90 Comments
Apr 25Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

Also worth noting that you're picking largely smart and good faith contrarians here, whereas there are even more popular contrarians (weinstiens, Joe Rogan, etc.) who are even less reliably correct but way more popular. I'm always shocked by how certain people like that in the contrarian space have nearly no filter for bullshit so long as it's anti-consensus.

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I usually think of contrarianism as being wrong most of the time but helping on the margin because it brings light to positions that are underrated due to social conformity factors. I think most meta-contrarians would admit that they’re wrong most of the time. It would be quite silly to take the meta contrarian point and think you are right most of the time just due to the philosophical literature on rational disagreement (or lack thereof).

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I actually discussed this with Econ profs and afaict the evidence *for* benefits of education is mostly at high school level

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This is for example a quote from a DM with someone who seems quite knowledgeable and is a verified econ prof (not caplan ofc)

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Well it's a very hard question because of (1) the selection problem and (2) heterogeneous effects.

Engineers obv earn way more with a college degree than they would without it. So if you have a school that's half engineers and half english majors, you could estimate positive average effects even if the english majors aren't benefiting at all.

Hoxby has presented evidence in many papers that there are a lot of programs / schools (esp. for-profit programs) that have very low returns, e.g. https://www.nber.org/system/files/chapters/c13709/revisions/c13709.rev0.pdf

And then the marginal effects might not take general equilibrium effects into account. Like maybe right now you need a college degree to be a barista (so there are some returns to college), but if 20% fewer people got college degrees, then you wouldn't need one.

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Apr 25Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

I think this is right, but there are also some contrarian views that have turned out to be correct in a big way, a couple of examples:

-Trump was not actually working with the Russians (this was pretty contrary to conventional wisdom for a long time)

-Non-pharmaceutical interventions (mask mandates, social distancing mandates, school closures) probably have near-zero effect on SARS/CoV2 transmission

-Bad US health outcomes are mostly not due to our lack of a socialized healthcare system

Tbh the pattern I see here is that contrarian arguments that buttress politically radical takes tend to turn out wrong but contrarian arguments that militate against more-radical takes are often right. But that last bit is probably a biased assessment on my part.

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author

Yeah that seems plausible.

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This would also be the contrarian’s take if they spent too much time among contrarians.

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Apr 29Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

The FDA is incredibly slow in letting people try drugs for fatal diseases like mine: https://bessstillman.substack.com/p/please-be-dying-but-not-too-quickly . I think that’s an essentially contrarian opinion but it’s also one that many insiders seem to silently agree with.

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author

I agree

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I went through this same process 15 years ago. My conclusions from 2009

"contrarianism is a cheap way of allowing ideological hacks to think of themselves as fearless, independent thinkers, while never challenging (in fact reinforcing) the status quo ...To sum up my current view: “contrarianism” is mostly contrary to reality, the “conventional wisdom” is probably wiser than the typical unconventional alternative, and “politically incorrect” views are almost always incorrect in every way: literally, scientifically and morally.

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Neither Caplan's views on education or Hanson's views on medicine are described correctly. Caplan argues that signaling is the primary explanation for the wage premium, not that it's the only one. Education, especially primary and secondary, results in skill building and such especially for mathematics and English.

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I came here to say the same thing. Caplan even clarifies this when discussing immigration and international adoption and how that can benefit foreign-borm children. He believes that education does make people better employees, but it is generally early education (the 3 Rs) that does that and the older one gets the more education is about signaling.

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Caplan also says there are fairly substantial gains in certain abilities for people in certain majors. E.g., science majors get better at causal reasoning, social science majors get better at statistical reasoning, and humanists get better at close reading.

It's true that he claims that 80% of the gains from a college degree are due to signaling rather than human capital development, but he makes it clear that this is just a speculative estimate. If it were as low as 60%, I'm not sure he'd think this refutes his position. I think his main point is that a fairly substantial majority of the income premium from schooling is due to signaling.

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Apr 25·edited Apr 25

"Most of the people who believe the gap is environmental don’t much want to argue about it, so almost all the people who write things about it are people who believe the genetic explanation of the gap." Why wouldn't they argue about it?, it would improve their reputation among the mainstream and their own audience in many cases. Could it not be that they don't argue against hereditarianism, because they don't think they could make reasonable sounding arguments as to it being false or they in fact believe in it.

