JD Ferries-Rowe. Head Geek at Brebeuf Jesuit. BYOT, Social Media, edtech. also debate, comics,and Jesuit Stuff. married w/kids.
120 stories

Sort By Controversial

5 Comments and 7 Shares

[Epistemic status: fiction]

Thanks for letting me put my story on your blog. Mainstream media is crap and no one would have believed me anyway.

This starts in September 2017. I was working for a small online ad startup. You know the ads on Facebook and Twitter? We tell companies how to get them the most clicks. This startup – I won’t tell you the name – was going to add deep learning, because investors will throw money at anything that uses the words “deep learning”. We train a network to predict how many upvotes something will get on Reddit. Then we ask it how many likes different ads would get. Then we use whatever ad would get the most likes. This guy (who is not me) explains it better. Why Reddit? Because the upvotes and downvotes are simpler than all the different Facebook reacts, plus the subreddits allow demographic targeting, plus there’s an archive of 1.7 billion Reddit comments you can download for training data. We trained a network to predict upvotes of Reddit posts based on their titles.

Any predictive network doubles as a generative network. If you teach a neural net to recognize dogs, you can run it in reverse to get dog pictures. If you train a network to predict Reddit upvotes, you can run it in reverse to generate titles it predicts will be highly upvoted. We tried this and it was pretty funny. I don’t remember the exact wording, but for /r/politics it was something like “Donald Trump is no longer the president. All transgender people are the president.” For r/technology it was about Elon Musk saving Net Neutrality. You can also generate titles that will get maximum downvotes, but this is boring: it will just say things that sound like spam about penis pills.

Reddit has a feature where you can sort posts by controversial. You can see the algorithm here, but tl;dr it multiplies magnitude of total votes (upvotes + downvotes) by balance (upvote:downvote ratio or vice versa, whichever is smaller) to highlight posts that provoke disagreement. Controversy sells, so we trained our network to predict this too. The project went to this new-ish Indian woman with a long name who went by Shiri, and she couldn’t get it to work, so our boss Brad sent me to help. Shiri had tested the network on the big 1.7 billion comment archive, and it had produced controversial-sounding hypothethical scenarios about US politics. So far so good.

The Japanese tested their bioweapons on Chinese prisoners. The Tuskegee Institute tested syphilis on African-Americans. We were either nicer or dumber than they were, because we tested Shiri’s Scissor on ourselves. We had a private internal subreddit where we discussed company business, because Brad wanted all of us to get familiar with the platform. Shiri’s problem was that she’d been testing the controversy-network on our subreddit, and it would just spit out vacuously true or vacuously false statements. No controversy, no room for disagreement. The statement we were looking at that day was about a design choice in our code. I won’t tell you the specifics, but imagine you took every bad and wrong decision decision in the world, hard-coded them in the ugliest possible way, and then handed it to the end user with a big middle finger. Shiri’s Scissor spit out, as maximally controversial, the statement that we should design our product that way. We’d spent ten minutes arguing about exactly where the bug was, when Shiri said something about how she didn’t understand why the program was generating obviously true statements.

Shiri’s English wasn’t great, so I thought this was a communication problem. I corrected her. The program was spitting out obviously false statements. She stuck to her guns. I still thought she was confused. I walked her through the meanings of the English words “true” and “false”. She looked offended. I tried to confirm. She thought this abysmal programming decision, this plan of combining every bad design technique together and making it impossible to ever fix, was the right way to build our codebase? She said it was. Worse, she was confused I didn’t think so. She thought this was more or less what we were already doing; it wasn’t. She thought that moving away from this would take a total rewrite and make the code much worse.

At this point I was doubting my sanity, so we went next door to Blake and David, who were senior coders in our company and usually voices of reason. They were talking about their own problem, but I interrupted them and gave them the Scissor statement. Blake gave the reasonable response – why are you bothering me with this stupid wrong garbage? But David had the same confusion Shiri did and started arguing that the idea made total sense. The four of us started fighting. I still was sure Shiri and David just misunderstood the question, even though David was a native English-speaker and the question was crystal-clear. Meanwhile David was feeling more and more condescended to, kept protesting he wasn’t misunderstanding anything, that Blake and I were just crappy programmers who couldn’t make the most basic architecture decisions. He kept insisting the same thing Shiri had, that the Scissor statement had already been the plan and any attempt to go in a different direction would screw everything up. It got so bad that we decided to go to Brad for clarification.

Brad was our founder. Don’t trust the newspapers – not every tech entrepreneur is a greedy antisocial philistine. But everyone in advertising is. Brad definitely was. He was an abrasive amoral son of a bitch. But he was good at charming investors, and he could code, which is more than some bosses. He looked pissed to have the whole coding team come into his office unannounced, but he heard us out.

David tried to explain the issue, but he misrepresented almost every part of it. I couldn’t believe he was lying just to look better to Brad. I cut him off. He told me not to interrupt him. Blake said if he wasn’t lying we wouldn’t have to interrupt to correct him, it degenerated from there. Somehow in the middle of all of this, Brad figured out what we were talking about and he cut us all off. “That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.” He confirmed it wasn’t the original plan, it was contrary to the original plan, and it was contrary to every rule of good programming and good business. David and Shiri, who were bad losers, accused Blake and me of “poisoning” Brad. David said that of course Brad would side with us. Brad had liked us better from the beginning. We’d racked up cushy project after cushy project while he and Shiri had gotten the dregs. Brad told him he was a moron and should get back to work. He didn’t.

This part of the story ends at 8 PM with Brad firing David and Shiri for a combination of gross incompetence, gross insubordination, and being terrible human beings. With him giving a long speech on how he’d taken a chance on hiring David and Shiri, even though he knew from the beginning that they were unqualified charity cases, and at every turn they’d repaid his kindness with laziness and sabotage. With him calling them a drain on the company and implied they might be working for our competitors. With them calling him an abusive boss, saying the whole company was a scam to trick vulnerable employees into working themselves ragged for Brad’s personal enrichment, and with them accusing us two – me and Blake – of being in on it with Brad.

That was 8 PM. We’d been standing in Brad’s office fighting for five hours. At 8:01, after David and Shiri had stormed out, we all looked at each other and thought – holy shit, the controversial filter works.

I want to repeat that. At no time in our five hours of arguing did this occur to us. We were too focused on the issue at hand, the Scissor statement itself. We didn’t have the perspective to step back and think about how all this controversy came from a statement designed to be maximally controversial. But at 8:01, when the argument was over and we had won, we stepped back and thought – holy shit.

