RationalWiki is a Front for Socialist Indoctrination


Arrogance Passing for Rationality

So I was browsing the web one day when I stumbled across a site called RationalWiki. Now the name and the design was appealing, what with the brain in the brackets and whatnot, so I decided to search through the site by looking at random articles to see what kind of material they offered. Well, what I found was anything but material that you’d expect to see on a site called “RationalWiki.” Instead, I find a series of nauseatingly shallow and arrogant articles that would make any objective scholar cringe; that this material is on the internet and no one has challenged it tells me a lot about the intellectual bankruptcy of the Western World.

Take, for example, the RationalWiki article on pseudoscience. One merely has to lightly read through it to see some of the most arrogant statements that can be made.

Quote from the page: “If an idea has not been published in a single peer review journal, it is safe to say it is not science. Most people have at least a passing knowledge of the peer review system and so pseudoscience promoters often have to offer hand-wavy explanations for why their ideas have not been published anywhere. In medicine it is common to blame Big Pharma for wanting to hide the fact that some natural product cures all known illnesses because it will hurt their profits – despite the fact that such a thing would generate more profit, and Big Pharma would be dying to get their hands on it!”

Let’s just assume for a second that I agree with the premise that this quote is putting forth (which I don’t); there is no excuse for passing this kind of blithely arrogant and shallow material off as anything other than trash, and that’s not even dealing with the factual inaccuracies. Starting with the idea that it is common in medicine to blame Big Pharma for wanting to hide natural cures, this couldn’t be further from the truth as in fact the idea of natural cures in medicine is very uncommon. Currently, Big Pharma has a massive monopoly over the medicine market, of which it enjoys thanks almost entirely to the Food and Drug Administration. You may think that said government agency is protecting you from harmful products, and it is true that they have banned some harmful drugs from the market, but what you don’t see is how many life-saving drugs that never make it to market if for no other reason than the bureaucratic red-tape. In fact, the FDA has approved a lion’s share of dangerous drugs that they ended up recalling later because they had links to serious side effects, and more are recalled regularly.

Big Pharma is, first and foremost, a cartel. It is a cartel that enjoys it’s monopoly privilege because it doesn’t have to worry about competition from smaller firms or corporations thanks to the FDA. In fact, the worst thing you could do to Big Pharma would be to get rid of the FDA. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the FDA intentionally props up Big Pharma (though that’s not impossible), I’m saying that Big Pharma is being propped up because of the fact that they can afford to jump through the regulatory hoops, while smaller firms and corporations can’t. The result is an artificial demand for the products of Big Pharma because the products of smaller corporations and firms are barred from the market, thus, Big Pharma can charge a higher price for their products, and therefore, make much higher profits than they would have under free-market conditions.

Quote from the page: “Pseudoscience is sometimes referred to as “junk science.” However, the term “junk science” has become associated with anti-environmental bullshit due to corporate mouthpiece Steve Milloy‘s use of the term. Milloy runs a blog called “Junk Science” where he obfuscates and denies global warming, risks associated with the use of DDT, and other environmental problems. Michael Fumento, another shill, has furthered this use of the phrase. In general, when a pundit is being interviewed or writing a column about environmental or health issues, the term “junk science” usually translates to “science that will be very inconvenient for my funders” and “sound science” translates to “some bullshit I just made up to deny the problem.”

I’ve never heard of Steve Milloy or Michael Fumento, I’ve never read any of their material (which may or may not be bullshit as the author claims) and frankly, I don’t intend to. The ad hominem attacks and arrogant tone that the author takes are more than enough to discredit the integrity of the author in question. It is a clear indication that the author isn’t writing on the basis of Rationality, but on the basis of Emotion.

RationalWiki’s Attack on the Austrian School

Out of curiosity, I typed in “Austrian School,” just to see what would come up. This is what I found, and it’s a hit piece if there ever was one. In the introductory remarks, the intent of the piece is readily apparent.

Quote from the page: “As the claims of Austrian economists are difficult to verify without empirical testing (and the same economists openly admit to it), it is widely considered a pseudoscience.[4][5] Austrian arguments as to why statistical methods cannot adequately describe human behavior can seem intuitively compelling, but they fail to provide the mathematical proof demonstrating why normally unbiased estimates suddenly become biased simply because they are dealing with people who make decisions. Perhaps one reason they are so uncomfortable with empiricism is that Austrian economists are more interested in defending the political ideology of libertarianism than they are in advancing economic understanding,[6] and rigorous testing can sometimes undermine deeply held political beliefs.”

