The psychology of (not) admitting mistakes

To err is human. Mistakes are as inevitable as death and taxes, so why do many people find it so hard to admit them? Why will they go to great lengths to avoid doing so? What predisposes them to what I’ll call “mistake denial”?

An obvious first guess is that it relates to social status. We humans are a social species, and our standing in the eyes of others depends largely on our perceived competence. Mistakes whittle away at that perceived competence, and so a person who successfully avoids admitting a mistake has avoided a real social cost. There is a flip side, however. While successful mistake denial benefits the denier, unsuccessful denial exacts an even heavier social cost than admitting the mistake in the first place. The denier is seen not only as having made the mistake, but also of dishonestly and childishly trying to cover it up. Under this social cost model, then, we would expect people to deny their mistakes only when there was a reasonable likelihood of “getting away with it” — of successfully deceiving the audience.

While many instances of mistake denial fit with this social cost model, there are glaring exceptions. We’ve all seen people deny mistakes that are completely obvious to their audiences. What are they getting out of this apparently self-defeating behavior? What is the point of the charade if no one is being fooled?

And what about people who are widely perceived as competent and have little to lose from admitting an occasional mistake? Why will they risk being seen as childish and dishonest when the cost of simply acknowledging their error is comparatively small, and no one is being fooled by the denial anyway?

The answer, I think, is that someone is being fooled — the denier him or herself. The denier is fighting to preserve a self-image which would be threatened by admitting the mistake. Even if no one else buys it, the denier — if they’re able to pull off the self-deception — has avoided facing an uncomfortable truth: they aren’t as competent as they’d like to believe.

Mistake denial, then, is not just about social standing. It’s also about defending one’s self-image against an uncomfortable reality. When you see someone denying an obvious mistake, look for a disparity between their self-image and their actual level of competence, seen objectively. If you keep this in mind, you can often make sense of cases of mistake denial that are otherwise baffling.

In searching for relevant research on this topic, I came across this book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson:

Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me)

I haven’t read it yet, but the dust jacket copy sounds promising:

In this terrifically insightful and engaging book, renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look at how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right — a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.

I’ll post updates to this thread as I read the book.

247 Replies to “The psychology of (not) admitting mistakes”

  1. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka,

    If a neuter member of a hive dies, any mutations he or she carried are lost…

    Not necessarily. You need to distinguish mutations that arise within a sterile individual from mutations that were passed down to it from its parents. Mutations of the first type are lost, because the sterile individual leaves no offspring, but those of the second type can be passed down by the fertile offspring of those same parents.

    If a mutation of the second type makes soldier ants into better soldiers, it will tend to persist, even though the soldiers themselves are not passing it on to future generations. Why? Because the altruistic behavior of the soldiers promotes the reproductive success of the queen and her mate(s). The crux of Alan’s error was to overlook this.

    He actually thought that the sterility of the soldiers meant that their altruistic behavior didn’t have a genetic basis:

    keiths, paraphrasing Scruton:

    The ants aren’t reasoning about their sacrifice, so their behavior requires a genetic explanation.

    Alan:

    Well, no. Sterile worker and soldier castes are not the carriers of the genome. The queen is. So loss of sterile caste members is of no consequence, genetically.

    What’s really bizarre is that Alan admitted the opposite today:

    keiths:

    This is important, because they get their altruistic behavior from their genes.

    Alan:

    Sure, they inherit their innate behaviour patterns through their genes.

    So he now admits that the behavior has a genetic explanation, but he won’t admit that he was wrong two years ago when he denied it!

    That’s some serious mistake denial.

  2. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    petrushka,

    …but I still think it is useful to think of ants and bees as somatic cells, and the hive as the organism.

    It’s a useful analogy, though it’s important to remember that the members of a colony or hive are less related to each other than the cells of a body are.

    The analogy makes it easier to see why the behavior of the sterile castes has a genetic explanation despite the fact that they are sterile and produce no offspring of their own.

    Suppose a gazelle inherits a mutation that affects leg muscle function, so that the mutant individuals are better able to escape predators, with no undesirable side effects. The mutation is beneficial, so it will tend to persist in the population with a good chance of becoming fixed.

