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Seems like a terrible idea to me. The two sides are at war, and if the way you sample them is by going 50-50, that encourages them to be more extreme because that will skew the average in their direction.

We already see this in the media. You have the host and two people. Lets hear what person A says, lets hear what person B says. Who's right? Impossible to tell, otherwise you must be biased. And no mention that person A drew conclusions on claims which were mostly verifiable facts, whereas person B drew conclusions on entirely made up claims.

In fact, this is a known fallacy and has a name: argument to moderation.


Some times person A is 100% right and person B is 0% right. The thing is that to be able to tell the different takes effort in educating yourself. And the minute you try to outsource this to someone else, they will use that trust against you. But calling it 50-50 is not a solution, it's not even an approximate solution.

To be honest I don't find "verifiable fact" to be worth much these days. If coronavirus has done anything it has highlighted how easy it is to do wrong.

Journalists and politicians alike getting drawing incorrect insights from data.

Meanwhile so little of the data surrounding coronavirus is comparable. You have countries only recording cases if the patient was hospitalised (not if they tested positive) and cause of death reporting is a minefield.

So "verifiable fact" is just as easily weaponised / politicised as bullshit. At least bullshit is easier to debunk...

We had this almighty Imperial Model projecting 500k dead meanwhile Sweden just did their own thing.

I don't really have a leaning to the policy setting but it feels that once you wrap some information up with numbers, maths and scientific authority you can parade subjectivity as fact anyway too.

I guess I'm a little jaded after seeing politics and business use spurious pedestalise data which really amounts to numerology when you start peeling back the layers and thinking critically.

> meanwhile Sweden just did their own thing

I'm not sure if you are just throwing this out there or if your intent is to hold up Sweden as an example that contradicted expected results with respect to models/social distancing requirements/etc.

If the later, then think Sweden is not a good example of such a contradiction: With the comparably minor-to-moderate social distancing, they have roughly about 2.5x the cases per capita as their two neighbors Finland and Norway, and roughly 6x to 7x the deaths per capita.

As you said, the data from country to country is hard to compare, but at the very least Sweden should not be the poster-child for low social-distancing mandates.

The point of the early models, which were predicated on no behavior change, was to change behavior. And they certainly did. Well before the official stay-at-home orders, people here in SF were starting to act differently. And when those orders came, people took them seriously. So I don't think we can blame early models for doing exactly what they were supposed to do, which was telling us what could happen if we didn't take the disease seriously.

Antibody studies from Spain and elsewhere show only ~5% of population of these 'hard-hit' nations has had the virus. This confirms a mortality rate of about 1% when the national epidemic has a bad first wave but limited medical system overwhelm, followed by a severe lockdown.

Best guess given herd immunity kicks in at about 85% of pop infected is about 260,000 deaths with a 1% mortality rate. With these figures 500,000 deaths is a 1.9% mortality rate - high but still possible.

contextualise everything with this 5% figure - the US, and everywhere else, is much closer to the beginning of this than to the end.

You say that verifiable facts don't count for much and then as an example point to a model? A model isn't a fact.

That someone made assumptions and drew conclusions might be a fact. But the assumptions might or might not be facts, and the conclusions certainly aren't facts. As a general rule, if it's in the future, it's not a fact.

You're completely right - but I guess my point is that anything that has a number attached to it is often treated as fact in the media.

In the very strictest sense of verifiable fact - boolean true/false statements with irrefutable proof, then yes I think fact trumps all.

Unfortunately I think that in reality, very little of what we think of as fact falls under that very narrow definition. And my example was merely trying to illustrate that the entire field of medical statistics and epidemiology is filled with pitfalls, given that many of the numbers that are reported themselves have a tonne of nuance and context baked into them.

And I suppose any discussion which focuses solely on the numbers associated with the current pandemic are going to be extremely lossy as the numbers are a very low fidelity expression of the "truth" (in the idealistic sense).

What does this have to do with facts? I guess I feel that culturally we attribute the trust to things we consider "facts" at quite a superficial level without digging deeper.

Just like bias by choosing which stories to cover, you can choose which facts to confirm and debunk. Snopes used to be where I went to debunk urban legends. It seems they’ve taken a more political bent now. Their fact verification is still true, but it does seem like they fact check with an agenda now.

That's like saying you should never collect opinions from more than one person on a topic.

If you read garbage publications, of course you will get garbage arguments and opinions.

US news channels are a horrible example, they pick someone to represent the most extreme views and have them fight on TV to entertain viewers.

But reading two articles on the same topic by two sources on different ends of the political spectrum and with decent quality and can be very enlightening. (emphasis on quality)

This reminds me, how does a fallacy get discovered or made official? I mean, I followed the link above and saw it has a latin name and everything but yet feels very new and contemporary. Not that I disagree except that to avoid this fallacy, the 'verifiable facts' have to be known by all in advance

Traditionally, they come from ancient Greek philosophers. This one seems to be a modern variant of https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorites_paradox so I guess it's not "official".

Seems like a perfectly good idea to me; I doubt one website permitting comparison is going to suddenly instigate a dialogue extremism arms-race (more than normal). In fact if anything it's bringing us closer to the original idea of debate rather than echo chambers.

And it seems like your argument falls under plenty of its own fallacies.

Perfect solution fallacy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_fallacy

And some might argue straw-man fallacy given that op never suggested that truth would lie 5050 between the two.

Debate allows us to see two opposing views and draw our own conclusions; not perfect but a whole lot better than nothing.

Educating yourself about every topic out there is absolutely impossible. Thats precisely why news businesses exist in the first place.

> Thats precisely why news businesses exist in the first place.

Nah. My view is that news exist for entertainment. That might not be their stated goal, but it's why people consume them.

I do not claim they educate but benefit from the mainstream ignorance about a vast variety of topics.

News categorically doesn't educate.

The Guardian (yes, ironically a provider of "News"), published an extract from the writings of "The Art of Thinking Clearly" author with some decent enough bullet points on this that are difficult to argue with:


I've always found myself to very much agree with Jefferson's views [1] on the topic of news, and I agree with this piece as well. I observe in myself that I'm generally happier and more productive the less I expose myself to "the news".

I think there's a threshold of distance and size where it stops being useful to the average person. Too far away? Can't do anything about it? Better not weigh down your mind by getting stressed about it.

[1] http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_spe...

And the better alternative is...? What you say is correct but also worthless unless you provide a better way to do it.

> And the better alternative is...?

Actively researching both sources and stories, and not being a passive consumer who expects someone else to spoon-feed you a solution.

You have the time to dredge up sources and check their veracity every time you read an article? Often sources are private but verified by the journalist. This is why journalism exists and has a code of ethics. You can’t just look every claim up on Wikipedia.

I'm talking about your sources (i.e., media outlets), not an articles sources.

Definitely not worthless. Also OP makes a good point at the end:

> The thing is that to be able to tell the different takes effort in educating yourself.

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