Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 64

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

Put the “Ph” back in PhD.

Psychologists ask: what makes some smart people so skeptical of science? (maybe they’re not so smart?)

A novel theory for why humans evolved selves (to cooperate efficiently).

Nostalgia for now (long, but worth it).

Net return on Philosophy Major is comparable to that of Engineering Major (who would have thought, eh?).

116 thoughts on “Plato’s reading suggestions, episode 64

  1. Coel

    The suggestion that formal classes in ethics would help reduce fraud reminds me a bit of Christians. They just assume that the heavy emphasis on morals in their theology and in church each Sunday will mean that Christians are more moral than the non-religious.

    The evidence, however, says that that simply isn’t the case (judging, there, on all the moral issues that would be generally agreed).

    I’m asking whence you derived the notion that “fraud is bad.” […] Did you study it in a science course?

    Nope, and nor in a formal ethics class.


  2. brodix


    Trump is not a National Socialist, which amounts to tribalism. He is a Capitalist. What is being played out here, intended or not, is a game of good cop/bad cop, as the banks own both. One through donations and the other through business loans. Goldman Sachs always seems to be the employment agency they run to after the election.
    Now that the unions have been neutered, robotics and a globalized work force have removed all bargaining leverage from labor, Trump can “bring jobs back to America.” And his base will applaud him for it. Meanwhile the left will be sputtering about how unfair it all is, with no real concept of how or why it all happened, because their logic had been reduced to protest signs.
    Whether Clinton, or Trump, disaster capitalism will be coming home to roost. In all the outcry over all the identity politics factions being bruised and battered, does anyone point this out?
    Since few here seem to think it important, I will just point out that when you are responsible for large amounts of debt, you are effectively owned by those holding the loan. Government debt means you.
    Those public/private partnerships are where they start trading those oceans of bonds for more direct control and ownership.
    Going on about Hitler only obscures this and serves their purposes.


  3. Massimo Post author


    What I find interesting about the debate going on here is that some people (e.g., Coel) are adamant that we should have rigorous controlled studies before introducing philosophy in the curriculum. But the same people simply accept that teaching the way it is done now is effective, even though they don’t have a shred of evidence to support that notion.

    So, for consistency, either we think that we should go ahead and implement whatever ideas make sense to us — welcoming but not requiring systematic studies that nobody will probably do — or we apply the same rigor to our own position.

    To be clear: I’m in favor of empirical evidence speaking to the effectiveness of teaching methods. But there is little incentive for people to conduct such studies, they are expensive and long term, and the results are likely to be far from clear and conclusive. Just take a look at the burgeoning literature on pedagogy at the pre-college and college levels.

    Which means that I increasingly think that Coel-style calls for evidence are thinly veiled excuses to reject outright (until the evidence comes in!) what they dislike.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Coel

    What I find interesting about the debate going on here is that some people (e.g., Coel) are adamant that we should have rigorous controlled studies before introducing philosophy in the curriculum.

    Just for the record, I have not called for controlled studies in this thread, never mind “rigorous” ones, and nor have I been “adamant” that they should be done before introducing philosophy into the curriculum.

    Let’s recall that the claim is that teaching formal epistemology, of the sort that is done in philosophy textbooks on basic epistemology, would “reduce the number of errors in scientific work by making science methodologically more rigorous”.

    What I have asked for are (1) some examples of the sort of epistemology that would be taught, (2) some examples of the sort of common errors in science that this might solve, and (3) some sort of evidence or argument that (1) might solve (2). It’s quite amazing that we’ve had not a single instance of 1, 2 or 3!

    Indeed, the usual stance on this blog has been that philosophy is not even intended to be helpful to science. Yet, when there is an assertion that there are common methodological errors in science, of the sort that could be addressed by teaching the material in intro-to-epistemology textbooks, the claim is treated as so obvious that no examples or evidence need be supplied, and any questioning meets only a dismissive “look it up”.

