Undiscriminating Skepticism

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-03-14T23:23:25.539Z · score: 101 (107 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 1359 comments

Tl;dr:  Since it can be cheap and easy to attack everything your tribe doesn't believe, you shouldn't trust the rationality of just anyone who slams astrology and creationism; these beliefs aren't just false, they're also non-tribal among educated audiences.  Test what happens when a "skeptic" argues for a non-tribal belief, or argues against a tribal belief, before you decide they're good general rationalists.  This post is intended to be reasonably accessible to outside audiences.

I don't believe in UFOs.  I don't believe in astrology.  I don't believe in homeopathy.  I don't believe in creationism.  I don't believe there were explosives planted in the World Trade Center.  I don't believe in haunted houses.  I don't believe in perpetual motion machines.  I believe that all these beliefs are not only wrong but visibly insane.

If you know nothing else about me but this, how much credit should you give me for general rationality?

Certainly anyone who was skillful at adding up evidence, considering alternative explanations, and assessing prior probabilities, would end up disbelieving in all of these.

But there would also be a simpler explanation for my views, a less rare factor that could explain it:  I could just be anti-non-mainstream.  I could be in the habit of hanging out in moderately educated circles, and know that astrology and homeopathy are not accepted beliefs of my tribe.  Or just perceptually recognize them, on a wordless level, as "sounding weird".  And I could mock anything that sounds weird and that my fellow tribesfolk don't believe, much as creationists who hang out with fellow creationists mock evolution for its ludicrous assertion that apes give birth to human beings.

You can get cheap credit for rationality by mocking wrong beliefs that everyone in your social circle already believes to be wrong.  It wouldn't mean that I have any ability at all to notice a wrong belief that the people around me believe to be right, or vice versa - to further discriminate truth from falsity, beyond the fact that my social circle doesn't already believe in something.

Back in the good old days, there was a simple test for this syndrome that would get quite a lot of mileage:  You could just ask me what I thought about God.  If I treated the idea with deeper respect than I treated astrology, holding it worthy of serious debate even if I said I disbelieved in it, then you knew that I was taking my cues from my social surroundings - that if the people around me treated a belief as high-prestige, high-status, I wouldn't start mocking it no matter what the state of evidence.

On the other hand suppose I said without hesitation that my epistemic state on God was similar to my epistemic state on psychic powers: no positive evidence, lots of failed tests, highly unfavorable prior, and if you believe it under those circumstances then something is wrong with your mind.  Then you would have heard a bit of skepticism that might cost me something socially, and that not everyone around me would have endorsed, even in educated circles.  You would know it wasn't just a cheap way of picking up cheap points.

Today the God-test no longer works, because some people realized that the taking-it-seriously aura of religion is in fact the main thing left which prevents people from noticing the epistemic awfulness; there has been a concerted and, I think, well-advised effort to mock religion and strip it of its respectability.  The upshot is that there are now quite wide social circles in which God is just another stupid belief that we all know we don't believe in, on the same list with astrology.  You could be dealing with an adept rationalist, or you could just be dealing with someone who reads Reddit.

And of course I could easily go on to name some beliefs that others think are wrong and that I think are right, or vice versa, but would inevitably lose some of my audience at each step along the way - just as, a couple of decades ago, I would have lost a lot of my audience by saying that religion was unworthy of serious debate.  (Thankfully, today this outright dismissal is at least considered a respectable, mainstream position even if not everyone holds it.)

I probably won't lose much by citing anti-Artificial-Intelligence views as an example of undiscriminating skepticism.  I think a majority among educated circles are sympathetic to the argument that brains are not magic and so there is no obstacle in principle to building machines that think.  But there are others, albeit in the minority, who recognize Artificial Intelligence as "weird-sounding" and "sci-fi", a belief in something that has never yet been demonstrated, hence unscientific - the same epistemic reference class as believing in aliens or homeopathy.

(This is technically a demand for unobtainable evidence.  The asymmetry with homeopathy can be summed up as follows:  First:  If we learn that Artificial Intelligence is definitely impossible, we must have learned some new fact unknown to modern science - everything we currently know about neurons and the evolution of intelligence suggests that no magic was involved.  On the other hand, if we learn that homeopathy is possible, we must have learned some new fact unknown to modern science; if everything else we believe about physics is true, homeopathy shouldn't work.  Second:  If homeopathy works, we can expect double-blind medical studies to demonstrate its efficacy right now; the absence of this evidence is very strong evidence of absence.  If Artificial Intelligence is possible in theory and in practice, we can't necessarily expect its creation to be demonstrated using current knowledge - this absence of evidence is only weak evidence of absence.)

I'm using Artificial Intelligence as an example, because it's a case where you can see some "skeptics" directing their skepticism at a belief that is very popular in educated circles, that is, the nonmysteriousness and ultimate reverse-engineerability of mind.  You can even see two skeptical principles brought into conflict - does a good skeptic disbelieve in Artificial Intelligence because it's a load of sci-fi which has never been demonstrated?  Or does a good skeptic disbelieve in human exceptionalism, since it would require some mysterious, unanalyzable essence-of-mind unknown to modern science?

It's on questions like these where we find the frontiers of knowledge, and everything now in the settled lands was once on the frontier.  It might seem like a matter of little importance to debate weird non-mainstream beliefs; a matter for easy dismissals and open scorn.  But if this policy is implemented in full generality, progress goes down the tubes.  The mainstream is not completely right, and future science will not just consist of things that sound reasonable to everyone today - there will be at least some things in it that sound weird to us.  (This is certainly the case if something along the lines of Artificial Intelligence is considered weird!)  And yes, eventually such scientific truths will be established by experiment, but somewhere along the line - before they are definitely established and everyone already believes in them - the testers will need funding.

Being skeptical about some non-mainstream beliefs is not a fringe project of little importance, not always a slam-dunk, not a bit of occasional pointless drudgery - though I can certainly understand why it feels that way to argue with creationists.  Skepticism is just the converse of acceptance, and so to be skeptical of a non-mainstream belief is to try to contribute to the project of advancing the borders of the known - to stake an additional epistemic claim that the borders should not expand in this direction, and should advance in some other direction instead.

This is high and difficult work - certainly much more difficult than the work of mocking everything that sounds weird and that the people in your social circle don't already seem to believe.

To put it more formally, before I believe that someone is performing useful cognitive work, I want to know that their skepticism discriminates truth from falsehood, making a contribution over and above the contribution of this-sounds-weird-and-is-not-a-tribal-belief.  In Bayesian terms, I want to know that p(mockery|belief false & not a tribal belief) > p(mockery|belief true & not a tribal belief).

If I recall correctly, the US Air Force's Project Blue Book, on UFOs, explained away as a sighting of the planet Venus what turned out to actually be an experimental aircraft.  No, I don't believe in UFOs either; but if you're going to explain away experimental aircraft as Venus, then nothing else you say provides further Bayesian evidence against UFOs either.  You are merely an undiscriminating skeptic.  I don't believe in UFOs, but in order to credit Project Blue Book with additional help in establishing this, I would have to believe that if there were UFOs then Project Blue Book would have turned in a different report.

And so if you're just as skeptical of a weird, non-tribal belief that turns out to have pretty good support, you just blew the whole deal - that is, if I pay any extra attention to your skepticism, it ought to be because I believe you wouldn't mock a weird non-tribal belief that was worthy of debate.

Personally, I think that Michael Shermer blew it by mocking molecular nanotechnology, and Penn and Teller blew it by mocking cryonics (justification: more or less exactly the same reasons I gave for Artificial Intelligence).  Conversely, Richard Dawkins scooped up a huge truckload of actual-discriminating-skeptic points, at least in my book, for not making fun of the many-worlds interpretation when he was asked about in an interview; indeed, Dawkins noted (correctly) that the traditional collapse postulate pretty much has to be incorrect.  The many-worlds interpretation isn't just the formally simplest explanation that fits the facts, it also sounds weird and is not yet a tribal belief of the educated crowd; so whether someone makes fun of MWI is indeed a good test of whether they understand Occam's Razor or are just mocking everything that's not a tribal belief.

Of course you may not trust me about any of that.  And so my purpose today is not to propose a new litmus test to replace atheism.

But I do propose that before you give anyone credit for being a smart, rational skeptic, that you ask them to defend some non-mainstream belief.  And no, atheism doesn't count as non-mainstream anymore, no matter what the polls show.  It has to be something that most of their social circle doesn't believe, or something that most of their social circle does believe which they think is wrong.  Dawkins endorsing many-worlds still counts for now, although its usefulness as an indicator is fading fast... but the point is not to endorse many-worlds, but to see them take some sort of positive stance on where the frontiers of knowledge should change.

Don't get me wrong, there's a whole crazy world out there, and when Richard Dawkins starts whaling on astrology in "The Enemies of Reason" documentary, he is doing good and necessary work. But it's dangerous to let people pick up too much credit just for slamming astrology and homeopathy and UFOs and God.  What if they become famous skeptics by picking off the cheap targets, and then use that prestige and credibility to go after nanotechnology?  Who will dare to consider cryonics now that it's been featured on an episode of Penn and Teller's "Bullshit"?  On the current system you can gain high prestige in the educated circle just by targeting beliefs like astrology that are widely believed to be uneducated; but then the same guns can be turned on new ideas like the many-worlds interpretation, even though it's being actively debated by physicists.  And that's why I suggest, not any particular litmus test, but just that you ought to have to stick your neck out and say something a little less usual - say where you are not skeptical (and most of your tribemates are) or where you are skeptical (and most of the people in your tribe are not).

I am minded to pay attention to Robyn Dawes as a skillful rationalist, not because Dawes has slammed easy targets like astrology, but because he also took the lead in assembling and popularizing the total lack of experimental evidence for nearly all schools of psychotherapy and the persistence of multiple superstitions such as Rorschach ink-blot interpretation in the face of literally hundreds of experiments trying and failing to find any evidence for it.  It's not that psychotherapy seemed like a difficult target after Dawes got through with it, but that, at the time he attacked it, people in educated circles still thought of it as something that educated people believed in.  It's not quite as useful today, but back when Richard Feynman published "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" you could pick up evidence that he was actually thinking from the fact that he disrespected psychotherapists as well as psychics.

I'll conclude with some simple and non-trustworthy indicators that the skeptic is just filling in a cheap and largely automatic mockery template:

I'll conclude the conclusion by observing that poor skepticism can just as easily exist in a case where a belief is wrong as when a belief is right, so pointing out these flaws in someone's skepticism can hardly serve to establish a positive belief about where the frontiers of knowledge should move.

1359 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-03-16T01:12:41.572Z · score: 46 (48 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think we've achieved a new record for "most distinct subthreads that would be flamewars anywhere else on the Internet, but somehow aren't yet".

The previous recordholder, I'm pretty sure, is also on Less Wrong.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T01:57:13.284Z · score: 44 (44 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A partial list to compare to future record breaking attempts: Global Warming, Meredith Kercher's murder, atheism, gun control, race and IQ, Pick-up artists, cryonics, Scandinavian social welfare, nuclear deterence, sweatshops, industry bailouts, immigration, UFOs, homosexuality, polyamory, bisexuality, pedophilia, necrophilia, cannibalism, rape, 2 girls 1 cup, sex change, generalizations about promiscuity, straight men like lesbians, masochism, incest, people getting off to cartoons, people getting off to cartoons of pre-teen girls, 9/11 was an inside job, and Communism.

comment by BenAlbahari · 2010-03-16T02:09:16.177Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't forget the biggest of them all: "questioning our raison d'etre"; i.e. we debated the value of rationality, whilst remaining civil and keeping the discussion meaningful. For comparison, imagine suggesting that "tennis isn't all that great" on a tennis forum.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-26T10:44:29.756Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eugenics; that ought to be a fun one as well.

comment by Laoch · 2013-11-14T10:30:26.196Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This reminds of the supposed spectre of "designer babies".

Non-sceptic rationalist: "Oh don't do that scientific research it'll end in designer babies!!!!"

Rationalist: "So what if it does?"

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-03-24T12:50:30.035Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We should try gun control some time...

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T01:22:59.015Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is so true. & that is why I bloody love this site.

Still, I think to get the perfect compendium, somebody ought to mention fascism.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-03-16T02:16:49.066Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fascism was never a well-defined political philosophy, as far as I can tell. It seems that, today, it seems to be a synonym for "non-Communist government I don't like".

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T02:28:20.458Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say it became increasingly less well-defined after it's creation.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T02:54:44.492Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I always thought of it as basically a reaction to communism, wherein the state takes control of industry but sort of for the benefit of industry rather than labour. But yeah, definitely a pretty amorphous thing.

Anyway, it's mentioned now! Hurrah!

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-03-16T02:59:28.684Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've seen it defined, perhaps ironically, as "When the government takes over the corporations, that's called communism. When the corporations take over the government, that's called fascism."

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-16T03:03:30.401Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I always thought of it as basically a reaction to communism [...]

From Jack's link in the previous comment:

By the time Mussolini returned from Allied service in World War I, he had decided that socialism as a doctrine had largely been a failure. In 1917, Mussolini got his start in politics with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5, the British Security Service; this help was authorised by Sir Samuel Hoare. In early 1918, Mussolini called for the emergence of a man "ruthless and energetic enough to make a clean sweep" to revive the Italian nation. Much later in life Mussolini said he felt by 1919 "Socialism as a doctrine was already dead; it continued to exist only as a grudge". On 23 March 1919, Mussolini reformed the Milan fascio as the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (Italian Combat Squad), consisting of 200 members.

No further comment. :)

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2010-03-16T21:28:00.250Z · score: 43 (45 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Two more non-trustworthy indicators:

  • Ask the person in question which of the several ridiculous ideas they reject they find least ridiculous - for example "Which do you think is more likely to be true - astrology, or UFOs?" I've found people trying to signal affiliation have a hard time with this sort of question and will even be flustered by it, saying something along the lines of "They're both stupid" or "Is this some sort of trick to make me sound like I believe a crazy idea?". A rationalist will say something more like "Well, I don't believe either, but UFOs at least make sense with our idea of the universe, whereas astrology is just plain crazytalk" (or ze may refuse to answer on the grounds that you're wasting zir time; it's not a perfect test).

  • Observe the circumstances in which the person involved brings up the belief. If they just go to atheist forums and say "Man, those religious people sure are stupid," higher probability of signaller. If they actively talk to religious people, try to use atheism as a starting point for building new ideas, and don't bring it up much when it's not relevant, higher probability they believe it for the right reasons.

comment by goodside · 2010-03-17T12:44:37.214Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't answer the astrology/UFO question. Extraterrestrials visiting in flying human-vehicle-sized ships from human-visible distances is so horribly anthropomorphic as to make it immeasurably improbable. Both propositions are far less likely than me winning the lottery, and that's the best I can get from my wetware. Anything further is like asking, "Which are you more certain is a European country, France or Spain?"

Also, I'm inclined to avoid questions of this form on principle. It's like Yudkowsky's "blue tentacle" in Technical Explanation: Being able to find outs for a theory that doesn't fit evidence is anti-knowledge, and the more practice you get at it the crazier you become.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T12:50:07.017Z · score: 22 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spain is more Middle-Eastern than France and France was on the European front of both World Wars, so France. I can see your point, though.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-09-26T21:03:43.785Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

UFOs are possible given what we know of the universe. Unlikely, yes, but its possible to have them without us learning much new about the universe. Astrology, not so much. Astrology means we have totally whiffed on science and have to integrate all the contradictory information we have in ways that are unimaginable.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-04-24T10:26:14.982Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'anthropomorphic' here. One way to think about framing the comparison is to note that if intelligent extraterrestrials have visited us, we have to update strongly in favor of their intelligence playing an important role in our intelligence. In any universe that isn't completely teeming with intelligent life, this will hold for anthropic reasons; two intelligences are immeasurably more likely to encounter each other if one had a causal role in the other's coming to existence (via panspermia and/or guided evolution). So some of the bizarre anthropomorphism here can be dispensed with.

But note that if we want to pull a similar trick regarding astrology -- and I think there's several orders of magnitude more reason to be inclined to do this in the astrology case than in the UFO case -- then we'll need to posit an intelligent designer for our entire universe, not just for our species. In the one case our understanding of the origin of life on Earth is wrong; that's not surprising as these things go, since most scientists have already noted their current and ongoing confusion about the timeline for life on Earth's origination. In the other case, however, our understanding of the fabric of the universe is completely wrong. We are not in the least bit confused, at this point, about how it is that our psychological dispositions sometimes correlate with astronomical phenomena. To discover that there is a causal connection would mean that Approximately Everything You Know Is A Lie. That's a bigger deal, I think.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2010-03-17T20:36:47.280Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A sufficiently good rationalist should probably decompose astrology and UFOs into different possible definitions and discuss both priors and the nature of the processes that probably produce the two beliefs.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-27T06:15:12.747Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be willing to seriously consider astrology in the sense that what time of year someone was born, and thus the weather and food their mother was exposed to in utero or that they had to deal with during some early developmental window, could have consistent effects on personality.

I've heard enough conflicting explanations for "UFOs" that I think there probably is some real phenomenon to explain, even if it's just neurological.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-03-19T00:11:13.867Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've heard enough conflicting explanations for "UFOs" that I think there probably is some real phenomenon to explain, even if it's just neurological.

What makes you think there's only one?

comment by Emile · 2010-03-15T10:56:45.016Z · score: 37 (37 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another good indicator (as djbc said) is the level of certitude : if someone expresses more certitude on a complex topic like gun control than on a slamdunk like God - then I won't trust their confidence much.

Does that mean only hardcore atheists are worth listening to? Maybe, but some claims about religion are not that obvious - for example, is religion good or bad for society in terms of enforcing moral behaviour, facilitating cooperation, raising children, etc. ? I don't consider that question a slamdunk.

Another red flag for me is "clannish" language, presenting issues in terms of "group A vs group B" ("this is a victory for us", "hah, that shows them", etc.). It's a sign that the wrong part of the brain is being used.

comment by aausch · 2010-03-15T21:24:44.323Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder what you mean by "hardcore atheists"?

I'm guessing you don't mean hardcore as in "signaling group membership loudly", and Eliezer already argued the point that atheism is no longer a valid synonym for reliable, rational thought.

comment by Emile · 2010-03-15T22:03:09.678Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not quite sure myself :D

I mostly meant "as opposed to agnostic" ("strong atheist" would be a better word then), but wanted to point out (as Eliezer had indeed already done) that extreme commitment (for example, blaming religion for all evils) was not necessarily a good signal.

comment by aausch · 2010-03-16T14:22:03.328Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get it now, thank you.

