UKC

/ Reasons to be cheerful

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Thrudge on 25 Dec 2017
Stephen Pinker's look at the decline of violence:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjT4HlNJNgI

We're often led to suppose - mostly by the mainstream media - that the world is an awful place and it just keeps on getting worse. Pinker's talk suggests that the opposite is true. Heartening stuff, I think.
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RomTheBear on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

If there are less wars it’s probably more to do with the certainty of mutually assured destruction.
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Thrudge on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

Not really - MAD only applies to nuclear powers, and there aren't that many of them.
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Hooo - on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

Have you read his book, The better angels of our nature? It's inspiring and hopeful, and full of great statistics to throw at those who moan about the decline of society.
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LeeWood - on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

there are indeed always reasons to be cheerful - and depending where you look; sometimes you have to point your telescope in a different direction ... or exchange it for a magnifying glass ;)
FactorXXX - on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

The juice of a carrot, the smile of a parrot
A little drop of claret, anything that rocks
AdrianC - on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

More reasons from the sadly late Hans Rosling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm5xF-UYgdg&t=49s
Big Ger - on 25 Dec 2017
Thrudge on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to Hooo:
> Have you read his book, The better angels of our nature?

I haven't; thanks for the tip.
Thrudge on 25 Dec 2017
In reply to AdrianC:
> More reasons from the sadly late Hans Rosling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm5xF-UYgdg&t=49s

Saw this a while ago, it's excellent
Thrudge on 25 Dec 2017
RomTheBear on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:
> Not really - MAD only applies to nuclear powers, and there aren't that many of them.

Yes, but they also happen to be the only ones with the capability to engage in the type of mass conflict we’ve seen in the past.
Instead we just have proxy wars.

Anyway, I wouldn’t take Pinker seriously, he’ll say anything to self promote.
Post edited at 15:33
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Robert Durran - on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> Anyway, I wouldn’t take Pinker seriously, he’ll say anything to self promote.

Why do you say that. The Pinker I have read seemed to be meticulously researched with a massive bibliography and superbly argued; I'm sure there are alternative opinions but I think he deserves somewhat better than your dismissive post.

Thrudge on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> Yes, but they also happen to be the only ones with the capability to engage in the type of mass conflict we’ve seen in the past.

Surely any nation with a reasonably large military has the capability to engage in mass conflict? Most European nations would be in that category, for a start.

As for your comment on Pinker, I've yet to hear anything from him that would justify it.

Going back to the OP, would you dispute Pinker's data regarding the decline in violence?
RomTheBear on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:
> Surely any nation with a reasonably large military has the capability to engage in mass conflict? Most European nations would be in that category, for a start.

Most are effectively in a military alliance which includes several nuclear powers ?
One of those counties that is not is Ukraine....

> As for your comment on Pinker, I've yet to hear anything from him that would justify it.

> Going back to the OP, would you dispute Pinker's data regarding the decline in violence?

I don’t dispute the data itself. It’s the conclusions he makes from it that seem pretty much made up.

I agree that violence, as he defines it, has declined. However his claims that humans are become less violent and more altruistic seems bollocks.

That the problem with Pinker and the other charlatans of his kind. They cherry pick a few data points and make up some story they can sell, but really, they don’t know.
Post edited at 19:40
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Toccata on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:


> That the problem with Pinker and the other charlatans of his kind. They cherry pick a few data points and make up some story they can sell, but really, they don’t know.

I agree. I wanted to love this book but it is hopelessly naive. Skips huge sections of social history. In science we ask a question and look for the answer. In social anthropology they choose an answer and try to prove it.
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Stichtplate on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

>

> That the problem with Pinker and the other charlatans of his kind. They cherry pick a few data points and make up some story they can sell, but really, they don’t know.

May I be the first to say....


POT. KETTLE. BLACK.



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alx on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to AdrianC:

> More reasons from the sadly late Hans Rosling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm5xF-UYgdg&t=49s

Hans rekindled my interest in getting more out of data after a decade of managing data for drug trials. His TedTalk on statistics is brilliant.
alx on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

Here you go, Amy the unicorn, Happiness and people messing up the data.

One of the best Ted Talks around:

https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work/transcript

JEF on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to FactorXXX:

> The juice of a carrot, the smile of a parrot

> A little drop of claret, anything that rocks

Cheddar cheese and pickle
A decent motor cycle
Slap and tickle
Thrudge on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to alx:

Excellent stuff, thanks very much for that. I've observed the effect first-hand; years ago I noticed that I climbed significantly better when I was happy, and it definitely wasn't the case that I climbed well *then* felt happy. Happy came first.
Rob Exile Ward on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to Toccata:

Christ, you critics of Pinker must have awesome qualifications of your own to be so dismissive. Obviously Harvard just dish out professorships to any Tom, Dick or Harry who can make a headline.

FWIW I found The Language Instinct and How The Mind Works to be some of the most thought provoking popular science I have read since The Selfish Gene. Hmmm... There's a coincidence.. another highly respected academic who can also write English. Can't be having that, can we.
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Thrudge on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
> I agree that violence, as he defines it, has declined. However his claims that humans are become less violent and more altruistic seems bollocks.