    I can’t help suspecting that this pretense that I have been “adamant that we should have rigorous controlled studies” is an attempt to divert attention from the complete lack of suggested examples (never mind evidence) to support the claim.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Massimo Post author


    Examples have been provided, and they are easy to find. As I already stated, I’ve seen plenty of graduate students and even colleagues make elementary mistakes in logic and epistemology. And you only need to take a look at a number of woefully inadequate papers in any field to see what we are talking about.

    No, you didin’t explicitly call for double blinds, that was Bunsen’s terminology, The concept is the same. When I asked you for evidence of why you think the sort of things you support to be teach should be taught you simply ignore my question. As you usual, I might add.


  6. Coel

    When I asked you for evidence of why you think the sort of things you support to be teach should be taught you simply ignore my question. As you usual, I might add.

    No I did not, I replied to the question. When you asked me about the evidence that teaching statistics was a good idea, I replied:

    “The evidence was indeed not presented in the piece, but it’s easy to find evidence that lack of awareness of statistics can lead to erroneous science. The whole issue about irreproducibility of findings in certain fields, and the phenomenon of p-value fishing, are all about poor uses of statistics.”

    I’d be quite happy to amplify that answer with plenty of actual examples, if anyone seriously doubts it.


  7. Bunsen Burner

    Not all skills can be clearly and unambiguously assessed. To me assertions about teaching calculus are in a very different world to assertions about teaching ethics. Testing that people understand calculus enough to go an become engineers is one thing, but how do you test ethics? How can you know your students are more ethical than the group of students studying Spanish?

    To me the idea that western analytical philosophers have discovered a technique to make people more ethical (event by as little as 10%) is in the league of ‘cure for cancer’ discoveries. If true I would not only support the mandatory teaching of the philosophy of ethics in university but campaign to have that teaching start at kindergarten. Sadly however, based on my own experience and looking around the world today and in the past this does not seem to be the case.

    Anyway, since I’ve just started reading Bayesian Epistemology by Bovens and Hartmann I have a question for the collective mind. What do people believe the probability that teaching philosophy of ethics makes people more ethical is? I’ll start. I think my observations put the figure at around 0.4 though I am enough of an optimist to raise this to 0.5 (there may be some bias in my reasoning after all). So what do others think? And can people at least try to provide some justification for their value too. No, not full double blind studies. informal and incomplete evidence, even anecdotes would do.


  8. Michael Fugate

    A simple case in point – we instituted a set of case studies outlining examples of academic misconduct that each student is required to read before their first biology course. Guess what, the number of cases needing to be referred to the conduct office dropped dramatically. One does need to know the rules if one is to comply.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. brodix

    This is an interesting back and forth, but is it anything more?

    It would seem from my outside viewpoint that the various suggestions made would already be part of the “scientific method.” Epistemology? Statistics? Ethics? Would there even be a scientific method without some fairly rigorous application of all three? Could they be improved? Obviously, but then improvement would seem to be the goal of the scientific method in the first place.

    A deeper question might be why such an argument would even be made in the first place. Are there issues causing some degree of frustration within the scientific community, leading to some degree of churn and spinning of wheels and are the sources of these issues really being peeled back and examined, or is this simply a case of doubling down on methods and tactics already being tried? I’ve certainly put forth a number of suggestions, from the nature of time that underlays the cognitive process, to the nature of the financial mechanism funding scientific endeavors, that mostly get kicked to the sides, as the same issues keep going round and round.

    One question I might ask is; Where is humanity at this point in its development and which aspects of the scientific community are addressing the more pressing concerns? Maybe that might be a center of focus, around which the community might find agreement. Yes, it would give preference to some fields over others and force various reconsiderations, such as what assumptions drive humanity in the directions it is going and how might they be directed toward a more beneficial relationship with the biosphere.

    Sometimes we do have to push the reset button and focus on what is necessary, or the whole damn system freezes up. No one here is going to be able to avoid the consequences, short of dying before they get too terminal.


