other things, too.

  103. 603
    Anthony K

    It seems to me that all the evidence is compatible with sincerity coupled with human foibles concerning blind-spots and confirmation bias.

    Isn’t that how the great unwashed does it? Isn’t that the very definition of the plebeian mindset, of how hoi palloi thinks?

    Isn’t that how intelligent people remain religious?

    If this is an honest assessment of Sam Harris, then what makes this man a rationalist?

  104. 604
    PatrickG

    Though at least from all this, I did reread the entire debate again, and I just love this part at the end [emphasis mine]:

    BS: Conclusion: airport profiling based on this ethnic and religious characteristic does not make sense.

    … And while you’ve objected to bits and pieces of this, the only argument you have made for this profiling system is that it’s common sense.

    I agree that it might be unclear why my “view about profiling, if true, wouldn’t extend to all intelligence work, or even to immigration.” This stuff is hard, and security—especially complex technological security—is often unclear. One of the principles I most hoped to explain in this dialog is that intuition and common sense are poor guides to security trade-offs. What might seem to be a good idea often is not, and what seems to be a bad idea sometimes is. Beware of security by intuition and of security by emotion. Beware of generalizations. Beware of seemingly unrelated complexity.

    And, of course, beware of complexity in general.

    Just sort of a “remember when” moment.

  105. 605
    Amphiox

    No, coelsblog, the null hypothesis is what you consider before searching for new evidence. You can and always do take the already EXISTING evidence that you already know about into account, which is what Nerd and others have done. Because in practical reality there are almost never any situations where you have absolutely no evidence and things are a complete and total blank slate.

  106. 606
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    coelsblog:

    I’ve been doing dishes and thinking about this debate, and I think you’re right.

    Harris is being sincere, but appears blinded by a bias.

    The only problem is, the evidence indicates it’s not a pretty bias. In fact, it appears to be a very ugly one.

  107. 607
    PatrickG

    Crap, clear blockquote fail. Quote should begin at BS. Woops.

  108. 608
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    PatrickG (quoting Harris):

    In the end, Schneier’s argument came down to a claim about limited resources: He argued that we are too poor (and, perhaps, too stupid) to effectively copy the Israeli approach.

    The problem isn’t limited resources in the sense Harris means. Nor did Schneier argue we’re too poor or stupid to effectively copy the Israeli approach. He said the Israeli approach doesn’t scale.

    So even in this bit, Harris is completely misrepresenting what Schneier was saying.

  109. 609
    Anthony K

    However it is surely much to his credit that he did engage with an expert and present on his blog a full debate that many regard as refuting him. Surely he gets credit for that?

    Not really. Looking at the data and what the experts say is the bare minimum we ask of anybody. You want us to give him credit for finally engaging with someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about?

    Anyways, I wrote about this earlier in this thread:

    Note how long it took for Harris before he actually consulted someone with actual security expertise (and he was roundly praised for having the courage and open-mindedness to debate Schneier.)

    But put this in the context of someone with little to no knowledge of biology, making a pronouncement on the impossibility of evolution, and only after several posts complaining about how misunderstood he is, he finally agrees to talk to an actual biologist about the issue, all the while insisting that the biologist’s position is identical to his after all.

    I’d like some of this easy credit. How’s this: Cesarean delivery is the worst possible form of childbirth ever. No one should ever undertake it except for under the most extreme conditions possible, and even then only sparingly.

    Now, I’d like to open my comment up to refutation by people who actually know something about obstetrics.

    Credit please?

  110. 610
    Paul

    The problem isn’t limited resources in the sense Harris means. Nor did Schneier argue we’re too poor or stupid to effectively copy the Israeli approach. He said the Israeli approach doesn’t scale.

    Notably, (without re-reading the debate) I’m pretty sure Schneier would have characterized time and manpower (why the approach doesn’t scale, the former more than the latter but both relevant) as resources. However, it has nothing to do with poorness or stupidity, so it’s just as dishonest. It just gives Harris a weaselly “out” if someone calls him out on it in a place he can’t just ignore (the “their comments are obviously wrong, I don’t even need to point out why” that he seems to have taken a shine to). That’s one of the sneaky things that really makes it seem like he’s speaking in bad faith. He’s not a stupid man, and there’s no way he could have read what Schneier said and think his objection boiled down to “we’re too poor and stupid” unless he wasn’t approaching it honestly in the first place.

  111. 611
    Anthony K

    He said the Israeli approach doesn’t scale.

    Actually, Marcus Ranum said that, not Schneier, as far as I can tell.

  112. 612
    Anthony K

    In the end, Schneier’s argument came down to a claim about limited resources: He argued that we are too poor (and, perhaps, too stupid) to effectively copy the Israeli approach.

    Where the fuck is that sack of shit frankboyd to jump all over Sam Harris for this dishonest representation?

    Yeah frankboyd, that’s right: not only are you a sack of shit, but you’re a spineless fucking hypocrite.

  113. 613
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    Paul:

    Notably, (without re-reading the debate) I’m pretty sure Schneier would have characterized time and manpower (why the approach doesn’t scale, the former more than the latter but both relevant) as resources.

    That’s pretty much it.

    What pisses me off is the completely disingenuous “poor or stupid” strawman Harris threw in there. It was reading this bit when the debate was first published that made me realize Harris was an ass who didn’t care about the debate itself, but cared only about being right.

    Sincere or not, he’s not being honest.

  114. 614
    PatrickG

    @ Brownian: Oh good, I was starting to worry about you. As a new member of the Horde, I do look to you to set the standard for poor behavior, because how will I know how to create a hostile atmosphere without being told what to think?

    /runs away

  115. 615
    Paul

    Actually, Marcus Ranum said that, not Schneier, as far as I can tell.

    Schneier has said it many times, for what it’s worth. I didn’t find “scale” doing a search on the debate, though, so that might require familiarity with his position.

    I’m not about to read the whole thing right now, but man this stood out:

    Again, I worry that political correctness can open up another pathway through security, allowing terrorists to hide in plain sight. If it ever became clear that we had a policy of not profiling, designed to assure everyone that we were non-racist and culturally sensitive, terrorists could safely assume that the TSA wouldn’t oblige a Muslim woman to lift her veil if she didn’t want to.

    Note that Harris is the one playing the “PC” card. And taking it to a stupid conclusion. How often do we see that here? But no, it’s nice that he’s willing to be brave enough to raise those possible moral dilemmas that nobody else is willing to touch, eh?