Sorry, I don't understand your argument there. If you accept that violence has declined, how can Pinker's claim that humans have become less violent be bollocks? He does explain at some length that *impulses* to violence may not have declined, but violent outcomes have declined due to a number of factors, such as legal frameworks that give the state a monopoly on violence. I'm not sure he mentions altruism at all.
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Thrudge on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

The flak puzzled me, too - Prof Pinker seems to be getting lumped in with eccentric bloggers in basements, a guy just making stuff up to fit his eccentric world view. I claim no great knowledge of the man, but it's my understanding that he's very highly regarded as an academic and an intellectual by many of his peers and a large section of the public.

I'm pretty sure if he was cherry picking data to draw false conclusions, then peer review would shoot him down in no time. Or are things less bloody in the softer sciences? Any UKC academics want to pitch in on this?
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wbo - on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:
not an academic and not a social scientist but there are some professors, academics well placed in geology who talk some absolute guff and have fundamental misunderstandings of things they talk about

Aside from that personally I think I have much to be very optimistic about. You can't worry about everything all the time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be concerned about some things, and if it bothers you try to do what you can about it
Post edited at 22:10
BrendanO - on 26 Dec 2017
In reply to JEF:

> Cheddar cheese and pickle

> A decent motor cycle

> Slap and tickle

I believe that's a VINCENT motorcycle...

...but I may have been mistaken for years
RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:
> Sorry, I don't understand your argument there. If you accept that violence has declined, how can Pinker's claim that humans have become less violent be bollocks? He does explain at some length that *impulses* to violence may not have declined, but violent outcomes have declined due to a number of factors, such as legal frameworks that give the state a monopoly on violence. I'm not sure he mentions altruism at all.

Yes he does that’s the central theme of his argument. At least in his book.
The biggest problem with his theory his that he essentially cherry picks a few examples of violent behaviours and says it has declined.
You could cherry pick others and say it has increased.

I have no problem with this analysis, it is useful to say that this or that type of violent behaviour has declined or increased.

But the grand theory about humanity entering some new age of altruism and enlightenment, sorry, but he just doesn’t know that.

Yes, industrial scale conflicts between great powers seem to have declined, but a major factor us probably the balance of nuclear terror more than than anything else, instead proxy wars have developped.



Post edited at 06:07
RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:
> Christ, you critics of Pinker must have awesome qualifications of your own to be so dismissive. Obviously Harvard just dish out professorships to any Tom, Dick or Harry who can make a headline.

He wouldn’t be the first talented academic to make up stuff in popular books to make a few bucks...
Post edited at 05:59
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Rob Exile Ward on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

Better Angels is part of a wider scientific world view that explores how much our behaviour is hard wired, as opposed to the view (fashionable and politically correct when I was a student) that we were born blank skates and therefore infinitely malleable.
RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:
> Better Angels is part of a wider scientific world view that explores how much our behaviour is hard wired, as opposed to the view (fashionable and politically correct when I was a student) that we were born blank skates and therefore infinitely malleable.

Don’t you see that this type of pseudo scientific bollocks Pinker and the others are selling you is of exactly the same kind as what we sold to you when you were a student ?

Just slightly better adapted as to whatever the zeitgeist is today.
Post edited at 09:18
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Stichtplate on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
> Yes he does that’s the central theme of his argument. At least in his book.

No he doesn't . Its a few years since I read it but I can't remember him banging on about altruism at all. Read the subtitle (usually a good indication of an authors central theme).

> The biggest problem with his theory his that he essentially cherry picks a few examples of violent behaviours and says it has declined.

> You could cherry pick others and say it has increased.

Go on then, dazzle us.


> But the grand theory about humanity entering some new age of altruism and enlightenment, sorry, but he just doesn’t know that.

He doesn't put forward that as his "grand theory".

I don't think you've read his book.

I think you didn't get what you wanted for Christmas and now you're a grumpy bear.

Edit: I like his "pseudo-scientific bollocks", but then I'm probably a bit thick for proper science books like the ones what you must read all the time.
Post edited at 09:47
RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Stichtplate:
> No he doesn't . Its a few years since I read it but I can't remember him banging on about altruism a all. Read the subtitle (usually a good indication of an authors central theme).

Well he does. That was the central theme of the book, that civilisation and the enlightenment are the cause for a relative decline in violence.

I don’t know how he comes to this conclusion with his data.
That’s the problem I find with all his books. He cherry picks datasets and then makes a point from them that goes well beyond what you can say from the data.

> Go on then, dazzle us.

Don’t you see that many things that we consider brutal and barbaric were completely normal 200 years ago ?
By using our current definition you’ll of course always find some decline.


> He doesn't put forward that as his "grand theory".

> I don't think you've read his book.

> I think you didn't get what you wanted for Christmas and now you're a grumpy bear.

Not grumpy, just saddened that people are swallowing this bollocking as truth. It’s always the same pattern with these type of “thinkers”. Cool and trendy now, will be seen as deluded in 20 years.

A more simple, down to earth, explanation for the decline in the relative proportion of violent death has more to do with the nuclear balance of terror between the great powers and the fact that the demographic explosion has outstripped the pace of violent death.

But then again you can make up any theory you want. The reality is that he has no clue. Tomorrow North Korea could launch a missile and start a nuclear war and Pinker’s theory will lie in the dust with all of us. We just don’t have a clue.
Post edited at 10:11
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Stichtplate on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
> Well he does. That was the central theme of the book, that civilisation and the enlightenment are the cause for a relative decline in violence.

I see that you've edited out of your post now but what you actually said is that his central theme was an increase in altruism. This was emphatically bollocks Rom.

> I don’t know how he comes to this conclusion with his data.