  10. Massimo Post author


    You are the closest on this blog to a Sophist. Socratic thinks that’s a compliment. As you know, I have a different opinion. But I do thank you for providing me almost daily exercise to practice Stoic endurance…


  11. couvent2104


    In general, my worries are not about science or philosophy, but about education. Where I live, we are in the middle of a period of educational reform. Now, if you want to introduce a new cure for a disease, you have to produce mountains of scientific evidence. You have to prove that the cure is effective, that the benefits outweigh the negative side effects etc. Even if there are only 5,000 patients suffering from this particular disease in a population of millions.
    Not so in educational reform. 100,000s of young and old people will feel the consequences, but you can ignore findings that contradict your favorite reform, you can ignore the fact that there’s not a shred of evidence that the reform will have the intended effects, with some hand-waving & rhetoric you can deny that there may be negative side effects etc. etc. Everybody has an opinion and claims “good intentions”, and the result is some emotionally charged power play.
    And many reform-minded people are using some form of Arturo Casadevalls argument: education isn’t what it should be! Let’s reform! We need it! I have a good idea!
    Perhaps this has made me hypersensitive, but I feel the suggestion of Arturo Casadevall is an example of this phenomenon. A mild and innocent example, but nevertheless.

    I also feel that you’re uncharacteristically dismissive of Coel (although I understand why).
    I’m also curious. I don’t doubt that scientists make mistakes. But I would like to see convincing arguments that a course on philosophical epistemology is necessary or helpful to see them or avoid them. Is Casadevall suggesting that a decent scientist – say a physicist – is incapable of recognizing a shaky argument in a physics article if she hasn’t taken the course on epistemology? Every decent scientific discipline teaches its students a lot of implicit but very practical epistemology, I should think. All in all, it’s a pretty strong statement by Casadevall. Which is strange, because his other suggestions are quite reasonable.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Bunsen Burner

    A quick question related to all this talk about scientific errors. Has anyone noticed and clear trends in these? For example, are certain disciplines more prone errors in basic logic than others? Is an unawareness of correlation/causation confined to a particular science? What kind of errors of basic logic are the most common? That sort of thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Massimo Post author


    I think the suggestion is that there are significantly fewer “decent” scientists than people like Coel assume. And I assure you that I’ve had ample personal experience of that. Stats are, of course, hard to find. Except for the current crisis in psychology. Or in fundamental physics, with high level physicists accusing each other of following or not following Popper, very clearly without having read Popper.

    The arguments in favor of teaching logic, epistemology and ethics to budding scientists are of the exact same kind of those advanced to use them how to code, or basic probability, or experimental design. None of this is backed up by systematic empirical evidence, certainly not at the graduate level. It is simply our general intuition that if you wish people to be proficient in X you better teach them X, as best as you can.

    Again, I’m not against getting empirical evidence. I simply think it is difficult to obtain and hard to convince people to do the studies. And it is disingenuous to call for it whenever something is put forth that we dislike while we don’t make the same demands for things we already like.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. couvent2104


    Is an unawareness of correlation/causation confined to a particular science?

    I don’t know many things, but one thing I know with absolute certainty: the correlation/causation thing is explicitly explained each and every time students learn about correlation. If they make that mistake later on, it’s in blatant disregard of what has been told to them explicitly.
    Yes, in the social sciences too. My partner studied mathematics and helped her sister, who studied sociology and criminology, through her course on statistics. It was right there: correlation is NOT causation.


  15. Bunsen Burner


    Yes, I was taught it even before starting University. Likewise for a lot of basic logic. However people on this blog have assured me that they have seen statistically significant amount of peer reviewed studies with these kind of basic errors. Massimo has even said that the study of heritability is riddled with them. It certainly surprised me as having read a fair bit of scientific studies (predominantly in the physical sciences) I’ve never encountered errors so basic. Apparently things are pretty bad.


