LINK: An example of the Pink Flamingo, the obvious-yet-overlooked cousin of the Black Swan

post by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-05T16:55:13.165Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 75 comments

India vs. Pakistan: the nuclear option is dangerously close, and nobody seems to want to prevent it

http://qz.com/541502/a-nuclear-war-between-india-and-pakistan-is-a-very-real-possibility/

75 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by WhyAsk · 2015-11-05T22:22:40.484Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"A “pink flamingo” is a term recently coined by Frank Hoffman to describe predictable but ignored events that can yield disastrous results. Hoffman argues that these situations are fully visible, but almost entirely ignored by policymakers. "

Why are they ignoring this?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-06T02:58:23.735Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For the good reason that it's very difficult to do something about it.

comment by solipsist · 2015-11-16T03:39:31.437Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Snowden / Manning leaks (from what I've heard) suggest this issue is the third or forth priority of US intelligence organizations. One presumes that the US intelligence organizations do not consider it in their interests to advertise this fact.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-11-08T13:55:29.744Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why are they ignoring this?

Because it's been basically stable for so long it's easy to believe it won't blow up.

comment by WhyAsk · 2015-11-11T02:28:44.283Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So we are back to the Black Swan event.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-11-05T23:35:11.421Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why are they ignoring this?

Nobody can get a promotion by focusing his attention on the topic?

comment by WhyAsk · 2015-11-06T17:33:03.286Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These people are being paid to make these kinds of difficult decisions for the good of "their people" and not just to avoid demotion. Anyone can make easy decisions. And they don't have to be right, they just have to meet The Reasonable Person standard.

But, there was a Dilbert cartoon that said you shouldn't even be in the same room when a decision is made.

I guess a world court would charge these 'leaders' with Dereliction of Duty, fraud, incompetence, negligence, etc..

Not that a solution would ever be implemented or that politicians would ever evolve into better people, but how would a Game Theorist approach this nasty problem? This could be added to Dr. Miller's videos.

As far as dropping bombs on your own guys, see Carpenter's Crispy Critters.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-06T17:37:22.548Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And they don't have to be right, they just have to meet The Reasonable Person standard.

So, can you give some global politics examples where it's entirely obvious that a Reasonable Person would do X and yet "world leaders" (that means Putin and Obama, right?) do nothing?

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-06T17:54:00.733Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The war on drugs is pointless, yet U.S. administrations stubbornly persist with it.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-06T18:08:09.614Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean, pointless? The War on Drugs has enormous benefits for certain kinds of people.

Let me list you some. It keeps the restless natives in check. It's a good excuse for expanding all kinds of the power of the state. It's an excellent excuse for just confiscating people's wealth and as such it funds a large portion of the prison-industrial complex. It provides lots of prisoners for the said prison-industrial complex.

How can you keep civilization running without keeping everyone fearful of the Holy... err.. Evil Trinity of drug lords, child pornographers, and international terrorists? X-/

Maybe you want to talk about the agency problem with your elected officials -- in that case try down the corridor, Mr. Barnard; room 12.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-11-07T03:19:13.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are straw-manning. The war on drugs almost certainly reduces drug consumption and has almost certainly stopped lots of people from having their lives ruined by drugs.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T03:44:39.621Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm strawmanning whom?

Notice that I'm actually objecting to polymathwannabe's claim that the War on Drugs is "pointless".

comment by James_Miller · 2015-11-07T05:25:32.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I thought (perhaps mistakenly) that you were strawmanning the social benefits of the war on drugs.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T05:54:16.715Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I consider these benefits to be much lesser than the costs. But, as I pointed out, it depends on the point of view. It's an ill wind...

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-07T05:37:32.233Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought he was being sarcastic. But my sarcasm meter is terribly miscalibrated.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-11-07T06:14:19.705Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you really think it has that much of a benefit? I think it increases consumption if anything by making it cooler. It's hard to imagine anyone would do coke if it wasn't illegal and cool because of it's legal status.

edit: im not sure if your'e serious mr.miller, maybe i've misinterpreted something

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T16:47:56.003Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think it increases consumption if anything by making it cooler. It's hard to imagine anyone would do coke if it wasn't illegal and cool because of it's legal status.

Well, back when it used to be legal a lot of people did do it. Also, it caused so many problems that a movement started to ban it.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T17:02:05.362Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Also, it caused so many problems that a movement started to ban it.

