2007-05-13

Fact and Consensus: Argumentum ad Populum

The notion of consensus has been appearing a fair bit recently in attempts to prove things or persuade people. As an example, global warming advocates like Al Gore have been claiming consensus among climate scientists that current Earth climate change is human-caused and destructive, hence requiring immediate action.

I've been quite familiar with that type of argument form for some time. Opponents of mine have frequently claimed "everyone believes X" when I'm saying something contrary to X. "Everyone" in that case, of course, refers to the small active population of web boards such as SDN.

It's a neat trick, really, since when stated to an uninformed audience such a thing can sound convincing.

It is obvious that the SDN treatment of dissent is no coincidence, when viewed in that light. Dissenting opinions are shuffled off into private forums, invisible to non-members. Dissenters themselves have been banned, spammed, harrassed, and even threatened. The very climate of well-poisoning vitriol and personal attacks also serves to keep potential dissenters away. And opposition elsewhere on the internet is sought out and attacked via board invasions, wiki-wars, 'sock puppets', and even occasional legal threats. Interested parties even moderate other boards on similar topics, with members of both holding the party line elsewhere. And let's not forget, of course, that even SW authors are attacked and maligned across the internet if they fail to subscribe to SDN views.

And this, so we're told, is consensus of opinion.

I think not. Even if one thinks consensus is important, one does not build it by such action. Ancient kings might've built a consensus that divine right existed, but they did so by slaughtering those who disagreed. That's not consensus at all, except in an ironic sense.

But even if we grant the claim of consensus, let's not kid ourselves that consensus is a determinant in matters of fact.

Truth is not determined by the number of adherents. That includes the collective opinion of a consensus. If everyone on Earth believed that 1+1=3, there would be consensus. However, the consensus opinion would be wrong.

Consensus is what is sought when there is ignorance. In jurisprudence, we could not know the facts with certainty, so consensus of peers was employed. Creating the appearance of consensus is also useful for swinging uninformed public opinion, which is why spin doctors try to claim that everyone believes such-and-such.

This, of course, is nothing new. Hence the fallacy of argumentum ad populam, or the appeal to the belief of the masses.

(Of course, one might argue that for this to be labelled a fallacy, it has been recognized as such by a group of logicians and thinkers through time, and as such could be wrong since that determination has been made by consensus. However, in doing so, one acknowledges that it's a fallacy anyway.)

Most of the above is not new to my readers, but the following is. A very nice and much more interesting take on the matter, the following link refers to a Parliament of Clocks. Much as a stopped clock is falsely said to be right twice a day when in reality it's just lucky, so too is a Parliament of Clocks misunderstood by laypeople:

http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/004879.html

(Incidentally, it's worth noting something tangentially relevant here. One SDN member quotes a statement of mine wherein I note that one does not determine fact by use of persuasive essays, but instead by reason. This quotation of me is apparently used to suggest that I'm a silly person, which is of course true. However, it's not true because I made that statement.

Persuasion occurs via many channels, and many forms of appeal. Appeals to authority, mass belief, emotion, and all manner of other things are valid when one seeks only to persuade. However, matters of fact are not determined with those. Reason is the only arbiter of fact. Write as many persuasive essays as you like, turn as many ears to your message as you can, but don't think for an instant that having people agree on that basis means that your position is factually accurate.)

42 comments:

  1. No, you're silly because you think we all can't see you're really a rabid left winger. :-P

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  2. Che is my hero. Chavez, too. I'm seriously considering relocating the ST-v-SW.Net home base to Venezuela. More oil . . . less scruples . . . it'll be great.

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  3. Interesting article, and very true of what I've seen of Wong & Co. It can also be directly applied (in almost exactly the same way) to another group I've had to deal with personally (it's a Trek community, actually, which is rather sad, since they tramp on the very ideals of the show they're purportedly fans of).

    But, anyway, a very interesting article, definitely enlightening, and certainly presently applicable.

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  4. The truth is sometimes...consensus is important. It gauages belief but that's also the same reason why it's often untrustworthy.

    When gauging popular opinion one may omit relevant yet little known or understood information from consideration.

    Even in a judicial enviroment it is dificult to merely trust the facts. and consensus is far less reliable.