    It’s especially stupid with Schneier, since he never raised any sort of political correctness. He was focusing on how such a proposed policy was bad security, not tactful or touchy-feely or culturally sensitive.

  116. 616
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    Brownian:

    Actually, Marcus Ranum said that, not Schneier, as far as I can tell.

    That’s basically what Schneier was saying. He might not have used the word “scale,” but that’s effectively what he was saying. To the best of my knowledge (and memory).

    Which, admittedly, does suck.

  117. 617
    Anthony K

    Oh good, I was starting to worry about you. As a new member of the Horde, I do look to you to set the standard for poor behavior, because how will I know how to create a hostile atmosphere without being told what to think?

    Don’t fret if you can’t get it right away. It’s taken me decades to become the awful person I am.

    Schneier has said it many times, for what it’s worth. I didn’t find “scale” doing a search on the debate, though, so that might require familiarity with his position.

    Undoubtedly, but I just wanted to be clear to pre-empt any He never said thats.

  118. 618
    PatrickG

    After rereading the whole thing (skimming first, then more carefully), this really bugged me (link provided upstream, cut out some fluff to make my point, this seems a fair characterization to me so go look it up yourself if you disagree):

    BS: What you described above is behavioral profiling, and very different from what we’re discussing here…

    SH: Sorry, but your purified notion of “behavioral profiling” is a fiction…

    BS: Actually, it’s not. The two are very different…

    SH: The whole purpose of my previous articles … if a plane gets blown up by someone who looked and acted like Betty White, I will issue a public apology.

    BS: Yes, you will…

    That, to me, is really representative of Harris’s technique in this debate. Define something based on “theoretical” grounds, have the expert in the field say “uh, actually, these have already been defined”, and then just ignore it, talk about something else, and bring up a Betty White canard.

    This is starting to feel like masturbation to me (though not quite as much fun). I am glad I participated, because I was very much on the fence as to questions of bad faith/honesty, and … well, now I’m not.

    A particularly delightful experience since that mainly came from me looking up much more about this debate than I ever had before. On the other hand, I now have a lot of stuff to catch up on. But still…my first real Pharyngula thread as a participant! Which way to the echo chamber? I’ve asked repeatedly for the Spanking Parlor, with no luck.

    @ Brownian: hopefully I won’t get caught by any stray bullets words in the meantime.

  119. 619
    'Tis Himself

    Harris claims there are possible situations where torture would be effective. He’s smart enough not to give specifics because he knows holes could be poked in any scenario he suggests, but he sincerely knows there must be some hypothetical, far-fetched, incredibly unlikely setting in which torture might possibly, perhaps, maybe could almost by some chance be effective, therefore it stops being morally repugnant and becomes merely morally iffy (albeit still illegal).

  120. 620
    Amphiox

    Harris’ hypothetical circumstances where torture and profiling might work are no different and no less dishonest as all those anti-abortion late-term-one-second-from-gestation-fetuses hypotheticals.

  121. 621
    Anthony K

    Harris’ hypothetical circumstances where torture and profiling might work are no different and no less dishonest as all those anti-abortion late-term-one-second-from-gestation-fetuses hypotheticals.

    And rajkumar’s ‘god’.

  122. 622
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    PatrickG:

    But still…my first real Pharyngula thread as a participant!

    And a damned fine first showing.

    I bow in your general direction. I just hope security doesn’t think I’m facing Mecca.

  123. 623
    Anthony K
    But still…my first real Pharyngula thread as a participant!

    And a damned fine first showing.

    QFT. I was taken aback when you wrote that, PatrickG. [Grumbles] These kids today…showin’ us old-timers up with their smarty-smart blog comments…

    I bow in your general direction. I just hope security doesn’t think I’m facing Mecca.

    (Ha)LOL!

  124. 624
    PatrickG

    @ Amphiox

    I really like that comparison. I will almost certainly steal it from you for use in future (though I’ll do my best to attribute it where possible).

  125. 625
    PatrickG

    @ Nigel: Thanks for the kind words!

    @ Brownian: I’d thank you too, but despite your earlier protestations, I have yet to be messaged by Madame Patricia. Foo on you.

  126. 626
    hotspurphd

    ANRI:

    You quote me:”While it is well known that torture does not usually work, is it really true that there are NO cases of it working? And can you be sure that there wouldn’t�t be a ticking bomb case where it would work, and would indeed be the lesser evil though illegal. I haven�t seen any evidence here that this couldn’t�t happen or that it couldn’t�t perhaps be predicted with high probability to work (though I haven�t read every post). Is it possible, or even likely that a terrorist MIGHT give the info needed. If there is little time to spare and no time to use the usual interrogation methods that do work with enough time, can anyone say categorically that torture would never ever get the info to save a lot of innocent lives?”

    Then you say:
    “Please, please quote the (I presume) multiple places in which people have categorically said it can never work. May I speculate that you didn’t�t� because you can�t� because there haven�t been?”

    I think you are right, there haven’t been. But people keep saying torture shouldn’t be used because (among other reasons) IT DOESN’T WORK!! No one that I noticed mentioned that there have been times that it has worked or could work. If this is true then the statement “It doesn’t work is not entirely true. So, though no one has said it, it SOUNDS as if people mean it NEVER works so let’s not do it.

    You continue:
    “The answer to your �what if� is another �what if�: What if there were other techniques that work better and also aren’t�t morally bankrupt? Because there are.Knowing a technique that works frequently and tends to produce good results, and that another technique works badly and tends to produce poor results, which would you work with, given that you have limited time?Or, indeed, under any circumstance?
    I said:
    “It would be greatly appreciated if anyone responding please address the issues and not insult me. thanks.”
    You:
    Well, ok, but just as a word of advice: if you enter a thread and ask a question that has been answered many times previously � about a position nobody is actually trying to take -people might very well take it as uninformed or disingenuous straw manning and are likely to think their intelligence is being insulted. They are likely to respond in kind.The thing that will really determine if you get insulted or not is how you respond to the explanation that your point is both nonsensical and has already been covered. If you continue with �But what if� what if� what if�� you�re going to be insulted. Just giving you a heads-up.”

    Well, thanks for the heads-up but I don’t see why insult is helpful in a debate or discussion. I prefer to stick to the arguments.

    I don’t think the question had been answered before. No one dealt with the possibility that torture might work. Your response “”Knowing a technique that works frequently and tends to produce good results, and that another technique works badly and tends to produce poor results, which would you work with, given that you have limited time?” doesn’t seem to make sense( notice how I don’t insult you here by calling you a moron or accuse you of ignorance for perhaps not knowing that since, as I understand it, one needs time for interrogation techniques to work-weeks, months?) The ticking bomb scenario may be different.

