Meta: "Less Wrong" connotations?

post by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-01T06:57:41.155Z · score: 6 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 7 comments

I've always interpreted this site's title, "Less Wrong" (link is to description of origin of phrase), to name a goal that its members strive towards. After factoring in the slightly self-deprecating or human-deprecating connotations the title's message sorta feels like "We know it's impossible to become completely right, but we should at least aim to be less wrong". But earlier today I realized that it could also be interpreted as an implicit comparison of social groups: "We are less wrong than others.".1&2 Does anyone know if there's a sizable minority of people who interpret "Less Wrong" to be primarily a boastful comparison of social groups? Edit: To make it clearer, I'm worried about potential negative effects via the social psychology of credibility and people maneuvering to uncharitably resolve unintended ambiguities to make contemptible caricatures of complex social groups whose perceived-members can thenceforth be disregarded. An example is how someone might be a lot more suspicious of an intellectual if that intellectual had been seen as somehow in league with those heartless Rand-worshipping Objectivists.

 

I'm not sure if this connotation was intended but I suspect that if it was it was meant as a secondary and subtle message, and I suspect that if people were trying to sneak in secondary or subtle messages they would have been smart enough to realize that putting two negative-affect words next to each other to make a title isn't a good idea. But perhaps I underestimate the ratio of intellectualish cleverness to practical wisdom among those who named Less Wrong "Less Wrong".

This kinda worried me because of all those somewhat-misguided3 comment replies that start off with "For a site titled 'Less Wrong', you guys sure are wrong about [probably controversial topic].", where it's unclear what they think "Less Wrong" is supposed to mean.

Here's one good exception to the general awfulness of this meme.

7 comments

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comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-01T14:06:22.940Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My experience has been that people who I've told about Less Wrong understand the name as intended [1] and find the idea attractive.

[1] Except for one person who heard it as Les Wrong, and we had to sort out that it wasn't a person's name.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2011-07-01T17:17:40.812Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Goals are inherently boastful.

comment by Zed · 2011-07-01T08:33:16.665Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your interpretation of the name LessWrong. Except that I don't think there's a subtle secondary message. The straightforward interpretation is probably correct and I don't think looking for a deeper meaning is going lead to extra insight.

I'm pretty confident that the majority of contributors on LessWrong feel that they're more logical and more consistent thinkers than their peers and that sense of superiority shows in a multitude of ways. This triggers the defensive "if you're so smart, why are you wrong about X?" line. Because the name of the site happens to be LessWrong the obvious "pun" is made and the statement takes the form "for a site named LessWrong you sure are wrong about...". It's just an attempt to be clever.

You can see the same effect very clearly with movie reviews. They all start or finish with a not-so-clever play on the movie's title.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-07-01T10:59:12.596Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except that I don't think there's a subtle secondary message. The straightforward interpretation is probably correct and I don't think looking for a deeper meaning is going lead to extra insight.

I agree with this. (Your use of "except" confuses me by making it seem as if you think I thought the opposite of those two sentences. Edit: This jumped out as important because the difference between stating beliefs about optimal decision policy and stating beliefs about what decision policies others are engaging in is a big difference.)

comment by alexflint · 2011-07-02T17:58:06.174Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always interpreted it as the former and I hadn't thought of the latter until you mentioned it. I agree they are distinct and the latter is worth worrying about if people really do interpret it that way.

comment by MrHen · 2011-07-03T13:26:02.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I immediately took the title to imply both meanings and assumed it was deliberate. I did not think this was all that terribly boastful. So... I guess I agree halfway?

comment by Thomas · 2011-07-01T20:05:26.233Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The sister/mother site is "overcomingbias". Not "biasovercome", but "overcoming". This is "lesswrong". Not right yet, but less wrong.

That's both a lot already! A grain of modesty here.

At least I understand it so.