There is a glaring logical fallacy here. If you believe that statistical methods can’t adequately describe human behavior, why in the world would you be expected to provide mathematical proof to the claim? Doing so would be in direct contradiction with your own position, and would thus undermine it entirely. Apparently, the person who wrote this piece isn’t well versed in logic (or in the material that he’s/she’s critiquing).

As Ludwig Von Mises pointed out numerous times throughout his works (most notably in “Human Action: a Treatise on Economics,” and “Theory and History: an Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution”), the natural sciences, i.e., chemistry, physics, owe the entirety of their success to the fact that they can conduct controlled experiments. They can recreate exact conditions as many times as needed to learn all that can be learned of a particular atom or chemical process. In the social sciences however, it’s not so simple. Human beings are not atoms that can be predicted 100%, or even 90% of the time, and it is impossible to conduct the type of empirical tests that those in the natural sciences conduct simply because of the fact that you can’t recreate exact conditions in the social sciences. The attempts to do so are even more laughable, since human beings do not react to the same stimuli in same way every time. Instead, the results are presented in the form of averages and percentages, but these results are worthless because they’re essentially comparing apples to oranges. Now, whether or not you agree or disagree with this is irrelevant to the fact that this is the Austrian Position simplified.

With regards to Praxeology, the author of the page hyperlinked Murray Rothbard’s Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics. As a side note, when yours truly first saw the RationalWiki page that I’m addressing, the hyperlink title was, “Praxeology: Or How I Learned Not to Think and Enjoy Stupidity.” I have since edited the page to give Murray’s work it’s original title. Apparently someone thought it was cute and funny to change the title of the work that he/she was critiquing to something derogatory. Again, that says something about the character and intention of the author of this RationalWiki page. The author goes on to quote two very short passages from Murray’s work, which is found on the first page ironically enough.

Quote from the page: Murray Rothbard‘s “Praxeology: The Methodology of Austrian Economics” describes praxeology as an application of deductive reasoning, applied to a set of ‘unquestionable’ axioms. Of course, any implications derived from these axioms are only as good as the analysis that derived them, and the axiom that they were derived from. This is where the praxeology gets into trouble, as they reject less mushy formal analysis in favor of more weasely verbal analysis. Lets look at the axiom that Rothbard refers to as the foundation of praxeological deduction as an example, the ‘fundamental axiom of action’. Almost immediately, the axiom wades into trouble. It states that:

“Individual human beings act.”

The first part of that assertion is simple enough to grasp, but what does it mean to act? One possible definition of act says it is to “perform an action”. This seems to be as far as most Austrian school thinker take this.”

This is where the author’s ignorance on the subject that he’s/she’s critiquing shows. The Austrian economists, especially Murray Rothbard and Ludwig Von Mises, went through great pains to illustrate what is action and what is not action in the Praxeological sense. Is breathing an action? No, because it is an unconscious reflex. Is typing up this rebuttal an action? Yes, because I am undertaking a purposeful (physical) action to achieve a given end. In the Praxeological sense, “perform an action” is not an adequate definition of action. Every action has three causes that must be simultaneously met, or action does not take place. First, the person must be dissatisfied with prevailing conditions. Second, the person must think that a different set of conditions would satisfy him more. Third, the person must think that he/she can succeed in changing his/her conditions. If so much as one of those conditions is missing, no action (in the Praxeological sense) takes place.

Quote from the page:“However, as an air conditioner, vacuum cleaner and TV all perform actions, it would seem this axiom places human beings in the rather large set of things that act. It would be pretty embarrassing then, to derive any economic conclusions from the fact that people are part of the set of things that act, as the conclusions deriving from being a member of the set of things that act would apply to other members of that set as well.”

It is true that the fore-mentioned machines perform actions, but only human beings act in the Praxeological sense. Do machines have goals that they themselves set? Can a vacuum cleaner or an air conditioner turn itself on without any kind of help from human beings? No. Even the most advanced units of machinery require presetting in order to perform these feats. In this case, the actions performed by machines are nothing more than reflexes and are not actions in the Praxeological sense. Only humans can act in the Praxeological sense, because only humans have the rational capacity to voluntarily chose ends and the means taken to meet those ends. This is well defined throughout the writings of both Murray Rothbard and Ludwig Von Mises, but apparently the author of this RationalWiki page couldn’t be bothered to actually read the material that he’s/she’s critiquing.