We were too tired to think much about it that evening, but the next day we – Brad and the two remaining members of the coding team – had a meeting. We talked about what we had. Blake gave it its name: Shiri’s Scissor. In some dead language, scissor shares a root with schism. A scissor is a schism-er, a schism-creator. And that was what we had. We were going to pivot from online advertising to superweapons. We would call the Pentagon. Tell them we had a program that could make people hate each other. Was this ethical? We were in online ads; we would sell our grandmothers to Somali slavers if we thought it would get us clicks. That horse had left the barn a long time ago.

It’s hard to just call up the Pentagon and tell them you have a superweapon. Even in Silicon Valley, they don’t believe you right away. But Brad called in favors from his friends, and about a week after David and Shiri got fired, we had a colonel from DARPA standing in the meeting room, asking what the hell we thought was so important.

Now we had a problem. We couldn’t show the Colonel the Scissor statement that had gotten Dave and Shiri fired. He wasn’t in our company; he wasn’t even in ad tech; it would seem boring to him. We didn’t want to generate a new Scissor statement for the Pentagon. Even Brad could figure out that having the US military descend into civil war would be bad for clicks. Finally we settled on a plan. We explained the concept of Reddit to the Colonel. And then we asked him which community he wanted us to tear apart as a demonstration.

He thought for a second, then said “Mozambique”.

We had underestimated the culture gap here. When we asked the Colonel to choose a community to be a Scissor victim, we were expecting “tabletop wargamers” or “My Little Pony fans”. But this was not how colonels at DARPA thought about the world. He said “Mozambique”. I started explaining to him that this wasn’t really how Reddit worked, it needed to be a group with its own subreddit. Brad interrupted me, said that Mozambique had a subreddit.

I could see the wheels turning in Brad’s eyes. One wheel was saying “this guy is already skeptical, if we look weak in front of him he’ll just write us off completely”. The other wheel was calculating how many clicks Mozambique produced. Mene mene tekel upharsin. “Yeah,” he said. “Their subreddit is fine. We can do Mozambique.”

The Colonel gave us his business card and left. Blake and I were stuck running Shiri’s Scissor on the Mozambique subreddit. I know, ethics, but like I said, online ads business, horse, barn door. We got a statement accusing the Prime Minister of disrespecting Islam in a certain way – again, I won’t be specific – and in the absence of any better method, we PMed the admins of the Mozambique subreddit asking them what they thought. I don’t remember what we said, something about being an American political science student learning about Mozambique culture, and could they ask some friends what would happen if the Prime Minister did that specific thing, and then report back to us?

We spent most of a week working on our project to undermine Mozambique. Then we got the news. David and Shiri were suing the company for unfair dismissal and racial discrimination. Brad and Blake and I were white. Shiri was an Indian woman, and David was Jewish. The case should have been laughed out of court – who ever heard of an anti-Semitic Silicon Valley startup? – except that all the documentation showed there was no reason to fire David and Shiri. Their work looked good on paper. They’d always gotten good performance reviews. The company was doing fine – it had even placed ads for more programmers a few weeks before.

David and Shiri knew why they’d been fired. But it didn’t matter to them. They were so blinded with hatred for our company, so caught in the grip of the Scissor statement, that they would tell any lie necessary to destroy it. We were caught in a bind. We couldn’t admit the existence of Shiri’s Scissor, because we were trying to sell it to the Pentagon as a secret weapon, and also, publicly admitting to trying to destroy Mozambique would have been bad PR. But the court was demanding records about what our company had been doing just before and just after the dismissal. A real defense contractor could probably have gotten the Pentagon to write a letter saying our research was classified. But the Pentagon still didn’t believe us. The Colonel was humoring us, nothing more. We were stuck.

I don’t know how we would have dealt with the legal problems, because what actually happened was Brad went to David’s house and tried to beat him up. You’re going to think this was crazy, but you have to understand that David had always been annoying to work with, and that during the argument in Brad’s office he had crossed so many lines that, if ever there was a person who deserved physical violence, it was him. Suing the company was just the last straw. I’m not going to judge Brad’s actions after he’d spent months cleaning up after David’s messes, paying him good money, and then David betrayed him at the end. But anyhow, that was it for our company. Brad got arrested. There was nobody else to pay the bills and keep the lights on. Blake and I were coders and had no idea how to run the business side of things. We handed in our resignations – not literally, Brad was in jail – and that was the end of Name Withheld Online Ad Company, Inc.

We got off easy. That’s the takeaway I want to give here. We were unreasonably overwhelmingly lucky. If Shiri and I had started out by arguing about one of the US statements, we could have destroyed the country. If a giant like Google had developed Shiri’s Scissor, it would have destroyed Google. If the Scissor statement we generated hadn’t just been about a very specific piece of advertising software – if it had been about the tech industry in general, or business in general – we could have destroyed the economy.

As it was, we just destroyed our company and maybe a few of our closest competitors. If you look up internal publications from the online advertising industry around fall 2017, you will find some really weird stuff. That story about the online ads CEO getting arrested for murder, child abuse, attacking a cop, and three or four other things, and then later it was all found to be false accusations related to some ill-explained mental disorder – that’s the tip of the iceberg. I don’t have a good explanation for exactly how the Scissor statement spread or why it didn’t spread further, but I bet if I looked into it too much, black helicopters would start hovering over my house. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

As for me, I quit the whole industry. I picked up a job in a more established company using ML for voice recognition, and tried not to think about it too much. I still got angry whenever I thought about the software design issue the Scissor had brought up. Once I saw someone who looked like Shiri at a cafe and I went over intending to give her a piece of my mind. It wasn’t her, so I didn’t end up in jail with Brad. I checked the news from Mozambique every so often, and it was quiet for a few months, and then it wasn’t. I still don’t know if we had anything to do with that. Africa just has a lot of conflicts, and if you wait long enough, maybe something will happen. The colonel never tried to get in touch with me. I don’t think he ever took us seriously. Maybe he didn’t even check the news from Mozambique. Maybe he saw it and figured it was a coincidence. Maybe he tried calling our company, got a message saying the phone was out of service, and didn’t think it was worth pursuing. But as time went on and the conflict there didn’t get any worse, I hoped the Shiri’s Scissor part of my life was drawing to a close.

Then came the Kavanaugh hearings. Something about them gave me a sense of deja vu. The week of his testimony, I figured it out.