Well I'd suggest that you actually read it rather than just spouting off.


> Don’t you see that many things that we consider brutal and barbaric were completely normal 200 years ago ?

Yes I do, Pinker talks about this an awful lot in his book (which you'd have known if you'd read it).

> By using our current definition you’ll of course always find some decline.

I wasn't aware that the definition of violence had changed.


> A more simple, down to earth, explanation for the decline in the relative proportion of violent death has more to do with the nuclear balance of terror between the great powers and the fact that the demographic explosion has outstripped the pace of violent death.

Yet more evidence that you haven't read it. His central theme is the decline of violence at a personal level, not a geo-political one.

Read the book Rom, it's actually very good.
Post edited at 10:30
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RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Stichtplate:
>

> I see that you've edited out of your post now but what you actually said is that his central theme was an increase in altruism. This was emphatically bollocks Rom.

> Yet more evidence that you haven't read it. His central theme is the decline of violence at a personal level, not a geo-political one.

You’ve just contradicted yourself, but never mind...

In any case, whatever you think his main point was, the stats and the data have been widely debunked and formally refuted. And even if they were not, you can’t take the conclusions he makes from the data anyway.
Post edited at 11:04
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JEF on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to BrendanO:

> I believe that's a VINCENT motorcycle...

> ...but I may have been mistaken for years

You’re right! I just googled the lyrics (must try to get out more)
Thrudge on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
> Don’t you see that many things that we consider brutal and barbaric were completely normal 200 years ago ?
> By using our current definition you’ll of course always find some decline.

That's true, of course, but what definition would you use apart from the current one? I don't see any sense in using an archaic one. You seem to be arguing Pinker's case for him here, by maintaining that violence has indeed declined.
Post edited at 13:05
RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:
> That's true, of course, but what definition would you use apart from the current one? I don't see any sense in using an archaic one. You seem to be arguing Pinker's case for him here, by maintaining that violence has indeed declined.

I have already said that I don’t really have a problem with his claim that some forms of violence, as he defines them quite narrowly, has declined in the sample of data he uses.

I just don’t think we can read much more into it than that.

If you see a decline in the % of war-related death over a period of time, that’s great, we can say this percentage of type of death has declined over this period of time.
But it doesn’t really tell us anything about any kind of change in human nature or civilisation. These are just unproven potential explanations. And that’s absolutely fine I have no problem with it, I have a problem with it when you try to pass it as scientific truth.

That’s generally the problem with many of Pinkers books, and the myriad of pseudo “scientists” of his kind. They cherry pick a few data points, draw a regression line, and then make a conclusion that can’t be inferred from this data. Usually the one that people want to hear and will want to buy...
Post edited at 14:05
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Rob Exile Ward on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

Why not read the book - and maybe some others, like the Language Instinct and How The Mind Works, which all form a meticulously researched, peer reviewed coherent view of who we are and how we function - and then point out some ACTUAL flaws in his arguments. Which of course exist, but you haven't cited any yet.
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Jon Stewart - on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
I am completely unconvinced by your half-baked/unformed critique of Pinker. He's a respected academic who has made a big contribution to linguistics. Your claim that he writes vacuous arguments for money doesn't ring true at all - he writes in great detail on topics that cannot seriously be claimed to be money spinners.

You don't have to agree with him. In Better Angels he's making an argument and presenting evidence for it, and as a work of social science it's never going to be "right" or "wrong". The argument is either well supported and compelling, or it is weak.

Your view is that it is weak, and that's fine, but haven't presented any good reasons. The stuff you say about cherry picked data points with a regression line is just fatuous garbage. That is not how he makes the argument. Rather than being "widely debunked" the statistical analysis underpinning Better Angels was challenged and there was a very detailed public spat which went way above my head.

If you have compelling critique of Better Angels (or The Blank Slate, or How The Mind Works) or can direct me to one, then that's really interesting. But nothing you've said makes me think you've got a critique at all, more that you just disagree with something you think he believes on some emotional or political level, and so you dismiss the man with empty ad hom attacks without actually knowing anything about what your talking about.
Post edited at 19:21
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RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> I am completely unconvinced by your half-baked/unformed critique of Pinker. He's a respected academic who has made a big contribution to linguistics. Your claim that he writes vacuous arguments for money doesn't ring true at all - he writes in great detail on topics that cannot seriously be claimed to be money spinners.

Really ? Interesting isn’t it that most of the topics he writes on for perfectly with the current political mood in the Anglosphere...

> You don't have to agree with him. In Better Angels he's making an argument and presenting evidence for it, and as a work of social science it's never going to be "right" or "wrong". The argument is either well supported and compelling, or it is weak.

The argument is not well supported by the evidence in my view. And the evidence is weak anyway.

> Your view is that it is weak, and that's fine, but haven't presented any good reasons. The stuff you say about cherry picked data points with a regression line is just fatuous garbage. That is not how he makes the argument.

It pretty much is, unfortunately. He takes a bunch of datasets, says this has gone up, this has gone down, and draws conclusions from it that are far larger than what you can assert from the data.

I am not denying that this is all well written and well packaged. Which is why it works.

> Rather than being "widely debunked" the statistical analysis underpinning Better Angels was challenged and there was a very detailed public spat which went way above my head.

It was formally, mathematically, demonstrated to be statistically irrelevant. Which is kind of embarassing when it’s the central piece of evidence underpinning your theory.