    No mater what decision we find ourselves in the crux of objectivity is difficult. There are time when we must consider factors that we have no way of calculating. Ultimately we have to make decisions based on something....for some it will be consensus...others...gutt...and other will only be swayed by persausive arguments.

    My self. I look to God for direction. Still I'm bound by the black and white definitions drawn by facts and chronology.

    Seperating feeling from facts, interpretation from observation...well that's up to us individually.

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  5. Ilithi: Wait, don't tell me... one of the guys you have to deal with is called 'Ymgir the Frost Giant', right?

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  6. Triarii: No, actually, I'm not familiar with that name... Though that doesn't necessarily mean that I've not encountered him/her under a different name. The ones I've had to deal with go by the names of Victor1st, Acidrain, Mindwipe, and others.

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  7. Well, there is trouble: consensus IS used as an instrument. The most important thing in science work is "peer review", which is notoriously a clock parliament. Also in many other things, like measure interpretation, a "parliament" idea is useed.

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  8. Personally, I submit to consensus where literaly and film works are involved. It's kind of hard to judge them otherwise :)

    And, yeah, I am perfectly capable of judging them myself, to state whether I liked them or not, but, obviously, other people are going to have different opinions.

    Thus, consensus allows me to say, for example, "Voyager is rather average Trek, but I like it anyway." It works for me :)

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  9. You should be VERY VARY of anything coming from this author. Judging by her other comments, she is a fanatical rightwingist. Specifically, in the science it IS so that a consense exists and everything deviating is fend off.., until a better theory comes which overrides it and becomes a new consense.

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  10. Ilithi: Ah yes, Victor1st... isn't he that Scottish guy who runs Star Trek Gamers? What's so bad about him?

    As for Ymgir, he was a 'guru' of sorts on one of Vex Xiang's (the creator of the Flash Trek series) forums. He made something like 30 to 50 posts a day (talk about having no life) and considered himself to be, in not so many words, the 'big cheese' and the 'high and mighty' sort of figure.

    There were two main negative traits about him, the first was that he, like with the biggots you mentioned, tramps on the ideals of Star Trek and actually down plays them, stating that it's never about philosophy or the human condition and is always about socail commentary and also stating that Next Gen was crap because Picard, as a friend of mine translated his words into simple English for me, was 'always sitting in his utopia'.

    His other big problem was that he wsn't all that smart. Instead he was one of those over-bearing, charismatic, used car salesman types who can pass himself off as knowedgeable untill he meets a true expert (such as my aforementioned friend, who debated with him over the ideas and ideals behind Star Trek).

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  11. Triari: Yeah, Victor1st is the guy who runs StarTrek-Gamers.com. I don't know if you've ever been over to the STG forums, but they're almost as bad as the SD.net forums. I ran into trouble with Victor1st and the cronies of STG when they decided that they could follow the rules of their forum (which are almost nil), on Bethesda's official Trek game forum, which I help moderate. When they didn't get their way and (*gasp*) actually got punished for breaking the forum rules, just like everyone else, flaming, trolling, threats, and harassment of Bethesda and the moderating team ensued. And, of course, they couldn't possibly be wrong, because they were the 'biggest' and 'oldest' and 'most popular' etc. etc. etc. Trek gaming site on the web. They followed in the steps of a lot of the gimmicks, maneuvers, etc. that Wong & Co. did (though if they were to tell it, they did it first, and Wong & Co. are copying them), but unlike the group at SD.net, they weren't doing this to counter an opponent like G2k, or as part of a debate, they were doing it just to wank themselves up and feel big and elite and powerful.

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  12. Victor1st and friends sound like they believed in the power of the consensus of their subculture. ;)

    You should be VERY VARY of anything coming from this author. Judging by her other comments, she is a fanatical rightwingist.

    Irrelevant. The author's point about the parliament of clocks is valid, no matter the author's personal philosophical underpinnings. Even if it weren't valid, though, it should be discussed on its own merits, and not on the grounds of ad hominem character assassination.

    (You may have picked up on SDN's bad habits. ;) )

    Well, there is trouble: consensus IS used as an instrument. The most important thing in science work is "peer review", which is notoriously a clock parliament.