    Yet the copies of the gene that affect leg muscle function — the ones in the leg muscle cells themselves — are not the same copies that make it into the gametes (sperm or eggs), and through them into the next generation. Is this a problem for evolution? Of course not, because the copies in the gametes are identical to the copies in the leg muscle cells. What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

    Those same two paragraphs, this time in terms of a soldier ant:

    Suppose a queen ant inherits a mutation that affects soldier ant behavior, so that colonies with the mutant soldiers are better able to survive and produce new colonies, with no undesirable side effects. The mutation is beneficial, so it will tend to persist in the population with a good chance of becoming fixed.

    Yet the copies of the gene that affect soldier ant behavior — the ones in the soldier ants themselves — are not the same copies that make it into the queen’s eggs, and through them into the next generation. Is this a problem for evolution? Of course not, because the copies in the queen’s eggs are identical to the copies in the soldier ants. What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

    Same logic in both cases.

    What matters is that the mutations a) have a phenotypic effect, and b) that they get passed on to offspring. The gene copies that produce the phenotypic effects need not be the same ones involved in reproduction, and they can — in the case of the social insects — occupy different bodies altogether.

  3. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: He actually thought that the sterility of the soldiers meant that their altruistic behavior didn’t have a genetic basis…

    Let’s be clear!

    This is a misrepresentation misinterpretation of what I was saying and thinking two years ago. Of course the phenotypic contribution of sterile caste workers is under selection. That is evolution. I was trying and, in your case obviously not succeeding, in emphasizing the germ-line passes through the bottleneck of the queen’s fertilized eggs. Your claiming I was mistaken is based on your interpretation of one sentence. You mare making a semantic argument, I guess, because you like arguing for arguments’ sake.

  4. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:
    petrushka,

    It’s a useful analogy, though it’s important to remember that the members of a colony or hive are less related to each other than the cells of a body are.

    Was anyone suggesting otherwise?The analogy is well discussed in Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype.

    The analogy makes it easier to see why the behavior of the sterile castes has a genetic explanation despite the fact that they are sterile and produce no offspring of their own.

    The explanation is that workers and soldiers form part of the phenotype of the colony. The genetic information that is inherited passes via the germ-line of the mated queens. Selection acts by differential survival of queens which depends on the survival of colonies which is dependent on the phenotypic contribution of all colony members.

    Suppose a gazelle inherits a mutation that affects leg muscle function, so that the mutant individuals are better able to escape predators, with no undesirable side effects. The mutation is beneficial, so it will tend to persist in the population with a good chance of becoming fixed.

    Who would disagree?

    Yet the copies of the gene that affect leg muscle function — the ones in the leg muscle cells themselves — are not the same copies that make it into the gametes (sperm or eggs), and through them into the next generation. Is this a problem for evolution? Of course not…

    Who would disagree? The analogy of somatic cells to sterile caste members is useful.

    …because the copies in the gametes are identical to the copies in the leg muscle cells.What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

    Nitpick, there can be somatic mutations. And it matters that the germ line passes through the bottleneck of the zygote that becomes a queen, mates and founds a new colony.

    Those same two paragraphs, this time in terms of a soldier ant:

    Suppose a queen ant inherits a mutation that affects soldier ant behavior, so that colonies with the mutant soldiers are better able to survive and produce new colonies, with no undesirable side effects. The mutation is beneficial, so it will tend to persist in the population with a good chance of becoming fixed.

    Yet the copies of the gene that affect soldier ant behavior — the ones in the soldier ants themselves — are not the same copies that make it into the queen’s eggs, and through them into the next generation.Is this a problem for evolution?Of course not, because the copies in the queen’s eggs are identical to the copies in the soldier ants.What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

    OK

    Same logic in both cases.

    The processes of evolutionary change involved in eusocial insects and in multicellualr organisms (when making germ-line vs soma distinctions) are usefully analogous.

    What matters is that the mutations a) have a phenotypic effect, and b) that they get passed on to offspring.

    Yes indeed. Who was disagreeing?

    The gene copies that produce the phenotypic effects need not be the same ones involved in reproduction, and they can — in the case of the social insects — occupy different bodies altogether.

    Consider what DNA Jock keeps asking. Do you agree with the folllowing?

    Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers is bad for their copies of these genes

    Charitably, I could put down your misinterpretation of what I understand and understood two years ago as miscommunication between us and that I might not have written clearly or expansively enough.

    On the other hand, you had opportunities to ask for clarification and you have exhibited the same behaviour with a fair number of other interlocutors here, So I find myself no longer inclined to be charitable to Keiths.

  5. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan,

    This is ridiculous. You’ve been dishonestly and childishly denying a simple and obvious science mistake for two entire years.

    Why is this such a crisis for you? Why can’t you simply admit that you got the biology wrong, as can be plainly seen from your own words?

    Anyone who sees this…

    The ants aren’t reasoning about their sacrifice, so their behavior requires a genetic explanation.

    …and responds with this…

    Well, no. Sterile worker and soldier castes are not the carriers of the genome. The queen is. So loss of sterile caste members is of no consequence, genetically.

    …doesn’t understand the science.

    Everything about your response is incorrect, except for the third sentence: “The queen is.”

    1. Your response should have been “yes”, not “no”. The altruistic behavior does require a genetic explanation. People who understand the science know this. You admitted as much today:

    Sure, they inherit their innate behaviour patterns through their genes.

    A non-genetic explanation makes no sense, as I pointed out long ago:

    I have no idea what non-genetic explanation Alan has in mind. Cultural? Older ants teaching their younger siblings to be good workers and soldiers?

    That was your first mistake.

    2. The sterile castes are carriers of the genome. They don’t transmit it, but they most certainly carry it, and that is crucial, because they get their altruistic behavior from it.

    That was your second mistake.

    3. The loss of sterile caste members does have genetic consequences. Imagine a mutation that causes the soldier ants to lose their urge to fight. They become passive and are easily killed off by the enemies of the colony. How long do you think the queen and her mates would last in that situation? How long do you think that particular mutation would last before disappearing from the gene pool — a “genetic consequence” if ever there was one?

    That was your third mistake, and all three came from your misunderstanding of the biology:

    1. The behavior does have a genetic explanation;
    2. The sterility of the workers and soldiers doesn’t change that; and
    3. The loss of workers and soldiers can have huge genetic consequences.

  6. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    And no, this is not based on my interpretation of one sentence. There were four sentences in your response above, with the errors spread across three of them. You went on to say this, which was also wrong:

    keiths:

    The sterile caste members aren’t transmitters of the genome, but they most certainly are carriers. This is important, because they get their altruistic behavior from their genes. So yes, altruism in ants has a genetic explanation.

    Alan:

    There’s no feed-back. All the genes do in a sterile caste worker is define the phenotype of that worker. It’s somatic. The only thing that can affect the alleles of a population of ants is differential survival of queens.

    Again, that’s wrong. There is feedback, exactly as I described earlier. The genes affect the behavior of the sterile castes; the behavior of the sterile castes affects the survival and reproduction of the queen and her mates, thus affecting the propagation of the genes that were responsble for the behavior. The feedback loop is complete, as evolution requires.

    You misunderstood the science, Alan. It couldn’t be more obvious.

    You’ve been denying this mistake for over two years, Alan. It’s time to grow up, acknowledge your mistake, and move on.

  7. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths,

    Nonsense, Keiths. I haven’t changed my ideas. I still think what I thought two years ago.

  8. DNA_Jock
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths,

    You seem strangely unwilling to answer my simple question, to wit:

    Do you agree with the claim:

    Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers is bad for their copies of these genes.

    Perhaps it would help if I phrased it differently:

    The “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers” has what effect on the queen’s copies of these genes:
    1) Good
    2) Bad
    3) None
    ?
    The “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers” has what effect on the their copies of these genes:
    A) Good
    B) Bad
    C) None
    ?

    I’m going for 1C, what about you?

  9. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    Connor, “strangely unwilling”? Preposterous!

  10. Zachriel Zachriel
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan Fox: Charitably, I could put down your misinterpretation of what I understand and understood two years ago as miscommunication between us and that I might not have written clearly or expansively enough.

    Discussions of science are such that words can easily become tangled leading to miscommunications. In this situation, most people would simply say “Good, then we are in agreement.” That doesn’t seem sufficient for your interlocutor.