> If you have compelling critique of Better Angels (or The Blank Slate, or How The Mind Works) or can direct me to one, then that's really interesting. But nothing you've said makes me think you've got a critique at all, more that you just disagree with something you think he believes on some emotional or political level, and so you dismiss the man with empty ad hom attacks without actually knowing anything about what your talking about.

You don’t get it. I’m not saying he is wrong. I am saying he can’t make the argument he makes based on the data he has.

That’s the problem I have with these social “scientists”, who are basically not scientists at all, and are systematically proven to be wrong...

To be clear I have no issues with people making assumptions and theories about the world, I have a problem when they try to sell it a some sort of scientific truth.

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RomTheBear on 27 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:
> Why not read the book - and maybe some others, like the Language Instinct and How The Mind Works, which all form a meticulously researched, peer reviewed coherent view of who we are and how we function - and then point out some ACTUAL flaws in his arguments. Which of course exist, but you haven't cited any yet.

I’ve cited already many obvious, massive flaws, if you go up the thread, which have been made by others more competent than me.
But that’s not really my criticism really, my problem is with the way he misuses the data.

I’ve not read How The Mind Works so won’t comment on that.
Post edited at 22:11
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Eric9Points - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

You haven't cited anything, you made a number of unsupported assertions.

Why not go back to the book, which you've obviously read and pick out a specific example of the cherry picking you accuse him of? I'd be really interested.
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RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Eric9Points:
> You haven't cited anything, you made a number of unsupported assertions.

I’ve not made any assertions. I repeat I am not saying he is wrong, I am saying he can’t make the conclusion he makes from the data he has.

> Why not go back to the book, which you've obviously read and pick out a specific example of the cherry picking you accuse him of? I'd be really interested.

Example of cherry picking ? For example why chose to build the main argument around war death statistics ? Why chose to look at the relative number of those death and not absolute numbers ? Why cherry picks some events and period of time ?

You could make other choices, such at looking at indirect deaths from conflict, or any other measure for that matter, and tell a completely different story.
In any case, even if you agree with his choice of dataset, the statistics are wrong, the trend he uses to empirically justify his “long peace” is not statistically significant and is based on a misunderstanding of the probability distribution...


Like many “thinkers” of his type, at least in this book, it seems to me that he desperately tries to find causality and pattern in random events.
Post edited at 10:52
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RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Eric9Points:

http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/violencenobelsymposium.pdf

Read it and let me know what you think.
Thrudge on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
> That’s the problem I have with these social “scientists”, who are basically not scientists at all, and are systematically proven to be wrong...

> To be clear I have no issues with people making assumptions and theories about the world, I have a problem when they try to sell it a some sort of scientific truth.

That seems to be a bit of a catch-all statement. I understand that social scientists are not in the same category as, say, physicists, and for very good reasons. But is it really true to say that social scientists have always been proven wrong, or that they are unable to derive scientific truths? If it is, then it follows that they a) have never contributed anything of value, and b) that the inherent nature of the subject prevents them from doing so. I'd be astonished if either of those were true. (Apologies if I've misinterpreted your argument - I'm not trying to be clever, I'm trying to understand your point of view).

I'd like to ask a question, if I may. Here's a similarly upbeat message from Hans Rosling, backed up with statistical data (12 minutes long):

https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_at_state#t-455083

Would you take issue with Rosling on this matter?
Post edited at 13:53
Jon Stewart - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
There are deep technical arguments on both sides. I'm baffled as to why you take such a cut and dried view, describing pinker as "proven wrong" and then launching a ridiculous ad hom about his venal motives.
Post edited at 13:53
RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:
> That seems to be a bit of a catch-all statement. I understand that social scientists are not in the same category as, say, physicists, and for very good reasons. But is it really true to say that social scientists have always been proven wrong, or that they are unable to derive scientific truths? If it is, then it follows that they a) have never contributed anything of value, and b) that the inherent nature of the subject prevents them from doing so. I'd be astonished if either of those were true. (Apologies if I've misinterpreted your argument - I'm not trying to be clever, I'm trying to understand your point of view).

To be clear I don’t think they are useless at all, or that they always have to be wrong. But if they are wrong so often is probably because of the fact that they speculate. Which all fine and good with me, this is a good thing as long as you make it clear you are speculating. However when they start misusing statistics to try to give a pseudo scientific allure to their theory that when it bugs me...


> I'd like to ask a question, if I may. Here's a similarly upbeat message from Hans Rosling, backed up with statistical data (12 minutes long):


Completely different message though. The points Rosling makes are based on sound and relevant stastistical observations, and they do not go beyond what the data tells us, that’s key. And I certainly do not take issue with it.

Just to be clear I don’t have anything against the upbeat message of pinker, and he may be correct, it’s just that the data does not allow to say either way. As a bit of a data nerd given that this is sort of my job, this type of nonsense pisses me off ;-)
Post edited at 14:32
RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Jon Stewart:
> There are deep technical arguments on both sides. I'm baffled as to why you take such a cut and dried view, describing pinker as "proven wrong" and then launching a ridiculous ad hom about his venal motives.

