What topics are appropriate for LessWrong?

post by tog · 2015-01-12T18:58:16.791Z · score: 8 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 107 comments

Contents

  What is Less Wrong?
None
107 comments

For example, what would be inappropriately off topic to post to LessWrong discussion about?

I couldn't find an answer in the FAQ. (Perhaps it'd be worth adding one.) The closest I could find was this:

What is Less Wrong?

Less Wrong is an online community for discussion of rationality. Topics of interest include decision theory, philosophy, self-improvement, cognitive science, psychology, artificial intelligence, game theory, metamathematics, logic, evolutionary psychology, economics, and the far future.

However "rationality" can be interpreted broadly enough that rational discussion of anything would count, and my experience reading LW is compatible with this interpretation being applied by posters. Indeed my experience seems to suggest that practically everything is on topic; political discussion of certain sorts is frowned upon, but not due to being off topic. People often post about things far removed from the topics of interest. And some of these topics are very broad: it seems that a lot of material about self-improvement is acceptable, for instance.

107 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2015-01-12T22:54:17.827Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It should be noted that the FAQ was largely written by a person (me) and should not necessarily be considered authoritative... if the LW community thinks something in the FAQ should change they should feel free to change it.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-01-12T20:26:25.503Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Some time ago I posted a poll about topics typical for LessWrong.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-21T07:01:59.341Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"rationality" can be interpreted broadly enough that rational discussion of anything would count

"Rational discussion" is not rationality. You can very rationally discuss politics. You can very rationally discuss the life cycle of the cicada.

Truly "on topic" is content that helps the user to become more rational. Multiple definitions of rational apply: Being more practically effective counts. Being better able to sort through evidence counts. Meta-understanding on the meaning of rationality counts. Modelling what a rational agent might do in a given scenario counts. Figuring out what specific actions that one could take to achieve goals counts.

Anything, including politics, including cicadas, can be on topic as per the above criteria, or not, depending on context. Frowny on politics for its tendency to derail the original point. I think Lesswrong was intended as a rationality training ground.

But practically speaking, I think the votes decide, but from a standpoint of policing the boundaries this is what I'd encourage.

comment by tog · 2015-01-27T08:16:56.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That seems quite a bit more restrictive than what currently gets posted, no? (I ask because I don't follow the site that closely.)

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-28T16:25:58.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. That was normative advice, not a descriptive statement. In actual fact you should post whatever strikes your fancy and upvotes/downvotes will give you descriptive feedback. I often upvote things myself that are off topic by my standards if I actually learn something.

practically speaking, I think the votes decide, but from a standpoint of policing the boundaries this is what I'd encourage.

comment by roystgnr · 2015-01-12T22:25:44.880Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There was just an astonishingly civil examination of the most mindkilling topic I could think of in Discussion. I've criticized people for violating the LessWrong politics taboo in the past, but I'd be happy to chat about anything from particular elections to the merits of Marxism if it was always done so painstakingly in the articles and so thoughtfully in the rebuttals.

I'm not sure how to achieve that, though. "Everybody can talk about politics carelessly" isn't any better an idea than it was before, and trying to enforce "only talk about politics carefully" might just add tone arguments without actually improving the tone.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2015-01-12T22:45:01.915Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Abortion is a strongly mindkilling topic for society in general, but it is not one for Less Wrong. According to Yvain's survey data on a 5-point scale the responses on abortion average 4.38 + 1.032, which indicates a rather strong consensus accepting it. As a contrast, the results for Social Justice are 3.15 + 1.385. This matches my intuitive sense that discussions of social justice on LW are much more mindkilling than discussions of abortion.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-12T23:19:13.112Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

From eyeballing the survey results, we might expect the worst ideological conflicts on LW to be those current among libertarians, liberals, and moderate-to-mainline socialists, and especially those that're interesting to nerds with those affiliations: not, for example, abortion or immigration, where one camp's almost exclusively conservative. And indeed, the most heated political arguments on LW that I remember have dealt with radical feminism, fat acceptance, the treatment of women in nerd culture, and anything vaguely associated with pick-up artistry. Nothing economic, which is a bit of a surprise, but maybe it's easier to cast those issues in consequential terms -- or maybe taxes just aren't sexy.

The ethno-nationalist wing of neoreaction has also caused problems, but I think that had less to do with the subject matter and more to do with the poster: long-time SSC readers may remember him as Jim.

comment by roystgnr · 2015-01-13T13:55:59.727Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If a "pro-choice" essay had been under discussion, then "LessWrong is already pro-choice, of course it's not going to be a mindkilling discussion" would have been my conclusion as well. But the thesis of the essay was strongly "pro-life", and it still got a good reception, with rebuttals mostly of the form "here's what's wrong with your assumptions and numbers" rather than "go away you woman-enslaving theocrat".

It could just be that the survey questions don't distinguish between different reasons for various stances? There may be a big practical difference between "I'm strongly pro-choice because analysis of this complicated moral question heavily tips that way, so I'm open to reconsidering if my reasoning is weaker than I thought" and "I'm strongly pro-choice because there's no good more-moderate Schelling point, so any attempt to undermine my position must be fought like a camel's nose in the tent."

comment by Unknowns · 2015-01-13T01:51:58.471Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This could either show that the topic isn't mindkilling, or that it is very mindkilling, if the Less Wrong consensus happens to be simply mistaken.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2015-01-13T07:22:33.628Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding of the use of "mindkilled" is that people who can be so described are incapable of discussing the relevant issue dispassionately, acquiring an us-vs-them tribal mentality and seeing arguments just as soldiers for their side. I really don't think that this applies to the topic of abortion on LW, which can be discussed dispassionately (much more so than in other places, at least). This is quite compatible with the possibility that the LW consensus is biased and wrong, which is what you are suggesting.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-14T22:17:26.277Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Anything, as long as 1) it's chosen, written, and formulated in a way that shows alignment with the values of the community, taken in a broad way; 2) doesn't make LW look bad to outsiders. (There have been cases of mods stepping in, or the community shutting down certain insistent debaters, when it came to certain discussion topics, for reasons of it being very bad PR.)

The first condition in fact could be generalizable to pretty much any human group (deviations from this norm might be taken to be, basically, trolling), and is more restrictive than it may look at a first sight. Just like in real life, apply common sense. Your message may not be technically flawed, but the success of your act of communication depends on the audience as well. People might wonder why you're telling that to them in particular. If you have lurked enough, you might already have a sense of what this community is about.

Sometimes users on LW try to establish a group discussion on topics that are not popular with most LWers, but they may be successful if people get the message that the OP values and desires the same things as them: intelligence, rationality, profound and insightful commentary, ethical behaviour and so on. Celebrity gossip, for instance, at an object level, probably cannot be adapted so that LWers receive it well, but a discussion on the role of celebrity gossip in people's lives and how it relates to populist/egalitarian status-regulating mechanisms targeted at undeservedly high status people -- that might fly.

comment by ike · 2015-01-12T20:44:57.378Z · score: 3 (17 votes) · LW · GW

"Here's an idea that can make you go crazy (and lose all your money) if you think about it too hard, let's write it up and give people nightmares for the next 4 years and counting".

comment by zedzed · 2015-01-13T01:31:17.155Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have this heuristic which states, if a bunch of smart people get excited about something, you should check it out. There's no obligation to also get excited about it (a lot of smart people get excited over classical literature, which does less than nothing for me, but I'm sure this is a product of my draw in the lottery of fascinations and not sloth.)

At this point, "anything that you find interesting and doesn't get downvoted into oblivion because nobody else finds it interesting" seems a reasonable criteria for "appropriate for LW". There's a chance that this allows a spontaneous influx of people who want to write about classical literature or social justice politics, but as long as our core material is The Sequences and the wobsite has MIRI, CFAR, and Future for Humanity Institute in the upper right, I'm not worried about losing what makes LessWrong shiny.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-16T18:41:33.786Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

if a bunch of smart people get excited about something, you should check it out

Beware. That's exactly how people show up for every horrible Transformers movie in enough numbers to fund the next one.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-13T05:35:59.490Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Things I think should be treaded upon carefully if not avoided altogether:

  • jokes (a lot of people may think you're serious)
  • the act of sex (and associated fetishes)
  • violence
  • politics
  • illegal activities
  • pop culture
  • art (this I'm weak in my opinion of; I'm guessing art discussion would be quite welcome under certain conditions, but I'm highly uncertain what those conditions are)
  • auditory, written, and performance art (in case you thought I was only referring to visual art)
  • pro-religious arguments (personal opinion: there is a lower threshold for anti-religious comments; I do not by any means mean to imply all or even most anti-religious comments have been poor or that pro-religious comments have been superior overall)
  • anti-rationality arguments (same as above)
  • anything that goes on in your bathroom
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-01-23T19:08:42.646Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of this is material which is well accepted at LW.

Humor is commonly upvoted. It's possible that you have a different concept than I do, and mean something specific by jokes. There's a certain kind of hostile humor which may be more trouble than it's worth, but if so, we're going to need to be a lot clearer about what it is.

I'm not sure how much explicit talk about sex there's been here (as distinct from, say, talk about orientation or polyamory), but I don't think a discussion of how to improve sexual experiences would be out of place.

I personally wish torture wasn't so casually used in philosophical arguments-- I'm not convinced that detaching from my revulsion against torture would be an improvement in how I relate to the world. However, I don't think this is a point of view I'm likely to convince people about.

We do have a norm against recommending illegal violence, especially against named targets.

We've got a weak norm against politics. I wouldn't mind seeing strong norms of pushing people to say how they have come to their conclusions about the outcomes of various political policies and structures. I suspect a great many opinions have much weaker justifications than their holders believe.

We have a monthly media thread which includes art of many kinds, and this hasn't caused any problems that I can think of. Also, HPMOR is extremely popular at LW.

We're pretty cautious about discussing activities which are illegal in first world countries.

"Anything that goes on in your bathroom"? I believe we've had some discussions of flossing which have not been a problem, and also a mention or two of how often to bathe or whether shampoo is useful, but that isn't what you meant.

I've run across something which I believe is valuable for [bathroom activity redacted], and I've been hesitant to post about it-- I've gotten at least one weird reaction for mentioning it in person, and feel some embarrassment about bringing up the subject. This reminds me that I probably should post about it, but possibly with rot13 so that people have some warning if they'd rather not read it.

In general, you seem to want to avoid subjects which tend to lead to strong visceral reactions. I think you're enough of an outlier on this that you aren't likely to change the culture. I would be interested in any method which would make it possible to have an emotionally filtered LW-- while I think you're an outlier, you're probably also not the only person with your preferences.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-15T01:49:56.031Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like an unfortunately broad list especially because some of them are closely connected to areas where easy improvement would exist were it not for cultural taboos. To use just one example:

anything that goes on in your bathroom

Yet, due essentially to this taboo in the general population there are massive problems with bathroom design and how we use them and there are real health and efficiency issues. And that article doesn't even begin to discuss the simple and very minor change of having a curbless shower which can easily save lives.

It seems like a lot of your list comes down to "there's already a taboo here so let's keep it for LW also."

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-15T03:04:54.812Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the whole point of the discussion is to create a FAQ for new users to make it easier for them to get started using LW. While there probably are ways to approach those topics in a thoughtful and considerate way, I certainly would be hesitant to want to try and figure out how to do so, and I would certainly encourage new users to avoid broaching them as well. It seems like the consensus of the community comes down to "we know there's a taboo here but taboos are a bias so let's just not say anything, and let's not give anybody guidance on how to deal with these taboos; instead wait until somebody triggers this bias in us, and downvote them." They can then rely on guess and check even though we know this is an incredibly inefficient way to learn.

And yes, I think people who broach these taboos will have a more difficult time getting positive comments in these areas than in more traditional areas of LessWrong discourse. It's possibly incorrect to discourage certain forms of discussion; the present tact seems to be to encourage certain forms of discussion. But this has its own drawbacks as well.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T16:39:09.194Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The parent comment seems to be on +1 -3, and I'm not sure why. (Perhaps because it's a mere list of unjustified preferences, but it seems to me that that's roughly what the OP is actually asking for.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-14T16:53:25.507Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm wondering that too. My best guess is they disagree with either treading carefully about jokes or treading carefully about pro-religious comments. But it's hard to say because very few people seem to be engaging the discussion topic. Downvoting because you disagree with two items out of eleven isn't very helpful.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-14T18:48:29.223Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted because I disagree with pretty much every item.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T19:20:42.931Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you hold that pretty much anything of interest and importance to a substantial number of smart people is (potentially) on topic here, or do you have narrower preferences that just happen not to exclude any of the things FrameBenignly is suggesting don't belong?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-14T19:22:04.836Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The former.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-14T21:46:29.398Z · score: -6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This list makes me sad.

If anything, not being able / advised to discuss any of the above topics reflects significantly less rationality than the average person, perhaps somewhere between children and autists. Why? Just why? What point is there in putting a moratorium on such a big chunk of human experience (many of them are admittedly not the best and brightest, and I'm not saying I'd suddenly like LW to be filled with nothing but that, but adults should be able to handle them), all the while getting absurdly fretful about acausal cosmic horrors that fail to show any plausibility to most smart and reasonable outsiders?

... If I tried, the best thing I could say about a crowd that would abide by such norms is that they have a highly lopsided intellectual development. A more biased but likely proposition would be that the failure to handle banal conversation topics like pop culture or humour casts doubt on the truth or intellectual value of the things such a crowd does accept to discuss, and professes expertise about.

Edit: if in the context of topic recommendations for a top-level post, such as an entire post being a joke played at the expense of the community, then yes, this might make sense -- but instead of an oddly specific list, you could have said simply "disruptive topics", topics that make the audience wonder whether the author is messing with them or simply has no sense of propriety. But if you meant "things that do not have a place on LW in any way, shape, or form", then I stand by the above.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T23:23:57.181Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

significantly less rationality than the average person, perhaps somewhere between children and autists.

It appears that you think autistic people are less rational than the average person. Why do you think that?

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-21T06:33:10.594Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It appears that you think autistic people are less rational than the average person. Why do you think that?

If we just pretend the context of FrameBenignly and Dahlen didn't exist (I don't agree with everything either of them said) and take this statement in isolation, ignoring the whole "is this intended to be offensive or not" aspect...

Isn't it a given that anyone with a mental impairment of any kind is less instrumentally rational than a similar person without impairment? We don't usually give diagnosis to people who tend to win at stuff.

not being good at some kinds of intuitive understanding of other people" is not at all the same thing as "being less rational than average".

But it is. Assuming we're modelling the entire brain as part of the agent, if you take two individuals, give them the same info, and one of them is able to correctly act on that information and win while and the other is not able, then all else being equal the one who won is the more rational of the two. (We're modelling the entire brain as agent here, so this would even be true for things like epilepsy. There are other ways to model this, such that the autistic person is just as rational but acting on less information, but that's a bit convoluted because we'd have to consider some parts of the brain as "agent" and others as just complex sensimotor bodily organs)

I'm not trying to diss autistic people here, just reiterating: Rationality is not intelligence, rationality is not goodness, rationality is simply acting in ways conducive to winning. I have ADHD myself, and yes, that trait makes me less instrumentally rational - and I think the same goes for autism and others.

(After writing I considered deleting this because it would be easy for an angry person to miss the point and take it as justification for what Dahlen wrote. I dislike his conflation of "autists" with "people who don't look at art or whatever" as much as everyone else because it's simply not true and perpetuates misconceptions of autistic people. But Lesswrong doesn't let you gracefully delete things, and if one can't play devil's advocate here then where else? So I'll leave it up.)

comment by gjm · 2015-01-21T10:34:02.386Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't it a given that anyone with a mental impairment of any kind is less instrumentally rational [...] We don't usually give diagnosis to people who tend to win at stuff.

I am unconvinced by the broadest versions of the "rationality = winning" thesis, for reasons I've mentioned to alienist elsewhere in this thread. The very broadest version ("rationality = anything conducive to winning") would make, e.g., shortness or heart disease kinds of irrationality. A more reasonable intermediate version ("rationality = any features of one's cognition conducive to winning") still seems to me overbroad; it means that e.g. one person can be deemed more rational than another simply because ten years ago they happened to learn a particular language, or because they have a better (or worse) ear for music.

I think your observation that epilepsy would be deemed a variety of irrationality by the definition you're using is actually a handy reductio ad absurdum. Do you really want to define things so that epilepsy is a variety of irrationality?

For the avoidance of doubt: I will happily agree that, all else being equal, being autistic is generally a disadvantage, and that this disadvantage is a matter of cognitive deficiencies and not only of (e.g.) prejudice on the part of others. I just don't think "irrationality" is at all a good way to describe that disadvantage.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-01-21T12:50:03.277Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I propose a few ways of using these words.

"Instrumentally rational" = successful on account of being epistemically rational. Success for other reasons does not count.

"Epistemically rational" = correctly using observation and reasoning to arrive at true beliefs, and making the decisions and actions recommended by those beliefs.

"Irrational" = a privative concept, expressing not merely an absence of rationality, but an absence where presence is seen as having been possible.

How widely or narrowly you draw the line around "irrational" depends on how much of a counterfactual difference you are imagining being possible. Draw it widely enough, and sandstone is irrational for being so easily eroded by the wind. Narrowly enough, and everyone is perfectly rational all the time, in the same way that the Pentium III with the FDIV bug worked flawlessly. Somewhere in between there is a reasonable place to draw that line, but arguing over where to draw it is an argument about what to call things, not an argument about what properties those things have.

For the avoidance of doubt: I will happily agree that, all else being equal, being autistic is generally a disadvantage, and that this disadvantage is a matter of cognitive deficiencies and not only of (e.g.) prejudice on the part of others. I just don't think "irrationality" is at all a good way to describe that disadvantage.

I agree.

comment by alienist · 2015-01-20T06:21:54.918Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It appears that you think autistic people are less rational than the average person.

Um, yes for most definitions of "rational". That's why it's considered a disability.

comment by asr · 2015-01-21T18:27:45.447Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Um, yes for most definitions of "rational". That's why [autism] is considered a disability.

Hrm? A disability is a thing that is limits the disabled individual from a socially-recognized set of normal actions. The term 'disability' alone doesn't imply anything about reasoning or cognitive skills. It seems at best un-obvious, and more likely false, that "rationality" encompasses all cognitive functions.

Some people have dyslexia; that is certainly a cognitive disability. It would be strange (not to say offensive) to describe dyslexic individuals as per se irrational. I suspect similarly for, say, dyscalculia. Or for that matter, short-term memory problems.

Autism is a big complicated bundle of traits and behaviors. Why are those behaviors "irrational" in a way that dyslexia isn't?

comment by alienist · 2015-01-22T03:53:45.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Autism is a big complicated bundle of traits and behaviors. Why are those behaviors "irrational" in a way that dyslexia isn't?

Autism isn't just a behavior, it affects one's ability to reason socially, which in tern is "fed back" into other mental processes causing downstream problems, e.g., an inability to form models of social situations.

comment by ilzolende · 2015-01-22T06:17:34.348Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience, the social issues are actually closer to perception deficits than reasoning problems. It's harder to "read" emotions and faces and to predict other people's behavior, but just because I have trouble perceiving these things doesn't make me any less rational. Picture someone nearsighted. They are aware of their perceptive deficit, which impair their ability to predict what they will encounter as they travel. Is that person less rational due to their perceptive deficit, which impairs their ability to form models of their environment? (Yes, I am trying to get more precise perceptive abilities, but only to the extent that this is actually a good use of my resources.)

If a paperclip maximizer had significant trouble counting paperclips, would you say it did not care about paperclips? Similarly, I care about other people's preferences, even if I am worse at detecting them than the average human.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-20T09:14:53.852Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(I think I've said what I want to say about this in response to another comment you made. Let me know if for some reason you think something further needs to be said here.)

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-14T23:57:25.586Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Autism is not literally what I meant, see another reply in a subthread; anyway, lacking a module for comprehending certain aspects of the human experience does not signal superior cognitive functions to me. Not even when the modules that are left are the ones commonly dubbed "rational". The lack of a skill is the lack of a skill. It is not an equal and opposite skill. A sufficiently rational person should be able to understand the gaps in their own picture of the world, and accept and work within the paradigm of a part of humanity that apparently can understand that part of the world better. If you're in the midst of a discussion on the critique of a work of art, coming and saying that you never could understand what this art balderdash is all about does not improve upon the discussion, it simply shifts it towards your mental abnormalities.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-15T01:17:42.892Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Autism is not literally what I meant

Then I suggest that perhaps you should have chosen some other term than "autists".

lacking a module [...] does not signal superior cognitive functions to me

Sure. But I didn't say "It appears that you think autistic people are not cognitively superior overall to the average person", and that's because that isn't what I meant.

The lack of a skill is the lack of a skill.

Awestruck as I am by your insight, I feel it necessary to point out that not all skills are the same, and that "not being good at some kinds of intuitive understanding of other people" is not at all the same thing as "being less rational than average".

It's not clear whether the last sentence of your comment is (1) just reiterating how important it is to you that autism be regarded as a cognitive deficit or (2) intended as a comment on FrameBenignly's proposal that the topics s/he listed are poor choices for LW. If #1: OK, fine, but that has nothing much to do with anything. If #'2: if you think, or are pretending to think, that FrameBenignly was proposing that the topics s/he listed are poor choices for LW because the people here can't understand them then I can't agree; I think the reasons were more like "because discussing X tends to produce more heat than light" and "because talking about Y is liable to offend people and the benefits aren't worth the offence".

comment by alienist · 2015-01-20T06:34:17.434Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. But I didn't say "It appears that you think autistic people are not cognitively superior overall to the average person", and that's because that isn't what I meant.

A common definition of "rationality" around here is "the art of winning", by that definition I don't see the distinction your making.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-20T09:13:22.056Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, first of all, Dahlen was countering not the claim "autistic people are not less rational than others" but the claim "autistic people are not extra-rational", which I never said and never meant.

Secondly, while indeed "rationality" is sometimes defined that way, if you take that definition at face value then you conclude that (e.g.) blind people, poor people, short people, and ugly people are ipso facto "less rational" than others. Maybe we need a word to denote "tendency to win" that covers all those things, but I think using "rationality" so broadly would cause too much confusion.

There's more to be said for an intermediate position that takes "rationality" to cover all cognitive skills that tend to promote winning. But it seems like this would (e.g.) lead to the conclusion that if you have two otherwise identical people, one of whom has a slightly better ear for musical harmony, then the latter is more rational. Or perhaps that whether s/he is "more rational" depends on our hypothetical people's social context in really complicated ways (to take one complicated-ish example: if this person is just about good enough musically to be a professional musician but would actually be happier and more productive as an actuary, being one notch better musically might substantially harm their propensity to win overall by making them more likely to choose music as a career). This, again, seems like an over-broad use of "rationality".

comment by alienist · 2015-01-22T03:51:07.950Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, this discussion would have gone much better if you'd focused on the different definitions of "rational" (and then maybe discuss which is relevant for purposes of evaluating FrameBenignly's suggestions) rather than calling Dahlen "reprehensible" for even bringing the topic of autism up.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-22T08:34:34.006Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I dare say there are many things, in hindsight, that could have led to a more productive discussion. As it happens I'm not convinced you're right in this particular case, but I think arguing the point would be one level of meta too many.

However, it is simply not true that I called Dahlen reprehensible for bringing up the topic of autism. Less importantly, because what I called reprehensible was one of Dahlen's actions, not Dahlen the person. More importantly, because (as I have already said in response to your making the same false accusation elsewhere in this thread) it was not simply "bringing the topic of autism up" that I found reprehensible.

(If whoever downvoted the grandparent of this comment did so because of deficiencies in it rather than because they've taken a dislike to me, I'd be glad to learn what deficiencies they found. It looks OK to me on careful rereading.)

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-15T08:49:38.937Z · score: -7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Can you pretty please stop pressing me on this point? It's NOT important to me, like I said, I believe it's marginal to the discussion; I'm not at all interested in sustaining a debate on the rationality of autists and only interested in getting my point across.

Yes, I believe Spock-like people display what looks to me as a kind of irrationality, although doubtlessly to them it looks like super-rationality. That is all.

Can we let it go? Now?

Awestruck as I am by your insight

Stop that.

You may or may not have already realized this, but I felt the tautological emphasis was necessary because some people view the humanistic mindset as a bug rather than a feature in human thought. I see the lack of it as a bug rather than a feature.

f you think, or are pretending to think, that FrameBenignly was proposing that the topics s/he listed are poor choices for LW because the people here can't understand them

No, that's not what I think. What I think is that any crowd who requires such limitations in order to be able to have productive conversations is worse than the average human at handling these topics, rather than better than the average human at avoiding flamebait. Because they're not particularly outrageous. That's why I said it makes me sad -- because I have a higher opinion of LessWrongers.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-15T10:06:48.386Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Can you pretty please stop pressing me on this point?

Sure, I'll drop it if you will. (With the brief observation that it's not like you've either expressed any sort of regret for shit-talking autistic people, or given any justification for your doing so. So it's not like I've been going on about a topic that's been resolved.)

Perhaps it is worth making it explicit why I have made an issue of this even though it is NOT important to Dahlen (a weighty consideration, to be sure). There are quite a lot of people on LW who are somewhere on the autistic spectrum (look up a recent annual survey if you want the numbers). The ones I know about appear to me to be just as valuable to LW as other people here. And it seems to me that it is not good practice to use these people as some kind of byword for irrationality, as you have been doing, or to suggest that they are interchangeable with "automatons". Because it's (1) unpleasant for them and (2) bad for LW if those people decide to leave because they're being used as a punching bag.

And nothing in what you've said so far gives any reason to think that you see any problem with that.

... Oh, I see you aren't quite done yet. I'll respond to the rest of what you say, and then I'm done if you are.

Stop that.

You are not, as the saying goes, the boss of me.

You may or may not have already realized this

Yes, I did understand that you were doing it for emphasis. And I was doing what I did for mockery, because I thought (and still think) what you were emphasizing was silly and unpleasant -- the point at issue was never whether the lack of a skill is the lack of a skill, or whether the lack of a skill is unimportant, or whether there are skills that autistic people (by definition) tend to lack. And also because when I see people making unpleasant comments about autism on LW, either the explicit meaning or the clear subtext is always something like "ha ha, look at these freaks. I'm so much better than they are". (So there was a certain amount of irony in the air when you kindly warned me of the danger of saying things to feel better about oneself.)

So no, I am not going to "stop that". If I see the sort of reprehensible behaviour you've been engaging in in this thread, I reserve the right to reprehend it. And if the person doing it makes no serious attempt either to justify what they're doing or to apologize for it, I reserve the right to do so with gently mockery (which, be it noted, is all I have done).

any crowd who requires such limitations in order to be able to have productive conversations is worse than the average human at handling these topics

But you have no evidence that the LW crowd does require such limitations for that very unambitious purpose. Especially as you have indicated that you are including small-talk under the heading of "productive conversations".

I have seen productive conversations of (for instance) politics on LW, many times. It does not appear to me that political discussions on LW, when they happen, are any worse than political discussions in the world at large. This is all perfectly consistent with thinking that LW would do best to avoid political discussions because (1) the risk of descending into flamewars is nonzero and that's a potentially very harmful failure mode, and (2) even a (merely) better-than-average political discussion is usually not actually very productive. (A better-than-average discussion of something underlying politics, like say economics, may be more useful. No one is proposing that those are off-topic.)

It may also be worth noting that the correct point of comparison is not real-world face-to-face political discussions but other political discussions on the internet, because for a variety of reasons the difference in medium makes a difference to the risk of descent into hostility and flamewars and arguments-as-soldiers.

comment by alienist · 2015-01-20T07:05:30.960Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are quite a lot of people on LW who are somewhere on the autistic spectrum (look up a recent annual survey if you want the numbers).

Hi, there. I'm on the autistic spectrum and I'd appreciate it if you'd stop declaring behaviors "reprehensible" on my behalf. As it happens I find your behavior in this thread much more reprehensible then Dahlen's (which I didn't find objectionable at all).

I think a much better approach to dealing with my disability is to adapt to, compensate for, and/or overcome it rather than accuse anyone who brings it up of being "reprehensible".

comment by gjm · 2015-01-20T08:53:35.995Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hi. Pleased to meet you, but I think you may have misunderstood. I wasn't declaring anything reprehensible on your behalf; I'm sorry to say that I was entirely unaware of your existence. And I wouldn't dream of suggesting that anyone who brings up autism is reprehensible; if you got the impression that I do then I probably failed to be clear enough and I'm sorry about that.

I'm glad that you aren't in any way annoyed, upset, offended, etc., at what Dahlen wrote. I still think s/he shouldn't have written it.

Now, if it turned out that, say, 95% of LW readers on the autistic spectrum are perfectly happy with what Dahlen wrote, that really would make a difference to my opinion of it. (I'd then be curious as to whether Dahlen was just lucky, or whether s/he is better than I am at predicting autistic people.) But for now, all I know is that one person who says they're autistic[1] says they don't have a problem with what Dahlen wrote, and that one probably different person about whom I know nothing upvoted that comment. Which isn't nothing, of course, but it falls some way short of being enough evidence to change my mind right now.

[1] For the avoidance of doubt, I think it's hugely unlikely that you're lying. I'm just being careful to distinguish things I know from things I don't.

comment by ilzolende · 2015-01-22T06:38:58.349Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Unless you take a survey, you won't get a remotely representative sample, but as one of the more activist/SJW-like autistic LW readers, I found the comparison annoying, although not really offensive, because it didn't seem like Dahlen was trying to reference actual autists. To steal and modify Yudkowsky's favorite Davidson quote, if you assert that autistics have below-average rationality, are childish, and are Spock-like, then you do not make any assertions, true or false, referencing autistic people. Rather, you're just using a stereotype as a reference point for talking about some other category.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-22T08:36:40.831Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Noted. Thanks.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-16T08:50:39.059Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Trying to extract an apology out of a person through harassment 1) has SJW written all over it; 2) begets nothing resembling, in substance, an actual apology (after all, you haven't made the person change their mind), more like capitulation or an admission of weakness. This is the last possible instance when you are going to see me apologizing. Might as well not chase me into the afterlife for it. Downvote if you will and leave me be.

As long as you're engaging in an interaction with me, I have the full right to state what kind of behaviour towards me I will or will not tolerate, so don't put it as if I were bossing you around. My terms of discussion include a friendly tone and lack of sarcasm, insults, or other markers of dislike or hostility. I see those as a milder form of declaration of enmity, and instead of continuing a hostile discussion endlessly I'd rather just walk away. Talk is for friends and allies, actual and potential. For enemies there are fisticuffs, sabotage, or blissful ignorance of each other's existence.

(In case that point was left unclear, there are ways of expressing a disagreement with me or making me a reproach that don't look like the beginning of a long mutual dislike. They just don't resemble your approach here.)

the point at issue was never whether the lack of a skill is the lack of a skill, or whether the lack of a skill is unimportant, or whether there are skills that autistic people (by definition) tend to lack.

Well it kind of was the point for me.

But you have no evidence that the LW crowd does require such limitations for that very unambitious purpose.

Yes. And I will not provide any. Because as it happens I don't believe that. It seemed to me that FrameBenignly believed that in his OP, and my whole point all along has been that no, I don't think that LW belongs to the category of crowds that require those limitations, and if I am wrong and it does, then I think that's a sad state of affairs.


I have one more reply of yours somewhere that I think I need to address, because it looks like I wasn't communicating something very clearly. After that, the next reply of mine to you is going to be to a cordial tone comment, or there won't be one at all.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-16T10:17:33.166Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

[Most of this is meta-discussion. At the end of your comment you said something that wasn't. If anyone else is actually reading this, they're probably more interested in the non-meta. They should look ahead for the next comment in square brackets.]

Trying to extract an apology

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough. Obviously you are under no sort of obligation to apologize when criticized. But if your reaction is that you

  • do not apologize, AND
  • do not attempt to justify what you wrote, AND
  • ask the person criticizing you to stop doing so

then it seems reasonable to point out what's going on.

through harassment

Harassment? Everything I have written in this discussion has been in direct response to something you wrote. I have not threatened you or insulted you. I seriously can't imagine what I have done that a reasonable person would describe as harassment.

has SJW written all over it

If that's what I pattern-match to in your brain, I'm not sure there's much I can do about it. (I am with SJWs in so far as they stick up for groups that tend to get treated badly; I am against them in so far as they end up abusing other groups, treat everything as tribal warfare, and/or employ blatantly stupid arguments in doing so. Make of that what you will.)

Might as well not chase me into the afterlife for it

Good grief. I criticized something you wrote. I responded to your responses to the criticism. When you said you don't like being criticized and asked me to stop, I said "I'll stop if you will" and happened to mention that you had neither justified nor retracted what you said. That's all.

what kind of behaviour towards me I will or will not tolerate

It appears that you will not tolerate (1) criticism and/or (2) not being given the last word merely because you would prefer it. You might want to rethink that.

a milder form of declaration of enmity

I think your enmity-detectors are oversensitive, and I think that given how this discussion began you've got quite a nerve complaining that someone isn't being friendly enough towards you. To put it explicitly: I do not in any way regard you as an enemy (though I am wondering whether I should given your remarks about enmity here), I see no reason whatever why we should not be allies in the future, but I strongly disagree with some things you have been saying in this discussion and how you have been saying them. That's all.

[Non-meta here:]

as it happens I don't believe that

OK. That's better than the impression I got from the way you began:

If anything, not being able / advised to discuss any of the above topics reflects significantly less rationality than the average person [...] the best thing I could say about a crowd that would abide by such norms is that they have a highly lopsided intellectual development [...] the failure to handle banal conversation topics like pop culture or humour casts doubt on the truth or intellectual value of the things such a crowd does accept to discuss

which was (at least to my reading) all about the cognitive failures one could infer from requiring those limitations.

(If your argument was intended to be "We'd only need those limitations if we had Bad Characteristic X, but obviously we don't, so we don't need the limitations" -- with the second half of the argument so obvious as not even to need stating -- then I submit that it was a mistake to choose for Bad Characteristic X something that (1) LW documentedly exhibits a way-above-average rate of and (2) LW folks have more than once been attacked for in the past.)

comment by helltank · 2015-01-16T09:58:49.951Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If you are offended by any of gjm's statements, I suggest you walk away now, because what I'm going to say is going to be just as offensive to you as anything that gjm has posted.

Right, I take issue with your statement that autistic people are irrational, but I think that point has already been made for me. What I am taking issue with now is:

then I think that's a sad state of affairs.

You believe it is a sad state of affairs that people on LessWrong are discouraged from discussing topics that will harm people more than benefit them? Am I correct in therefore saying that you believe it is a sad state of affairs people on LessWrong are discouraged from doing stupid and irrational things? Because if so, that doesn't seem like a sad thing at all.

Consider the case where political commentary is viewed as just as acceptable a topic of debate as any other. Yes, it would be ideal to have everyone here so rational they can discuss politics freely, without risking harm to their rationality. Yet it is a fact that Politics is the Mind-Killer, and this is not going to go away and it is not going to change because you believe in freedom of speech. And I don't think this is a particularly sad state of affairs, for the very fact that people avoid things that make them irrational is a promising sign that they value their lack of bias.

But you seem to think that the freedom to say silly things like "autistic people are less rational than others", or to bring up disruptive topics, outweighs that consideration.

At this point, I would like to recommend that you close the window right now, turn away from the computer and think hard about whether complete freedom of speech is one of those things that, in the minds of some people, automatically equals a win. I can't recall the technical term for it, but I do recall quite strongly that it will kill your mind.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-16T10:32:02.072Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

At some point in a person's "training" as a rationalist, there comes a time when they are supposed to be ready to undertake controversial conversation topics without spontaneous combustion of their discussions. (Never mind that jokes and art are not exactly examples of controversial topics...) Rationality encompasses skills such as being able to accurately understand people's motives without caricaturing them, maintaining a good relationship with your conversation partners so that the channels for agreement and the channels for social relations don't get mixed (so that you can disagree sanely with someone), not straying the conversation away from collective truth-seeking and towards mini-wars etc. In fact I would say that a controversial topic such as politics is the best test of a person's actual wisdom and reasonableness.

I understand why some topics may not be appropriate for less-than-rational individuals. (But, again, these topics do not include humour and art and music! Otherwise you should pay a visit to the Wizard of Oz for him to give you a heart...) Anyone who has some legitimate claim towards better rationality skills, however, should at least try to test those better rationality skills on a higher difficulty setting. To forbid anything but sterile mathy discussions about game theory dilemmas involving alien intelligences does not improve the rationality level of people. (This honestly looks to me like cocooning; like fear of the outside world.) Nor does responsibly endeavouring to step into the arena of debates on topics relevant to humanity at large suddenly awaken your primal urges to kill, maim, and enslave your opponents. Ordinary people sometimes discuss this, in meatspace and on the internet. Ideas are expressed, values are clashed (instead of swords, mayhaps), insults are exchanged, people are warned or banned or not invited to the next dinner party. Egad, minds are sometimes even changed. With LessWrong, with all of our claims to an ardent dedication to rationality, I'm expecting to see less of the bad stuff and more of the good stuff. Much more.

Politics is the Mindkiller is not a law of nature, but a word of caution.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-23T20:24:08.814Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At some point in a person's "training" as a rationalist, there comes a time when they are supposed to be ready to undertake controversial conversation topics without spontaneous combustion of their discussions.

I've found that people, in practice, tend to believe this point comes about five minutes after they've been introduced to the concept of rationality.

Empirically, I do think people who've put sufficient effort into debiasing are better at talking about value-loaded topics than those who haven't. But that doesn't do us much good as long as we lack accurate metrics of rationality (introspective or otherwise), effective ways of telling people that they probably haven't leveled up enough to participate productively in a given discussion, or sufficient native forbearance. "You seem to be mindkilled" is about all we've got, and that tends to be interpreted, often correctly, as a partisan attack.

comment by helltank · 2015-01-16T12:00:16.376Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have to go to bed soon, therefore I will not write up a long post but leave you with this short statement:

Yes, there is such a point in our rationality training. You underestimate the amount of work needed to get there. I do not think that I can reach that point within the next 30 years; and everyone on LW would have to reach that point to argue effectively. It only takes a few outraged posters to turn a thread into a shitstorm(see the comments and replies above).

It is indeed a word of caution, just like "do not play with electricity" is a word of caution. Grown adults should theoretically be able to handle electricity without getting electrocuted, but doing so(unless they're electricians) won't give them many benefits and there will always be that risk.

I believe that he suggested(he is not a moderator but a random poster making suggestions, remember) that jokes, humor and art not be posted here because this is not a website for jokes, humor and art, unless they somehow have to do with rationality. There are plenty of sites for such things if you really have a pressing need to discuss your love of the Mona Lisa or knock-knock jokes with people on the internet.

If you want my opinion, it's that a debate about Obama's healthcare reforms is less likely to improve rationality than a debate about the sequences or some other "traditional" topic. If you really want to apply your rationality skills in a real world context:

It's right there. Just switch off your computer, go outside and strike up a debate with someone in meatspace.

comment by alienist · 2015-01-20T07:13:00.074Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you are offended by any of gjm's statements, I suggest you walk away now,

I notice you didn't make a similar to reply gjm with respect to his being offended by Dahlen's comment, even though gjm's offense was much more irrational.

But you seem to think that the freedom to say silly things like "autistic people are less rational than others"

That is not a silly thing, it is in fact true for most definitions of "rational".

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-21T06:53:17.282Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can you pretty please stop pressing me on this point?

The thing is, you just accidentally punched downon a vulnerable group. Autistic people constantly struggle with people perceiving them as robotic types who can't appreciate art and stuff (it's not really true at all).

If someone said "it's very niggerish", you'd understand the offense, right? It wouldn't be acceptable if you didn't really mean "niggerish", just traits stereotypically associated with the group being slandered.

So don't use "autist" as an adjective for things that are not in any way autism. It's harmful/hurtfull, and the fact that you basically keep defending it without really realizing what you are doing is why it is not being let go.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T23:22:58.824Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

adults should be able to handle them

The relevant question is not whether adults should be able to handle them, but whether adults actually can. Specifically, whether serious discussions of (say) religion or sex or or party politics between adults are usually conducted in a manner that LW participants would recognize as rational. If ordinary adults outside LW are generally content to discuss these things and some people on LW are not, this may indicate not that the LWers in question are intellectually deficient but merely that their standards are higher.

Incidentally, I find your comments curious in view of your recent comment which appears to say, roughly, "I am only interested in discussions on LW that are directly related to rationality and am sad that other things occupy so much of LW". ... But I suppose I probably misunderstood you and what you meant was "Of the things LW actually discusses much, rationality is the only thing that I find interesting [but there are all kinds of other discussions I'd be interested in having here if other people were willing to have them]".

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-14T23:46:19.713Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Relative to the general population baseline, adults can and do handle those topics. More so in real life. A community that prides itself on better thinking and debating practices should produce above-average-quality discussions on these topics, rather than flee from them like they bring about the death of the community.

If ordinary adults outside LW are generally content to discuss these things and some people on LW are not, this may indicate not that the LWers in question are intellectually deficient but merely that their standards are higher.

This is the kind of view that's highly prone to self-flattery and therefore rings my alarm bells. What I mean to say is not merely that they're content to do so. It's that they're confident that these are harmless, and that they can withstand whatever disagreement they have. People don't have strokes, marriages don't break and civil wars don't start just because people occasionally argue about the artistic merits of the most recent blockbuster. Most of the time in fact the effects are net positive -- people get to know each other better and have an excuse for interacting. That's what they signed up for in the first place.

what you meant was "Of the things LW actually discusses much, rationality is the only thing that I find interesting [but there are all kinds of other discussions I'd be interested in having here if other people were willing to have them]".

Indeed. Also, rationality is closer to the stated purpose of the community than the rest, and that was the reason for me bringing up the question in the first place.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-15T01:24:54.487Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

should produce above-average-quality discussions on these topics, rather than flee from them

"Above-average" is really not a very high bar to clear, and any discussion about which nothing more positive could be said than "it's above average relative to the general population baseline" would be a sad thing indeed to see on LW.

That's the kind of view that's highly prone to self-flattery

No doubt. (Though, as it happens, I am perfectly happy to discuss many of the topics FrameBenignly listed, so suggesting that some people on LW might want to avoid them because "above average" doesn't satisfy them doesn't seem likely to be motivated by self-flattery.)

people get to know each other better and have an excuse for interacting. That's what they signed up for in the first place.

That isn't why I (or many people, I'd guess) signed up here. I don't mean that there's anything wrong with having conversations for those purposes; I do it too. But that isn't what LW is for, and I hope it will stay that way.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-16T08:58:16.246Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Above-average" is really not a very high bar to clear, and any discussion about which nothing more positive could be said than "it's above average relative to the general population baseline" would be a sad thing indeed to see on LW.

It was clear in the context that I meant "however high above average that you're willing to imagine". I was describing a lower bound on the quality (i.e. I'm not expecting it to go to average and below), not an upper bound. Why even treat it as a comment on the upper bound?

That isn't why I (or many people, I'd guess) signed up here. I don't mean that there's anything wrong with having conversations for those purposes; I do it too. But that isn't what LW is for, and I hope it will stay that way.

That's true. But I was referring to real life, because that's where most such conversations take place.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-14T22:38:26.091Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If anything, not being able / advised to discuss any of the above topics reflects significantly less rationality than the average person, perhaps somewhere between children and autists.

I would strongly disagree with that statement; both in your depiction of LessWrong and your depiction of autistics. I think if you made a list of all the things other communities avoid; many of theirs would be much, much longer. I would say it would contain many of the same items on the above list. I myself find graphic depictions of violence very disturbing. It deeply troubles me that so many people enjoy watching it. I'm not sure what limits this places on my rationality. I can still discuss violence in the abstract, but avoid discussing it in the concrete. But most internet communities would frown upon graphic depictions of violence too. LessWrong tends to have a lot of abstract discussions and only a few concrete discussions. This is typical of many internet forum discussions; not just exclusive to LessWrong. My guess is this is a much greater cause of bias than limits on what type of concrete discussions can come up.

I would be less opposed to graphic depictions of sex, but I would certainly never begin including it on here because I know many would find it offensive. I also believe it would lead to a deterioration of the quality of forum posts. I am not sure what limits this places on others' rationality either; this strikes me as more of a personal choice.

A more biased but likely proposition would be that the failure to handle banal conversation topics like pop culture or humour casts doubt on the truth or intellectual value of the things such a crowd does accept to discuss, and professes expertise about.

As I said, I'm least certain about how pop culture and art discussions would be received. My guess is this would be okay if it differed from the sort of content which can be easily located elsewhere on the internet. I'm guessing I would get quickly downvoted if I posted a review of the latest Star Wars trailer, but might do okay with a discussion of calculations of the cost of the Death Star, which got brought up on Marginal Revolution once, but I'm too lazy to look it up. There's also a selection effect in that LessWrong is mostly computational and natural science types with very few people from a humanities background. This is probably a huge source of group think bias, but it would be difficult to surmise what effects this bias has. As for humor, many LW users seem to have a poorly calibrated sarcasm detector. A recent example; before I replied, fubarobfusco was at -2 for that comment.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T23:30:26.564Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

[...] many LW users seem to have a poorly calibrated sarcasm detector. A recent example [...]

I'm not sure I would describe fubarobfusco's comment as sarcastic, and I am not at all convinced that the reason why it was at -2 for a while was that early readers didn't understand that fubarobfusco wasn't literally claiming that typical modern office environments involve being "crammed up against other people with nothing to do" like cattle on a farm. I think it's more likely just that a couple of the first people to see the comment happened not to find it very funny -- which is perfectly consistent with understanding it.

(I did understand it, didn't find it terribly funny, and didn't vote on it in either direction.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-15T03:31:16.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

DanielLC's comment indicates he at least didn't get the joke. And if people downvote every time they don't laugh, that's a great way to encourage people to not make jokes.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-15T09:41:17.237Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think DanielLC's comment does indicate that. (It could. But I know that for a variety of reasons I have sometimes chosen to treat comic exaggerations at face value despite understanding that they are intended as comic exaggerations, and I don't see any reason to suppose that no one else ever does that.)

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-14T22:54:52.086Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps the grandparent edit solves a few misunderstandings. Also, I would have understood your point better if you had said "graphic depictions of violence" instead of "violence", for instance. If they had been phrased like forum rules. I thought you meant all instances thereof.

I would strongly disagree with that statement; both in your depiction of LessWrong and your depiction of autistics.

Me, I haven't depicted a thing. For one, LW doesn't actually follow those norms in their strict form (no object-level or meta-level discussions of those topics). My claim was about a hypothetical community that does. For another, I meant people who either need to be sheltered from the nastier aspects of the world, or are psychologically incapable of deviating from rigid, literal, uncreative, mechanistic thinking. Substitute Spock, automatons, whatever.

As for humor, many LW users seem to have a poorly calibrated sarcasm detector.

It's not the sort of thing that gets better with lack of exposure.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T23:35:03.396Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't depicted a thing.

You referred to "significantly less rationality than the average person, perhaps somewhere between children and autists". In what possible world is that not depicting autistic people as having "significantly less rationality than the average person"?

(Treating "autists" as interchangeable with "Spock, automatons, whatever" is also pretty obnoxious, though it's not exactly a matter of depicting anyone in any particular way.)

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-15T00:03:28.170Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Look, I'm sorry if you found that obnoxious, but I'd rather not stress this point further. As far as I'm concerned it's marginal to the discussion. Besides, I really should have gone to sleep some two hours ago. Can you just confirm whether you understood my point (not agreement or disagreement, just understanding), and leave it at that?

comment by gjm · 2015-01-15T01:08:52.919Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh yes, I understood your point. I just disagree with it and disapprove of how you stated it :-).

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-14T23:04:56.171Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't originally say "graphic depictions of violence" because I didn't mean to be that exact. There are different degrees between very literal and very abstract. I have no idea where that line lies; I'm only certain graphic depictions of violence crosses it.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-14T23:17:46.543Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I may phrase this as a retort...

There are different degrees of precision between "covers 1% of possible cases" and "covers 100% of possible cases". Unless the audience is children 5 and under (here's that thing about thresholds again), "violence" is much too general.

comment by alienist · 2015-01-22T03:45:01.189Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hi, I'd just like to say that I'm autistic and I'd like to apologize for the extremely jerkish way gim (and the people upvoting him) have been behaving ostensibly on my behalf.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-13T01:17:48.254Z · score: -6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a new user on lesswrong. I entered into a discussion on the bias in the medical literature where I happen to have studied the literature in some detail, and knew some facts about the bias I could add, and could demonstrate. Now the subject there happened to be vaccines, which is apparently one where some of the patrons are caught up in the crowd think, so when I pointed out politely that reality was different than their crowd think, I promptly got a -4 karma score, preventing me from posting.

I point this out because it appears that the Less Wrong system itself contains systematic flaws that tend to reinforce crowd think dynamics, rather than piercing through them. I think crowd think is the largest cause of irrationality in the world by far.

Added later: Note I have linked and commented further here: http://whyarethingsthisway.com/2015/01/15/more-wrong-by-calculated-effort/

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-13T05:14:08.785Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I just looked at those posts from that discussion, and your description of the literature is clearly cherry-picked. You're only concentrating on the studies which favor your argument and not contrasting them with the studies which oppose your argument. You only acknowledge that those other studies exist in passing. By going into great detail on your preferred studies instead of presenting a comprehensive overview you're exposing yourself to sampling bias.

comment by VincentYu · 2015-01-13T08:52:58.128Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

NatPhilosopher is also underhandedly manipulating quotations by lifting words out of context.

Take a look at NatPhilosopher's first quotation and citation in their pièce de résistance arguing against the safety of pediatric vaccination:

In 2002 the National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO) convened an expert group to study safety issues with adjuvants in vaccines. Among their conclusions:

“pervasive uncertainty [from] missing data on pharmocokinetics and toxicities of aluminum injected into humans… There seems to be abundant data concerning risk levels for ingested aluminum, but scant data about risk levels for injected aluminum. The oral minimum risk level, for example, appears to be in the range of 2–60 mg/kg of aluminum per day but there are no comparable data for injected aluminum.”[1]

This does sound worrying. But let's take a look at the actual report. Here are the quotations in context (emphases mine, italics are NatPhilosopher's lifted words):

From the Metal Ions in Biology and Medicine International Symposium held immediately prior to the aluminum workshop, we learned about “pervasive uncertainty”, a phrase used in this workshop to denote missing data on pharmocokinetics and toxicities of aluminum injected into humans. Even with identification of areas needing further study, it was apparent that aluminum which has been used as a vaccine adjuvant for more than 70 years, has an established safety record with low incidence of reported adverse events.

[...]

There seems to be abundant data concerning risk levels for ingested aluminum, but scant data about risk levels for injected aluminum. The oral minimum risk level, for example, appears to be in the range of 2–60 mg/kg of aluminum per day but there are no comparable data for injected aluminum. The uncertainties notwithstanding, there appeared to be a large margin of safety for aluminum adjuvants.

Not so worrying with context, is it?

The actual conclusion of the report (emphases mine):

In summary, a variety of aluminum salts have useful physicochemical and immunogenic properties that lend these minerals to use in vaccines. Based on 70 years of experience, the use of salts of aluminum as adjuvants in vaccines has proven to be safe and effective. Aluminum as an adjuvant enhances antigen presentation and stimulates a type II immune response. It has been possible, using aluminum adjuvants, to reduce the number of injections and the amount of antigen per dose, and thereby decrease the toxicity of some antigens. Without extensive research, it is impossible to know how removal of aluminum from vaccines would affect the known benefits of vaccines in which it is contained. More pharmacokinetic data are needed but there is an apparent wide margin of safety with the use of aluminum adjuvants and reported adverse events have been mostly minor and of low incidence. MMF histologic lesions may be a consequence of the normal immune response and may, in fact, be a wholly serendipitous finding in patients with ascending myalgias and fatigue. Some identified areas of research include: expanding the aluminum pharmacokinetic database, especially following IM injection in young children, conducting bimetal (mercury and aluminum) toxicological studies in animals, identifying biomarkers of toxicity, defining the frequency and duration of MMF in normal controls, determining the role of aluminum in the pathophysiology of the MMF lesion, developing new adjuvants, and establishing new methods for administering immunizations.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-14T16:51:58.051Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am not in any way an anti-vaxxer, my own child has been vaccinated according to the standard protocols in my country, and I agree that NatPhilosopher should have mentioned that alongside the scary-sounding stuff s/he quoted the quoted sources contain statements that aluminium-based vaccines appear to be safe, and that not doing so is dishonest.

BUT it seems to me (as far as the material you've quoted goes; of course there may be more that points the other way) that NatPhilosopher is correct to say that this report suggests that the safety of injected aluminium salts is poorly understood, particularly with respect to long-term consequences as opposed to acute adverse events.

NatPhilosopher may very well be dead wrong, and indeed my guess is that s/he is. But the material s/he quoted doesn't seem to me much less worrying with context than without.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-14T19:45:37.292Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't an anti-vaxxer till I started reading the scientific literature on it. I vaxxed my first 2 kid too.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-13T10:23:37.840Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The actual conclusions are crowd think. The fact of the matter, as they discussed, is they had no empirical basis to assess the toxicity of injected aluminum in neo-nates, or even adults for that matter, in spite of having done it for 70 years. They had never bothered looking. They still have no empirical basis for claiming its safe, in fact, just the opposite. In fact, they are injecting 100's of times as much aluminum into neo-nates as they get from diet in the first six months, bypassing numerous evolved filters that served to keep it out. When people actually did animal experiments on neo-nates, they reported this was very toxic to development. When people actually look at any epidemiology that's sensitive to it, they find its very toxic to development. Its highly correlated to autism, for example, as well as infant mortality.

Incidentally, when they talk about "low incidence of adverse events", they are talking about adverse events within 72 hours. I am talking about the impact of aluminum on development and the immune system and the development of the brain. Much of the aluminum gets stuck in the muscle and only leaks out over periods longer than 72 hours. The total load infants get from vaccines over the first six months is hundreds of times the total load they get from diet, taking into account that the dietary system filters 99.75% of ingested aluminum but virtually all parenterally injected aluminum eventually makes its way into systemic flow.

The results of the various medical surveys are crowd think. The summaries as a general rule present blather that soothes the soul. If you look at the actual empirical results published in the scientific literature, the situation is clear, even though it is the opposite of what all the surveys tell you in their summaries. If you ignore this, you are destined to fail to realize that committees of doctors or government officials are incapable of understanding a scientific literature or making medical decisions that are better for health than random, and more generally that crowd think is an important phenomenon in the world.

comment by VincentYu · 2015-01-13T10:44:55.296Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless of the conflicts between your beliefs and that of others, it is dishonest to misrepresent the writings of other people to bolster your arguments. Do not manipulate quotes from a report to make it say what you want it to say, even if you believe that the original report is incorrect.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-13T16:08:54.481Z · score: -7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't manipulate it. I quoted it accurately, and I quoted everything it had to say about the relevant empirical results. My quote is an accurate depiction of the state of knowledge, which is what I quote. I didn't say they had no other conclusions, I said this was "among their conclusions".

They have no empirical basis to make any other conclusions of relevance once you understand that conclusion.

I am proving to you you are delusional about huge swaths of what you believe, and you in reaction are apparently arguing irrelevant fine points and down grading me. Are you interested in being "less wrong", or not?

comment by Jiro · 2015-01-14T21:57:21.267Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I quoted it accurately

Quoting something accurately means more than just that the words you typed appeared in the source in the right order. You selectively quoted it in a way that made it seem to support a claim that it wasn't really supporting.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-15T14:27:14.106Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please say what claim I made it support it wasn't really supporting or retract your comment and any negative points you may have given me.

I'm quite curious to see what claim you think I made it support.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-15T00:53:30.849Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It was 100% supporting the claim they didn't know the first thing about the toxicity of injected aluminum in neo-nates. What claim do you think I made it seem they were supporting? Here's how I summarized the quote.

"Doctors had been injecting aluminum adjuvants into children for 70 years, committees of doctors and government officials had decided numerous times to inject more aluminum into younger children, but as late as 2002 nobody had empirical data on toxicities of injected aluminum [1]."

I would say my quote was 100% accurate, not out of context, and I don't have a clue what claim you think I made it seem to support that it wasn't supporting.

comment by Jiro · 2015-01-15T15:40:03.629Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It was 100% supporting the claim they didn't know the first thing about the toxicity of injected aluminum in neo-nates.

No it wasn't. It only sounded like that because you quoted it out of context. What it said is that they had "scant data". Scant data is not no data, and the rest of the quote makes it clear that they do have some data and that data says that it is safe.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-15T15:48:41.332Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

They didn't have any data on the toxicities of injected aluminum. They had none. They had never injected an animal and collected any. The only data they had was on oral administration. My clarification is 100% accurate, of what the article conveys if you put the quote in context.

You seem to think the fact that they minimize the extent of their incompetence or corruption by using the euphimism "scant" for "none" is more important than the facts (1) that they had been injecting aluminum into tiny kids for 70 years before checking the toxicity, and (2) since then all of the published peer reviewed data shows its doing great damage, and (3) all of the safety review boards and safety surveys are simply and blithely ignoring the scientific literature on the subject, not bothering to cite it or to rebut it or to offer alternative studies on the issue.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-16T18:57:31.638Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On the contrary,

While infants receive about 4.4 milligrams of aluminum in the first six months of life from vaccines, they receive more than that in their diet. Breast-fed infants ingest about 7 milligrams, formula-fed infants ingest about 38 milligrams, and infants who are fed soy formula ingest almost 117 milligrams of aluminum during the same period.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-16T19:24:45.961Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Breast fed infants ingest about 7 milligrams. But about 99.75% of that goes straight into the poop, as the dietary system is incredibly good at not absorbing dietary aluminum. By contrast virtually all of the 4.4 mg of aluminum they get injected from vaccines eventually makes it to their systemic flow. That results in a total load of aluminum entering the blood from diet of .0025*7mg= .01 mg compared to the 4.4mg of injected aluminum reaching their system. Or in other words, the ratio of aluminum reaching the blood from vaccine is about 250 times the amount reaching the blood from diet.

Better read the fine print or they will pull the wool over your eyes. See also http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20010978 for some measurements.

But I want to commend you polymathwannabe. You are the first reply I have gotten that attempted to engage any meaningful question.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-16T20:26:16.441Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The article you cite says,

This study does not dispute the safety of vaccines but reinforces the need to study long-term effects of early exposure to neuro-toxic substances on the developing brain.

The toxicity of Al is much lower than that of thimerosal

Mild post-vaccine symptoms in young infants, especially neonates, are non-specific and considered tolerable; rare (neurologic) adverse effects are unlikely to occur as a result of adjuvant-Al per se or in combination with thimerosal-Hg.

From the article I didn't gather what type of exposure was more worrying to the authors---acute or chronic. They seem to admit acute exposure has been proven safe, but on the other hand they dare not make any definite statements on chronic exposure. And above all, they never suggest that vaccinations should be stopped: in their conclusion they make it very clear that the purpose of understanding better the toxicity profile of vaccines is for increasing trust in vaccination.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-03-22T20:36:17.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

in their conclusion they make it very clear that the purpose of understanding better the toxicity profile of vaccines is for increasing trust in vaccination.

That's a huge red flag right there. It means they've already decided what research must prove.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-16T21:05:31.003Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The article I cited reported that breast fed infants wind up getting up to 1000 times as much aluminum from vaccines as from diet. That is the empirical result that paper was reporting. The rest is window dressing which would be at best the authors opinion. The question of whether getting that amount of aluminum is toxic is more complicated. The natural experiment is to scale it for weight and inject it into post natal mice. That experiment has been done and reports they suffer great developmental damage. There's also a fair amount of epidemiology that bears on the subject, which also suggests the aluminum is causing damage. Its highly correlated with autism, for example. I reviewed the literature all with links to about 3 dozen citations at http://whyarethingsthisway.com/2014/03/08/example-1-pediatrician-belief-is-opposite-the-published-scientific-evidence-on-early-vaccine-safety/

Also, I suggest to you that there is demonstrably very strong crowd think effects on the subject of vaccines. A phenomenon of crowd think is persecution of heretics. In such a climate, scientists publishing results that challenge the orthodoxy have to tread very sensitively indeed if they wish to avoid the inquisition. And they often respond to this by adding various flowery prose to their publications such as that which you mention, mitigating the distaste of having to report such contrary results. If you wish to understand crowd think better, I recommend: http://whyarethingsthisway.com/2014/03/22/why-are-the-pediatricians-so-confused-about-the-actual-state-of-the-scientific-literature/

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-16T22:21:13.710Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's no "inquisition" in medicine. There's peer review to ensure you did your homework, and government agencies to ensure you don't hurt (too many) people.

window dressing which would be at best the authors opinion [...] various flowery prose [...] mitigating the distaste

What criterion are you using to select what counts as fact and what is immaterial? How would you identify an author who is being reasonably cautious not to make any unjustified statements?

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-16T23:24:15.692Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's no "inquisition" in medicine. That's an unsupported opinion I believe is false. Laura Hewitson and Andrew Wakefield are immediate counterexamples that come to mind. I expect any Doctor that took a public position against vaccination would come under a lot of social pressure at least, and may well lose job or opportunities.

What criterion are you using to select what counts as fact and what is immaterial? How would you identify an author who is being reasonably cautious not to make any unjustified statements? I don't look to authors to make statements or draw conclusions. If I can't draw the conclusion myself, its not valid. I look to authors to report empirical data, and maybe spell out a proof or calculation of its implications, but if I can't personally follow the proof or calculation of the implications, then its not valid. The point of the scientific literature is, its supposed to be verifiable by scientists, so I look at it in that spirit. The scientists writing it are really supposed to keep their opinions out of it, but when they can't help themselves the readers should exercise judgement themselves. I am looking at the questions as semantic, as being questions about the physics of the world, and understanding it as a physicist should. What's relevant is what's relevant to answering the physics questions such as "are vaccines causing damage?" and is decided by the physics of the world and rationality.

comment by polymathwannabe · 2015-01-17T00:03:33.517Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't aware of Ms. Hewitson, but it appears she can't devise a proper experimental design to save her life. As for Mr. (and most decidedly not Dr.) Wakefield, charlatan is the kindest word I can apply to him. His link between vaccination and autism has been disproved over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-29T13:33:15.187Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I could cite other articles showing Wakefield was right on the science. For example, multiple peer reviewed articles showing that vaccine strain measles is in fact found in the guts of autistics but not of normal kids. Also, all the articles you cited talk about whether MMR causes autism. What does that have to do with whether Wakefield was attacked for even saying negative things about vaccines? None of those articles show fraud, or misconduct or that Wakefield was even wrong on anything, (I don't believe, didn't always read further than abstract) all they show is data supposedly showing that MMR doesn't cause autism. Wakefield never claimed it did, he just discussed the issue scientifically. Why did Wakefield have to leave his job and country for publishing science on the other side?

Also, btw, none of those articles shows what their titles say: there isn't a one of them for example, that looks at whether the aluminum load in vaccines causes autism or is sensitive to the issue. There isn't a one of them that looks at whether more vaccines earlier is more likely to cause autism than less later (although Stefano is sometimes misrepresented in that fashion.) The evidence on those issues is a resounding yes, if they cared to look at it. They have all carefully cherry-picked the data.

I could also argue the same on Hewitson. Hewitson was the only person I'm aware of to inject actual vaccines into post-natal animals. And she found they damaged the animals. If people don't like her experiments, my question is: why didn't anybody repeat them, rather than go on blithely hoping they are wrong and the kids are not being damaged? Shouldn't such experiments be done before you start injecting dozens and dozens of vaccines into every infant in the country?

But I'm not interested in arguments that are purely about ad hominem attacks. The point here is to prove to you that doctors who speak out about their understanding that actual science is against vaccines are punished and/or prevented from communicating. Here's another citation. This Dr. has had to cancel her speaking tour because of pro-vaccine terrorism. https://www.facebook.com/vaccineinfo/posts/10152993156565891?fref=nf

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-15T14:11:03.137Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I pointed out I'm not cherrypicking and have discussed every relevant citation that I've found. Please post a citation that I missed that is within the scope of my investigation or retract your comment and any negative points you have given me.

Just to point out one other thing you might be missing: The scope of my investigation is whether the aluminum and many early vaccines are causing developmental damage. It explicitly omits the only things the safety surveys focus on, which is thimerosal and mmr and acute effects . I omitted these because (a) they claim to have removed it from vaccines (except flu) and (b) mmr doesn't have adjuvants and is normally given second year of life and (c) its the only thing they defend, so why attack it, which will only involve great effort and likely be hard to decide in the end anyway? For aluminum and many early vaccines, there is no defense in the scientific literature of their safety, its a walkover to all intents and purposes, so it made the review task of deciding on the safety straightforward as well as relatively simple.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-13T10:31:38.630Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No I'm not. I am looking at every empirical study on aluminum, for example. I'm looking at every study that compares vaccinated to unvaccinated, or even more vaccinated to less vaccinated.

The safety surveys are cherry picking. I am not. I am following the scientific literature to find all the papers that address semantic issues like: is the aluminum in vaccines causing damage? Are vaccines in the first year or two of life inherently dangerous because they disrupt development of the immune system and brain? What studies of vaccinated and unvaccinated address the impact on long term health?

If you know of any studies on the other side of anything I've written, I am intensely interested in citations. The safety surveys don't cite anything, and I haven't been able to find anything.

I suspect the reason you think I'm cherrypicking is you assume there must be a literature on the other side of these issues that I have ignored. There is not. There is no empirical paper indicating that injecting the aluminum in vaccines into neo-nates is anything but highly toxic that I have found, or any of the rest of it. If you find any, please post a citation.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-16T22:05:11.903Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How high a probability would you assign to aluminum in vaccines being removed in 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?

comment by bluetiger · 2015-02-14T00:43:56.145Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

sorry to jump in, but given the development of laser adjuvants at the moment there might at least be a viable alternative within a few years, whether companies would adopt it I don't know.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-02-14T00:50:25.521Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a good point and a reason to consider it likely independent of NatPhil's claim.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-01-13T03:41:41.744Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I've also found that questioning generally accepted medical analysis is met with a surprising amount of hostility.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-01-13T12:14:20.475Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Probably because it's so very very common and almost always utter bollocks.

People who would never think they were capable of comment on, say, nuclear reactor design with an hours study never the less think they're qualified to talk about the health effects of xyz based on about as much.

And sadly they get taken seriously, unlike in many other fields. news shows will include nuts who believe that vaccines cause autism for "balance" opposite the doctor but in the following segment on rocketry they don't feel the need to include someone who believes that the sky is a dome of water opposite the physicist for the sake of "balance".

It's a form of bikeshedding.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/bikeshedding

Because health/biology is easy to relate to life around them(not the same as actually easy) and actions people assume it's easy and try to boost their status by making up waffle about it that sounds vaguely reasonable to laymen so it leads to a lot of useless waffle.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-01-13T19:32:04.740Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

People who would never think they were capable of comment on, say, nuclear reactor design with an hours study never the less think they're qualified to talk about the health effects of xyz based on about as much.

Much as doctors, who know jack shit about statistical and causal inference, or risk analysis, consider themselves not only qualified to make claims in those domains, but consider their ill informed opinions the Word of God, which it is blasphemy to question.

Probably because it's so very very common and almost always utter bollocks.

I suggest that they're using a poor reference set.

There are plenty of people here who know much more than jack shit about statistical and causal inference, and those have usually been the grounds of the criticism here of the generally accepted medical analysis.

comment by Plasmon · 2015-01-13T20:21:18.065Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

doctors, who know jack shit about statistical and causal inference

Statistical Literacy Among Doctors Now Lower Than Chance

comment by buybuydandavis · 2015-01-13T20:57:31.143Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From the article, why I may seem a little miffed about the whole thing:

I am sure that statisticians and math professors making life-changing health or reproductive decisions feel perfectly confident being at the mercy of people whose statistics knowledge is worse than chance.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-13T15:57:11.323Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People who would never think they were capable of comment on, say, nuclear reactor design with an hours study never the less think they're qualified to talk about the health effects of xyz based on about as much.

Now, if only contemporary medicine were as capable of understanding its subject as nuclear engineering...

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-13T17:51:45.862Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In general, objects which are deliberately designed by humans are easier to understand than objects which arose from evolution. This is true even when one tries to apply genetic algorithms to build simple circuits or antenna- trying to understand why they work can frequently be very hard.

comment by HungryHobo · 2015-01-13T17:25:03.558Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If only even a single human cell was even close to as simple as a nuclear reactor. Physics students with merely 2 or 3 years experience can talk about such things with reasonable authority. A doctor with a decade of study is still a newbie.

As it is it's like trying to decompile a 6Gb self modifying probabilistic program with no documentation and no debugger, running on self modifying hardware designed by the self modifying program itself.

That they've been able to figure out anything concrete at all is remarkable. That every nutter with a random idea feels they have equal standing to people who've worked in the field for one or more decades is going to piss people off.

comment by NatPhilosopher · 2015-01-15T01:03:50.588Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, Doctors practice reflects little about what the scientific literature says about vaccines, or most anything else. Medical decisions are routinely made worse than randomly. Here's a recent review article. They reviewed all the articles for 10 years in a high impact journal. The majority of the articles surveyed study a new practice, but of the 27% that test an existing practice, 40% reverse the practice and 38% reaffirm. My remark on this is: 50%-50% would be what you'd expect if the result of the test were random. So this indicates they are doing no better than random in introducing new practices replacing old ones. If you go on a random walk with each step forward or backward, how long does it take before you know nothing? http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196%2813%2900405-9/abstract

This isn't unusual. Everybody who looks seriously at medical practice, finds between 10-30% of it is supported by science. Here's an article with a bunch of references to such studies by the BMJ and the Congress and the like. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-larry-dossey/the-mythology-of-science_b_412475.html

And like I pointed out, the vaccine safety surveys routinely ignore all of the actual pertinent scientific literature on dangers, so no wonder they decide they are safe.

If you read naturopaths online, they actually justify what they prescribe much better than Doctors ever will.

Here's another one Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2004 Dec;16(8):549-60. The contribution of cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adult malignancies. Morgan G1, Ward R, Barton M. RESULTS: The overall contribution of curative and adjuvant cytotoxic chemotherapy to 5-year survival in adults was estimated to be 2.3% in Australia and 2.1% in the USA. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630849

Personally, I'd try some recommendation like Curcumin first. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18386790

comment by gjm · 2015-01-15T13:31:45.997Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

of the 27% that test an existing practice, 40% reverse the practice and 38% reaffirm.

Studies testing an existing practice are much more likely to be done if there is already reason to suspect that the existing practice isn't working well.

comment by Elo · 2015-01-21T05:18:07.492Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you read naturopaths online, they actually justify what they prescribe much better than Doctors ever will.

I was lightly reading along the whole discussion. I stopped and looked up a definition of naturopath just in case I was thinking of a different one. Here is the link I found. http://www.australiannaturaltherapistsassociation.com.au/therapies/naturopathy.php

This is completely off topic from the original post.

What is the current retort to - mild metal poisoning (not that you get any, at all from vaccines, but if we play a devils advocate...) - still better than catching the diseases we vaccinate against? right? No one wants polio do they?