The importance of the truth in public debate

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Steve Sokolowski
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The importance of the truth in public debate

Postby Steve Sokolowski » Mon Dec 07, 2015 7:13 pm

One of the tenets of journalism is that both sides are supposed to be given equal weight in a debate. As the theory goes, you present one side's argument, and then you present the other, leaving it up to the reader to decide what he believes. In most cases, this strategy results in a fair debate and ends up with a well-considered decision being made. However, as the Internet has in the last 20 years allowed anyone to say anything to everyone, situations now frequently arise where two viewpoints are not equally valid.

This situation often appears in presidential campaigns. In 2012, Mitt Romney made a number of statements about taxes that were easily proven to be false. This year, Ted Cruz repeatedly promises a 10% tax rate that is supposed not to significantly affect the national debt, despite simple addition and multiplication demonstrating the plan isn't workable. Trump continually states that he saw videos of Islamic celebrations in New Jersey, despite no video existing. When questioned, candidates repeat the same statistics over and over, as if saying them enough times would make them true.

However, because of "fairness," both sides are welcomed to discuss their viewpoints on cable TV. On CNN, there's even a formula for this: a Democratic strategist and a Republican strategist are placed in two windows on the screen, and they have a "debate" with each other. Anderson Cooper grills the Republican about how Trump could have seen videos when none exist, and the strategist repeats the claim, then changes the subject to talk about something else. After a few minutes, but not before making sure both sides have a chance to have their say on this nonsensical debate, they cut to a commercial.

This situation is occurring in bitcoin right now. It's time to recognize that even if both sides have a valid argument to make, they are not morally equivalent in the way they are participating in the discussion. While not everyone is involved in unethical activities, those in prominent positions who are in favor of smaller blocks have a greater proportion of censorship, criminal activity, personal attacks, and lying than do those supporting BIP 101. In addition, those who support small blocks but don't participate in these things are not publicly condemning those who do.

It must be understood that people who engage in such activities are not operating with the same methods of thinking as are those who argue logically. Such people see bitcoin as a game where their goal is to win. People making logical arguments see bitcoin as a system that needs to be improved. Because the two groups are fundamentally disagreeing on what the purpose of discussion is, attempting to build "consensus" with these people by having discussions and conferences isn't possible.

I've pointed out multiple times how Michael Marquardt (theymos) has been manipulating discussions and putting people down in his forums, and used him as an example of how it isn't true that both sides of the blocksize debate are participating at the same level of discourse. I've also showed how those who promote small blocksize proposals but also refuse to publicly disavow him are not operating in good faith. While Marquardt is the most culpable example of those who aren't interested in legitimate debate, I wanted to draw attention to some other examples of why the narrative of being able to achieve consensus isn't reasonable.

First, let's examine a comment written by Gregory Maxwell (nullc) at ... rm/cxpfo5f. In this comment, Maxwell engages in a direct lie by suggesting that my brother and I support increased blocksizes because we stand to make financial gain on the failure of bitcoin. First, neither of us owns any altcoins personally, and yet we have 6% of our wealth in bitcoins.

Second, the "bitcoin thoughts" forum, which contains material from /r/bitcoinmarkets from years ago (well before this pool was launched), definitively demonstrates many instances where I stated that the limited blocksize would prevent bitcoin from achieving success and that the resolving it was of immediate importance. Finally, a review of reddit will demonstrate where Chris and I implored Charles Lee to use BIP 101 for litecoin as recently as last week, something that would be nonsensical if we believed that BIP 101 will cause altcoins to fail too.

I could go on about this, but what's important is that I never criticized Maxwell for his motives in wanting to prevent large blocks. I had assumed that he has a sincere wish to see bitcoin succeed, and that he believes large blocks are not in bitcoin's best interest. When he disagreed with me, I responded factually and even helped him understand some things about selfish mining. Yet, out of the blue, he has made dishonest statements like this that don't provide any value in determining whether big blocks are a good thing or not, and then in another post created more irrelevant emotional uproar by promising to unconditionally leave bitcoin if BIP 101 were adopted.

As a better example, look at the difference in discourse between two identical references to the same article. I've been purposely posting these articles in both forums to demonstrate this comparison. The first is in Marquardt's /r/bitcoin: ... option_of/. The second is in the polar opposite /r/bitcoinxt: ... option_of/.

The /r/bitcoin post includes comments like:
  • prohashing is garbage (7 upvotes)
  • It's just a link to some random dude ranting about the blocksize debate.

The /r/bitcoinxt post includes comments like:
  • So are you saying that even before 75% of blocks are mined with XT (and therefore all blocks are 1MB capped), Coinbase and BitStamp are going to refuse to accept some mined rewards but not others?
  • Think of the incentive structure of each person who is involved in bitcoin. There is one thing that is shared with every member.
    Any competing ideologies or goals have no power compared to driving the price of bitcoin up simply due to overlapping incentive.... (plus other paragraphs)
  • They are a problem for everyone since decentralization is critical for the success of bitcoin above anything else since it is what makes bitcoin fungible. It is simply not something that can be ignored.

You can also gather information from which posts are upvoted and downvoted as to the quality of the discourse people in which people are interested. In the case of these articles, most of the comments on the /r/bitcoin side aren't on topic or even logical, and yet users like Lightsword who have deep doubts about BIP 101 are treated respectfully in the /r/bitcoinxt discussion that contains 197 other comments.

In conclusion, both sides of the debate are not operating at the same level. While it is true that many proponents of BIP 101 are overly critical about Blockstream and need to cut that out of their comments, it's time to put an end to the charade that every viewpoint around here should be valued equally. It's reasonable to suggest that people like Maxwell should be ignored when they begin lying. It is also reasonable to suggest that a leadership change would result in a more productive industry where everyone is welcome and newcomers are less likely to be subjected to falsehoods and arguments by personal attack.

There may be extremely smart scientists out there who have genius ideas about how to resolve major problems with bitcoin and who are holding back solely because of the attacks that are likely to come if they speak up. Given the number of people involved in bitcoin and the laws of probability even in low-odds scenarios, it's likely that there is at least one such person out there somewhere.

There are actual people on the other side of the screen. Those people have many of the same hopes, fears, and dreams you do, and when people see others' experience as less important than their own, it is impossible to compromise. The truth is important. Consensus will never be achieved unless someone takes bold action, because such people do not respond to logical arguments. This is why Andersen's controversial action in supporting bitcoin XT and the upcoming exchange rollouts implementing BIP 101 are likely one of the only ways that positive change will be able to occur. Unfortunately, those who legitimately support small blocksizes and who are operating in good faith are getting overpowered by people who are using underhanded tactics to try to get their way.

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