Sunday, 27 May 2012

Please leave a comment or send me a message if you'd like to hear more about Stefan Molyneux and the effects of parenting :)

Hello! :)

Stefan Molyneux has made a video called "The Latest Science On Nature Versus Nurture", and he has anounced that there would soon be at least one more video on the same general topic. This was probably prompted mostly by Michael McConkey's recent article "Limits of Peaceful Parenting: Two Criticisms of Stefan Molyneux's Position", and perhaps to some extent by the interest that a few of his listeners have taken in my blog posts with very similar criticisms, which was exacerbated by JamesP's banning of members who linked to it on the FDR forum and deleting their posts or removing the links from them without any acknowledgement being given (to date) by any of the forum admins that those posts have been edited. (In FDR's - but not in JamesP's - defense, James' unilatterally banning forum members without first consulting with all the other admins was contrary to the agreement that Stef says the admins had made after the since-retracted ban of member Noesis, however long ago that was).

Michael McConkey had written his article after unsuccessfully trying to convince Stef to invite somebody with genuine expertise on behavioural genetics/differential psychology on his show to have them challenge his empirical claims about the systematic long-term effects of parenting. Sadly, Stef is now making videos like the one linked to above, instead. If you're somebody who follows Stef's work, I encourage you to second Michael's request to Stef :)

So far, Stef's video doesn't really give me anything to respond to. There wouldn't be much point in me reiterating my previous criticisms that apply to this video as much as to anything he has previously put out on the topic. While he had announced that he would respond to Michael McConkey's article, his latest video does not respond to or even acknowledge any of Michael's criticisms, or any of mine for that matter (and Stef certainly did not send any traffic our way by referencing us as people who have stirred up some consternation and debate among his listeners). In fact, sadly his video really gives the impression that the points Michael and I have raised and the evidence we have referenced are completely unknown to Stef. He has repeated some of the arguments that I have previously described as constituting gross mistakes, including in one post that he left a comment on yet shows no sign of having read (in particular, I mentioned my having been banned from the FDR forum in that post, of which Stef stated a few days later that he was completely unaware - hence another breach of agreed-upon rules by one of the admins which has still not been publicly addressed on the FDR forum).

I will be watching Stef's further videos on this topic, and if I find anything worth commenting on in them, I will. However, I'm going to be travelling for close to two weeks as of this afternoon (Austria, then Germany), and while I believe I should have some time, quiet, and internets when I'm in Germany as of June 1st, I don't know whether I'll really get to blog until my return on the 8th.

My disappointment with Stef's video as a "response" to the criticisms he has recently received has left me feeling like this is probably the end of my recent "coverage of his work" here on my blog. But I want to extend an invitation to anybody who may still be circling my blog in search of commentary on Stef's empirical claims to let me know if there's anything you would like me to address. I would be very happy to comply. I have spent a considerable amount of time studying this topic, as well as other ones that Stef talks about (both as part of the psychology degree I completed close to two years ago and on "my own time"), I now study level 3 mathematics and I understand the statistical methods involved, and I know Stef's positions and style extremely well, having listened to over 1800 of his podcasts in one year and two months. As you can see on my old "Introducing Mozz" thread, I was once very much a Freedomainer, and the contrast between this blog and my posts from two and a half years ago bear witness to some very radical shifts in my worldview. Evidently, the fact that I had suffered from depression and social anxiety for many years at the time of my discovering FDR played a very large role in my buying into it as much as I have.

Also, please do post this blog post on the Freedomain Radio forum (I can't do it myself, I'm banned). I really want to invite Stef's listeners over here. Yes, even the aggressive ones, as they give me stuff to comment on as well.

Thanks! :) And I hope to hear from you.


Thursday, 24 May 2012

Let's drag Penn Jillette into this :)

The title is provocative and actually misleading - to say that parenting doesn't have significant systematic long-term effects is not to say that it doesn't matter. That parents don't have the power to mess up their children for life by spanking them doesn't mean they don't have the power to hurt them in the present by spanking them, and of course it matters whether they do. Enough bickering, though, Penn does put a nice spin on the issue in this video :)

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Follow-Up: That Turkheimer quote broken down

A friend has told me that he would like to have this Eric Turkheimer quote which came up in my last post broken down, as it's pretty dense:

Nonshared environmental variability predominates not because of the systematic effects of environmental events that are not shared among siblings, but rather because of the unsystematic effects of all environmental events, compounded by the equally unsystematic processes that expose us to environmental events in the first place.
(From this article.)