    Perhaps the only thing that would work in a very limited time is torture. Do the experts say the usually effective techniques can work in a very short time? Anyone? If not, is it more morally repugnant to let lots of people die or torture someone and maybe save them? simple question.

    And to the person who explained to me that a terrorist would never give it up, I would say that you can’t know that. And in the extreme case where you know for sure a bomb is going to go off and let’s say will kill 20 million, and the guy you have is not in that city. Can you make him talk. I don’t know. Being nice likely won’t in a short period of time. Horrible torture might. Is it worth it?
    No straw man here and whether I am a moron or not or an ethical monster or a troll is irrelevant to the answer(s).
    It seems to me that many here are so opposed to torture, PZ included, that they cannot really rationally consider an exception to be the lesser evil. To the choice of millions dying or 1 person being torture they say it wouldn’t work when they can’t know that. Haven’t heard anyone even admit it might be possible to gat the info. this indicate a lack of logic, refusal to admit possible evidence. The moral or emotional horror is so great that every effort is made to argue against torture. Ok. But you oh so logical, scientific, skeptical folks are no being so very much those things here, thought trying so mightily hard. so it seems to me. so, can anyone refute this without raging insult? that would be welcome. but I expect much worse.
    Anri, I think I’ve framed this a bit differently than you characterized me as having done before. At any rate I’m done.
    Say what you will all.

    I think that much of the abuse that goes on at this site is the result of sadism. Some enjoy savaging others. Some months ago I raised this issue on a thread. I linked to one of Sam’s article’s and simply asked what people thought about the issue. I was immediately called a Xian death cultist who made Sam look like an amateur. just for asking a question.

    © 2012 MicrosoftTermsPrivacyDevelopersEnglish (United States)

  127. 627
    Anthony K

    I have yet to be messaged by Madame Patricia

    Neither have I. I’ve heard about the spanking parlour, but I’ve never been shown where it is, nor given keys to the essential oils cabinet.

    I’m not really as regular here as some would think. I’m more the type that wanders in to the party, grabs a handful of chips, excuses himself to lavatory, rifles through the medicine cabinet (and eats a few of the dog’s worm medication, just to see how it tastes), empties out the wastebucket, takes it to the other bathroom where they’re making yuckaflux and fills it up (“PZ says we need more punch in the TV room”), drinks it on the way to the patio to see if there’s anybody outside smoking a spliff (there is!), and then barfs in some bushes before passing out hugging a tree.

  128. 628
    Paul

    I’m not really as regular here as some would think.

    But by the same token, you’re not as irregular as you seem to think.

    That might not have come out right.

  129. 629
    Anthony K

    But by the same token, you’re not as irregular as you seem to think.

    Tell that to my toilet.

  130. 630
    'Tis Himself

    hotspurphd #126

    It seems to me that many here are so opposed to torture, PZ included, that they cannot really rationally consider an exception to be the lesser evil. To the choice of millions dying or 1 person being torture they say it wouldn’t work when they can’t know that.

    Give us an instance where torture will reasonably produce reliable results. You’re the one making the positive claim that there are circumstances where torture will work, so explain what these circumstances are. And then explain why we shouldn’t consider you to be a sadistic, immoral asshole.

  131. 631
    'Tis Himself

    then barfs in some bushes before passing out hugging a tree.

    So you were that guy who was here last Sunday that nobody knew.

  132. 632
    jmst

    Harris clearly believes that torture can *sometimes* be effective (please don’t take that as me agreeing with him)(1). That position is an evaluation of *evidence*(2). If Harris is sincere in thinking that sometimes torture is effective then there is no “logical flaw” here, just a different interpretation of evidence(3). Again, this seems to me consistent with Harris’s sincerity (even if wrong)(4).

    (1)I’m inclined to think that he actually honestly believes that. That doesn’t give him the right to assume it without evidence just because his layman’s intuition (a.k.a. “common sense”) says so, and expect not to be called out for it by rationalists. (Also, torture being sometimes efficient is insufficient as a premise to make his argument work; what he would need to claim if he wanted to make his premises explicit is rather torture being sometimes more sufficient than all alternative methods of gathering intelligence and there being a practical method to determine whether one might currently be dealing with such a situation that robustly resists false positives. That’s a rather strong claim which he accepts us to take on his intuitive say-so, and nothing else.)
    (2) If it is, he’s not coming out with his evidence for the rest of us to judge whether it’s valid and pertinent.
    (3) Except that he and his followers in this thread have been told by people who know more on the subject that the premise is most likely flawed, and have been thrown at scholarly papers coming to that same conclusion. The rest of the argument may be impeccable, but that’s irrelevant once the premise is flawed.
    (4) If you’re honestly convinced that your implicit assumptions are self-evidently true and thus think you can work from them without further justification, but are than pointed towards empirical evidence that says that this is unlikely to be the case, you have a few honest and rational options:

    I) Accept the evidence at face value, and retract your argument.
    II) Hold judgement about the merit of the evidence (which I think is a legitimate stance, we’re talking about social science, not physics, after all – and I’m saying this as a sort-of social scientist); this implies accepting that your premises are likely to be flawed, but point out that your argument still holds if and when the current consensus turns out to be wrongheaded.
    III) Address the studies and point out specifically where and why you think they’re flawed/not pertinent to your point. I said specifically, so “interesting, but common sense still says X” doesn’t count. Note, though, this path only actually justifies to remain agnostic (making it a variant of (II) above, not to reconfirm your original argument in full force, unless you counter with positive empirical evidence for your premises that doesn’t have the same flaws.

    What Harris’ camp seems to be doing instead is either pretending that no evidence has been presented (dishonest) or dismissing the evidence because it contradicts their intuition (irrational). Whichever of these two it is Harris is guilty of, I’d rather expect them from creationists or climate change deniers and it deserves to be called out. And that’s what people are caling him out for: it’s skepticism 101, not PC. (Incidentally, his reaction to being called out somewhat resembles abovementioned groups, too.)

    If we’re free to make counterfactual assumptions based on unsupported intuition (say, the Earth is flat), and additional implicit unsupported assumptions (going West-East gives you a straight-line/shortest route), I might as well logically demonstrate that, given that Tokyo is (very roughly) 10,000km East of Athens and Athens 10,000km east of San Francisco, you have to travel roughly 20,000km eastwards to get from San Francisco to Tokyo. Nonsense it is because the premise is false, but there’s no logical flaw in the process of deriving the conclusion itself, and if this were Discworld, my conclusion would indeed be valid – just as Sam Harris’ conclusions would be valid in an alternative universe that obeyed his assumptions.