    ————

    On ants, if a phenotypic mutation within the individual solider leads to loss of self-sacrificing behavior, then this can be detrimental to the queen’s gene pool. Indeed, occasionally, a worker ant will produce an egg and try to pass it off as the queen’s. Ants have evolved various mechanisms to suppress cheating. See Chapuisat, Social evolution: the smell of cheating, Current Biology 2009. (Something like a spouse smelling an unrecognized scent on her spouse’s clothes.)

    (This doesn’t affect the larger point, but mutations in phenotype can be selectable in some circumstances. Consider a situation where there is neutral variation in a sequence. If the sequence comes close to a new beneficial sequence, then sometimes, due to phenotypic mutation, the phenotype will express the benefit. This will tend the population towards the genotype that is closest to the beneficial mutation, even though it is not found in the germ line. It’s a sort of look-ahead in evolution. See Whitehead et al., The look-ahead effect of phenotypic mutations, Biology Direct 2008.)

  11. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Zachriel: Whitehead et al., The look-ahead effect of phenotypic mutations, Biology Direct 2008.

    Thanks for the reference, Zachriel. Apart from the math, it makes a lot of sense on a first brief read (well, I guess I skipped down to the discussion.)

  12. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Zachriel: Chapuisat, Social evolution: the smell of cheating, Current Biology 2009

    PDF of the paper. Thanks for that too. The fact that eusociality has costs that only outweigh benefits under certain conditions (for example in harsh environments where dispersal is high risk) is confirmed I think (from reading Wikipedia on eusociality) by at least nine reversals from eusociality in bee species.

  13. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    Zachriel: This will tend the population towards the genotype that is closest to the beneficial mutation, even though it is not found in the germ line.

    I wonder if inventions (human, for example) that result from intelligent behavior can bootstrap changes in the germline, through selection.

  14. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    DNA_Jock,

    Haven’t you been reading my comments?

    I directly addressed the issue of genes versus copies:

    Suppose a queen ant inherits a mutation that affects soldier ant behavior, so that colonies with the mutant soldiers are better able to survive and produce new colonies, with no undesirable side effects. The mutation is beneficial, so it will tend to persist in the population with a good chance of becoming fixed.

    Yet the copies of the gene that affect soldier ant behavior — the ones in the soldier ants themselves — are not the same copies that make it into the queen’s eggs, and through them into the next generation. Is this a problem for evolution? Of course not, because the copies in the queen’s eggs are identical to the copies in the soldier ants. What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

    And:

    What matters is that the mutations a) have a phenotypic effect, and b) that they get passed on to offspring. The gene copies that produce the phenotypic effects need not be the same ones involved in reproduction, and they can — in the case of the social insects — occupy different bodies altogether.

    Again, for emphasis:

    What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

    To focus on specific copies is to miss the point, and it’s what caused Alan to get the biology wrong.

    So yes, altruistic behavior in the soldier ants — a phenotypic effect caused by their physical copies of certain genes — benefits the queen’s copies of those genes.

    That is exactly the feedback path that, according to Alan, does not exist:

    There’s no feed-back. All the genes do in a sterile caste worker is define the phenotype of that worker. It’s somatic. The only thing that can affect the alleles of a population of ants is differential survival of queens.

    Hence my response:

    Again, that’s wrong. There is feedback, exactly as I described earlier. The genes affect the behavior of the sterile castes; the behavior of the sterile castes affects the survival and reproduction of the queen and her mates, thus affecting the propagation of the genes that were responsble for the behavior. The feedback loop is complete, as evolution requires.

    You misunderstood the science, Alan. It couldn’t be more obvious.

    You’ve been denying this mistake for over two years, Alan. It’s time to grow up, acknowledge your mistake, and move on.

  15. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Zachriel,

    Discussions of science are such that words can easily become tangled leading to miscommunications.

    That happens sometimes. In this case, however, Alan simply got the science wrong.

    We’re under no obligation to pretend that he didn’t, even if Alan really, really wants us to do so.

    The science matters more than Alan’s ego (or Sal’s, or Mung’s, or anyone else’s).

  16. DNA_Jock
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths,

    Great stuff, but you continue to fail to answer my question, viz:

    Do you agree with the claim:

    Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers is bad for their copies of these genes.

