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March 13, 2012
A Negative Liars and Outliers Review
This person didn't like it at all.
It'll go up on the book's webpage, along with all the positive reviews.
Posted on March 13, 2012 at 2:01 PM
• 63 Comments
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@jerbear : I could access the Google cache version but had trouble displaying it.
Based on that review, it seems that Liars and Outliers is not a very good book if you're looking for a anal-retentive semantic nit picking concealed beneath academic jargon. I'm not entirely sure why you would pick up L&O expecting that, but I'm sure there are literally ones of people who will appreciate the warning.
Interesting review nevertheless. The link to Robert Schaefer does not work. Anyone know who he is?
Bruce, did you ever make a claim that what you have written is a 'scientific' work. Not that we can be sure what Robert means by scientific.
Well, you can't be a genius all the time. Sometimes you just have to settle for being facial hair.
And besides . . . what do those clowns know?
This calls for a new Fact:
Shortly after publishing a negative review of Bruce's new book, nyjournalofbooks.com went down.
Less judgmental words for defector can certainly be found; for example someone belonging to a group who chooses to not follow the rules of the group, or more simply, someone who chooses to not follow one or more rules.
Is this guy for real?
No one likes defectors except bad people. You read defector, and your mind closes.
so a person who is leaving a gang becomes a defector to the gang. Which post people would consider good.
The individual writing this review does not understand defector is based on the point of view.
Found a blurb for you!
"Trust, as the author states, “is relative, fluid, and multidimensional.” And Bruce Schneier’s Liars and Outliers is a far flung and wide-ranging study of trust touching on anthropology, sociology, economics political philosophy, social theories behavioral economics, rational choice theory, bounded rationality theory, and contract theory.
It takes a rare person who can present such a subjective issue with objectivity."
The objections all seem to be from a basic philosophical view of completeness (which he calls science). The critic seems unsatisfied because he has questions he wants answered -- he wants a more thorough explanation for every point before he will accept it. Ironically his own requests are disorganized, vague and unclear.
Perhaps he confuses long meandering thoughts with ones that are complete? One of the hallmarks of Bruce's writing is that it is exceptionally clear despite tackling very large and complex problems. It's not like reading Buber, for example. I can not say the same for the critics' review.
His primary objection is bias of the author, a lack of self-awareness. He seems to argue this point from three directions:
- Perspective - "Bruce Schneier does not take the crucial first step: evaluating his own biases."
- Terminology - "There is barely any questioning of semantics, the meaning of words, or words’ relation to the world."
- Completeness - "The value of following or not following rules depends on context and consequences. What contexts and what consequences?" and "The author certainly has the opportunity but...does not take it: asking the who, what, why, when and how of exceptions in general."
I'm tempted to address more of what the critic is saying, however since he does not evaluate his own bias in his review I unfortunately also have the urge to dismiss it entirely.
Defector! He must not be trusted!
I think he read the first chapter and then wrote his review.
Thanks for the cached page, eqv!
either accepting the morality of “the ends justifies the means,” or realizing that choice based solely on economic utility tends towards immorality. - Schaefer
That's enough for me. I don't care what kind of stripe socialist this Schaefer is. "The Ends Justify the Means" is the mantra of...
"every dictator who ever placed the ripping imprint of a boot on the pages of history." - Rod Serling
The principle that the end justifies the means, which in individualist ethics is regarded as the denial of all morals, in collectivist ethics becomes necessarily the supreme rule. - F. A. Hayek
Not accepting that the ends justify the means, does not mean that people don't have morals or won't help their fellow man, it just means that working in ones own self interest and protecting oneself is not immoral.
As far as I'm concerned, with Mr. Schaefer's morals, I will put him in the class with the "Liars." Liars can always justify their immoral means with their intended ends. You just don't want to be on the receiving end.
It's sort of like he's biased against anything that uses studies for anything except a scientific paper. I'm sure in spite of him being an MIT researcher though, he wouldn't let such a bias cloud his objective assessment. I'm sure. Surely.
"The individual writing this review does not understand defector is based on the point of view."
Actually, that's one of his key points. That's what the word "subjective" means: it depends on the individual's point of view. His complaint is that Bruce doesn't explicitly state Bruce's own subjective point of view but that quickly turns into an infinite regress. An author has to start somewhere.
I haven't read Bruce's book but it can't be very good if I were to measure it by the quality of his adversary.