That's a fully general argument against most everything under the sun.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-11-08T10:37:59.790Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

[cocaine] caused so many problems

Like what?

comment by James_Miller · 2015-11-07T16:09:50.101Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that whatever we do with drugs, lots and lots of people are going to suffer. I'm not claiming that on net that the drug war is good, just that it almost certainly stops many people from getting addicted to drugs. I would still favor legalization of most drugs, but I admit enacting this position will have significant (although probably not net) costs. The fact that most Americans support keeping lots of drugs illegal probably shows that most Americans recognize that legalizing all drugs would push up drug consumption and create more wasted lives and more collateral damage from drug users.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T17:01:23.429Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

TANSTAAFL does not imply the fallacy of the grey.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T17:06:50.652Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand the people pushing for drug legalization like to pretend that the costs don't exist.

For example SanguineEmpiricist was claiming up thread that no one would use cocaine if it wasn't illegal.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T17:08:33.113Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

People pushing for the continuation of the war on drugs like the pretend the costs don't exist, too.

It's a very pervasive attitude :-/

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-11-08T00:18:34.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are right in your sentiments in this thread.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-11-08T10:46:00.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand some people pushing for drug legalization like to pretend that the costs don't exist.

FTFY.

But that's a pretty general phenomenon, by no means specific to the legalization of recreational drugs. Just because there exists some people who believe X for dumb reasons isn't terribly strong evidence against X, especially when counterbalanced by the fact that there also exist people who believe not-X for dumb reasons.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-11-07T22:28:48.517Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I said that. Lol. Very few people would use it without the current stigma, do you know how I know? Because I do coke and most of the culture is influenced by its illegality by a significant degree. It would just reduce to a baseline number, and it's hard to imagine people destroying their lives due to cocaine if you're not living in a world of mythology.

Where's gwern when you need him?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-09T03:04:50.477Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Because I do coke and most of the culture is influenced by its illegality by a significant degree.

I agree, coke culture would be different if it was legal. Doesn't mean people wouldn't use it, do you know how I know? Because it used to be legal and people did use it, a lot.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-11-10T07:56:30.979Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it would return to its current status and would most certainly decrease. You're in the wrong forum to discuss this accurately, too many sheltered kids.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-11-06T19:16:18.554Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The US public wants politician who are tough on crime and as a result over a long time no politican opposed the war on drugs.

I don't see why that means the politicians aren't reasonable even if I personally don't support the war on drugs.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T04:44:54.420Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The US public wants politician who are tough on crime

For a very good reason. When soft on crime politicians took power in the 70s, crime proceeded to increase to unacceptable levels.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-11-07T14:06:07.256Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Having a high number of policemen seems to be good for having lower crime rates. Giving those policemen the task to go after drugs on the other hand isn't. The Portuguese model of dealing with drugs is much better.

The tough on crime model also doesn't lead to lower recidivism rates. It would make more sense to incentive prisons to produces lower recidivism rates.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T04:46:21.775Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why? Are you saying all currently illegal drugs should be legalized? In which case you might what to look at what caused them to become illegal in the first place.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T05:02:25.756Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In which case you might what to look at what caused them to become illegal in the first place.

That line of argument isn't going to go well for you, see e.g. marijuana.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T05:26:14.440Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The article glosses over the reasons for criminalization except for a single unbacked reference to "xenophobia".

Also what about cocaine and heroin. The example of cocaine is illistrative, after Friedrich Gaedcke first isolated cocaine it took decades to realize how dangerous it was. Part of the reason was that he and his doctor friends didn't have problems with it. Turns out that 19th century doctors had been selected for unusually high willpower.

Furthermore, the fundamental problem of which the isolation of cocaine was emblematic is getting worse as technology improves.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-07T05:56:49.413Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The article glosses over the reasons for criminalization except for a single unbacked reference to "xenophobia".

Google is your friend. The criminalization of marijuana is well-documented.

Furthermore, the fundamental problem of which the isolation of cocaine was emblematic is getting worse as technology improves.

So we have nothing to worry about plants humans consumed for millenia -- like Cannabis sativa and Papaver somniferum?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T06:10:50.606Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So we have nothing to worry about plants humans consumed for millenia -- like Cannabis sativa and Papaver somniferum?

Unless chemists start concentrating the relevant chemical, or they're used by people whose ancestors haven't had millennia to adept to them. Yes, this applies to alcohol as well.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-11-07T06:12:55.823Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cocaine is not even close to as dangerous as heroin, the physical debilitation from alcohol and cannabis is far more extreme than anything with coke, in fact most are underwhelmed and cannot see the point.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-07T05:33:27.182Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

19th century doctors had been selected for unusually high willpower

Thanks, I needed a big laugh today. Your grasp of artificial selection is completely ludicrous.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T05:43:38.347Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, you totally fail at reading comprehension.