    I even broke it into two parts for you, viz:

    The “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers” has what effect on the queen’s copies of these genes:
    1) Good
    2) Bad
    3) None
    ?
    The “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers” has what effect on the their copies of these genes:
    A) Good
    B) Bad
    C) None
    ?

    I’m going for 1C, what about you?

    You answered the first part unambiguously, viz:

    So yes, altruistic behavior in the soldier ants — a phenotypic effect caused by their physical copies of certain genes — benefits the queen’s copies of those genes.

    That’s a clear “1”, so we agree there.
    But you were silent on the second part…
    Are you going with “A” or “B” or “C”?
    A single letter response would suffice.

  17. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    DNA_Jock,

    If you define “good” as promoting the continued existence of a particular copy, and “bad” as causing its demise, then the answer is B: the self-sacrificing behavior of the soldiers is bad for their own copies of the relevant genes. They sacrifice themselves, they die, their bodies disintegrate, and the copies are gone earlier than they would be otherwise.

    Using those same definitions, the self-sacrificing behavior is good for the queen’s copies of the relevant genes. The soldiers’ self-sacrificing behavior protects the queen (and the colony in general), so the queen’s copies tend to survive longer.

    On the other hand, if you define “good” in terms of getting a particular copy into a viable zygote, then the answer is C: the soldier’s copies were never going to make it into a zygote, and the soldier’s demise doesn’t change that.

    But using that definition, it is only a few of the queen’s copies that actually benefit from the self-sacrificing behavior: the ones that end up in eggs that are later fertilized.

    None of this changes the fact or nature of Alan’s errors. They remain as I described them above.

    Again:

    What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

  18. DNA_Jock
    Ignored
    says:

    Keiths:

    If you define “good” as promoting the continued existence of a particular copy, and “bad” as causing its demise, then the answer is B: the self-sacrificing behavior of the soldiers is bad for their own copies of the relevant genes. They sacrifice themselves, they die, their bodies disintegrate, and the copies are gone earlier than they would be otherwise.

    What a delightfully goofy definition. But we are talking about evolution here, so this definition is somewhat lacking: under this definition, mating is “bad” for male Australian redbacks.

    On the other hand, if you define “good” in terms of getting a particular copy into a viable zygote, then the answer is C: the soldier’s copies were never going to make it into a zygote, and the soldier’s demise doesn’t change that.
    But using that definition, it is only a few of the queen’s copies that actually benefit from the self-sacrificing behavior: the ones that end up in eggs that are later fertilized.

    Astute observation. This is how natural selection works in multicellular organisms, which was the topic of conversation. So we agree on “1C”. However, in this paragraph:

    Yet the copies of the gene that affect soldier ant behavior — the ones in the soldier ants themselves — are not the same copies that make it into the queen’s eggs, and through them into the next generation. Is this a problem for evolution? Of course not, because the copies in the queen’s eggs are identical to the copies in the soldier ants. What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.
    [emphasis added]

    the word identical is WRONG. Rather, it is not a problem for evolution since the copies in the queen’s eggs are very very closely related. How closely related matters. You are aware of this, as you have also written:

    You need to distinguish mutations that arise within a sterile individual from mutations that were passed down to it from its parents. Mutations of the first type are lost, because the sterile individual leaves no offspring, but those of the second type can be passed down by the fertile offspring of those same parents.

    Because the genomes are not identical, merely very closely related, it does matter whose copies are getting passed down to the next generation. Mutations that occur within sterile individuals will be lost, whatever the behavior of the individual, so in the statement:

    The genes for altruistic behavior are present in both the workers/soldiers and in their parents. Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers is bad for their copies of these genes, but it promotes the survival and proliferation of the copies contained in the queen and in her store of sperm. As long as there is a net reproductive benefit to the genes, such altruistic behaviors can be maintained in the population.
    [emphasis in original]

    you mis-state the effect of self-sacrifice.
    The workers’ behavior has no effect, evolutionarily speaking, on their copies (including any wonderful new mutations they may have acquired), since their copies will be lost whatever happens.
    When I brought this up before, you kept changing the subject.
    😉

  19. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    DNA_Jock: When I brought this up before, you kept changing the subject.