You would expect rational thought to lead to a higher level of commitment on decisions about religion than gun control, but higher level of commitment on the topics is not a good signal for rational thought.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2010-03-15T22:16:29.008Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "hardcore atheist" generally means, "atheist who actively and loudly antagonizes religion." That is not consistent with the poster's usage, but I don't think any adjective would be - the point is that people who are not atheists may be worth listening to, not that some "not-hardcore" atheists are also worth listening to in addition to the hardcore atheists.

comment by aausch · 2010-03-16T14:15:26.866Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assume we agree that atheism is not a signal for rational thought anymore - if that's true, are you getting any additional useful information by looking at how loudly someone antagonizes religion?

comment by Psychohistorian · 2010-03-16T17:59:36.570Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would think that higher levels of overt religious antagonism indicate low agreeableness. It may be an indicator not so much of irrationality as of a sort of intellectual laziness or poor judgement, as it's an unconstructive behaviour that generates a great deal of self-satisfaction for not doing anything particularly difficult.

That said, I was rather closer to that kind of atheism when I was younger, so I'm decidedly biased.

comment by aausch · 2010-03-16T20:03:14.687Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I have a similar point of view to yours, on this.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T04:02:40.970Z · score: 34 (38 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll bite the bullet and say global warming is the perfect example here. It's pretty clear to me that many people hold their positions on this issue - pro and contra - for political/social reasons rather than evidential ones.

Unfortunately that often seems to be the case when there are vested interests in the answer going one way or the other.

The impact of genetics on behaviour is another example. Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists, so if I see somebody argue that genes matter (but aren't everything), they definitely get brownie points. Especially since such a view tends to be seen as vaguely quasi-racist.

comment by jimmy · 2010-03-16T03:45:58.943Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with asking race related questions is that there's a much stronger social pressure to shut up if you believe something that comes off as racist.

If you support cryonics, the worst that happens is that you come off as having strange beliefs. Take most any factual claim about race and you're an asshole for even thinking about it.

Of course, once the person is confident that you won't attack them for holding politically incorrect views, you can start to get some information flow, but that takes time to develop comfort. That's actually my litmus test for how comfortable someone is with me- whether they'll actually say something that is really unPC.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T04:09:40.163Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with asking race related questions is that there's a much stronger social pressure to shut up if you believe something that comes off as racist.

I'm at a loss as to what to do about that, because I do get where that pressure is coming from. In presenting such data, you can hedge and qualify all you want, but what many people are going to hear is just a lot of wonderful reasons why their prejudices were right all along, and how science proved it. What can anybody do? A remedial course in ethics ("moral equality does not require literal sameness")?

Sometimes I do think discussions of race and gender-related fact questions are best not done "in front of the goyim." It's a vexing question.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-03-16T12:15:06.068Z · score: 18 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's an additional problem-- there's a social circle where the consensus is that believing in race and gender differences in ability is proof of rationality, so if you're trying to do a counter-tribe rationality check, you'd need to know which tribe has a stronger influence on a person.

If Africa has the most genetic variation for humans, does that imply it's likely that the smartest human subgroup is likely to be African?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-27T08:00:54.450Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All else being equal, yes. However, many regions of Africa have ongoing problems with public health, availability of education, etc. that would wash out any advantages in genetic predisposition for intelligence.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-15T17:26:27.145Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists

I'm pretty sure you're misusing the word "behaviorist".

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T17:32:45.307Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On reflection, you're right. It's a pars pro toto thing I guess, since behaviourism is associated with the idea that personality comes from the environment alone.

"Nurturist" is probably a better term.

comment by johnlawrenceaspden · 2012-10-03T01:46:45.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And has "Naturist" as a convenient antonym...

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-15T04:40:55.501Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The impact of genetics on behaviour is another example. Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists, so if I see somebody argue that genes matter (but aren't everything), they definitely get brownie points. Especially since such a view tends to be seen as vaguely quasi-racist.

Are educated people really that badly informed? I would believe it but sometimes I overestimate how much my own knowledge is representative.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-03-15T20:46:16.492Z · score: 17 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found that, in general, yes, people really are that badly informed about basically everything.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2010-03-15T22:20:01.608Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure people are that badly informed, so much as people are unwilling to admit beliefs that contradict the beliefs they are "supposed" to have.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T04:51:50.390Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I went looking for polls to answer your question; the only one I could find was this outdated one. So on the basis of that one, I'm wrong. But there's no breakdown there for level of education.

However, I suspect based on my anecdotal experience that educated people might be worse than the general public.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-15T05:05:17.919Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

However, I suspect based on my anecdotal experience that educated people might be worse than the general public.

That wouldn't surprise me. Ignorance of bad information can be a good thing. There are political reasons to neglect genetic influence (easier to blame people while avoiding charges of racism and sexism). There are are also ideological motivations for such a preference (see pjeby's emphasis on learned responses rather than genetic influences).

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T05:57:42.803Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ignorance of bad information can be a good thing.

True. In that respect I think part of the problem might also be the Science News Cycle as it applies to genetics. The geneticists know what they mean by "a gene for X" - merely a shorthand, that the presence of the gene affects the expression of X along with umpteen other factors. But inevitably the news media report a "gene for intelligence" as though the gene was a switch to turn intelligence on or off. Probably that type of thing has undermined any & all innatist ideas.

comment by CarlShulman · 2010-03-15T10:08:13.599Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's primarily an issue in the titles (often set by editors). The body of the text usually has the standard litany of basic caveats.

comment by AlexMennen · 2010-03-16T03:21:15.606Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I'll bite the bullet and say global warming is the perfect example here. It's pretty clear to me that many people hold their positions on this issue - pro and contra - for political/social reasons rather than evidential ones."

I used to think that global warming was a poor example of this because while the right wing has plenty of reasons to oppose actions to fight global warming, and thus irrational reasons to force themselves to believe that global warming does not exist, the left wing does not have any reasons to support actions to fight global warming aside from evidence that global warming is a threat. Then it occurred to me that many people on the left actually do have alternate motives for pushing anti-global warming actions: other people on the left support it too (see Eliezer's The Sky is Green/Blue parable, and this article too, I suppose). This is even more irrational, but due to the stunning level of irrationality among humans on all sides of the political spectrum, is probably a factor for some.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T03:40:59.442Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the left wing does not have any reasons to support actions to fight global warming aside from evidence that global warming is a threat.

The story conservatives usually tell here is that the left wants to fight global warming as a way to further their economic agenda and narrative: corporations are bad and the government needs to stop them and control them. You see slogans like "Green is the new red".

comment by Larks · 2010-03-19T11:15:46.925Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fighting global warming can be used to justify the creation of 'green' jobs, in a new spin on the old keynesian make work ideas.

Alternatively, it can be used to provide justification for 'green protectionism'.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T03:27:32.368Z · score: 5 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then it occurred to me that many people on the left actually do have alternate motives for pushing anti-global warming actions: other people on the left support it too

Bingo. The Michael Moore-style crowd is engaged in nothing less than an immense progressive circle-jerk, if you'll excuse my Klatchian. It's too bad we can't just throw them at the Limbaughistas and liberate gamma rays.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-18T17:38:40.093Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the left wing does not have any reasons to support actions to fight global warming aside from evidence that global warming is a threat.

However, someone who believes that global warming is a threat, and who has a poor grasp of ethics, has a motive to exaggerate the evidence, to compensate for others having too strict evidential standards or not doing cost-benefit analysis correctly.

Also, the image of oneself as on the vanguard of saving the world is a strong motivation to believe the world is endangered (overlapping with but distinct from group identity).

(Disclaimer: I don't think this is most of what's going on with AGW believers. Not having studied the issue, I default (albeit tentatively) to believing the scientific consensus.)

This is even more irrational, but due to the stunning level of irrationality among humans on all sides of the political spectrum, is probably a factor for some.

It's absolutely a factor. People are crazy, the world is mad, you shouldn't be surprised by this or hesitant in calling it as you see it.

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T11:35:13.260Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll bite the bullet and say global warming is the perfect example here. It's pretty clear to me that many people hold their positions on this issue - pro and contra - for political/social reasons rather than evidential ones.

There seems to be plenty of motivated arguing on both sides. But even though climate science is complicated the basic mechanism for CO2 raising temperatures is really simple and well supported by basic science. No one is disputing CO2's absorption spectrum (that I know of). It's possible that CO2 might not have any such effect on aggregate in a complicated system, but that would be quite remarkable and I don't think any mechanism has been proposed (other than that global warming is miraculously balancing out a coming ice age).

comment by Hook · 2010-03-15T12:46:20.111Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My litmus test for whether someone even has the basic knowledge that might entitle them to the opinion that anthropogenic climate change isn't happening is: "All other things being equal, does adding CO2 to the atmosphere make the world warmer?"

The answer is of course "yes." Now, if a climate change non-skeptic answers "yes" the follow up question to see if they are entitled to their opinion that anthropogenic climate change is happening: "How could a climate change skeptic answer 'yes' to that question?" The correct answer to that is left as an exercise for the reader.

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T13:16:35.055Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example like this:

  • Yes, but the behavior of one component of the system doesn't necessarily determine the behavior of the system as a whole. It's the responsibility of those who propose an anthropogenic climate change to prove that it's happening, not the other way round.

Most of the actual scientific debate seems to be centered around the reliability of the temperature record (and of different proxies) and of climate models (I consider it very likely that the skeptics are right on many of these issues), not around the question whether an anthropogenic climate change of some level is happening at all. At least I'm not aware of any climate scientist making the argument that no anthropogenic warming effect could possibly exist due to X (where X is some [proposed] physical reality, not something of the sort "that would be human hubris").

comment by Hook · 2010-03-15T13:29:02.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Richard Lindzen is a nut, but he's also an MIT professor of meteorology who has made arguments from physical reality (mostly) that AGW isn't real.

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T13:54:07.863Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The closest thing I could find on that page and the the most promising looking links was the water vapor argument (which is more of an argument that AGW should be smaller than expected rather than non-existent) and he apparently doesn't subscribe to that anymore. Other than that he seems content to cast doubts and make accusations against the other side. If he has a new X, is there any good summary anywhere?

Just out of interest, what would have been the correct answer to the test (rot13 if you don't want to spoil it)?

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-15T14:08:24.715Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The position of "sane" climate skeptics appears to be that rising CO2 levels' effects on temperature will be dampened by other regulatory causal effects; the evidence for the existence of such regulatory feedback is the overall stability of climate over long periods of time.

My main concern with that position is that it is whistling in the dark.

comment by Hook · 2010-03-15T14:24:05.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's just about what I was thinking. Anything that pointed out that the "all other things being equal" clause doesn't describe reality would be sufficient.

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T14:18:04.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's what I meant with argument about climate models, different models suggest different mixes of positive and negative feedback.

Actually I'd be much more worried about CO2 emissions if I was convinced there was a strong dampening effect of unknown origin. That suggests the system might potentially be stressed to the breaking point, and afterwards a runaway process might result in vesusification. Even a very small risk of that would dominate all other climate related risks.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T16:00:17.086Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's possible that CO2 might not have any such effect on aggregate in a complicated system, but that would be quite remarkable

Not particularly remarkable. Homeostatic systems are the norm in the world, not the exception; and there are plenty of negative feedback mechanisms for CO2, starting from the most trivial one of more CO2 -> more photosynthesis -> (hopefully) more biomass not biodegraded back into carbon circulation.

I think it's widely accepted such mechanism will bring CO2 levels back to their original equilibrium once anthropogenic emissions end, unfortunately over thousands of years. But - similar mechanisms for methane and CFCs are far faster and we might be already past peak atmospheric methane/CFC.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T06:07:15.873Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

more CO2 -> more photosynthesis -> (hopefully) more biomass not biodegraded back into carbon circulation.

The upper bound for photosynthesis is constrained by plant populations and the area they cover, not atmospheric CO2 -- adding more CO2 to the air doesn't necessarily increase photosynthetic activity. Human metabolism doesn't increase in step with the number of calories you consume; there's a limit to the base rate at which those biological processes can operate, independent of how much of their base inputs are lying around. Biology is more complicated than that.

comment by taw · 2011-09-26T16:43:35.405Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

RuBisCO activity is usually the limiting step in photosynthesis, and it depends on CO2 concentrations (or CO2 to O2 ratios). Adding more CO2 to the air will increase photosynthetic activity, there's no doubt about it.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T17:10:31.795Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

RuBisCO is the rate-limiting factor for plants, yes. But there's more CO2 in the air naturally than they can adjust upward to compensate for, even before we factor in human-generated sources. The RuBisCO reaction is not maximally-efficient, which is why attempts to increase the rate of enzymatic activity are at the forefront of genetic engineering research into carbon sequestration. Additionally, the two relevant parameters (carbon dioxide fixing and oxygen incorporation) may already have struck a maximally-efficient tradeoff balance in many species of plants; self-modifying to favor increased CO2 fixation is not a trivial step; the gains here can be translated to losses over there, elsewhere in the biosystem. The organism is not its parts.

Anyway, if tomorrow we come up with plants that have a higher efficiency rate of carbon dioxide fixing, and they start pulling more CO2 from the air per unit time, that won't fundamentally change that the population of plants and the room for them to grow is the determining factor in how much photosynthesis gets conducted -- the RuBisCO reaction occurs in plants and protists such as algae when we're talking about the macroscale, and basically nothing else.

Posit an artificial photosynthetic cell that can pack greater efficiency than the best of plants into the same surface area, and things are different. But we don't have any such thing as yet.

comment by BenAlbahari · 2010-03-15T13:55:10.503Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a good habit to avoid the Appeal To Ignorance of an opposing view.

  1. Some skeptics do actually dispute the absorption effect of CO2.
  2. The proposed mechanism by which CO2 does not cause overall warming is a negative feedback loop.

I actually agree with your conclusion, but here's the evidence you need to back up the specific cases you brought up:

Does atmospheric CO2 cause significant global warming?
Do negative feedback loops mostly cushion the effect of atmospheric CO2 increases?

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T14:33:12.408Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some skeptics do actually dispute the absorption effect of CO2.

That is, they claim that the spectrum of CO2 has been faked? Or deny that there is such a thing as a spectrum?

The proposed mechanism by which CO2 does not cause overall warming is a negative feedback loop.

I was aware of feedback loop proposals, but they seem to amount to arguing for a weaker AGW effect rather than none. I tend to mentally file them under squabbling about the exact models rather than AGW denial. Are there any such proposed loops that would result in zero or effectively zero warming? ITSM that all feedback loops that involve actual warming as a step would not qualify because to result in effectively zero warming the effect would have to be strong enough to drown out temperature changes from all other causes unless overwhelmingly strong.

comment by BenAlbahari · 2010-03-15T15:20:00.256Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The leading skeptics (e.g. Roy Spencer) claim that negative feedback loops (due to clouds that reflect heat back into space) will reduce the warming effect of CO2 to be within the fluctuations Earth naturally experiences. So it's a serious denial, rather than a minor squabble. And the views of the opposing experts (also in the link I sent) strongly indicate Spencer and his colleagues are mistaken (one such reason is that without a positive feedback, it's very hard to explain the rapid shift in temperatures we know occurred between glacials and interglacials).

The skeptics who deny CO2 actually has an effect at all are fringe. The link I sent has the most qualified expert I could find (Gerhard Gerlich) who holds that view. Given that even the NIPCC (Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change) hasn't subscribed to this position, I disregard its importance.

The arguments and experts are all summarized here (it's a wiki, so you can add to it yourself if you find something new):
http://www.takeonit.com/question/5.aspx

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T06:01:56.259Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The leading skeptics (e.g. Roy Spencer) claim that negative feedback loops (due to clouds that reflect heat > back into space) will reduce the warming effect of CO2 to be within the fluctuations Earth naturally experiences.

I don't know as I'd find that comforting, considering that the Cretaceous climate was within fluctuations the Earth naturally experiences, and transitioning to that in such a short time would still be a pretty darn significant systemic shock to economy and ecology alike...

EDIT: To be clear, I'm not saying we're headed for a new Cretaceous, just that "fluctuations the Earth naturally experiences" could still allow for some pretty steep gradients between the last century and any plausible, randomly-selected point within the known range.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-15T18:18:37.139Z · score: 4 (32 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree. Anyway, it's easy to talk about the God test now because you won't get burned at the stake or anything.

One modern equivalent to the God test is whether the person believes that genetics play a significant role in the black/white IQ difference. This has become an area where stating the (obvious) and rational truth will get you in a lot of social/career trouble.

Heck, it might even get you downvoted on Lesswrong :)

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-15T19:40:01.066Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obvious truth? Maybe it is given all available information — I don't know — but certainly not given the information most people have. (And "rational truth" is just a positive-affect type error.)

I would agree, if "believes" were replaced by "is willing to entertain the hypothesis" or "doesn't think one must be a racist to believe".

comment by CarlShulman · 2010-03-16T10:42:40.109Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Talk to the experts in psychometrics, and they'll tell you that this is still an open question. It was a plurality (not majority or consensus) view in psychometrics that there was some genetic influence (beyond the obvious, e.g. black skin attracting discrimination, etc) back in 1984, but since then there has been other work that changes the picture, e.g. that of James Flynn, Will Dickens, and Richard Nisbett. It's unclear what a poll done today would reveal.

The experiments that would give huge likelihood ratios just haven't been done. Transracial adoption studies have been very few, flawed in design, and delivered conflicting results. And so far, genomics has revealed almost nothing positive about the genetic architecture of intelligence in any ethnicity, much less differences between ethnicities. Cheap genome sequencing may well bring answers there in the next 5-7 years, pinning down this debate with utterly overwhelming evidence, but it hasn't done so yet.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T12:15:56.843Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I responded to this here:

http://fortaleza84.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/the-race-and-iq-question/

comment by Rain · 2010-03-16T14:23:05.712Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since you posted the link in two locations, I'll add that I responded to this downthread.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-09-26T10:04:32.180Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with discussing racial differences is that when people say "black", they're already making inherent assumptions about genetics. "Black" incorporates an incredible amount of genetic diversity, far more than the label "white". The common error in these debates is that an awful lot of the population will see the label "black" and fail to distinguish between all people labelled as such. People distinguish between, say, east Asians and south-east Asians and Indians, but they say "black" as if all of Africa are the same.

Look at the performance at the Olympics running races. Would you note the fact that "100m winners are always black"? Would you be willing to make the statement that "black people are naturally better sprinters"? How about distance runners? As it turns out, the good sprinters are usually Jamaican or African-American, with little success from Africa itself. The good distance runners almost entirely come from the Nandi area of Kenya - hardly representative of Africa as a whole. Plenty of areas of Africa have fewer good runners, and probably lots of areas have just the same proportion as European countries.