Quote from the page. “Rothbard is kind enough to clarify his definition: ’…that is human beings take conscious action towards chosen goals.’

Note that one under-defined concept has now been replaced with two; conscious action and chosen goals. Let us ignore the validity of this assertion, and try to figure out just what chosen goals are. The word choice would seem to imply some form of conscious action was taken in forming these goals, so is the real statement of this axiom “human beings take conscious action towards a consciously acted upon set of goals”? Perhaps Rothbard meant to differentiate between ‘choosing’ and ‘acting’, but that is never clearly expressed. In either case, it would seem that the definition of goal needs some work to be truly useful. Sound logic relies on clarity of definition, as many arguments are sensitive to subtle changes in meaning, and vague statements hide contradictions. This approach of verbal deduction also leads to a rather noticeable (ab)use of false analogies and intuition pumps.”

I have to point out that with as little as the author of the RationalWiki page quoted, anything can be under-defined. The author didn’t even bother going past the first page of the material that he/she hyperlinked. The above quote is the last of his rebuttal of Praxeology, and what’s worse, the author of the RationalWiki page didn’t even understand the little bit that he/she quoted. Choosing and Acting are two different things; choosing is a Psychological event, acting on your chosen ends is a Praxeological event. I would’ve expected the title of the work to hint at this, and some in-depth research to clarify, but again the point of the author’s RationalWiki page isn’t to actually refute anything. The point of the author’s RationalWiki page is to demonize opposition, and in pursuing this end, the author left countless fallacies in his/her wake.

The Attack on the Austrian Business Cycle Theory

The author of the RationalWiki page also takes aim at the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle. Just for reference work, I’ll link two books for you to read on your own time. The first of these is Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles by Jesus Heurta de Soto, and the second is The Theory of Money and Credit by Ludwig Von Mises.

Quote from the page:  “Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) is an attempt to explain the business cycle in capitalist economies through the lens of Austrian theory (obviously). ABCT is probably one of the elements of the Austrian school that helps it spread its laissez-faire meme-plex due to its appealing simplicity. In short, the business cycle is the creation of the central bank (the Federal Reserve in the US) — when it sets interest rates too low, this makes credit much easier to get. This easy credit is confused for “real loanable funds” (ie. hard cash money). In other words, the easy credit sends out “false signals” to banks and other creditors to go into a feeding frenzy and make loans to anyone and his dog. This causes a bubble driven by inflation, not true economic growth which is destined to burst. Recessions and depressions, then, are simply payback for getting drunk on easy credit. They are in fact desirable because they represent a market correction where “misallocated resources” are liquidated and thus free to be “reallocated” to a more useful ends. This has led economist Paul Krugman to dub it the “Hangover Theory,” calling it “about as worthy of serious study as the phlogiston theory of fire.”[7] Milton Friedman remarked: “The Austrian business-cycle theory has done the world a great deal of harm.”[8] Gordon Tullock claims that with the reallocation of capital the model predicts, “Laborers would be exploiting the capitalists.””

The irony of this quote rests in the fact that the author of the RationalWiki page demonstrates here a decent understanding of the ABCT, but then proceeds to argue from authority by quoting Milton Friedman, Gordon Tullock, and Paul Krugman; and what’s worse than the attempt at arguing from authority? Two of these people he’s attempting to quote don’t understand the model (Krugman especially, and has been called on it numerous times. For a rebuttal of Krugman’s Hangover Theory, written by David Gordon, click here.)

Quote from the site: “Of course, there is some grain of truth in it as low interest rates can induce risky lending and will be inflationary, but there are some glaring flaws in ABCT that any Joe should have spotted by this point. Like, umm, the fact that business cycles existed before the Fed. (Some try to skirt this issue by redefining “central bank” as any bank with a state or national charter.[10])”

The criticism that Business Cycles existed before the Fed is a very popular critique, but it is one that falls flat on it’s face when you take into account that the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle doesn’t just talk about central banks, but any bank that practices Fractional-Reserve Banking. The footnote that was provided here was a Keynesian response to the Austrian position, but this also falls flat on it’s face for the same reason (for a rebuttal to the author’s foot-note, written by Robert P. Murphy, click here.)