That even prior to Scott having his old emails leaked where he said "HBD is probably partially correct or at least very non-provably not-correct." and "NEVER TELL ANYONE I SAID THIS ..." it was obvious that the absence of evidence of him believing in hereditarianism was evidence of non absence of such beliefs. And of course if you are unable figure out what people actually believe on certain issues, then it's hard to say you're not the contrarian.

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author

That could be it. But you also get in trouble if you're even involved in the hereditarianism rat race even if you're not a hereditarian.

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No offense, but this is complete bullshit. Pretty much everybody is always happy to hear from any argument that argues against the idea that the gaps in general intelligence between races is at al heritable, even when said arguments come from proven frauds like Stephen Jay Gould, who's still cited for being right even after over a decade of being exposed for falsifying the measurements of Morton's skulls, and over two decades after being dead.

The notion that hereditarianism is at all a popular position is just totally out to lunch. And the anti-hereditarians having an army of autists on their side is on its own no more evidence of their rightness, seeing as how anything in sufficiently large number has an army of autists on its side. The evidence is the arguments themselves.

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Apr 30·edited Apr 30

Interestingly Scott seems well aware of the Gould debunking (https://emilkirkegaard.dk/en/2021/02/scott-alexander-on-the-isolated-demand-for-moral-rigor-and-genetics/), but for whatever reason I can't find anything about him talking about this else where, and his original comment has since been deleted. How mysterious.

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Gould did not falsify Morton's measurements. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836680/

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How sure are you really, this paper citing the paper you linked says that it's wrong about the seed measurements (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30286069/) using data not available to the paper you linked. Also this isn't that important to the original point given that Scott Alexander and other rationalists types themselves do believe that Gould is wrong.

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> Pretty much everybody is always happy to hear from any argument that argues against the idea that the gaps in general intelligence between races is at al heritable, ...

Not necessarily. An argument against heritability of the sort linked in this post still acknowledges that the gaps in intelligence between racial groups exist & have significant effects, which I expect much of the general public would be unwilling to accept. (Certainly most "anti-racist" activists would not accept this, since they tend to view racial gaps on standardized tests &c. as evidence of bias in testing rather than of differences in ability.)

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Fair, but that just shows things are even worse than my comments imply. If we're so afraid of this difference we can't even refer to its existence, let alone refer to how it actually comes about, we have our heads so deep in the sand as to hit bedrock.

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Because the subject is so taboo, it is both hard to investigate and only disagreeable individuals will even consider it. If I dare use an analogy, far more atheists throughout history were probably antisocial rather than especially intelligent.

Fwiw, I suspect many of the smarter B-W hereditarians arrive at their conclusion not because of low-powered adoption studies, but because the US is so obsessed with racism that all the data it gathers on differences between blacks and whites make their case so much easier. After a while, one wonders why blacks should be so uniquely exempt from the laws of heredity. Perhaps the disruptive child with disappointing grades is not gifted after all, despite its parents insisting otherwise. (Personally, I would not be nearly as confident if the intellectual supremacy of the Ashkenazi Jews was not so apparent.)

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May 28Liked by Bentham's Bulldog

I came across this post because it was linked in today's Bismarck post, I agree with the thesis but mainly want to thank your for sharing Natalia's piece on sleep as well as Jay M's post on race gaps. Both are excellent, I and I hadn't read either before. Seeing those made me realize I'd like for people I follow to more frequently share what they think is the best argument for/against a variety of topics.

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The Joe M piece you cited isn't nearly enough to override the mountain of evidence against the gap being genetic. A few adoption studies with low n values doesn't discount that, while IQ correlates at r = .86 for identical twins, but between r = .19 and .24 for adoptees and their foster parents (Bluchard & McGue, 1981, pp. 1057-58).* We'd never see such if it were primarily environmental.

It's exactly like arguing for creationism versus evolution. You don't have the luxury of dismissing a small number of studies. You have to dismiss the overwhelming majority of gathered knowledge of entire fields.

* Thanks, Russell T. Warne!

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> The Joe M piece you cited isn't nearly enough to override the mountain of evidence against the gap being genetic.