I'd venture to say that there might be black ethnicities which are on average less intelligent, or have behavioural differences - after all, there are black ethnicities that average around 4ft tall. But will that difference makes any meaningful average when you're talking about "black" people? There are for more genetic variations within racial groups than between them, if you're willing to count "black" as a racial group. I personally don't like generalising in such a non-meaningful way. Compare to people of a specific ancestral origin, if you must compare. Comparing with the average of every ethnicity in Africa, without concern for your sampling bias giving you an inaccurate average (by using statements like "blacks are..." or "blacks have..."), does seem a bit, well, racist.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T11:02:46.854Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with discussing racial differences is that when people say "black", they're already making inherent assumptions about genetics. "Black" incorporates an incredible amount of genetic diversity, far more than the label "white".

I don't see why this is necessarily a problem. For example, if I observed that generally speaking, the South is warmer than Minnesota, I would be correct even though the South incorporates a lot more geographic diversity than Minnesota.

People distinguish between, say, east Asians and south-east Asians and Indians, but they say "black" as if all of Africa are the same.

For purposes of this discussion, it's a reasonable category. If there were a large subgroup of blacks which was highly intelligent, then it might be appropriate to use different categories.

Would you note the fact that "100m winners are always black"?

Generally speaking, yes.

Would you be willing to make the statement that "black people are naturally better sprinters"?

Probably not, since sprinting ability seems concentrated in a subgroup of blacks. (Relatively) low intelligence does not seem to be this way.

Perhaps more importantly, either way you look at it, it doesn't change the fact that genetics is partly responsible for the black/white sprinting gap.

But will that difference makes any meaningful average when you're talking about "black" people?

I would say "yes" in the same way that the South is generally warmer than Minnesota. Put another way, I'm not aware of any subgroup of blacks which stands out in terms of intelligence. But even if there were, it would not change the fact that there is a black/white IQ gap and genetics is responsible for a lot of it.

There are for more genetic variations within racial groups than between them,

Assuming that's true, so what?

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-09-26T11:40:00.450Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It means that there are few contexts where you might ask me "are blacks less intelligent than whites on average" without me saying anything more than "insufficient data: error bars too big".

And any scientist who researches the issue (or indeed anyone taken seriously who discusses the issue) and uses the term "black people" without considering whether or not they really mean "all black people" or even "a representative average of all black people" are being very misleading if they report it using that wording, considering the biases of the general public.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T15:47:11.798Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It means that there are few contexts where you might ask me "are blacks less intelligent than whites on average" without me saying anything more than "insufficient data: error bars too big".

I'm not sure I understand this. Are you denying that there is a statistically significant difference in intelligence (as measured by IQ) between blacks and whites?

considering the biases of the general public.

So you are saying that special rules need to apply when discussing race and intelligence?

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-26T15:58:20.995Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you denying that there is a statistically significant difference in intelligence (as measured by IQ) between blacks and whites?

I think the point is, such a statement is not useful, considering the huge number of different groups that can be classed as "black" and "white."

So you are saying that special rules need to apply when discussing race and intelligence?

Well when reporting findings, its important to do so in a way which conveys the meaning correctly to the intended audience. And Sarokae did originally say

are being very misleading if they report it using that wording, considering the biases of the general public.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T16:09:28.989Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the point is, such a statement is not useful, considering the huge number of different groups that can be classed as "black" and "white."

Does this principle apply just to statements concerning intelligence? Or does it apply to any perceived racial difference which may be due to genetics, in part or in whole?

Also, does it apply only to human racial groups? Or does the same thing apply to all biological groupings?

Well when reporting findings, its important to do so in a way which conveys the meaning correctly to the intended audience

Perhaps, but I think that when discussing things on this discussion board, the statement "Group X is more Y than Group Z" can be reasonably understood to mean that if you measure quality Y, then in general and on average, members of Group X have a higher measurement for Y than members of Group Z. Further, it doesn't imply that every last member of each group has been measured.

Certainly that's what I mean.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-26T21:58:21.803Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I reckon the principle applies in general - there's too much diversity within the classification "black" for it to be particularly useful, I reckon. Perhaps if it was geographically specific, it might be more useful.

It applies to all biological groupings that are sufficiently broad.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T22:15:10.772Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I reckon the principle applies in general - there's too much diversity within the classification "black" for it to be particularly useful, I reckon. Perhaps if it was geographically specific, it might be more useful.

So the same reasoning would apply to the categories commonly referred to as "worms," "birds," "penguins," "bears," "elephants," "baboons," "chimpanzees," "rats," and "mice," Agreed?

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-26T22:20:14.083Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see your point but I'm not sure I agree. Perhaps I'm just reluctant to think in those terms, but I don't think that's it. I'm not thinking of this in terms of PC, just in terms of usefulness.

I'm having trouble thinking up an analogy to explain my point; I'll think about it and see if I can. If not, guess I need to start over.

EDIT: Actually, if we replace "intelligence" with a less loaded or emotive quality, say "height", I think I'd still be inclined not to consider it useful. But as I say, I'll have a think about this.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-09-27T09:16:56.872Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to add a note here: using the "height" example, suppose I told you that research has shown black people were on average shorter than white people. Then, it turns out, that my sample of "blacks" was from the area with the pigmy ethnicities, and if I excluded those from my definition of "blacks" then they were on average taller than white people. This is an extreme example, but here the statement "the mean height of black people is less than the mean height of white people" might be TRUE, but it won't be USEFUL.

This is because your sample of black people contains within it many separate distributions for the same attribute, and simply taking their mean is not helpful. I'm merely saying that in an unhomogeneous group, averages are more likely to be misleading.

Sure, a set of equal numbers of mice and elephants are on average bigger than a set of guinea pigs, but that's not a useful statement. And a generalisation from that particular sample to "short-haired animals are bigger than long-haired animals" would be outrightly unjustifiable from your data.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T22:47:41.963Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

His point isn't actually very good -- "worms" isn't a single category about which you could make many meaningful statements on average either (well, you try coming up with many non-vague true statements that universally apply to platyhelminths, polychaetes, annelids, nematodes...).

Linneaus coined the taxon vermes to hold any non-arthropod invertebrate. Later, cladistics came along and demolished the idea that it was ever a useful biological group.

Whereas "elephants" consists of just a handful of living species in two genera, so we shouldn't be surprised that they have a lot in common -- and even then, if you over-presume on those similarities when making theories, you'll wind up wrong because you didn't realize the ways in which they can differ.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T23:53:21.794Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

worms" isn't a single category about which you could make many meaningful statements on average

I don't see what difference this makes. If someone were to observe that "elephants" are generally speaking larger than "worms," the fact that the two categories are extremely diverse would not preclude you from reasonably asking whether the difference was due to genetics.

The statement that "blacks" have lower IQs than "whites" is both meaningful and true.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-27T00:38:33.031Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not think you understand biology (either in the context of the race/IQ discussion or in general) well enough for it to be worth arguing with you further.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T00:45:44.202Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree. What I'm doing is to take the exact criticisms made of categories like "blacks" and "whites" and applying them to other biological categories in order to show that there's a double standard at work.

What exactly am I missing?

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-08T01:47:51.167Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're missing the fact that people are arguing "but the groups are heterogeneous" when they mean "but the different means might be within a standard deviation of each other because single groups have a spread much wider than the difference between them". That would apply when trying to ascertain whether, say, worms are larger than insects, but NOT when trying to ascertain whether worms are larger than elephants, because the difference between the largest and smallest worms is probably a lot bigger than the difference between the average size of a worm and the average size of an insect. On the other hand, the average size of an elephant is greater than the average size of a worm (any worm) by way more than the biggest worm is bigger than the smallest worm.

Suppose I got together all the worms and all the insects and measured their volume, and found the mean size of a worm and the mean size of an insect. And suppose (I have no idea what the truth is here, but it seems about as plausible as anything else) that I found that on average worms are smaller than insects. Would that be meaningful? I don't think it would be useful to know.

How big an IQ gap are you saying exists? Are we talking as much as a standard deviation? Then maybe it would be important (if true). But if so, genetics isn't the only possible explanation. I'd expect upbringing and class to be very important, as well as quality of public schools where they live, perhaps so much so that a genetic difference, if any, could be completely overwhelmed.

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T09:50:28.220Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

but the different means might be within a standard deviation of each other because single groups have a spread much wider than the difference between them

I don't recall anyone arguing that in this thread, but this argument -- to the extent it makes any sense at all -- lacks merit.

Let's take your analogy.

Suppose I got together all the worms and all the insects and measured their volume, and found the mean size of a worm and the mean size of an insect. And suppose (I have no idea what the truth is here, but it seems about as plausible as anything else) that I found that on average worms are smaller than insects. Would that be meaningful?

To make things simple, let's assume that there are 100 species of worms and 100 species of insects and 1,000,000 individuals from each species. Let's further assume that there is an animal known as the African Aardvark which eats both worms and insects (and has equal access to all), but eats only individuals greater than a certain size. Now suppose it is observed that the African Aardvark eats 75% insects and 25% worms, and we are presented with two hypotheses to explain this observation: (1) The African Aardvark likes the taste of insects better than that of worms; or (2) the African Aardvark prefers larger individuals to smaller individuals.

In evaluating which of the two hypotheses is correct, is it useful (or meaningful) to know that on average worms are smaller than insects? (And you can assume that the two groups each have a spread much wider than the difference between them.)

But if so, genetics isn't the only possible explanation.

I'm not sure what this means. To be sure, genetics is not the only reason for the black/white iq gap. At the same time, there is no non-genetic explanation which (1) explains the gap; and (2) is not ridiculous.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-08T22:03:57.066Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be sure, genetics is not the only reason for the black/white iq gap. At the same time, there is no non-genetic explanation which (1) explains the gap; and (2) is not ridiculous.

I don't quite understand how you didn't just contradict yourself.

However, if you want a non-ridiculous, non-genetic explanation that explains the gap, try this one: while whites came to America with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, the biggest group of black Americans today is descended from slaves, and until recently, there was extreme racial segregation. Hence, rather than just assimilating, they as a group have ended up forming a subculture. (If you don't believe that, look at the world and try again.) Not all African Americans live in ghettos, but a greater percentage of them than of whites do. (Similarly, not all of them are stupid.) Among their subculture, poverty is high, teenage pregnancy is high, single mothers are common and violence is really common. In such an environment, they're not likely to have highly-educated parents to nurture their intellectual development. Meanwhile, worldwide, large numbers of blacks live in Africa, which is 1. not a good place, and 2. full of primitive peoples, resulting not only in people (the common people) having less access to education, but also to cultural biases skewing IQ test readings.

Test that would distinguish between this theory and genetics: study IQ among African Americans born after the Civil Rights Movement to married couples whose income is above the poverty line and who don't live in "bad neighborhoods". If the gap disappears, it's more likely environmental; if it doesn't, that may indicate a genetic difference. But taking the raw IQ data doesn't distinguish between these; it merely rules out the hypothesis that there are neither genetic nor environmental differences. Since there may even be a big enough population now to survey, someone should do it. The only problem I can think of here is that people who rise above poverty are already selected for intelligence (as well as persistence and work ethic).

In evaluating which of the two hypotheses is correct, is it useful (or meaningful) to know that on average worms are smaller than insects? (And you can assume that the two groups each have a spread much wider than the difference between them.)

Ah, now I see. I couldn't think of a reason why it would matter in everyday life, because it's more reliable to just ascertain whether or not people are actually intelligent by getting to know them, not using deeply flawed binary heuristics. However, now I see that you're worried about whether people will end up assuming someone is being racist when they're not. That's fair. In the current political climate, it's a big risk, for everyone. In that case, whether it's genetic or environmental doesn't really matter, though.

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T22:33:20.988Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

However, if you want a non-ridiculous, non-genetic explanation that explains the gap, try this one:

Respectfully, that explanation is ridiculous. If you wish to debate it with me further, please read my blog post and respond there.

However, now I see that you're worried about whether people will end up assuming someone is being racist when they're not

Some one, or some organization. Anyway, the issue you are addressing is a slightly different one from what I raised. Basically you are making the "who cares" argument. But the reality is that our society cares very much, just like many Europeans in the middle ages cared very much about devotion to Christianity. Publicly pointing out the weaknesses in the Christian position could get you into serious trouble back then, just like pointing out the truth about race and intelligence can evoke a lot of hostility in modern day Western world.

comment by AspiringKnitter · 2012-01-08T23:01:16.098Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you wish to debate it with me further, please read my blog post and respond there.

What blog post?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-27T01:11:59.405Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What you are missing is context -- the context to understand what you are arguing about, and the limits of your analogy.

Additionally, you are missing the context needed to understand why the larger argument you're making cannot effectively be made in those terms. I am no longer interested in discussing it with you.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T01:23:16.392Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What you are missing is context -- the context to understand what you are arguing about, and the limits of your analogy.

Exactly what context? The history of subjugation and oppression on the basis of race?

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T22:39:09.554Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fundamentally, the point is that reasoning about race should be subject to the exact same standards as reasoning about any other kinds of categories.

In regular life, and even in science, people readily accept categories which are somewhat arbitrary; which are difficult to define around the edges; which contain pairs of elements more different than some pairs of elements, only one of which is contained in the category; and so on.

I think that for various emotional reasons, people tend to get wound up over the categories "black" and "white" but such considerations should not affect rationalists.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-26T22:51:42.569Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with you here; I don't think I'm getting wound up for emotional reasons, I just don't think the category is necessarily a partiuclarly useful one, but for reasons I can't really articulate. (I am not knowledgeable about statistics and the relevant terminology.)

But yes, there's no reason to adopt new rules for reason on any topic - that wasn't what I was arguing, and it's clearly counter-rational.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-09-26T23:57:49.472Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

for reasons I can't really articulate. (I am not knowledgeable about statistics and the relevant terminology.

We'll be all right without formal terminology. I'm not at all sure what it is you're trying to get at, and I'd be perfectly happy with you describing it as a metaphor, or an example, or really anything other than "I can't explain why I believe this."

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-28T19:47:10.624Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excuse delay getting back to this.

Okay, I think I can explain. Let's say that we have 5 ethnic groups under the umbrella "black." All of approximately equal size. Groups A and B are found to, in general, be slightly above average intelligence, C and D are about equal, and E are significantly below. The average intelligence for "blacks" is now below average, and this is mathematically correct, while in reality, 4 out 5 black people you meet will tend to be of average or higher intelligence.

Perhaps this is a common statistical fallacy, but this is what I mean about the classification being too broad to be useful; with such a broad area to work from, with no internal distinctions being made in a hugely diverse category, the data isn't all that interesting or enlightening.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-09-28T22:47:58.662Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, that makes sense. The next obvious question, though, is why you think that the category of people labeled "black" fits this pattern, instead of, say, a Gaussian distribution.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-28T23:13:00.235Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I don't neccessarily think it does fit this pattern, I'm just saying it's a possibility, and there's no particular reason to consider it an unlikely possibility. On the other hand, seeing as the argument linking race to intelligence seems to be based on genetics, I feel that there is too much of a broad genetic sample within "black" for race to be a reliable indicator of intelligence, as I outline above.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-09-29T01:26:58.031Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is also no reason to consider it to be more likely than the possibility that there are groups A and B with intelligence slightly less than the mean (of everyone in the category "black"), groups C and D about equal, and a group E significantly above average, in which case your argument that the mean value of IQ unfairly discriminates against blacks is exactly reversed.

I see no reason to consider it more likely that the mean unfairly discriminates against blacks as opposed to the hypothesis that the mean unfairly inflates the "true" average intelligence of that group. Your argument that there are multiple ethnic groups is correct, and that does mean that we should give a lower weight to the mean value of IQ. It does not mean that we are licensed to believe that this value is off in one particular direction, because that direction is what we would like to be true.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-29T06:52:17.661Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, but you're strawmanning me here. I never said that IQ discriminated any particular direction, I was arguing that black is too large a group, contaning too much diversity, to give useful results one way or the other. I just happened to choose that specific example.

I've made it pretty clear it's not about what I want to think.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-09-28T20:22:29.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this is, in fact, a common statistical fallacy: using the mean instead of the median to represent "average".

comment by dlthomas · 2011-09-28T20:49:42.080Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Median is often better, but not always - it depends on the purpose you wish to put the data to. With anything less than the full distribution, you'll be able to hit some cases in which it can mislead you.

Edited to add:

Specifically - if you are interested in totals, mean is usually a more useful "average". Multiplying the total number of water balloons by the average amount of water in a balloon gives you a much better estimate (exact, in theory) with mean than with median. If you are interested in individuals, median is usually better; if I am asking if the next water balloon will have more than X amount of water, median is a much more informative number. Neither is going to well represent a multimodal distribution, which we might expect to be dealing with in the great*-grandparent's case anyway if the hypothesis of a strong genetic component to variation in intelligence does in fact hold.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-09-29T01:35:56.376Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point. You should select a metric that would be most useful in any given situation, be it the mean, the median, or anything else.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-28T20:37:14.174Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah; so I'm misunderstanding what brazil84 means by average?

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-09-29T01:38:50.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I think his example of 5 ethnic groups is flawed, because he's using the wrong metric to calculate the average. If he was using the median instead of the mean -- which is the right thing to do in this case -- he'd obtain the result that "most blacks have average intelligence", and his conclusion would no longer follow.

(Edited: typo)

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-09-29T06:55:45.884Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The 5 ethnic groups was mine originally.

But then I have to consider the scenario where the median gives the result of below averge intelligence - will take me slightly longer to puzzle out in my head.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-26T22:49:51.280Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. More like Jellyfish. Which isn't a valid taxonomic grouping. This has hardly anything to do with the Race and IQ issue. There are valid taxonomies that recognizably relate to race- but in addition recognizable groupings like "European" and "East Asian" you end up with a bunch different African groupings.

It is not unreasonable to expect people making socially controversial hypotheses to do so by referring to real entities.

(ETA: Worms too as Jandila points out)

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T23:06:45.941Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I understand your point. Bill_McGrath seems to say that statements about "blacks" are not useful (whatever that means) because the group "blacks" contains too much diversity. And yet all of the categories I listed contain far more diversity than "blacks," at least as far as I know.

It is not unreasonable to expect people making socially controversial hypotheses to do so by referring to real entities.

How do I know if an entity is "real" or not?

comment by Jack · 2011-09-27T00:15:58.730Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look, there is an infinite number of conceivable groupings and an infinite number of variables you could use to compare those groupings. You've chosen to spend your time comparing a group you call "white people" with a group you call "black people" along a variable you call IQ. Now, there are lots of reasons to wonder about group variation of IQ-- we might be interested in evolutionary anthropology questions like how intelligence (or whatever IQ tests) evolved, we might be interested in the relationship between IQ and cultural development, we might want to answer social policy questions that depend on average group IQ.

We should therefore use the groupings that are most useful in helping us understand these questions. "Black", "white" and "yellow" are not those groupings. This is trivially true for all but the social policy question. If you don't understand this then you don't understand basic population genetics. With regard to the social policy question- the right groupings are the ones you're talking about setting social policy for.

