Don’t Fear the Downvote

There are two approaches for rating posts / comments on discussion boards and forums.  One restricts users to “liking” or upvoting a comment.  Another allows users to give either positive or negative feedback with upvotes or downvotes.  Many site tie the accumulated score to a user (though this is more common in the upvote / downvote approach), while some leave it only to reflect on the individual post itself.

The result of an upvoting only system is a clear push towards the most extreme.  The flashier, the more controversial, the more reactions you can get (positive or negative) the greater the number of likes.  Reasonable discussion goes out the window.  The entire system is about shock and awe, with special deference to reinforcing what others already think.  Nowhere is this more clearly obvious than Facebook (which I left a few years back).

The upvote / downvote approach tends to keep things civil, but has a chilling effect on contrarian opinions and whimsy.  From a moderation standpoint this allows the character of an environment to enable self policing to an extent that largely shapes posting habits and makes it clear what is and is not acceptable.  For this reason the combination upvote / downvote approach seems to be catching on as the more common in newer and more trafficked discussion platforms.  I mean, moderation is difficult, time consuming, and has (when “mishandled” according to a site’s users) lead to widespread abandonment of a platform.  Why risk alienating your users?  Let them police themselves, and then you’re off the hook.

So if you pick a community that reflects your values you can be in for a smooth, mostly troll-free experience.  Echo chambers no longer need be imposed by filters on your search results or Facebook filters, we can self-impose them by which communities we choose to participate in.  Indeed, we can all have our own special self space, where everyone thinks just like you.  Unless of course you are a contrarian.  If you feel the iconoclastic pull, believing that you (and perhaps others) grow more when being exposed to differing opinion, and looking at this established bubbles (with their ideological walls) as more prisons than fortresses, then what?

If I might make a suggestion, have you tried going for the downvote?  I know, all conditioning suggests that a positive score is good, and a negative score is bad (golfers bear with me, sorry), but does a score on the internet mean anything?  No, no it doesn’t.  Now I’m not suggesting you go to StackOverflow and submit really stupid answers to coding questions (you rebel you), but in an age where offering up a dissenting opinion is the mark of a troll, then only those unwavered by being labelled as trolls can freely speak their mind.  So don’t restrict yourself to communities that reinforce your world view.  In fact avoid those, as they have less to offer you.

When I see a post hidden due too “too many downvotes” that’s the post I make a point to read.  Sometimes I too disagree strongly with the post, but a frequent take away for me is, “That person had to know they’d get downvoted for saying that, but they just didn’t care.”  I mean if fear of losing some points in a stupid internet scoring system is enough to keep us from going against the grain, then courageous dissent is all but being conditioned out of the youngest generation.

So I resolve to go for a negative score.  Not by posting gibberish or wall-of-text copy-paste spam, but by telling that joke that may or may not be funny, by expressing an unpopular opinion, and by asking questions that may have been answered on the 18th page of a 45 page article (that I stopped reading after page 10 because come on).  Maybe this approach will have an effect on some of the communities I frequent, but likely not.  I’m not doing it for them though, I’m doing it for me because my own personal growth (from exposure to contrary positions), integrity (by not allowing group thought to influence me), and courage (to express an unpopular opinion) matter a hell of a lot more than an online score card.

May 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Herman Cain, I Choose You!

Herman Cain I Choose You!

Rumor has it, he's weak against ba-Rock type.

“A poet once said, ‘life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line.'”
– Herman Cain

That’s right Herman Cain, you tell them! Here, you deserve a rainbow badge for that one! Really who can blame you for wanting to be the very best, like no one ever was?

Vote Herman Cain for President in Pokemon 2000! Legalize rare candy! At least one Republican candidate believes in evolution, but only if you have a moon stone!

August 13, 2011 at 12:24 am 2 comments

Redefining Hostility, Redefining Torture

Compare what’s happening now:

To what happened under Bush:

Change you can believe in my ass.

June 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm 1 comment

Translating A Typical Marriage Fight

What was said:

“Did you remember to feed the dog?”

“Of course I did. Can you just trust me to remember to do this stuff?”

“Why are you shouting at me?!”

“I’m not shouting.”

“Yes you are!”

“No I’m NOT! And stop nagging me!”

“Well you forgot to feed the dog last week! Or did you forget that you forgot about that too?”


“Honest question?”

“Affirmation. Annoyance at frequency of this question.”

“Misconstruing tone as anger. Accusation that you are shouting.”


“Affirmation in the form of shouting!”

“Denial in the form of shouting! Complaint about something that really doesn’t bother me, when what I really want to complain about is the frequency of sex!”

Argument continues until:

A) One person storms out and later on both parties act like it never happened.

B) One party gives in, not because they think they’re wrong but because they’re tired of the argument.

C) Child / pet / phone call interrupts fight and later on both parties act like it never happened.

D) Sex.