Given that I’ve not done either that’s a moot point.
I’ve repeatedly said that he may well be correct, but the data does not support his theory, the data we have does not allow to say either way. That I am quite certain of, call it a “cut and dry” view if you like, that’s a mathematical certainty.
Venal motives, I don’t know, but clearly he is making good money out of it...
Post edited at 14:23
Stichtplate on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

Rom, he’s trying to draw comparisons from stuff like murder rates in medieval Europe and levels of violence in hunter gatherer societies. This stuff is not an exact science.
Anecdotally, in my lifetime child and wife beating along with a post pub punch up, have gone from everyday to a rare occurrence. Would you not agree ? Would this not support Pinker’s central theme?
Thrudge on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

Thanks for such a clear answer, it's much appreciated.
L 8A machine elf - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Stichtplate:
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/07/men-killed-900-women-six-years-england-wales-figures...

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to domestic abuse and i do nt know if you read tabloids but they are full of court cases and reports of stabbings,murders,gbh,rapes etc and that is every single day you will see this so much so that it is now normal to read of these absolutely horrific crimes every single day.
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Dr.S at work - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to 8A machine elf:

Its true that there is too much, but its also true there is less than there used to be.
Jon Stewart - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

The critique of his analysis is not a mathematical certainty, it's a critique to which he has responded in excruciating detail. You have to really know your coconuts in order to take a view on it. It's way over my head, and I'm scientifically trained (but with only a bit of statistical knowledge).

And you said that you wouldn't listen to anything pinker says because he will say anything for money. If that ain't a ridiculous ad hom, then please, what is?
balmybaldwin - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

Lord Ashcroft has incurred some unusual expenses: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-42505903
RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Jon Stewart:
> The critique of his analysis is not a mathematical certainty, it's a critique to which he has responded in excruciating detail.

Yes, it’s pretty clear to me that the trend he depicts is not stastistically significant. It’s been demonstrated in details.

He responded to it by essentially saying that the statistics was not the important bit... which is a way of admitting that it was incorrect.

> You have to really know your coconuts in order to take a view on it.

And yet it seems you have a pretty strong view on it...

> And you said that you wouldn't listen to anything pinker says because he will say anything for money. If that ain't a ridiculous ad hom, then please, what is?

I’ve not said that at all. You seem determined to attribute me an absolutist position but that’s not the case.
Post edited at 18:44
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Rob Exile Ward on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

'Like many “thinkers” of his type, at least in this book, it seems to me that he desperately tries to find causality and pattern in random events.'

Yes indeed, just like that charlatan Darwin, tried exactly the same scam. But you're too smart for these so-called 'scientists', eh, what do they know?
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RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:
> 'Like many “thinkers” of his type, at least in this book, it seems to me that he desperately tries to find causality and pattern in random events.'

> Yes indeed, just like that charlatan Darwin, tried exactly the same scam. But you're too smart for these so-called 'scientists', eh, what do they know?

Darwin did exactly the opposite, but never mind...

If you want to believe in Pinker’s “long peace” absolutely fine, and in fact it may be true, just don’t fool yourself that there is any evidence for it because there just isn’t.
Post edited at 18:56
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RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Stichtplate:

> Rom, he’s trying to draw comparisons from stuff like murder rates in medieval Europe and levels of violence in hunter gatherer societies. This stuff is not an exact science.

Well that’s the problem he tries to make it look like science.
Essentially, what he is doing, is putting apples and oranges in a time series and pretend the trend means something... they are not even dependent events ffs..

Sorry but I call bollocks.
2
Jon Stewart - on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> Yes, it’s pretty clear to me that the trend he depicts is not stastistically significant. It’s been demonstrated in details.

> He responded to it by essentially saying that the statistics was not the important bit... which is a way of admitting that it was incorrect.

My reading of it was that there was an ongoing academic debate and different experts took different views.

> And yet it seems you have a pretty strong view on it...

Where have I expressed a strong view on it? All I've done is object to your completely incorrect painting of Pinker as someone who doesn't know what he's talking about.

> I’ve not said that at all. You seem determined to attribute me an absolutist position but that’s not the case.

"Anyway, I wouldn’t take Pinker seriously, he’ll say anything to self promote."

You're very frustrating.

2
RomTheBear on 28 Dec 2017
In reply to Jon Stewart:
> My reading of it was that there was an ongoing academic debate and different experts took different views.

> Where have I expressed a strong view on it? All I've done is object to your completely incorrect painting of Pinker as someone who doesn't know what he's talking about

On this particular issue of the “long peace” trend he doesn’t. What he has is a nice theory. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he talking about on other fronts, of course.

He is a far too intelligent person to not realise the obvious flaws in his more “political” writings. That implies dishonesty, or at the very least, a lack of humility.

Post edited at 19:40
2
Rob Exile Ward on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

No he didn't, he looked at a huge range of organisms that many people at that time were randomly organised - or created by God, each independent of the other - then developed a theory as to how they came about and how they were related.
Funnily enough Pinker isn't that clear about why change in our attitudes to violence, torture, individual freedoms etc and so on have come about. Just that they have. From memory factors like reading, the decline of religion, rise of scientific method have all played their part.
However you'd know that if you'd actually read the book!
1
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:
> No he didn't, he looked at a huge range of organisms that many people at that time were randomly organised - or created by God, each independent of the other - then developed a theory as to how they came about and how they were related.

> Funnily enough Pinker isn't that clear about why change in our attitudes to violence, torture, individual freedoms etc and so on have come about. Just that they have. From memory factors like reading, the decline of religion, rise of scientific method have all played their part.

Which is a fine theory, just not supported by the data. The data he shows does not allow to say that conflicts have reduced over time. How many time do we need to say this. The trend is not stastically significant.
Post edited at 11:44
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RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

> No he didn't, he looked at a huge range of organisms that many people at that time were randomly organised - or created by God, each independent of the other - then developed a theory as to how they came about and how they were related.