Did you mean to write "against the gap being environmental" or "in favor of the gap being genetic"?

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Meant to write "NOT being genetic", or something else that'd convey the same meaning. Psrdon my errpr.

This is not to say that it is solely genetic, as we know environment certainly influences intelligence. But given that black and white Americans have been living in pretty similar environments on average,* yet the gap remains about the same as it was a hundred years ago, I feel confident in saying the source of the gap is either entirely or primarily genetic.

* It's difficult to believe there's a meaningful difference in either led exposure or the consumption of iodized salt between races in the same country.

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I don't think the gap is the same as a hundred years ago. Someone else linked to evidence that the gap shrunk to around 10 IQ points rather than a full standard deviation. African Americans also used to be a much more rural population, and people who grow up in rural areas tend to have lower IQs.

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The evidence against the gap narrowing is quite robust, especially seeing as how many of the things we know that lower general intelligence, such as abusive orphanages and iodine deficiency, are pretty much nonexistent in the First World:

https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2012-24333-012

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Iodine deficiency wasn't non-existent a century ago. Also, Rushton is unreliable: https://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/rushton-is-the-spengler-of-race-realism/

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This would only be relevant if black people and white people were in abusive orphanages and had iodine deficiency at different rates in America, and there's no reason to believe this was the case. Same thing with rates of lead exposure. Anti-knocking lead was the main source of lead exposure, and that hit everybody equally.

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I disagree with most of the examples. details below.

but contrarianism is wrong many times, of course!

1. Caplan on education.

Caplan literature review on education isn't a "public intellectual polemic". but rather an in-depth literature review much more comprehensive than the one Atis linked to.

I think Atis never read Caplan book. and by error assumed it to be just some blog post shallow opinion. (which Caplan can produce of course!)

can one argue "my literature review is better than Caplan"? sure. but Caplan is no less qualified.

and the signalling theory is education isn't a fringe view either. it's an old debate in economics.

2. Scott Alexander Vs Hanson. turns out it's far from conclusive. Scott original refutation seems to have interpreted Hanson much more expansively than Hanson intended (per Hanson). they went back and forth 4 posts. I don't think it's very conclusive!

3. COVID lab Vs raccoon dogs.

first, great example of where the whole "trust boring autists" is irrelevant.

the "system" intentionally lied. boring autists where forced to toe the party line and social media companies censored any mention of lab leak.

Moreover, many of those "boring autists" themselves thought it might well be lab leak.

at the end, the lied enforced on us might've turned out to be true. but originally "the experts" lied shamelessly.

4. Guezy in sleep.

Guezy made TWO claims:

A. the main claim. the book "why we sleep " is dishonest, unreliable and can't be considered "science based"

this is what went viral. is still true. was never refuted.

B. Guezy "bro feeling" opinion:

"I don't think we really need that much sleep".

his personal opinion. not evidence based. and he changed his mind later.

5. genes and IQ.

this is a policed topic.

who in his right mind would trust Chinese citizens about the veracity of Xi Yinping thought?

if you work in a university, or any public institution, you cannot say that Racial gaps in intelligence are of genetic origin.

therefore, it's "boring autists on a leash with a gun pointed to their head" Vs free People.

this doesn't prove the hereditarians right. but the reliability of university employed experts here equals that of OJ Simpson lawyers.

the example cited on adoption says

"I conclude that, while much of the data is low quality and no conclusive judgments can be made, most of the data is compatible with a primarily environmental explanation of the gap.". no slam dunk.

it's a debate with many lines of evidence. this guy choose one of them and didn't find a smoking gun.

6. Caplan is not even wrong re mental illnesses. I agree. but a much weaker version of his view might be true.

TLDR.

1. contrarianism is high risk. lots of incorrect views. obviously don't start by trusting everything contrarians say.

2. lots of the "refuting examples" in the blog aren't convincing.

3. whenever the system enforces a view using censorship/penalties, it's no contest. I'm not trusting Pravda. even though it's sometimes telling the truth.

IQ, racial issues, lab leak etc.

enforced dishonesty.

the contrarians aren't always right. but they are your only honest source.