This thing will happen more and more frequently as the male in the relationship realizes that conflict resolution is his best chance at sex.

April 21, 2011 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

The Skeptics Set The Record Straight

So I suggest reading my last post to see the context for this one:

Somebody at the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe forum posted a link to that post and, well a heated discussion ensued. Though were weren’t able to find common ground on my issue of personal observation (by which I mean the actual events witnessed by someone, not the conclusions they infer from them) and the demarcation problem. However, it became clear that not all skeptics agree on the demarcation problem, so while this remains a point of contention (and something I’m at odds with the skeptical community about) it’s by no means an entirely resolved issue in their book.

To my complaints about logical fallacies, the discussion eventually convinced my that it was merely widespread misuse of them, not the fallacies themselves, that were the source of the error. More specifically I said:

It would seem that most of my complaints there stem from having them used improperly. That just seems to happen an awful lot, but that’s individual skeptics’ faults not skepticism itself. I will say though that I personally despise the logical fallacy method of deconstructing arguments. I don’t think that the names of the fallacies are intuitive and that they lend themselves to misuse, and even when used effectively that there are better ways of going about a discussion. I think we would be much better off saying exactly why an argument is wrong each time, rather than using the logical fallacy short hand. As anyone who properly understands the fallacies shouldn’t be making them regularly, and anyone who doesn’t needs the full explanation, not a 4 word remark (which sounds both dismissive and condescending).

It’s always good when people engage dissenting perspectives in honest discussion. Sadly this wasn’t the response from all the members of the forum, but there’s as much a variety amongst the social and emotional… approaches with skeptics as there are any other group. Thankfully some made a real attempt to understand my grievances and we were able to learn where exactly the two disagreements were and I was shown my error in one case. So here’s to open respectful discourse and being as open to the idea that you might learn something as to teaching someone something.

March 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

Why Skeptics Are Wrong

Serious, and watch out, this will not be an easy read.


I previously made a post similar to this, but I feel it deserves a revisit. For starters, there is a movement out there known as the Skepticism (Scepticism if you’re European). Rather than merely meaning “doubting” or some other colloquial use of the term, modern Skepticism has become a set of rules for discerning what constitutes valid evidence and good argument. As I see it there are two fundamental flaws with Skepticism, one related to its criteria for evidence, and another regarding how it judges the soundness of an argument.

The first flaw with Skepticism has to do with the weight given to non-causal studies and the lack of significance given to personal observation. The demarcation problem is by no means a solved issue, but Skepticism is far too open to correlation-only studies being used as proof. Skepticism also dismisses personal experience as being fundamentally flawed (And justifies this largely with neuroscience showing cognitive errors such as flawed memory, and biases and heuristics such as pareidolia). Now recognizing that in the absence of causation, that corollary evidence is an acceptable stand in (at least until causality can be established), Skepticism does not make a clear distinction between the two. If (for example) I know that car accidents are more common in Winter, that is a corollary statement. If I know that car accidents are more prevalent during rain storms, then that is also a corollary statement. Now, taken at face value these two things seem almost contradictory, as rain is less frequent in the winter and yet car accidents are more common both in the winter and during rain storms. By identifying what actually causes the increased accidents (less traction and reduced visibility) we can then reconcile this otherwise apparent contradiction, and have a much better understanding of the nature of car accidents.

Because of how corollary relationships work, studies on them (no matter how scientific in nature) can only prove that something does not cause something else; it cannot prove that it in fact is the cause. While it’s true that one could take this to an extreme, and say that all biological causes are really a collection of chemical causes, which are in turn physical causes, etc… is only peripherally important. If a general corollary model is the best we can do at the moment to explain a process, then so be it. However, if the process can be completely explained at a more basic level, then that is the level we should use to describe it, and if the process is shown to exist only for a subset of scenarios based on assumed variables at a lower level, then those assumptions should be made to be explicitly stated aspects of the process.

On the subject of Skepticism rejecting personal observation, you would think that studies that reflect subjective views would be, by extension, dismissed as well. And therefore surveys and and social science depending on voluntary reporting or unverifiable data (such as sociology or macro-economics) would be outright dismissed. However this is not the case. The rule appears to be that one should dismiss their own personal observations, even if unrelated to prevalent cognitive biases and faults, but accept the very same conclusions when made by others en mass. Other than the apparent hypocrisy of such a stance it should give you pause as to whether Skepticism will lead its practitioners towards group-thought built around consensus premises.