Yes, exactly, a theory which has been found to be true time and time again when tested against the empirical data.

You can’t say remotely the same of Pinker’s theory, its not tested, not proven, just that, a theory.


2
Just Another Dave - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Thrudge:

> I haven't; thanks for the tip.

I have.
Everyone should.
Just Another Dave - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Toccata:

> . In science we ask a question and look for the answer. In social anthropology they choose an answer and try to prove it.

I still trust that Pinker is much more the scientist that social anthropologist.
Just Another Dave - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:


> A more simple, down to earth, explanation for the decline in the relative proportion of violent death has more to do with the nuclear balance of terror between the great powers and the fact that the demographic explosion has outstripped the pace of violent death.

And how does that explain the decline in interpersonal one-on-one violence, muggings, rapes etc..?

> But then again you can make up any theory you want. The reality is that he has no clue. Tomorrow North Korea could launch a missile and start a nuclear war and Pinker’s theory will lie in the dust with all of us.

No it won't. A single event doesn't change the pattern of a general trend.
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Just Another Dave:
> And how does that explain the decline in interpersonal one-on-one violence, muggings, rapes etc..?

It doesn’t. It’s a moot point.
First you would have to define “one of one violence” which will almost always involve a form of cherry picking. Depending on what you decide to include or exclude, depending on how you would weigh each type, you can probably make any trend you like.

Then you would have to show that there that there has been a statistically significant decline.
Admitting you find it, you then have to find evidence establishing causality.

> No it won't. A single event doesn't change the pattern of a general trend.

Yes a single event can change a trend.
If today you have ten pounds in your wallet, and tomorrow you have 20, that’s an upward trend. If the day after you spend it and have zero, there is no upward trend anymore.
As you can see it’s not enough to have a trend, it has to be statistically significant.

As a matter of fact if you remove single events in Pinker’s highly cherry picked dataset of war death, depending on the one you decide to remove, you can change the the trend.
Post edited at 14:22
1
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Just Another Dave:

> I still trust that Pinker is much more the scientist that social anthropologist.

Indeed, he should stick to doing science, he's good at that. Instead of doing journalism and passing it as science.
Bob Kemp - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:


> Anyway, I wouldn’t take Pinker seriously, he’ll say anything to self promote.
Classic ad hominem attack. I thought you were a scientist?
Bob Kemp - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> Indeed, he should stick to doing science, he's good at that. Instead of doing journalism and passing it as science.

Looks like you're making the assumption that there is just science and journalism. Maybe you should remember there are other forms of valid debate than pure science. Reasoned argument is not a bad thing. When it comes to arguing about levels of violence it's worth considering how biased our perceptions of violence in the world are. We consistently forget about what Steven J. Gould (a scientist...) said about 'ten thousand ordinary acts of kindness that define our days'. And that's something that I suspect no amount of statistical data will ever codify.

(If anyone's interested, and I think it's very relevant to this thread, Gould's fantastic piece about violence in humanity is cited on this web page - http://condor.depaul.edu/mfiddler/hyphen/gould-humanature.htm )
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Bob Kemp:

> Looks like you're making the assumption that there is just science and journalism. Maybe you should remember there are other forms of valid debate than pure science. Reasoned argument is not a bad thing.

I completely, totally, agree with you.
My problem is with people who use “fake” science and misuse data to try to pretend their theory have scientific value.


1
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Bob Kemp:

> Classic ad hominem attack. I thought you were a scientist?

Just my opinion of him after having read some of his books and watched some of his interventions . It may be that he is an honest incompetent but given his credentials, it’s unlikely.
2
Bob Kemp - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> I completely, totally, agree with you.

> My problem is with people who use “fake” science and misuse data to try to pretend their theory have scientific value.

I can understand that, but 'Better Angels' is an 800-page book - I don't see how you can dismiss all his evidence without having read it. I haven't read it either, so I'm not going to give an opinion as to how unscientific it is, or the extent to which he's cherry-picked his evidence. From what I've read about it, it isn't so much a scientific as a historical work, and should be judged by the kinds of standards that historians use, which aren't the same as those used in pure science.
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Bob Kemp:
> I can understand that, but 'Better Angels' is an 800-page book - I don't see how you can dismiss all his evidence without having read it.

I’ve read most of it.

> I haven't read it either, so I'm not going to give an opinion as to how unscientific it is, or the extent to which he's cherry-picked his evidence. From what I've read about it, it isn't so much a scientific as a historical work, and should be judged by the kinds of standards that historians use, which aren't the same as those used in pure science.

It’s not because you’re not doing pure science that it’s a good idea to misuse and bend data to suit your agenda.

The whole point of his book is to explain why violence has, allegedly, declined in human history.
Well sorry, but I see it as a bit of a massive issue that the data doesn’t even allow to say that violence has, indeed, declined in human history.
Post edited at 16:00
Stichtplate on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:
>
> First you would have to define “one of one violence” which will almost always involve a form of cherry picking. Depending on what you decide to include or exclude, depending on how you would weigh each type, you can probably make any trend you like.

It doesn't involve cherry picking because his book attempts to take a holistic look at violence in society as a whole, from setting fire to cats as entertainment, to murder, to state sanctioned torture.

