Debate:Generalising about groups based on little evidence

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It is unethical and scientifically bankrupt to make a claim, in the media or in a wiki, about an entire group of people while only citing data about a handful of members of that group - or not citing any independently-verifiable data at all. For example, citing evidence about 3 people when making a factual claim about a few dozen people.

Furthermore, this is ethically worse when they, or some of them, are random members of the public - in other words, they are people who are not "public figures", and are certainly not politicians (for whom a certain amount of unreasonable public criticism is predictable and expected when they go into the job).


We would surely all agree on this when the group in question is a gender, or an ethnic group. So why am I even starting a debate on this? Well, it's simply because I've seen multiple examples of such claims on RationalWiki - apparently made seriously, not in jest, although it's sometimes hard to tell on RationalWiki - which suggests to me that perhaps not all RationalWiki editors agree with this proposition. Though none of these examples that I have seen were about genders or ethnic groups - such things would likely be deleted rapidly as obviously sexist or racist, respectively. Yet somehow when it's about people that some RationalWiki editors don't like, it seems to be seen as OK? It's not OK and it's not sound reasoning. --Greenrd (talk) 11:10, 27 April 2019 (UTC)

What are the proposed possible solutions[edit]

I agree that some depictions are not really good, but on the other hand, not mentionning that the group of people for which one thing/person is particularly popular is populated in an unusual way is very important for the context. For me, a person claiming to be rational but "forgotting to notice" that his/her public includes group with non-rational tendencies is not a rational person, even if his/her discourse is. In the worst case, this person is intellectually dishonest by tolerating (or even more dishonest, by pretending to not tolerate but only condaming them when pushed to do so) some irrational groups while claiming defending the rationality. In the best case, this person is just too stupid or too biased to notice that his/her public is populated in an unusual way. In practice, "proving" this kind of claim can be very tricky: it can be easy to get the sensible feeling that some particular group will like or indeed like a given thing/person. Proving it requires a real study, with time, energy and therefore funding, while the justification for such study is very poor ("can you give me money, I just want to prove something for RationalWiki otherwise other editors will remove it"). What is proposed such that this important context information is kept while avoiding the problem pointed out here? (talk) 17:26, 31 May 2019 (UTC)

OK, so if, say, Jordan Peterson himself says that "many of my fans are lonely young men who don't have a clue about life" or words to that effect, I guess we could say that and add "by Peterson's own admission", or something like that. But if it's just based on someone's sense of it, whether that's a RationalWiki editor, or a journalist - then sorry, no, such intuitions do not belong here, in my view. -Greenrd (talk) 12:12, 1 June 2019 (UTC)
As stated in my previous message, my biggest problem is to be informed when someone is pretending to be rational but is in fact tolerating non-rational people. In this specific case, of course the person in question will never say that, as for this person, this unusual part of his/her fans

are not _that_ unusual (I don't believe in comic books villains, I think those people are really believing that they are rational). I guess the exemple of Peterson is quite good, because as far as I know, Peterson like to play on the edge and to stay unclear: when asked, he will explain that those fans are not rational, but on the same time, he will display a lot of effort to fight the unrational people he does not like while not really attacking the unrational people that are part of his fans, even when his own productions are feeding those irrational people. When I discovered Peterson, I classified him as a rational person. I am happy that some people pointed out his very strange behavior towards irrational people that happens to be his fans. I now classify him as irrational, and I think he really is: his discourse is not about rationally, but about his own little crusade against ideologies he does not like, and the rationality is just used as a weapon. For the example of Peterson, I really think that not mentioning the fact that his work receives a lot of echo in some irrational communities is just "forgetting" to state the context, essential to understand the real position of Peterson (fighting the "bad" irrationals, tolerating or even not having a problem with feeding the growth of the "good" irrationals that happens to be on his side). (talk) 17:50, 2 June 2019 (UTC)

To answer more specifically to your question: I am not satisfied by your proposal, as irrational people will never satisfy your conditions. Your proposal does not solve the issue I'm worried about. (talk) 17:50, 2 June 2019 (UTC)

We can not divide people into rational and irrational. Everyone expresses measures of rationality and irrationality and we have our share of both here at RW. The facts are 1) we have a negative view toward Peterson (rational). 2) we have a negative view towards MGTOW and incels (rational) 3) Sometimes we associate groups we dislike whenever possible whether they fit together or not (confirmation bias?). 4) We have no idea how big the populations of those groups are to begin with but we assume they are large (irrational). 5) we only know that some members of these groups have praised Peterson and assume large numbers of them compose his audience (irrational). 6) This is enough evidence for a very determined ideological opponent of Peterson to run with (rational). 7) We believe the aforementioned series of logical reasoning should be convincing to rational people who read the article (irrational), or don't care if they do (rational).Ariel31459 (talk) 14:59, 5 July 2019 (UTC)