Now if you’re a Skeptic, then the final part of my last statement probably set of an alarm. More specifically the, “argument from final consequences logical fallacy!” alarm. I did this on purpose of course in order to segue into the second real error in Skepticism, the logical fallacies. Now what constitutes a good argument? Let’s put aside the notice of premises and facts (my issue with how Skepticism determines what is good evidence has already been covered), so we’re not concerned with showing whether A or B is true or not (A and B are just representations of statements here). We’re concerned with an argument. If I say A therefore B, and you can show me an instance where A is true, but B is not, then I have made a poor argument. If I then go back and see that A means B unless C (So that if A is true and C is not true then B is true), I can then come back and make a more specific argument. I know this is dull and boring, but argument is about taking statements of fact and following them to their conclusions. Here’s a clearer example:

“You don’t want to get wet. An umbrella will keep you dry. It’s raining outside. If you go outside when it’s raining, you will get wet. You need to go outside. So you should take an umbrella.” That’s an argument. If somebody comes back and says, “But you don’t have an umbrella,” then they have found an unstated premise in my argument, and found that my assumption (that you have an umbrella) was false. Now they could point out that I’m assuming that you have an umbrella, even when you do, but that is entirely unnecessary, unless of course I was unaware that I was making that assumption.

So there are really only three fundamental flaws in arguments:
1) A flawed premise (You say it’s raining, when it’s not).
2) An opposite relationship (You say that B is true whenever A is, when in fact B is only true when A is not true)
3) An assumed variable (You might think that y = a + b, but it’s really y = a + b + c, and you just haven’t dealt with situations where c was anything other than 0)

These could further be reduced to 1 flaw:
1) Saying something that isn’t true.

Now obviously these aren’t practical for easy use in conversation. Skepticism attempts to make the process of figuring out when an argument is flawed with a short list of common errors, known as logical fallacies. Now these are simply abstractions, general short hand rules for identifying the core errors listed above, but they’re not presented that way. Skeptics have developed their own heuristics based on these logical fallacies that are just not correct. Take the joke rule of Godwin’s Law. It states that in an online argument, whoever calls the other a Nazi or compares them to Hitler first, loses. This came about because comparing people to the Nazis is a trademark underhanded debate tactic, meant to illicit emotional responses without actually having to make a real claim. That said, even though it’s a incredibly useful rule it is by no means a basic rule of argument. If it were then neo-Nazis would always win every argument that had online. They would (rightly) be called Nazis and then the other party would lose because of Godwin’s Law. This is a silly illustration, but it points out a fundamental shortcoming in teaching abstracted, generally true rules as truths. As I said before, when we cannot drill any deeper, then fine, but if something is based on more simplified rules, which are fully understood, then people should be taught that.

Now let’s look at the notion of an argument from final consequences. “If there is no God, then there’s likely no afterlife. You want there to be an afterlife. Therefore there must be a God.” That’s about as classic a case as they come. The real flaw here of course is the view that one’s desire for result must dictate the premises used to get there. “I am hungry. Stealing will get me food. Therefore stealing is okay.” It’s working backwards, and adjusting one’s premises to fit a prejudiced result. But now let’s see how skeptics might use it improperly. “Scientology tells people to separate from their families. I love my family. Therefore Scientology is flawed.” Now this is an argument from final consequences (not that any Skeptic would point that out because they almost universally despise Scientology and love to selectively apply their logical fallacies, but that’s an issue of execution of Skepticism, not the process itself). It concludes that Scientology is flawed based on fulfilling the desires of the individual. This argument can be saved however, when one reveals the unstated premises that Scientology is an ideology, the purpose of an ideology is to aid its practitioners in finding happiness, and that removing me from my family will make me unhappy. Now, one could state that the God argument could be saved as well, if the unstated premises of that I’m going to believe whatever makes them happy, and I can’t be happy without believing in an afterlife. And it’s true that there wouldn’t be a flaw in the argument then, of course it would become entirely unconvincing to anyone else, so I doubt you’ll ever hear a theologian use it.

This notion of identifying unstated premises is not native to Skepticism and by not digging deeper into the reasoning behind why an argument is bad, it runs the risk of unessesaryilly dumbing-down the process. This isn’t to say that an individual Skeptic couldn’t discern the underlying basis for a logical fallacy, but Skepticism seems primarily concerned with reaching a wider audience. It is an excellent introduction to logical analysis for adults who missed out on hard math and logical analysis as children, but it’s a simplification, a collection of shortcuts. And while shortcuts are useful, when any group comes to share the same mental shortcuts (which are not always accurate) and are convinced that they are tools for discerning what is true and what isn’t, it does invariably lead to group-thought (see, I actually stated it that time). So Skeptics, be aware that what you’re being fed isn’t the final word (You’re induction is being polluted by inconsistencies in evidence evaluation and your deduction is being overly simplified). Do you apply your dismissal of personal experience to your own? I didn’t think so. Do you gladly use studies from social sciences that reinforce your world view, while looking for legitimate reasons to dismiss those that disagree with it? In my experience you do, but then again, that’s just a personal anecdote, so you can just ignore it.

March 2, 2011 at 12:31 am 22 comments

How Political Groups See Each Other

This post was inspired by this image:

February 16, 2011 at 12:15 am 1 comment

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