Saturday, 19 May 2012

It takes more work than that, Stefan Molyneux

This blog has been very inactive. But it has attracted quite a few people I didn't know who have had some kind of encounter with Freedomain Radio. It may be worth posting more on the topic here.

Michael McConkey has recently posted this article criticising Stef's claim that peaceful parenting will bring about an anarcho-capitalist society, in which he reviews the evidence from behavioural genetics that finds parental environment to be a very small predictive factor for most psychological outcomes. An FDR forum member by the name of a14 has linked to it in this thread on the FDR board.

Stefan Molyneux has responded by dropping this gem:

"The twins studies are very easy to debunk - significant aspects of the personality are developed in the womb, and a woman who is about to give up her twins for adoption would have enormous levels of stress hormones and other biochemicals racing through her system, which is why twins raised separately tend to have similar characteristics, or least similar characteristics that are related to the pre-birth environment."

Two main points here:

1.  This argument depends on post-natal parental environment being a negligible factor. Yes, considerations about effects of in-utero environment may knock down the amount of variation attributable to genes by a few points. However, they can do nothing to rescue Stef's claims about the long term effects of parenting.
Again: It's not just genes vs parental environment. If you want to argue that parental environment has a larger effect than has previously been found in behavioural genetics, then your argument had better mention the "shared environment" factor at some point - that's the one you're interested in. Merely attacking the importance of the "heredity" factor doesn't get you very far. (Other people in that thread have made that same mistake.)

2. I could understand the "stress hormones" thing as an explanation for why all adoptive children (twins or otherwise) are similarly anxiety-prone, but that has nothing to do with what the data find. It's not that all identical twins raised by different foster parents are alike, or that all adoptive children are alike. It's that within each pair of identical twins, the two twins are highly similar to each other in terms of their personalities and aptitudes (and of pretty much everything else), and that it turns out to not make any difference whether they were raised apart from each other or not.
So, if those two identical twins who were raised apart are equally happy, successful, healthy, athletic, smart, well liked, and libertarian, is that because of all the stress hormones that were racing through their biological mother's system when she was expecting them?

My central criticism of Stefan Molyneux is simply that he greatly over-estimates his judgement.
"very easy to debunk" you say?

Dear Stef. With all the lip service you pay to the scientific method, I really wish you realised or accepted that learning how to actually use scientific methods just takes a bit more work than you have, so far, invested. You have no scientific training, and you admit to being bad at maths, which would not be a problem if you didn't keep expressing extremely confident judgements on questions that actually require careful statistical analysis of data to find an accurate answer to. Salman Khan's video series on statistics is probably a neat place to start from if you like that kind of format.

Also well worth mentioning, I think: Other people in that thread have made arguments that assume that all the scientists involved in behavioural genetics and differential psychology are either unbelievably stupid or purposely deceitful. You have to ask yourself, which is more likely: that these objections you have come up with after a couple of hours of googling and thinking, let's say, have never occurred to anyone who has worked in the field for most of their career - or that your objections miss something important? Also, is it more likely that there's an unassailable conspiracy of purposely deceitful scientists that virtually everybody in the field belongs to, or that your objections miss something important?

In other news, I have noticed yesterday that I have been banned from the Freedomain Radio forum, presumably because I had linked to my criticisms of FDR on my profile page many months ago. (I had not posted on FDR in at least 1 year, nor have I been in the chat room for ages.)

Plz do leave comments :)


  1. "Dear Stef. With all the lip service you pay to the scientific method, I really wish you realised or accepted that learning how to actually use scientific methods just takes a bit more work than you have, so far, invested. You have no scientific training, and you admit to being bad at maths, which would not be a problem if you didn't keep expressing extremely confident judgements on questions that actually require careful statistical analysis of data to find an accurate answer to"

    This part was AWESOME!
    I find the length of this post v accessible also ^_^

  2. You should Google Gabor Mates rebuttals to the twin studies, and also note that twin studies exclude abusive situations, which is my focus.

  3. Once again, Stef: It takes more work than that. I have had Gabor Maté thrown at me by your followers over and over again. It would help if they knew more than just to quote one guy who has a few pages on twin studies in an appendix to one of his books. His arguments are not valid. If you want to find out why, you need to actually study the issue. My blog has more on it, and it links to many external sources.