  16. couvent2104


    However people on this blog have assured me that they have seen statistically significant amount of peer reviewed studies with these kind of basic errors.

    I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, it’s astonishing.
    It would also prove that a course on epistemology won’t help.
    People are explicitly told that correlation is not causation. It’s basic knowledge. If they don’t understand it, or ignore it, it’s hard to see how a dose of epistemology could cure them of more sophisticated mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. brodix

    It is interesting that climate scientists can present a fairly well developed, evidence based argument for global warming and large sectors of the population, referred to as climate denialists, can ignore the evidence and continue blithely on their way, considering the ramifications this holds for humanity.

    It is equally interesting this country, along with its citizens and companies, can run up enormous debt, as large sectors of the infrastructure and economy crumble, yet when consequences of this, such as the election of a media loudmouth, appear, equally large numbers of the population, many among the self described intelligentsia, are shocked, shocked! that such a thing could happen.

    Denialism runs deep, or so it seems.

    What would it take to see this bigger picture? Epistemology? Statistics? Ethics? Logic? Common sense?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. brodix

    Correlation may not be causation, but cause is correlated to effect. Ignore the cause and you will be surprised by the effect.


  19. synred

    Total lack of correlation would imply no causation.However in many/most cases the many contributing ocauses are too small to separate them from the others. It’s little wonder the social sciences are so hard, between real but undetectable causes and large but meaningless correlations.


  20. synred

    There is a difference between leaning the rules and studying how such rules work (thieir ‘logic’ so to speak). The second is needed to deign, say, a system of rules for an institution w/o tripping all over yourself like Trumpian exe order. The remember need to know and understand the rules.

    And then imagine there is meta-ethics took’ iust; what is good anyhow?



    Liked by 1 person

  21. davidlduffy

    “correlation is not causation”: this seems to be the only thing most people know about correlation and regression.

    Psychology undergraduates, at least at the university I went to, used to do a course entirely on scientific error – most of the concepts involved are easily comprehended, but would not appear in the usual list of “logical fallacies” eg internal versus external validity, reliability. Similarly, epidemiology textbooks provide a taxonomy of 40-50 different types of bias, under the three major genuses of confounding, selection bias, and information bias, but with species and subspecies such as “confounding by indication”, “healthy worker effects”, “reporting bias”, “immortal time bias”, “time lag bias”, “location bias” etc. Both epidemiology and psychology study complex phenomena where pinning down exactly what you need to measure or manipulate is difficult, so some time has been invested in concept criticism and clarification.


  22. wtc48

    Brodix: “Since few here seem to think it important, I will just point out that when you are responsible for large amounts of debt, you are effectively owned by those holding the loan. Government debt means you.”

    One might add that ownership can go the other way when the debtor is too big to fail.


  23. wtc48

    Coel: “Indeed, the usual stance on this blog has been that philosophy is not even intended to be helpful to science”

    You may have overlooked my comment:

    “Many of the comments on the Ph.D. thread pertain to the value of philosophy in the education of scientists, and as philosophy might be regarded as a bridge between science and the humanities, the subject is related to the broader one of possible de-emphasis on the latter in favor of the former.”


  24. brodix


    That’s when they go for assets. The premise of disaster capitalism is to loan more than the debtor can pay, then go for real property as payment. Resources, utilities, public lands, etc. To assume the US is immune is wishful thinking.

    The US is not too big to fail, it is being set up to fail. If this country were a business, would you consider it being run for the long term?

    Given finance has quite evidently gained control of the government, who will argue with the way the contracts are drawn up? Consider the investor/state clauses drawn up in the various trade deals lately, that allow corporations to sue over laws and regulations, labor, environment, etc. which restrict profits.

    Money is the circulation system of society. It’s what ties everything together. When it’s being used to drain all possible value out of the system, it is not being run for the benefit of the system.

    Liked by 1 person

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