Hint: the word "selection" has meanings besides the biological one.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-07T13:56:55.501Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Still implausible. At which point did willpower factor in the career path of an aspiring 19th-century doctor (in a way that it doesn't today)?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-07T16:48:53.360Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I never said it doesn't today.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-07T17:30:06.011Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Your earlier comment implied that there was something specific about 19th-century doctors that prevented them from realizing how dangerous cocaine was. Today we know it's dangerous. What did you intend to say was different about doctors back then?

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-11T05:48:50.221Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What did you intend to say was different about doctors back then?

The fact that today we have data on its effects on people who aren't high-willpower doctors.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-11T14:50:55.957Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're answering a different question. First you said 19th-century doctors were especially willpowered, then you said willpower is also a factor in today's doctors. Now you say the difference is not willpower but the population examined. You're not only not giving any evidence for you claims; you're running in circles.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-21T18:27:43.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think he's saying that the original population didn't notice it because of high willpower, then it get into the mainstream population who didn't have as high willpower, at which point we began to get data on the effects in a low willpower situation.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-11-11T21:58:29.648Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Reread my comments again. Your failure at basic English comprehention is not my problem.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-11-07T12:57:30.347Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In which case you might what to look at what caused them to become illegal in the first place.

But also at whether the problems that their prohibition has caused are bigger or smaller than those it solved.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-11-07T05:35:05.822Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Moral panic, mostly. A very hypocritical one, considering how tobacco and alcohol, two very dangerous drugs, are still perfectly acceptable in the Western world.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-11-06T17:43:27.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not that a solution would ever be implemented or that politicians would ever evolve into better people, but how would a Game Theorist approach this nasty problem?

Certainly not by allowing a specific court to judge politicians for every political decision that it doesn't like. That would be a good recipe for civil war.

comment by WhyAsk · 2015-11-07T21:00:09.146Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for all answers.

I still have notes from Durant's "The Lessons of History" so I should comb through these replies using this source, looking for contradictions.

This thread is perhaps an outlier as to the Level of Nesting.

comment by SilentCal · 2015-11-05T18:28:58.765Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Much discussion in this SSC thread (http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/10/31/ot32-when-hell-is-full-the-thread-will-walk-the-earth/#comment-255433) of what "nuclear war" would really mean. Mostly focused on a total US/USSR type situation, but still made a big change in how I thought about the subject in general.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-11-21T18:24:55.806Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't pink flamingo just a new name for "the elephant in the room?"

comment by SilentCal · 2015-11-05T23:34:23.299Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was wondering about the state of the deterrence in place against nuclear weapons usage, having always assumed it to be massive, and I can't tell if there's actually any formal international treaty about the use of nuclear weapons in war.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_weapons_of_mass_destruction_treaties has arms-reduction, non-proliferation, and test ban treaties, but apparently nothing about who you actually nuke. I think Geneva says you can't target civilians with any weapon, but does anything prohibit nuking your enemy's army?

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2015-11-06T01:03:01.985Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If things escalate to the point where nuclear weapons get used, that probably implies enough of a breakdown of order that it doesn't matter what any treaty says.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-11-06T17:52:05.351Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, a country's use of nuclear weapons is a powerful signal that it's willing to use them again, giving it a powerful negotiating advantage.

comment by James_Miller · 2015-11-05T20:43:30.448Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pakistan’s arsenal of short-range tactical nuclear weapons is a game changer in other ways. Pakistan clearly intends to use these weapons—on its own soil if necessary to counter [an Indian tank invasion.]

Using nuclear weapons on your own soil probably wouldn't cause anywhere near as much retaliation from your enemies and the international community then if your nuclear weapons hit enemy soil.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-11-05T17:11:39.618Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Estimates of nuclear weapons being deployed in a conflict between the 2 states in the next 10 years?

Poll is a probability poll as described here:http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Comment_formatting#Probability_Poll

values from 0 to 1

[pollid:1073]

comment by PeerGynt · 2015-11-05T18:50:20.404Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you specify whether you want answers as percentage probability, probabilities, odds, or expected number of launches? My answer was intended as a percentage

comment by tim · 2015-11-06T07:26:49.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I was fortunate enough to enter a percent sign after my estimate which resulted in an explicit warning, but an open-ended text box is not a great way to structure this poll.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-11-06T13:34:53.387Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I just used the standard less-wrong probability poll.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Comment_formatting#Probability_Poll

edited the comment to include the description.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-11-06T19:27:35.271Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If people want to lock in their predictions they can do so on Prediction Book here.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2015-11-06T00:03:22.631Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ugh, I screwed up the mean by entering "1" as a probability where I meant 1%. Now I know why Yvain has all those funny "are you reading the directions?" questions on his LW surveys.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-08T14:32:28.719Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I failed to notice the "the" and entered my estimate for the probability of nuclear weapons being used in some state conflict, not necessarily between India and Pakistan.

comment by Diadem · 2015-11-07T01:57:25.178Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would't it be more accurate to use a geometric mean here, instead of an arithmic one?

