Monday, February 02, 2015

Better than Facebook

For many years I spent a lot of time in conversation and argument on various Usenet groups. Eventually Usenet began to fade, with groups losing members and activity, and I shifted much of my online interaction to Facebook and G+. 

Facebook has an enormous population and a lot of different interest groups represented, but the average quality of the conversation, in my experience, is pretty low. That became particularly clear in climate arguments, where most people on both sides were more interested in cheering for their team and badmouthing the opposition than in understanding the arguments, science and evidence. One illustration was an error that I discussed in an earlier post. Someone posted a link to a video of an experiment that supposedly proved that CO2 was a greenhouse gas. Believers in AGW supported it, critics attacked it, and almost nobody realized that the experiment, even if done perfectly, did not support the conclusion—because almost nobody, in a discussion centered on global warming, understood how the greenhouse effect works (for details see my earlier post).

Not all of Facebook is that bad, of course. The SCA groups contain a good deal of interest and a higher ratio of light to heat. And if one finds someone who is both reasonable and an active poster, friending him and following his posts can be worth doing—although even then the quality is pretty variable.

I think I have now found a better venue for online argument and conversation. I mentioned in an earlier post a blog, Slate Star Codex, by an unusually able, energetic and fair minded poster. It turns out that not only does he write interesting essays, he also attracts a pretty high quality of commenters, making the comment threads interesting conversations, sometimes interesting arguments. Once it occurred to me to read the latest essay, for which the comment thread was still open, instead of whichever old essay looked most interesting, I had a brand new way of interacting with interesting people online.

Not only does Scott write interesting essays and attract interesting people, some of them write interesting essays as well, as I discovered by following a link in a comment thread to this one.


At 2:22 PM, February 02, 2015, Blogger Shaddox said...

I suppose your decision to direct your readers to Slate Star Codex indicates that you regard your readers as likely to produce above-average discourse!

At 3:55 PM, February 02, 2015, Blogger Xerographica said...

Sure, you can use flickr primarily for discussions... but it's kinda like using forums primarily for sharing photos. Why use the wrong tool if you don't have to?

It's somewhat awkward to see so many intelligent people crammed into a blog comment section. As if none of them were smart enough to realize that perhaps they should start a forum for whatever it is they want to discuss so thoroughly. Progress goes *bonk*.

I refer to this as the "awkward allocation of intelligence". Somebody needs to herd the nerds.

At 6:23 PM, February 02, 2015, Blogger Unknown said...

SSC is also my new favorite place to discuss things.

Have you read Scott's Consequentialism FAQ ?

In section 7.5 he cites your work on Schelling Points, and I suspect that he was partially influenced by Machinery , although he does have different political views.

At 2:07 AM, February 03, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

beside ssc, one of my newer daily go to bookmarks, is also the unz review
it's a new outlet, which in a very short time(about a year) accumulated a lot of talent and some of the bloggers there have very high quality comment sections.

At 12:55 PM, February 03, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've found much the same thing. I was from rec.arts.sf.written, and SSC is definitely much closer than anything else to what I'm looking for.

At 2:02 PM, February 03, 2015, Anonymous Shawn Decker said...

Hi David,

I've been watching with some interest during the past few days the discussion in the media about vaccinations and the anti-vaccination movement. It strikes me that there are a number of interesting things to be observed and discussed (and perhaps learned) with this topic. One thing might be some thoughts or observations relating this topic to the recent theme of tribal politics at your blog?

One odd thing that I have noticed with respect to the recent measles outbreak here in the United States, is that I have heard several commenters on TV state that they find it objectionable that a small number of parents would refuse to vaccinate their children for measles and then send them to a public school where they may place the other students in harms way. However, this particular line of reasoning strikes me as a bit of an odd critique of the anti-vaccination parents since, as I understand the functioning of the measles vaccine, there would be no threat to a vaccinated student. A rather relevant counter-argument might be ... Yes, I appreciate your concern for the health of my unvaccinated child ... but he poses no threat to your vaccinated child so your efforts to compel me to vaccinate my child against my wishes are unwarranted (say by establishing either state laws or implementing vaccination proof as an admission criteria at a local school district).

It seems to me that what these commenters are really trying to claim is something along the lines of "I have science on my side, therefore I am justified in commanding / ordering / forcing you to do something (vaccinate your children) that you don't want to do ... even though your actions (or lack of action) really has very little chance of adversely impacting my child at school." Moving back to the age-old nature / desire of human beings to tell other people what they should / should not do, I guess.

Another thing that I noticed was during a segment on CNN with their medical expert Dr. Sanjay Gupta in which he refers to some graphic data relating what I believe is a dosage or strength of vaccine verses rates of diagnosed autism covering the years 1980 to present. With this graph, he seems to be trying to make the argument that there is no direct correlation between vaccines and autism. However, it would seem to me that there is quite likely a notable time lag between when a vaccine is administered and when, typically, autism is tested for and detected. Thus, a child will very likely receive a vaccine in the first few years of their life while, most likely, they will not be tested for autism until they are in late elementary or junior high school. Thus, it wouldn't surprise me if there is a lag of ten years or so of the autism rates dropping because of decreased vaccine strength.