You are comparing two groups. The choice of these two groups specifically is not justified by their utility in answering a scientific or political question. Moreover, this particular division is the result of centuries of subjugation and oppression. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that you would have chosen these two groups were it not for the fact that you are part of a culture that persists in thinking in terms of these groups. And the variable you've chosen to compare them along is one which we routinely use to judge a person's value. Since your choice of groupings is not helpful in answering scientific or policy questions. And since intelligence is constantly used in judging someone's value-- people will justifiably suspect you of choosing these groups in order to make judgments about how valuable they are.

(The third paragraph is what people mean when they say you're being racist for arguing this. Something is real if it figures in our best scientific theory of the relevant domain)

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T00:41:47.616Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

With regard to the social policy question- the right groupings are the ones you're talking about setting social policy for.

As far as social policy goes, it seems to me that it's people who are most upset about the black/white IQ gap who are also most insistent on making use of these groups. For example by counting the number of blacks versus whites who pass a firefighters' examination and insisting that the examination must be unfair in some way because blacks fail the exam disproportionately.

In a world with anti-discrimination laws that specifically apply to race, it's totally reasonable to compare those groups in terms of IQ and reasonably ask how much of the difference is due to genetics.

Since your choice of groupings is not helpful in answering scientific or policy questions. And since intelligence is constantly used in judging someone's value-- people will justifiably suspect you of choosing these groups in order to make judgments about how valuable they are.

Assuming that's all true, so what? It doesn't change the fact that there is a black/white IQ gap and one can ask whether the gap is largely genetic in origin.

Indeed, the fact that you are questioning my motivations and talking about "centuries of subjugation and oppression" illustrates my original point very well.

Something is real if it figures in our best scientific theory of the relevant domain

Can you provide a couple examples of this?

comment by Jack · 2011-09-27T00:56:17.516Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you provide a couple examples of this?

neutrinos, Homo Sapiens, Helium, the Dravidian language group, ribosomes, spacetime, Tectonic plates, igneous rock, the mesosphere, Jupiter, the Inca, Abraham Lincoln.

Assuming that's all true, so what? It doesn't change the fact that there is a black/white IQ gap and one can ask whether the gap is largely genetic in origin.

I'm not arguing the question with you. I gave that up a long time ago. I'm asking you to use scientifically respectable, non-racist terminology when you talk about group difference and IQ. You can easily state your hypothesis in scientifically recognized terms.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T01:22:02.724Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Homo Sapiens . . . the Dravidian language group,

And what scientific theories are these categories part of?

I'm asking you to use scientifically respectable, non-racist terminology when you talk about group difference and IQ

Why should I?

You can easily state your hypothesis in scientifically recognized terms.

Well, consider the hypothesis that the black/white IQ gap is due to racism. How would you state this in scientifically recognized terms?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-09-27T02:25:42.741Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And what scientific theories are these categories part of?

I really don't think science has much to do with the bulk (or strength) of objections you will get on this subject. You're doing yourself no good by continuing to argue about it. Even the terrible arguments made against you will receive positive support by virtue of being sandwitched between two of yours - reading need not be involved.

It is probably better to make the ethnic-group references a bit more specific than a two category split. It is fairly clear what 'black/white' labels refer to in countries with two clear dominant ethnic groups of appropriate melanin levels but less useful if trying for a worldwide reference. Then the references become more ambiguous. I suggest making your stand somewhere a bit more secure than the 'black' word. Your main point is a bit deeper than that.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T11:06:43.571Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really don't think science has much to do with the bulk (or strength) of objections you will get on this subject.

I agree. The problem is that people see "racism" as evil, hurtful, low status, etc. Just like they viewed atheism that way a few hundred years ago. Which is kinda the point.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-09-27T15:13:52.824Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wish to explicitly distance myself from the analogy you use. The implications are not desirable (and in a way that is not quite accurate either).

comment by Jack · 2011-09-27T01:45:09.398Z · score: 0 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And what scientific theories are these categories part of?

Google it.

Why should I?

Because you don't like hurting people? Because racism is evil? Because racism is low status? Because you would look less stupid? Because it would be less embarrassing for all of Less Wrong? Because you prefer to avoid downvotes?

I'm done.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T11:03:51.935Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Google it.

It's not really my responsibility to do research trying to figure out what you mean by "real entity." Is "elephants" a "real entity"? What about "worms"? Is "the South" a real entity? What about "Minnesota"?

Because you don't like hurting people? Because racism is evil? Because racism is low status? Because you would look less stupid? Because it would be less embarrassing for all of Less Wrong? Because you prefer to avoid downvotes?

This illustrates my point very well. A few hundred years ago, someone might have argued that atheism is hurtful, evil, low status, embarassing, and makes you look stupid. But none of these things affect the fundamental correctness or incorrectness of atheism.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-27T16:20:40.108Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not really my responsibility to do research trying to figure out what you mean by "real entity." Is "elephants" a "real entity"? What about "worms"? Is "the South" a real entity? What about "Minnesota"?

You asked "What scientific theories are these categories from?" For most of the examples I gave this answer was obvious and had you not before heard of, say, ribosomes, you could google and quickly determine a ribosome is a entity from cell biology. You have a history of making people defend extended and irrelevant points so as to avoid ever conceding any point -- so I don't take your request at face value. And if you don't already know 'Helium' comes from chemistry then you need to drastically reduce your confidence in lots of your beliefs. By way of analogy, matter was once believed to consist of five elements. It turned out Aristotelian cosmology was not a theory that helped us answer many important questions so we stopped believing in quintessence. Similarly, "blacks, whites, reds and yellows" is not a theory of human genetic difference at all adequate for answering interesting questions in population genetics or anthropology.

The preposterous thing about this is that I don't actually strongly disagree with your position. I think you're wildly overconfident but I don't think and have never said that positing group IQ differences due to genetics along groups that roughly correspond to some traditional racial categories is by definition racist or even likely to be wrong.

This illustrates my point very well. A few hundred years ago, someone might have argued that atheism is hurtful, evil, low status, embarassing, and makes you look stupid. But none of these things affect the fundamental correctness or incorrectness of atheism.

For the third time: it is the way you talk about these issues involving race, genetics and IQ that is hurtful, low status, etc. You seem to be under the misconception that because (you think) your beliefs are true you have the right to offend people when you share them. This may be the case if people are offended by the content of the beliefs. But it is not the case when people are offended by the way you state your beliefs. Less Wrong would not tolerate posts of the kind one finds at r/atheism despite nearly everyone here agreeing with their propositional content. Those posts would get downvoted because they do not rise to Less Wrong standards- despite being trivially true. I don't think it is too great a burden on people discussing this issue that they have a passing familiarity with population genetics and anthropology.

This debate should look like the exchange between cupholder and steve hsu not, well this.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T16:50:28.351Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

" For most of the examples I gave this answer was obvious

I limited my request to two of the "real entities" you named. "Homo Sapiens" and the "Dravidian Language Group."

It's not obvious to me what scientific theories these categories come from and I will not guess at what you mean.

I also asked you whether "elephants," "worms" "The South," or "Minnesota" are "real entities." You have not answered my question.

I also asked you to state a particular hypothesis in "scientific terms," which you apparently think would be easy. You have not done so.

In short, I am trying to figure out your point and you are not making it easy for me.

as to avoid ever conceding any point

Exactly what point do you think I should concede?

Similarly, "blacks, whites, reds and yellows" is not a theory of human genetic difference at all adequate for answering interesting questions in population genetics or anthropology.

Even assuming this is true, it doesn't change the fact that the black/white IQ gap is largely due to genetics. In short, it's a red herring.

Let me ask you this:

Suppose I divide up human beings into three races:

Race 1: Ethnic Swedes plus people born in Maine;

Race 2: Ethnic Japanese plus people born in Sri Lanka;

Race 3: Everyone else.

Would you agree that this racial division is "inadequate foranswering interesting questions in population genetics or anthropology."?

For the third time: it is the way you talk about these issues involving race, genetics and IQ that is hurtful, low status, etc

Lol, the exact point of raising the genetic basis of the black/white IQ difference is because it is considered one of the most offensive, hurtful things to say in the West in the 21st century.

comment by shokwave · 2011-09-27T11:55:51.390Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But none of these things affect the fundamental correctness or incorrectness of atheism.

If atheists had not kowtowed to popular opinion as some wish you would, more would have been burned at the stake; more effort would have been put into refutations of atheism, and more time spent on indoctrination of religion as right and atheists as evil non-humans. It's possible that this could have meant that today there would not be places where the fundamental correctness of atheism could be asserted. In many ways atheism thrives only because religions put so little effort into competing!

By the same token, the net effect of pissing off a portion of LessWrong by using fundamentally correct "racist" terminology may push back recognition of such fundamental correctness. In aggregate it may solidify political correctness into an unassailable fortress!

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-27T13:54:13.625Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something about this pro-appeasement argument strikes me as really wrong, though I wish I were able to better explain why. It just seems to me that the people historically interested in the rule of religion - say, Church hierarchy - would find it better for their agendas that any closet atheists should keep kowtowing rather than become vocal about their disbelief. Surely if nobody ever challenged orthodox ideas, they'd never get overturned?

Well, I'm no historian. But in any case, if a medievial equivalent of Less Wrong, some group of people unusually interested in forming true beliefs formed in those times, then they should be able to discuss atheism at least among themselves, surely. It would be contrary to their common goal to do otherwise. It might prevent them from figuring out that atheism is probably correct, you see.

Sure, atheism may be low status and immoral and evil and "not useful" to know about if true - but if for whatever reason they already decided they are interested in forming true beliefs, then they should consider atheism anyway.

We're on Less Wrong because we are unusually interested in pursuing true beliefs, and methods of forming them. If other factors such as political correctness or some people's being sensitive about some topics or whatever get in the way of that, then so much the worse for those other factors. If we have to commit heresies and be offensive to our age's moral fashions to get closer to truth, then let us commit heresies and be offensive.

Not that I'm in favor of alienating anyone for its own sake, or when it's avoidable at negligible cost to the discussion's clarity and usefulness (i.e. by phrasing things neutrally and not taking potshots). All I'm saying is, let's not let get mind-killed too easily. Currently Less Wrong strikes me as the best place in the entire Internet to pursue intelligent, sane discussion, and possibly even change your mind. Even on topics that would never have a chance in other environments.

I'd hate to see this quality diluted. For what?

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T16:19:37.045Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree largely with MarkusRamikin's response, but I would add that you are basically speculating here. It's also possible that if atheists had been more vocal, their views would have more quickly become tolerated.

I agree that highly emotional issues such as race and intelligence are problematic to discuss, but Eliezer kind of opened the door by talking about atheism as a test of rationality. Today, atheism is much more accepted, at least in the West, so it's not as good as a test. That naturally leads to the question as to what our taboos are in America in the 21st century.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-09-27T11:47:40.622Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just a short note, since I posted on a different branch in detail: what matters isn't the absolute magnitude of diversity within the group itself, but the difference in magnitude of the differences within and the differences between the groups you compare.

So you can make a fairly diverse set {mice, elephants and rhinos}, as a sample of mammals that are grey-brown, and compare them on some attribute, say size, with some other set. It would be a clear contrast with the a set containing three diverse species of bacteria, somewhat less clear next to a set containing three species of unrelated reptiles, and probably not a sensible comparison against some arbitrary three mammals that are orange-brown. You can form true conclusions in all three comparisons, but I'm asking whether all of those conclusions are useful.

ETA: What I don't know, which stops me from forming a strong opinion on the matter, is how big the genetic variation within the group we're calling "white" is. It could be that white people are a very closely related group, in which case it would be useful to investigate a statement like "the group we call "white" are, on average, one of the groups of humans which have higher IQ. As a result they have higher average IQ than the much more diverse group of we call "black"."

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-27T16:01:27.915Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just a short note, since I posted on a different branch in detail: what matters isn't the absolute magnitude of diversity within the group itself, but the difference in magnitude of the differences within and the differences between the groups you compare.

I disagree. For example, imagine that Group A is Loxodonta Africana Africana and Group B is "worms"

It's both meaningful and true to assert that members of Group A are larger than members of Group B.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2011-09-26T23:31:16.316Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with discussing racial differences is that when people say "black", they're already making inherent assumptions about genetics. "Black" incorporates an incredible amount of genetic diversity, far more than the label "white".

I don't see why this is necessarily a problem. For example, if I observed that generally speaking, the South is warmer than Minnesota, I would be correct even though the South incorporates a lot more geographic diversity than Minnesota.

More usefully put, blacks are paraphyletic.

Of course, this hardly affects the extremely general point about IQ differences and ideology.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T16:20:57.935Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are for more genetic variations within racial groups than between them, if you're willing to count "black" as a racial group.

Nailed it. Racial groups are an idea a few centuries old; we've had a functional understanding of genetics for less than a hundred years.

Long before we had any ability to group people by ancestry in a reliable way, a bunch of distinct populations were grouped by the people of a tiny corner of the globe according to nothing more salient than skin color, and by the fact they often lived hunter-gatherer lifestyles (viewed by the Europeans as unconscionably primitive no matter how happy and prosperous the people themselves were) or low-tech agricultural and pastoralist ones (viewed similarly, insofar as industrializing European populations considered those lifestyles representative of ancestral, earlier times). A whole bunch of these peoples wound up colonial subjects; any intergroup strife between them or conditions they considered normal but Europeans found backward was used to. These marginalized, conquered, exploited peoples did pretty much what marginalized, conquered, exploited peoples anywhere and anytime have done in that situation: their cultures, lifeways, institutions and so on fragmented under the strain, existing tensions amplified, resources became increasingly scarce for the majority, and access to health and wealth plummeted as they went from their own former economies to the bottom rung of another civilization's.

The Europeans with decisionmaking power largely looked at all this and concluded that the members of this group were a sorry lot and perhaps conquest was better for them than leaving them to their own devices. In some places throughout the greater colonial Eurosphere, they were still legal to own as property until relatively recently.

Then, long after their marginalized status had had centuries to take root, someone discovers the basis for genetic inheritance, and a comparitively short time after, that the populations grouped as "black" (which includes a huge number of quite-distinct groups in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia as well as their descendant diasporas elsewhere) are the single most diverse human subgroup on the planet. Oops.

sarcasm Well, no matter -- they clearly haven't done as well on the world stage as European-descended whites, and why are you getting upset that we'd want to ask why? It must be genetic, we've got centuries of evidence that these people just don't do as well! /sarcasm

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T16:28:40.597Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I agree with your view of colonialism. Europeans did not uniformly judge all of the non-white peoples they encountered so it's not just a matter of ethnic chauvinism.

More importantly, none of what you said changes the facts that (1) there is a group of people in the world known as "blacks"; (2) there is a group of people in the world known as "whites"; (3) there is a large an intractable difference in intelligence between these groups; and (4) it's reasonable to ask whether genetics might play a significant role in this gap.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T16:52:14.497Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I agree with your view of colonialism.

What specific historical details do you contest?

Europeans did not uniformly judge all of the non-white peoples they encountered so it's not just a matter of ethnic chauvinism.

But they did pretty-uniformly judge the peoples they grouped into the category "black", which just to be clear is the group I specified and the group you're talking about too.

(1) there is a group of people in the world known as "blacks";

Who were originally grouped long ago, on the basis of the exceedingly superficial detail of skin color, a trait that turned out to be a red herring since they don't form a "natural group" in the sense that was assumed originally.

(2) there is a group of people in the world known as "whites";

See previous, with the added note that this level of grouping didn't take as thoroughly or as readily outside the colonies.

(3) there is a large an intractable difference in intelligence between these groups;

Disagreed. There is a large, thus-far intractable difference in performance on IQ tests between these groups; we do not concur as to what IQ tests are measuring, let alone the reasons for that.

and (4) it's reasonable to ask whether genetics might play a significant role in this gap.

But, given what we now know about the genetics of the groups in question, it's privileging the hypothesis to treat "blacks" as a natural group as opposed to a socially-constructed one, and given the many other plausible hypotheses not contradicted by evidence (and the data about historical power asymmetries in their interactions) it's hardly as primarily or all-consumingly interesting to focus on genetics, when there are so many other relevant factors that turn out not to be undermined by biology.

Just because the genetic evidence has come in does not mean that centuries of racism vanished overnight, and the idea of blacks as a natural group and the differences between them and whites as attributable to genetic factors are quite a bit older than our understanding of what genetics even was. It's no surprise they're still kicking around, influencing white intellectual types who've never personally been on the oppressed side of the equation and can't easily understand what all the fuss is about and why people might get so angry that they're still trying to talk about it in those terms...

comment by FAWS · 2011-09-26T17:19:24.310Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that the idea of skin-color defined races as the units you should look for genetic variation between is unhelpful in the context of pure science, but if you politically define all sub-par outcomes compared to the privileged group that are not caused by genes (or something else politically defined as untouchable) as needing to be fixed you need to know about genetic differences between politically defined groups to make sensible decisions.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T17:35:24.604Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But they did pretty-uniformly judge the peoples they grouped into the category "black", which just to be clear is the group I specified and the group you're talking about too.

I apologize, I thought you were referring to non-whites all over the world when you talked about distinct populations being grouped by skin color.

Who were originally grouped long ago, on the basis of the exceedingly superficial detail of skin color, a trait that turned out to be a red herring since they don't form a "natural group" in the sense that was assumed originally.

Well what is the criteria for deciding if a group of people form a "natural group"? And what difference does it make if they are a "natural group" or not?

For example, I could divide the world into 3 races as follows:

(1) Ethnic Swedes plus anyone who was born in Maine;

(2) Ethnic Japanese plus anyone who was born in Sri Lanka; and

(3) Everyone else.

Now one could observe that members of Race 1 are more likely to have blue eyes than members of Race 2 and ask whether the difference is genetic. The answer would be yes even though the races have been defined in a completely arbitrary manner.

There is a large, thus-far intractable difference in performance on IQ tests between these groups; we do not concur as to what IQ tests are measuring,

I disagree, I think it's pretty clear that IQ tests measure intelligence. But perhaps it's not something which needs to be resolved, because one can simply ask whether the IQ gap between blacks and whites is due in large part to genetic differences.

natural group as opposed to a socially-constructed one,

Again, what is the criteria for deciding whether you have a "natural group" or a "socially-constructed one"?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T18:17:39.044Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I apologize, I thought you were referring to non-whites all over the world when you talked about distinct populations being grouped by skin color.

"Black" has been used to refer to indigenous peoples of Subsaharan Africa, many parts of Asia, and Australia. Even some South American groups were once classed as "black."

Well what is the criteria for deciding if a group of people form a "natural group"?

Genetic relatedness, which I hope you'll agree is kind of relevant when discussing genetics.

For example, I could divide the world into 3 races as follows:

Irrelevant; I'm talking about how different groups were actually defined in history, not about the many arbitrary ways which one could choose to split up the world's human population.

