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I ain’t the lotus

Some people wanted me to resolve this Minecraft dispute. But it’s so far outside my areas of expertise and interest that I have no plans to look into it. My reason for posting was that I thought it could interest some of the blog readership, not necessarily the same readers who are interested in posts on baseball, football, and chess.

I expect that, one way or another, this will get sorted out within the Minecraft community, in the same way that various open questions have been resolved within scientific and scholarly communities, via some combination of analysis, discussion, and replication. But I expect the controversy will never go away. Consider some examples from different areas of science and society:

Cold fusion. People were skeptical even at first, and now only a few physicists think it’s real. But there are some who continue to work in the area.

Embodied cognition. Was believed by mainstream psychology, but now I think it’s a minority view, but it still has some loud defenders as well as a pretty big group of researchers who, whether or not they believe in it, don’t want to think too carefully about the implication of the failed replications for scientific knowledge more generally.

Hot hand. Most social scientists thought the hot hand was a fallacy, then the claimed fallacy was revealed to itself be based on statistical fallacies, now I’d say that people are divided on whether there is a hot hand or how important it is.

Global warming. Believed by vast majority of scientists, but some skeptics remain, and this is also connected to politics.

Beauty and sex ratio. Most people don’t care about this one at all, but I suspect that many people who do care are believers, despite the lack of any good evidence. There’s some selection bias here, because the sorts of people who care about this in the first place will include many people who are committed to the underlying theory.

Claims of massive fraud in 2020 election. Lots of people still express belief in this, despite the lack of any good evidence.

The point is, all these topics have some remaining controversy, for better or worse. Controversy can go away within informed subsets of the population but remain elsewhere. To some extent, issues can be resolved not just by reanalysis but by new data. In this case, I guess it would be for this person to do another speedrun under controlled conditions? But, again, when it comes to videogames I have no idea.

29 Comments

  1. The Gandhi Rage says:

    I’ve nothing to contribute to the Minecraft discussion, but this episode vaguely reminds me of another infamous video game coding controversy from the olden days–the “Gandhi Rage.” In the original Civilization game, each world leader was assigned an “aggression” attribute–stored as a byte (0-255)–which dictated the likelihood that the leader would wage war. The leader with the lowest aggression rating was, naturally, Gandhi.

    In-game actions would cause this value to deviate. In the case of Gandhi, certain game actions could transpire that would cause his aggression rating to drop below zero. But since aggression was byte value, negative numbers would cycle back to 255–the most aggressive rating. Seemingly out of the blue, Gandhi would suddenly adopt an extremely violent policy involving numerous preemptive nuclear strikes and invasions. The Gandhi Rage.

    • Gandhi's Revenge says:

      While the Nuclear Gandhi bug is well-known, even being intentionally referenced in later incarnations of the series itself, Sid Meier is on record that no such bug actually existed.

  2. Fred says:

    > Controversy can go away within informed subsets of the population but remain elsewhere.

    Yes, but it seems almost tautological in that controversy-resistance would be a prerequisite to being considered “informed”.

  3. John Williams says:

    “The point is, all these topics have some remaining controversy, for better or worse.” The controversies about the hot hand, etc., are not in the same league with the controversy about global warming; there was not a well funded campaign promoting them. See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, for details.

  4. Renzo Alves says:

    One problem is that different people have different ideas about what “good evidence” is. It has changed over time and continues to. During the Victorian period and after (probably until even now) in the USA and England (and elsewhere) spiritualism was widely believed even by proponents of “science” because they thought the “evidence” was too powerful to ignore.

    Suggested reading:

    Ian Hacking, The Emergence of Probability (2nd ed.), 2006. Cambridge UP.

    Lamont, P. (2004). Spiritualism and a mid-Victorian crisis of evidence. Historical Journal, 897-920.
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/4091661?seq=1

    Ferguson, C. (2007). Eugenics and the afterlife: Lombroso, Doyle, and the spiritualist purification of the race. Journal of Victorian Culture, 12(1), 64-85.
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3366/jvc.2006.12.1.64?journalCode=rjvc20

  5. Chebyshev says:

    “To doubt” is integral part of Science. It is unfortunate how different interest groups have come to vilify doubt with dramatic terms like controversies, conspiracies, etc.

    We ought to apply the same standard of “nitpicking” to every hypothesis/study/paper regardless of the Social Desirability consequences. But I am not sure how this can be accomplished in a world of brittle spirits, where academics can be ostracised and cancelled based on political affiliations.

    • Jonathan (another one) says:

      There are two sides to that coin: one side’s ignorant can ostracize and cancel, while the other side’s ignorant can celebrate and promote. Both come with caring more about the ends than the means.

    • Joshua says:

      > “To doubt” is integral part of Science

      To doubt is no more inherently scientific than to not doubt.

