Category Archives: Intellectual Myths

Teen Pregnancy and the Effects of ‘Welfare’ Benefits

From, Sexuality: A Biopsychosocial Approach by Chess Denman, p. 54: Politicians and the press have created an image of a tidal wave of teen parenthood, caused by young women’s unregulated sexual behaviour and poor women sponging off the state, even though this is unwarranted. In America, for example, teen motherhood cannot be said to have […]

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Linguistic Nativism

Wrongness of Chomsky’s (and Pinker’s) arguments for Linguistic nativism. See: Interesting example of how popular science can be very misleading. Pinker (and Chomsky) write very well (and have big impressive sounding titles) yet are purveying a viewpoint that is controversial (or worse: already discredited) in proper scientific circles.

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Success Reveals Virtue

If men have not enough it is from want of provident care, and foresight, and industry and frugality. No man in this land suffers from poverty unless it be more than his fault – unless it be his sin Henry Ward Beecher The belief that success reveals virtue (and the converse) is a prominent intellectual […]

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This is definitely up there for the greatest myth of all time award. Strong overtones of intellectual quackery and really begs the question of why did so many fall for this? Readings: Richard Webster: Why Freud was Wrong Geoffrey Masson: Assault on Truth, Against Therapy Richard McNally: Remembering Trauma

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The Past Was Better

The belief that the present is a particular nadir in human affairs be it culturally, politically or ethically is a frequent one throughout history. However its very recurrence indicates its falsity, something I couldn’t imagine better put than this quote from Sir Thomas Browne’s Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646; 6th ed., 1672) Chapter xi (cited Middlemarch p. […]

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Student Movements Were Critical to Ending US Participation in the Vietnam War

E.g. The student movements of Europe and America …. were critical in bringing the war in Vietnam to an end …. , Perry Anderson writing in the London Review of Books, left column, p. 7, 2002-10-03.

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The Taxonomy of the Chinese Encyclopedia


p> At the start of Foucault’s book The Order of Things the classification system of a Chinese encyclopedia is presented. It commences a) belonging to the Emperor, b) embalmed, c) tame, d) sucking pigs, e) sirens, f) fabulous, g) stray dogs, h) included in the present classification, i) frenzied, j) innumerable, k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, l) et cetera, m) having just broken the water pitcher, n) that from a long way off look like flies.

But in fact, as Foucault acknowledges, there is no such encyclopedia, rather it the brilliant fiction of Borges in a short story entitled The Analytical Language of John Wilkins. Nevertheless the idea has entered our culture, and is often presented as fact rather than fantasy – being adduced as evidence that no classification system, and no viewpoint on the world, is special and any more correct than any other.

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Eskimo Words for Snow

TODO: cite Bryson as example of its ubiquity and Dennett for refutation (or just google ….?).

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Qwerty and Technological Lock-In

TODO: write up original David article (1985 AER I think) and then reference the Liebowitz and Margolis article from JLE (1992?).

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The American Dream

What is the myth? The myth quite simply is that the there was an American Dream that could be realised or was more likely to be realized than in other countries (especially the ‘old’ home countries of Northern Europe). Formally this could be rendered as:

The USA allowed for (significantly) greater social mobility than in other countries (particularly those in Western Europe from which many of the early immigrants came). This mobility might be only in any a specific area, for example referring only to the extreme case of progress from rags to riches, or it might be the more common situation of poor immigrant to self-respecting independent yeoman farmer.

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