I'll give it a go; I might completely misjudge where the difficulties lie and end up breaking it down in a way that's completely unhelpful :D I will rely on readers' feedback and rewrite this post as much as necessary. Should this task prove difficult to me, then I can probably learn a lot from doing this.

Nonshared environmental variability predominates

The thing of "X-type variability predominates" can somewhat grossly be rephrased as "X has the largest effect". Here we're speaking about effects on psychological/behavioural outcomes. Turkheimer is basically saying that the specific differences between adults are predominantly explained by differences they have experienced in their "nonshared environment". For example: people differ in what language they speak; and as it turns out, the language you grow up to speak and the accent you grow up to speak it in depends to a much larger extent on the peer groups you grew up around (nonshared environment) than on what language your parents spoke (shared environment).

As a quick reminder: "shared environment" refers to the environment shared by siblings (in the sense of "children raised by the same parents", not in the sense of "biological siblings"); more specifically, you would look at the ways in which people differ from each other and check whether "the fact that those people were raised by the same parents" has made them any more similar (on average) than the data would lead you to otherwise expect. "Nonshared environment" refers to everything that is neither inherited nor a factor of "shared environment".

So is Turkheimer saying that "nonshared environment" is more important than heredity? No, because in the context of this quote, he is only comparing the two kinds of environment with each other; in other words, he means that "nonshared environmental variability predominates over shared environmental variability".
(As to whether he thinks nonshared environment is more important than factors of heredity, I think I know his position well enough to answer this pretty confidently: He would say that, in the case of most psychological outcomes, all that behavioural genetics can really tell us is that nonshared environment and heredity are both substantial contributors whereas shared environment isn't, and that attempts to put a precise number on the relative effects of the two important contributors are not to be taken particularly seriously because the methods just aren't precise enough. And for the record, I agree with that.)

To be clear, what he's saying is more precise than "X has the largest effect". The statistical method used in these studies is analysis of variance, in which you determine the "amount of overlap" between variation among individuals in the dependent variable with variation among those individuals in the independent variables (=factors). Whether this means anything to you or not, just appreciate that we're talking correlations here, and that there is some risk of drawing invalid conclusions about causation from it.
Remember, though, that while correlation does not imply causation, absence of correlation DOES imply absence of causation, which is why we can be so confident that the "shared environment" (or "who raised you") is not an important predictive factor.


Nonshared environmental variability predominates not because of the systematic effects of environmental events that are not shared among siblings, but rather because of the unsystematic effects of all environmental events

Ok, the statistical methods used in those studies allow us to rather crudely distinguish between three "sources of variability", or, basically, three broadly defined factors: heredity (who you got your genes from), shared environment (who raised you), and nonshared environment (absolutely everything else, from your peer groups to illnesses to the fluctuations in the electrochemical environment of your synapses as they were forming).
And, once again, the results are very consistently as follows: heredity very important, shared environment unimportant, nonshared environment very important.
The initial assumption, or at least the initial hope of researchers like Robert Plomin was that the relevant aspects of the nonshared environment would soon be identified, allowing for systematic interventions to reduce the incidence of mental disorders and perhaps increase the incidence of desirable outcomes such as high IQ.
Turkheimer was basically saying that, with all that Plomin-inspired studies had taught us, we might as well drop the distinction between nonshared and shared environment and just say that: 1. who people got their genes from is important, and 2. their individual environment is also important, but that whatever specific environmental factor you may extract will turn out to have, at best, a very small systematic effect - and "who raised you" just happens to be one of those many environmental factors which do not allow us to make any useful systematic predictions about most psychological outcomes.

Nearly done now:

compounded by the equally unsystematic processes that expose us to environmental events in the first place.

In other words: not only can the effects of what people encounter in their environment not be predicted (with sufficient accuracy), but what people will encounter in their environment cannot be predicted either.