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"Sam is right, yet I think he understates the problem. There are various topics where arguing for one side of them is inherently interesting, yet arguing for the other side is boring. There are a lot of people who read Austian economics blogs, yet no one reads (or writes) anti-Austrian economics blogs. " I'm not sure I agree with the example or the generalization from it (if it were true). In the vast majority of urban educated upper middle class social circles in America, doing things like arguing against the minimum wage will just get you subtle or not so subtle scowls. Admittedly, you (and I ) might lurk in corners of the internet where this is reversed. But even in the other subculture that we both probably asspciate with (Effective Altruism), the opposite is true. In fact, there are systematic reasons why we should expect center-left positions to be less true than they appear to be - given so much of the elite and urban mass affluent population wants badly not to stray from this part of the spectrum. But sure, if you find yourself in a very specific bubble, it's fair to take a haircut on the contrarian positions that dominate within that bubble.

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I agree that social pressure opposes many of the contrarian views I've discussed. My claim is that there are some topics--e.g. opposing hereditarianism--where people don't want to write long essays opposing them. So if you're a person who doesn't follow issues carefully, you'll probably believe the mainstream view even if it's false, but if you do follow issues very carefully and read a lot of internet blogs, you'll be biased in favor of the contrarian view.

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On the topic of hereditarianism I've come across people who've flat out told me they would oppose it even if it were factually correct. They don't want to debate it.

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Every single “deep-dive” into the literature on schooling will make you think it works for the simple reason that it will always be individually rational to get a degree as long as society uses this credential as a way to gauge your earning potential/skills. Add this to an incredibly deeply-seated aversion to talking about genes and IQ and you get the literature we have.

The relevant Caplanian question is how much smarter / capable schooling makes you and therefore impacts your earnings _independently_ of signaling value. The commonsensical answer: very little beyond some fairly basic concepts we could conceivably learn in a quicker format or on the job. Get a boring job and you’ll very quickly realize that your earnings potential can’t be very related to how much you studied for your colonial history exam.

Speaking of IQ, it’s funny you don’t talk about it. That IQ matters is one of the most seriously contrarian opinions there are, but it is basically omnipresent on this side of the internet. Whatever structural forces make contrarians equivocate, they aren’t strong enough for them to be wrong on this. Unless you believe IQ doesn’t matter…

Re: the leak hypothesis. It’s striking that a bunch of establishment-type boring people ended up buying into it. My guess is that it’s just superficially extremely plausible and some contrarians bought into it, that’s all.

Finally, for the hereditarian hypothesis in racial gaps… are you serious? There are ENORMOUS structural incentives to lie about this. I mean, actual political coalitions and formulas depend almost entirely on it. Of course there’s going to be clever people arguing this stuff isn’t true, there are enormously clever people arguing that the Soviet Union was a complete success (do you think the average communist is more stupid than the average person?). It’s an open secret that a bunch of very smart people hold or flirt with this belief in secret (Scott, Pinker) and, yes, the explanatory power of this idea is the closest equivalent to a Theory of Everything the social sciences can ever produce.

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And the problem goes on and on, for the record. I assume you think the FDA is very slow and too risk-averse? That’s very contrarian. God exists? Very contrarian, both in these circles and with the broader educated public. Meat is evil? Again, extremely contrarian, literally nobody takes this argument seriously. Should we have organ markets? I have never convinced anyone of this one.

The fact of the matter is that you read a couple debunkings of common contrarian positions and came out on the other side. This is fine, although I am almost entirely sure you are wrong on hereditarianism (the evidence is really overwhelming) and schooling. The fact that there are some obvious structural factors compelling people to write contrarian opinions doesn’t really tell us much about the actual truth of these opinions.

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Your understanding of the lab leak hypothesis is laughably naive. Your understanding of HBD is similar. I suppose in both situations its probably for the best that you stick to consensus since you don't seem able to evaluate the claims yourself.

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Just to pick up on something in your second sentence, I not only think that "diets don't work" is pretty generally correct, I also don't think it's a contrarian position; I think that's the establishment medical view.

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There's a motte and bailey around "diets don't work." The motte is that sticking to diets is hard and that you regain weight if you go back to overeating. The bailey is a whole cluster of nonsense claims based on the idea that permanently cutting calories will not actually lead to sustained weight loss.

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good point. and lots of gray area in between too. "practically impossible for some". "the body would almost literally not let you do it" etc

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