The Popper Ratio

I hereby propose the Popper Ratio (n.) Unit obtained by calculating the number of “popper” in a long-form text compared to the number of times Sir Karl is really cited. By “really cited” I mean (a) a quote and (b) a reference. No mere mention. No handwaving. Proper quote and citation.

The Ratio is inspired by a SpeedoScience fight between Nassim and Claire. Both misrepresent our curmudgeon. Why? The simplest hypothesis is that paying lip service to authors makes one forget to pay due diligence to their points.

As a proof of concept, here are the results of a simple search at Claire’s. It may not be an exhausive list. It sure exhausted me. Numbers are involved. Caveat emptor.

* * *

Confusion About -Isms is Compounding Schisms has a 2:0 ratio, 4:0 if we add the author’s comments. In it we learn that “Popper formulates fallibilism as a core principle in liberalism.” The Open Society and its Enemies gets a mention.

Intersectionality and Popper’s Paradox has 3:1. The quote is partial, “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance” from Open Society.

The Poverty of Cosmopolitan Historicism gets a 7:1 ratio. The quote:

In The Open Society and its Enemies, Karl Popper wrote that “we may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets”. In Popper’s view, historicism was defined by its simplistic understanding of history, viewed as an unfolding of inexorable iron laws.

Who’s Afraid of Tribalism has a 9:0 ratio, again Open Society. The Unconstrained Vision of David Deutsch has a 7:0 ratio, yet Hayek and Hobbes get long quotes.

A ratio of 1:0 indicates a cameo appearance, like in Giving the Devil His Due, this time about Conjecture and Refutation. A sad 2:0 for Remain vs Leave: Elite Technocracy vs Liberal Democracy. Open Society, again. What the Alt-Right Gets Wrong About Jew gets a 3:0 ratio. The authors discuss falsification:

Any legitimate scientific theory, he said, should specify some state of the world which, if it is observed, would make us logically compelled to reject the theory. One of the problems with [the] criterion is that there is no such thing as falsification in the strong sense that he envisaged. Any theory can be salvaged in the face of any evidence, though this may require some fanciful theorizing.

The falsificationnist-in-chief is well aware of that problem. See below.

A perfect 1:1 for a review of Identity, Islam, and the Twilight of Liberal Values by Terri Murray. Again, tolerance:

[I]f we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed and tolerance with them.

There are a two other pieces (2:0 and 1:0), but you get the drift. There are two main reasons to namedrop Pop – Open Society and falsification. Let’s check the books.

* * *

There are 31 occurences of “tolera” in Open Society. The most relevant place, in note 6 of chapter 7 (The Principle of Leadership), introduces three paradoxes – Freedom (to cause injustice), Democracy (i.e. choosing tyranny), and Tolerance. Here’s the whole presentation on tolerance, a paradox that can be traced back to Voltaire:

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance : Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies ; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right even to suppress them, for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument ; they may forbid their followers to listen to anything as deceptive as rational argument, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, exactly as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping ; or as we should consider incitement to the revival of the slave trade.

Some limitation to freedom of speech is being acknowledged. Its discussion lies outside our remit. The paragraph that follows offers a general solution:

All these paradoxes can be easily avoided if we frame our political demands in some such manner as this. We demand a government that rules according to the principles of equalitarianism and protectionism ; that tolerates all who are prepared to reciprocate, i.e. who are tolerant ; that is controlled by, and accountable to, the public. And we may add that some form of majority vote, together with institutions for keeping the public well informed, is the best, though not infallible, means of controlling such a government. (No infallible means exist.) Cp. also chapter 6, the last four paragraphs in the text prior to note 42 ; text to note 20 to chapter 17 ; note 7 (4), to chapter 24 ; and note 6 to the present chapter.

Assuming equality and reciprocation ought to solve the paradox. Hard to see how it would escape a kingdom of blindness, but let’s not ask too much. This is only an endnote. Any parent or moderator could have told you something similar.

The solution matters more than the paradox itself. For instance, “protectionnism” is opposed to laissez-faire in Chapter 6. No wonder the paradox remains an empty battle cry for Freedom Fighter self-defense against Claire’s scapegoats.

* * *

Many quotes could be presented to illuminate the concept of falsifiability. Since it may boost our ratio let’s stick to one, from the Logic of Scientific Discovery:

It might be said that even if the asymmetry [between verification and falsification] is admitted, it is still impossible, for various reasons, that any theoretical system should ever be conclusively falsified. For it is always possible to find some way of evading falsification, for example by introducing ad hoc an auxiliary hypothesis, or by changing ad hoc a definition. It is even possible without logical inconsistency to adopt the position of simply refusing to acknowledge any falsifying experience whatsoever. Admittedly, scientists do not usually proceed in this way, but logically such procedure is possible; and this fact, it might be claimed, makes the logical value of my proposed criterion of demarcation dubious, to say the least. I must admit the justice of this criticism; but I need not therefore withdraw my proposal to adopt falsifiability as a criterion of demarcation. For I am going to propose (in sections 20 f.) that the empirical method shall be characterized as a method that excludes precisely those ways of evading falsification which, as my imaginary critic rightly insists, are logically possible. According to my proposal, what characterizes the empirical method is its manner of exposing to falsification, in every conceivable way, the system to be tested. Its aim is not to save the lives of untenable systems but, on the contrary, to select the one which is by comparison the fittest, by exposing them all to the fiercest struggle for survival.