    Now, given that you and/or your admins are now banning anybody who links to my blog from your forum and deleting their links to it or even their entire threads, you should not expect me to be generous in how much patience I will extend to you if you wish to comment on my blog. For the time being though, I'm willing to pursue this dialogue further if you wish.

  4. Your focus is well withing the range of existing twin studies.

  5. Wow, Stef! That's completely different from the early days of FDR, in which every parent was abusive, which you've never, ever retracted.

    Hell, you've switched your views on a lot of things—intellectual property, your own lack of empathy for several years in thinking that nuclear weapons were great in a free society (those innocents were just collateral damage, of course), children don't love their parents (except your child who is still in the Santa Claus ages), etc.—without retracting them in any detail at all.

    And this is after putting forth a lot of effort into arguing them in the first place, sometimes with quite condescending tones toward those whom you were addressing.

    From your blog article at we see:

    "So face it: your parents were bullies, or weak curriers of favour, or manipulative emotional infants themselves. You have no respect for them, for respect requires courage, and courage requires logical morality. You do not love them, since love demands virtue, and manipulating children into blind obedience is not at all virtuous. There are only a few possible responses to modern parents:
    - Contempt
    - Indifference
    - Boredom
    - Hatred
    - Empty conformity"

    This was not a response to one person, as anyone can see by reading it. This was to literally everyone:

    "Do you think it extreme for me to say that almost all parents are horribly bad?"

    Almost all parents are horribly bad, but these studies somehow managed without much effort to find the ones who weren't abusive? And you include this gem of logic:

    "Either the world is not sick, or parents are."

    That obviously wasn't based on any statistical analysis of evidence. It was based purely on what seems compelling and plausible to you.

  6. Thanks a lot for fleshing out my statement that Stef's focus is well within the range of existing studies, Mr. C.
    There are things that lie outside the range of those studies, such as criminal neglect or parental rape, and the studies have also essentially been conducted in the Western world. But the level of abuse Stef has spoken about for hours and hours and hours in his podcast are all within the range of those studies, and the studies are far more than sufficient to refute Stef's empirical claims. And even if you unreasonably dismiss the evidence AGAINST Stef's claims, that would still leave you without any evidence FOR them. The best Stef has done so far is to draw invalid conclusions from the correlations found in the ACE studies, which are well known to be almost fully accounted for by hereditary factors at least in most relevant cases (though this may not be true in cases of *exceptionally* severe abuse, which, again, is not was Stef focuses on at all).

    Perhaps it would actually be worth writing a blog post about Gabor Maté's objections since so many people seem to think they're sufficient to stop paying attention to the evidence from twin and adoption studies.

    I'd mostly like to point out that Stef has commented on his blog post exactly as he would have if he had not read it (he hasn't responded to anything in it), nor has he acknowledged anything that's stated in Michael McConkey's article (which is really good btw).

  7. Are you guys really bothered by stef changing his mind on some subjects?

    You would think that you ought to be mad if stef NEVAR changed his mind, right?

    Also, if your goal genuinely is to persuade stef, i would strongly recommend you examine your own methodology and way of relating to others, including stef.

    So far, the way you communicate is highly negative, not to mention that the data you presented does not have a single conclusive interpretation either

  8. Hi Rudd-O

    It was Mr C who brought up the thing about Stef apparently changing his mind about things, and maybe he'll want to respond to your comment on that himself. To me, it seemed relatively clear that his intention was not to criticise Stef for changing his mind, but for opportunistically flip-flopping on the question of what portion of parents are abusive, or of what the minimum level of abuse is that systematically leads to long-term negative consequences; and also for not explicitly retracting positions he has defended in the past which he no longer agrees with. Mr C's sarcasm might have made that a bit unclear to some.
    If you compare my posts on this blog to my "Introducing Mozz" thread on the Freedomain Radio forum, you can see that I have very dramatically changed my mind about many very important things myself, and I'm very glad I did.

    I encourage everybody to be highly suspicious of people's changing the subject from the criticisms that are being made against their position to the communicative style of the person issuing the criticism. Whatever your actual intention in changing the subject in that way is, you should appreciate that others have every reason to take into account the extent to which your change of subject happens to serve your interests if you're invested in the position that's being argued against; especially if you don't respond to any of the arguments expressed against your position at any point.
    Even people's genuine perception of the communicative style of those who disagree with them has been experimentally found to be completely unreliable; please look up the hostile media effect for more on this:

    As to your extremely strong claim that the data I presented does not have a single(!) conclusive interpretation, which, if I understand your statement correctly (and perhaps I don't), would imply that my blog is riddled with blatant lies, it is also extremely easily verifiable, simply by having a quick look at one of the many articles I've linked to on this blog.