Shiri had told me that when she ran the Scissor on the site in general, she’d just gotten some appropriate controversial US politics scenarios. She had shown me two or three of them as examples. One of them had been very specifically about this situation. A Republican Supreme Court nominee accused of committing sexual assault as a teenager.

This made me freak out. Had somebody gotten hold of the Scissor and started using it on the US? Had that Pentagon colonel been paying more attention than he let on? But why would the Pentagon be trying to divide America? Had some enemy stolen it? I get the New York Times, obviously Putin was my first thought here. But how would Putin get Shiri’s Scissor? Was I remembering wrong? I couldn’t get it out of my head. I hadn’t kept the list Shiri had given me, but I had enough of the Scissor codebase to rebuild the program over a few sleepless nights. Then I bought a big blob of compute from Amazon Web Services and threw it at the Reddit comment archive. It took three days and a five-digit sum of money, but I rebuilt the list Shiri must have had. Kavanaugh was in there, just as I remembered.

But so was Colin Kaepernick.

You’ve heard of him. He was the football player who refused to stand for the national anthem. If I already knew the Scissor predicted one controversy, why was I so shocked to learn it predicted another? Because Kaepernick started kneeling in 2016. We didn’t build the Scissor until 2017. Putin hadn’t gotten it from us. Someone had beaten us to it.

Of the Scissor’s predicted top hundred most controversial statements, Kavanaugh was #58 and Kaepernick was #42. #86 was the Ground Zero Mosque. #89 was that baker who wouldn’t make a cake for a gay wedding. The match isn’t perfect, but #99 vaguely looked like the Elian Gonzalez case from 2000. That’s five out of a hundred. Is that what would happen by chance? It’s a big country, and lots of things happen here, and if a Scissor statement came up in the normal course of events it would get magnified to the national stage. But some of these were too specific. If it was coincidence, I would expect many more near matches than perfect matches. I found only two. The pattern of Scissor statements looked more like someone had arranged them to be perfect fits.

The earliest perfect fit was the Ground Zero Mosque in 2009. Could Putin have had a Scissor-like program in 2009? I say no way. This will sound weird to you if you’re not in the industry. Why couldn’t a national government have been eight years ahead of an online advertising company? All I can say is: machine learning moves faster than that. Russia couldn’t hide a machine learning program that put it eight years ahead of the US. Even the Pentagon couldn’t hide a program that put it eight years ahead of industry. The NSA is thirty years ahead of industry in cryptography and everyone knows it.

But then who was generating Scissor statements in 2009? I have no idea. And you know what? I can’t bring myself to care.

If you just read a Scissor statement off a list, it’s harmless. It just seems like a trivially true or trivially false thing. It doesn’t activate until you start discussing it with somebody. At first you just think they’re an imbecile. Then they call you an imbecile, and you want to defend yourself. Crescit eundo. You notice all the little ways they’re lying to you and themselves and their audience every time they open their mouth to defend their imbecilic opinion. Then you notice how all the lies are connected, that in order to keep getting the little things like the Scissor statement wrong, they have to drag in everything else. Eventually even that doesn’t work, they’ve just got to make everybody hate you so that nobody will even listen to your argument no matter how obviously true it is. Finally, they don’t care about the Scissor statement anymore. They’ve just dug themselves so deep basing their whole existence around hating you and wanting you to fail that they can’t walk it back. You’ve got to prove them wrong, not because you care about the Scissor statement either, but because otherwise they’ll do anything to poison people against you, make it impossible for them to even understand the argument for why you deserve to exist. You know this is true. Your mind becomes a constant loop of arguments you can use to defend yourself, and rehearsals of arguments for why their attacks are cruel and unfair, and the one burning question: how can you thwart them? How can you can convince people not to listen to them, before they find those people and exploit their biases and turn them against you? How can you combat the superficial arguments they’re deploying, before otherwise good people get convinced, so convinced their mind will be made up and they can never be unconvinced again? How can you keep yourself safe?

Shiri read two or three sample Scissor statements to me. She didn’t say if she agreed with them or not. I didn’t tell her if I agreed with them or not. They were harmless.

I don’t hear voices in a crazy way. But sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I do both halves of the conversation. Sometimes I imagine one of them is a different person. I had a tough breakup a year ago. Sometimes the other voice in my head is my ex-girlfriend’s voice. I know how she thinks and I always know what she would say about everything. So sometimes I hold conversations with her, even though she isn’t there, and we’ve barely talked since the breakup. I don’t know if this is weird. If it is, I’m weird.

And that was enough. For some reason, it was the third-highest-ranked Scissor statement that did it. None of the others, just that one. The totally hypothetical conversation with the version of my ex-girlfriend in my head about the third Scissor statement got me. Shiri’s Scissor was never really about other people anyway. Other people are just the trigger – and I use that word deliberately, in the trigger warning sense. Once you’re triggered, you never need to talk to anyone else again. Just the knowledge that those people are out there is enough.

I thought I’d be done with this story in a night. Instead it’s taken me two weeks, all the way up until Halloween – perfect night for a ghost story, right? I’ve been alternately drinking and smoking weed, trying to calm myself down enough to think about anything other than the third Scissor statement. No, that’s not right, definitely trying not to think about either of the first two Scissor statements, because if I think about them, I might start thinking about how some people disagree with them, and then I’m gone. Three times I’ve started to call my ex-girlfriend to ask her where she is, and if I ever go through with it and she answers me, I don’t know what I will do to her. But it isn’t just her. Fifty percent of the population disagrees with me on the third-highest-ranked Scissor statement. I don’t know who they are. I haven’t really appreciated that fact. Not really. I can’t imagine it being anyone I know. They’re too decent. But I can’t be sure it isn’t. So I drink.

I know I should be talking about how we all need to unite against whatever shadowy manipulators keep throwing Scissor statements at us. I want to talk about how we need to cultivate radical compassion and charity as the only defense against such abominations. I want to give an Obamaesque speech about how the ties that bring us together are stronger than the forces tearing us apart. But I can’t.

Remember what we did to Mozambique? How out of some vestigial sense of ethics, we released a low-potency Scissor statement? Arranged to give them a bad time without destroying the whole country all at once? That’s what our shadowy manipulators are doing to us. Low-potency statements. Enough to get us enraged. Not enough to start Armageddon.