      Doubt is based on beliefs, which are based on perceptions, which are often biased.

      Do you doubt that?

      • confused says:

        I think there is more than one meaning of “doubt” here.

        If “doubt” is meant as opposed to “accepting claims uncritically”, then I think doubting is indeed more inherently scientific.

        If “doubt” is meant as continuing to “cast doubt on” claims even once there is good evidence, then you are right, that is no more scientific than its opposite of being overly credulous.

        • Joshua says:

          confused –

          I basically agree. But there’s seems to me to be a fad of glorifying doubt. I think it’s a kind of post-modernism, ironically often coming from the right, which is grounded in a pretense that doubt reflects some kind of immunity from bias. Doubt should be earned, IMO. It requires an analytical foundation, as does non-doubt.

          As I think about it more, though, maybe the whole binary framing is pretty useless. Should there just be relative levels of doubt? The terms doubt and non-doubt are maybe more rhetorical than useful, IMO.

          Saying that “To doubt is integral part of Science” is maybe just populist rhetoric and instead should maybe be translated into “Science requires you to do your best to quantify uncertainty?”

          • Chebyshev says:

            “ Doubt should be earned, IMO. It requires an analytical foundation”

            I don’t think so. All one needs to produce is a counter example to cast doubt, not a fresh model.
            I know it is not fair to theory builders, but thats how Scientific methodology goes.

            “ Saying that “To doubt is integral part of Science” is maybe just populist rhetoric and instead should maybe be translated into “Science requires you to do your best to quantify uncertainty?”

            One publishes results (always) with confidence levels and one casts doubt with data.

            Just calling something “populist” means nothing. Is Scientific methodology reserved for just credentialed elites? Anyone can take a model to data. Not that hard these days. These days we teach calculus and linear algebra to kids who are not even allowed to fornicate! And “public” has more computing power at their disposal than what the Scientists had couple decades go.

            Without doubt there is no protection from junk being passed on from generation to generation. That’s how we have progressed. All kinds of doubts. One doesn’t get to pick and choose the doubts.
            Unfortunately, doing Science IS hard. Too bad!

            • Joshua says:

              > I don’t think so. All one needs to produce is a counter example to cast doubt, not a fresh model.

              This is a problem because “counter-example” and “cast doubt” are so subjective. That’s the kind of thinking that reproduces into “the election was stolen.” It’s akin to “I’m just asking questions.”

              > I know it is not fair to theory builders, but thats how Scientific methodology goes.

              Just asking questions, in a scientific sense, should be grounded in a model of some sort. I have often encountered a phenomenon where people criticize models, basically simply because uncertainties exist, and from from there go on to criticize the very use of models, based on a fallacious line of reasoning that they aren’t working from their own models when in fact they are.

              If you think that you have a counter-example then you’re actually working from a model of some sort. So state what it is and interrogate your model rather than simply saying “I’m just asking questions.”

              > Just calling something “populist” means nothing.

              Perhaps. So I’ll withdraw the characterization of “populist.”

              But I’m not sure of a better way to describe a phenomenon that I think I”m seeing. It’s best characterized by Trumpism: Flood the zone with unsupported “doubt,” as if all doubt is equal. Question anyone’s qualifications to assess doubt, because afterall, appeal to authority, right? Throw in some accusations about motivation – because afterall you never really know someone’s motivations, right?

              > Is Scientific methodology reserved for just credentialed elites?

              Bingo. How did I know that was coming? Take a kernel of truth and magnify it to justify whatever you want to believe. There’s a problem with credentialed elitism, therefore all doubt = science

              > Without doubt there is no protection from junk being passed on from generation to generation. That’s how we have progressed. All kinds of doubts. One doesn’t get to pick and choose the doubts.
              Unfortunately, doing Science IS hard. Too bad!

              Sorry – having trouble following the line of thought there.

              • confused says:

                The difference IMO is that the kind of politically/ideologically motivated “unsupported doubt” you are talking about is not really interested in looking at the evidence, except possibly to find some tiny flaw that can be magnified way out of proportion.

                The scientifically-necessary kind of doubt is the kind that leads one to ensure that authorities have support for claims.

                Argument from authority is not really valid in science, but OTOH no one can know enough about everything to fully evaluate all claims; experts usually are right more often than random people, at least in fields that are well-supported (one can point out cases like astrology and phrenology when an entire field has been based on nothing, but at least in the modern hard sciences I think that’s less of a thing — though some say string theory is invalid because untestable.)

                And there is IMO a difference between expertise in a specific field (which is often pretty reliable) and drawing wider conclusions outside the field (at which point an arrogance of expertise can lead people way wrong).

              • confused says:

                Actually, on further thought, I think the more fundamental difference is that the politically/ideologically motivated “unsupported doubt” doesn’t apply equally to all sides of a question.