You say you've read most of this book. from your arguments it seems more likely you've read a poor synopsis of it.
Post edited at 16:05
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Stichtplate:
> It doesn't involve cherry picking because his book attempts to take a holistic look at violence in society as a whole, from setting fire to cats as entertainment, to murder, to state sanctioned torture.

Which is completely impossible to do and inevitably involves cherry picking and heuristic choices.
In any case, as I said, even if you believe he has not cherry picked, the analysis is fraudulent.

> You say you've read most of this book. from your arguments it seems more likely you've read a poor synopsis of it.

And from yours isn’t seems more likely that you either have not read it, or completely missed the main point.
Post edited at 16:09
1
Stichtplate on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

Whatever Rom, further up thread (before you edited it out) you claimed his main point was an increase in altruism. You then claimed I'd contradicted myself as you seemed to think being altruistic was the same thing as not being violent.

You normally manage to string a half decent argument together from scant Knowledge of the subject but not in this case .
1
RomTheBear on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to Stichtplate:
> Whatever Rom, further up thread (before you edited it out) you claimed his main point was an increase in altruism. You then claimed I'd contradicted myself as you seemed to think being altruistic was the same thing as not being violent.

Absurd comment from your part.
The aim of his book is to explain why violence has declined.
One of the main cause he invokes for this alledged decrease is an increase in altruism due to a range of factors.

I don’t see any contradiction here, in fact you said the same thing yourself.

I am pointing out that he cherry picked the violent acts he chose to report. Moreover there is simply no stastictically significant trend showing that the range of violent acts that he has cherry picked have decreased over human history.

Some people way smarter than I have made the same relatively straightforward observations but in more details with formal proof, but never mind, keep believing your messiah if it suits you.
Post edited at 16:32
1
Bob Kemp - on 29 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> Which is completely impossible to do and inevitably involves cherry picking and heuristic choices.

> In any case, as I said, even if you believe he has not cherry picked, the analysis is fraudulent.

> And from yours isn’t seems more likely that you either have not read it, or completely missed the main point.

Maybe I’ve missed it but your criticisms so far seem to be pretty example-free. I was wondering if you could give any examples of Pinker’s cherry-picking?
Rob Exile Ward on 30 Dec 2017
In reply to Bob Kemp:

This thread is almost perfect. Rom has spent a significant amount of time criticising a non-existent theory that doesn't appear in a book he hasn't read, by an author whose work he is obviously unfamiliar with but is happy to denigrate anyway.

The real question is ... Why?
1
Eric9Points - on 30 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

He did say he'd read most of the book.
Rob Exile Ward on 30 Dec 2017
In reply to Eric9Points:

Then he would know what's in it, which patently he doesn't. E.g. there IS no theory of 'increasing altruism'; he chooses murder as a marker for violent behaviour because there are good stats going back hundreds of years; and the proportion of populations killed in wars is well attested and corroborated.

It's fascinating stuff.
1
L 8A machine elf - on 31 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

I havent read his book so could you tell me his conclusions as to why HE says we are less violent ?
Is it based on anything political in his conclusion ie.Capitalism or socialism ?
Stichtplate on 31 Dec 2017
In reply to 8A machine elf:

It's a while since I read it, but all kinds of stuff; development of a state monopoly on violence/comprehensive justice system, most people becoming separated from everyday acts of violence (eg. killing for food), the printing press allowing the mass production of novels which fostered empathetic feeling for total strangers.
As I said all kinds of factors. You could probably boil it down to people becoming less beastly as life became less bestial.
RomTheBear on 31 Dec 2017
In reply to Bob Kemp:
> Maybe I’ve missed it but your criticisms so far seem to be pretty example-free. I was wondering if you could give any examples of Pinker’s cherry-picking?

I've given many examples already...
Much of his empirical data allegedly supporting his argument that violence has declined over time is focusing mostly on cherry picked types of violence, typically those he has any data for. He focuses quite strongly on declining deaths on he battlefields, for example, but when you includes deaths indirectly caused by war outside of the battlefield the picture changes dramatically.

But even then, even if you consider the datasets he has selected are not cheery picked, for the most part the civilisational trends towards less violence does not appear in the data in any statistically significant way.
A more objective interpretation of the data is simply that it appears that violence seem to peak and decline at normally distributed intervals of time.

Just to be clear again, Pinker may correct, we may be entering the "long peace" as he calls it, and his theory is beautifully argued, very popular, and sells very well.

But just not really supported by empirical data, that I think, has been debunked quite extensively. Pinker pretty much admitted indirectly himself by downplaying the importance of the statistics in his book.

But somehow pointing out a problem that the author admitted himself is worth the contempt of some of Pinker's UKC groupies...
Post edited at 11:28
3
RomTheBear on 31 Dec 2017
In reply to Rob Exile Ward:

> Then he would know what's in it, which patently he doesn't. E.g. there IS no theory of 'increasing altruism';

There is , on of his main argument is that civilisational and cultural advances impacts the balance of negative human faculties (reventge, violence etc etc), and positive one (altruism, empathy), in a positive way.

Maybe you just need to read that book again.

> he chooses murder as a marker for violent behaviour because there are good stats going back hundreds of years;

Picking a few stats just because we have good data for them is cherry picking.
It's probably impossible to show empirically that violence has declined over human history, as he claims. For that you would need a consistent, formal definition of violence and reliable statistics on all forms of violence going back thousands of years. We simply don't have this.

> and the proportion of populations killed in wars is well attested and corroborated.