But I read the whole list. And then, like an idiot, I thought about it. I thought about the third-highest-ranked Scissor statement in enough detail to let it trigger. To even begin to question whether it might be true is so sick, so perverse, so hateful and disgusting, that Idi Amin would flush with shame to even contemplate it. And if the Scissor’s right then half of you would be gung ho in support.

You guys, who haven’t heard a really bad Scissor statement yet and don’t know what it’s like – it’s easy for you to say “don’t let it manipulate you” or “we need a hard and fast policy of not letting ourselves fight over Scissor statements”. But how do you know you’re not in the wrong? How do you know there’s not an issue out there where, if you knew it, you would agree it would be better to just nuke the world and let us start over again from the sewer mutants, rather than let the sort of people who would support it continue to pollute the world with their presence? How do you know that you’re not like the schoolkid who superciliously says “Nothing is bad enough to deserve a swear word” when the worst that’s ever happened to her is dropping her lollipop in the dirt. If that schoolkid gets kidnapped and tortured, does she change her mind? If she can’t describe the torture to her schoolmates, but just says “a really bad thing happened to me”, and they still insist nothing could be bad enough to justify using swear words, who do you side with? Then why are you still thinking I’m “damaged” when I tell you I’ve seen the Scissor statement, and charity and compassion and unity can fuck off and die? Some last remnant of outside-view morality keeps me from writing the whole list here and letting you all exterminate yourselves. But some remnant of how I would have thought about these things a month ago holds me back. So listen:

Delete Facebook. Delete Twitter. Throw away your cell phone. Unsubscribe from the newspaper. Tell your friends and relatives not to discuss politics or society. If they slip up, break off all contact.

Then, buy canned food. Stockpile water. Learn to shoot a gun. If you can afford a bunker, get a bunker.

Because one day, whoever keeps feeding us Scissor statements is going to release one of the bad ones.

Read the whole story
13 days ago

Best thing I've read in a long time. Can't even give a tl;dr summary.
12 days ago
My tl:dr;You know that thing you see online, that is so clearly true it's not even interesting. But that someone else thinks is so clearly false that they never even realised someone could believe it. What if someone generalised that?
11 days ago
that works, but the satire and nuance is just so nice. I want to give it to my conspiracy obsessed friends and see if i can make heads pop...
Share this story
4 public comments
5 days ago
Sharing this because it's good, and particularly because I think it's good even if you don't generally like Slate Star Codex.
Mountain View, California
8 days ago
Best ghost story I ever heard
9 days ago
ouch, but yes
Brooklyn, New York
9 days ago
This is good spooky
Oakland, CA

The American Chopper meme, explained

1 Comment

It all goes back to Plato.

An old guy with a handlebar mustache, tattoos visible on his upper arms, says something in an animated tone. A younger man wearing a baseball cap speaks back while gesturing. The old man shouts. A chair flies through the air. Finally, the old man is yelling, red in the face, while pointing in an aggressive manner.

Each panel comes complete with text, and makes for a mini debate — proposition, rebuttal, reaffirmation, second rebuttal, and a final statement.

The resulting memes — based on a scene from the reality TV series American Chopper, which stopped airing in 2010 — aren’t always all that legible. But suddenly, they are everywhere on social media, illustrating everything from the difficulties of pet ownership to the intricacies of the gender wage gap.

Its popularity speaks in part to the fickle nature of mass taste. If the Distracted Boyfriend meme captivated us with its stark simplicity, then the American Chopper more than makes up for its aesthetic shortcomings with its ability to present complicated ideas.

More broadly, in an era of performative social media dunking and tribalism run amok, the Chopper offers a lighthearted way to demonstrate that you actually understand the viewpoints of people on both sides of an issue. And beyond demonstrating your personal virtuosity, dialectic — the argument between two opposing points of view — turns out to be a fairly effective way to convey ideas and information, one that dates back to Plato’s famous dialogue but can be difficult to replicate in conventional media formats.

The American Chopper format touches on important cultural themes about class, money, politics, and reality television that are relevant to 2018. And by forcing the meme author to sympathetically engage with both sides of an argument, it manages to disrupt some of the most dysfunctional elements of online discourse.

American Chopper, explained

The meme derives from a reality television show, American Chopper, that aired on the Discovery Channel and then later its sister network TLC between 2003 and 2010.

The show focused on Orange County Choppers, a custom motorcycle manufacturing company located in the town of Newburgh, New York, in the Hudson Valley. The stylistic differences and vocal arguments between the show’s main protagonists, Paul Teutul Sr. (known as “Senior”) and his son (known as “Paulie” or “Junior”), was the central driving force of the show for most of its run. But after one particularly heated argument in 2008, Junior left both the program and the chopper shop to start his own business.

The meme (which was created in 2011 but didn’t really explode until March 2018) is based on the pivotal scene from the original series in which Senior fired Paulie in a profane, violent, not-that-convincingly-acted moment:

The Teutuls then returned in a somewhat different format with a show called American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior that detailed the rivalry between their two shops. It was canceled after two seasons, but a rebooted version of the show is scheduled to come out this May — with the producers doubtless hoping the meme will have enough staying power to still be around at the premiere.

The central joke of the Chopper meme is to reimagine this scene as a heated disagreement about a highbrow topic rather than a profane dispute about work schedules.

The Chopper meme implicates Trump-era class politics

Part of what makes the meme work is that you don’t actually need to be familiar with the show to read the facial hair and cap as class signifiers. At the same time, the dispute is clearly taking place in an office setting — reflecting the reality that the Teutuls are wealthy business owners and television stars rather than struggling workers.

This dichotomy between economic status and the sociocultural aspects of “class” has become a hallmark of the Trump years, in which political disagreements between white Americans have come to be deeply polarized between the more and less educated even while the policy orientation of the GOP remains overwhelmingly focused on the wealthy.

The Teutuls are, in this sense, the perfect Trump-era Republicans — a couple of lowbrow regular guys who happen to be incredibly rich business owners who’d probably appreciate a big tax cut for pass-through income. They’re the social and political antithesis of the young, debt-burdened recent college graduates living in expensive cities and struggling to make a living in creative fields — the sort of people who’ve been enthusiastically creating and sharing the Chopper meme.

Just imagine these two arguing about effective communications strategies for an elite aquarium:

But it’s also just a damn good way to communicate.

Socratic dialogue is a good way to teach

A person looking to write a column on the gender wage gap from a progressive perspective often faces a dilemma. Do you focus on the broad headline facts — which are striking and don’t receive the level of attention in public debate that they deserve — even though people with a more conservative view have a well-known objection to the standard characterization of the gap? Or do you delve into a more sophisticated version of the debate, knowing that you’ll immediately lose a large share of the audience?