  133. 633
    anathema

    This whole debate/discussion/conversation/whatever over the morality of torture is like a debate over the morality of human sacrifice . . . 

    Person A: You know, I don’t think that human sacrifice is necessarily immoral. In fact, in certain situations human sacrifice may be ethically necessary.
    Person B: What? Are you kidding me? That’s ridiculous.
    Person A: No seriously. For instance, it would be completely moral to sacrifice a couple of virgins to the rain god Steve in order to prevent the deaths of thousands thanks to famine brought on by massive crop failures in a drought. Clearly sacrificing a couple of virgins is the lesser of two evils here.
    Person B: That doesn’t even begin to make sense. Sacrificing a couple of virgins to the rain god Steve would be useless. Sacrificing virgins to the rain god Steve simply doesn’t work.
    Person C: Hey, I agree that it’s immoral to sacrifice virgins to the rain god Steve, but you’re arguing that position all wrong! Human sacrifice would be immoral even if it did work. You should be arguing that human sacrifice is wrong on principle alone, not that it’s wrong because it doesn’t work. The argument that it doesn’t work will never convince anyone. Besides, there’s a good chance that human sacrifice actually works at convincing Steve to bring us rain.
    Person B: But human sacrifice doesn’t work!
    Person A: Oh, so there have never been any situations where it’s rained after human beings have been sacrificed? 
    Person B: I never said that. I don’t doubt that there have been times where it’s rained shortly after human beings have been sacrificed to the rain god Steve. But it might have rained anyway even if no one had been sacrificed. We don’t know that it was those sacrifices that caused it to rain. In fact, typically rain doesn’t follow human sacrifices. Human sacrifice simply isn’t an effective way to prevent famine brought on by drought, it’s just a waste of time and resources that could instead be spent on methods that have actually been shown to be effective in preventing famines that are brought on by drought. We could invest in better infrastructure in order to move food to drought-stricken areas faster. We could invest in better irrigation systems. We could plant crops that need less water. All of these things have been proven to work in preventing famine, and they don’t involve killing innocent people in the name of some non-existent deity.
    Person A: But if there is even a million-in-one chance that sacrificing a couple of virgins might prevent famine, it would still be the moral thing to do.
    Person B: No, because it doesn’t work! Sacrificing people to a non-existent god is utterly useless. Human sacrifice is completely morally bankrupt. Advocating human sacrifice is simply immoral. 
    Person A: But I’m not an advocate of human sacrifice. How dare you call me that? I’m just saying that human sacrifice might be moral in certain hypothetical situations.
    Person B: What the hell? Have you even listened to a single thing I’ve said?

    Just imagine that this takes place in a world where most people believe in the rain god Steve and human sacrifice is widely believed to prevent drought and you’ve essentially got what’s going on here.

  134. 634
    Amblebury

    Brownian

    And rajkumar’s ‘god’

    Noooo! Do not say its name! Do not invoke…

    Ohwait. The slammer is functioning again. I can remove the earplugs I’d inserted as a precaution should raj appear, and his blithering cause my brain to weep out of my head.

    Phew. Close.

  135. 635
    Anthony K

    I think that much of the abuse that goes on at this site is the result of sadism. Some enjoy savaging others. Some months ago I raised this issue on a thread. I linked to one of Sam’s article’s and simply asked what people thought about the issue. I was immediately called a Xian death cultist who made Sam look like an amateur. just for asking a question.

    Did you find it persuasive?

    No?

    Perhaps if we savaged you harder, in a shorter period of time, we might find out whether or not you know anything.

  136. 636
    PatrickG

    @hotspurphd

    I’d respond to you, but I’ll just ask you this:

    We’re at an extremely large number of comments. Did you even consider reading them before spouting off things that have been addressed? Because, you know, you did.

    I grant you, there may be some new questions in there, but seriously…. despite all appearances, we’re people with lives, we don’t have time to just regurgitate things already digested.

    If we were birds, that might be acceptable, but since we’re not, I’ll just say: READ. I’ve reached saturation with people JAQing off.

    Fortunately, I’m sure there are other people willing to point out where you’ve gone off the deep end. I have chicken to grill.

  137. 637
    jmst

    I think you are right, there haven’t been. But people keep saying torture shouldn’t be used because (among other reasons) IT DOESN’T WORK!! No one that I noticed mentioned that there have been times that it has worked or could work. If this is true then the statement “It doesn’t work is not entirely true. So, though no one has said it, it SOUNDS as if people mean it NEVER works so let’s not do it.

    As I’ve said in the other post, “It may sometimes, under some conditions yield results” isn’t a good enough enough reason to endorse (ever so conditionally) torture. What you need to claim, and demonstrate because that won’t be a claim any skeptic worthy of the term will want to accept just so, is this: “There is a well circumscribed set of circumstances, or a certain type of perpetuators, where we know that it works on average significantly better than any alternative method, and those circumstances or this type of perps is easily recognisable for a trained interrogator.” If we agree on that, and only then, the rest of the argument has any connection to the real world. You (and Harris) are trying to smuggle one kalashnikov of a hidden assumption onboard the plane here and expect us to wave you through security because you present yourself as rationalists/skeptics/atheists? Good thing we aren’t profiling on this board…

    So either you are going to argue that “there is a well circumscribed set of circumstances, or a certain type of perpetuators, where we know that it works on average significantly better than any alternative method, and those circumstances or this type of perps is easily recognisable for a trained interrogator”, or you have no point.

    Saying “some people may talk under torture (assumed: but not otherwise)” doesn’t do the job at all. What if? Some people may already be struggling with themselves, half resenting, and all it takes to make them talk is telling them in serious that their late grandmother would so disapprove of what they’ve gotten themselves into – but if you get rough on them, you reconfirm their notion that they were right all along and they start making up lies instead. Some people may have been specifically trained not to talk under torture but can be caught unprepared when you start talking about their grandmother. Neither do we know which of these groups is larger, nor is it reasonable to expect the officer on the spot in a ticking bomb scenario to tell the difference, so torturing is at least as likely to decrease the chance of getting valuable intelligence, and in fact that’s what all the empirical evidence indicates. Breaking news: Your or Harris’ layman’s intutions, heavily colored by the conclusion you hold dear (euphemistically: “common sense”) do NOT trump evidence.