  9. Alright, as to the thing of my not being sure how you meant that last statement in your comment, Rudd-O: You may simply mean that there are different ways of interpreting the data and that it therefore doesn't conclusively prove Stef wrong. This is what my more recent post "The Gloomy Prospect" was about, although I'm sure a lot more could be said on the topic (and I would certainly welcome your questions on this):

  10. "I encourage everybody to be highly suspicious of people's changing the subject from the criticisms that are being made against their position to the communicative style of the person issuing the criticism."

    Thank you for the way you explained this. (i guess there's pun somewhere in there)

  11. Hi Ondrej :) What do you mean by your "pun" comment? :D I don't get it... :P

  12. Sup, Seb. I am in Bethesda having a beer with the girl right now, and I would like to say that you, my man, can do better in communicating your ideas in a non-confrontational way (I am talking about your post). If your post is about child abuse, then talk about child abuse and that is that. If your post is about Stef, I would recommend that you recognize Stef has indeed changed positions on quite a few subjects, and to embrace the fact that, given enough evidence, Stef may very well change his mind.

    But when you conflate both topics, it makes for an unpleasant read that detracts from your credibility and antagonizes the very person whose mind you are trying to change.

    Will you take my advice?


  13. Hi again, Rudd-O
    I don't think it's clear what your advice is. What would "recognising Stef has changed his mind and might do it again" consist of, exactly, and what in my post constitutes a failure to recognise this?
    Also, by "conflating" the topics of "child abuse" and of "Stef", you mean writing about the topic of "Stef's arguments about the effects of child abuse"? (Which is what I intended to write about - and did write about.) I don't think "conflate" is the right term if that's really what you mean.
    Also, do you have anything to say about the CONTENT of my post?
    Cheers indeed

  14. I am amazed that after all this time people are stillpaying attention to this man. I don't mean to be arrogant, but I saw through this man's charade after only a short time of listening to him and reading some of his stuff. He's obviously a very self-centered egotist, and egoist.

    I don't mean to piggy-back on your blog Seb, and please feel free to delete this if you want, I definetly won't be offended (however I hope you don't mind if I hang around to read more). For anyone who is interested, I wrote a book recently with the above subject as a title. I despise Stefan's tactics so much that I dedicated an entire chapter to his Heroes videos and his UPB book. Most of all his teaching (brainwashing) methods. I know that some people on here are probably still Libertarians, but I also have a chapter dedicated to that philosophy (not much support), so if that would offend you it may not be the best read for you. I just want this out there because I truly think that this man is complete...fool. A fool who lacks the ability to use real logic and reason, and it pisses me off that he claims expertise on both and gives people like you and I little room for interpretation. End rant. If you're interested here are the links.

    and the Facebook page for the book:

    The both links will provide you with other links to the books or the e-books.

    let me know what you think if you do choose to read it.

    Chapter 7 is dedicated to Stefan and chapter 8 to Libertarianism.

  15. Hi Tim :) I don't mind you plugging your book here. I don't think the description gives a very clear idea of what it's about, but maybe that's because it's just very broadly about your world view, or something?
    Welcome to my blog :) I haven't been writing any posts for a while and I don't know when that might change, but it certainly might.

  16. Seb,

    I've heard that a few times. To me it made more sense than anything else, but that's just to me. Believe it or not, politics, religion, governance etc...cause me stress, as does family for almost every father, mother, or child. Prozac actually works. It's that simple. In all honesty, I don't take Prozac anymore, but during the time :)


  17. The book has Prozac in the title, but Prozac doesn't come up in the description :) Is that what the book is largely about, then? I agree that Prozac works and think it's an awesome achievement of medicine. I've considered blogging/vlogging about the evidence regarding SSRIs vs placebos; who knows, maybe I still will at some point. Stefan Molyneux's video "There is no such thing as mental illness" would make a pretty good textbook example of cherry-picking IMO.

  18. Seb,

    it's not about about Prozac itself, but many of the topics discussed give insight into way a guy like me loves having the Rx available...does that make sense? I think I probably should have gone with just titling the book "Stuff'.

  19. Lol that would have been a good title :D