With the Chopper meme, you don’t need to choose.

The meme functions, in this sense, as a miniature version of one of Plato’s dialogues. Rather than a conventional prose argument, in these books, Plato gives us drama, with Socrates debating one or more fellow Athenians to eventually reach his conclusion. The dialogue format makes the line of argument more memorable and allows for the simultaneous presentation of a clear thesis and a deeper understanding of the issues.

As Stephanie Carvin of Carleton University says, the memes aren’t just funny — they turn out to be genuinely informative.

Arguably, the real lesson here is that a more dialectical form of writing could have been serving us better all along.

After all, one hallmark of the Chopper meme is that for a given instance of it to be any good, the author needs to genuinely understand Junior’s stance and present a coherent and sympathetic version of it — an attitude that is antithetical to much of current social media practice.

Chopper memes are an antidote to the social media dunk contest

The dialectical form of instruction contrasts with a pattern of interaction and debate that is all too common on the modern-day internet: Rather than engage with each other’s ideas, debate participants simply “dunk” on the remarks of others, aiming to receive praise from their followers.

Michael Grunwald, for example, promoted his lengthy essay on Scott Pruitt’s real record at the Environmental Protection Agency with a brief and necessarily oversimplified tweet.

The environmental journalist Rebecca Leber then quote-tweeted Grunwald, arguing that his tweet was missing crucial context about the full scope of Pruitt’s activities.

Grunwald then fired back, asserting without evidence that Leber hadn’t even read his story.

The reality of this unnecessarily contentious back-and-forth is that Grunwald’s article does note all the things Leber accused him of downplaying, but it’s also clearly true that Grunwald is downplaying that stuff in favor of his core thesis: “The truth is that Scott Pruitt has done a lot less to dismantle the EPA than he — or his critics — would have you believe.”

A more dialectical presentation would reveal a disagreement over points of emphasis. Leber and Grunwald are both smart people and skilled writers who are very familiar with the relevant issues here, and no doubt either of them could write a Chopper meme that lets Junior make some good points.

Instead, they shouted at each other unproductively, just like the father-son duo at the heart of American Chopper.

And that’s the beauty of the Chopper meme — by giving the author a degree of distance from the argument, it allows us to transcend the tendency of online debate to degenerate into precisely the kind of chair-throwing pointlessness that it depicts.

Read the whole story
217 days ago
Why, yes, I was thinking of using this Meme for the debate program. Imagine if I teach an intro to philosophy class someday #edchat #teachmeme
Share this story

Project Gutenberg Blocks Access In Germany To All Its Public Domain Books Because Of Local Copyright Claim On 18 Of Them

1 Comment

Project Gutenberg, which currently offers 56,000 free ebooks, is one of the treasures of the Internet, but it is not as well known as it should be. Started in 1991 by Michael S. Hart, who sadly died in 2011, Project Gutenberg is dedicated to making public domain texts widely available. Over the last 25 years, volunteers have painstakingly entered the text of books that are out of copyright, and released them in a variety of formats. The site is based in the US, and applies US law to determine whether a book has entered the public domain. Since copyright law is fragmented and inconsistent around the world, this can naturally lead to the situation that a book in the public domain in the US is still in copyright elsewhere. To deal with this, the site has the following "terms of use":

Our eBooks may be freely used in the United States because most are not protected by U.S. copyright law, usually because their copyrights have expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries. Readers outside of the United States must check the copyright terms of their countries before downloading or redistributing our eBooks. We also have a number of copyrighted titles, for which the copyright holder has given permission for unlimited non-commercial worldwide use.

That approach seemed to be working, at least until this happened to the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation (PGLAF):

On December 30, 2015, PGLAF received notification that a lawsuit had been filed in Germany against it, and its CEO. The lawsuit was concerned with 18 eBooks, by three authors, which are part of the Project Gutenberg collection.

The lawsuit was filed in the Frankfurt am Main Regional Court, in Germany.

The Plaintiff is S. Fischer Verlag, GmbH. Hedderichstrasse 114, 60956 Frankfurt am Main, Germany. They are represented by the law firm, Waldorf Frommer of Munich.

The essence of the lawsuit is that the Plaintiff wants the 18 eBooks to no longer be accessible, at least from Germany. It also seeks punitive damages and fines.

Based on legal advice from its US attorneys, PGLAF declined to remove or block the items. The lawsuit proceeded, with a series of document filings by both sides, and hearings before the judges (all of which occurred in German, in the German court). PGLAF hired a German law firm, Wilde Beuger Solmecke, in Köln, to represent it in Germany.

On February 9 2018, the Court issued a judgement granting essentially all of the Plaintiff's demands.

Court's original decision (in German). [pdf]

Decision translated into English. [pdf]

PGLAF complied with the Court's order on February 28, 2018 by blocking all access to www.gutenberg.org and sub-pages to all of Germany.

The German court agreed with the publisher that since people in Germany could access Project Gutenberg files stored in the US, and freely download the 18 ebooks in question, they were making unauthorized copies in Germany, even though they had entered the public domain in the US. A recent EU-funded study showed that unauthorized copies have almost no effect on sales, and can even be beneficial, so it is likely that the German publisher in this case suffered negligible losses as a result of these downloads. This legal action is evidently more about enforcing copyright to the hilt, than about seeking redress for serious harm suffered.

The most famous among the three authors mentioned in the lawsuit, Thomas Mann, died in 1955, so his writings will enter the public domain in Germany in 2025. The fact that the publishing house is trying to stop Project Gutenberg from distributing works written between 1897 and 1920 (listed in the court documents above) shows how absurdly long the term of copyright has become -- the first modern copyright law envisaged just 14 years' protection. The lawsuit also underlines that it is always the longer copyright term that trumps a shorter one, never the other way around.

There's another important point that this case raises. As the Project Gutenberg page on the lawsuit explains:

PGLAF is a small volunteer organization, with no income (it doesn't sell anything) other than donations. There is every reason to fear that this huge corporation, with the backing of the German Court, will continue to take legal action. In fact, at least one other similar complaint arrived in 2017 about different books in the Project Gutenberg collection, from another company in Germany.