Now one could observe that members of Race 1 are more likely to have blue eyes than members of Race > 2 and ask whether the difference is genetic. The answer would be yes even though the races have been defined in a completely arbitrary manner.

One could also observe that members of Race 2 in your scheme are more likely to eat a lot of rice than members of Race 1, and ask whether the difference is genetic. The answer would be no, even if the answer to some other possible question might be yes. People in Sri Lanka plus ethnically Japanese people tend to eat more rice due to history and local circumstances (the agricultural civilizations that most influenced them were rice-farming ones), not innate characteristics that predispose them to a diet high in rice.

I disagree

You disagree that we disagree? I'm afraid I have to disagree with that.

I think it's pretty clear that IQ tests measure intelligence.

Right, as I said: we disagree on that point; if you continue to assume it in your arguments with me you will not be inherently more-convincing because I believe your argument rests on flawed premises. I might be wrong about that, but my own priors do not concur with yours, and you won't get me to update mine by merely reasserting yours.

comment by Jack · 2011-09-26T19:01:06.816Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really recommend you look through the discussion on this subject from Spring 2010 (the ancestors and distant cousins of this thread) to make sure that a) the people you are going back and forth with are likely to argue honestly and productively on this subject and b) your contributions aren't repeating facts or myths that have already been covered many times before.

For obvious reasons, comments on this subject should be in the upper 10-20% of Less Wrong comments in terms of evidence cited, intellectual honesty, tone, grammar etc.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-09-26T19:33:57.995Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Genetic relatedness, which I hope you'll agree is kind of relevant when discussing genetics.

I don't understand this response. I am asking how one decides if a group is a "natural group" or a "socially-constructed" group. Simply answering "genetic relatedness" doesn't answer the question. I prefer not to guess at what you mean.

Irrelevant; I'm talking about how different groups were actually defined in history

Then I don't understand your argument. I thought you were arguing that (1) the group known as "blacks" are defined in an arbitrary manner; and therefore (2) it's not legitimate to claim that the black/white IQ gap has a large genetic component.

What exactly are you arguing?

One could also observe that members of Race 2 in your scheme are more likely to eat a lot of rice than members of Race 1, and ask whether the difference is genetic. The answer would be no, even if the answer to some other possible question might be yes.

I agree 100%. The point is that it's possible to define a "race" in a completely arbitrary manner; observe that 2 races are different; and reasonably ask whether the difference might be caused in whole or in part by genetics.

You disagree that we disagree?

I disagree with your claim about IQ tests and intelligence, but it's a separate issue.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-03-15T18:33:11.169Z · score: 10 (32 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you think this is obvious? While racial IQ differences certainly aren't ruled out a priori (Ashkenazi Jews are the quintessential example), Occamian reasoning about the black/white divide doesn't indicate that genetics is part of the best and most parsimonious explanation. There are adequate other factors at work - you can pick up a lot of data from studies on things like stereotype threat, for instance. And the fact that biracial children do better on IQ when the mother is the white parent than when the mother is black seems strong evidence to me that genetics are not the whole story, if they play any part at all.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-03-16T11:33:21.178Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What sort of human variable doesn't correlate with race? Are any of weight, height, blood pressure, athletic ability, or any other more measurable characteristic uncorrelated? How about if we measure these at birth, to work around environmental effects?

comment by Hook · 2010-03-16T12:02:07.779Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Athletic ability at birth isn't really all that variable. Besides, "at birth" doesn't eliminate in utero environmental effects.

Correlation with race does not mean genetic causation. Having 100% recent African ancestry correlates highly with living in Africa.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T05:48:12.435Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd like to suggest you taboo "athletic ability", as it seems more like a reference to a common stereotype about black people than a well-defined trait (if nothing else, long-jumping, hockey, cross-country skiing, soccer, distance swimming and mountain climbing seem like very different tasks that nevertheless might get called "athletic")

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-09-26T07:31:29.900Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point holds if you focus on just one particular tests rather than generalizing across many sports.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-18T07:07:21.381Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-03-18T17:51:56.167Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This would predict that the difference would be seen in biracial boys, but not in biracial girls. I've never heard anything to that effect - have you?

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-18T23:47:33.020Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-18T23:51:08.584Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-03-19T00:08:43.006Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can edit comments - there's a button to the right of the "parent" link at the bottom of each. That way you can make prompt additions like this without having to double-post.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-24T14:50:24.448Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T05:45:33.648Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Blacks have higher testosterone, a hormone that increases muscularity by decreases IQ(in large amounts) There is more testosterone in the uterine environment of a black women, and that may depress > IQ.

Citation please.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-09-26T02:16:03.306Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused by this prediction. Can you expand out your logic? Assuming these were X-linked wouldn't the races of the parents be what matters?

comment by Alicorn · 2011-09-26T03:42:49.004Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

biracial children do better on IQ when the mother is the white parent than when the mother is black

.

Actually, there is some evidence that many intelligence genes are carried on the X chromosome.

So, there's four cases, which I will give names: boy with a black mom and white dad ("Joe"), boy with white mom and black dad ("Rob"), girl with black mom and white dad ("Sal"), and girl with white mom and black dad ("Eve").

Joe has a black X chromosome and a white Y chromosome.

Rob has a white X chromosome and a black Y chromosome.

Sal and Eve both have one black and one white X chromosome.

If X chromosomes have lots of intelligence-related genes, and if white parents contribute smarter chromosomes than black parents do, then there's no difference between Sals and Eves (they've both got one of each), but Robs should be smarter than Joes on average, because Rob has his g-loaded genes from a white parent and Joe doesn't.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-09-26T03:55:53.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah. Ok. That makes sense. Thanks..

comment by jimrandomh · 2010-03-15T19:18:04.775Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the fact that biracial children do better on IQ when the mother is the white parent than when the mother is black seems strong evidence to me that genetics are not the whole story, if they play any part at all.

It is not evidence for that at all; an alternative explanation for the difference is that a child's intelligence depends to a significant degree on the prenatal environment, which is determined by the mother's genetics exclusively. I predict that the extra degree of correlation between a mother's and child's intelligence over the correlation between a father's and child's intelligence will be very close to equal to the degree of correlation between a genetically unrelated surrogate mother and child's intelligence.

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T19:52:54.586Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is not evidence for that at all

It may not be proof, but it's certainly evidence.

renatal environment, which is determined by the mother's genetics exclusively.

Err, what? Smoking? Just to name the most obvious counter example.

Mitochondrial DNA would also be a possibility ("white" mitochondria being optimized for neurons, "black" mitochondria for muscle cells, say), but environmental factors seems by far the most obvious explanation.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T05:51:19.000Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know as I'd call that a possibility, insofar as African populations have the widest variety of mitochondrial haplogroups (black vs white mitochondria? That's not biology, that's indulging the hypothesis so much you're willing to commit mental gymnastics on its behalf...)

comment by FAWS · 2011-09-26T08:39:10.093Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

African populations also have the greatest genetic variation in general. African Americans have somewhat less (but still a lot of) variation. African Americans also have considerable European ancestry, but little in the female line, and in so far as they have mtDNA of (recent) African origin they all have in common that they lack mtDNA of Euopean origin (which might have innovations that contribute to the effect observed). If you are willing to assume a genetic cause I don't see how you can a priori exclude a mitochondrial cause. I already made clear that it's not a hypothesis I'd ascribe much probability mass to.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T15:53:41.634Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not ruling it out a priori, I'm ruling it out based on domain-specific knowledge. There is no reason from first principles of predicate logic to assume half the stuff that's true and important in biology, but it's no less critical to reasoning correctly in that domain.

comment by FAWS · 2011-09-26T16:53:24.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, using the term a priori was imprecise. I'm not sure what I should have said instead, I can't think of anything that's both reasonably concise and meeting your apparent standards for precision. Maybe "it seems unreasonable that your prior for the hypothesis "a statistically traceable part of racial IQ variation is caused by mitochondrial DNA variation" should be so close to zero that the posterior probability assuming above evidence still is not even worth calling a possibility."?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T17:33:00.591Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My prior is based on the following:

-Mitochondrial DNA has 16,569 base pairs but only 13 of them code for protein (and most of those are dedicated to the electron transport chain, a pretty darn fundamental thing), so while the mutation rate of mtDNA is higher than nuclear DNA there's a limited number of possible variations that will have an effect. There's also a very constrained number of functional changes; most mutations of the protein-coding genes correspond to known mitochondrial diseases, which vary in their effects but do so on the basis of impaired mitochondrial activity globally. When mtDNA protein-coding regions shift, the result is usually one of the many known mitochondrial diseases, and it's under those conditions that you see a strong variance in the expressed protein-coding mtDNA between different organs of the body. When mitochondrial genetics produces varying effects between different tissues, it's not subtle -- you're basically talking about major, life-threatening illnesses or mosaic genetics here. Neither are common conditions; it's difficult to imagine a functional shift in protein-coding for this producing a subtle effect that remains undetectable for a long time.

-mtDNA recombines with itself during reproduction, so mutations along the mitochondrial line are very easily tracked (indeed, it's why we know what we do about human mitochondrial haplogroups, and why we can so readily understand which populations vary genetically by how much and when they seperated). Because one's mtDNA is not specific to the individual, there's a low effective population size for mtDNA changes While this does make it relatively easy for such changes to propagate upon mutation, it also makes them harder to miss when you go looking, and changes to protein-coding regions are even more obvious because there's only a few of them and mutations to those usually affect very fundamental elements of cytochemistry.. The suggestion that IQ differences stem from a mitochondrial DNA shift implies that it would be very, very easy to spot and isolate the character responsible. We know a lot about mtDNA and the limited number of functional changes it displays. There's nothing even vaguely like the proposed change sitting in the pool of known variations, and the pool of plausible unknown variations that just happen to look like that seems vanishingly small.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-15T19:44:50.238Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the prenatal environment, which is determined by the mother's genetics exclusively.

I don't know about exclusively.

comment by jimrandomh · 2010-03-15T20:11:25.869Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right that that was too strong; I should have said it's determined largely by the mother's genetics (but also to lesser degrees by the father's genetics and environmental factors.) But note that the strongest known environmental factor, alcohol consumption, is at least somewhat genetic (http://psychiatry.healthse.com/psy/more/alcoholism), and other factors like susceptibility to smoking addiction probably are as well.

comment by Hook · 2010-03-16T14:41:22.438Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any given chemical is not equally likely to cause pleasure for human beings, so of course alcohol and nicotine consumption have a genetic basis. It seems equally obvious that the availability of alcohol and nicotine are part of the environment. Additionally, they are parts of the environment where it is easy to imagine life being substantially similar without them (unlike environmental influences such as oxygen and gravity).

comment by Psychohistorian · 2010-03-15T22:54:12.413Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As the mother is usually the more involved parent when it comes to raising the child, mother-based differences strongly suggest nurture-based differences, unless of course there is some specific and identifiable pathway by which the mother's genetic composition could play an outsized role. I'm not aware of any evidence that the prenatal environment provided by black women is systematically different from that of white women for any genetic reason. Though, in your defense, you were decent enough to make a falsifiable prediction based on this.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-15T20:21:49.280Z · score: 5 (33 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you think this is obvious?

Looking at the totality of facts without letting my wishes color my judgment.

Believing in "stereotype threat" as the main reason for the black/white IQ gap is like believing in Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God.

strong evidence to me that genetics are not the whole story,

Anyway, I'm going to try to avoid getting into the details of the debate, but this little snippet is worthy of note.

In my earlier comment, I talked about genetics "play[ing] a significant role" When you respond with evidence that "genetics are not the whole story," you are not contradicting me in the slightest.

Instead you are attacking a strawman. Why would a person who ordinarily thinks intelligently and logically make such a glaring error? Respectfully, I submit to you that it's because your thinking is muddled on this issue.

The problem is that people today are afraid to believe that genetics play a significant role in the black/white IQ gap. As Eliezer would say, it's not like going to school wearing black -- it's like going to school wearing a clown costume. It's like being an atheist back in the day.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-15T20:33:32.968Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you think this is obvious?

Looking at the totality of facts without letting my wishes color my judgment.

The reasonable and helpful interpretation of Alicorn's question was "What evidence are you basing this strongly-held belief on?" Asserting that you are basing your belief on evidence is not an answer. We get that you think this position is tantamount to being an atheist in the past. You don't have to keep making that analogy. Instead, give us the evidence. We can handle the ugly truth if you're right.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-15T20:47:57.990Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Asserting that you are basing your belief on evidence is not an answer

Basically you are right. I tried to answer the question without saying anything which would invite a debate on the actual race/iq question.

Looking back at my response, I should have made it clear that I wasn't giving the answer Allicorn was looking for. But I admit it now.

I'm a bit torn, but I will try to put together a blog post which lays out my case and link to it.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T10:35:00.519Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, I summarized my views here:

http://fortaleza84.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/the-race-and-iq-question/

I'm happy to go into more detail; to answer questions; and to respond to arguments if you wish.

comment by Rain · 2010-03-16T12:28:00.392Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From what I can tell of your blog post, you said, "there's evidence, it's so obvious, people have alternative explanations but they're bogus, there's evidence, I bet whites do better than blacks on tests, there's tons of evidence."

Where's the evidence?

comment by CarlShulman · 2010-03-16T15:16:38.764Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's Rushton and Jensen making their best case for significant genetic influences on intergroup differences in a 2005 review article, and a critical response from Richard Nisbett, one of the leading proponents of the hypothesis that there are no significant B-W genetic differences. Taken together, they are much more informative than selective presentations by amateurs.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T19:36:00.564Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find Nisbett's reply pretty convincing. How do others feel?

Brazil, would you like to reply to the Nisbett article?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-03-19T10:02:37.937Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not to excuse the shoddy scholarship of rushton and jensen, but I'd just like to add that a cursory examination of the nisbett article indeed shows some highly dubious claims. In several places he assumes a hypothesis of the form "If the hereditary model is true, then we should see X". But for many of these it seems that X does not necessarily follow from the hereditary hypothesis. the hereditary hypothesis is not a monolithic structure. it is a spectrum of correlation from 0.0 to 1.0. both ends seem equally implausible to me.

comment by gwern · 2012-12-09T02:01:57.331Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My own encounter with Nisbett material: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4257220

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T23:46:10.453Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brazil, would you like to reply to the Nisbett article?

Yes, I took the look at the article. I agree that if it's a correct summary of the evidence, it undermines my position.

Obviously I don't have time to run down every reference in the article, so I looked at the very first section, went to the web site of the what the author referred to as the "largest study," and looked at the very first graph I could find showing the gap in scores.

I'm telling you this so that nobody can accuse me of cherry picking. The graph I pulled up was the only data I retrieved which is referenced in the paper. Here is the graph:

http://nationsreportcard.gov/ltt_2008/ltt0005.asp

Just eyeballing it, it does not appear to support Nisbett's claim. It appears to show a small narrowing of the black/white gap between 1973 and 1982 and a fairly consistent gap thereafter.

So to put it politely, I am skeptical of the entire article.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-17T02:36:53.599Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You appear to be referring to Nisbett's paragraph starting with

Hedges and Nowell (1998) found improvement on almost all tests for African American 12th graders compared with other 12th graders over the period 1965-1994.

A few sentences below that Nisbett refers to NAEP data to say that the reading score gap could be gone in 25 years and the science score gap in 75 years, if trends continue. [ETA: this is the 'largest study' that Nisbett cites. I'm sad Nisbett didn't give a more specific citation for it.]

The page you link appears to have data on the NAEP tests, but only for the mathematics tests. Clicking on the 'White-Black Gap' button, and then on the 'Age 17' tab (as Nisbett refers to 12th graders, so I am guessing that is what he and you are talking about...?) shows

  • a 1973 gap of 40 points
  • a 1982 gap of 32 points
  • a 1986 gap of 29 points
  • a 1990 gap of 21 points
  • then some fluctuations between 26 and 31 points until the most recent survey (2008), which has a 26 point gap

The data linked do not appear to bear strongly on Nisbett's claims about the NAEP data (because Nisbett refers to the reading and science NAEP scores, not math), and I am also having difficulty seeing the 'small narrowing of the black/white gap between 1973 and 1982 and a fairly consistent gap thereafter.' in the data linked.

All in all, I am having difficulty substantiating your claim that Nisbett's claim is unsubstantiated by the data. I suspect either I am not interpreting your comment correctly, or the link in it happens to point to a data set other than the one you intended. Could you clarify?

(About the bigger question of whether black-white IQ differences have narrowed recently, it may be informative to read William Dickens and James Flynn's 2006 paper, which takes IQ test norming data and shows a narrowing of the IQ gap between 1972 and 2002. (Rushton and Jensen disagreed with the conclusions of that paper, but I find Dickens and Flynn's rebuttal convincing.)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T02:54:08.186Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The page you link appears to have data on the NAEP tests, but only for the mathematics tests.

I chose it at random and stopped with the first graph I found so nobody could accuse me of cherry picking. Looking more carefully at what Nisbett wrote, I see he did not specifically mention math scores.

I'm not sure if this makes a difference. If Nisbett was cherry-picking data, it doesn't really help his argument.

All in all, I am having difficulty substantiating your claim that Nisbett's claim is unsubstantiated by the data.

The one graph I looked at at random doesn't seem to support the claim that the gap (generally speaking) is narrowing and headed towards disappearing. Agreed?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-17T14:44:54.061Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The one graph I looked at at random doesn't seem to support the claim that the gap (generally speaking) is narrowing and headed towards disappearing. Agreed?

When I see your random graph, I see the gap halving[!] from 1973 to 1990, widening through the 1990s, and maybe gradually shrunking since then. I see contradictory trends over the past 40 years, but it's more likely than not that the gap has resumed narrowing. So I'm not sure I do agree with you.

Since you write 'generally speaking' I guess you might be asking about the general trend as a whole from 1973 to now. I reckon that's an overall shrinking trend too.

To check my gut feeling more systematically, I did a quick regression of the score gap against year. (Not the best way to do it, but it beats eyeballing.) That gets me a .35 or .36 point shrinking per year depending on which assessment format I use for 2004. At that rate, the current gap (26 points in '08) would disappear in 70 to 75 years.

That's the same time period Nisbett gives for the disappearance of the science score gap, which I think is evidence against Nisbett 'cherry-picking' - if he cut out data because it had gaps that closed too slowly for his hypothesis, he would've left out the science data as well as the math data.

Summing up, I think I fundamentally disagree with you on the most likely interpretation of your graph.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T19:30:55.829Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I see your random graph, I see the gap halving[!] from 1973 to 1990, widening through the 1990s, and maybe gradually shrunking since then.

Say what? The gap is 35 points in 1973 and 27 points in 1990. How is this halving?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-18T02:08:57.859Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aha, I misunderstood which chart you had in mind. I thought that your link was intended to go to the data for 17 year olds, but that you were unable to link it directly because the page used Javascript to flip between the charts for different ages. I see now I'm wrong about that - one can link directly to the chart for each age, and it sounds like you were pointing to the age 9 data.