    So, yeah. Maybe there are some situations were torture might work. We also know there to be situations were torture is positively counterproductive. Unless you’re also going to give us a practical guide for how to tell them apart, this means that torture is impractical, period.

    I don’t think the question had been answered before. No one dealt with the possibility that torture might work. Your response “”Knowing a technique that works frequently and tends to produce good results, and that another technique works badly and tends to produce poor results, which would you work with, given that you have limited time?” doesn’t seem to make sense( notice how I don’t insult you here by calling you a moron or accuse you of ignorance for perhaps not knowing that since, as I understand it, one needs time for interrogation techniques to work-weeks, months?) The ticking bomb scenario may be different.

    THE ticking bomb scenario isn’t magically “different”, and choosing a technique you know tends to work well over one that tendsnot to work well makes a lot of sense – even if in hindsight it turns out that in this particular situation with this particular perpetuator and his particular (possibly momentary) state of mind, the second technique would have worked better – unless you can tell also tell us how to recognise in practice the situations/perps/states of mind where a usually ineffective technique suddenly starts to work while the usually more effective one doesn’t, it’d still be silly to use it unless you’re omniscient (in which case interrogating the perp at all, with or without torture, is a dangerous waste of time).

    And to the person who explained to me that a terrorist would never give it up, I would say that you can’t know that.

    Sure he might give it up. He might even be at the brink of breaking without you doing anything. Torturing him might be the one thing reconfirming for him that you’re indeed the Big Satan and shutting him up. Some terrorists might a) have talked with or without torture, some might b) not talk with or without torture, some might c) talk because of the torture, and some might d) shut up/lie because of the torture. What you need to show us is good evidence that (c) is significantly more likely than (d). The only evidence I’ve seen (admitting that I skipped a hundred or so posts between 400 and 500 appr.) is evidence that (d) is actually quite frequent.

  138. 638
    jmst

    See how I didn’t bring a single moral argument in that way-too-long post? Gosh.

    Alternatively, maybe Harris wasn’t trying to imply that his hypothetical has a possible real-world equivalent? Maybe all he was trying to say is “in a situation where doing a bad thing (torture) leads to a good thing (preventing the loss of hundreds of lives), utilitarian morals dictate to do the bad thing repulsive as it may look”? If so, he doesn’t deserve contempt – only ridicule (and he should come out and clarify it already), and being told that what he said was dangerous in context. If that was his intended meaning, well done for a convulsive, obfuscatory paraphrase of the tautology. That’s how utilitarianism is defined, for fucks sake! And saying it in a world were people are, actually, torturing, and are, actually, contriving justifications for their torturing, it’s his job to tell them clearly and loudly that his reasoning doesn’t apply to this world, lest he makes himself complicit. Or maybe use next time.

    If he just wanted to give a particularly powerful illustration of utilitarianism by showing how even torture would seem legitimate under such-and-such admittedly unrealistic assumptions, he did a poor job too: Why not use a scenario where an innocent is to be tortured? If you want to make it about terrorism, say that a terrorist’s partner, who has been brainwashed into believing that everyone is out after the terrorist for no good reason and will slowly and painfully kill the entire family when they find them, is the only person who knows where the terrorist – who is about to launch his plot to blow up the city any minute. If manage to argue that the relatively small harm of torturing this person whose only “crime” is to blindly believe what their lover told them is justified by the larger harm it helps to prevent, you’ve made a much more powerful, and purer, argument for utilitarianism than by talking about the torture of some “evil-doer” who “sort of deserves it anyway”, and you’ll avoid people agreeing with you for all the wrong reasons.

    Except of course, that it wouldn’t work here either. The lover would very likely (has, that’s my intuition talking) feel reconfirmed in what they’ve been brainwashed to believe and shut up all the more.

  139. 639
    Avo, also nigelTheBold

    hotspurphd:

    It seems to me that many here are so opposed to torture, PZ included, that they cannot really rationally consider an exception to be the lesser evil. To the choice of millions dying or 1 person being torture they say it wouldn’t work when they can’t know that.

    And you haven’t explained how it might be possible to get the info with an ice cream cone. (That’s been covered earlier, and the ice cream cone wins over torture.)

    Here’s the problem:

    In all recent cases where we were after information, and we used torture, it turns out that the people being tortured lied. Strange, huh? Someone who expects to die anyway might lie under torture? Funny how that happens!

    Here’s the problem with your “lesser of two evils” thing. First, it means you give up a bit of your humanity. You have someone in your clutches, powerless, and you torture them. You cause them pain. You do this because you expect them to give up information.

    Here’s the catch: you can’t really expect them to do so. At all. There’s nothing supporting your position that they will, or even that causing pain will work better than other methods.

    So all you’re doing is causing them pain. For no reason.

    Whatsoever.

    Demonstrate that torture works to extract information from people who value their goals over their lives, and I might reconsider. But so far, all I’ve seen are a lot of Steven Seagal / Rambo type situations presented as some kind of argument. (Hint: that’s not an argument. It’s a rhetorical device. One which will not work on me. I’ve spent the last several years building up an immunity to stupid arguments by rhetorical devices.)

    So far, the evidence suggests that torture doesn’t work to extract information from people who really don’t want you to have that information.

    And if they really don’t mind you having that information, there are better, faster ways to get it.

  140. 640
    strange gods before me ॐ

    If so, he doesn’t deserve contempt – only ridicule

    Contempt and ridicule are both appropriate. He didn’t make this argument in a cultural vacuum. He’s been giving aid and comfort to people who routinely engage in unethical practices, “including those who have worked in [...] the FBI, Delta Force”, et cetera.

    Contempt is similarly appropriate for people who formulate anti-abortion late-term-one-second-from-gestation-fetuses hypotheticals.

  141. 641
    Marcus Ranum

    He said the Israeli approach doesn’t scale.

    I said that.

    I’ve been through it. It involves sitting there while a deliberately annoying prat asks you questions to see if you appear capable of being provoked to violence. Anyone with experience with pharyngula blog should be fine.

  142. 642
    Marcus Ranum

    (i.e: it scales as well as using pharyngula blog as a screening mechanism would)
    Actually, that might work quite well.

  143. 643
    jmst
    If so, he doesn’t deserve contempt – only ridicule

    Contempt and ridicule are both appropriate. He didn’t make this argument in a cultural vacuum. He’s been giving aid and comfort to people who routinely engage in unethical practices, “including those who have worked in [...] the FBI, Delta Force”, et cetera.