    Peer review is not a clock parliament, at least by design. While I'm sure some scientists have tried to veto papers purely on the grounds of disagreement with conclusions, the purpose of peer review as I understand it is to assess whether the methods and math and so on are valid.

    It would be like having a logician peer-review a paper . . . they aren't there to assess the paper's merit or its conclusions, but only to help make sure the work contains no fallacies.

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. Yes, but the point is: you have to be a scientist to decide whether another scientist is right. As an outsider, you often can just believe or not.
    Also, AIMB, It is typical that a scientific community has a dominating paradigm (e.g. Newtonian laws) which fends off other suggestions until being overriden by undeniable facts. When in doubt, scientist stick to old paradigm.

    I though DO understand that consensus is NOT reached by Wong's methods, including double-moral banning, flames, and death threats.

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  15. Victor1st and friends sound like they believed in the power of the consensus of their subculture. ;)

    Oh yes, very much so. They're a prime example of people who group together to create the illusion of a consensus that they're cool and influential and know better than anyone else, etc. etc. etc. Except, unlike in the Parliament of Clocks story, they don't just burn down the shops of dissenters in their ranks, they go out looking to burn down the shops of dissenters in the community at large.

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  16. And here all this time I thought Bethesda were the bad guys... Thanks for opening my eyes people *makes a note never to trust Victor1st again*..

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  17. And here all this time I thought Bethesda were the bad guys... Thanks for opening my eyes people *makes a note never to trust Victor1st again*..

    Heh... I've been working with Bethesda as one of their moderators since December, and I'd been a bit in-the-know on the forums there for a while before that (part of why I was offered the position), and believe me, Bethesda is NOT the badguy. Legacy wasn't that great, and there are several contributing factors from both the publisher (Bethesda) and the developer (Maddoc), but it's still not a bad game, especially if you didn't jack yourself up on your own pre-game hype, believing that they're going to include features that have only been speculated about by the fans and never mentioned by the devs. Bethesda got a bad name because the guys at STG took it upon themselves to harass the company for not giving the community the game they had speculated themselves into believing they were going to get, and then STG threw a holy fit when they got punished for breaking the rules, just like everyone else, even though they're STG and the 'elite of the elite', 'best of the best', 'best, most, biggest and greatest', and so above the normal fans and players, and not subject to the same rules, regulations, consequences, logic and reasoning everyone else is. If you want to know some truth about Victor1st, check out this blog, by a guy dedicated to calling all of Victor1st and STG's BS:

    http://startrekgamers.blogspot.com/

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  18. Regardless of that, I still think they made too many stupid omissions (shield segments, flying in reverse, an options menu, etc...) for Legacy to be even remotely viable.

    Indeed, the only things Legacy outpaces Interplay's Klingon Academy (which is now seven years old) in are graphics and unit selection.

    STG was right about one thing, though, the X-Box to PC port idea was a baaaad call, particularly when you consider that the game was originally being developed as a PC game and was apparantly 50% complete when Bethesda scrapped it...

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  19. Regardless of that, I still think they made too many stupid omissions (shield segments, flying in reverse, an options menu, etc...) for Legacy to be even remotely viable.

    Indeed, the only things Legacy outpaces Interplay's Klingon Academy (which is now seven years old) in are graphics and unit selection.


    Well, the mods are making a huge difference. If nothing else, Legacy definitely is modable. If you haven't already, hop over to legacy.filefront.com, and check out the total conversion mods. (The one I'm working on is currently the number one download of the week, btw ^_^ )

    STG was right about one thing, though, the X-Box to PC port idea was a baaaad call, particularly when you consider that the game was originally being developed as a PC game and was apparantly 50% complete when Bethesda scrapped it.../

    And the weren't even right about that. Legacy was not a console port to PC. It was developed for PC, I've heard from both the people at Bethesda and some guys at MadDoc who actually worked on the game. The 360 is so much like a computer in operation, that there is little actual difference in how games run on it. The biggest reason why it seems like a console port to PC is because the game developers all used the 360 Windows controller in play testing, and the keyboard didn't get much attention, and there are always fewer problems on a console than a PC because consoles all have the same hardware configuration.