                IE, if one starts with no opinion as to the validity of an election, that could be called a kind of “doubt” – one believes neither claim. But looking at the evidence then overwhelmingly supports that the result is valid. (One can try to find cases of a few mistaken or fraudulent votes, but that really has no impact on the overall result — using that to cast doubt on the whole thing is “false doubt”, one actually already has chosen a position and is seeking support for it.)

              • Joshua says:

                confused –

                > The difference IMO is that the kind of politically/ideologically motivated “unsupported doubt” you are talking about is not really interested in looking at the evidence, except possibly to find some tiny flaw that can be magnified way out of proportion.

                My problem here is that I’ve become confused, often, about how to tell the difference. Ok, so that’s not the end of the world but irrespective of my confusion it’s certainly true that no one says “I’m just trying to magnify doubt for political/ideological purposes.” So in a way I think that you’re making a circular argument w/r/t what I was arguing.

                > Argument from authority is not really valid in science,…

                I don’t really buy that. Of course arguing from authority is a form of a fallacy. But there’s also an inherent validity to the heuristic. So for me, the point is to argue the nuance rather than to use the “fallacy” framing as a lever. Let’s recognize that authority has some merit, but it’s complicated.

                > but OTOH no one can know enough about everything to fully evaluate all claims; experts usually are right more often than random people, at least in fields that are well-supported (one can point out cases like astrology and phrenology when an entire field has been based on nothing, but at least in the modern hard sciences I think that’s less of a thing — though some say string theory is invalid because untestable.)

                Yup.

                > And there is IMO a difference between expertise in a specific field (which is often pretty reliable) and drawing wider conclusions outside the field (at which point an arrogance of expertise can lead people way wrong).

                Sure. But the problem that I run across is that people use the notion of violating epistemological boundaries as a weapon in ways that in the end are just providing cover for advocacy. And on the other hand, people (ironically enough, often the SAME PEOPLE) fallaciously argue that there’s something to be said for the advantages of being multi-disciplinary. So you use appropriate conditional language there, IMO – but people that seems to me to be fairly rare.

                > IE, if one starts with no opinion as to the validity of an election, that could be called a kind of “doubt” – one believes neither claim. But looking at the evidence then overwhelmingly supports that the result is valid. (One can try to find cases of a few mistaken or fraudulent votes, but that really has no impact on the overall result — using that to cast doubt on the whole thing is “false doubt”, one actually already has chosen a position and is seeking support for it.)

                Isn’t that just saying that what’s “scientific” is the attempt to quantify uncertainty?

                I will admit that I am having a kind of reflexive reaction to what I see as a “doubt = science” meme – that is being used to lend credibility to a toxic form of political advocacy.

              • Joshua says:

                confused –

                Posted by someone else here: https://zeynep.substack.com/p/a-counter-argument-against-public

                related.

              • confused says:

                >>My problem here is that I’ve become confused, often, about how to tell the difference.

                If it really matters, one can usually figure out which is which by looking at the evidence. Obviously one doesn’t have the time to learn everything needed for every question, so this is only worth doing if you really care about it.

                Climate modeling is insanely complex… but the basic physics of the greenhouse effect are pretty simple, and a general warming from higher CO2 levels is predictable from that. (How much warming and what the consequences will be, not so much — but IMO that’s enough to make it pretty clear which side of the argument is more believable.)

                >>I don’t really buy that. Of course arguing from authority is a form of a fallacy. But there’s also an inherent validity to the heuristic.

                Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get at. Experts are more likely to be right (in their field) but there still needs to be a connection to evidence, so it can’t be *pure* argument from authority.

                >>Isn’t that just saying that what’s “scientific” is the attempt to quantify uncertainty?

                Two different steps in the process: I was talking more about the initial attitude (before you see the evidence). Quantifying uncertainty can only happen once you’ve seen the data.

                >>I will admit that I am having a kind of reflexive reaction to what I see as a “doubt = science” meme – that is being used to lend credibility to a toxic form of political advocacy.

                It certainly is misused, but I don’t think the right answer is accepting *more* unsupported or superficially-plausible claims, given all the “it makes a good story” bad science talked about on this blog.

              • confused says:

                A further thought on ‘how to tell the difference’: a focus on *irrelevant* details is often/usually a sign of ideologically motivated “doubt” or unequally-applied skepticism – e.g. in the 2020 election case, any claimed irregularity that would only affect a few dozen or few hundred votes would have no impact on the outcome, so its only significance even if true would be proving that election fraud is *possible*, which no one actually claims is not the case (it certainly happens in some nations…)

                In creationism, similarly, there’s a lot of focus on looking for “one smoking gun” but you can’t really overturn a mountain of data that way.