So I'll try this again with the 9 year olds. I've taken the liberty of looking at the black-white gap graph instead of the scale score graph so I don't have to do any mental arithmetic to get the gap size at each testing. Looks to me like the gap consistently narrowed from 1973 to 1986, and has fluctuated from 1986 so it's sometimes wider, sometimes thinner, but no overall trend since then.

Regressing gap size on year like I did before gives a shrinking of .24 or .25 points per year. So the picture is more mixed than for the older kids: there's an overall shrinking, but it's only two-thirds what you get for 17 year olds, and the trend looks like it's stalled since the late 80s.

Still, I am not sure that this means Nisbett is wrong. Looking at the bit of Nisbett you quote yourself downthread, Nisbett does not seem to say anything about the math scores, which means looking at the math scores would not tell us whether Nisbett is wrong or right.

It is possible that Nisbett cherry-picked by ignoring the math data, but I think a .25 point per year narrowing is still evidence against that idea. At a quarter point per year, the math gap would disappear in about a century, which isn't much longer than the 75 years Nisbett suggests for science.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-18T09:29:28.102Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course there are ways to interpret the graph to argue that the gap is narrowing and on track to disappear, but if you look at it and use your common sense, it's just not a reasonable conclusion.

The reasonable conclusion - as you allude to -- is that the gap has been pretty much stable for a number of years.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-18T23:28:48.696Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course there are ways to interpret the graph to argue that the gap is narrowing and on track to disappear, but if you look at it and use your common sense, it's just not a reasonable conclusion.

You put more trust in your common sense than I do. I try to avoid depending exclusively on what my common sense infers from eyeballing noisy time series - that way lies 'global warming stopped in 1998'esque error.

I find your preferred interpretation reasonable, but I don't see why it would be unreasonable to look at the entire data and see a net narrowing. (Especially if we lacked the 2008 data, as Nisbett did.)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T00:44:44.826Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the choice is between trusting your common sense and trusting someone with an agenda, I would say go with your common sense.

Here's a thought experiment: You show the graph I linked to to 10 statisticians, except you replace the labels with something less politically charged. For example, the price of winter wheat versus the price of summer wheat. And you ask them to interpret the graph as far as long term trends go. I'm pretty confident that 10 out of 10 would interpret the graph the same way I did.

Ditto for global surface temperatures. Take the temperature label off the graph and tell people it's the dollar to yen exchange rate. I bet 10 out of 10 statisticians will say the rate is basically flat for the last 10 years.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T03:23:30.569Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ditto for global surface temperatures. Take the temperature label off the graph and tell people it's the dollar to yen exchange rate. I bet 10 out of 10 statisticians will say the rate is basically flat for the last 10 years.

cupholder has the empirical data - which, you will note, is increasing in all cases - but do you really imagine that no-one's tried a blind test?

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T08:42:27.603Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

cupholder has the empirical data - which, you will note, is increasing in all cases - but do you really imagine that no-one's tried a blind test?

No I do not imagine so. But I'm a little confused. Are you saying that the absence of significant cooling is the same thing as the presence of significant warming?

PS: The empirical data is not "increasing in all cases." Indeed, by most accounts global surface temperatures have not met or exceeded the high reached 12 years ago.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T10:24:25.768Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Every 10-year trendline in cupholder's data was increasing.

  2. If you give a statistician the 30-year or 130-year data set with the y-axis label taken off, they will tell you that there is no sign of a levelling-off.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-19T22:56:11.421Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every 10-year trendline in cupholder's data was increasing.

A quick clarification: for each of the data links I posted there, the trendline is calculated based on all of the data that's shown, i.e. for the post-1998 data the trendline is based on the last twelve years, for the post-1970s data the trendline is based on all of the post-1970s data, and so on. In other words, only the data for the last 10 years of data really have a 10-year trendline.

[ETA: Unless you mean you calculated 10-year trendlines for each data set yourself, in which case feel free to disregard this.]

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T13:49:41.936Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a plot of the UAH index from 1998 to 2009.

http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/uah/from:1998/to:2009/plot/uah/from:1998/to:2009/trend

The linear trend is definitely decreasing for this particular plot.

If you give a statistician the 30-year or 130-year data set with the y-axis label taken off, they will tell you that there is no sign of a levelling-off.

I'm seriously skeptical of this.

P.S. Are you saying that the absence of significant cooling is the same thing as the presence of significant warming?

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-20T05:39:44.801Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that changing the beginning data point to either 1997 or 1999 makes the regression line have a positive slope. It's not at all surprising that there is enough variability that cherry-picking data is possible. Stuffing a positive outlier at the beginning will, of course, tend to do this.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T10:28:57.796Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that changing the beginning data point to either 1997 or 1999 makes the regression line have a positive slope.

Agreed. I cherry-picked 1998 as a starting point to counter the claim that the data was increasing "in all cases."

Still, I would also note that as I explain on my blog post, there is some significance to the observation that global surface temperatures still have not exceeded the 1998 high. (According to the majority of leading temperature measurements.)

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T14:11:38.578Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you read the linked article?

In a blind test, the AP gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends, without telling them what the numbers represented. The experts found no true temperature declines over time.

"If you look at the data and sort of cherry-pick a micro-trend within a bigger trend, that technique is particularly suspect," said John Grego, a professor of statistics at the University of South Carolina.

[...]

The AP sent expert statisticians NOAA's year-to-year ground temperature changes over 130 years and the 30 years of satellite-measured temperatures preferred by skeptics and gathered by scientists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Statisticians who analyzed the data found a distinct decades-long upward trend in the numbers, but could not find a significant drop in the past 10 years in either data set. The ups and downs during the last decade repeat random variability in data as far back as 1880.

Saying there's a downward trend since 1998 is not scientifically legitimate, said David Peterson, a retired Duke University statistics professor and one of those analyzing the numbers.

Identifying a downward trend is a case of "people coming at the data with preconceived notions," said Peterson, author of the book "Why Did They Do That? An Introduction to Forensic Decision Analysis."

1998 was a strong El Nino year - unusually high atmospheric temperatures that year in no way suggests that the earth has stopped heating.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T14:19:46.558Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you read the linked article?

Yes, and I'm not sure what your point is.

Are you claiming that the absence of a significant cooling trend is the same thing as the presence of a significant warming trend?

It's a very simple question. Why won't you answer it?

Incidentally, I wrote a blog post about the article in question which touches on these issues.

http://brazil84.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/more-on-global-cooling/

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T14:23:04.689Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm claiming that this one data set does not by itself support rejection of the body of theory that suggests global warming is occurring, and that it is intellectually dishonest to imply that it does.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-19T23:09:42.906Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well answered (and I have downvoted brazil for trying to coerce you into making a stupid claim with the obvious intent of presenting a misleading dichotomy.)

comment by mattnewport · 2010-03-19T23:18:56.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In light of the spelling thread, dichotomy? This immediately jumped out at me in the manner that a few others describe for spelling mistakes.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-19T23:26:09.479Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thankyou. It jumped out at me too upon rereading. I wonder why my browser has stopped spell checking for me.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T14:31:16.205Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what the claim "global warming is occuring" means so I can't really speak to that.

In any event, as I noted in the blog post, the warmists have made specific predictions. The temperature record for the past 10 or so years contradicts some of those predictions.

ETA: Can I take it that your answer to my question is "no"?

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T15:08:56.081Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying the absence of a significant cooling trend is the same thing as the presence of a significant warming trend - that would be a stupid thing to say. As for the remainder: I don't trust your judgment, but the data you provided is interesting. I will examine the composite NOAA temperature data (ocean, land, and combined) and update accordingly.

(It should be noted, however, that if anthropogenic inputs are significant, as claimed by the climate scientists whose work we are discussing, predicting the climate would require predicting all anthropogenic climate forcings - and therefore we might expect the predictions to be worse than anticipated.)

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-03-19T15:18:33.002Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It should be noted, however, that if anthropogenic inputs are significant, as claimed by the climate scientists whose work we are discussing, predicting the climate would require predicting all anthropogenic climate forcings - and therefore we might expect the predictions to be worse than anticipated.

They can get around this by expressing their predictions as a function of future anthropogenic emissions, thus removing this source of uncertainty.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T15:27:56.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the papers I looked at today, a major problem appears to be measuring the forcings that go into the model.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-19T15:20:08.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I imagine they do - do we have a climatologist in the house?

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-03-19T15:23:33.359Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I imagine they do too; the question is whether they claim the right to (retroactively) "massage" their predictions, which would invalidate this test.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T16:11:45.710Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying the absence of a significant cooling trend is the same thing as the presence of a significant warming trend - that would be a stupid thing to say

Correct. Which is why the article you linked to does not contradict the claim I made.

As for the remainder: I don't trust your judgment, but the data you provided is interesting

Well you shouldn't trust my judgment. What's the motto of the British science academy? Something like "Don't take my word for it."

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-19T01:36:52.962Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a thought experiment: You show the graph I linked to to 10 statisticians, except you replace the labels with something less politically charged. For example, the price of winter wheat versus the price of summer wheat. And you ask them to interpret the graph as far as long term trends go. I'm pretty confident that 10 out of 10 would interpret the graph the same way I did.

I am far less confident.

Ditto for global surface temperatures. Take the temperature label off the graph and tell people it's the dollar to yen exchange rate. I bet 10 out of 10 statisticians will say the rate is basically flat for the last 10 years.

I bet it would depend on exactly which data set you gave them. Do you give them data for the past 10 years, data since 1998, the data since they started measuring temperatures with satellites as well as thermometers, or the longest-running data set, which runs from 1850 onwards? If you just give them the last decade of data, they might well just write it off as flat and noisy, but if you let them judge the recent numbers in the context of the entire time series, they might recognize them as flat-looking fuzz obscuring an ongoing linear trend.

If the choice is between trusting your common sense and trusting someone with an agenda, I would say go with your common sense.

That sounds nice, but I don't know how practical that would turn out to be, in this case or in general. In this particular case, how can I even tell with certainty whether you have 'an agenda' or not? And what if the key participants in a debate all have some agenda? It's very possible that Nisbett has a 'politically correct' (not that I like the phrase, but I can't think of a better way of putting it) agenda, and that Rushton and Jensen have a 'politically incorrect' agenda. How do I know, and what do I do if they do? And so on.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T08:53:31.365Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this particular case, how can I even tell with certainty whether you have 'an agenda' or not?

How can you tell anything with certainty? The fact is that you can't. Respectfully, it seems to me you are playing the "I'm such a skeptic" game.

Let me ask you this: Do you seriously doubt that Nisbett has an agenda?

Do you give them data for the past 10 years, data since 1998, the data since they started measuring temperatures with satellites as well as thermometers, or the longest-running data set, which runs from 1850 onwards

I would give them the data since the 1970s when sattelite measurement became possible.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-19T22:42:29.878Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How can you tell anything with certainty? The fact is that you can't. Respectfully, it seems to me you are playing the "I'm such a skeptic" game.

Sorry. I was being sloppy in my earlier comment, and using 'certainty' as a shorthand for 'certainty enough for me to label you as Having An Agenda, and therefore to reject your interpretation of the data as Tainted With An Agenda.' It is of course true that you can't tell anything inductive with cast-iron 100% certainty, but what I'm getting at is the question of how to get to what you or I would practically treat as certainty (like if I put a 95% probability on someone Having An Agenda).

Let me rephrase: in this particular case, how can I even tell whether you have 'an agenda' with sufficient certainty to disregard whatever you say about the data, and retreat to my own common sense gut feeling?

Let me ask you this: Do you seriously doubt that Nisbett has an agenda?

Do I doubt he has an agenda in the sense that he believes he's right? A tiny bit, but only in the sense that I am never completely sure of another person's motivation for stating something.

Do I doubt he has an agenda in the sense that he wants to convince other people of what he believes? Not really.

Do I doubt he has an agenda in the sense that he has an emotional investment in the argument as well as rational considerations? Only a little...but then again, who doesn't get emotionally invested in arguments?

Do I doubt he has an agenda in the sense that he has political motivations for his article as well as self-centered emotional and rational ones? Quite a lot, actually. I don't think I could reliably tell Nisbett's emotional motivations apart from those that spring from his political agenda (whatever that is - Nisbett sounds like a leftist to me, but how the hell do I really know? There were rightists who crapped on The Bell Curve too.) Does it even make sense to distinguish the two? I'm not sure. (I suddenly feel that these are good questions to think about. Thank you for prodding me into thinking of them.)

Also, for whatever it's worth, I am just as sure that Rushton and Jensen have 'an agenda,' however you want to define that, as Nisbett does. Do I throw all their papers out and just go with my common sense?

To clarify, this doesn't mean I can't get behind the idea of being alert to other people's biases on some subject, but I'm not willing to push that to the point of a dichotomy between my common sense vs. someone with an agenda. Taking the global warming example, I'm sure many climate scientists have 'an agenda,' but I'd still tend to accept their consensus interpretation of the data than my own common sense where the two differ, and I think that's reasonable if I don't have time to dig through all of the research myself.

I would give them the data since the 1970s when sattelite measurement became possible.

In that case I think I'm roughly 90% confident that fewer than '10 out of 10 statisticians will say the rate is basically flat for the last 10 years'. I am interpreting 'the rate is flat here' to mean that the net temperature trend is flat over time, as I believe we're talking about whether global warming is continuing and not whether global warming is accelerating. (Thought process here: I reckon a randomly selected statistician has at most a 4 in 5 chance of deciding that temperatures have been 'basically flat' for the last 10 years' based on the satellite data. Then the chance of 10 random statisticians all saying temperatures have been flat is 11%, so an 89% chance of at least one of them dissenting.)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T02:23:07.068Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do I doubt he has an agenda in the sense that he believes he's right?

By "having an agenda," I mean that Nisbett is emphasizing the facts that support a particular point of view and de-emphasizing the facts which undermine that point of view in order to persuade the reader.

So defined, one can ask whether Nisbett has an agenda. Do you have any doubt that Nisbett has an agenda?

I am interpreting 'the rate is flat here' to mean that the net temperature trend is flat over time,

So by your definition, the temperature trend is NOT basically flat between 1995 and the present, correct?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T17:43:15.270Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By "having an agenda," I mean that Nisbett is emphasizing the facts that support a particular point of view and de-emphasizing the facts which undermine that point of view in order to persuade the reader.

So defined, one can ask whether Nisbett has an agenda. Do you have any doubt that Nisbett has an agenda?

Not much. I think it is very likely that Nisbett suffers from confirmation bias about as much as everybody else.

So by your definition, the temperature trend is NOT basically flat between 1995 and the present, correct?

Eyeballing it I'd say it's much more likely that temperatures rose since 1995 than that they stayed flat, so I'd say you're pretty much correct. I wouldn't dogmatically say it's not flat in big capital letters, but I think the rising temperature hypothesis is a lot more likely than the flat temperature hypothesis.

I'd double check my intuition by running a regression, but that'd stack the deck because of autocorrelation, and I can't remember from the top of my head how to fit a linear model that accounts for that.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T18:04:42.354Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it is very likely that Nisbett suffers from confirmation bias about as much as everybody else.

I'm not sure what this means. Are you saying that every piece of written material has an agenda behind it as I've defined the term?

Eyeballing it I'd say it's much more likely that temperatures rose since 1995 than that they stayed flat, so I'd say you're pretty much correct

And do you agree that according to Phil Jones, there has been no statistically significant warming between 1995 and the present?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-03-20T19:09:34.518Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And do you agree that according to Phil Jones, there has been no statistically significant warming between 1995 and the present?

The fact that you quote this doesn't help your credibility. The Economist: Journalistic malpractice on global warming

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T19:14:48.883Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fact that you quote this doesn't help your credibility

I'm not sure what your point is. My argument does not depend on my credibility.

In any event, do you agree that "journalistic malpractice" works both ways? In other words, if it's malpractice to claim that there has been no warming since 1995, it's also malpractice to claim that there has been no cooling since 1998?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T18:36:23.218Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what this means. Are you saying that every piece of written material has an agenda behind it as I've defined the term?

Not every piece of written material, but I'd bet that almost all lengthy pieces of writing intended to communicate a point to others have an agenda behind them, sure. There's always a temptation to round the numbers to your advantage, to leave out bits of data that might conflict with your hypothesis, to neglect to mention possible problems with your statistical tests, and so on.

Even ignoring that sort of thing, cognitive biases play an important role. Nisbett presumably had a half-formed opinion of the race and IQ argument even before he started researching it in depth. And that would in turn have affected which bits of relevant evidence got stuck in his mind. And that would in turn have hardened his opinion. You get positive feedbacks that push your opinion away from others that conflict with it. So even if Nisbett were consciously being as honest as possible, he could still be

emphasizing the facts that support a particular point of view and de-emphasizing the facts which undermine that point of view in order to persuade the reader

just because his mental database of facts is going to overrepresent the 1st kind of fact and underrepresent the 2nd - and precisely because of that, he is going to be sure that his point of view is obviously correct, and precisely because of that, he is going to be writing to persuade the reader of it - even though, as far as he knows, he is being completely honest!

(Tangent: it's somehow amusing and fitting that the person we're using to argue this point is the person whose most cited article is "Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes.")

And do you agree that according to Phil Jones, there has been no statistically significant warming between 1995 and the present?

That's what he said.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T18:50:03.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

but I'd bet that almost all lengthy pieces of writing intended to communicate a point to others have an agenda behind them, sure

Ok, and the stronger the agenda, the more you should trust your common sense over claims made by the person with the agenda.

That's what he said.

Ok, and presumably what he meant was that any warming which took place between 1995 and the present was less than some statistical minimum threshold. I'm not sophisticated enough to calculate such a limit, but that's what I meant when I said that temperatures have been basically flat for the last 10 years.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T19:12:04.054Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, and the stronger the agenda, the more you should trust your common sense over claims made by the person with the agenda.

Cool. I feel more comfortable now that you've expressed this in continuous terms. There's still a catch, though: using your definition of having an agenda, I can't really tell whether someone has an agenda without also knowing the facts (because 'having an agenda' here is being used to mean that someone's making a slanted presentation of the facts), and if I know the facts already, I have little need for your has-an-agenda heuristic.

Ok, and presumably what he meant was that any warming which took place between 1995 and the present was less than some statistical minimum threshold.

Roughly speaking, I think that's about right.

I'm not sophisticated enough to calculate such a limit, but that's what I meant when I said that temperatures have been basically flat for the last 10 years.

