(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.

8. (12/1/16) I mentioned a few times (eg here) a theory that increased carbon dioxide in poorly-ventilated areas might hurt cognition, especially in the context of global warming which we expect to cause increased carbon dioxide everywhere. Commenters pointed out that submarines had carbon dioxide levels double or triple those of anywhere else studied, but submariners seem pretty with-it and don’t show noticeable cognitive declines. My guess (75% confidence) is now that there’s no cognitive penalty for carbon dioxide within the levels humans encounter in normal situations, but this could change if I see more good studies on it.

9. (12/30/16) In Vegetarianism For Meat-Eaters, part 2 suggested that donating to animal welfare charities could save 3 – 11 animal lives per dollar. Based on critiques like those in this essay, I now think those numbers are heavily exaggerated, maybe by several orders of magnitude. I don’t know what the right numbers are or whether the point is still somewhat valid.

10. (12/31/16) In Contra NYT On Economists On Education, I said that an NYT article was so deceptive that it constituted journalistic malpractice. Some people commented that they interpreted the article in a different, non-deceptive way. Although I still think most people would interpret the article incorrectly, I think it’s sufficiently possible to interpret it as intended that it was probably just an honest disagreement in interpretations and not a deliberate attempt to mislead. I deleted the “journalistic malpractice” phrase after about an hour, and I apologize to the Times and to the author for imputing motive. I still think they dropped the ball, though.

11. (4/9/17) In Some Groups Of People Who May Not 100% Deserve Our Eternal Scorn, I said that I thought Vox was mostly behaving responsibly, insofar as everyone knows its biases, and looking beyond them it has good articles on a variety of subjects. Several commenters argued that they had an irresponsible tendency to publish informal “meta-analyses” of the arguments for and against a specific position, while exaggerating the arguments on their side and leaving out the best arguments on the other. They said the “review of evidence” format has an implicit claim to objectivity that can’t be sidestepped just by saying “everyone knows their biases”, and gave some examples of this being used really egregiously. After some thought, I agree. I continue to personally respect many of the people at Vox and enjoy their articles, but saying that they “may not 100% deserve our eternal scorn” was probably going too far.

12. (4/9/17) G.K Chesterton On AI Risk was an April Fools’ joke and not meant seriously. But it did criticize Maciej Ceglowski’s piece where he accused singularitarians of not caring enough about the poor. The fake Chesterton of the piece said that if Ceglowski himself gave to charity at the same level as the people he was criticizing, he would “eat his hat”. Ceglowski pointed out that he does indeed give a lot of money to charity, including a $15,000 donation last year. Mr. Chesterton not being available for hat-eating, I had to do this one myself.

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.

Leave a Reply

21 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?

  11. mdet says:

    Since comments are disabled on the Crying Wolf post, I’ll respond to #7 & 8 here.

    Many outlets have reported that “Donald Trump outperformed both Romney & McCain among Black voters, and outperformed Romney among Hispanic, & Asian voters, therefore Trump actually made inroads among minorities for the Republican party!” This is halfway true. Trump received 8% of Black voters and 29% of Hispanic & Asian voters each, compared to Romney’s 6%, 27%, 26% respectively and McCain’s 4%, 31%, 35% respectively. But if you look at Republican candidates before 2008:
    2004—Bush got 11% of Black, 44% of Hispanic, 44% of Asian voters
    2000—Bush got 9% of Black, 35% of Hispanic, 41% of Asian voters
    1996—Dole got 12% of Black, 21% of Hispanic, 48% of Asian voters
    1992—Bush got 10% of Black, 25% of Hispanic, 55% of Asian voters

    While Trump may have gotten a greater share of the minority vote than McCain or Romney, he significantly underperformed among minorities compared to any Republican candidate from ’92-’04. I think the proper conclusion here is not “Trump made inroads among minorities” but “The ’08 & ’12 elections saw unusually high minority support for the Democratic presidential candidate, whoever that guy was”

    • Rasputin says:

      I’d really like to see a rebuttal to mdet’s point, because I had a feeling this was the case, but hadn’t bothered to check. Despite what my SJW friends might say, it’s should be beyond reproach to acknowledge that Obama’s race motivated an extra large share of minorities to vote, duh. It obviously wasn’t the only reason, and many people (minority and not) voted for him for many other reasons, but due to that alone, it seems there’s a decent chance anyone besides the Devil Himself would have received a higher share of minority votes than Romney or McCain.

      I suppose we could argue that turn out was down all together this year, or maybe that by 2012 the novelty should have worn off.

    • Alex Zavoluk says:

      So Trump is not more popular among minorities than, say, an “average” Republican, but that still upends the narrative about him being particularly racist.

  12. ed74 says:

    I have to challenge your classification of stormfront as a “white nationalist” site, vs. “white supremacist.”
    Have you looked at stormfront, or googled it?
    As a rule of thumb, if someone or something is a self-described “white nationalist, ” they’re almost certainly white supremacist. No one actually describes themselves as”white supremacist,” because that term is pretty stigmatized (and rightly).
    If someone is a self-described “white supremacist,” they’re a ticking bomb.
    Acknowledging this skews your white supremacist numbers a bit, I think, as stormfront has something like 60,000 users, IIRC. Although not enough to make white supremacist a relevant demographic.

  13. Patrick Foley says:

    #8 and #7 – am I the only person who thought of the Holy Grail credits?

    Thanks so much for this blog – it’s awesome.

  14. Mr B J Mann says:

    In your You Are Still Crying Wolf Blog Posted on November 16, 2016

    Half way down you assume that Trump can’t have had trouble with his earpiece because he heard and repeated Duke’s name.

    However in the quotes you post it seems clear that he appears to be under the impression that he was asked about a number of organisations, and not just Duke’s, so if he was only asked about Duke’s it’s not Duke’s name, but which organisations he was being asked about, that he must have misheard.

  15. Gene McCulley says:

    Documenting mistakes in a standard way is a great idea. It reminds me of Bessemer Venture Partners’ Anti-Portfolio. Are there other good examples of this kind of document?

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