Project Gutenberg's focus is to make as much of the world's literature available as possible, to as many people as possible. But it is, and always has been, entirely US-based, and entirely operating within the copyright laws of the US. Blocking Germany, in an effort to forestall further legal actions, seems the best way to protect the organization and retain focus on its mission.

This is a classic example of the chilling effect of heavy-handed moves by the copyright industry. In order to forestall further legal action, organizations lacking resources to stand up to legal bullying often decide it is safer to over-block. In this case, the whole of Project Gutenberg is now inaccessible to people in Germany. That's a serious loss of an important public domain resource, but it's just a taste of what could become routine in Europe.

As Techdirt has reported, there is a new Copyright Directive currently working its way through the EU legislative process. One of its key elements, Article 13, is a requirement for all major sites that make user-uploaded material available to filter those beforehand to remove possible copyright infringements. Such an upload filter would not only represent a gross invasion of privacy, but could lead to sites opting to block access to users in the EU when they receive legal threats for not filtering certain material, rather than contesting the claim in court. The Gutenberg Project's experience should stand as a warning to EU politicians not to allow the copyright industry to take away people's rights to privacy and freedom of expression in this way.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Permalink | Comments | Email This Story
Read the whole story
251 days ago
On the current state of copyright madness, German edition.
Share this story

ADL, Duped by White Supremacists, Plays Key Role in Spreading Parkland Shooter Hoax

1 Comment
parkland neo nazi hoax adl

Social media post by white supremacist recounting part of the conspiracy around perpetrating the hoax

NOTE: Middle East Eye published a new piece of mine on the prospect of Bibi Netanyahu being indicted and what this may mean for Israeli politics and the peace process.  I hope you’ll read it and promote it on social media and via e mail.

Politico has published a blockbuster story about a white nationalist conspiracy to dupe the media into reporting that Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Florida neo-Nazi group.  But what is most shocking about the story (at least to me) is the key role played by Jonathan Greenblatt’s ADL in spreading the disinformation.  The ADL employs staff who monitor alt-right and neo-Nazi social media platforms.  But using private forums that weren’t monitored by its staff, a large group of white nationalists had concocted a conspiracy to fool the ADL and media into believing that Cruz was one of them.

This follows a common tactic of sowing discord in society as a whole, exploiting the powerful role of the media to disseminate lies which promote the alt-right’s interests:

[Joan] Donovan [of the think tank, Data and Society] called this an instance of “source hacking,” a tactic by which fringe groups coordinate to feed false information to authoritative sources such as ADL researchers. These experts, in turn, disseminate the information to reporters, and it reaches thousands of readers before it can be debunked.

“It’s a very effective way of getting duped,” Donovan said.

All it takes is one overly gullible reporter or researcher to believe your lies.  That turns the dross you’re offering to gold and fools millions into believing lies.  To use another analogy, it’s like a parasite which disguises itself as an innocuous agent and enters a host.  Once the host’s defenses are fooled into trusting the parasite it is then able to wreak havoc and eventually destroy the host.  Not that the alt-right is going to destroy American society.  But they’ll take this as far as they can and as far as we let them.

To note an eerily similar modus operandi, this is precisely what the Russian election hoax strategy involved.  You plant lies in social media, attempt to get the MSM to cover the fake news stories as real.  Then when society finds it’s been hoaxed it will no longer view traditional sources of information as reliable.  This in turn degrades society as a whole, which no longer believes there are institutions to trust.  It turns us all on each other and permits the breakdown of the very values which hold us together as a people.

The ADL professes to be a world-class researcher and expert on extremism.  But this incident and others on which I’ve reported here show that it is woefully inept at dealing with these far-right groups.  That either it ignores their real crimes entirely, as in the case of Blaze Bernstein; or that it is easily duped by them:

“All of our evidence seems to point to the ADL getting this wrong,” said Joan Donovan, a researcher who tracks online misinformation campaigns for Data & Society, a think tank in New York City.

The ADL subsequently revised its report, as did many news outlets.

“ADL shared information from our experts on extremism and claims from white supremacist that we believed could be helpful to both law enforcement and the public due to the fluid and evolving nature of the events,” an ADL spokesperson said in a statement on Friday. “Confirmation of whether Cruz was part of ROF is now in the hands of law enforcement, and that’s what the Broward sheriff’s team is looking into.”

republic of florida hoax

Hoax social media posting which fooled ADL into believing Cruz had trained with white supremacists

This response is disingenuous because it describes a research and reporting process that is bogus.  If you are a reputable organization devoted to the study of extremism you make it a habit of only passing on legitimate reports to law enforcement.  If you don’t, then no one will believe anything you say.  So claiming that as an organization you merely pass along poorly vetted information to the police and then allow them to determine its credibility has things ass-backwards. If your information is bogus you only waste the precious time of authorities, who have to track down the elements of the hoax which suckered you.  Believe me, they have better things to do when investigating a mass killing like this one.

To be fair, white supremacists aren’t the only ones playing these games.  A former Shabak agent fed me two false stories which I published some years ago.  Obviously, he became persona non grata after his fraud was exposed.  Other right-wing Israelis have attempted (and failed) to dupe me a number of times.  This is a game these people play.  As a professional journalist you develop a sixth sense about such fraud and usually can avoid it.  Given the circumstances of this hoax as portrayed in the Politico article, it seems clear that the ADL and other media outlets let their guard down, and violated basic rules of journalism (know your source, secure his bona fides, etc.)

I don’t know what’s going on in Greenblatt’s ADL.  But it has made a series of terrible choices and decisions of late.  Instead of catching extremists before they kill, it’s focused on non-existent threats like smearing Keith Ellison for attending a dinner whose guests included Louis Farrakhan; and demanding yet another denunciation by Barack Obama of Farrakhan after a photographer, seeking his moment of fame, dusted off a fourteen year-old photo of the future president at a Congressional Black Caucus luncheon which honored Farrakhan.

It’s also devoted precious resources to hounding social media platforms for not doing a better job of keeping anti-Israel content off social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Google.  It even hired a social media czar whose job is to permanently lobby for censorship of controversial content.  No doubt she’s also going to be responsible for doing serious fundraising amidst the enormous wealth in Silicon Valley.

Get your priorities straight, ADL.

The post ADL, Duped by White Supremacists, Plays Key Role in Spreading Parkland Shooter Hoax appeared first on Tikun Olam תיקון עולם.

Read the whole story
269 days ago
Don't follow ADL issues much but the description of weaponizing media through social and undermining trust is worth a look
Share this story

No, There Haven't Been 18 School Shootings This Year

1 Comment

The horrific shooting that left 17 dead at a Florida high school this week was not, in fact, the 18th such incident this year.