I think I understand now. Alrighty...yeah, I would suspect that there's been no statistically significant warming trend in the last 10 years. I would however avoid using phrases like 'temperatures have been basically flat for the last 10 years' to describe this, as I nonetheless believe that if one considers the last 10 years of records in the context of unambiguous past warming, they are consistent with an ongoing, underlying warming trend.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T21:39:47.974Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't really tell whether someone has an agenda without also knowing the facts

I would suggest you practice. It also helps to read people who contradict eachother. It also helps if you learn some of the facts.

I would however avoid using phrases like 'temperatures have been basically flat for the last 10 years' to describe this, as I nonetheless believe that if one considers the last 10 years of records in the context of unambiguous past warming, they are consistent with an ongoing, underlying warming trend.

Lol, I guess that means American housing prices have been going up the last couple years too.

In any event, I think it's fair to say that temperatures have been basically flat because it contradicts many of the predictions of the warmists.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T22:14:28.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would suggest you practice. It also helps to read people who contradict eachother. It also helps if you learn some of the facts.

I reckon the first two things only help in as much as they help you do the third. Learning the facts is what really matters - and in my experience, once I feel I know enough about an issue to decide who has an agenda (in your sense of the phrase), I typically feel I know enough to make my own judgement of the issue without having to tie my colours to the talking head I like the most.

Lol, I guess that means American housing prices have been going up the last couple years too.

I am not familiar enough with US house prices to be sure, but I suspect that's a poor analogy to the global warming data.

In any event, I think it's fair to say that temperatures have been basically flat because it contradicts many of the predictions of the warmists.

Here are two better criteria for judging your statement's fairness:

  • is the statement true?
  • is the statement liable to mislead people?
comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-21T11:05:57.481Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not familiar enough with US house prices to be sure, but I suspect that's a poor analogy to the global warming data.

How is it a poor analogy? The general for the last 50 years is upwards, but the trend over the last couple years is flat or downwards.

•is the statement liable to mislead people?

And how do I know if the statement is liable to mislead people?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-21T21:29:44.061Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How is it a poor analogy? The general for the last 50 years is upwards, but the trend over the last couple years is flat or downwards.

A quick Google for house price data led me to this graph of US house prices from 1970 up until what looks like last year. It is immediately clear to me that there is far less noise obscuring the changes in trends than in the global temperature data. The recent house price crash looks about an order of magnitude larger than the seasonal(?) fuzz, so it's easy to distinguish it from the earlier upward trend.

Compare the temperature data. It's quite clear that there's relatively a lot more noise and external forcing, which makes it harder to see a trend in the data. That's why it's reasonable to suppose that past upward trends in temperature are continuing, even though the most recent temperatures look flat in some of the data sets; the greater noise hurts your statistical power to detect a trend, which means that you can get the appearance of no trend whether or not the upward trend is continuing.

Hence why I see your analogy as a poor one: you're implying that arguing for an ongoing increase in temperature is as silly as arguing for an ongoing increase in house prices, but that ignores the far greater statistical power to detect a change in trend in recent house price data.

And how do I know if the statement is liable to mislead people?

Apply your rough mental model of how other people are likely to interpret your statement to decide whether your statement is likely to direct them to a misleading impression of the data.

For example, if I show someone this graph, it's fair to say that there's a significant chance they'll think it shows that US temperature increase per century has no practical significance. But that would of course be a fallacious inference: the fact that other temperature measurements can vary a lot is logically disconnected from the issue of whether the rise in US temperature has real importance. In that sense the graph is liable to mislead.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T01:32:57.423Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's why it's reasonable to suppose that past upward trends in temperature are continuing, even though the most recent temperatures look flat in some of the data sets

It may be reasonable to suppose so, but it doesn't change the fact that temperatures have been basically flat for the last 10 (or 15) years.

In any event, it's quite possible -- even likely -- that the upward trend in housing prices is continuing in the same sense you believe that the upward trend in temperatures may be continuing; and that the recent housing bubble is the rough equivalent of an el nino

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T10:41:27.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It may be reasonable to suppose so, but it doesn't change the fact that temperatures have been basically flat for the last 10 (or 15) years.

I don't believe it is true that 'temperatures have been basically flat' for the last 15 years: I see a net gain of 0.1 to 0.2 Kelvin, depending on the data set (HadCRUT3 v. GISTEMP v. UAH v. RSS). And it looks to me like temperatures have only been 'flat' for the last 10 years in the sense that a short enough snippet of a noisy time series will always look 'flat.'

In any event, it's quite possible -- even likely -- that the upward trend in housing prices is continuing in the same sense you believe that the upward trend in temperatures may be continuing; and that the recent housing bubble is the rough equivalent of an el nino

And the accompanying crash would be a La Niña? I think the house price boom & crash is a little too big to characterize like that.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T12:36:45.746Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe it is true that 'temperatures have been basically flat' for the last 15 years: I see a net gain of 0.1 to 0.2 Kelvin, depending on the data set (HadCRUT3 v. GISTEMP v. UAH v. RSS).

So the standard is "net gain," and a net gain greater than (or less than) 0.1 Kelvin means not basically flat?

And it looks to me like temperatures have only been 'flat' for the last 10 years in the sense that a short enough snippet of a noisy time series will always look 'flat.'

That may be true, but so what? characterization of evidence != interpretation of evidence. Agreed?

I think the house price boom & crash is a little too big to characterize like that.

Why not? It's a short term detour in a larger overall trend. If you happened to buy a house at the top of the market, there is still an excellent chance that some day the market price will exceed your purchase price.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T14:36:42.118Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the standard is "net gain," and a net gain greater than (or less than) 0.1 Kelvin means not basically flat?

Any net gain (or net loss), however small, means not flat, if you are confident enough that it's not an artefact or noise. (Adding the adverb 'basically' muddies things a bit, because it implies that you're not interested in small deviations from flatness.) So: am I quite confident that there has been a deviation from flatness since 1995, and that the deviation is neither artefact nor noise? Yes. But you knew that already, so I'll go deeper.

You earlier referred to the Phil Jones interview where he stated that the warming since 1995 is 'only just' statistically insignificant. I don't know enough about testing autocorrelated time series to check that, but I'm willing to pretty much trust him on this point.

OK, so every so often on Less Wrong you see a snippet of Jaynes or a popular science article presented in the context of a frequentism vs. Bayesianism comparison. I've gone to bat before (see that first link's discussion) to explain why pitting the two against each other seems wrong-minded to me. I've yet to see an example where frequentist methods necessarily have to give a different result to Bayesian methods, just by virtue of being frequentist rather than Bayesian. I see the two as two sides of the same coin.

Still, there are certain techniques that are more associated with the frequentist school than the Bayesian. One of them is statistical significance testing. That particular technique gets a lot of heat from statisticians of all sorts (not just Bayesians!), and arguably rightly so. People are liable to equate statistical significance with practical significance, which is simply wrong, and to dogmatically reject any null hypothesis that doesn't clear a particular p-value bar. On this point, I have to agree with the critics. Far as I can tell, there are too many people who fundamentally misunderstand significance tests, and as someone who does understand them (or I think I do - maybe that's just the Dunning-Kruger effect talking) and finds them useful, that disappoints me.

In the end, you have to exercise judgment in interpreting significance tests, like any other tool. Just because a test limps over the magic significance level with a p-value of 0.049 doesn't mean you should immediately shitcan your null hypothesis, and just because your test falls a hair short with an 0.051 p-value doesn't mean there's nothing there.

To get more specific, that net warming since 1995 has been 'just' statistically insignificant does not mean no warming. It means that under a particular model, the null hypothesis of no overall trend cannot be rejected. It could be because there really is no trend. Or there might be a true trend, but your data are too noisy and too few. Or the test could be cherrypicked. You have to exercise judgment and decide which is most likely. I believe the last two possibilities are most likely: I can see the noise with my own eyes, and apparently 1995 is the earliest year where warming since that year is statistically insignificant, which would be consistent with cherry-picking the year 1995.

Which is why I reject the null hypothesis of no net temperature change since 1995, even though the p-value of Phil Jones' test is presumably a bit higher than 0.05.

That may be true, but so what? characterization of evidence != interpretation of evidence. Agreed?

They are distinct concepts.

I get the feeling that you think calling the last decade of temperatures 'flat' is characterization and not interpretation, and I would disagree. When I say temperatures have risen overall, that's an interpretation. When you say they have not, that's an interpretation. Either interpretation is defensible, though I believe mine is more accurate (but of course I would believe that).

Why not? It's a short term detour in a larger overall trend.

Right, but if you compare the housing price detour to the noise in the house price data, it's relatively way way bigger than the El Niño deviation compared to the noise in the temperature data.

I pulled the temperature data behind this plot and regressed temperature on year. Then I calculated the standard deviation of the residuals from the start of the time series up to 1998 (when the EN kicked in). The peak in the data (at 'year' 1998.08, with a value of 0.6595 degrees) is then 3.9 sigmas above the regression line.

Look back at the home price graph - maybe that particular graph's been massively smoothed, but the post-peak drop looks like way more than a 4 sigma decline: I'd eyeball it as on the order of 10-20 sigmas - and that's a big underestimate because the standard deviation is going to be inflated by what looks like a seasonal fluctuation (the yearly-looking spikes). The El Niño is big and bold, no doubt about it, but it's a puppy compared to the housing pricing crash.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T14:29:07.595Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Adding the adverb 'basically' muddies things a bit, because it implies that you're not interested in small deviations from flatness.

Of course it muddies things and we should not be interested in small deviations. That's the basic point of your argument. The only question is how small is small.

When I say temperatures have risen overall, that's an interpretation. When you say they have not, that's an interpretation

Well can you give me an example of a statement about temperature in the last 10 years which is not an "interpretation"?

Right, but if you compare the housing price detour to the noise in the house price data, it's relatively way way bigger than the El Niño deviation compared to the noise in the temperature data.

The El Niño is big and bold, no doubt about it, but it's a puppy compared to the housing pricing crash.

So what? In 1998, would it have been wrong to say that global surface temperatures had risen (relatively) rapidly over the previous few years?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T19:10:43.504Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course it muddies things and we should not be interested in small deviations. That's the basic point of your argument.

?!

The point I was making in the first 550 words of the grandparent comment is that one shouldn't automatically disregard a small deviation from flatness merely because it's (barely) statistically insignificant. I am not sure how you interpreted it to mean that 'we should not be interested in small deviations.'

Well can you give me an example of a statement about temperature in the last 10 years which is not an "interpretation"?

A statement that's a few written words or sentences? I doubt it. Trying to summarize a complicated time series in a few words is inevitably going to mean not mentioning some features of the time series, and your editorial judgment of which features not to mention means you're interpreting it.

So what?

You should know, you asked me 'Why not?' in the first place.

In 1998, would it have been wrong to say that global surface temperatures had risen (relatively) rapidly over the previous few years?

Practically, yes, because that claim carries the implication that the El Niño spike is representative of the warming 'over the previous few years.'

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-23T13:26:00.370Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the standard is "net gain," and a net gain greater than (or less than) 0.1 Kelvin means not basically flat?

My linear regressions based on NOAA data (I was stupid and lost the citation for where I downloaded it) have 0.005-0.007 K/year since 1880; 0.1 to 0.2 K in a decade is beating the trend.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-23T13:34:13.842Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are the uncertainties on each of these?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T22:01:13.569Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I took the liberty of downloading the GISTEMP data, which I suspect are very similar to the NOAA data (because the GISTEMP series also starts at 1880, and I dimly remember reading somewhere that the GISS gets land-based temperature data from the NOAA). Regressing anomaly on year I get an 0.00577 K/year increase since 1880, consistent with Robin's estimate. R tells me the standard error on that estimate is 0.00011 K/year.

However, that standard error estimate should be taken with a pinch of salt for two reasons: the regression's residuals are correlated, and it is unlikely that a linear model is wholly appropriate because global warming was reduced mid-century by sulphate emissions. Caveat calculator!

(ETA: I just noticed you wrote 'these,' so I thought you might be interested in the trend for the past decade as well. Regressing anomaly on year for the past 120 monthly GISTEMP temperature anomalies has a trend of 0.0167 ± 0.0023 K/year, but the same warning about that standard error applies.)

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-23T16:39:04.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have no idea. Varying the starting point from ten to thirty years ago with Feb 2010 as the endpoint puts the slope anywhere in the range [-0.0001,0.2], so it must be fairly large on the scale of a decade.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-23T16:54:14.798Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your regression package doesn't report uncertainties? (Ideally this would be in the form of a covariance matrix.)

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-23T19:17:32.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My regression package is a tab-deliminated data file, a copy of MATLAB, and least-squares.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-17T19:38:23.122Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're looking at age 9, cupholder is looking at 17.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T19:56:16.459Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're looking at age 9, cupholder is looking at 17

In that case he is looking at the wrong graph when he talks about "your random graph."

comment by Jack · 2010-03-17T20:01:04.470Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but in that case you aren't looking at the data that Nisbett referred to. As cupholder pointed out

Clicking on the 'White-Black Gap' button, and then on the 'Age 17' tab (as Nisbett refers to 12th graders, so I am guessing that is what he and you are talking about...?)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T20:09:53.672Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agree, but as I said to cupholder, it doesn't help Nisbett's argument if he is cherry-picking data.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-17T20:19:53.550Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But Nisbett is quoting from a study "which found improvement on almost all tests for African American 12th graders". That study may not even have contained the data on 9-year-olds. You can ask "Why didn't that study include that data?", well because they were comparing data for 12th graders.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T21:08:32.151Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, it's not clear to me what study he is talking about. Here's what he says:

The largest study, conducted by the NAEP, indicated that, if trends were to continue, the gap in reading scores would be eliminated in approximately 25 years and the gap in science scores in approximately 75 years.

So I went to the NAEP web site and looked at the very first graph I saw. What study do you think he is referring to?

comment by Jack · 2010-03-17T21:56:19.790Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hedges and Nowell (1998) found improvement on almost all tests for African American 12th graders compared with other 12th graders over the period 1965– 1994. The best estimates in terms of the stability the scores provide, and in terms of their correlations with IQ, are in the form of composites, for example, reading + vocabulary + mathematics for the EEO survey. The Black–White gap on these composites over the period decreased on average by 0.13 standard deviation per decade, yielding an estimate of a reduction of the gap by around 0.39 standard deviation over the period. The largest study, conducted by the NAEP, indicated that, if trends were to continue, the gap in reading scores would be eliminated in approximately 25 years and the gap in science scores in approximately 75 years.

I take this to say that Hedges and Nowell examined lots of test results for African Amercicans 12th graders from 1965-1994. The test with the largest sample was the NAEP test. Since Hedges and Nowell were looking at 12th graders Nisbett is probably talking about the 17-year-olds.

I could be wrong. In any case, the trends have changed since 1994 so obviously the predictions don't hold.

This all seems pretty beside the point to me since the evidence that really matters is the adoption and skin tone studies. The other thing that becomes obvious is that there just isn't nearly enough data-- all the studies are decades old presumably because 1975 was the last time you could get grant money to study the issue. There certainly isn't enough to conclude, as you did, that there is obviously a genetic component.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T22:17:20.448Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The test with the largest sample was the NAEP test

Well Nisbett refers to a "study" by the NAEP.

This all seems pretty beside the point to me since the evidence that really matters is the adoption and skin tone studies.

That may be so, but I intentionally chose to run down data from the very first part of the paper so that nobody could accuse me of nitpicking or cherrypicking.

There certainly isn't enough to conclude, as you did, that there is obviously a genetic component

That's only if you feel you need to rely on scientific studies to reach conclusions. Some things don't require such a study.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-18T02:25:41.725Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's only if you feel you need to rely on scientific studies to reach conclusions. Some things don't require such a study.

Yes, but you have to be super careful when deciding which things need scientific studies.

A few years ago I would've said women were so much more chatty than men - and that the difference in chattiness was so obvious - that it would be a waste of time to check it out scientifically. But sometimes, when you check things out systematically, you're surprised. I think the argument about blacks, whites and IQ is a bit like that, although that argument is more about the cause of the differences and not their mere existence.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-18T03:22:05.051Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Participants were assigned conversational partners at random, and asked to talk for up to ten minutes on one of forty topics

I would never have predicted that women would be more chatty in such a test. I would have predicted that men would talk more on a supplied topic. I believed, and still believe that women are more chatty under the commonly intended meaning of 'chatty'. A more relevant test:

  • Asign random pairs of people and send them on a 5 hour hike together. Count words.

I would expect female pairs to say more words than the male pairs. Mixed pairings I would find somewhat more difficult to predict due to possible interference from courtship protocols.

comment by mattnewport · 2010-03-18T04:34:09.812Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have my doubts about how strongly that particular test would correlate with what I understand by 'chatty'. It's a pretty artificial setup. When I think about it I have a pretty fuzzy idea of what 'chatty' means though. I would still say women are more chatty than men but that is partly because some part of the fuzzy definition involves 'the type of small talk that women tend to engage in more than men' rather than some idea of total word volume.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-03-18T03:12:30.931Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm interested that you believed women were much more chatty than men as recently as a few years ago.

I can remember it being a default belief in the culture that women were more chatty, but I thought it had faded out in the 80s or thereabouts.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-18T04:18:45.551Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I imagine it's less widespread a belief than before the 80s, but it's just one of those things you get by osmosis from the broader culture when you're young. It's part of the stereotypes there are about the sexes: women can't drive, men won't ask for directions when they're lost, blah blah blah.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-18T09:44:21.489Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but you have to be super careful when deciding which things need scientific studies.

I would say "reasonably careful" not "super careful." One thing I've noticed about the race and intelligence debate is that many people apply an extremely heightened standard of skepticism to the question.

By analogy, suppose we were debating the existence of God. There may very well be a few scientific studies out there which lend some degree of support to the theistic point of view. Further, there probably has not been a lot of scientific research into the subject. So one could take the "super careful" approach and say that the jury is still out on the subject. But that's silly. That's just exaggerated skepticism on the part of folks who don't like a particular conclusion.

For those of us who do believe in God but aspire to rationality, the best we can do is to concede there's a contradiction there.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-18T23:18:35.809Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I suggested being 'super careful' I meant being super careful about deciding which things are so obvious as to not need systematic debate and study in the first place, not about deciding how skeptical to be of certain 'sides' or conclusions in a debate.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T00:26:48.004Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I suggested being 'super careful' I meant being super careful about deciding which things are so obvious as to not need systematic debate and study in the first place, not about deciding how skeptical to be of certain 'sides' or conclusions in a debate.

I'm not sure what you mean by "systematic debate and study," but assuming it means the same thing as "scientific studies," it seems to me it amounts to basically the same thing. At least in this case.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-19T01:05:19.531Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll try and clarify with the non-race and IQ related example that first put the idea into my head: gravity. The idea of things falling to the floor is so obvious to me, and agrees so well with my common sense, that I would not even bother to debate somebody who wanted to argue that things don't fall to the floor. That's the behaviour I'm saying it's a good idea to be super careful about: rejecting challenges to your existing view out of hand.