    I agree that under all plausible interpretations of what he’s been trying to say, this is true. As I’ve said in an earlier post, his “evidence is for losers, I got Common Sense(tm) superpowers” stance on these topics reeks of creationism more than anything you’d expect from one of the “Four Horsemen” of new atheism, and fully deserves contempt whether it’s caused by irrationality or dishonesty.

    What I was trying to do in this last post is to give hotspurphd a possible (if highly implausible) way out if he wants to maintain that Sam Harris was arguing in good faith. I maybe should have made clearer how implausible it is: it requires diagnosing him, professional author and lauded public speaker and all, with extremely poor rhetoric skills, and is made all the more implausible by his persistent failure to clarify. Even ignoring that, it would imply that all he was doing was restating the tautology in an obfuscatory manner, hardly the courageous and stringent rational look at things without fear of the consequences his fanboys seem to like so much about him. So really what I was trying to state (though leaving much of it implicit – mea culpa) was: “Hey, IF you want to maintain that he’s been arguing in good faith, this is what you’ll have to claim, which would be pretty ridiculous, wouldn’t it?”

    And yeah, even if isn’t actually making the stupid, irrational and dangerous arguments he seems to be making but only playing infantile games by restating the tautology in the most obfuscatory possible ways, he’s still guilty of encouraging those who’d love to hear the argument he himself doesn’t actually (under this interpretation) want to make.

  144. 644
    dereksmear

    Oh by the way, if Harris says that he is only talking about the ethics of torture, he is either a liar or he can’t remember what he actually writes.

    “Given what many of us believe about the exigencies of our war on terrorism, the PRACTICE of torture, in certain circumstances, would seem to be not only permissible, but necessary.” —The End of Faith, p. 199

  145. 645
    jmst

    Anyone still thinking that I or anyone else is attacking Sam Harris’ position on ethical grounds:

    In your favourite “ticking bomb” scenario if it’s really suppsoed to be a pure hypothetical, I think I can go even further than him. If “we”‘ve received a trustable threat that a bomb will blow a major town up but without having our hands on any of the perps and the only way to avert thousands of deaths is by divining the bomb’s location from the intestines of a virgin, I’d say go for it and butcher that virgin already.

    Of course, in this real world, we have no indication that divination increases our chances to find the bomb above a random search, or that torture increases the chances of the perp talking above other methods of interrogation. If Sam Harris were willing to make that much clear, no-one would have a problem – except that he isn’t and actually does think without any reason beyond Common Sense(tm) that torture actually works.

  146. 646
    johncerefice

    I am just one person, but I believe I speak for more than just myself when I say that Mr. Harris has demonstrated courage by raising his voice on these subjects.

    If anyone truly thinks Mr. Harris is a chest-pounding advocate for torture and racial profiling, as many of the commentators above and elsewhere would seem to believe, then you have either read very little of his work, or you don’t know and instead just dislike the author, but importantly you are missing the truth about why he is writing on these subjects; they are an honest attempt to explore what he believes to be difficult truths, through constructive dialogue, while acknowledging that he may be wrong, and inviting others to inform his own writing.

    This is not the behavior of an ideologue, but of someone just trying to get to be honest.

    –John

  147. 647
    Anthony K

    I am just one person, but I believe I speak for more than just myself when I say that Mr. Harris has demonstrated courage by raising his voice on these subjects.

    If anyone truly thinks Mr. Harris is a chest-pounding advocate for torture and racial profiling, as many of the commentators above and elsewhere would seem to believe, then you have either read very little of his work, or you don’t know and instead just dislike the author, but importantly you are missing the truth about why he is writing on these subjects; they are an honest attempt to explore what he believes to be difficult truths, through constructive dialogue, while acknowledging that he may be wrong, and inviting others to inform his own writing.

    This is not the behavior of an ideologue, but of someone just trying to get to be honest. who hasn’t bothered to read the thread.

    –John

    Thanks for the input, John. That’s very helpful.

  148. 648
    PatrickG

    I am just one person, but I believe I speak for more than just myself when I say that Mr. Harris has demonstrated courage by raising his voice on these subjects.

    The question of courage under fire has been addressed above.

    If anyone truly thinks Mr. Harris is a chest-pounding advocate for torture and racial profiling, as many of the commentators above and elsewhere would seem to believe, then you have either read very little of his work, or you don’t know and instead just dislike the author, but importantly you are missing the truth about why he is writing on these subjects; they are an honest attempt to explore what he believes to be difficult truths, through constructive dialogue, while acknowledging that he may be wrong, and inviting others to inform his own writing.

    We have read his work. We’ve quoted it extensively in this thread. I will now state that you are categorically wrong using the magnificent summary of this thread by Nigel.

    This is not the behavior of an ideologue, but of someone just trying to get to be honest.

    And once again, he has demonstrably been dishonest in his debate tactics and his representations of the positions other people hold. That’s just one recent example.

    If you want to blithely disregard the entire discussion above, be aware that the New Rules prohibit us from throwing people into TEH FLAME PITZ until after your 3rd post. I wouldn’t want you saying later you wouldn’t warned about the rough and tumble atmosphere here! :)

  149. 649
    jmst

    I am just one person, but I believe I speak for more than just myself when I say that Mr. Harris has demonstrated courage by raising his voice on these subjects.

    What’s courageous about parroting the official narrative? I do believe that he honestly believed the shit he pushed when he started out, but after so many people have patiently explained him why and how he’s wrong, he can’t very well still believe them and expect to be considered a rationalist.

    If anyone truly thinks Mr. Harris is a chest-pounding advocate for torture and racial profiling, as many of the commentators above and elsewhere would seem to believe, then you have either read very little of his work, or you don’t know and instead just dislike the author, but importantly you are missing the truth about why he is writing on these subjects; they are an honest attempt to explore what he believes to be difficult truths, through constructive dialogue, while acknowledging that he may be wrong, and inviting others to inform his own writing.

    I guess that’s why he’s ignoring, distorting, or ridiculing the facts people who know more about profiling or torture than him bring to his attention, doesn’t even care to address actual empirical studies on those topics that have been brought to his attention, and just keeps pretending that his unspoken assumptions are The Truth despite them not only being unconfirmed but contrary to what science says about that – because he’s got The Common Sense, and that beats evidence anyday. It’s courageous in the sense that he’s exposing himself to ridicule, but that brand of courage doesn’t set him apart from Kent Hovind.