The most amusing bit about the anti-"defector" rant is that this use of "defector" is an established term from game theory.
Comments on the review, not the book:
(I have not read the book yet.)
The debate on the term "science" and "hard science" "soft science" pseudo-science" will not end. Interesting, though, those who agree to accept Master of Science degrees in "Computer Science" when "hard science" graduates agree that it's not even a "science." There is an attempt at humor in there. Somewhere.
I think he actually liked the book. He did write that it was fascinating. I don't think he agreed with the methods of presentation.
Of course, I'm buying the book because I like the picture of Bruce with the hat!
I think the reviewer's complaints about the term "defector" are unreasonable; I felt the book did a good job making the user of the term clear. I don't think the biases the reviewer is complaining about are really important; a group norm creates its own "biases"; that's kind of the point.
I do agree with the reviewer that the book lacks actionable material and is a rather unfocused. The first is fine; books don't have to be actionable. The second is rather frustrating; the book is interesting but I found myself waiting for a destination that never arrived.
His focus on the negative connotations of the word "defector" is kinda weird, given its rather neutral use throughout a long period of recent history (with both Soviets defecting to the US and Americans defecting to the USSR being referred to as "defectors" in the media).
It's a pretty dispassionate term as far as these things go.
At first I intended to chastise him for not knowing that 'defector' was standard game theory language, but in a book for laymen you should be careful not to let any unexplained jargon slip through.
"Bruce Schneier does not take the crucial first step: evaluating his own biases. Instead he starts on loose sand and immediately uses the word defector to label the breaking of trust. Defector is a subjective value-laden word. No one likes defectors except bad people. You read defector, and your mind closes. "
The author, by choosing to not study his own biases, defects from science to serve up instead an offering of pseudo-science.
I am reading the book currently. Bruce does address a defector as both someone who is resisting society in a bad way such as a criminal act and resisting society in a way that is often good for society such as a civil rights protester. Bruce not only spent his time writing about this but also creating a chart of the terms for clarification within the book.
It seems the bias is from the reviewer in that he spends so much time focused on his dislike for a specific word which is negative from his point of view regardless of how Bruce defined this word.
Does anyone wonder if the reviewer views Bruce's sources such as Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory is pseudo-science or is it just that Bruce meshes the various sources into a whole system that convinces him this is pseudo-science ?
I'm sorry, but somebody who expects an author to write a book and stay "objective" is asking for something a bit unrealistic. If the reviewer wants an objective book, perhaps he should read a reference guide for chemical properties.
Well, let's see, this review features attacks on Bruce's terminology, meta-analysis with no standards for evaluation, imputation of motives, and castigation for failing to exhaustively justify the normal usage of both ordinary words and established terminology of the field. There is not, however, any actual engagement with Bruce's arguments or conclusions.
I'd call this a hostile deconstruction. Such a "review" isn't meant to be part of the security discourse, it's meant to let the reviewer score PoMo points for "analyzing" the book without actually considering (or, perhaps, understanding) the material.
While I haven't read the book (yet), I have to say that this was one of the most "helpful", as Amazon like to call them, reviews I've seen on it in a while. It won't dissuade me from reading it, and I have to agree with Jill above that the reviewer certainly appreciated the book, which is very possible even if one doesn't agree with presentation or methods or terminology and whatnot else.
Perhaps it's time for the commenters to take a step back and try to consider the review with a little less "schneier-struck" eye?
He gives Sylvia Nasar's economics book a good review even though she gets basic facts of economic history wrong. I wouldn't take his review too seriously.
Woo hoo hoo hoo, isn't he just a smarty-pants? "Hey, watch me show you how much smarter than Bruce Schneier I am."
You do something to hack this guy off? Or is he just jealous on general principles?
Snaga said: "Perhaps it's time for the commenters to take a step back and try to consider the review with a little less "schneier-struck" eye?"
You don't have to care two whits about Schneier to see that review as a piece of tendentious garbage.
The guy uses the horrible "to not" construct, an immediate signal to me that someone's brain is addled.
I think he makes some interesting points, but needs to do a great deal more research into the neuro-science of honesty, compliance and risk management. But as such he's probably very representative of the great unwashed... :p
Ha, probably works for TSA or DHS or something ;o)
Typical academic reviewer. He read only the introduction, then worked hard at finding just the right insulting language to let the reader know that he is clearly more knowledgable than the author.
Don't worry about it Bruce!
When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.