I hope that'll do :D

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Gloomy Prospect, and Why Considerations of Interactivity Cannot Rescue Stefan Molyneux's Claims

Let's dwell on the Freedomain Radio action for just a bit longer, shall we? :)

An extremely aggressive forum member by the name of Haplo has quoted a passage from Eric Turkheimer's article "Three Laws of Behavior Genetics and What They Mean", in which Turkheimer argues that some statistical procedures have been badly misapplied by "developmental psychologists, geneticists, and environmentalists", and that the "[s]mall relations (...) found between predictors and outcomes" should not be taken seriously. The quote doesn't provide enough context to tell the reader what applications of statistical procedures Turkheimer was writing about.

He then contrasts the Turkheimer quote with a quote by Steven Pinker, in which Pinker described certain results as being very robust, and the validity of different psychometric tests as being amply validated.

Haplo's aim is to suggest not only that Turkheimer and Pinker disagree with each other, but also that Turkheimer disagrees with the "Three Laws" that he himself formulated at the beginning of that same article, and with his own statement that, as far as the three laws are concerned, "the empirical facts are in and no longer a matter of serious controversy".

This would, of course, be warranted if, in their respective quotes, Pinker and Turkheimer were actually talking about the same thing; but, of course, they aren't. Anybody who wants to take the time to read Turkheimer's article (linked to above) and my earlier blogpost about Steven Pinker's account of the evidence can easily verify this.

It's quicker to just take it from me, of course :) Steven Pinker, in the passage Haplo quoted, was talking about the finding that the shared environment (= "who raised you") is a very small if not negligible predictor of most psychological outcomes by the time the subject is an adult, whereas hereditary factors (= "who you got your genes from") and the nonshared environment (= "everything else") are both substantial factors; these findings result from very straightforward and surprisingly conclusive analyses of variance of the data from a large body of adoption studies and twin studies, and, while Turkheimer, at least in his article in question, was more conservative than Pinker in his description of how small of a factor shared environment is, he certainly does agree with his own "Three Laws". (He has later stated that they shouldn't actually be seen as "laws", but as "the new null hypotheses", and he discouraged any further research aimed at demonstrating the heritability of any outcomes since it wouldn't tell us anything new.)

The Turkheimer quote posted by Haplo, on the other hand, was about the attempts that had been made to discern specific factors within the category "nonshared environment", and attempts that, at the time of his writing, were soon going to be embarked upon in hopes of discerning specific genomic patterns (from the "heridity" category), that would turn out to be strong predictors of psychological outcomes.
He quotes Robert Plomin and Denise Daniels' 1987 article "Why are children in the same family so different from one another?":

One gloomy prospect is that the salient environment might be unsystematic, idiosyncratic, or serendipitous events such as accidents, illnesses, or other traumas . . . . Such capricious events, however, are likely to prove a dead end for research. More interesting heuristically are possible systematic sources of differences between families.

Turkheimer's argument was that, with all the research that had since been conducted to try and discern relevant factors from the nonshared environment, it was time to conclude that the gloomy prospect was true, and that any research of this kind should be discontinued.
Furthermore, he wrote:

Nonshared environmental variability predominates not because of the systematic effects of environmental events that are not shared among siblings, but rather because of the unsystematic effects of all environmental events, compounded by the equally unsystematic processes that expose us to environmental events in the first place (Turkheimer & Gottesman, 1996).

Ok, as a brief digression, here is a passage from Jonathan Haidt's book The Righteous Mind, which refers to another book by his fellow social psychologist Tom Gilovich:

His simple formulation is that when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, "Can I believe it?" Then (as Kuhn and Perkins found), we search for supporting evidence, and if we find even a single piece of pseudo-evidence, we can stop thinking. We now have permission to believe. We have a justification, in case anyone asks.

In contrast, when we don't want to believe something, we ask ourselves, "Must I believe it?" Then we search for contrary evidence, and if we find a single reason to doubt the claim, we can dismiss it. You only need one key to unlock the handcuffs of must.