My proposal is to NOT do the point 4 and 5. My proposal is to give the CONTEXT: a) Peterson is one of the few persons having a strong following in MGTOW and incels discussion place. This is an OBJECTIVE observation, you can indeed SEE and COUNT the articles promoting his texts/ideas and compare with other personalities. b) Peterson is not bottered by this aspect. You can SEE his own behavior, taking absolutely no real actions for that and only criticizing those movements when asked explicitely about it, while not including them in the list of irrational people he "fights" against.

In both cases, neither a or b assume anything about "how big" or that they constitute the whole audience. The initial question is about "numbers", my answer is that 1) numbers on this subject will never exist, because nobody will get funded to study that, 2) saying "Peterson is popular amongst MGTOW/Incels" does NOT require numbers: it is a piece of context, and the reader need to do the job of building his/her own opinion. The context is NOT a moral judgement. As I've said, the context is important to create your own opinion, and not mentioning at least the point a is just removing an important information of context just because you are affraid people will use it irrationally, penalizing people who will use this information rationally. Let's not forget that Peterson is JUST AN EXAMPLE. The problem is about the procedure: removing an element of context is a bad idea, because a proper opinion should be built on the WHOLE context, not on only the bits that you are not affraid will lead the reader to not agree with your personal analysis. (talk) 17:56, 6 July 2019 (UTC)

Saying that Peterson has a "strong following" among certain disparate groups is in itself unverifiable and repeats the fallacies I have already mentioned.. An obvious question is, "does that make them more or less despicable?" At any rate, there may be only relatively few such individuals, as you have conceded. As a consequence, because Peterson's views are agreeable to millions of people, will you concede that it is disingenuous to mention in the introduction what is probably a small minority of his admirers that we would deem undesirable people? In addition, can you name any distinguished public intellectuals who regularly criticize these two groups? None come to my mind. I fail to see the point of complaining that Peterson has not critiqued these people to your satisfaction. Your argument seems to be based upon the fragile hypothesis that these groups are more important than they actually are, although I'm sure there are many hundreds of these people. Ariel31459 (talk) 18:44, 6 July 2019 (UTC)
"Saying that Peterson has a "strong following" among certain disparate groups is in itself unverifiable": not, this is EASILY verifiable. Browsing MGTOW and incels communities, you can COUNT the number of postive comments on Peterson, negative comments, and the same for all public figure cited. Again, I'm saying that there are no specific quantitative numbers (and, more importantly for the debate here, there are also no number on the proportion of the MGTOW and Incels inside Peterson fans, but as argued, this is not relevant to decide if this information is important for the context), but the qualitative statement is just a fact, sourced many time (I've found such links in the talk page of Peterson at the time his name appeared in this page for the first time).
"An obvious question is, "does that make them more or less despicable?"" Well, you shoot in your own foot: if you want to remove this information because you are affraid some people will ask this question and answer in a way that you don't like, you just show that you remove objective useful context information to stop people to form their own opinion. You are saying "we don't know the number, so let's assume that they are small and lie to the reader so he cannot use this information to form a bad opinion of Peterson", how is that more legitimate that "we don't know the number, let's just say a true objective fact and let the reader forms its own opinion".
"In addition, can you name any distinguished public intellectuals who regularly criticize these two groups?" I don't get your point, I don't say that intellectuals should regularly criticize these two groups, I'm saying that intellectuals whose names are regularly cited in those communities as person being their ideological ally should distance themselve from those groups. Can you name any distinguished public intellectuals who is as popular as Peterson in those communities (cf. links in peterson talk page) and that was NOT asked to react to that ? Looking at Peterson page right now, I see you are involved in an editing war to remove new stuffs about Orban. I'm not taking side, but I can only notice that you seem very prone to remove as many things as you can to avoid the possibility that someone form an opinion based on the real behavior of Peterson regards all extremes.
"Your argument seems to be based upon the fragile hypothesis that these groups are more important than they actually are": Again, Peterson is just an example, my arguments are not specific to any groups, and therefore size does not even matter. It looks like you don't get the abstract logic of my argument, just concentrate on Peterson and find circonstancial arguments that does not contradict mine. (talk) 14:33, 7 July 2019 (UTC)