..."No, I don't know what happened damnit!! All my files and emails...gone!! And 300 purchases of 'Liars and Outliers' on my credit card!! Well hold on..wait a minute...I did write that negative review on...Oh god no...."
this book actually helped solve a lot of bitcoin trust models such as escrow, anonymous exchanges, ect.
"The author, by choosing to not study his own biases, defects from science"
"..defects from science"
"the author insists on using the word defector as if there were no other possibility"
Wait .. was I just trolled by this critic?
No publicity is bad publicity, right Bruce? :)
For someone who is so obsessed with semantics, this passage of the review is unbelievably terrible:
Lying is the label applied to assertions where there is evidence to the contrary. A label that indicates neither truth nor lie but the limbo in-between is termed sincerity;
Schaefer seems to assume that the opposite of the truth is a lie, which seems preposterous to me. A rough definition of `lie' may be `communicating what one believes to be false', so that the opposite of truth is (unsurprisingly) falsity, not `lie'. With his definition of lying, Schaefer cannot distinguish between an honest mistake and a lie. The opposite of lying may then be sincerity (which would be `communicating what one believes to be true'). So there is no limbo, just Schaefer's confusion about the relation of `truth' and `lie'.
Mieow said: "You don't have to care two whits about Schneier to see that review as a piece of tendentious garbage."
Actually, it's not that clear at all, and several people here think the guy has some good points. It's interesting to see how individual sentences are taken out of the review and deconstructed in order to be "rained on" here though.... Kind of what a few are accusing the reviewer of doing to the book...
"defector" you keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means!
Sounds like you stepped on his thesis.
... and the obligatory grammatical point: jealousy and envy have almost opposite meanings. This guy is jealous of his own stature and possibly envious of Bruce.
Actually the review is quite interesting, though a bit flawed.
What I took from it was that the overall focus of the book could be tweaked - especially to make clear who is your audience and why they should be reading it. This focus should then be followed through to every aspect of your book so it becomes tighter. Moreover you should clarify the argument that the book is making, and the standards of "proof".
The criticism untimately fails because the methodology suggested by the author isn't really a functional way to go about it (I am not sure yet if your methodology is working as well). Not to say that I don't have criticisms of your book, I am just keeping an open mind till I finish reading it.
Harsh criticism, if it is well done (not judging but in an inquisitive nature), leads to progress. This leads me to the fundimental flaw in the criticism - that the principles of "acknowledgement of bias eliminates bias" and openmindedness arn't utilized by the critic. He jumps to what should have been done according to his biases (in judging proof) rather than evaluating what was done effectually.
A lot of the review seemed to boil down to "these words mean what I say they mean, not what Schneier says they mean."
Which is both stupid and insightful. Because as long as readers do bring their own baggage to their reading of the book, some of the arguments will be misunderstood.
Ironically, this issue is exactly the result of Schneier using a scientific-writing approach and defining his terms in ways that do not precisely match the preconceptions of all of his potential readers.
Nice gesture, adding it to the book's webpage along with the positive views. I'd also like to see a quote from the review included:
“A rich, insightfully fresh take on what security really means!”
“This fascinating book gives an insightful and convincing framework for understanding security and trust.”
“Less judgmental words for defector can certainly be found; for example someone belonging to a group who chooses to not follow the rules of the group...”
The reviewer simply seizes on one word in the entire book and builds up a semantic foundation to invalidate the entirety of the book. From that standpoint he does a good job of making the argument. However, taken in context, the semantic argument only serves to drive home a very subjective impression of the book. So be it and who cares?
I think this sort of thing might stem from people just being unaccustomed to original thought. This guy wants a textbook, knowledge, not something by a thinker for other thinkers.
Note, further, that the reviewer does fancy himself to be somewhat of a humourist. If accepted from that bias, his review is quite funny in a snarky sort of way. :)
"Less judgmental words for defector can certainly be found; for example someone belonging to a group who chooses to not follow the rules of the group, or more simply, someone who chooses to not follow one or more rules."
I note that although Schaefer claims there are less judgemental synonyms for "defector", he does not deign to actually suggest any; unless he is seriously proposing that Bruce replace all occurrences of "defector" with the phrase "someone who chooses to not follow one or more rules" - because that would really clarify the text! /sarcasm
... the review certainly reads as a tainted rant, bordering on jealousy or possibly just a pissing competition. When I read it, I felt I learned a lot more about the reviewer than the book, in such a way that I will treat any other reviews by him with a great deal of caution.
