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By TheophileEscargot (Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 01:09:09 AM EST) Reading, Me, MLP (all tags)
Reading: "How To Win Every Argument", "Knots and Crosses". What are the classics of genre fiction? Me. Web.

What I'm Reading
Finished How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic by Madsen Pirie. Basically a long list of logical fallacies, written in a moderately amusing manner with some examples.

He tends to bundle a lot of things that aren't strictly fallacies in as well, and some of them seem to be inconsistent. For instance he defines a "runaway train" fallacy where you fail to take something to its logical conclusion: his example is arguing that the speed limit should be reduced to 60mph but not 0mph. However he also mentions the familiar "slippery slope" fallacy, which would seem to be the exact opposite.

Does have a few useful tips, like the suggestion that Americans are more vulnerable to the fallacy of composition, because their grammar makes no distinction between the collective entity and the individuals within it.

In English we would say 'the crew is a good one', referring to it as a separate entity, but 'the crew are tired', if we are speaking of its members. In American one uses the singular verb in both cases, losing an important distinction.
If everyone in society looks after themselves, then our society will be one that looks after itself.

(It will certainly be a society of people who look after themselves, but maybe society has aspects which need to be looked after by people acting in concert.)

I would have liked to see more practical examples, and more suggestions on how to defend against fallacies. Overall, has some interesting points, but not really worthwhile unless you're a beginner.

What I'm Reading 2
Finished the first Inspector Rebus novel: Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin. They're detective novels set in the seedy underworld of Edinburgh. This one was written in the mid-Eighties.

It's mostly more period than dated: everybody smokes, Rebus puts on a suit and tie to go to a party. Some of the serial killer tropes have been pretty much done to death in the intervening decades though: the serial killer sending notes is pretty much a cliché now. It's also an odd mix of police procedural and decipher-the-puzzle detectivism: there's lots of realistic cross-checking and mass interviewing, but also clues and hints sent by the serial killer.

The Rebus character is a bit hard to believe too: an ex-SAS man turned police detective who reads Dostoevsky and is crammed full of angst. This was a pretty early book: this series has a huge reputation so the author probably got better later on.

Will keep an eye out for the later ones. This isn't bad, but it's not brilliant. the whodunnit side of things is a bit sloppy: plot depends on coincidences of timing and the villain is introduced too late.

Felt pretty rotten Friday and had a temperature (I've bought a thermometer now) so called in sick again. What's going on? I hardly ever used to get sick. I think it's because since we shifted floors the office is too hot and badly ventilated. Firstly it spreads diseases, secondly since it's so hot it's really unpleasant to go in when you're even slightly feverish.

Ask MeFi
I Asked Metafilter What are the classics of genre fiction? Anyone have anything to add?

Video. Pixar short: Lifted.

Eighties kids TV: Mr Noseybonk. It's a miracle any of us survived with our sanity intact.

Economics. Voting is rational, just not selfish.

Why are there different inflation rates within the Eurozone?

Decentralization doesn't work (PDF).

Treisman finds little support for the "local knowledge", hypothesis laid out in the school board trope. In general, he finds, greater local decision-making and budget authority are associated with nasties such as poorer youth literacy and sanitation. He also finds that the number of tiers of government is positively associated with the level of perceived corruption. More tiers of government are also associated with fewer inoculations, a good measure of a country’s health performance.
Tech. VB and misery in another’s success.

Random. What are you worth in bed?

< Trolling Radiohead | The Dog Days of Summer >
The Nose Knows | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden)
Hahah, no way is Farmgirl worth that much. by Rogerborg (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 01:49:04 AM EST
We've been talking about putting it on a financial basis.  Simpler in the long term, all things considered.

Thanks for the Noseybonk flashback.  Way ahead of his time, in covering up to avoid leaving DNA evidence on the scene.

Metus amatores matrum compescit, non clementia.

Runaway trains by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 02:25:41 AM EST
I haven't read the book. The slippery slope fallacy though, to me, is not a case of taking an argument to its logical conclusion, it's of taking an argument to its narrative conclusion, even though that is not logically supported. So I guess you could still find an analogue in that, making a runaway train a case of stopping at an argument's narrative conclusion rather than following to its logical one.

That decentralisation article is a bit depressing. Thing is it's quite possible to observe inefficiency and failure at an individual level when dealing with a centralised bureaucracy, but I can also see, once such a structure in place, things falling apart with radical attempts at reform. If I feeling particularly fatalistic today I would say that decentralised systems are fine, but the process of decentralising is much easier to screw up than centralisation.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

trains and slopes seem different to me as well by lm (4.00 / 2) #5 Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 01:03:59 PM EST
Slippery slope defines a function F such that F(A1) results in B and insists that if F and saying that if F(A1) results in B, the pretty soon F will also be applied to A2 without demonstrating that F necessarily has to be applied to A2.

Runaway train seems to me that if A -> B -> C, then we can't just stop at B.

So, two different things.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
[ Parent ]
The list of fallacies genre is too negative by Alan Crowe (4.00 / 1) #3 Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 03:56:17 AM EST
For example, you cannot get causation from correlation. True, though the Bayesian network stuff from Pearl, Glymour etc, is interesting.

That still leaves you with the question: where do you get causation from? You can take a hard line and say that only randomised controlled trials count. That is fine for science, but ones personal life is short, with forced choices. Tweaking up the hit rate of your guesses can make quite a difference.

My general point is that you have choices to make, and must decide what to base them on. You are very lucky if you can rigorously prove that you are taking the right route. A book of fallacies that tells you that the arguments you are using are not certain is unhelpful. A book about decision making under risk and uncertainty is much more to the point.

And then the personal and the political are not so far apart. It doesn't help to say to knock down public policy A, because that doesn't prove the alternative B. We are not convinced by the arguments for either A or B. Nevertheless we must choose, and it would be nice to have an agreed framework for weighing indicative arguments in an uncertain world.

Misery in another's success by spacejack (4.00 / 1) #4 Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 06:06:14 AM EST
If you think seeing VB/Java/PHP/whatever HLL programmers get accolades for their work is painful, you should try watching graphic designers get praises heaped on them from marketing people for copy-pasting some simple animation code they find on the web into a Flash animation.

There was an article in last month's Atlantic by lm (4.00 / 1) #6 Sat Apr 05, 2008 at 01:06:02 PM EST
It argued that, among other problems, decentralized school boards don't have the critical mass to fairly negotiate with national corporations (text books, etc.) and labor unions and, consequently, only the largest school districts are bargaining on a level playing field with these areas.

Kindness is an act of rebellion.
Knots and Crosses by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #7 Sun Apr 06, 2008 at 11:57:55 PM EST
I read that recently as well, and agree with you (especially the spoiler bit you've covered up!) He was very young when he wrote it which probably has something to do with it. I'm going to try one of the later ones.

A good police thriller I read recently is Savage Moon by Chris Simms. Set on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester, and involves escaped big cats and paedophilia - you can't go wrong with that!

It's political correctness gone mad!

The Nose Knows | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden)