Since repositories are popular and useful, I thought it would be good to have one where we pair common bad/incorrect/flawed/misleanding/incomplete ideas with high-quality articles that explain why those ideas are bad/incorrect/flawed/misleading/incomplete.

Examples:

Myers-Briggs as a theory of personality. -> Richard Batty's "The Myers-Briggs type Indicator: A Popular But Flawed Way of Understanding Your Personality" from 80000 Hours.

Microfinance -> Ben Todd's "Is Microfinance Mostly Hype?" and GiveWell's "6 Myths About Microfinance Charity Donors Can Do Without".

Zizek's talk on charity "First as Tragedy, then as Farce" (or the idea that charity is bad because it undermines political change) -> Jeff Kaufman's "Good Charity as Neither Tragedy or Farce".

The idea that the AI will be benevolent/Friendly by default. -> Luke and Louie's "Intelligence Explosion and Machine Ethics".

etc.

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I like this idea, but dislike inflation of the word "debunking".

Debunking means something was bunk and has now been conclusively proven wrong .Homeopathy has been debunked, creationism has been debunked, ESP has been debunked.

But when people say things like "Haven't you heard Searle debunked materialism?" or "Here's a link to an argument debunking Obamacare" it seems kind of like epistemological arrogance. It's not just "I disagree with you", but "There is no other side to this, it is now disproven in the same sense creationism is disproven and we can all go home."

I sort of accept the Myers-Briggs link as a debunking, because that fits the central category of "supposedly scientific theory that in fact has very poor support". The others seem more like controversial philosophical or political arguments. They're all really good controversial philosophical/political arguments I agree with, but I bet by the time this list reaches twenty entries some of them won't be.

I admit I don't have a better phrase. "Skeptical Argument Repository"?

Good points. It is now the "Responses Repository".

I agree with the above comment that use of the term debunking seems objectionable on "epistemological arrogance" grounds, but 'response' seems a bit too weak. 'Response' doesn't really capture the connotation that the responses given are taken to provide grounds for the position criticized as being less plausible. There may be a better term, and the choice of terminology in this germinal stage of concocting some type of terminology for this sort of thing might be important enough to consider this further.

I can't really think of anything. Do you have a suggestion?

In rough order of how much I like them:

Rebuttal, counterargument, dissent, refutation, criticism, negation, retort, rejoinder, rejection

Thesauruses are awesome.

Presto, we're now "The Rebuttal Repository".

But, realistically, right now all we are is a repository of ideas for naming this repository...

"Devastating Counterargument Repository"?

Sorry to be less helpful...if one had occurred to me right away, I'd mention it. Surprisingly, one's not coming to me, either. I like the connotations associated with demystifying, and 'rebuttal' doesn't seem terrible, as it has the connotation of an explicit criticism of some claim or other, without quite so strong a connotation as 'debunk'. However, it's close enough that I think it may fall onto the other side back into the epistemological arrogance category. Maybe refutation? Unfortunately I think introspection fails me on how adequate these terms are since the connotation I take them to have may differ from how others take them - more feedback from others might be more helpful than whatever my own conclusions might be. Response seems sufficient for now at least.

[-][anonymous]9y -2

"Responses Repository" doesn't convey that these responses are meant to show that a claim is false or mistaken. I think "Skeptical Responses Repository" or "Refutations Repository" would be more descriptive titles for this post.

EDIT: Lance Bush makes the same point in his comment.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Don't worry. I predict that this repository (and some of the other ones) will be largely left unused.

I mildly dislike this idea because it seems to promote an argument-as-soldiers mentality.

Seconded. This is what RationalWiki is for.

[-][anonymous]9y 10

I thought RationalWiki was a recruitment tool for LessWrong. That's how I came here, believe it or not

(edit: I meant the first sentence somewhat in jest, even though I did come here via RationalWiki.)

It wasn't a totally serious comment, but my general take on RationalWiki is that it's an excellent catalogue of arguments for winning debates, specifically those that matter to the skeptic crowd. I'm not sure that's what we want to be encouraging here.

I see RationalWiki as a place for those who can't handle the hard stuff. Those who can, come here, those who can't, stay there.

In fact, this is literally what RationalWiki is for.

Thirded. This isn't really a good idea.

The Non-Libertarian FAQ, aka Why I Hate Your Freedom - Critique of some of the dumber strains of libertarianism.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad investing -> John T. Reed's rebuttal.

What is there to rebut? I've tried to figure out what RDPD's advice is, and it seems to me that it comes down to "The way to be rich is to have a lot of assets", which, while true, is rather vacuous. How he managed to stretch that inanity into multiple books is beyond me.

What about rebuttals for positions which are popular on LessWrong? Are they also accepted or is this more like a "Somebody said something which is, by LW-consensus, wrong. How can I respond to them?" repository?

Say, if I had a good article, soundly arguing that LW-style MWI and quantum immortality (alternatively: Polyphasic sleep, paleo diets, etc.) is bullshit, would I be allowed to post it here, and would it stand a chance of being included?

