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(In the spirit of GiveWell, only less obsessive.)

This lists major mistakes I’ve made in my posts that were objectively wrong, that somewhat affected my conclusions about things, and that required correction. It doesn’t list times I changed my opinion about things, times other people thought I was wrong but after reading all the arguments I still stand by my original position, or minor corrections of typos/details.

1. (10/20/13) In The Anti-Reactionary FAQ, I claimed that there was likely not much difference in crime between the distant past (especially Victorian England) and today, because although the reported burglary rate was up, the reported murder rate stayed the same, and murder is the most accurately recorded crime. Michael Anissimov points out that medical care has improved since that time, so that many things that would have been murders in the past are now only attempted murders, lowering the apparent murder rate by as much as five times. Discovering the mistake caused me to reverse my conclusion that crime has not been increasing since the Victorian age.

2. (6/29/14) In Invisible Women, I pointed out a paradox – how come women are joining the workforce, but GDP has not gone up proportionally to the increased number of workers? Pseudoerasmus explained that men were working less often and working fewer hours in a way that counterbalanced increased female employment. Discovering the mistake did not affect any “conclusion” since I was just asking the question, but the question turned out to be much easier and less weird than I had expected.

3. (4/22/15) In Growth Mindset 3: A Pox On Growth Your Houses, I claimed that a graph showed that most conditions of an educational experiment deteriorated over time, and that since this was very strange the study probably couldn’t be trusted. In fact, the graph was standardized in a way I didn’t notice, and showed only that those conditions did worse than the other conditions, without deteriorating outright. This made the study much more believable than I had thought. The author of the original study corrected me and I explained the correction in detail here. Discovering the mistake lessened my confidence in my conclusion (growth mindset isn’t very impressive and often fails outright) without entirely reversing it.

4. (12/1/15) In College And Critical Thinking, I claimed that a graph showed a u-shaped relationship between time spent in college and critical thinking, which suggested that the relationship between the two was too confusing and unpredictable to be very strong. In fact, commenter PSJ pointed out that this was only true of a small sample of two-year college students, and that most college students showed the expected linear relationship. Discovering the mistake strengthened my conclusion (that college probably does improve critical thinking skills at least in the short term).

5. (1/1/15) In my January 2016 links post, I noted that according to an article in Mother Jones, OxyContin abuse kills three times more people than homicide. Although the article was about OxyContin abuse, the specific statistic cited was about all fatal drug overdoses. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that it was linked by Marginal Revolution. Sorry, Marginal Revolution.

6. (3/26/16) In my March 2016 links post, I linked to a Wikipedia page about a radar detector detector detector detector. Rational Conspiracy has looked into it further and believes that was a hoax and there was no such thing. The hierarchy of radar detection most likely ends at radar detector detector detectors.

7. (8/26/16) In A Whiter Shade Of Candidate, I wrote that Donald Trump was doing relatively well among minorities in the Republican primary and so it was unfair to describe him as running a campaign based around “white power”. Although Trump did go on to do relatively well among the small subset of minorities who voted in the Republican primary, after winning the nomination he polls very poorly among minorities overall, and has run what seems to be an unusually racially tinged campaign. I do believe that some of this came from being forced into it – get called “the white supremacy candidate” enough times and eventually minorities will desert you, racists will flock to you, and you’ll be forced to make do with the base you have – but the claim that Donald Trump is not doing unusually badly among minorities no longer seems defensible.

Probably many other mistakes, but these are the ones I remembered to record. If you know of an objective mistake (not subjective disagreement!) that is not listed here, please let me know.

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13 Responses to Mistakes

  1. Alex Zavoluk says:

    Are you referring to SSC only, or things you’ve written anywhere?

  2. DES3264 says:

    Surely, every “thing I will regret writing” was either a mistake to write, or else mistakenly identified as such a thing. 🙂

  3. Sam Rosen says:

    You doing this is awesome.

  4. BlackHumor says:

    I believe your original position on 1 was actually correct:

    If the drop in murder rate is entirely due to improvements in medical care, then if we could find some country which tracked a combined measure of murders AND attempted murders since the Victorian era, we’d expect it to be stable. As it happens, there totally is such a country: Japan, which has consistently tracked a combination of homicide and attempted homicide rates since the late 1800s. But Japan’s graph looks just like all the other graphs on that page: it’s high in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, then starting in the 1950s it slowly drops until bottoming out in about the 90s.

    (PS: The original source of this data is here, but it’s behind a paywall, so I’m linking to the summary I found originally.)

  5. Mortimer Mouse says:

    Scott, it’s 2016! 1/1/15 is wrong. And I believe 1/1/16 isn’t what you want either.

  6. Paul Weber says:

    I’m not sure where to post this mistake I discovered, but in the anti-reactionary FAQ in section 3.5 you evaluate the success of Republican party platform from 1920, and conclude that point nine was not achieved, however I would argue that it was achieved by Reagan, in this vox article, it details how radically he simplified the tax brackets, and I’m pretty sure since thatt kind of change is most going to benefit the average american, that’s what the 1920 republican party platform meant with “simplify income tax”

  7. Pku says:

    The first link in 4 (College And Critical Thinking) redirects to instead of the specific post.

    (Feel free to delete this comment).

  8. Han says:


    5. (1/1/15) In my January 2016 links post

    That appears to be posted 1/13/16, not 1/1/15?

  9. Maximu5 says:

    Waw. I stumbled on this blog today. I haven’t seen a blog with a section called “mistakes”. That is what I call intellectual honesty. I have instantly bookmarked this blog

  10. Buckyballas says:

    In Pope and Change (2013-02-28) you say:

    First, I kind of want him to be progressive. I have also accepted this will never happen*. For a while I thought I could kind of get away with hoping for relative progressivism, like rooting for the guy who was stuck in the 18th century over the guy who was stuck in the 15th century. But the differences between them seem so slight as to make this a dangerous game. And it seems sort of like a form of cultural imperialism to demand the head of a religion I don’t believe should parrot my views and ignore the views of his religion’s actual members.

    Doesn’t Pope Francis qualify as relatively progressive?

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