    That’s how s/he rolls.

  20. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:

    If you define “good” as promoting the continued existence of a particular copy, and “bad” as causing its demise, then the answer is B: the self-sacrificing behavior of the soldiers is bad for their own copies of the relevant genes. They sacrifice themselves, they die, their bodies disintegrate, and the copies are gone earlier than they would be otherwise.

    DNA_Jock:

    What a delightfully goofy definition. But we are talking about evolution here, so this definition is somewhat lacking: under this definition, mating is “bad” for male Australian redbacks.

    It is a goofy definition, and that’s because you are asking a goofy question. The folks who understand this stuff put the focus on genes, where it belongs, and not on particular physical copies. You, for some unknown reason, are obsessed with particular physical copies and keep insisting that I answer your odd questions about them.

    Once we jettison your odd obsession with particular copies, the awkwardness goes away. The gene appears in both the queen and the soldier ant, so its effects on the soldier ant’s behavior benefit it evolutionarily.

    Clean and simple.

    What is it with you and particular physical copies?

  21. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Again:

    What matters evolutionarily is that the gene as a pattern of information makes it into the next generation, not that any particular physical copy of it does.

  22. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    What an awesome* thread this is. What an awesome* individual Gustave is.

  23. DNA_Jock
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: What is it with you and particular physical copies?

    AIUI what gets passed from one generation to the next is not “the gene as a pattern of information”, but rather polymers that are imperfect copies of imperfect copies. YOU made a statement about particular physical copies, and I pointed out that it was wrong. You told me that I should be a little more careful with my accusations.

    Once we jettison your odd obsession with particular copies, the awkwardness goes away.

    And isn’t that what really matters?
    🙂

  24. petrushka
    Ignored
    says:

    DNA_Jock: The workers’ behavior has no effect, evolutionarily speaking, on their copies (including any wonderful new mutations they may have acquired), since their copies will be lost whatever happens.

    Looks a bit like kin selection. Very close kin.

  25. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Ah, now I see where DNA_Jock’s strange obsession with particular copies comes from!

    He was trying to spring a gotcha on me. Unfortunately, the trap snapped shut on him instead.

    Two years ago, Jock wrote:

    Now would be a good time for you, Keiths, to finally admit that the statement in your OP that “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers is bad for their copies of these genes,”
    is wrong.
    Self-sacrificing behavior in sterile actors (ants, skin cells, XY females) has ZERO effect on their copies…
    Pot, kettle.

    Fast-forward to yesterday and you can see why he was so oddly eager to have me answer these two questions:

    The “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers” has what effect on the queen’s copies of these genes:
    1) Good
    2) Bad
    3) None
    ?
    The “Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers” has what effect on the their copies of these genes:
    A) Good
    B) Bad
    C) None
    ?

    He was hoping I’d contradict my statement from two years earlier so that he could triumphantly point to my mistake. (Not sure why he was so excited about that. If I had ended up contradicting myself, I would simply have admitted it. I’m not Alan, after all.)

    He even tried to nudge me into the desired contradiction:

    I’m going for 1C, what about you?

    Now that’s funny.

    I gave a sensible answer, but he didn’t get the gotcha he was hoping for, so he tried again:

    You answered the first part unambiguously, viz:

    So yes, altruistic behavior in the soldier ants — a phenotypic effect caused by their physical copies of certain genes — benefits the queen’s copies of those genes.

    That’s a clear “1”, so we agree there.
    But you were silent on the second part…
    Are you going with “A” or “B” or “C”?
    A single letter response would suffice.

    The poor guy was trying so hard.

    Unfortunately, my answer frustrated him again:

    If you define “good” as promoting the continued existence of a particular copy, and “bad” as causing its demise, then the answer is B: the self-sacrificing behavior of the soldiers is bad for their own copies of the relevant genes. They sacrifice themselves, they die, their bodies disintegrate, and the copies are gone earlier than they would be otherwise.

    Using those same definitions, the self-sacrificing behavior is good for the queen’s copies of the relevant genes. The soldiers’ self-sacrificing behavior protects the queen (and the colony in general), so the queen’s copies tend to survive longer.