                Now, one example can overturn a *theory* or *model* if it is claimed to be a complete one — if you say traveling faster-than-light is impossible, one confirmed case would invalidate that — but it can’t overturn a lot of other *data*. If we found a true example of faster-than-light, a new theory would still have to explain all the confirmed/observed relativity effects.

                It is conceivable that there could be a serious flaw in our current theory/understanding of *how* evolution happens (though the space for that kind of flaw is a lot less than it was a few decades ago, with modern genetic knowledge) but the *fact that* evolution happens can’t be “overturned” by any “smoking gun”.

          • confused says:

            >>I think it’s a kind of post-modernism, ironically often coming from the right, which is grounded in a pretense that doubt reflects some kind of immunity from bias. Doubt should be earned, IMO. It requires an analytical foundation, as does non-doubt.

            I think this is again an ambiguity in the meaning of ‘doubt’ (which I agree with you has been ideologically exploited in a kind of pseudo-post-modern way).

            >>As I think about it more, though, maybe the whole binary framing is pretty useless. Should there just be relative levels of doubt? The terms doubt and non-doubt are maybe more rhetorical than useful, IMO.

            Yeah, kind of. Obviously levels of ‘doubt’ should depend on the level of evidence; but also I think the statement is more talking about “procedural skepticism” than exactly ‘doubt’.

            >>Saying that “To doubt is integral part of Science” is maybe just populist rhetoric and instead should maybe be translated into “Science requires you to do your best to quantify uncertainty?”

            I think that quantifying uncertainty is necessary, but I don’t think that is what “doubting is an integral part of science” is supposed to be about.

            I think it means that statements need to be supported by traceable evidence (experiments need to be replicable, citations need to be there) rather than relying on pure “authority”. (Not that one necessarily has to follow all that up — there’s usually neither the time nor the expertise — but the *possibility* needs to exist.)

            I think the statement has been exploited ideologically in e.g. climate change arguments, but I think that is a valid and important core meaning. (IE, in climate change you actually can go back to the basics of greenhouse effect, IR absorption of gases, etc. so it’s not a valid argument there — but the principle remains valid though misused.)

  6. jim says:

    > Controversy can go away within informed subsets of the population but remain elsewhere.

    Or in some cases almost *everyone* can remain utterly deluded by the unrelenting efforts of interests from every corner of society to misrepresent the issue(s) to their own advantage.

  7. Barney says:

    ‘Embodied Cognition’ is a term used in many different ways. It is not the same as social priming, which is what is addressed in the link you provide. In its most limited meaning it simply claims that being coupled to a body is of relevance for understanding brain-bound cognition. I doubt you would be able to find any cognitivist staunch enough to deny that. I’d say that embodied cognition is a broad and vague enough framework that there is no sensible answer to the question of whether it is believed by mainstream pyschology.

  8. Bob76 says:

    Cold fusion research is still being funded.
    See https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/952184 for a description of a € 3 999 870 project.

    A quote: Although no evidence has been found for this phenomenon, it is clear that much pioneering research remains to be conducted in this poorly explored field. The EU-funded HERMES project will employ advanced techniques and tools developed over the last few decades to investigate anomalous effects of deuterium-loaded palladium at room and intermediate temperatures.

    Bob76

  9. Anonymous says:

    As someone who followed the Minecraft situation with an embarrassing level of intimacy:

    Even the response paper – the paper your local expert was *not* impressed by – says that the resulting p-value for the cheater’s apparent luck is approximately .0000001

    So even the expert hired by the accused cheater ultimately concludes that it could not have simply been luck.

  10. John Mashey says:

    Re: global warming, the linked post mentions Don Easterbrook, a well-known denier/dismissive/contrarian (not a skeptic):
    https://www.desmogblog.com/don-easterbrook

  11. Mendel says:

    The “informed subset of the population” can be smaller than the misinformed subset. See a npr/Ipsos poll conducted two weeks ago: https://www.npr.org/2020/12/30/951095644/even-if-its-bonkers-poll-finds-many-believe-qanon-and-other-conspiracy-theories

    47% think “the majority of protests that occurred this summer were violent”, vs. 38% who know that’s not true
    40% think that “Covid-19 was created in a lab in China”, vs. 32% who know that’s misinformation

    And even on other conspiracy theories, the level of belief often exceeds 10%.

    It does that because of doubt. Doubt is great if you let evidence shape what you believe; but we’re usually calling that uncertainty.

    But if you believe something that’s not true, you can just doubt everyone who tells you otherwise, and keep clinging to your erroneous belief. If you never doubt *yourself*, that is. (It’s hard!) If you manage to successfully instill doubt in your audience’s sources of information, you can misinform to your heart’s content. Cult leaders, populists, and totalitarians all use doubt to entrench misinformation.

    Doubt is an integral part of misinformation.
    Uncertainty is an integral part of science.

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