Arguing Without Discussing Opposing Arguments

I read A serious case for dynamic scoring, an essay discussing how the U.S. government inaccurately scores the budget impact of potential laws by ignoring complex, dynamic factors like how a law could increase economic growth. Proposals to bring in more high-skilled immigrants are calculated as costly because the taxes they would pay isn't considered, nor is their potential innovation, productivity or job creation.

I started reading the article because the title sounded relevant. I've discussed scoring systems for Critical Fallibilism. I continued reading because I found the beginning reasonably interesting.

I found the article in general reasonable. It explained an issue. The writing was simple and clear. It did ask for "more evidence" about an issue and use some standard epistemology ideas that I consider errors. (For more on that, see my article Yes or No Philosophy Summary and my video Criticizing how people say there's "no evidence" (and mold, covid vaccines, and food additives).)

The goal of the article was to persuade people about a political reform. It's trying to generate support for policies that the authors favor.

I didn't see anything wrong with the reasoning in the article that would lead me to disagree with the authors. Should I be persuaded? Should I support the policy they advocate? Should anyone?

I don't think so. Why? Because they don't tell me the state of the debate. Does anyone disagree with them? What does the other side(s) say? Are there any experts with counter-arguments? In order to be confident they're right, I'd have to search for opposing views. Then I'd have to read them and see if they had reasonable points (the kind of arguments that would seem potentially correct to me if I didn't know any counter-arguments, not the kind of arguments that seem worse than nothing because they're incoherent or illogical). If they made some reasonable arguments, I'd have to be undecided until I did more research and organized all the arguments for all sides and reached a conclusion.

The article advocating dynamic scoring just said the author's beliefs and gave positive arguments for those beliefs. It's pretty easy for people who are wrong to do that. You can make a case for all sorts of bad ideas that sounds pretty good to non-experts looked at in isolation. (And for this political issue, I consider myself a non-expert.) In isolation means by itself without seeing the other side(s) of the debate.

The article didn't even link to further resources. They didn't have additional articles for me to read next with more details (there were a few links in the middle but none were labelled as ways to learn more). They didn't have a website about this stuff to direct me to. It'd be completely reasonable not to discuss the other side in the article, but to link to a website that has more details including information about opposing arguments and rebuttals to those arguments. Discussing the state of the debate makes articles longer and not all articles need to do that, but if you want to rationally persuade people you should have the information available somewhere.

The article did give a little information about the state of the debate. It said the policy change (using dynamic scoring which more accurately figures out the economic impact of laws) is opposed by people who favor high taxes. That's because dynamic scoring takes into account potential upsides of tax cuts (like economic growth), while non-dynamic scoring simply says cutting taxes always costs money.

But there is no acknowledgment of anyone disagreeing with dynamic scoring for any other reason than a partisan bias about taxes. They don't discuss having any opponents regarding using dynamic scoring for high-skill immigration or for government-funded research and development. Because they don't admit that anyone disagrees with them, they don't explain the disagreements and give relevant arguments, so I'm not able to be persuaded by their article. I've concluded that I don't know if they're right, and that other readers shouldn't be persuaded either (though I suspect many will be persuaded).

They didn't make a claim that they have no opponents. They didn't claim that basically no one disagrees with them and, despite their best efforts, they couldn't find any counter-arguments to respond to (other than arguments narrowly about tax cuts). If they had claimed that, I would have considered believing them (though it would require some explanation or links to persuade me, not just the assertion). Instead, they didn't acknowledge the issue. When they don't claim there's no opposition, controversy or expert disagreement, I'm not going to assume it. Disagreement is common in general, and there are presumably some reasons we aren't already doing dynamic scoring. They may be bad reasons, but they presumably have some supporters or things would have already changed.

One thing the article didn't discuss was the difficulty of making more complex forecasts accurate (or the cost of doing the extra analysis). When you use more complex models, there's generally more risk of the models being wrong (and sometimes badly wrong – more complex models have more opportunities to be dissimilar to reality). So it's pretty easy for me to think of potential downsides and imagine there are some opponents who would bring those issues up – but the article didn't address that or provide any links to further information that addresses it.

Applications to Critical Fallibilism

So with those thoughts in mind, I thought I'd consider my own articles. When I write Critical Fallibilism articles, I often explain an idea, say why it's good, and stop there. I often don't discuss any opposition. Why? Is that bad?

First, I have a website with other articles. Some of them do discuss opposing ideas and give arguments to address them. I don't think that information should be discussed in every article, but all my articles do link to my website where I explain a lot more.

Second, I have a forum where people can bring up criticisms, ask questions, request sources or more information, etc. I also have a debate policy that people can use. People can also search the forum (and my other websites and discussion archives) and find answers that were already given in the past.

Third, for a lot of what I'm saying, there is no opposition. That's not because everyone agrees. It's because I'm talking about new ideas, which I invented, which hardly anyone is aware of. I'm sure there would be some opposition if thousands of people learned about the ideas. But the current state of the debate for a lot of Critical Fallibilism ideas is that people dismiss them without giving any criticism. Many people simply refuse to debate, listen or state a debate policy (specifying in what circumstances they'd start debating or listening).

The unavailability of criticism doesn't just apply to me and my work. I've been broadly unable to find criticism for Eli Goldratt's ideas – even though he sold millions of books and people say his ideas are taught in business schools. Similarly, Ayn Rand sold millions of books but I haven't found any criticism of her ideas about automatizing ideas. I know where to find arguments that contradict her on some topics (like economics), though in general it's still hard to find direct counter-arguments that discuss specific things she said (preferably using quotes) and (try to) point out errors. Karl Popper (who sold fewer books and is less famous than Rand) got more direct responses from intellectuals who disagreed with him, but I've found the quality of those arguments is low and I've been unable to get any productive debates with well-informed Popper critics. Plus Popper already wrote answers to his critics and then, in most cases (as far as I know), his answers went unanswered. By the way, I've also been disappointed by the quality of articles by Popper's supporters who are trying to agree with his claims.

A recurring experience I've had is that people say "I want X type of ideas" or "I want ideas to solve X problem" or "I want ideas with positive trait X" and then I say I have those and share a link ... and then they have no interest or curiosity – they won't refute or even look into ideas which are potentially what they want. In some cases, no one else is offering anything that even claims to be what they want (e.g. it's widely viewed as a hard, unsolved problem, or viewed as an under-explored topic), but they still won't consider Critical Fallibilist ideas.

Why? There are many reasons but one major issue is prestige. Lots of people will only consider ideas that come from authorities with high positions in a social hierarchy. One reason for that is they lack confidence in their ability to judge whether ideas are good or bad (or judge what arguments won a debate), so they want to only consider ideas that some experts have already said are good. If they considered ideas from an independent thinker, those ideas could be bad but fool them into thinking they are good ideas. If you believe that you're gullible (even if you wouldn't admit it to yourself in those words), there's an incentive to avoid ideas that aren't pre-approved by other people who you hope aren't gullible. Another reason not to listen to Critical Fallibilism or anything else unpopular is it could have genuinely good ideas that no one else will listen to anyway (because everyone else focuses on social status, not rational arguments), so why bother? (Using the ideas to improve your thinking, without talking about them to others who aren't interested, is one potential answer that could be effective even if the ideas stay unpopular.)