    On the other hand, if you define “good” in terms of getting a particular copy into a viable zygote, then the answer is C: the soldier’s copies were never going to make it into a zygote, and the soldier’s demise doesn’t change that.

    But using that definition, it is only a few of the queen’s copies that actually benefit from the self-sacrificing behavior: the ones that end up in eggs that are later fertilized.

    None of this changes the fact or nature of Alan’s errors. They remain as I described them above.

    Here’s where the trap snapped shut on him. My answers were correct, but his were not.

    He rejected the first definition as “goofy” and said

    The workers’ behavior has no effect, evolutionarily speaking, on their copies (including any wonderful new mutations they may have acquired), since their copies will be lost whatever happens.

    What he failed to notice is that this is true of most of the queen’s copies, too. The only exceptions are the relatively few copies contained in those eggs that will go on to produce fertile offspring.

    So when he answered ‘1C’, he was wrong. By his own preferred definition, the altruistic behavior of the soldier ant has no effect on the majority of the queen’s copies, since those copies will not find their way into eggs that produce fertile offspring. They will be lost, just as the soldier’s copies will be lost. So the best answer to his question, given his preferred definition, would be ‘3C’, not ‘1C’, since ‘3’ is true of most of the queen’s copies, not ‘1’.

    Even if he were to bite the bullet and embrace the definition he earlier derided as ‘goofy’, it wouldn’t help. ‘1C’ would still be incorrect. The best answer in that case would be ‘1B’. As I put it:

    If you define “good” as promoting the continued existence of a particular copy, and “bad” as causing its demise, then the answer is B: the self-sacrificing behavior of the soldiers is bad for their own copies of the relevant genes. They sacrifice themselves, they die, their bodies disintegrate, and the copies are gone earlier than they would be otherwise.

    Using those same definitions, the self-sacrificing behavior is good for the queen’s copies of the relevant genes. The soldiers’ self-sacrificing behavior protects the queen (and the colony in general), so the queen’s copies tend to survive longer.

    So either way, Jock answered his own questions incorrectly. The gotcha backfired.

  26. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    OK, Jock. You made a mistake on a thread about the psychology of admitting mistakes. What’s your next move?

    I’d go for ‘admit mistake’ if I were you. 🙂

  27. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: If I had ended up contradicting myself, I would simply have admitted it

    Hahahahaha!

  28. DNA_Jock
    Ignored
    says:

    LMAO
    Now the penny drops?
    Keiths’s non-goofy definition of “good” (and keiths agrees that the other definition he offered is goofy):

    On the other hand, if you define “good” in terms of getting a particular copy into a viable zygote, then the answer is C: the soldier’s copies were never going to make it into a zygote, and the soldier’s demise doesn’t change that.
    But using that definition, it is only a few of the queen’s copies that actually benefit from the self-sacrificing behavior: the ones that end up in eggs that are later fertilized.

    To which I replied:

    Astute observation. This is how natural selection works in multicellular organisms, which was the topic of conversation. So we agree on “1C”.

    He may have missed the sardony there. My bad.

    Using this “gets into a viable zygote” definition, keiths now wants to argue that

    So when he answered ‘1C’, he was wrong. By his own preferred definition, the altruistic behavior of the soldier ant has no effect on the majority of the queen’s copies, since those copies will not find their way into eggs that produce fertile offspring. They will be lost, just as the soldier’s copies will be lost. So the best answer to his question, given his preferred definition, would be ‘3C’, not ‘1C’, since ‘3’ is true of most of the queen’s copies, not ‘1’.

    Notice the elision from ‘most’ to ‘all’. By claiming 3C is the “best answer”, keiths is reduced to arguing that the workers self-sacrifice has no effect on the queen’s copies of these genes, while using “gets into a viable zygote” as the criterion! Why? Because most of the queen is not germline, doncha see?
    You really couldn’t make this stuff up. But keiths also wrote:

    So yes, altruistic behavior in the soldier ants — a phenotypic effect caused by their physical copies of certain genes — benefits the queen’s copies of those genes.

    Which is correct.
    And, originally

    The genes for altruistic behavior are present in both the workers/soldiers and in their parents. Self-sacrificing behavior in the workers and soldiers is bad for their copies of these genes, but it promotes the survival and proliferation of the copies contained in the queen and in her store of sperm. As long as there is a net reproductive benefit to the genes, such altruistic behaviors can be maintained in the population.
    [emphasis in original]

    Which is WRONG with respect to the workers’ copies..
    I’ve had my irony meter turned OFF for the entirety of this thread.