Here’s why the quote in the 3:0 paper was incorrect. The authors were right to say that judgment calls were required. They were incorrect in saying this confuted falsificationnism. A jump from possibility to necessity appears to be the culprit.

According to my calculations, this piece has a 7:7 ratio. Not bad.

About Willard
This entry was posted in Freedom Fighters, Philosophy for Bloggers, SpeedoScience, The philosophy of science, The scientific method and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Popper Ratio

  1. Willard says:

    For those who’d like to follow suit, it’s possible to find Open Society and the Logic of Scientific Discovery in PDF online.

  2. Joshua says:

    Independently of Pops or your ratio…I hope you don’t mind.

    Following the breadcrumbs I was lead to this:

    View at

    Taleb is an ass…but that’s a pretty fun read, IMO – particularly the parts about just so storyfying behavioral genetics.

  3. Willard says:

    > I hope you don’t mind.

    Not at all. It’s the background to the Popper channeling. Since I mentioned the name, a quote, this time to counter Nassim’s claim that falsificationism can’t deal with statistical hypothesis:

    The proposed criterion of demarcation also leads us to a solution of Hume’s problem of induction—of the problem of the validity of natural laws. The root of this problem is the apparent contradiction between what may be called ‘the fundamental thesis of empiricism’— the thesis that experience alone can decide upon the truth or falsity of scientific statements—and Hume’s realization of the inadmissibility of inductive arguments. This contradiction arises only if it is assumed that all empirical scientific statements must be ‘conclusively decidable’, i.e. that their verification and their falsification must both in principle be possible. If we renounce this requirement and admit as empirical also statements which are decidable in one sense only—unilaterally decidable and, more especially, falsifiable—and which may be tested by systematic attempts to falsify them, the contradiction disappears: the method of falsification presupposes no inductive inference, but only the tautological transformations of deductive logic whose validity is not in dispute.

    That’s in section Falsifiability as a Criterion for Demarcation, not far from the quote in the piece. That paragraph is interesting because it shows how the induction problem is dissolved, i.e. remove the assumption that science must proceed deductively, and it goes away.

    I’m not so sure about that, and doubt this is strong enough to offer any demarcation. But at least it’s what is being said. If those who appeal to famous dead philosophers took the time to read them from time to time, that’d be great.

  4. Willard, I ran the F-word in both it form on the NYTime Media Analytics engine, and got rather disconcerting results:

  5. Willard says:

    Thanks, Russell. Make sure the F-word is “falsification,” not “falsfiability.”

    I got more than 500 hits at Judy’s, about 280 at the Auditor’s, more than 1,800 at Tony’s.

    For the P-word, it’s 370 at Judy’s, 95 at the Auditor’s, and more than 900 at Tony’s.

    Not too shabby.

  6. Steven Mosher says:

    a laymans guide to popper would be great.

    thanks for your work willard

  7. Willard says:

    Will see what I can do, Mosh.

    I’ve looked for “climate” and the P-word on teh tweeter. One recent result:

  8. David B. Benson says:

    You need a Bayesian to join the discussion.

  9. toby52 says:

    Bryan Magee (who knew Popper personally)has two books about him that are available on Amazon

    This is a very good read about a famous clash Popper had with his fellow Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein

    It is a long time since I ready Popper, the post has made me feel I should do so again.

    Incidentally, Popper was well-liked, even loved, but he was an intensely domineering and argumentative man. Ernest Gellner, a graduate student of his and a notable political philosopher also, said that Popper’s great work should be called “The Open Society By One Of Its Enemies”.

  10. Willard says:

    Many philosophers may owe their jobs to the popular TV series Bryan created.

    Many episodes are online. Here’s an interview with Hilary Putnam:

    The style is incomparable.

  11. Joshua says:

    Is that Bryan’s real accent?

    “Newton was influenced by Bacon.”

    Mmmm. Bacon.

  12. W:
    I punted on ‘falsification’ , fearing the legal usage drown out the Popper signal, and sure enough, it has always been present in the Times text timeline, peaking in the ’70’s at abot 5X the current rate. – that spike could be the real Poppper’s Peak.

  13. Beware the sluggard keyboard of the new Mac Air

    [Fixed, and thanks. -W]

  14. izen says:

    @-“Ernest Gellner, a graduate student of his and a notable political philosopher also, said that Popper’s great work should be called “The Open Society By One Of Its Enemies”.”

    Yes, I was impressed when I read Popper back in the 70s.
    Falsification still stands up as a general principle.
    But he did have some blind spots.
    His admiration of Hayek raises warning flags, as does his lukewarm attitude to evolution.
    Systems theory does not fit well with his simple, ‘single law statements’ must be falsifiable to be science, and the claim that biochemistry and metabolism is not science, unless it is reducible to physics did not endear him to biologists.

  15. Steven Mosher says:

    Bryan Magee (who knew Popper personally)has two books about him that are available on Amazon”

    Thanks, but not for me, for other people.

    I kinda got a degree in Philosophy . I just need the motivation to re read him since I threw out all my books when I moved to Asia

  16. verytallguy says:

    From ATTP, 2013

    “That sounds like a reasonable law. I was trying to develop Wotts’s law which goes something like “Anyone who invokes Popper in order to win a scientific debate, loses the debate by default”. It hasn’t really caught on yet, but I’m still hopeful”

  17. Willard says:

    > Anyone who invokes Popper in order to win a scientific debate, loses the debate by default

    This post amends that law to only when hiding under Pop’s name.

    Speaking of which, one of the two instances I have not covered has been mentioned not long ago:

  18. Willard says:

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