He really disliked your choice of the word "defector".
> the author insists on using the word defector as if there were no other possibility.
Not sure what he means by "insists". Would he have preferred inconsistent vocabulary?
> Given the more objective definition of breaking trust in the preceding paragraph, one might want to pursue the meaning of “group” and the relationship between groups and individuals, and might want to define “rule” and the value of rules to individuals and to groups.
Some of that is tangential, but some of it is valid. And some of that was indeed addressed. The entire point of the book is discussing things like how a group handles individuals such as.... outliers.
> The value of following or not following rules depends on context and consequences. What contexts and what consequences?
The entire section around this text was too focused on "value". It seems like the reviewer wanted some form of judgment passed and moral assessment of how to set rules and define their "value". That wasn't the point of the book.
> choosing to not study his own biases
This comes up a couple times. I'm still not sure what the reviewer thinks would constitute relevant biases for this sort of study.
Overall, I think he missed part of the point of the book in some areas, and expected the wrong things in other areas.
I second Carl's observation above.
"Immediately uses the word defector to label the breaking of trust. Defector is a subjective value-laden word. No one likes defectors except bad people. You read defector, and your mind closes."
Defector is an established term in game theory, with a canonical meaning.
The review is bad. The critic decided to harp about a particular word saying it was being used incorrectly and was a distraction from the other points of the book. Bruce used the word correctly, and even for those who are reading impaired, he defined how he was using it. Yeah, there will always be readers who either deliberately or accidentally misunderstand what has written, but so what?
@ Bruce Schneier
Boog is right. If you put the right quote of his, right after three great positive quotes, it will make him look like an idiot. He suggested this one:
"“Less judgmental words for defector can certainly be found; for example someone belonging to a group who chooses to not follow the rules of the group...”
As Pat and Carl noted, he'll look even dumber to academics that know game theory. Another nice one:
"For example, defection is not defection when it is acceptable to authority such as when it is labeled “whistle blowing.”"
Yes it is. He or she defected from the organization. It's just an allowed exception & therefore given a special name to confer some context to it.
OT (somewhat but certainly more interesting than Schaefer).
Speaking of liars and outliers, read this NYT Op-ed and the reaction:
Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs
"The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym."
The next time I need help falling asleep, I'll just read Schaefer's review.
But, to be a little fair, most book reviews do that to me.
What is it with these dumb blog platforms that don't let you print the articles on one page ?
have to read the
in one tiny column.
"... the key purpose of critical review is in keeping a closed mind. A closed mind evaluates words strictly within its own semantics and restricts input verbiage to 0.1% of the corpus..."
A negative review but an interesting one I thought. I haven't read the book yet but this review certainly wont stop me and might even help me approach L&O with an open mind. Kudos for putting it on the site.
"choosing to not study his own biases"
Yeah, as B-Con noted, this line shows up in both the opening and the conclusion, but I could never figure out which biases the reviewer was unhappy with. At first I figured maybe the reviewer didn't like Bruce's take on one of the more modern issues touched on (TSA, for instance) but unless I missed it nothing like that ever came up. Maybe he's considering the use of "defector" to be the bias?
It seems clear to me that Mr. Schaefer got confused right off the bat by the word "defector" when trying to read the book, and then was unable to proceed past his initial reaction to understanding the important concepts you (Bruce) put forth in the book.
The prisoner's dilemma is a basic logic and philosophy concept and the word "defector" is integral it. Perhaps Mr. Schaefer's outrage stems from his apparent unfamiliarity with the prisoner's dilemma and why the word "defector" is appropriate.
If Bruce had invented the word "defector" then the reviewer might have a point. However this is just a standard game theory jargon, so it seems unfair to blame Bruce for that. Having committed that gaffe, it's hard to give the reviewer any credibility.
This book is as much about social science as anything else, so its conclusions are naturally a bit woolly. I like things to be black and white as much as anybody else, but the real world sometimes ain't like that.
The real world is messy and noisy. It is far easier to hide behind industrial age economic and engineering archetypes than it is to factor in human behaviour as we have come to know it from the likes of Bruce, Daniel Kahneman, Dan Goleman, Richard Davidson and others. Has me think about squirrels crossing the road. When they are startled they turn around and run back in the direction they just came from....which takes them right under the bus. I think North America is staring it's bus in the face with this book. Thanks Bruce for having the cojones to author this book.
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