An arithmic mean really obscures low predictions.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-11-05T20:26:50.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I count deployments for power-demonstration like in the cold war too (it is more difficult what counts as a conflict though)..

comment by CronoDAS · 2015-11-12T14:44:44.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this an "elephant in the living room"?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-12T18:19:49.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this an "elephant in the living room"?

No, an elephant in the living room is an elephant that is in the living room.

A pink flamingo just brings you notice that an elephant will be delivered to your living room shortly :-D

comment by evand · 2015-11-08T21:30:35.568Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So, this is exactly the sort of thing prediction markets should do well at, right? People without structural incentives to ignore a problem can make accurate predictions and make money. People who care about it can point to the market prices when making their point.

In the black swan case, I think prediction markets will do only somewhat better than alternatives, but here they should do vastly better. Right?

comment by casebash · 2015-11-06T11:51:10.232Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks heaps. I love hearing about new, memorable terms like this.

comment by Lalartu · 2015-11-06T09:01:09.001Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The article makes a good point: USA can lose very much in case of such war. If the world sees that nukes can destroy enemy army without turning whole country into a blasted radioctive wasteland like scaremongers say, then non-proliferation is a lost cause and US military might suddenly turns into a heap of useless expensive toys.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-06T15:36:59.673Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

nukes can destroy enemy army without turning whole country into a blasted radioctive wasteland like scaremongers say

That's pretty obvious to anyone with a couple of functioning brain cells. The whole idea of tactical nuclear weapons is limited strikes against military targets. During the Cold War, the NATO doctrine explicitly relied on tactical nukes to stop Russian armored thrusts into Western Europe.

non-proliferation is a lost cause

Non-proliferation isn't based on some third-world politicians being afraid of a nuclear holocaust. It's based on the empirical fact that if you try to develop nukes, Uncle Sam will be very very mean to you.

comment by Lalartu · 2015-11-09T09:34:23.205Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First, it is not. Idea that this Cold War doctrine was suicidal (for the Europeans) madness is rather popular, I think more than the opposite.

Second, given that exactly zero states were attacked by US for trying to make nukes, I wouldn't call this the most important reason. As for third-world politicians, they adopt the first-word attitude to nukes as thing you can only threaten with but can't really use.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-11-09T16:12:07.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Idea that this Cold War doctrine was suicidal (for the Europeans) madness is rather popular, I think more than the opposite.

Is popular? I am not sure today people spend a lot of effort in evaluating an obsolete military doctrine from quarter century ago. And is there an alternative proposed?

given that exactly zero states were attacked by US for trying to make nukes

Notice that I didn't say "invaded", though Iraq is an interesting case. But why did Iran make a deal with the US, then?

thing you can only threaten with but can't really use

You can't really use them offensively. I doubt the politicians would taboo the use of tactical nukes in the last stand situation. That's effectively what they are for: insurance. Funny how everyone is tiptoeing around North Korea...

By the way, you know what didn't help non-proliferation at all? The way the Budapest Memorandum turned out to be a meaningless piece of paper.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-11-08T14:40:37.797Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In my opinion the opposite is likely to happen if there is an actual war of this kind between India and Pakistan: once Pakistan uses nukes, India will be mostly ok as a whole, as you imply, but India will turn Pakistan into such a "blasted radioactive wasteland" in comparison, which will make anyone else terrified of such a war with the US. Apparently the Indian defense minister in 2003 said something like this publicly, saying something like "After we respond, there will be no more Pakistan."

comment by Tem42 · 2015-11-11T17:41:36.120Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

India can target the Indus, pretty much gutting Pakistan. As long as they disrupt/poison the river enough they wouldn't have to target any settlements directly. If Pakistan developed the capacity to effectively target the Ganges (no small feat, and probably something best done with chemical weapons, not nuclear weapons), it would be possible to cause the displacement of a billion people over a couple of years. That would not be a good time to live in China, Europe, or Africa.

Of course, neither India nor Pakistan would want either of these things to happen. While India would survive an unilateral strike, Pakistan would not -- regardless of who struck the strike.