Wait—you might be thinking—I've seen that number reported everywhere in the past two days. On news broadcasts, on social media, in official statements from senators and mayors (and celebrities). At this moment it is literally the first Google News result for the number "18."

Indeed, that statistic has been everywhere. It is also, as The Washington Post reported Thursday evening, "flat wrong." Unless your definition of "school shooting" is broad enough to include suicides in school parking lots or accidental gun discharges that didn't harm anyone.

Everytown for Gun Safety, the Michael Bloomberg–backed anti-gun group founded after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was the original source for that particular statistic. The group's initial tweet claiming that the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the 18th school shooting in 2018 has now been retweeted more than 1,200 times. The group defines a school shooting is "any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds."

That is, of course, not what almost anyone means when they use the term "school shooting." It is foolish to group the Florida massacre with, say, a suicide in the parking lot of a Michigan school, especially when the Michigan school had been closed for months, but that's exactly what Everytown does. It's foolish, that is, unless your goal is to shock people with the biggest number possible. That might be what Everytown is trying to do, but such deception does nothing to help advance a discussion about stopping actual school shootings.

A quick review of Everytown's database turns up other outlandish examples. On January 10, "gunshots, which most likely originated off-campus, hit a window of the visual arts building at California State University, San Bernardino. Classes were immediately canceled as the university went into lockdown, though a police search failed to turn up any shooter on campus." On February 5, in a suburb of Minneapolis, "a school liaison officer was sitting on a bench talking with some students when a third-grader pressed the trigger on the officer's holstered weapon, causing it to fire and strike the floor." Those were no doubt terrifying incidents for the people involved, and they may even have policy implications, but they are not what anyone thinks of when they hear the phrase "school shootings."

But the media and several prominent politicians, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), eagerly regurgitated the context-free statistic in the aftermath of the shooting in Florida, apparently without stopping to wonder why they hadn't heard about the other 17 school shootings that supposedly had happened since January 1.

This isn't just an embarrassing case of confirmation bias. Spreading such misleading statistics affects how Americans—from ordinary working people to elected officials—understand and cope with these terrible incidents. It's similar to when Donald Trump falsely claimed that the American murder rate was at a 45-year high: Inflating the stats like that may have been politically expedient for Trump, but it didn't make it any easier to talk about how to craft policies to help those corners of America that really were seeing unusually high crime rates.

The media have a difficult, often thankless, task in the wake of high-profile crimes. Mistakes are bound to happen, and details are understandably difficult to come by in the first hours after a tragic incident. That's a reason to be more skeptical about seemingly shocking statistics, not less.

Read the whole story
270 days ago
Fact checking "18 school shootings in 2018" - Debate rule: when in doubt, define the term
Share this story

Why this economist thinks public education is mostly pointless

1 Comment

Spoiler alert: We disagree.

I’m not a libertarian, but I love debating libertarians.

Case in point: Bryan Caplan. Caplan is an economics professor at George Mason University and the author of a new book, The Case Against Education. In that book he makes a bold argument: Public education is waste of time and money and we should stop investing in it. Caplan marshals a ton of evidence in support of this claim, most of which reinforces his view that what we’re doing now isn’t working that well.

I agree with him that our current system is broken, but I’m not convinced we should give up on public education. So I reached out to Caplan and asked him to lay out his argument.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

You think public education is a massive waste of time and money. I think that’s an egregiously misguided thesis. Tell me why I’m wrong.

Bryan Caplan

I’ll admit that saying education is a waste of time and money makes me sound like a mean person. My thesis really does seem to go against good manners about what people are supposed to say and think about education.

But here’s my basic argument: Education is a waste of time and money because so much of the payoff for education isn’t really coming from learning useful job skills. Nor is it coming from students savoring the educational experience. Rather, most of what’s going on is that people are showing off — or, as economists call it, they are “signaling.” They are trying to impress future employers by showing how dedicated they are.

What we have now is a situation in which a ton of people go to college but many of them don’t get a great job when they’re done. Or they get a lot of education, fall into debt, and then get a mediocre job. Contrast this with the idea we have about college, which is that you receive valuable training, acquire useful skills, and then you’re rewarded with a good job afterward.

Sean Illing

I have to push back on some of that, but first let’s be clear about your argument: Are we talking about higher education here or are we talking about K-12 education? Or is it all of the above?

Bryan Caplan

I want to say all of the above, but we don’t really have that much data for anything before high school. I focused on high school and beyond. Kindergarten through 8th grade tends to serve as a daycare center for kids while their parents are at work. The educational waste really becomes a problem in high school because at that age kids could be doing something far more productive, like an apprenticeship or a vocational school.

Sean Illing

Here’s where I think we disagree: You think we have too much education, and I think we’re doing education wrong. In other words, you want less education, and I want better education.

Bryan Caplan

My response is that doing less education is easy, and improving the education system is hard. Here’s an analogy I use in the book: Imagine that your friend comes to you and says, “You know that toenail fungus cream that you’re spending a hundred bucks a month on?” “Yeah.” “Here’s clear proof it doesn’t work, so stop using it,” and you say, “Well, I’m not going to stop using it until you give me a toenail fungus cream that does work.”

Your friend says, “Well, I don’t really know one that works, and there’s a lot of debate about it, and it’s really hard to find one. What I do know is that you should stop wasting a hundred bucks a month.”

To me, that’s a lot of what’s going on with education. We’ve got very clear evidence that we’re wasting a lot, but we don’t have a clear idea as to what would be better. All we know is that the system we have now is grossly dysfunctional, so I don’t think we should keep pouring money into it.

Sean Illing

You keep using the word “waste,” but it’s not clear what you mean. Are you implying that education is a waste if it doesn’t lead to a good job?

Bryan Caplan

Well, if education isn’t actually training you for a job and you don’t actually enjoy it, I’d say it’s wasteful. If either you were being trained or you enjoyed it, then I would say, “Well, that’s not wasteful because at least you’re getting one of the two things out of it.” You’re getting either preparation for the future or you’re getting satisfaction, but if you’re not getting either of those things, I think of it as waste.

Sean Illing

How do you measure all of this in the book?

Bryan Caplan

I use the idea of social return, which is a term economists use to describe the value of an investment from a social point of view. They look not just at the benefits and costs to an individual, but also the benefits and costs for everybody in society.