In general people on LessWrong enjoy thoughtful contrarianism. If you post links to rebuttals where people on LessWrong think that the article doesn't really provide thoughtful contrarianism, the post gets probably voted down. If people think it's thoughtful it probably gets voted up.

Since when is quantum immortality popular around here? We should have a wiki "List of Things Which Are And Are Not Popular On LW".

That's what the annual surveys are for (and indeed, something I use them for both on and off LW, and why it's such a disaster Yvain chickened out of adding the basilisk question).

Sorry, what is the argument against quantum immortality?

I mean, beyond "it's unfalsifiable."

Sorry, what is the argument against quantum immortality?

I mean, beyond "it's unfalsifiable."

More to the point, it is a confusion. The thing that is called 'quantum immortality' is not immortality. Acting as if it is immortality (for example, by playing quantum roulettes) is typically an error in translating actual preferences from classical intuitions to account for a physics with quantum mechanics.

Anyone who says "I'm only going to die in (1 - (1/3^^^3)) of the measure therefore I'm immortal" is, to put it mildly, not being practical.

Oh, I see. I had thought of that, but I thought there was a physical argument being implied.

I suspect it's better for us not to know what's popular here. It helps prevent groupthink.

I suspect it's better for us not to know what's popular here. It helps prevent groupthink.

Groupthinking often comes from an informal understanding about what's popular. I'm not sure that being ignorant about being explicitly able to say what's popular protects you from groupthink.

Arguably, quantum immortality comes with MWI (I wouldn't necessarily argue so but for example Everett might have done)

"Arguably" is not "LW accepts that argument". "I think your idea has horrible consequence blah, therefore you believe in blah" is merely invalid as a statement about what people's brains physically believe.

I was just pointing out why he might have thought LWers believe it. What happened was probably more like "This idea there is associated with blah. You believe this idea? Ah, you probably believe in blah as well"

I was just pointing out why he might have thought LWers believe it.

To you think that provided anyone with information that he didn't already had before he read your post?

I actually remember reading a few articles and comments where this idea was being discussed and seriously considered at least. So, unless my memory fails me, quantum immortality was - at the time - at least somewhat popular among some LW readers. As an example for my question above, it fits.

The fact that people discuss an idea doesn't show that the idea is popular but that it's interesting.

I actually remember reading a few articles and comments where this idea was being discussed and seriously considered at least.

We also discuss religion, two boxing and torture.

We also discuss religion, two boxing and torture.

You mean religion, two-boxing and dust specks.

would I be allowed to post it here, and would it stand a chance of being included?

There's no "being included", really. Post your article, and people will upvote it or not.

[-][anonymous]9y 4

(alternatively: Polyphasic sleep, paleo diets, etc.) is bullshit

There have been quite a few of those in the monthly link posts on Yvain's blog.

I might make a compilation of those myself.

Say, if I had a good article, soundly arguing that LW-style [...] quantum immortality [...] is bullshit, would I be allowed to post it here, and would it stand a chance of being included?

Quantum Immortality is not popular on lesswrong. Considering "quantum immortality" to be "immortality" is a confusion or an inflationary use of the term.

I would be interested in seeing those included.

I should sincerely hope so.

Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man → Arthur Jensen's "The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons".

"Natural rights" as a basis for political libertarianism → Robert Anton Wilson's Natural Law, or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy: "[I]f it were possible to violate nature — to perform an act “against nature” — that would be marvelous, and would undoubtedly be a turning point in evolution. It would certainly seem an exciting show to watch, and I would buy tickets to see it."

Zizek's talk on charity "First as Tragedy, then as Farce" (or the idea that charity is bad because it undermines political change) -> Jeff Kaufman's "Good Charity as Neither Tragedy or Farce".

I don't think that Kaufman really addresses Zizek's main claim. He basically says that he doesn't understand what Zizek is proposing.

I think you could rephrase the question of whether Craig Newmark should have done the same thing as Peter Thiel. Both started companies that were very important to todays ecommerce.

Peter sold out his principles and sold Paypal to ebay. Paypal does some things that aren't very ethical and not reflective of the libertarian principles that Thiel has. The ethics of Facebook or a company like Palantir are also quite questionable.

Craig is the professed communist. He decided against getting a billion from Ebay. He decided against taking ads on his website. He provides most services simple for free. If more CEO runs their companies like Craig than we would have a different economy.

Craig also does charity work but he doesn't do it as much by spending money as Thiel does.

I read the Myers-Briggs link down to "we'd expect ... bimodal", i.e. "I'm criticizing a binary version of Myers-Briggs that doesn't match the continuously-scored tests roystgnr took decades ago", and then successfully predicted what most of the subsequent criticisms would be and why they would have been similarly inapplicable. That doesn't mean the criticism is invalid for what it applies to, mind you, but I'd prefer rebuttals which steelman the opposing arguments, and I'd at least want rebuttals to be aware of any steelmen which already exist.

I read the Myers-Briggs link down to "we'd expect ... bimodal", i.e. "I'm criticizing a binary version of Myers-Briggs that doesn't match the continuously-scored tests roystgnr took decades ago", and then successfully predicted what most of the subsequent criticisms would be and why they would have been similarly inapplicable.