 

Quote from the page: “It also relies on two mis- or re-defined terms. The Austrians define inflation as an expansion of the base money supply, a consequence of which is rising prices, whereas inflation is defined as simply a rise in prices by mainstream economic theory. While expansion of the money supply can lead to inflation, it does not necessarily do so. Prices do not always track the expansion of the underlying monetary base.[11] Thus, the implication drawn from the Austrian definition of inflation is false.”

I won’t really get into the definition of terms here, I’ll simply say that it is not enough to claim, “Well, so-and-so said that this is correct and so-and-so is the mainstream, so therefore, it is correct because so-and-so said so.” That’s arguing from authority yet again. Austrian economics is railing against mainstream economic theory, so it’s not enough to simply cite mainstream theory, you must go deeper into why the mainstream theory is correct and the opposing theory is false. Of which, the author of the RationalWiki page fails to do so.

Quote from the page: “The ABCT also relies on a single “natural rate” of inflation, but there is no single natural rate of inflation.[12] In addition, the proposal to revert to a gold standard implied by ABCT fails to explain how to deal with the effects of a fixed money supply when population and economic output have been increasing throughout American history.”

The author’s foot-note is interesting here, since he’s referencing a Natural Rate of Inflation in his own text, but his foot-note is referencing a Natural Rate of Interest. And while the author supposedly values scholarly, accredited sources, the foot-note in question is a link to a blog written by someone by the name of Lord Keynes. Yeah… *no comment* As for the rest of the quote, the Austrians don’t “imply” that we need to go back to a gold standard, the Austrians tell you upfront in no uncertain terms that we need to go back to a gold standard. The fact that the author didn’t know this tells me that he/she hasn’t had much interaction with the works of Austrian Economists. My opinion is further reinforced by the fact that the author seems to think that the issue of the gold standard hasn’t been dealt with by Austrian Economists, when in fact it has.

Quote from the page: “ABCT ultimately is better at explaining why the Austrians and libertarians are such hardcore goldbugs and why they rail against the Fed so much than it is at explaining actual business cycles.”

More demeaning rhetoric and practically no substance.

RationalWiki’s Attack on Peter Schiff

The author of the RationalWiki page also attacks Peter Schiff. This segment of the “article” is very interesting. It appears to be more of an emotional rant than an attempt at writing an informative article.

Quote from the page: “It’s impossible to make a post on the internet about the financial crisis, or even anything economic in general, without being bombarded by “Peter Schiff was right!!11!!” videos. For the new Austrians (i.e., 19-year-olds who read a few newsletters over at the von Mises Institute and think they have achieved enlightenment), the Austrian-influenced investor Peter Schiff’s prediction of the housing bubble was vindication of all things Austrian. They believed they had finally shown all other economic theories to be utterly bankrupt and discredited.”

It’s ironic to me that the author of this RationalWiki page would refer to the New Austrians as 19 year olds who read a few newsletters and think that they’ve achieved enlightenment, when I could make the exact same argument about the author of the RationalWiki page. The author’s writing style, and methods of argumentation scream “19 year old kid with too much time on his/her hands.” It’s also worth noting that it wasn’t just Peter Schiff who saw the crash of 2008 coming. Congressman Ron Paul also saw the crash coming, and predicted with devastating accuracy what would happen all the way back in 2001.

Quote from the page: “First, Peter Schiff is still wrong about many things.[13] Second, Austrians have continuously predicted the economic end times and Weimar-style hyper-inflation as they will never be satisfied with the American economy until all regulation is lifted, the Fed is abolished, and we return to a gold standard. Only then will doom be averted. Of course, it’s easy to be a Cassandra when all you predict is doom. (In short, even a stopped clock can be right twice a day.)”

The author’s foot-note here is, again, interesting. One of them is a twelve video series on YouTube entitled “Peter Schiff was Wrong”, in which the poster attempts to prove using random news clips that Peter Schiff was demonstrably wrong. All I’m going to say about those twelve videos is that ratings are disabled, and so are the comments. That should tell you everything. As for his other link in the foot-notes, that link is pretty much dead.

Quote from the page:  “Third, they overlook the metric buttload of economists and financial guys who also saw it coming.[14] Those guys just weren’t put on CNBC alongside the Wall Street cheerleaders. Even one of Dubya‘s own economic advisers, Greg Mankiw, warned of problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac back in 2003.[15] Hell, firms like Goldman Sachs were shorting their own securities[16] — the bubble was apparently not a big mystery to insiders!”