In viewing the graphic that he presents, there is a flat-lining of the autism rate data that occurs starting about 10 years after the bottoming out of the vaccine strength (referred to in the graph as vaccine complexity).

At any rate, it strikes me that he may be a bit presumptuous with the data that he presents in order to try to make his case. That he is interpreting the data before the experiment has properly run it's course. If my hypothesis about the time lag is correct, then the most recent data in his graph (the flat-lining of the autism rate from 2010 to 2015) is trying to tell him something about the nature of things but he's already come to the conclusion that he wants to make ... a good example of the phenomenon of scientism.

Sorry for the overly long comment .. but it seems to me that there are a lot of really good topics of discussion for you and your readers that are presented by this news story.

At 3:16 PM, February 03, 2015, Anonymous David (not Friedman) said...

Shawn, vaccination is not a pure private good. Vaccinations are not 100% effective, and there are people who for various reasons are not helped by them. (Reduced immune response because of chemotherapy is one reason; google CVID for another.) This is where herd immunity comes in; if enough of the population is immune, the disease can never gain a foothold, and even those who weren't immunized or whose immunization wasn't effective are thereby protected.

So it's not as simple as some do-gooder trying to push you around for the sake of your own children. I can see the argument for doing just that, but we don't need to go there. Suppose I grant the (extreme?) premise that your children's health is your concern and nobody else's. I can still make the argument that not vaccinating your child is a public-health issue even though most vaccinated children would not be endangered by your decision.

At 5:32 PM, February 03, 2015, Blogger Unknown said...

I'm sure that the existence of non-vaccinated people increases the odds that vaccinated people will get infected by some non-zero amount. But by how much? This seems like an important piece of data that is completely missing from the debate.

At 5:46 AM, February 04, 2015, Blogger jeremy said...

Have you seen Scott's "Non-Libertarian" FAQ (

He offers to publish links to rebuttals.

At 12:48 PM, February 04, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

I have seen Scott's Non-Libertarian FAQ and responded to it by email a while back. I don't know if I convinced him that there was a problem with part of his argument or not.

At 1:31 PM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Jonathan said...

It seems a bit odd to me to complain about the average quality of conversation on Facebook. I make hardly any use of Facebook groups: I go to Facebook to talk to my friends. My Facebook friends are selected by me: if I don't like the company I find there, it's basically my own fault for selecting the wrong friends. I chose them in the first place, and I can get rid of anyone who turns out to be a bad choice.

If you go to Facebook and talk to random strangers, then complain about it, I think you're using Facebook in the wrong way. Well, just my opinion...

At 1:34 PM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Jonathan said...

On vaccination, I've read that very young children can't be vaccinated, and are therefore able to catch diseases from older children who deliberately haven't been vaccinated. But this just something I remember reading somewhere; I have no personal expertise on the subject.

At 1:17 AM, February 07, 2015, Blogger Tibor said...


My problem with facebook (which is the main reason I cancelled my profile there recently) was that while I could theoretically only use it to talk to friends, I always ended up discussing something with strangers (something that some of my friends "liked" or responded to, so it ended up in my feed). Those were more or less the way David describes. Ultimately, I thought that while some of these discussions were interesting, most were a waste of my time, but at the same time I was unable to simply ignore them (and I have a bad habit of trying to talk to people much longer than I should after I've convinced myself that they are not reasonable). So instead I just use an IM client with a few people I want to keep contact with and I don't have to fight urges to waste my time (well, at least not in this way) :)

Slate Star Codex is great, the only bad thing is that Scott's articles are all very very long so it really takes time to keep up with that (and the comments are often even longer :)).

I would be interested in David's reply to Scott's nonlibertarian FAQ. I still have not read it, just the introduction, although I intend to do so soon. Maybe that response is something I would come up with myself, maybe not, in any case it would be interesting to compare.

At 2:03 AM, February 07, 2015, Blogger Jonathan said...

Tibor: Yes, it is possible on Facebook to see posts from people who aren't your friends, but you can block people if you find them annoying, and then I think you won't see them again.

What I'd like to have on Facebook is a filter mechanism, so that I could filter out all posts containing specific words. I have some friends who post tediously on particular topics; I don't want to defriend those people, but I've had enough of those topics.

I took a look at the non-libertarian FAQ, but didn't find it very interesting. There are lots of non-libertarians; he's another one. He's probably not a bad guy, but I have other things to do.

At 10:15 AM, February 08, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may come across James A Donald. I have not read anyone more entertaining.

At 10:29 AM, February 08, 2015, Blogger David Friedman said...

I have known James Donald online, initially Usenet, for a very long time. He is sometimes interesting and entertaining, but has more of a taste for deliberately offending people than I like.

At 9:30 PM, February 20, 2015, Anonymous Sumantra Roy said...

Regarding rebuttals to the Anti-Libertarian FAQ, here's one:

At 12:38 AM, February 21, 2015, Blogger Xerographica said...

I might as well jump on the rebuttal sharing bandwagon... Why I Love Your Freedom. The bottom line is that resources can't be efficiently allocated without knowing the actual preferences of consumers.

Here's a recently published critique of libertarianism... The Dread Pirate Roberts as Statebuilder. The bottom line is something like... the libertarian silk road endeavor turned into a terrible government, therefore government.


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