Not even that is. In any case, it doesn't tell you whether violence has declined.

> It's fascinating stuff.

it is.
2
Stichtplate on 31 Dec 2017
In reply

> But somehow pointing out a problem that the author admitted himself is worth the contempt of some of Pinker's UKC groupies...


It’s not contempt Rom, it’s bemusement. As has been pointed out many times, by many posters

YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK.

However, you’ve been giving myself and 2 other people I’m with who have, a good chortle over the last couple of days, so you’re forgiven on grounds of entertainment value.
1
Bob Kemp - on 31 Dec 2017
In reply to RomTheBear:

> I've given many examples already...
I don't remember anything really specific.

> Much of his empirical data allegedly supporting his argument that violence has declined over time is focusing mostly on cherry picked types of violence, typically those he has any data for. He focuses quite strongly on declining deaths on he battlefields, for example, but when you includes deaths indirectly caused by war outside of the battlefield the picture changes dramatically.
Using the only available data is not the same thing as cherry-picking. That implies some kind of more or less deliberate manipulation. Looking at the available evidence is all that a historical study can do. If you want to criticise, I suggest over-claiming from the available evidence looks more valid.

> But even then, even if you consider the datasets he has selected are not cheery picked, for the most part the civilisational trends towards less violence does not appear in the data in any statistically significant way.

> A more objective interpretation of the data is simply that it appears that violence seem to peak and decline at normally distributed intervals of time.
I presume you think your interpretation is more objective. Given your apparent dislike for Pinker's book - see below - I wonder how we can trust this?

> Just to be clear again, Pinker may correct, we may be entering the "long peace" as he calls it, and his theory is beautifully argued, very popular, and sells very well.
You seem to have a real problem with the idea that he should have the temerity to sell something well. I'm not sure why.

> But just not really supported by empirical data, that I think, has been debunked quite extensively.
Who by? Taleb? Have you seen Pinker's response to Taleb's 'debunking'?

Pinker pretty much admitted indirectly himself by downplaying the importance of the statistics in his book.
So he didn't over-claim either?

> But somehow pointing out a problem that the author admitted himself is worth the contempt of some of Pinker's UKC groupies...
Now now... there's your prejudice showing again!

Happy New Year anyway!
RomTheBear on 01 Jan 2018
In reply to Bob Kemp:
> I don't remember anything really specific.

> Using the only available data is not the same thing as cherry-picking. That implies some kind of more or less deliberate manipulation. Looking at the available evidence is all that a historical study can do. If you want to criticise,

Sure, don’t call it cherry picking, call it something else, like making assumptions from incomplete evidence.

> I suggest over-claiming from the available evidence looks more valid.

It is EXACTLY the point I’m trying to put across. He is over claiming for the available evidence.



> I presume you think your interpretation is more objective. Given your apparent dislike for Pinker's book - see below - I wonder how we can trust this?

> You seem to have a real problem with the idea that he should have the temerity to sell something well. I'm not sure why.

No, I have no problem with that. I have a problem, however, when they try to pretend it’s science and not fiction.

> Who by? Taleb? Have you seen Pinker's response to Taleb's 'debunking'?

Taleb and many others. Pinker’s response was effectively a way to say “well, you are correct, but the statistics in the book are very few and not that important”.
Actually if you read the book, the stats are everywhere and they are central to the argumeny. it is subjective of course but it is the impression I get.

> Pinker pretty much admitted indirectly himself by downplaying the importance of the statistics in his book.
> So he didn't over-claim either?

We’ll he did admit he over claimed. after the book was published.

> Now now... there's your prejudice showing again!

Not a prejudice, just a simple observation that you seem to be even less receptive to perfectly reasonable criticism of the book than Pinker himself.

Why is that, I really don’t know.
Post edited at 03:28
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Bob Kemp - on 01 Jan 2018
In reply to RomTheBear

> No, I have no problem with that. I have a problem, however, when they try to pretend it’s science and not fiction.
See below...

> Not a prejudice, just a simple observation that you seem to be even less receptive to perfectly reasonable criticism of the book than Pinker himself.

> Why is that, I really don’t know
I have no problem with reasonable criticism of this book. If I’d read it I’m sure I could find flaws with it - big books of this nature are often too wide-ranging to sustain all their arguments effectively. Perhaps you should confine yourself to reasonable criticism. Instead you personalise your criticism with ad hominem attacks and you seem to confuse history with science. These things detract from your better points.
Duncan Bourne - on 01 Jan 2018
In reply to Thrudge:

Interesting. I think the information he produces shows less tolerance of violence within Westernised society. Although that may also correspond to a general increase in wealth and security. People tend to be less violent in areas where they are educated and less at the mercy of events (ie health care, housing and welfare programmes). I hope he is right though the 20th century still ranks as one of the most violent in history in terms of conflicts (World War II being number one in terms of the numbers of people killed when corrected for percentage of population and duration. While I believe that we are, in general, less violent and more tolerant than in the past there is no reason to be complacent.
In reply to Thrudge:

Kind of strange but if it is true then good news.
elsewhere on 08 Jan 2018
In reply to Thrudge:
Interesting video with a good historical case (to me).

He mentions history a lot but I don't think he mentions science once so seems strange to criticise on scientific grounds, see transcript.

http://www.yousubtitles.com/A-History-of-Violence-Steven-Pinker-at-TEDxNewEngland-id-495795
Post edited at 16:47

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