    This is not the behavior of an ideologue, but of someone just trying to get to be honest.

    Except not, for reasons you would understand by know if you cared to look at what other people have written.

  150. 650
    goon

    Dawkins with a great point on PZ and SH.

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/646705-it-s-what-moral-philosophers-do

    The shit Harris gets for his writings on torture is ridiculous.

  151. 651
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    The shit Harris gets for his writings on torture is ridiculous.

    Oh, you mean it needs more condemnation for being said in the first place?

  152. 652
    Paul

    The shit Harris gets for his writings on torture is ridiculous.

    Do moral philosophers also compare, in a serious piece, the building of a community center with the building of Shrine to Satan, reveling in the number of 9/11 victims that are going to hell? Or to call it “ironic and instructive” that while we’re approving an Islamic community center in NYC, the Germans are closing the mosque that “nurtered the 9/11 hijackers”?

    Quit pretending that Harris is just “moral philosophizing”. He’s very clearly pushed a racist agenda based merely on what he considers “common sense” (well, I shouldn’t say “merely” — he very clearly is influenced by European fascists on the “Muslim” problem, as he tips his hat to them for being the closest to correct on the problem). The fact that he may use “thought experiment” verbiage occasionally does not detract from that overall fact.

  153. 653
    Nightjar

    it-s-what-moral-philosophers-do

    What, pretend their philosophical musings exist in a vacuum and proceed to ignore/not care when people point out what kind of nefarious effects they actually have in the real world?

    Nah. At best, that’s what irresponsible moral philosophers do. (And I’m being charitable here. In this case, I could say that’s also what moral philosophers who want to support racist policies and help defend the use of torture do.)

  154. 654
    jmst

    Dawkins with a great point on PZ and SH.

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/646705-it-s-what-moral-philosophers-do

    This piece hasn’t gotten any better since I read it yesterday. Dawkins’ doesn’t give the impression that he’s read much of the argument, or even of Sam Harris’ own writings on the subject.

    Dawkins:

    He was doing what moral philosophers do, and he does not deserve the vilification and viciousness that he has received in consequence.

    If you go to the article, you will note that under “vilification and viciousness”, Dawkins doesn’t link to any actual examples of vilification or viciousness outside of Harris’ own imagination – he links to Harris’ whining instead. At least Dawkins seems to be familiar with that one text.

    More Dawkins:

    He is not a gung-ho pro-torture advocate, he was raising precisely the hypothetical, thought-experiment type of questions moral philosophers do raise, about whether there might be any circumstances in which torture might be the lesser of two evils – thought experiments such as the famous “ticking hydrogen bomb and only one man in the world knows how to stop it” thought experiment.

    Except for the little problem that in the process of raising this thought experiment, as it were, Harris is slipping in the assumption that torture works and the only reason not to do it is that you may find it repulsive – and then derives practical implications from the conclusions of his thought experiments which he could only ever arrive at through probably (to the best of our current knowledge) faulty and at the very least unfounded assumption. And when he gets called out for it, he gets all whiny.

    Yet more Dawkins:

    I am not coming down on one side or the other in that argument. Only saying that it is a serious moral philosophic argument.

    Which it would be, if Harris would make clear that he is only playing hypothetical. If Harris point were merely to argue that a lesser evil can under certain circumstances be justified by preventing a greater evil, there’s the Trolley problem analogy he could have used, among many other. So either he’s done a real bad job at communicating and clarifying that he isn’t giving actual recommendations for the real world (in which case checking your assumptions’ connection to reality suddenly becomes relevant), or his intention was something else. Harris’ failure to back off very strongly suggests the latter is the case.

    Dawkins final words:

    Merely to take it seriously and engage in it, as moral philosophers do, should not be grounds for pillorying and personal insults.

    Big fucking strawman. Harris isn’t called out for leading a hypothetical argument to its logical conclusions, he’s called out for how he pretends that his conclusions (that cannot be salvaged by a sound derivation as long as the premises are counterfactual) are applicable to the real world, and his dismissive stance towards evidence that contradicts his “common sense”. I don’t know exactly why Harris is acting that way. He may be dishonest, or he may truly, honestly fail to see the gaps which would indicate that he has a blind spot the size of Texas on this topic. Either is good enough to attack the positions he’s expressed in writing, and his reactions to such criticism so far hasn’t been any better than your local creationist’s.

  155. 655
    PatrickG

    @ jmst and others (just jmst posted last)

    Thanks for continuing the good fight. I got sort of burned out. :D

  156. 656
    jmst

    he very clearly is influenced by European fascists on the “Muslim” problem, as he tips his hat to them for being the closest to correct on the problem

    Any quotes on that? I assume you are talking about the Geert Wilders kind of fascists* here, not about Greece’s “Golden Dawn”, Hungary’s “Jobbik” or even Austria’s “Freedom Party” or the “English Defense League” here? It’s sad enough if he’s praised Geert Wilders, but I find it much harder to believe that he’d publically associate himself with the latter (even as I do find some of his implicit or explicit positions scarily close to that end of the spectrum, I would have thought he’s wise enough to deny such proximity).

    _______

    * Calling any of these with the exception of Golden Dawn and possibly Jobbik “fascist” is controversial in Europe, including among the left, with some claiming that “fascism” should be reserved for parties that openly nurture a relationship with paramilitary formations prone to street violence. I do think that all of the above parties have a core that is ideologically fascist in every sense of the word for whom the absence of blackshirts is more than anything else a tactical move, but this doesn’t imply that their average voter, or even their average party member in some cases, is fascist – more people associate with them despite rather than because of their latent fascism, and exposing them as fascist actually hurts them. So I do believe that restricting “fascist” to some pure ideal while downplaying the rest as “rightwing populist” or any such euphemism hurts our ability to hold them back. Nonetheless there are differences, and what works against the FPÖ here may not work against Golden Dawn or the Dutch PVV.

  157. 657
    goon

    And PZ’s troops are having none of it. Big surprise.

    Except for the little problem that in the process of raising this thought experiment, as it were, Harris is slipping in the assumption that torture works

    Obviously it would work from time to time. In some of the hypothetical situations, you’d be crazy not to give it a shot.

    If Harris point were merely to argue that a lesser evil can under certain circumstances be justified by preventing a greater evil, there’s the Trolley problem analogy he could have used, among many other.

    He’s been pretty clear that that’s been one of his points.

    Harris isn’t called out for leading a hypothetical argument to its logical conclusions, he’s called out for how he pretends that his conclusions (that cannot be salvaged by a sound derivation as long as the premises are counterfactual) are applicable to the real world

    And they are.