Well, of course the bubble isn’t going to be a big mystery to insiders! They’re on the inside! They get information a lot sooner than you do!

In Conclusion

The author of that RationalWiki page is really working my last nerve, so I’ll just skip to the end and leave it at that.

Quote from the page: “The founder of the Austrian school, Carl Menger, was responsible for starting the Marginal Revolution, an important step forward in economic thinking.[22] However, that was in the late 19th century. Ludwig von Mises is credited with introducing the economic calculation problem in the 1920s, which argued that a state-run economy could not be efficient because prices could not be known, only decided by the state.[23] Austrians also argued for the non-neutrality of money.[10] The school hasn’t produced anything of much value since then. Now they are primarily a small group of cranks funded by even richer cranks through the von Mises Institute looking for self-serving rationalizations couched in the form of economic theory.”

As much, as a student of the Austrian school, I would like to agree with the statement that Carl Menger started the Marginal Revolution, this statement is factually incorrect. The Marginal Revolution is called the Marginal Revolution precisely because the principle of Marginal Utility was not discovered by one man, but by three different men within three years of each other. Carl Menger and William Stanley Jevons discovered the principle in the same year, Leon Walras was the last of the three discovering the principle three years later. No one person started the Marginal Revolution, and it is an error of fact to say otherwise. As for the accusation that the school hasn’t produced anything of value since then, this is demonstrably false! Henry Hazlitt’s “The Failure of the ‘New Economics’”, Ludwig Von Mises’ “Human Action: a Treatise on Economics”, Murray Rothbard’s “Man, Economy, and State”, just to name a few. The last sentence is interesting. “Cranks”, “Self-Serving Rationalizations.”

These terms fully reveal not only the intent of the RationalWiki page in question, but also of the entire site. This is not an isolated incident. The entire site is plagued by trash (the only suitable term) of this nature. I have no doubts that RationalWiki is just a front for Left-Wing Progressivism (a type of Socialism, basically), based on the style of the writing and the methods of argumentation used. 

In conclusion, if you’re going to get your information from a Wiki, you’re much better off going to Wikipedia.

Advertisements

Posted on April 7, 2012, in Economics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Good rebuttal, there is nothing that I despise more then people bashing the Austrian School and using or other mainstream Keynesians who thought “nobody saw this crisis coming”. Let alone the fact that Keynesian policies are the reason for the boom/bust cycle.

  2. Why do you disagree with the idea of peer review being an essential element of science? Also, looking on the RW pseudoscience page shows that the correct quote is “In ALTERNATIVE medicine it is common to blame…” Why did you forget to add that part to your review? Regarding your comments regarding the FDA, have you considered the amount of life saving drugs that it has allowed? It seems awfully shallow and arrogant to just mention FDA’s mistakes without a comparison to it’s successes.

    • The part regarding pseudoscience was copied and pasted as it was. Either it was changed by the author or by an observer, but either way, it was changed after I had copied off of it. Regarding peer-reviews, more often than not, they’re a racket to keep new ideas out of circulation. No one has a bigger stake in the existing knowledge than tenured professors, and when new evidence comes forward that discredits the old opinions, the establishment fights hard against it. Recommended reading on this is, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn. Here’s a link. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Structure-Scientific-Revolutions-Anniversary/dp/0226458121/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365210141&sr=8-1&keywords=Thomas+Kuhn).

      Regarding the FDA, its failures are far greater than it’s successes. And many of the new drugs that come out are just slightly altered versions of old drugs.

  3. I just had a read of http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/List_of_conspiracy_theories
    and had to follow up on this page and find out which buffoons print garbage like this?

    They have altered and taken the mentioned conspiracies out of context and into the ridiculous realm.

    At least most of the conspiracy theory followers try to present facts to support their arguments with.

    • I don’t see how the creators of that site can call it “RATIONALwiki” with a straight face. As I’ve shown in this post and the one that came right after it, the site and the people who post on there are anything but rational.

  4. It IS frustrating to find a site with the word “rational” in its title only to discover the pages fileld with pathetic and fallacious garbage. I totally understand your outrage; I had same, but have come to accept that there are kooks on the fringes of all ideological debate. Thank The Lord that the Internet is one of the few places left where one can say whatever the hell they want. Even if they dosguise themselves as a useful site and only spew forth excrement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: