Debunking komponisto on Amanda Knox (long)

post by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T04:40:23.182Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 118 comments

Rebuttal to: The Amanda Knox Test

If you don't care about Amanda Knox's guilt, or whether you have received unreliable information on the subject from komponisto's post, stop reading now.

[Edit: Let me note that, generally, I agree that discussion of current events should be discouraged in this site. It is only because "The Amanda Knox Test" was a featured post on this site that I claim this rebuttal of that post to be on-topic for this site.]

I shall here make the following claim:

C1. komponisto's post on Amanda Knox was misleading.

I could, additionally, choose to make the following claims:

C2. Amanda Knox is guilty of murder.
C3. The prosecution succeeded in proving Amanda's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt
C4. Amanda Knox received a fair trial

I believe claims C2 through C4 are also true; however, time constraints prevent me from laying out the cases and debating them with every single human being on the Internet, so I shall merely focus on C1. (That said, I would be willing to debate komponisto on C2, since I am curious whether I could get him to change his mind on the subject.)

To back up C1, I shall quote the following paragraph from komponisto's post, and show that this paragraph alone contains at least four misleading statements. My belief is that komponisto merely accepted propaganda from the Friends of Amanda (FoA) at face value, even though most of their claims are incorrect. Unlike komponisto and FoA, I shall cite reliable sources for my claims.

"After the murder, Kercher's bedroom was filled with evidence of Guédé's presence; his DNA was found not only on top of but actually inside her body. That's about as close to the crime as it gets. At the same time, no remotely similarly incriminating genetic material was found from anyone else -- in particular, there were no traces of the presence of either Amanda Knox or Raffaele Sollecito in the room (and no, the supposed Sollecito DNA on Meredith's bra clasp just plain does not count -- nor, while we're at it, do the 100 picograms [about one human cell's worth] of DNA from Meredith allegedly on the tip of a knife handled by Knox, found at Sollecito's apartment after the two were already suspects; these two things constituting so far as I know the entirety of the physical "evidence" against the couple)" -komponisto

Here are the four misleading statements I found:

1. "[H]is DNA was found not only on top of but actually inside her body... no remotely similarly incriminating genetic material was found from anyone else" -komponsito

Guede's dna was, indeed, found on the right side of her bra, on the left cuff of her jumper, and inside Meredith's body, as well as in other places around the house.

Raffaele's DNA was found in only two places in the house: a cigarette butt, and on Meredith's torn-off bra clasp. (Contrary to FoA propaganda, the clasp did not contain DNA from an additional "three unidentified people"). This should help you understand that DNA does not voluminously and constantly spew forth from humans in the way komponisto believes it does. (That said, there might have been more traces of their DNA had Raffaele and Amanda not cleaned the apartment the morning after the murder. Part of the reason Guede's DNA is more widespread is because Raffaele and Amanda focused on cleaning up evidence pointing to themselves, and did not have a reason to care about evidence pointing to Guede.)

Amanda's DNA was found on the handle of a certain knife in Raffaele's apartment, which Meredith had never visited. The knife blade had been recently cleaned with bleach (which destroys DNA), but hiding in a groove near the tip of the blade that the bleach failed to scrub was a sample of Meredith's DNA. The blade matched one of the two knives used to kill Meredith. When later questioned about it, Raffaele first claimed that Meredith had visited his apartment and cut herself on that particular blade. Unfortunately Raffaele was not able to back up this dubious claim that Meredith had ever visited Raffaele's apartment.

Amanda's DNA was also found, mixed with Meredith's DNA, in at least four blood spots across the apartment. One of the blood spots was in the third roommate's (Filomena's) bedroom, where the staged break-in took place. Even if, like komponisto, you bizarrely believe that DNA just gets everywhere, it's hard to explain why Amanda's DNA is mixed into that final spot of blood and why Filomena's DNA is nowhere to be seen in that blood spot, despite its being in her own bedroom. (Nor, tellingly, is Guede's DNA mixed in with those blood spots, despite the defense's insistence that he acted alone.)

2. "Supposed" Sollecito DNA? There is no meaningful controversy over whether Sollecito's DNA is on the bra clasp.

3. A bit of a nit: Meredith's DNA on the knife is more than one human cell's worth. The amount is not terribly relevant though to a Bayesian; there's no law of nature that states that, when any DNA sample gets sufficiently small, it suddenly starts to mutate to look exactly like Meredith Kercher's DNA.

4. "[T]hese two things constituting so far as I know the entirety of the physical "evidence" against the couple..." -komponsito

Here is additional physical evidence (a non-exhaustive list):

* As mentioned, blood stains with Amanda and Meridith's DNA mixed together

* Forensic analysis of Meredith's body showed there were multiple simultaneous attackers

* Luminol analysis showed that certain bloody footprints matched Amanda and Raffaele. One of Amanda's bloody footprints was found inside the murder room, on a pillow hidden under Meredith's body.

* A staged break-in: analysis of the broken glass shards indicated the window was broken from the inside rather than the outside, and was broken after the bedroom was ransacked rather than before. (The significance of this is that Knox as a roommate had a strong reason to stage a break-in to deflect attention away from herself, while Guede as an outsider did not)

* Cell phone, Internet and laptop usage records all indicate that Amanda and Raffaele lied about their activities on the night of the murder.

* Meredith's clothes were washed the day after the murder. This implicates Amanda and Raffaele in the cleanup of the crime scene.

* The post-murder cleaning in the Kercher flat, and the bleaching in the Sollecito cottage, also count as Bayesian physical evidence. The morning after the murder, Amanda or Raffelle bought a bottle of bleach at 8:30 AM, and then returned to buy another bottle of bleach at 9:15 AM, as though the first bottle of bleach had been insufficient. (Also see the Telegraph.) According to truejustice.org, when the police arrived, Amanda and Raffaele were found with a mop and bucket; as confirmation, note that Raffaele admitted to shuttling around a mop and bucket the morning after the murder.

There is also voluminous evidence that would generally be classified as 'testimonial' rather than 'physical' (although, to a Bayesian, the difference is fairly academic), as well as certain logical problems with the defense's theories. Since my intent is merely to debunk komponisto's post rather than establish Amanda's guilt, I will not delve further into those areas; however, see here for a good "Introduction to Logic 101" explaining some of the difficulties with the defense claims.

118 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-02T06:13:20.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you considered the possibility that Amanda Knox was present the night of the murder, lied about it, but is not a murderer? I assign a significant probability to this and it seems likely that this greatly confused the justice system.

Replies from: Unknowns
comment by Unknowns · 2010-02-02T06:21:33.329Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At first I thought that Amanda was probably guilty but after considering all of the evidence I think this explanation is the most likely single explanation (i.e. not necessarily that the probability is high but that it is higher than any other detailed explanation.) It's possible that she came in after Guede left but while Meredith was still dying, then she panicked and therefore behaved suspiciously and lied about her activities afterward.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-02-02T21:19:32.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I initially voted up to counter what seemed like an unfair response by others (I know, you don't care about karma).

Did you read the comments at The Amanda Knox Test? You linked to it. Much of what you present as if it were uncontroversial fact is effectively rebutted there.

This certainly should have been limited to a comment in the existing post.

That said, I agree that komponisto tipped his hand in telling us what he thought the relevant facts were; it was easy to predict that he believed Knox to be innocent.

Edit: apparently komponisto didn't post those facts until his second post, where he made his view explicit. Mea culpa.

Replies from: Douglas_Knight, Eliezer_Yudkowsky, wedrifid
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-02T21:57:05.643Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That said, I agree that komponisto tipped his hand in telling us what he thought the relevant facts were; it was easy to predict that he believed Knox to be innocent.

Of the people who answered komponisto's very interesting 4th question: "How much you think your opinion will turn out to coincide with mine," I think virtually all said 90% and a lot more than 10% of them thought Knox guilty, and thus thought komponisto thought Knox guilty. So it wasn't that easy.

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-02-02T22:08:00.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe I'm applying some hindsight bias, but I still agree with rolf that the evidence (for komponisto's position) was there in his selection of "the relevant facts". Keep in mind that many people did not spend any time at all reading the pro-guilt website and would not even be aware that he'd excluded "evidence" from there in his summary.

I believe that many of the posters (especially the wrong ones) didn't spend any additional time gathering information beyond that which was presented in the post+discussion; I certainly didn't. I like to believe that, because it implies that they could have gotten it right if they really cared to, which is a nicer thing to believe than that you absolutely can't trust most people's best efforts at thinking and making fair judgments.

Replies from: komponisto, rolf_nelson
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-02T22:20:13.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jonathan, I think you're confusing my first post with my second.

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-02-03T22:45:25.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, your initial post was quite well disguised! My mistake.

The facts rolf complains that you select are part of the second post where you clearly state your position.

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T22:26:19.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jonathan, 'most people' (even on this site) did not reply to komponisto's post. To be fair to the site, I would not yet conclude for certain that a majority of the people on this site came to the wrong conclusion, given we don't actually know what a majority of the people on this site concluded.

Also, I specifically cherry-picked this as the sole issue (out of hundreds) that the LW community seems the most wrong about, so that skews things as well. I don't think the komponisto fiasco should reflect too poorly on LW as a whole.

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-02-03T22:43:54.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was talking about people who posted an opinion as to the probable guilt of the accused. While I think the first few such posts clearly had done the work of traversing the pro- anti- and wikipedia sites suggested, many later comments were based primarily on the evidence selected by previous players.

I could be completely wrong about that, but that's how I felt: not motivated to filter through "the internet" for evidence, but interested in the discussion, and allowing myself to update based on facts brought to my attention by others.

I do believe that "most people" (hopefully not here) really can't be trusted to have actually thought things through, though.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-03T01:44:33.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not have any idea what komponisto thought of the matter until I started reading the Wikipedia article. After that it was pretty obvious why komponisto selected the case.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T01:14:12.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That said, I agree that komponisto tipped his hand in telling us what he thought the relevant facts were; it was easy to predict that he believed Knox to be innocent.

I found it a little hard to predict based on the information he supplied. He only gave links to the pro/against sites, from what I recall, with somewhat of a warning about the wikipedia article that was then under constant flux. The only way that I could reliably predict that Kompo believed Knox to be innocent was that he wouldn't have brought a court judgement to our attention if he agreed with it.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-03T01:26:20.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only way that I could reliably predict that Kompo believed Knox to be innocent was that he wouldn't have brought a court judgement to our attention if he agreed with it.

That's why I tried to emphasize the controversy surrounding the verdict, rather than the verdict itself. For all anyone should have been able to tell, maybe I thought they were clearly guilty and that all this media fuss about innocence was the result of American national bias, or Knox's pretty face, or something.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T01:32:28.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You did a good job of hiding your beliefs, given the circumstances. The amount that you cared on a personal level did leak through a little.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-03T01:39:53.197Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even in the first post?

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T01:44:31.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is what my subjective human emotion modelling intuitions told me at the time. I can't attest to those judgements being fair. But people usually post on things they care about and I have no problem with that whatsoever.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-03T02:33:26.084Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. Well, "fair" or not, your judgment was certainly correct in this instance.

And I don't mind. I'm totally not ashamed of caring about this.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-02T21:32:23.819Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, Rolf, do you understand how this post failed? Hint: Others are not to blame.

Replies from: SilasBarta, rolf_nelson
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-02T22:02:39.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll admit I'm a bit confused as well. I red komponisto's previous posts and agreed with him. rolf_nelson's posts seem to raise important points about the issue. I honestly don't see what justifies the severe downmodding he's getting. Could someone fill me in?

Replies from: mattnewport
comment by mattnewport · 2010-02-02T22:57:40.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rolf raises a number of points that were already widely discussed (and widely dismissed) in the comments on komponisto's posts. He has not added any new information to the discussion that was not already contained in the voluminous commentary surrounding those two posts.

More importantly, he seems to have missed/ignored a fairly central point from komponisto's posts as relates to rationality (which is what we are generally here to discuss) which is that all of the physical and circumstantial evidence against Knox and Sollecito is irrelevant within a wide range of plausible weights assigned to it in light of the prior probabilities surrounding a case of this type. The reason this case is interesting as a test of rationality is that you can reach a likely-correct conclusion without examining any of the evidence discussed here in detail. You would need orders-of-magnitude more compelling evidence to outweigh the very small priors that should have been assigned to the joint guilt of Knox and Sollecito given the compelling evidence against Guede.

Replies from: komponisto, SilasBarta, rolf_nelson
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-02T23:06:21.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The reason this case is interesting as a test of rationality [...] compelling evidence against Guede.

That much I understand. And I did read a lot of the previous discussions. But just to take a random example, rolf_nelson brought up how DNA of random people couldn't have easily gotten onto the bra clasp, that there had to be some more direct contact. And, RS's DNA is clearly on it.

Where was that specific point already addressed in previous discussion?

Replies from: mattnewport
comment by mattnewport · 2010-02-02T23:42:21.062Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where was that specific point already addressed in previous discussion?

Here for one.

This CNN story covers some of the doubts around the handling of the bra and the validity of the DNA results:

Bremner says that evidence on the clasp is fundamentally flawed, like much from the crime scene collection, calling the work "Fellini forensics." "In the [crime scene] video, you can see it went from being white in color to nearly black because it got so dirty being moved around," Bremner said of the clasp, noting that tainted the only evidence that placed Sollecito at the scene.

Here's a source for the 'three unidentified individuals' DNA' claim:

The other key plank of the prosecution's DNA evidence related to a clasp severed from Meredith's bra that was found at the scene.

This was said to have Sollecito's DNA on it. But the defence has long challenged its evidential value because it was not recovered from the floor of the victim's bedroom until 47 days after the murder.

During that time, they claim, it was contaminated - an argument apparently supported by the fact that the rest of the bra did not show any such DNA traces.

That police could have missed the clasp for so long is also put forward as being indicative of the way in which the murder investigation was carried out. Video footage by detectives on November 3, 2007, two days after the murder, shows the bra clasp on the floor of Meredith's room, next to where her body was found. It had been cut from the bra she was wearing when she was attacked.

But it was not until December 18, when police revisited the crime scene, that they found the clasp at a different location in the room and finally collected it as evidence. It was then subjected to testing, which revealed microscopic traces of DNA belonging to Sollecito as well as at least three other unidentified people.

This DNA test result is central to the prosecution's case, because no other evidence links Sollecito or Knox to the room where the murder took place.

Emphasis mine. There is sufficient doubt around the DNA evidence to render it largely irrelevant in light of the prior probabilities for this kind of crime.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-03T00:09:58.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, thanks -- I wasn't sure if the rolf_nelson's claim about the three other people was the consensus at this point. I assumed he said it because he had found a good refutation of that point [1]. Confusion resolved. Disappointment with rolf_nelson's posts on this matter understood.

[1]Note: This is not a common practice of mine, but due to the factors at play for this specific discussion.

ETA: Changed phrasing to be less personal.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T01:07:44.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Disappointment with rolf_nelson understood.

Can we say "disappointment with rolf_nelson's post"? I feel more comfortable with that.

Replies from: SilasBarta, SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-03T02:47:45.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't endorsing the general dislike of rolf_nelson, just saying why I understand the hostility now. And the issue is about more than just his top level post, but the broader exchange between him and komponisto.

(And why do you insist on the underscore?)

ETA: Come on, it's a joke, people. I criticized wedrifid for simply following my usage (plus making it the possessive form), even though I use that exact form all the time. I was jokingly making it look like it's wedrifid who insists on the practice of adding underscores. Get it? Ha ha? No? Okay then...

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis, wedrifid
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2010-02-03T03:08:45.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(And why do you insist on the underscore?)

Who are you and what have you done with Silas??

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-03T03:12:51.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LOL! :-)

ETA: I notice that many people have since picked up the practice of referring to other users with their exact username, and replacing spaces therein with underscores. I'm not going to say it was because of me ... but I had been doing that since way back into the OB days, when no one else was ...

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T03:17:01.756Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And why do you insist on the underscore?

I'm confused. I just added 's post in this instance. More generally I tend to refer to a user by either their username or their first name. Maybe a last name instead if the reference was towards a more formal academic contribution.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-03T03:30:01.492Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

whoosh! ;-)

Replies from: PrimIntelekt
comment by PrimIntelekt · 2010-02-04T04:24:44.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's worth considering who's at fault when nobody "gets" a joke.

The purpose of humor is to entertain or communicate in some form; if a joke flops with every member of its target audience, I don't think you can blame said audience without lowering yourself to the standards of smug postmodernist writers.

Tangential: Nietzsche could conceivably be accused of this attitude, but he was really aiming to discourage lightweight thinkers from reading and misunderstanding his work. Obviously, it didn't work.

Replies from: SilasBarta
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-04T05:05:30.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Zack_M_Davis got the joke, as did everyone who modded him up. Only those who modded up the above wedrifid, and down my "whoosh" comment, didn't get the joke.

I think a sufficient fraction of the audience got it. wedrifid was an outlier on this one.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-02-03T04:39:58.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Updated phrasing to a happy medium.

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T23:03:26.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're referring to claim C2 (Amanda Knox's guilt), then if komponisto follows through on his agreement to debate me, you will see that these points cannot be dismissed as easily as you believe, and that these dismissals are bogus.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, mattnewport
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-03T18:23:03.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Teaching requires empathy. A small application of empathy should tell you that no one in your audience will take your word for granted on this. This lack of trust could be very easily remedied with a single example: "cannot be dismissed as easily as you believe, because of some refuting point that wasn't brought up in any of the previous discussions, as you will also see wasn't brought up in any previous discussions".

I honestly don't see any valid reason to wait for a debate with komponisto in particular to provide this sort of evidence, either; which makes it sound suspiciously like an excuse for delay.

comment by mattnewport · 2010-02-02T23:31:40.110Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that is highly unlikely. Nothing you presented in your post here was new information to me (or to anyone else who spent some time reading the original comment threads and did some research of their own I imagine). I'm familiar enough with it to know where you've been misleading or selective. Unless you have some secret new previously undisclosed information to reveal in your debate I rate the probability of me changing my estimates for Knox's guilt significantly as pretty low.

Have you updated your own probabilities in light of the widespread disagreement with your position here? If so how?

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T21:46:05.734Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As always, feel free to share your opinion on the matter.

Replies from: jimrandomh, ciphergoth, Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by jimrandomh · 2010-02-03T00:15:25.725Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the title, you named an opponent. You lost most of us right there, because debating against a person and searching for truth are incompatible mindsets. Since you tried to turn it into a status competition, we can't treat anything you say on the subject as trustworthy; you're too likely to deceive yourself and pass misconceptions on to us.

Replies from: AndyWood, Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by AndyWood · 2010-02-03T00:41:34.199Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconded. If this post had merely failed to add a significant new angle to the debate, I would have simply ignored it. I down-voted it because it comes off as a sort of political attack against another member, and I would really rather not see that flavor of discourse here.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-03T00:57:09.172Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And then responding to everyone by saying "but I want to talk about C1 and you're not talking about C1" gave it the appearance of downright trolling. If I didn't have previous familiarity with you, that's what I'd have assumed, actually.

You might say, "But they didn't directly address C1!"

But no one cared, at that point, what you wanted them to address. You didn't have enough credit built up with them to steer the conversation - and objecting that it wasn't going where you wanted it to go just pissed them off further. If you'd engaged with them on their points, you could have built up credibility. As it is, the post was just dropped into the void.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-03T08:25:42.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This response doesn't really suggest that you're taking your own responsibilities seriously in this matter.

The specifics here are interesting, but there's a more general point. If your interaction with a community isn't productive, there is simply no point in bemoaning the failings of the community and then carrying on as before. No matter what failings the community might or might not have, the only actions you directly decide are your own, and the only options that make sense are to give up and leave, or to figure out what action you can take to bring about more productive interaction.

You might think that the focus should be on what we should do to improve the interaction. If that's so, your thoughts should still lead you to consider what you can do to bring about that change in us; if you think the problem is a systematic failure in us, there are few places where a genuine effort to persuade us of that would be more welcome.

Whatever you do, don't bang your head against the wall. Either give up on us, or think about what you can do to maximize the productiveness of your interaction with us.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-03T00:54:08.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Example problem: You stepped into a giant past discussion and didn't refer to it. If, for each point, you had either pointed to and refuted previous comments about those points, or else said, "And I read through the comments and found no reference to this point", you would have been picking up the conversation where it left off. As it is, the reaction is more like, "Oh, same points being rehashed again and ignoring the previous conversation we had about it." This reaction was sufficiently severe that no one bothered to talk about your points - so far as they were concerned, it had probably been already discussed and refuted in the past conversation, since you didn't bother to refer back to it.

My own impression was that you hadn't read the ~700 comments on the previous two posts.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-03T13:25:15.927Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You stepped into a giant past discussion and didn't refer to it. If, for each point, you had either pointed to and refuted previous comments about those points, or else said, "And I read through the comments and found no reference to this point", you would have been picking up the conversation where it left off.

It seems to me that komponisto's The Amanda Knox Test similarly made a case for "not guilty" without reference to the all of the arguments for "guilty", and had other substantial flaws. But it's at 29, compared to Rolf's -10.

As someone who has no interest in the case (I haven't made any comment related to the case, nor read any of the discussions), judging from just the posts, I think Rolf's main mistake is that he forgot that one needs to be much more careful when arguing against a majority belief.

Replies from: wedrifid, Eliezer_Yudkowsky, Vive-ut-Vivas, komponisto
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T14:18:34.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that komponisto's The Amanda Knox Test similarly made a case for "not guilty" without reference to the all of the arguments for "guilty", and had other substantial flaws. But it's at 29, compared to Rolf's -10.

That is not similar to stepping into a giant past discussion without referring to it. Kompo started a giant discussion. He would have been downvoted mercilessly had there been a preexisting bloated corpse of a thread on the topic.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-03T14:25:11.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about the previous thread he started: You Be the Jury?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-03T18:16:00.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As someone who has no interest in the case (I haven't made any comment related to the case, nor read any of the discussions), judging from just the posts,

With respect, I suggest reading the discussions, not just the posts, before making any negative judgment of komponisto.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-03T18:52:17.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't want to read that much text about a topic I have little interest in. Can you explain how my judgment would be changed if I did read the discussions? Also, I think a post should stand on its own content. If one needs to have read hundreds of comments before it can be fully understood/appreciated, then at least some kind of disclaimer to that effect should be attached.

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2010-02-03T18:53:32.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't even expect people to follow the posts here without having read hundreds of other posts; "stand on its own" seems a little strong.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-04T14:08:23.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, that was too strong, but I think I still have a reasonable point here.

Once you've read the "hundreds of other posts", you can follow most subsequent posts, and even then we encourage people to link unfamiliar concepts to the wiki or past posts. But in this case apparently you need to have read hundreds of comments just to follow one particular post.

comment by Vive-ut-Vivas · 2010-02-03T18:59:59.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As someone who has no interest in the case (I haven't made any comment related to the case, nor read any of the discussions)

This appears to be the common denominator regarding people who think that Rolf has brought up game-changing information in his post.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-03T19:12:52.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This appears to be the common denominator regarding people who think that Rolf has brought up game-changing information in his (long) post.

I don't think that he did. In fact, I can infer, without having read the discussions, that the information in Rolf's posts are likely contained in the discussions. So the only thing I think he did was to put them in a top-level post without making a sufficiently convincing case for his position.

Replies from: Vive-ut-Vivas
comment by Vive-ut-Vivas · 2010-02-03T19:15:07.732Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the only thing I think he did was to put them in a top-level post without making a sufficiently convincing case for his position.

Exactly. Therefore, it was voted down. Is this not working as intended?

comment by komponisto · 2010-02-03T17:21:45.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As someone who has no interest in the case (I haven't made any comment related to the case, nor read any of the discussions), judging from just the posts, I think Rolf's main mistake is that he forgot that one needs to be much more careful when arguing against a majority belief.

Wei, I hope you will excuse me for being a little blunt here, but it's pretty clear that both you and Anna Salamon have assigned far too much weight to the fact that Rolf Nelson is a big-shot SIAI donor who says the right words and hangs out with the right people, while (to you) I'm just some guy on LW with an obscure pseudonym. I mean, seriously, if two major posts on LW by a 1000+ karma user that attracted ~700 comments did less to get you interested in the topic than Rolf's negative-scoring rant...well, that's something you might want to think about.

Replies from: Stuart_Armstrong, Wei_Dai
comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2010-02-03T17:26:09.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You have no evidence of Wei's thoughts on the matter.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-03T17:31:37.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted. The comment I replied to contains Wei's thoughts on the matter.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-03T18:52:34.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If by "topic" you mean whether Amanda Knox is a murderer, I still have zero interest in that (and actually I find it puzzling why so many people do have a strong interest in it). How did you infer that Rolf's post got me interested in that, or are you referring to something else?

Also, which part of the sentence you quoted do you disagree with? That "one needs to be much more careful when arguing against a majority belief" or that this is Rolf's main mistake?

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-06T22:29:49.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If by "topic" you mean whether Amanda Knox is a murderer, I still have zero interest in that (and actually I find it puzzling why so many people do have a strong interest in it). How did you infer that Rolf's post got me interested in that, or are you referring to something else?

You became interested enough to make comments like the above, comparing Rolf's post to mine and concluding that mine wasn't much better. I hope you'll understand why, given your status here, this felt like a huge insult to me.

If you think my post has "substantial flaws", I would like to know what those are. More to the point, I would have liked to have known what they were back in December, when the discussion was taking place. Maybe I could have addressed those flaws, or even -- if they truly were substantial -- revised the post. Evidently, however, you didn't think they were important enough to be worth mentioning at the time. Now, however, that Rolf Nelson's response to my post has been voted down to the lower depths of karma hell, now you suddenly seem to care (more) about the quality of my post.

Do you see where I'm coming from here? It seems to me that you have a high opinion of Rolf and not much opinion one way or the other of me, and so you just found it superficially implausible that such a karma differential could possibly be warranted. So you glanced at the posts, noticed (I guess) the fact that I didn't go into the details of the prosecution case, and said, "What's the big deal?" without actually thinking too much about the case itself. Well, the numbers should tell you something. Groupthink may account for some karma anomalies, but it's unlikely to produce a 40-point difference all on its own -- not here, anyway.

As for why people would care about this topic, well I really don't think it's all that hard to understand. For me, personally, the fact that Knox and Sollecito are, you know, sentient creatures (and actually, from what I can tell, pretty swell human beings all around) has a lot to do with it. But even putting that aside, it's not like there was any dearth of rationality issues and meta-issues at play here. This is an empirical question about reality that happens to be a rationality no-brainer and yet is the subject of intense public controversy (and not of a standard "political" type, either). I have found it to be a beautiful way of testing people's understanding of how the world works outside of their cached comfort zones. The cognitive biases involved are numerous; issues of calibration and confidence were also raised. In short, one needn't have been particularly interested in the fate of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito to have been interested in our discussions here -- though I happen to be so interested, and I don't think I need to apologize for that.

Also, which part of the sentence you quoted do you disagree with? That "one needs to be much more careful when arguing against a majority belief" or that this is Rolf's main mistake?

I interpreted that as, "The only thing wrong with Rolf's post was the tone." Maybe that's uncharitable, but what did you mean by "careful"?

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-07T02:18:11.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So you glanced at the posts, noticed (I guess) the fact that I didn't go into the details of the prosecution case

Yes, that is the main flaw that I noticed. I think you can't make a case for .99 probability of innocence without going through the prosecution case in detail, unless you assume that the reader is already familiar with the prosecution case and knows the counterarguments for all of the prosecution's evidence and arguments, and you didn't make that assumption clear. Someone reading it without knowing much about the case (like me) would have just thought it unconvincing.

The reason I didn't point it out at the time was that I just didn't think about it. I read the post, wasn't very interested, and moved on.

Now, however, that Rolf Nelson's response to my post has been voted down to the lower depths of karma hell, now you suddenly seem to care (more) about the quality of my post.

Well, I was curious why Rolf's post was voted down so much, since I knew him from before. That seems reasonable to me.

I interpreted that as, "The only thing wrong with Rolf's post was the tone." Maybe that's uncharitable, but what did you mean by "careful"?

I meant he needed to spend more effort to look for and eliminate the flaws in his post. I think when you write a post that contradicts some people's beliefs, those who are being contradicted will tend to search the post more carefully for flaws. So he should have known that his post would be scrutinized more and acted accordingly.

But even putting that aside, it's not like there was any dearth of rationality issues and meta-issues at play here.

The problem with using it as a rationality learning tool is that the amount of time I'd have to put in to learn the details of the case, compared to what I might get out of it, just seem too high for me to make the effort. Your post is already quite long, and to make it more convincing would have required a lot more text.

You feel strongly for Knox and Sollecito, which is fine, but it's hard for me to understand why, given that there are billions of people on this planet, and a significant fraction of them suffer worse fates than they. Why these two, and not all the others? (I assume you don't feel equally strongly about all the others, but I guess I could be wrong. Let me know if I am.)

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-07T15:23:11.275Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you can't make a case for .99 probability of innocence without going through the prosecution case in detail, unless you assume that the reader is already familiar with the prosecution case and knows the counterarguments for all of the prosecution's evidence and arguments, and you didn't make that assumption clear

The post was prominently labeled as a followup to its predecessor; and as the latter consisted of instructions for a survey and thus amounted to little more than a prompt for discussion, it should have been obvious (or so I would have thought) that its substantive content lay in the comments.

In other words, I thought it was perfectly clear from context that if you weren't interested enough in the exercise to read at least the comments on the first post, if not the actual links provided, then you simply weren't in the target audience for the second post.

What sort of additional wording do you think would have helped make this clearer?

The problem with using it as a rationality learning tool is that the amount of time I'd have to put in to learn the details of the case, compared to what I might get out of it, just seem too high for me to make the effort. Your post is already quite long, and to make it more convincing would have required a lot more text.

You may have missed a key point here; see comments by mattnewport and Eliezer. This is not, it turns out, a difficult case that hinges on the details; instead it's decided overwhelmingly just by the priors. The thesis of my post was that a skilled rationalist shouldn't need more than a few minutes of study in order to arrive at a high probability of innocence. Now, whether you could actually get to a probability of 0.99 or 0.999 that way, as opposed to merely 0.9, is an interesting, but separate, question.

You feel strongly for Knox and Sollecito, which is fine, but it's hard for me to understand why, given that there are billions of people on this planet, and a significant fraction of them suffer worse fates than they. Why these two, and not all the others? (I assume you don't feel equally strongly about all the others, but I guess I could be wrong. Let me know if I am.)

I'm not sure why you would make such an assumption. It's not as if my total level of global outrage is fixed, and hearing about Knox and Sollecito unfairly moved some sympathy in their direction at the expense of others. It just so happened that this case came to my attention, and provoked an emotional response appropriate to my state of knowledge. The result was a net increase in my concern about the madness of this world and in my desire to alleviate suffering; you may be interested to know that additional resources were allocated to the general goal of improving humanity's future as a direct result of my feelings about this case.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2010-02-09T11:39:33.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What sort of additional wording do you think would have helped make this clearer?

Perhaps something along the lines of "This post assumes that the reader has read the comments section of the previous post."

You may have missed a key point here; see comments by mattnewport and Eliezer. This is not, it turns out, a difficult case that hinges on the details; instead it's decided overwhelmingly just by the priors. The thesis of my post was that a skilled rationalist shouldn't need more than a few minutes of study in order to arrive at a high probability of innocence. Now, whether you could actually get to a probability of 0.99 or 0.999 that way, as opposed to merely 0.9, is an interesting, but separate, question.

The above might be true if I didn't know that Knox and Sollecito were convicted by an Italian court, but once I take that into account, it seems impossible to get to 0.9 probability of innocence that quickly. Unless I've seen nearly all of the evidence and arguments that the court has seen, I think there's a probability higher than 0.1 that the court knows something significant that I don't.

I'm not sure why you would make such an assumption. It's not as if my total level of global outrage is fixed, and hearing about Knox and Sollecito unfairly moved some sympathy in their direction at the expense of others. It just so happened that this case came to my attention, and provoked an emotional response appropriate to my state of knowledge. The result was a net increase in my concern about the madness of this world and in my desire to alleviate suffering; you may be interested to know that additional resources were allocated to the general goal of improving humanity's future as a direct result of my feelings about this case.

I assume that a human being has a finite capacity for outrage. To feel that strongly about Knox and Sollecito implies that you cannot feel equally strongly about all other individuals who have suffered equally terrible fates. You say that the case increased your net concern about the madness of the world, but surely you must have already known that injustice like this (assuming you're right Knox and Sollecito) happens every day to many people all over the world? Is it just that the abstract knowledge didn't engage your emotions, like seeing these two specific individuals did?

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-09T14:01:02.810Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The above might be true if I didn't know that Knox and Sollecito were convicted by an Italian court, but once I take that into account, it seems impossible to get to 0.9 probability of innocence that quickly. Unless I've seen nearly all of the evidence and arguments that the court has seen, I think there's a probability higher than 0.1 that the court knows something significant that I don't.

There was little to no change in the information content of True Justice and Friends of Amanda between Thursday, December 3, 2009 and Friday, December 4, 2009 (when the verdict was announced). If you believe that you would have arrived at a high probability of innocence on Thursday, then by conservation of expected evidence, you should have been very surprised to observe significant evidence of guilt on Friday. Since you appear to regard the conviction as significant evidence of guilt, this would imply that you have a low prior on a jury delivering a guilty verdict on the basis of the information available on those two sites.

To which I can only ask: Whence cometh this unwavering faith in the rationality of one's fellow humans?

I assume that a human being has a finite capacity for outrage. To feel that strongly about Knox and Sollecito implies that you cannot feel equally strongly about all other individuals who have suffered equally terrible fates. You say that the case increased your net concern about the madness of the world, but surely you must have already known that injustice like this (assuming you're right Knox and Sollecito) happens every day to many people all over the world? Is it just that the abstract knowledge didn't engage your emotions, like seeing these two specific individuals did?

If I understand you correctly, you appear to be arguing (or at least suggesting I consider an argument) for the following disjunction:

Either:

(1) I should devote more psychological energy to other victims of injustice to match my concern for Knox and Sollecito.

Or:

(2) I should devote less psychological energy to Knox and Sollecito in order not to unfairly privilege them more than other victims of injustice.

Now neither of these strikes me as plausible. (1) is simply impractical: LW readers would get tired if I did a post on every miscarriage of justice that has ever occurred, even if I were capable of doing so. But (2) can't be right either, because what happened to Knox and Sollecito is a legitimate outrage, and simply going about my business with indifference strikes me as highly unsatisfactory.

I see this as nothing more than a variant of the old argument against "ordinary" altruism: we really ought not to hold doors for little old ladies, since doing so consumes resources that could be put to better use fighting existential risk. But, as we know, human brains simply don't work that way. It's far more efficient to harness our natural feeling-circuitry to accomplish our goals than it is to (vainly) struggle to reprogram it.

So yes, there is a psychological difference between abstractly knowing that injustice exists and humans are irrational on the one hand, and actually seeing consequences of this happen to victims one finds particularly sympathetic on the other. But that emotional stimulation can be put to good use. That's why it's not quite right to say:

To feel that strongly about Knox and Sollecito implies that you cannot feel equally strongly about all other individuals who have suffered equally terrible fates.

I don't feel less strongly about the other individuals than I used to; rather, I feel more strongly than I did before. In my mind, Knox and Sollecito represent others in their situation; thinking specifically of them makes it easier to care about the problem of injustice in general. It's a mind-hack that happens to cater to the way my brain works. I suspect I'm not the only one on whom this kind of trick is effective.

(And it also helps Amanda and Raffaele themselves -- who deserve to be helped, just like the old ladies for whom we open doors.)

It's perfectly okay for a human rationalist to have natural human reactions; when those reactions are put to good use, it's an outright good thing.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-02T08:10:02.335Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why is this a top-level post? Why doesn't a comment on the open thread or on the original post suffice? If you had wanted to say this back when the original post was fresh, would have you have used a top-level post?

Replies from: rolf_nelson, timtyler
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T08:20:23.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you have preferred that neither my post nor komponisto's "the amanda knox test" were top-level posts, but that we had just both posted them as comments to the original "You Be The Jury" post?

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-02-02T08:32:52.969Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like to know your answers to my questions unaffected by my commentary.

comment by timtyler · 2010-02-02T09:32:07.324Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is too long for a blog comment.

comment by Vive-ut-Vivas · 2010-02-02T06:58:15.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post is intellectually dishonest. You yourself state that you have no interest in establishing Amanda Knox's guilt, but instead intend to "debunk komponisto's post" - what is the purpose of that? - and then proceed to list a bunch of cherry-picked details about the case, half of which you have not even sourced!

My belief is that komponisto merely accepted propaganda from the Friends of Amanda (FoA) at face value, even though most of their claims are incorrect. Unlike komponisto and FoA, I shall cite reliable sources for my claims.

Like TrueJustice.org? Which is more reliable than Friends of Amanda because..... you say it is?

Did you read the original survey post? As far as I can tell, there is no intent to mislead there, as the OP doesn't even state his position. Yet - somehow! - most members seemed to conclude that she had a low probability of being guilty. If you want to establish Amanda Knox's guilt, I suggest you read through those comments and see what factors influenced their opinions. I don't see that you addressed any of those factors in your post.

This should help you understand that DNA does not voluminously and constantly spew forth from humans in the way komponisto believes it does.

This statement, in particular, comes off as more "misleading" than anything komponisto claimed in his post.

If this post is not the result of a vendetta against a particular member, then the OP could have done a much better job of arguing this case. But frankly, this whole case has been discussed on this website at great length already, and in great detail. I would suggest examining the arguments that have already been made in the 3(?) or so other posts that have been devoted to this topic.

Replies from: rolf_nelson
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T07:05:14.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

VuV, you have not addressed my claim C1, therefore I am ignoring your comments.

Replies from: Kevin
comment by Kevin · 2010-02-02T10:49:59.780Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Someone is wrong on the internet"[1] is not usually considered a claim that in and of itself deserves a response.

If you're willing to remove C1 from your argument and defend any of the other claims, this post will probably get back up into positive karma.

[1] http://xkcd.com/386/

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-03T07:38:56.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Matt wrote:

Here's a source for the 'three unidentified individuals' DNA' claim:

Thanks Matt. While my claim that there are not three unidentified individuals' DNA on the strap is tangential to C1, I will back it up anyway.

The Daily Mail is a tabloid, rather than a reliable source (in case the headline, 'The troubling doubts over Foxy Knoxy's role in Meredith Kercher's murder', didn't give it away) that clearly got the content for the summary article from Wikipedia. In contrast, the more reliable Sunday Times states instead that Meredith's, Rudy's, and Raffaele's DNA were found. Keep in mind that, as of the day before the Daily Mail summary story you mention, there was no media report (even in tabloids) of the three unidentified people; it seems likely the Daily Mail pulled it from either the Friends of Amanda site, or the prior day's Wikipedia, which has the (non-cited!) claim.

comment by komponisto · 2010-02-02T17:34:22.833Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, fellow LWers, I must admit I'm somewhat taken aback here.

I came on the site today intending to reply to Rolf Nelson's comments, which I expected would lead to a detailed discussion of the evidence that maybe a handful of people here would be interested in following, safely confined to an existing post on the topic. Then, I saw...this.

I'm not yet quite sure how to react.

Despite Nelson's protestations that he doesn't care about karma (and, by implication, social status in this community), I see no rationale for this post other than a desire to raise the profile and prestige of his (IMHO deservedly) marginalized viewpoint.

When I wrote my original survey post, I did so hesitantly, with conscious awareness that I was doing something experimental. I was well aware of the dangers of posting about controversial current events (though something like this is noticeably distinct from politics), and I certainly didn't expect most other LW readers to have anything like my level of interest in this particular case. But I did think there might be a few who would find the rationality issues interesting enough to participate in the survey -- enough to justify a low-profile, non-promoted top-level post. I was expecting maybe a couple dozen comments (a few of which I expected would complain about the post's relevance); in the event that it received such a level of interest, I said I would do a followup about my own thoughts.

The LW community could thus have vetoed the whole thing right then and there; instead what happened was that the post was promoted, received 200-odd comments (among which were the thoughts of the some of the biggest guns here such as Eliezer and Yvain), and was voted up into the 20s. Clearly, then, the community had agreed with me that there were important rationality issues at stake in this case, and had decided that, at that moment, it was a perfectly good thing to be talking about on LW. And so they did talk about it, extensively. And, in so doing, they came to a fairly decisive opinion. The question was then: did their opinion agree with mine?

That was the context of the post I called "The Amanda Knox Test" -- which I thought of as a reaction to the commentary on "You Be the Jury", and which I thought of as arguing that the LW community was even more right than it realized. This second post (which was even more well received than the first) also sparked extensive discussion -- the result of which appeared to be an even stronger consensus in favor of Knox's and Sollecito's innocence than before.

My point here is that the idea that the LW readership was somehow bamboozled by misinformation from me is not only completely and obviously mistaken but downright insulting -- logically and otherwise. Whatever further top-level posts on the Kercher case may be warranted (and I don't think any more are, at least not without some major development happening), a post arguing or implying that is clearly not warranted. So I think that this post's current score (-7 at last check) is pretty much on target, and I don't intend to comment any further on it lest intelligent conversation in comments lead to upvotes on the post.

I'm going to wait a bit before saying any more about this (for one thing, I currently have some intervention from Real Life to deal with). In the future, I remain willing to discuss the case with Rolf Nelson or anyone else who sincerely believes that Amanda Knox killed her roommate -- in exactly one place: the comments section of my post on that topic.

Replies from: rolf_nelson
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T20:47:15.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you believe my claim C1 is false, I look forward to hearing your arguments about it. I still have not heard any rebuttal of my claim C1!

If you feel you have been logically insulted, explaining to me why you believe C1 is false would be a good option.

I agree with you only that your POV is popular on this topic on this site and mine is not; I knew that going in.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-02-03T01:00:27.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it depends how you understand the phrase "physical evidence" I think komponisto was using the phrase to mean physical evidence directly tying Knox et al. to the murder victim. Such as DNA, fingerprints, etc.

So I don't have a big problem with his characterization. As I mentioned in the thread on rudeness, the polite thing to do is to is to respond to the best reasonable interpretation of one's opponent's argument (while noting the imprecision).

(FWIW, I do believe that Knox et al. were probably involved in the murder but that's a separate issue.)

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T04:47:54.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note: this is a post version of the same document that I posted yesterday.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T05:47:49.236Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This isn't what this site is here for.

I note that your top level posting priviledges have already been (automatically) removed due to the karma hit from votes thus far and I expect this negative score to remain so for some time as this post is downvoted to oblivion. Please do not make posts like this here.

Replies from: AnnaSalamon, Unknowns, rolf_nelson
comment by AnnaSalamon · 2010-02-02T06:01:57.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems on topic to me; Rolf is responding to a previous post that claimed that rationality shows us something about world events. Rolf is disputing the claim.

I haven't followed the Amanda Knox case at all, or even its discussion on LW, but I'm interested now in the outcome because it bears on how much we can trust priors over court rooms, and on how good the LW community's previous judgment was.

(Rolf, though, maybe you could spell out something of its rationality relevance in your opening few lines? I know this from private discussion with you, only.)

Replies from: Vive-ut-Vivas, rolf_nelson
comment by Vive-ut-Vivas · 2010-02-02T07:06:22.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't followed the Amanda Knox case at all, or even its discussion on LW, but I'm interested now in the outcome because it bears on how much we can trust priors over court rooms, and on how good the LW community's previous judgment was.

In that case, I highly recommend going through the posts and comments already devoted to this topic. The original survey post and the follow-up Amanda Knox test go into great detail about this case. Of particular interest should be the comments in the survey post, where members stated their estimates of the defendants' guilt.

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T06:06:43.051Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't really care about karma. If someone isn't interested in reading about it, then they shouldn't read it.

Replies from: ciphergoth, wedrifid, AnnaSalamon
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-02T08:55:17.654Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If lots of people aren't interested in reading it, as reflected in karma scores, then you should find somewhere to post it where people do want to read it.

Replies from: rolf_nelson
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T09:01:31.936Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, but we know from the general pattern of votes (both for posts and for comments) that a certain subset of people on this forum do want to read posts and comments implying Knox is innocent, but do not want to read posts and comments implying Knox is guilty.

By your logic, does that mean you're advocating that only people who believe Knox is innocent should post, and that people who believe Knox is guilty should not post?

Replies from: ciphergoth
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-02T09:07:48.461Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If that's the only explanation you can think of for the pattern of voting you see, you're not ready to post here. Remember, few here give a damn about the case one way or the other, except as an example for training our brains.

EDIT: since you're an SIAI donor, I'll cut you a little more slack than I did here, as per Wei Dai's comment.

Replies from: wedrifid, rolf_nelson, komponisto
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T15:15:28.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

EDIT: since you're an SIAI donor, I'll cut you a little more slack than I did here, as per Wei Dai's comment.

Vote reversed. This is a discussion forum, not a prediction market. The latter is the information processing mechanism for which a financial contribution can be expected to increase the quality of outcomes irrespective of bias.

Replies from: ciphergoth, Kevin
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-02T15:23:13.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm missing something in your argument. I'm saying that now that I know that Rolf has a demonstrated, concrete commitment to caring about the core issues of this site, I'll treat him differently than when I thought he was just some guy obsessed with the Kercher thing. You think I'm making a mistake? Could you help me see it?

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T16:12:00.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect I am not giving you enough slack while executing my "discourage pollution of lesswrong discussions with external status games" policy. Since you were initially saying things like 'not ready to contribute here' and this was based partly on the assumption that Rolf was just Kercher obsessed finding out who Rolf is does actually have relevance.

I'm going to do half a reversal and go to 'no vote'. Only half because while Rolf isn't 'just' a Kercher obsessed guy he is still a Kercher obsessed guy for the purposes of his contribution here. Knowing he is also in tune with existential risk issues and related issues in general does make a difference but not that much. (In fact, right or wrong I actually kind of expect better from someone with that kind of status.)

comment by Kevin · 2010-02-02T15:19:06.870Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, there's donor and there's donor... and when someone can have a reasonable claim to having helped build this very site with money rather than words and is currently sponsoring matching donations, it doesn't hurt for us to be a little nicer than we would to some random person that got downvoted below zero karma.

Btw, some self-doubt for you, I'm not positing that this is entirely rational, just that it doesn't hurt.

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T09:16:26.355Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try to look at the current voting pattern on the comments to "Amanda Knox Test" and tell me there's not a correlation between favoring Knox's innocence and getting upvoted. (Don't forget to load all the comments so you see the people who are negative despite making reasoned comments about the case.)

comment by komponisto · 2010-02-02T14:39:17.491Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

since you're an SIAI donor, I'll cut you a little more slack than I did here, as per Wei Dai's comment.

Just for the record, I'm also an SIAI donor.

Replies from: ciphergoth
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-02T14:48:20.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't currently need any extra slack from me though :-)

Replies from: tut
comment by tut · 2010-02-02T15:03:19.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

May I ask what exactly this slack consists of in the context?

Replies from: ciphergoth
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-02T15:07:54.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All sorts. For example, if I rate someone highly and they write something that at first glance seems to be obviously wrong, I'm more likely to put time into seeing if I've missed something.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T06:43:51.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't really care about karma.

You also haven't cared to make any contribution on the topic of rationality. The karma system serves to prevent new posters posting Mind Killing Advocacy. I do not understand why that process did not work in this instance. I count few posts of yours that have not been either in the Knox thread or dragging the Knox issue to other parts of the site by criticizing Komponisto. The system, if working as advertised, would not have allowed this post.

Replies from: rolf_nelson
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T06:52:34.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your thesis is that debunking the content of a featured post in this forum, is not on-topic for this forum, then I personally disagree. If someone posts false information as a featured post, then I personally would prefer to be informed that it is false rather than continue believing false information. There are probably other readers who feel the same, and I hope this post provided such a service to them.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T07:01:52.874Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your thesis is that debunking the content of a featured post in this forum, is not on-topic for this forum

It is not. I take Vive's thesis as granted and assume it is obvious to most readers. My own contention is that this post should not have been made and should not have been able to be posted by a user with no karma.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2010-02-02T06:49:17.084Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rolf, even if you don't care about karma, it might be good practice to keep LW visibly about rationality, and so to briefly recap the relevance of this post to LW and rationality (via its history with komposito's post), rather than have it appear that Amanda Knox or other current events are interesting here in their own right.

Though I understand if you don't have time.

Replies from: rolf_nelson
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T06:58:31.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So edited, though I would have thought it obvious.

Replies from: Kevin
comment by Kevin · 2010-02-02T11:34:05.479Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you post here more often, you'll learn that certain linguistic patterns are required for the community to not get annoyed at you when making strong-sounding conclusions. Try not to take it too seriously.

One regular poster here is a current theist. He has a lot of karma because he surrounds many of his statements in self-doubt.

Replies from: rolf_nelson, wedrifid
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T11:46:35.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I completely agree with you that surrounding my statements with self-doubt would have increased my karma.

However, I do not agree that this is a sufficient reason to surround my statements with self-doubt. As I said, I don't care about karma.

I do care about things that often correlate with karma, such as accuracy and insight. If there is evidence that surrounding these statements with self-doubt will increase my accuracy, I will do it. Therefore, I look forward to any evidence proffered that my claim C1 is incorrect (such as an argument that one of komponisto's four statements I've charged to be misleading is, in fact, correct). So far, I have not heard any such evidence in this thread.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T12:40:21.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you post here more often, you'll learn that certain linguistic patterns are required for the community to not get annoyed at you when making strong-sounding conclusions.

For example, ":s/Knox//g" helps.

More seriously, that phenomenon extends far beyond LessWrong and applies particularly when the comments are personal (or reflect on an individual fairly directly).

Replies from: rolf_nelson, komponisto
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T22:34:50.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Again, empirically, ":s/Knox is guilty/Knox is innocent/g" helps even more.

Unless people think that "voting up comments you agree with and voting down things you disagree with" only happens on other sites, in which case I'm curious by what mechanism you think this is enforced on this site.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, wedrifid
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-02T23:51:10.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It'd help if you picked a group belief that's actually demonstrably wrong to illustrate this, but you picked a hella wrong target this time around. Did you read through ~700 or so comments on the other Knox posts, or only the original posts?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T01:03:35.513Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The dynamic you mention is certainly present (and, there is some benefit to allowing disagreement at least a partial influence on votes). Unfortunately, in this instance it is hard to distinguish simple disagreement from disapproval of bad arguments and prvalent logical rudeness. The same people who disagree with Knox being guilty are people who object to the type of reasoning used to support this contention. That's part of how they became convinced of her innocence in the first place.

comment by komponisto · 2010-02-03T03:45:26.697Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example, ":s/Knox//g" helps.

What does this mean?

Replies from: mattnewport, wedrifid
comment by mattnewport · 2010-02-03T03:49:06.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's unix-speak for 'replace all instances of the string Knox with the empty string'.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-03T03:50:25.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That as time goes by more rehashing of the Knox issue becomes less desirable. Anything with 'Knox' in it becomes a negative linguistic pattern.

The command ":s/Knox//g" replaces the pattern 'Knox' with the '' empty string using perl like regexp syntax.

comment by Unknowns · 2010-02-02T06:22:53.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've noticed before that people will sometimes object that a top level post was unsuitable, when in fact it just means they disagree with it.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T06:47:58.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted the Knox is innocent post.

Replies from: Unknowns
comment by Unknowns · 2010-02-02T07:26:19.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case my previous comment doesn't apply to you, but I don't withdraw it in general, because I have certainly seen other people object to posts as unsuitable, when it is clear that in fact their real reason is that they disagree with the content of the post.

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T06:09:12.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I value your opinion. Please downvote komponisto's post as well then (if you haven't already) if you want to be consistent, as it's (as of this writing) at +30.

Replies from: wedrifid, Jack
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T06:35:07.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe already have, primarily because it encouraged an influx of posters only interested in political advocacy of one kind of another. It significantly lowered the quality of conversation for some time.. I did, however, upvote Komponisto's earlier survey style post, which was an excellent exercise in rationality.

Replies from: komponisto, rolf_nelson
comment by komponisto · 2010-02-02T14:34:38.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe already have [downvoted "The Amanda Knox Test"], primarily because it encouraged an influx of posters only interested in political advocacy of one kind of another.

That is a shame. You indicated at the time that you enjoyed my post; it doesn't seem right to downvote a post that meets the internal standards of LW simply because of the traffic it brings in. Yes, there were some low-quality comments, but they were downvoted to invisibility -- just like it's supposed to work. Meanwhile, we also managed to host what was and probably remains the highest-quality discussion of that particular controversial hot-topic on any Internet forum.

It may also be worth considering the new (legitimate) readers we may have picked up as a result of a post that received greater-than-usual outside exposure.

Finally, I don't think we should go back and downvote old posts that we liked to be "fair" to recent posts that we don't, just because they're on the same topic. That seems silly.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T15:19:34.428Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am convinced, on all counts and have reverted the change. In the context your post warranted a positive reception. On the other hand I do think new posts now made on other similar issues of contention are something to be wary of encouraging and I have little doubt that I'll downvote similar posts in the future.

At the level of self awareness I notice my ethical instincts being pushed away from my usual consequentialist leanings and towards deontological thinking when engaged personally and in a positive manner. This seems to be a typical response and I know that I experience the reverse change strongly when met with aggressive or socially presumptive engagement.. Interesting.

Replies from: ciphergoth
comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-02-02T15:43:48.819Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am convinced, on all counts

People say things like this here something like ten to a hundred times more frequently than they do anywhere else I have ever frequented.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, wedrifid
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-02-02T19:35:31.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People say things like this here something like ten to a hundred times more frequently than they do anywhere else I have ever frequented.

That's still not much.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T15:49:38.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People say things like this here something like ten to a hundred times more frequently than they do anywhere else I have ever frequented.

My hunch is that thinking style combined years of frustration at intellectual discourse being ruined by status considerations play a strong part there in many cases.

comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T06:42:06.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds reasonable. I wonder if there should be more survey style posts then, but on topics that will have verifiable outcomes. For example, one could pick out a topic from one of the prediction markets and discuss that. This would have the advantage that, at the end of the day, if someone come to the wrong conclusion, they would eventually realize they came to the wrong conclusion and have an opportunity to learn something from the exercise.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T06:45:30.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I totally agree (and made a similar suggestion in the recent games thread.)

Replies from: rolf_nelson
comment by rolf_nelson · 2010-02-02T12:32:04.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

War in Iran by 2016 might be a possible candidate.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2010-02-02T12:33:47.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like a good one. But I expect you to have a better estimate than I do on that topic so I'm not going to bet against you!

comment by Jack · 2010-02-02T15:49:35.383Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm shocked and dismayed that anyone went back and downvoted koponisto's post, which is probably the best discussion we've ever had here.

comment by michellesings · 2011-07-04T20:38:11.035Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sorry but this is just laughable. Talk about lying..