    Heh... And that's another example of STG's parliament of clocks. The truth is that the game is more of a PC port to 360 than the other way around, but STG doesn't want to believe that, they want to believe the worst about Bethesda and Maddoc (and anyone else they take a fancy to, for that matter), and they'll be damned if anyone believes different.

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  20. Well if that's true, that actually makes Legacy worse. Some of the things they left out, while remotely understandable for a console, were completely inexcusable for a PC game (no configurable controls?).

    In my opinion, a game should be playable right out of the box, not require mods to make it any good...

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  21. Yeah, Legacy has its share of problems, no doubt, after all, it was a low-budget game that was rushed out of production to make the christmas shopping season (which is why there's so much missing, the game simply wasn't done when whatever big-wig decided the game had to be out for Christmas).

    But, Legacy isn't the first, nor will it be the last game to be made like that. But, since they were anticipating the game, and it has Trek on the label, STG takes it as a personal affront and attack that it wasn't produced to their exact standards of perfection, and have spun a lot of BS about the game, the developers, the publishers, the publisher's forum moderators, and pretty much anyone remotely associated with the game whom they can throw feces at.

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  22. It sounds like STG overreacted big time...

    And I suppose I am too. I mean, I even enjoyed New Worlds and Starship Creator. I guess I was just disappointed at the prospect of yet another Trek game turning out to be not much chop... It's not fair really...

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  23. Yeah, they did overreact big time.

    And I know what you mean about being disappointed with yet another less-than-spectacular Trek game, but it's not all washed up. Like Bridge Commander and dozens of other games, the modding community is going to make this game great. That is one advantage Trek games have, the solid modding community. It'd be nice to have an extraordinary Trek game for once, but I'm having fun playing with Legacy's coding, so it's not all bad.

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  24. I haven't played any of the newer Trek games, but the talk of modding reminds me of the good ole days of downloading Klingon Academy mods. And, inevitably, having to re-balance the hell out of them.

    Though of course, then as now, I know good and well that I uber-fied the Defiant mod a few percentage points too much. But, but, it was the frickin' Defiant, man! ;)

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  25. Though of course, then as now, I know good and well that I uber-fied the Defiant mod a few percentage points too much. But, but, it was the frickin' Defiant, man! ;)

    lol, You probably haven't been on the official Legacy forums, but there are people on there who'd eat you alive for that... The Defiant Haters, who insist that the Defiant isn't actually as strong as it was shown to be.

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  26. Defiant haters? You're kidding, right?

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  27. Defiant haters? You're kidding, right?

    Nope. There are people over on the Legacy forums who absolutely hate the Defiant, and are stead-fast in their belief that it is not as strong as it was portrayed to be, citing that it was a 'hero ship' and that it doesnt' count.

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  28. G2K, Half of the links on the main site is unreachable! (Weblog, history,Battle of Britain etc)

    What happened??

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  29. G2K, Half of the links on the main site is unreachable! (Weblog, history,Battle of Britain etc)

    What happened??


    Hrm... I noticed that earlier today, too. I thought it was just me.

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  30. Nah, I've got the same problem...

    As for the Defiant, the whole idea behind the class was to pack as much weaponry into as small a package as possible.

    I'd say it's certainly powerful, but maybe what the haters are saying does have some merit as the specail effects in DS9 often depicted seemingly undamaged ships getting blown up way too easily.

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  31. 1. Defiant haters are probably weird, though I suppose I understand the sentiment if they saw too many people jonesing over the Defiant at once.

    2. My index page got hacked. All is repaired.

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  32. I thought a hacking might have taken place. It makes one wonder why the hacker didn't do more damage though...

    As for the Defiant, I agree that some of the more minor ships in Trek porbably need a little love too. Still, that's no reason to dress the Defiant down as being weaker than it actually is...

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  33. Well, at least the damage that was done was easily repairable.

