Don’t cite logical fallacies

In a cooperative argument, you should never* explicitly refer to logical fallacies.

*additional qualifications below

This is a point I’ve made several times before, especially in my How To Argue post.

In that post, I make a distinction between cooperative and competitive arguments.  In a cooperative argument, you are trying to find the truth, which involves coming up with the best arguments you can, but does not necessarily involve “winning” the argument.  In a competitive argument, you are trying to win the argument, which might involve coming up with truthful arguments, but not necessarily.  I don’t mean to say there is anything inherently wrong with having a competitive argument, I’m just not talking about them here.

In a cooperative argument, you don’t want to antagonize the person you are arguing with (“interlocutor” is the term I would use).  After all, your goals are aligned.  You’re both trying to figure out the truth.  And if you tell your interlocutor that they’ve just used a logical fallacy, I think there’s something inherently antagonizing about that.  It’s like telling them not just that they’re wrong, but that they’re wrong in a particularly predictable and trite way.

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Ethical review of academic hoaxes

I learned from PZ that Peter Boghossian is under ethical investigation for his “grievance studies” hoax.  Peter Boghossian was one of three authors of the hoax, but the other two (James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose) do not hold academic positions, so are unlikely to be sanctioned.

An institutional review board (IRB) concluded that by involving journal editors and reviewers, they were conducting research on human subjects, and per standard policy they should have gotten IRB approval before beginning.  Everyone–including Boghossian’s defenders–suspects that if he sought IRB approval, he would have been rejected.

Note, there are plenty of experiments that deceive human subjects and still get IRB approval, but I suspect this particular hoax would encounter problems beyond mere deception.  They were undergoing peer review, which is rather arduous labor to get from non-consenting subjects.  The hoax also involved fabricating data, and the IRB decision on that matter is still pending.  I would also say that the hoax did not have much scholarly merit, which is a legitimate consideration for these ethical reviews.

Boghossian’s defenders, of course, are spinning a “martyr for free speech” narrative.  If the target of his hoax were something more acceptable, would he still have been criticized on ethical grounds?

Well, actually…

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On the obsession with penis size and race

cn: discussion of genitals, porn

PZ brought to my attention a “joke” where a comedian mocked the penis size of Asians. My emotional response to this joke is not offense, but rather concern and bemusement.

Concern, because this obsession with penis size sounds hazardous to your health. I would be very surprised if psychologists found that an obsession with penis size were not associated with mental health problems. It’s like if someone “jokingly” mocks another group for not getting smash drunk all the time.

Bemusement, because I knew in the abstract that many people care about penis size, but it still feels unreal. How does this cultural obsession even get transmitted between generations? It’s not a normal topic for kid’s television, or for conversations between parents and children. Are sex ed teachers directly telling kids about the importance of a good dick? Or maybe it mostly affects those souls so unfortunate as to enjoy “edgy” stand-up comics? Or maybe it comes from porn? Hmm, that last one might be the front runner.

As I was reflecting on this, I grew attached to the hypothesis that it’s mostly White people who care about penis size, and Asian people only care insofar as they’ve been affected by cultural imperialism and stereotyping. Of course, a hypothesis demands evidence, and this one is impossible to google. All I could find were think pieces talking about how racist the Asian stereotype is (no, duh).

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The skeptical mythology of postmodernism

Ever since I started blogging in 2007, one of the boogeymen of the skeptical movement was so-called postmodernism. Postmodernism, as skeptics understood it, was an ideology where anything goes. It was extreme moral relativism. It was the idea that truth itself was a social construct. It was the idea that no one could know anything, and yet people could have their own personal truths, which may differ from one another. In short, it was one of skepticism’s antitheses.

Transcript: You have your truth, and I have mine. All knowledge is theory-laden. All perception is internal to the perceiver. There is no meaningful "reality." In the shadow cast by this knowledge, I decide for myself what is good and what is not. Caption: Postmodernism is the only explanation for black licorice.

Source: SMBC. I think the best way to describe the skeptical concept of postmodernism is by showing how skeptics choose to portray it in parodies.

Even in 2007, this seemed kind of sketchy to me. I recall writing a post titled “What’s with postmodernism?” wherein I complained that the term was inconsistently defined, and trusted sources offered a completely different picture of what postmodernism really was. Now that I have more experience in academia, and a much greater degree of cynicism about the skeptical movement, I feel more confident in simply calling bullshit. Postmodernism is a villain invented by skeptics, originally based on a real thing, but so far abstracted from reality that it may well be called mythology.

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Just how bad is evolutionary psychology?

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2012.  This is one of the things I had in mind when I recently wrote “So you want to discredit an academic field“.  It’s super old, so I felt it needed some light editing for clarity, and to remove references to old drama nobody cares about.

Both critics and defenders of evolutionary psychology (henceforth EP) agree that popular EP is terrible.  The question is, how deep does it go?  There are four possibilities:

  1. Journalists are misinterpreting and exaggerating studies.
  2. Journalists understand correctly, but pick out terrible studies from a generally reputable field.
  3. There are large sections of EP which are just bad, but attract more media attention.
  4. EP is rotten all the way through.

Case study: Argumentative Theory

The trouble is that you can hardly talk about EP without talking about specific examples of EP.  And if you only have a few examples, people can accuse you of not having a large enough survey.  But it’s hard to investigate more than a few examples, because we’re lazy and/or have jobs.

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So you want to discredit an academic field

Perhaps you’re an evolutionary biologist who thinks evolutionary psychology is too panadaptationist. Or you’re a creationist who thinks evolutionary biology is the devil’s handiwork. Maybe you think Freud is fraud. Or you think climate science is fake news produced by lizards. Perhaps you find postmodern theory to be a bunch of anti-scientific babble. Or perhaps you have a bee in your bonnet about how gender studies believes in “cisnormativity” in “the workplace”.

No matter your target, whether your crusade is honorable, foolish, or malevolent, discrediting an entire academic field is a tall order. After all, an academic field is the work of many very educated people, and you barely have enough time to read even a few pages. You have difficulty understanding what Gibberish Studies is even talking about (which is of course one of your critiques!), and you have a life outside of attacking academics, and also your writing deadline is tomorrow. What to do?

If discrediting an entire academic field is too ambitious, then perhaps it is also too ambitious for me to write a comprehensive guide telling you how to do it. This might fit into the demarcation problem in philosophy, but it’s an unsolved problem–anyway, who has time to read all that philosophy? I give you something more low-brow, simply a list of practical tips.

1. Get a degree

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