I bring this up because I see a lot of people saying "oh, but there's a huge amount of interaction between the factors, and their effects are completely unsystematic, therefore behavioural genetics can be safely dismissed and I can continue believing Stef's empirical claims." And I've seen other arguments that share this basic pattern with the previous one: People point something out about the methodology of adoption or twin studies that is both correct and likely to be unexpected to anyone who is completely new to the field, and then act as if what they have said disproved all the findings from behavioural genetics and confirmed their own position without ever checking what that thing they've pointed out actually implies. Examples: "oh but heritability is only defined within a given population"; "oh but the identical twins used in twin studies both shared the womb of the same highly stressed mother"; "oh but the adoptive siblings used in adoption studies were probably deliberately placed with families that were similar to them"; "oh but the range of the studies is limited".

End digression.

So, can the fact of high interactivity of factors and of low systematicity of their effects rescue Stefan Molyneux's claims? Of course not. His claim is that the effects of the factors pertaining to the shared environment are not only very substantial but highly systematic. Abuse your children and they will be a great deal more likely to develop mental disorders and irrational beliefs and attitudes; parent them peacefully and they will be virtually guaranteed to grow up to be spectacularly functional and rational anarcho-capitalist "philosophers". This is uncomplicatedly contradicted by everything in Turkheimer's article.

Ok, some will say, but doesn't the "interaction" thing still leave some room for believing that, under some circumstances, bad parenting can have the kinds of long-term negative effects that Stef says it has?
Well, theoretically, yes, BUT: given that the "shared environment" does not show up as a significant factor in the variation of adult psychological characteristics, in order for it to be the case that "under circumstance X, bad parenting causes long-term harm", this would have to be evened out by the fact that, "under other circumstances, the same bad parenting causes long-term benefits". Otherwise you're still contradicting the data, since even if bad parenting only negatively affected some substantial segment of the population while leaving everybody else unaffected, that substantial sample would still skew the average, leaving us with a significant amount of variation attributable to the shared environment.

Stefan Molyneux's empirical claims about the long-term effects of parenting are unambiguously wrong, and he should retract them. And he, as well as other members of the Freedomain Radio community, would be very well advised to address their propensity toward self-overestimation. If you are new to a topic, I strongly recommend using phrases like "I don't see how this follows", rather than "This obviously doesn't follow, all those scientists are morons!"

Peace out :)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

FDR update: 2 users unbanned, links still deleted from Cat's posts without acknowledgement, Bricks' thread still deleted

A quick(ish) update on the Freedomain Radio situation before I go to sleep:

JamesP has stated that he has unbanned the users CatMoody (my girlfriend) and Bricks, who had both been banned right after linking to my blog. His exact words were: "I'm really sorry guys. I got caught up emotionally.  I've reinstated Bricks & Cat Moody's accounts." Here's the thread with his post.

At this point in time, the links to my blog in CatMoody's posts are still missing from them, without a word of acknowledgement that her posts have been edited. The posts in question are in this thread, and the last post on page 2 of that thread by user Annabelle has some evidence to prove that links were tacitly removed from four posts in the thread. (Thanks, Annabelle!)

Also, from what I've seen, Bricks' thread in which he linked to my blog is still deleted from the forum. The deletion of his thread has been documented on the FDRLiberated forum. (I provided that screenshot, although I'm not a member of the FDRLiberated forum. I made the screenshot because I knew that Bricks' thread was very likely to be deleted.)

Perhaps they will still undo those deletions, and perhaps they will comment further on the issue.

While I would happily encourage people to link to the relevant posts on my blog from the Freedomain Radio forum (I'm fine with being self-servingly psychoanalysed by those people), I can't quite retract my warning that linking here puts you at risk of getting banned. User ribuck, however, has not yet been penalised for testing my statement that linking to my blog from the Freedomain Radio forum will now apparently get you banned, nor has the link been removed from his/her post at the end of page 1 of this thread. Hopefully I will be able to confidently retract my warning soon.

On a somewhat different note, Michael McConkey has been given access to the Freedomain Radio forum after a 48h wait, and has started a thread to discuss his (excellent) article on the "Limits of Peaceful Parenting", as well as the treatment it had so far been given by members of the forum, including Stefan Molyneux.

And to all a good night! :)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Apparently, anybody who links to my blog on the Freedomain Radio forum will now be banned from it and have their links or posts deleted.

Just so you know.

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 :)