    As for the Defiant, the Defiant-hating started long before Legacy was released, a few people just couldn't (and still can't) accept that the ship was that powerful. The most common reasoning is that it was a 'hero ship', because the heroes of the show were on it, and so it couldn't die. Now, obviously, that has some merit from an out-of-universe perspective, but can only be applied from an out-of-universe perspective. When you're dealing with pure canon, in-universe, you can't use it, you have to accept what we see as what we see. The Defiant is a destroyer/frigate-sized ship that is cramped, not fast for a modern ship, short-ranged, and sports the agility of a small attack ship, the shield and hull endurance of a medium to heavy cruiser, and the firepower of a heavy cruiser. And if you think about it, it is not unrealistic at all, because the Fed ships that do not focus exclusively on combat, whose primary missions involve exploration, with military defense being a secondary design aspect, can go toe-to-toe with the dedicated warships of the neighboring militaristic powers. If the Feds science ships can compete with dedicated warships, it's no surprise then that a dedicated Federation warship could wipe the floor with the comparably-rated ships of the other powers.

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  34. It was a crappy hack. It was designed to secretly open a page from a Russian-registered site (http://fotballportal.info/) with nameservers in Canada (http://3gteam.info/), but the downloading of evil to visitor machines that was supposed to occur at that point never took place.

    The event was probably similar to an earlier server hack that took place (which my webhosts claimed to each individual party to be their fault . . . not realizing I personally know another person on the same shared server who heard the same crap).

    I have somewhat lame webhosting, but it could be worse.

    Regarding the Defiant, I concur that she was the Federation's official can of compressed whoop-ass. She's no Galaxy-killer, but she was no slouch either.

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  35. Defiant is NOT as strong as Galaxy-Class. Its main strength is: Armor, which makes it handy in shieldless situation, the lack of "core bug", meaning that a GCS can be obliterated by hard hit into some specific point near warp core, and is MUCH cheaper than power equivalent Akira-class.

    Thanks for restoring site!

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  36. Actually, I suspect the Defiant is not a cheap little ship, as many believe. Think about it, it's got all those goodies, Ablative Armor, high-output warp core, pulse phaser cannons, powerful shield generators (50% the capacity of a Galaxy's shield capacity but much more resistant to bleed-through damage, if the DS9 TM is to be believed, and I'm willing to accept that figure sans an on-screen value), etc. packed into a tiny little ship. Those goodies would be expensive on any ship, but made small enough to perform to those standards even with the Defiant's size? They've gotta be a significant resource drain.

    She certainly can't match a Galaxy class under 'traditional' circumstances, but I suspect that a skilled and wily captain and crew would be able to use the Defiant's key strengths to defeat a Galaxy class under the right circumstances.

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  37. I suspect you might be right Ilithil.

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  38. Triarii said...

    I suspect you might be right Ilithil.


    Of course I'm right, I'm me. } ; = 8 P

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  39. Hey, have any of you guys seen this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqfFrCUrEbY

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  40. Opps, I forgot that links don't work. Well, just look up Zimmers: My Generation on YouTube.

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  41. Sorry to bring this back onto the original topic...

    But NASA's chief administrator goes out as skeptical of Global Warming:
    http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3229696&page=1&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312

    And what is the second line used by NASA's top climate scientist( the first was an ad hominem)?
    Consensus. Good call, G2k.

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  42. "Anonymous said...
    Sorry to bring this back onto the original topic...

    But NASA's chief administrator goes out as skeptical of Global Warming:
    http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=3229696&page=1&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312

    And what is the second line used by NASA's top climate scientist( the first was an ad hominem)?
    Consensus. Good call, G2k.
    "

    Of course it really does not matter who says something, but what is said, and what is true. In the case of Global Warming, I believe it does exist and that it's recent phase is definitely more than would be expected from natural sources, however, this belief has nothing to do with the number of people supporting the idea, but instead the hard evidence that points to it's existence. That's all that matters and nothing more. If every scientst on the planet, tomorrow, were to suddenly wake up and say "Global Warming is a farce!", if they did not have any real evidence to show it, then I would not change my belief. Instead, I would assume that people are trying to bury their heads in the sand -- such as NASA's Chief Administrator -- in order to try and maintain "business as usual". In fact, I'm not fazed by that one either: consensus or agreement with a belief does not make it true. So the NASA scientist's skepticism does not prove anything. Except his unwillingness to take responsibility for serious world problems that HIS car is contributing to. People don't like to see the problems in the word as they do not like change. And it does not matter in the end what people think, since consensus does not determine fact.

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