I had a similar reaction to that argument. Overall the article counts strongly against the credibility of 80,000 hours. I don't especially advocate Myers-Briggs, but the reasoning in this particular essay is terrible.

This is an interesting rebuttal for people who don't think that human-caused climate change is possible. It's obviously not a detailed model or a rigorous proof, but for someone who likes to see the numbers, the chemistry and physcis involved, and some quick BOTE calculations to at least see that theory fits the known facts here, it's a good demonstration of that.

http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/08/recipe-for-climate-change/

The Zizek response is absurd. He criticises Zizek for not giving any alternatives to (cultural) capitalism, and yet he clearly has never been in the same room as a Zizek book. How can you expect to know everything that there is to a writer's thought by watching a ten minute video. Reading a chapter of HPMoR doesn't entitle me to sweeping opinions on Eliezer's philosophy.

Edit: Please explain how the Zizek video is "bad/incorrect/flawed/misleanding/incomplete".

Could you provide a smidgen more detail on what the author missed?

Well, by the looks of it, almost the entirety of the talk.

Seriously though, are you kidding me? The author of the rebuttal criticises Slavoj principally for not offering alternatives and for not fleshing out his ideas fully. This animation is 10 minutes long. Do you seriously think that Slavoj went to give a talk at the RSA which lasted 10 minutes? Give the man a break. I highly doubt that in his talk, which featured questions from audience members and panelists, he did not address any of these questions at all.

If you want a more precise answer of what the author missed, then I doubt it would be possible to condense this to a 'smidgen'. This is not a small topic and I suggest that if either you or the author of the rebuttal want a decent idea of Zizek's ideas regarding society then reading his work would be a better start than watching a 10 minute animated clip.

The thing that has been doing the rounds of the internet is the 10-minute animated clip, not whatever longer talk Žižek may have given, nor the entirety of any of his books (still less his whole oeuvre).

It seems perfectly reasonable to write a rebuttal of that.

Of course it might fail to be a good rebuttal on account of considering only the 10-minute animation, in two ways. (1) By criticizing Žižek for failing to do something that in his fuller work he actually has done. (2) By rebutting with bad arguments that Kaufman would have discovered to be bad, had he read the fuller work.

I don't think the rebuttal does #1, simply because most of it isn't criticizing Žižek for failing to do something. Yes, at the end K says that Ž needs to do more than just argue that capitalism is bad. That bit might be invalidated by a more complete consideration of Ž's work. But that's not remotely the main point of the rebuttal, which I take to be: Helping people is not worse than letting them suffer to encourage the smashing of the system that harms them, unless not helping them is actually likely to lead to replacing that system with a better one.

So maybe that point is wrong; that would be an instance of problem #2 if Ž has refuted it somewhere. If so, then it seems to me that K's critics should at least be pointing to some such refutation, rather than just "highly doubting" that Ž has left important points unanswered.

Note that even if Ž has some concrete better system in mind, and an idea of how it might be achieved, that's little reason to believe that letting people starve will actually make it more likely that that better system will come about. Yes, when things get really bad the result is sometimes a revolution, but revolutions can turn out very badly (as witness the example of 20th-century communism, which as K points out Ž himself agrees was disastrous).

My post wasn't a response to Žižek's views overall but to the arguments he makes in this particular 10 minute video that people keep posting as an argument against charity.

What would you suggest I read to understand how Žižek would answer the question, "what should I do to most improve the world?"

Zizek is quite a prolific writer, and so I hence hope you'll forgive me for linking to a book that I haven't myself read, but this book appears to be the one which is most geared towards the question at hand (especially given that it shares its name with Zizek's talk).

http://www.amazon.com/First-As-Tragedy-Then-Farce/dp/1844674282/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1376331792&sr=1-5

As I side note, I must admit that I do completely understand the frustration that comes with people constantly posting videos like this in an attempt to justify themselves, hence I can understand you posting what you did as a response to that.

Requested it from the library!

I hope you enjoy it. Even if you dislike his arguments, his writing style is wonderfully unique.

I just finished "First As Tragedy Then As Farce", and I'm a little disappointed. The book is full of pointing out contradictions and problems, suggesting interpretations, and criticizing everything left and right. While I found the writing style hard to follow and had lots of problems with the arguments, the main frustration was that he doesn't attempt to build anything up. You wrote that I "criticise Zizek for not giving any alternatives to (cultural) capitalism, and yet he clearly has never been in the same room as a Zizek book", but even now that I've read this book through I would make the same criticism. The closest he gets is saying that we need to make a fresh go of communism, from the beginning, but there's nothing about why we should expect better results this time or how we should go about it.

People might prefer this pair:

Peter Buffett and Zizek on why philanthropists do more harm than good and Will MacAskill's response on Qz.com

... Did that guy really just write that article without any concrete claim of harm due to capitalism? He seemed to make an oblique reference to outsourcing and implied that he thought that financial speculation leads to some form of poverty.

The Myers-Briggs link is broken.