It turns out there really wasn’t a lot of good data here. There were plenty of academic papers that looked at education and social returns, but they were so narrow that they really didn’t give a full picture. So that’s what I tried to do in this book. And when you look closely at the social returns for education, and you consider how much of it comes down to signaling, there’s a pretty convincing case to make that what we’re doing now is a terrible social investment.

Sean Illing

You think of education as a rote technical enterprise, so it’s all about skills and productivity and the labor market. I think a good education is about cultivating wise citizens, people who appreciate democracy, who are discerning and not easily hoodwinked. That we’ve failed to do this doesn’t mean education is a waste of time; it means we’re doing it wrong.

Bryan Caplan

I have a whole chapter on these broader social types of education, and you actually say something that almost no one else who makes the argument does, which is that we’ve got to actually look at the empirical evidence and see whether the existing system succeeds.

So the question is, do we actually end up turning students into good citizens? Here, there’s quite a bit of evidence that says college doesn’t transform you much politically, and that it doesn’t cultivate good citizens in the way you described above.

It’s not that college education doesn’t impact people at all — surely it does. But the effects are a lot smaller than people believe. So when you say that our existing system isn’t working and that we need to transform it, I say, “Where’s the evidence that changing it will help?” And how can we justify all the time and money it will require to change it when we don’t know what works?

That’s why I call for a common-sense skepticism and say, “Look, the current system is not delivering, at least not delivering very much.” If someone says that they do have a system that would deliver, it would seem like the burden of proof should be on them to go and demonstrate that it’s working.

Sean Illing

I’ve taught at a couple universities, and I’ve got plenty of criticisms of higher education, but I still don’t think the answer is to scale back education altogether. I think we have to continually reshape it and improve it, and that means mapping it to the skills our society needs but also reaffirming our commitment to a broad-based liberal democratic education. If we can’t do that, if we’re not willing to do that, then I’d argue we’ve given up on the whole project of liberal democracy.

Bryan Caplan

You have a very interesting perspective, Sean. I’m not sure I’ve ever talked to someone quite like you, so it’s great. What you’re saying sounds really good. The issue is how to do it. Cutting waste is easy and transparent. But making things better is really hard and, in order to do it, you’ve got to trust a bunch of people who have already really screwed up, and that sounds imprudent to me.

Sean Illing

That something is hard is not an argument against doing it.

Bryan Caplan

I say it is. It’s not a decisive argument, but it’s one of the better ones.

Sean Illing

We’ll agree to disagree on that one. I want to keep pushing on this link between education and democracy. I look at what’s happened in this country in the last few years, and I wonder if any of it would be possible if we actually educated our citizens, if we spent less time shoehorning facts into students and more time defending free inquiry and critical thinking. I just don’t see how the solution to our problem is less education.

Bryan Caplan

I completely agree. In fact, that’s a big theme of my first book, The Myth of the Rational Voter. My main response to what you said is: How? How do we teach students how to think? I looked at the educational psychology literature very closely and what I found is that they want to believe that it’s possible to teach people how to think or how to learn but, after 100 years of studying it, they have no idea how to do it. They’re almost in despair about it.

But nearly everyone agrees that our existing education system isn’t teaching people how to think, and no one has a magic bullet solution that will fix everything. My feeling is that if a bunch of people want to believe something, and they study it for a long time and still can’t believe in it, that’s pretty strong evidence that it’s not true.

You might say, “Maybe if we had 10 times as many educational psychologists, we could finally figure out how to teach people how to think,” but so much energy has gone into this already. So many smart people have tried to twist the problem around and find ways of teaching people how to think, and we just haven’t figured it out.

Sean Illing

And you think spending less time and money educating people will improve our situation?

Bryan Caplan

Yes. I don’t think it would improve our thinking. I think our quality of thinking would stay about the same because I don’t think the current system is improving it, but we would save a lot of resources, and people could start their lives at a much earlier age, which I’d consider a big improvement. There are a ton of resources being wasted right now, resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

Sean Illing

I also worry that a massive public disinvestment in education would widen many of the inequalities that already exist in this country. In your ideal world, people with money would continue to receive a good education and the people who don’t would be left further and further behind.

Bryan Caplan

That was definitely a concern of mine, but then I did a lot of reading on this and I changed my mind. Here’s a good question to start with: Would you rather be a high school dropout today or in 1945?

Sean Illing


Bryan Caplan

Exactly. The reason 1945 is better for high school dropouts is that there was no stigma back then because there were just too many of them. People didn’t take it for granted that if you’re a high school dropout, there must be something wrong with you. It was understood that maybe your family didn’t have enough money for college or whatever, but you weren’t dismissed on account of that. You still got a fair shot.

Today, because education levels have risen so much and because of the power of the kind of signaling I mentioned earlier, not finishing high school virtually destroys any chance you have of getting an interview for a decent job. Employers can easily dismiss high school dropouts precisely because education levels have increased dramatically.

This is why cutting education across the board is the only way to level the playing field, because it changes what the degrees mean and the way employers think about who’s worthy of being interviewed or hired. In a world where no nurses have bachelor’s degrees, hospitals can’t say, “We only interview nurses with bachelor’s degrees.”

Sean Illing

Lay out what you think a perfect education system should look like.

Bryan Caplan

I’m a libertarian, and I’ve never disguised that, so my view is that the burden of proof should be on government to ask taxpayers for their money. Of course, this is not most people’s political standpoint and, if you don’t share that same perspective, you’re going to come up with a totally different view.

I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that we should have separation of school and state, just like separation of religion and state, and that government should just get out of the business and leave it to customers and charity to handle it. To be clear, this conclusion isn’t implied by the data I cite; this is my personal political philosophy.

Sean Illing

You make a lot of interesting points in the book, many of which I had not considered before. Ultimately, though, I think you confuse your indictment of the education system as it currently exists with an indictment of education as such.

Bryan Caplan

That’s a fine philosophical point. I’d just say that the best predictor of what an education system will be like tomorrow is what it was like yesterday. Our system has been dysfunctional for a really long time, and you say, “Let’s reform it.” I say, “That’s a real long shot.” If our problems were relatively minor, that’d be one thing. But if you think our system is deeply dysfunctional, then saying we’re going to reform it sounds like wishful thinking to me.

Read the whole story
270 days ago
Really interesting read on the value or lack thereof of education. Not sure i agree with the conclusion but worth the read.
Share this story
Next Page of Stories