    You can disagree but that doesn’t make him a racist dick. Just like PZ’s “pro-abortion stance on poetic fetuses” doesn’t make him a dick if someone disagrees with him.

  158. 658
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Obviously it would work from time to time. In some of the hypothetical situations, you’d be crazy not to give it a shot.

    All throughout this thread there are reasons given why torture is ineffective. Why it actually hinders the collection of accurate information.

    And the only fucking defense against this fact has been to concoct wildly specific and unlikely thought experiments that rely on torture working in this made up scenario.

    It is, “hey, in this scenario where torture works fast, it WORKS! GAME, SET, MATCH!”

    Which has precisely the same merit as the following:

    If giving an ice cream cone to the terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn is the only way that this particular terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn will give up the information in time, then clearly giving the terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn an ice cream cone is the only way to get this particular terrorist/baby stealer/unicorn to talk in time.

    It is a fucking tautology. A tautology that has no fucking bearing on the real world and is only relevant to the made-up scenario.

    You can replace ice cream cone with torture, a high-five, gatorade, a coloring book, a picture of you holding a gun to their babies head, a fighter jet, or a an autographed copy of The Moral Landscape.

    However, a couple of these things – like torture for example – have been demonstrably shown to consistently hinder interrogation. Resources spent of false positives. Actions taken, and the ramifications of these actions as a result of false positives. The addition of a unreliable source of information into a matrix of sources assumed reliable and on and on.

    The “torturing someone who will quickly give you accurate information as a result of torture will get you quick and accurate information” isn’t the god damn philosophical gotcha you think it is.

    And yeah, even if [he] isn’t actually making the stupid, irrational and dangerous arguments he seems to be making but only playing infantile games by restating the tautology in the most obfuscatory possible ways, he’s still guilty of encouraging those who’d love to hear the argument he himself doesn’t actually (under this interpretation) want to make.

  159. 659
    strange gods before me ॐ

    If Harris point were merely to argue that a lesser evil can under certain circumstances be justified by preventing a greater evil, there’s the Trolley problem analogy he could have used, among many other.

    He’s been pretty clear that that’s been one of his points.

    Notice how you didn’t respond to what was said.

    You can disagree but that doesn’t make him a racist

    What makes him a racist is his racism — among other things, his demand for ethnic profiling:

    It is not enough for moderate Muslims to say “not in our name.” They must now police their own communities. They must offer unreserved assistance to western governments in locating the extremists in their midst. They must tolerate, advocate, and even practice ethnic profiling.

    That’s racism.

    Just like PZ’s “pro-abortion stance on poetic fetuses” doesn’t make him a dick if someone disagrees with him.

    It does make him pro-choice, though. It is obvious from PZ’s argument that PZ is pro-choice, and it is obvious from Sam’s argument that Sam is racist.

  160. 660
    jmst

    And PZ’s troops are having none of it. Big surprise.

    PZ’s troops? I for one have only registered with this site a couple of days ago. Also, if you want to see mindless troops, you may want to look here instead – that’s the facebook post where Sam Harris announces his “Wrestling the troll” article. An actual quotes from the comments: “Sam Harris is my new God so please venerate the soil he walks on.Amen…!”

    Obviously it would work from time to time. In some of the hypothetical situations, you’d be crazy not to give it a shot.

    “[I]t would work from time to time” (which presumably means that some perpetuators in some situations who would otherwise have remained silent will say the truth under torture) isn’t an argument to give it a shot. What you have to show is that there’s a net benefit in terms of the likelihood of getting the truth compared with other methods of interrogation, i.e. that the situations where torture makes the suspect talk far outnumber the situations where torture reconfirms the suspect’s conviction that he’s fighting a just cause, the situations where torture makes the suspect hallucinate stuff so he ends up misleading you even as he tries to help you, and the situations where you accidentally knock the suspect unconscious through torture because you overestimated his physical endurance combined. It’s unlikely that they do, so refraining from torture wouldn’t be “crazy” but, according to the best current knowledge, the most likely path to gaining usable intelligence.

    It’ exactly this kind of trying to smuggle in your assumptions as “obvious” fact that gets people worked up.

  161. 661
    Skimble

    The main problem I see with any form of profiling, including negative profiling, rather than random selection is this:

    If the people who wish to attack an airport or aeroplane know what the criteria are either for profiling or negative profiling then they can:

    a) Use agents who meet the anti-profile or avoid using those who match the profile.

    b) Coerce people who don’t meet the profile or who meet the anti-profile into carrying out an attack on their behalf.

    One might intuitively think that the old man in a wheelchair is safe and in no way likely to be a terrorist, but if that is enshrined in an anti-profile what is to stop a terrorist from (for example) forcing him to carry a bomb for them using a threat of force against his family?

    I believe the screening of every passenger and the random further screening of some passengers makes such a tactic much less viable.

  162. 662
    Paul

    Any quotes on that?

    Here. Harris’s “The End of Liberalism”

    The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

    Seriously, the only difference between Harris and the bog standard Pharnygula Islamophobe trolls like Cimourdain is that when he’s not actually writing an article to fearmonger, he tries to play it all off as “moral philosophy” instead of fear.

  163. 663
    brittonnoel

    I find it unfortunate to see interesting blog spaces turn into sophisticated shit talking matches. I am glad to see PZ post what his positions are and why he holds them. Now I can read both Sam’s and PZ’s position again and see who I agree with more.

  164. 664
    John Morales

    brittonnoel, I find it unfortunate to see people making pointless and non-committal comments on blogs, but then, I have no high expectations from fence-sitters.

  165. 665
    Amphiox

    Now I can read both Sam’s and PZ’s position again and see who I agree with more.

    Now?

    You could have done this long ago if you had wanted to make the effort.

  166. 666
    brittonnoel

    Amphiox,

    I read Harris’s arguments awhile back. When I posted the previous comment it was the first time I had found PZ’s positions laid out in any detail. I then decided it would be fair to read Sam’s again right after reading PZ’s.

    John Morales,

    I’m ok with sitting on the fence for a bit while I think about things . I’m sorry if my comment (and now possibly comments) bother you because of there pointlessness.

  167. 667
    reco

    Schneier now uses Harris as a primary example of bad thinking in professional IEEE journals.

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/08/the_importance_1.html

  168. 668
    John Morales

    reco, heh, that’s pretty amusing.

    (Thanks for mentioning it!)

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