    The gotcha backfired.

    Au contraire, mon petit. The fun continues.

  29. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    And so Jock makes himself exhibit 2 on the ‘psychology of not admitting mistakes’ thread.

    At least it takes some of the attention off Alan.

  30. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    DNA_Jock,

    Jock, if you’re expecting Boopsie to ever admit s/he’s made an error, you’re wasting your time. S/he’s too busy criticizing others and explaining the pathology of being similar to him/her in that respect. It’s the kind of stuff one really wants to send to an asylum for comments.

  31. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths:

    At least it takes some of the attention off Alan.

    It’s just focusing it more on you, Gladys.

  32. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: At least it takes some of the attention off Alan.

    Actually, that’s quite a revealing remark, Keiths. I have often wondered out loud what your goal is in commenting here. As the rules seem to have gone by the board, currently, I guess I’m allowed to speculate that there is some pathological element to your commenting style.

  33. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan Fox: Actually, that’s quite a revealing remark, Keiths. I have often wondered out loud what your goal is in commenting here. As the rules seem to have gone by the board, currently, I guess I’m allowed to speculate that there is some pathological element to your commenting style.

    Like a fruitcake.

  34. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan,

    Actually, that’s quite a revealing remark, Keiths.

    You brought yourself into the discussion as an example of admitting a mistake, and I responded with the obvious counterexamples. Hardly “pathological”.

    On the other hand, you, a grown man, pretended not to ‘hear’ something that was repeated to you more than twenty times, all in a desperate attempt to avoid admitting a mistake — an attempt that continues after two entire years!

    Now that’s pathological. You have a problem, Alan.

    (And we haven’t even talked about your laughable claim that “Well, no” didn’t mean “no”, but was just a “stylistic irrelevance.”)

  35. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    roly-poly clown

  36. Patrick Patrick
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan Fox: Actually, that’s quite a revealing remark, Keiths. I have often wondered out loud what your goal is in commenting here. As the rules seem to have gone by the board, currently, I guess I’m allowed to speculate that there is some pathological element to your commenting style.

    If comments are slipping through the rules net, please point them out. Or come in from the cold and give us a hand!

  37. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Patrick,

    I’m tempted!

  38. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    Patrick,

    PS

    No criticism intended. The volume of comments is too much for anyone with a life to keep track of.

  39. keiths keiths
    Ignored
    says:

    Alan,

    That’s actually pretty apt. You just need to add a voice to the Alan-clown so that every time it bounces back, it says…

    What mistake? You haven’t told me what the mistake was.

    …then puts its hands over its ears.

  40. Alan Fox Alan Fox
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths,

    I thought of changing my avatar.

  41. DNA_Jock
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: And so Jock makes himself exhibit 2 on the ‘psychology of not admitting mistakes’ thread.

    Yes, yes I did.
    Concurrently, I made myself a cup of tea.
    <gggg>

  42. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: You’ve been dishonestly and childishly denying a simple and obvious science mistake for two entire years.

    Please post rule-breaking comments in Noyau where they are permitted.

    Thank you.

  43. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: The folks who understand this stuff …

    keiths and people who agree with keiths. Count so far at one.

  44. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    keiths: If I had ended up contradicting myself*, I would simply have admitted* it.

    Fixed that for you.

  45. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    walto: Jock, if you’re expecting Boopsie to ever admit s/he’s made an error, you’re wasting your time. S/he’s too busy criticizing others and explaining the pathology of being similar to him/her in that respect.

    That’s simply unfair walto. We often receive sound advice from keiths. Advice that is good* for us.

  46. walto walto
    Ignored
    says:

    Mung: Please post rule-breaking comments in Noyau where they are permitted.

    Thank you.

    No way! Patrick never* allows that kind of thing!

  47. Mung Mung
    Ignored
    says:

    I think I finally understand.

    keiths is a Kartheisian Skeptic. He cannot possibly be wrong, in any world. It simply cannot be the case that he could know he is wrong.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.