Stepping back to the race and IQ argument, I'm saying that I would exercise a lot of care before I put the argument into the 'no need to even bother debating it' box. Having entered into the debate, though, I would be content to apply my ordinary standards of evidence to the different 'sides' in the debate. I mean the 'super careful' warning to apply pre-debate, not during the debate.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-19T08:55:35.784Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about the theism/atheism controversy. Can I take it that you are agnostic?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-19T22:49:21.858Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm still waiting for y'all to agree on what God is so I can decide. Everyone seems to have a different idea of the bugger. In the meantime I'll carry on spending brain energy on less fuzzy things, like race and IQ and global warming.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T02:16:53.655Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For purposes of this discussion, we can define God as a supernatural being who who more or less did the acts ascribed to Him in the Hebrew Bible. e.g. creating the Earth, and so on. In other words, the God of Abraham.

I take it you are agnostic about the existence of the God of Abraham?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T18:03:56.735Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For purposes of this discussion, we can define God as a supernatural being

Supernatural beings do not exist.

God, as you define it, therefore does not exist.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T18:10:09.116Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a little confused -- are you saying that by definition, supernatural beings do not exist?

Otherwise, what's your evidence/argument?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T18:42:42.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a little confused -- are you saying that by definition, supernatural beings do not exist?

Yep. The concept of a supernatural being is incoherent.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T19:25:24.688Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not according to the Richard Carrier definition of "supernatural", which I would argue is a more accurate interpretation of the term.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T20:03:55.449Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for interestingness, but that definition still leaves no room for supernatural beings as far as I'm concerned (assuming I'm interpreting Carrier's post correctly).

That's because I don't draw the distinction between minds and mental things and the 'nonmental' that Carrier does - I've effectively ruled out the supernatural by fiat because I treat it as axiomatic that the mental is just a kind of physical.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T20:37:13.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see - along the lines of theological noncognitivism, then. It's an unusual position, in my experience.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T20:57:03.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kinda, though I try to acknowledge that different people mean different things by 'God.' For example, some people equate God with love. If you do that God obviously exists.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T21:01:34.580Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If God really were love, praying would be a complete waste of time. I suspect such statements are not actually expressions of factual content.

comment by bogus · 2010-03-21T00:04:24.326Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If God really were love, praying would be a complete waste of time.

Why? The placebo effect and other mindhacks apply to any sort of ritual or 'magic'. If you accept this, then worshipping 'love' or 'warfare' or other god-forms is not a waste of time at all--the purpose and effect of prayer need not involve anything supernatural.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-21T00:10:54.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That ... is a good point, actually. It doesn't affect my argument - the one I elaborated with my Thom Yorke example - but it does complicate the situation in ways which should be acknowledged.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T21:28:10.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's very plausible.

[ETA: It sure is an expeditious way to interpret such statements, though.]

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T21:59:34.814Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

[ETA: It sure is an expeditious way to interpret such statements, though.]

You're right - best is to inquire for additional details when someone proposes such a statement.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T22:26:09.299Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tried probing deeper (just out of curiosity) the first few times I was told 'God is love/an energy/kindness/a force', but found that my conversant usually had difficulty elaborating beyond the initial statement. There seemed to be some extra, hard to articulate component to what they thought but they were usually unwilling and/or unable to communicate it to me.

After a time I decided to just politely go 'Hmmmm, I see' and try changing the subject whenever someone equated God with something mundane in conversation. I think I must have started doing that mentally as well - hence why I take the statement at face value when I hear it.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T22:35:57.372Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That matches my experience as well - I think it is a necessarily supernatural description in the Carrier sense of the word, though, if it is to be taken at face value. It's not like saying "God is Thom Yorke" (to pick the first name that comes to mind - I don't even know who Thom Yorke is), and then cheerfully conceding that God is not, in fact, omnipotent or omniscient, etc. - the God-is-Love god still has the usual properties, just (or not "just", depending) also that description.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-03-21T01:28:56.414Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"God is Thom Yorke"

Well, that might make for more interesting Gospels at least:

My brethren, be not anxious that Thom be absent or that this not come to pass (as in the Book of Kid A, Track 4); for recall as Thom sayeth, "there is nothing to fear, nothing to doubt" (Amnesiac, 2)— verily, in an interstellar burst he shall be back to save the universe (OK Computer, 1). Thou mayst not see him in the world as it is, this gunboat in a sea of fear (The Bends, 2), for Thom doth not belong here (Pablo Honey, 2). Repent of your sins, lest you go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking (In Rainbows, 3); steer away from those rocks of evil, or thou shalt be a walking disaster (Hail to the Thief, 9). Therefore immerse your soul in love (The Bends, 12) with all your will, for the best thou can is good enough (Kid A, 6) and Thom shalt see thee in the next life (Kid A, 10).

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-21T01:35:31.532Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect the original Gospels were similarly interesting to the early Christians - it's just that we (most of us, anyway) don't get the in-jokes any more.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T22:41:30.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're most likely correct. Now you've made me think about it, the God-is-Love gambit is probably just misdirection.

Note to self: be careful what I express polite indifference to, because that can turn into a thought pattern as well as a speech pattern.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T22:48:46.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I favor the "response to the Euthyphro Dilemma" theory - if God is Good, then what God loves must be Good by definition, not by contrivance, and the dilemma collapses.

That is, if you ignore the contrivance that is "God is Good".

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T22:57:05.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

if God is Good, then what God loves must be Good by definition

Could you elaborate on how the second part follows from God = good?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T04:39:37.976Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I understand it, "goodness" is being used in a somewhat confusing way there, referring to not only outcomes in the world and the actions which lead to those outcomes, but also preferences or personality traits which lead to those actions. In other words, there is a set of mental qualities which results in preferable outcomes (good) and a set which does not (evil); God has all of the former qualities and none of the latter, therefore similarity to God can be taken as evidence of goodness and vice-versa.

The main practical difference from Friendly AI is that God is presumed to already exist.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-20T23:11:41.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assume it's supposed to work like mass-energy equivalence or something, but I don't actually believe it, so I can't say.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T23:16:04.877Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh, fair enough.

comment by bogus · 2010-03-20T19:45:39.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More rigorously, the distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" must be in the map, not in the territory. As Aleister Crowley put it in his Book of Lies:

“Explain this happening!”

  “It must have a natural cause!”      }____Let these two asses be set to grind corn.
  “It must have a supernatural cause!” } 
comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T18:52:12.468Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, in that case just take the supernatural part out of the definition. Define God as some entity who did essentially what is ascribed to God in the Hebrew Bible. i.e. He created the Heavens and the Earth, etc.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T19:35:13.997Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a paper copy of the Bible so I used this. I tried to read it from the beginning, but it didn't make any sense. At first I thought 'God' must have been Hebrew for 'Big Bang,' but that didn't fit. I can't really work out what this 'God' would even be if it existed - it's like trying to deduce what the Jabberwock is. So I guess God is about as likely to exist as slithy toves.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-20T21:34:36.653Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused again. Are you telling me you are an atheist?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-20T21:39:59.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

About Hebrew Bible God? Of course! Unless you can think of some sensible way to interpret Genesis (and the rest of it) that hasn't occurred to me and lets you salvage a God.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-21T11:08:55.327Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you understand that in the West, when people say they believe in God, they are normally referring to the God of Abraham?

And do you agree that there exists weak evidence for the existence of God?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-21T20:59:36.288Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you understand that in the West, when people say they believe in God, they are normally referring to the God of Abraham?

That is what I thought when I was younger. In practice I've found that when talking to people in depth about their idea of God, they often have a slightly different idea of what God is supposed to be than other people I've spoken to.

And do you agree that there exists weak evidence for the existence of God?

Yes: a lot of people claim to have experienced God directly, which is weak evidence for God's existence. (Assuming they're all talking about essentially the same thing when they say 'God,' anyway.)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-22T09:04:15.076Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes: a lot of people claim to have experienced God directly

Sure; also there is hearsay documentary evidence (the Bible) and apparently even some scientific studies which supposedly demonstrate the power of prayer.

But by what standard do you reject such evidence?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T10:30:13.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rejecting an interpretation of the evidence != rejecting evidence.

(Incidentally, I tried pulling up meta-analyses on the effect of prayer and found this Cochrane meta-analysis which finds no consistent effect of being prayed for on ill health.)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T12:21:53.735Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rejecting an interpretation of the evidence != rejecting evidence.

:shrug: By what standard do you evaluate this evidence so as to reach your atheistic conclusion notwithstanding this evidence for the existence of God?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T13:26:56.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The same standard I use to reach an a-homeopathic conclusion notwithstanding the evidence for homeopathy working, or an a-alien-abduction conclusion notwithstanding the evidence for people being beamed up and anally probed by aliens.

Namely, can I fit the idea of God existing/homeopathy working/alien abduction into my broader understanding of the world, or would it require overturning practically my whole understanding of how reality works?

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T15:33:46.836Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So if I understand you correctly, there is no possible evidence which could convince you of the effectiveness of homeopathy, or the existence of God?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T15:52:20.588Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the contrary, it is quite possible that there could be evidence that would convince me of either of those things. It is just that the evidence would have to be strong enough to go head-to-head with basic physics. If it could somehow be demonstrated that Avogadro's number were 300 orders of magnitude too tiny, and that molecules were a googol times smaller than we thought, and could explain why our earlier experiments had led us to our original estimates of Avogadro's number and molecular sizes, then that would tend make the effectiveness of homeopathy (more) plausible.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T16:21:39.066Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is just that the evidence would have to be strong enough to go head-to-head with basic physics.

And by what standard would you decide whether the evidence is sufficiently strong?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-23T20:58:25.551Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My estimate of the probability of homeopathy working and the current laws of physics being very different would have to be of similar order to my estimate of the probability of the current laws of physics being correct.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T23:49:15.778Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And how do you come up with your probability estimates in a situation like this? Do you rely on your general knowledge and common sense? Do you have some algorithm you follow?

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T00:32:03.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I don't have a strict algorithm I follow in situations like this. What I actually do is probably more like this:

  • do some initial reading to get an idea of the basic plausibility of the hypothesis based on my background knowledge
  • let the hypothesis bounce around my mind for a while
  • try to spell out to myself the resulting gut feeling for the hypothesis' probability
  • check that rough estimate for any gaping flaws
  • if that rough estimate is really low, reject the hypothesis as Too Unlikely To Debate for the time being (remember that 'super careful' warning I made a few posts up? This is where it applies)
  • if the rough estimate is instead very high, accept the hypothesis as Too Likely To Debate for the time being
  • if the probability estimate is more middling, and the hypothesis' truthiness is important to me, gather more data and try to hone my hunch for the hypothesis' probability
comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T14:14:29.981Z · score: -10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fine, and using a similar method of estimating probabilities based on my knowledge, common sense, etc., I am satisfied that the difference in cognitive performance between blacks and whites results in large part from genetic differences.

In the same way that you are reasonably confident that God does not exist despite evidence to the contrary.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-24T16:07:19.031Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...using a similar method of estimating probabilities based on my knowledge, common sense, etc., I am satisfied that...

This statement is roughly equivalent to "My opinions on topic X are soundly arrived at". Show, don't tell.

In the instance, the blog where you said you were going to publish "evidence and arguments" in support of the above view has, to a first approximation, zero useful or interesting content at this time. Meanwhile you have wasted the time and attention of many LW readers as you submitted cupholder to an interrogation that would have tried anyone's patience.

I wish you'd stop doing that.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T16:19:38.029Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This statement is roughly equivalent to "My opinions on topic X are soundly arrived at".

Perhaps, but I set forth the basis of my reasoning in a blog post elsewhere. So I did more than simply assert a conclusion.

Since this branch of the discussion has fallen below the comment threshhold, I am happy to discuss things here.

In any event, would you apply the same criticism to cupholder's atheism?

to a first approximation, zero useful or interesting content at this time

If you believe that what I stated was not useful or interesting, then you should not mind stipulating for the sake of argument that the facts I state there are correct. Agreed?

Meanwhile you have wasted the time and attention of many LW readers as you submitted cupholder to an interrogation that would have tried anyone's patience.

Unfortunately cupholder was rather evasive in our discussion. That's his fault not mine.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T18:48:20.765Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately cupholder was rather evasive in our discussion.

Evidence please.

I see one answer to one of your questions in this atheism discussion that I answered in a cutesy way - though I still think my implication there was quite clear. For your other questions in this subthread I either replied in enough detail to answer your questions, where they were relevant (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8), or pointed out that your question was underspecified or had a false premise.

That's his fault not mine.

If you felt my answers to your questions were unsatisfactory, it would have been more helpful to have made that more explicit at the time, instead of working through your long-winded Socratic dialogue and taking an unsubstantiated potshot at me.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:08:58.274Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Evidence please.

For example, consider this exchange:


Me: Sure; also there is hearsay documentary evidence (the Bible) and apparently even some scientific studies which supposedly demonstrate the power of prayer.

But by what standard do you reject such evidence?

You: Rejecting an interpretation of the evidence != rejecting evidence

Me: :shrug: By what standard do you evaluate this evidence so as to reach your atheistic conclusion notwithstanding this evidence for the existence of God?


It's pretty obvious in this context what it means to "reject evidence," but you chose an interpretation which let you avoid the question. i.e. you were evasive.

Anyway, I didn't make an issue out of your evasiveness until somebody made an issue out of the length of our exchange.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T19:20:48.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's pretty obvious in this context what it means to "reject evidence,"

Indeed, and that context happens to include this question preceding the first one you quoted there:

And do you agree that there exists weak evidence for the existence of God?

which implies that you thought there was a significant chance that I didn't believe there was evidence of God. (Otherwise, why would you have bothered asking?) So when you subsequently implied that I 'reject such evidence' of God, it was quite reasonable to interpret it as literally just that - rejecting the evidence qua evidence - because you had just implied that you were open to the possibility that I denied evidence of God in general.

Anyway, I didn't make an issue out of your evasiveness until somebody made an issue out of the length of our exchange.

That's nice.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:31:08.690Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

which implies that you thought there was a significant chance that I didn't believe there was evidence of God. (Otherwise, why would you have bothered asking?) So when you subsequently implied that I 'reject such evidence' of God, it was quite reasonable to interpret it as literally just that - rejecting the evidence qua evidence - because you had just implied that you were open to the possibility that I denied evidence of God in general.

Lol, you are being silly. We had both agreed that the evidence exists and then I asked why you rejected it. It was completely obvious what I meant.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T19:43:02.835Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lol, you are being silly. We had both agreed that the evidence exists and then I asked why you rejected it.

You seem to be writing as if acknowledging the existence of evidence and rejecting evidence are mutually exclusive. Perhaps that is how you understand acknowledging that evidence exists v. rejecting evidence, but that's a new understanding to me.

It was completely obvious what I meant.

Apparently not.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:51:33.232Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to be writing as if acknowledging the existence of evidence and rejecting evidence are mutually exclusive.

Please either show me where I made such an implication by QUOTING me or admit I implied no such thing. Thank you.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T19:59:07.886Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please either show me where I made such an implication by QUOTING me

I could be mistaken, but I think I already did.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T20:11:58.068Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes you are mistaken. If we both agree to X, it would make no sense for me to ask, in essence, why you believe in ~X.

comment by cupholder · 2010-03-24T20:23:29.948Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not asserting that you asked me if I believed there was no evidence of God (which is the ~X you have in mind, as far as I can tell). I'm asserting that you asked me whether I rejected evidence of God.

A second thing. It's plain to me that at this point this argument is capable of going around in circles forever (if it hasn't gone into a full-on death spiral already), and I'm not interested in engaging you on this point indefinitely. I'm not going to continue this subthread after this comment.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T21:25:21.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not asserting that you asked me if I believed there was no evidence of God (which is the ~X you have in mind, as far as I can tell). I'm asserting that you asked me whether I rejected evidence of God.

But according to you, I implied that rejecting evidence of God excludes the possibility of acknowledging the existence of that evidence.

However I made no such implication.

and I'm not interested in engaging you on this point indefinitely. I'm not going to continue this subthread after this comment.

That's fine . . . I don't engage with people who strawman me.

Goodbye.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-24T16:47:08.179Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am happy to discuss things here.

I'm not. This style of argumentation is ineffective and wasteful of people's time, and I'm unhappy, bordering on angry, that it has gone on that long. I prefer to let this emotion find a productive outlet, namely a top-level post to put a name to the pattern I prefer, so as to encourage more useful discussions in future.

Unfortunately cupholder was rather evasive in our discussion

Claim. Unsupported by evidence.

That's his fault not mine.

Blame. Irrelevant to truth-seeking.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T16:54:22.132Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not.

:shrug: Then don't engage with me.

Claim. Unsupported by evidence.

Would you like to see some evidence? I'm happy to provide it.

Blame. Irrelevant to truth-seeking.

If blame is irrelevant to truth-seeking, then why are you accusing me (and not cupholder) of "wasting time and attention"?

Anyway, please answer my questions:

(1) Would you apply the same criticism to cupholder's atheism?

(2) If you believe that what I stated was not useful or interesting, then you should not mind stipulating for the sake of argument that the facts I state there are correct. Agreed?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T00:46:53.595Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you like to see some evidence? I'm happy to provide it.

Never say this again. It's a cheap, time-wasting dodge.

If you actually have evidence, simply lay it out as soon as it might be relevant.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T01:42:54.141Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you actually have evidence, simply lay it out as soon as it might be relevant.

I disagree with this. It takes time and energy to gather evidence. I don't care to spend my time and energy digging up evidence unless somebody seriously throws down the gauntlet. Just stating "Claim. Unsupported by evidence" -- without indicating an interest in engaging -- is not enough for me. Besides, it would have been easy enough for the poster to come back and say "yes, show me a quote please."

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-06-28T02:26:57.265Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you like to see some evidence? I'm happy to provide it.

This seems to imply that you already have the evidence, and are only waiting for confirmation that it's wanted to provide it.

It takes time and energy to gather evidence.

If this is relevant, it implies that you don't have the evidence yet.

Please don't imply that you have evidence when you don't.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T11:59:36.625Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say that you are presenting what's known as a "false dilemma," i.e. your statement assumes that there are only two possibilities: either (1) I have the evidence in which case it costs me nothing to present it; or (2) I don't in which case it is dishonest for me to offer to present evidence.

Of course there is another possibility, which is that I am reasonably confident I can present the evidence, but it will take me time and energy to gather and present it.

For example, suppose I bought a toaster a month ago; it breaks; I call up the store to get it fixed; and the store manager says "We can't help you since you aren't the original purchaser." Before I spend 20 minutes finding the credit card receipt, I'm going to ask the guy "Would you like to see proof that I bought the toaster?"

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-06-28T13:58:16.029Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't yet have evidence, it's not dishonest to offer to find and present it, but it is dishonest to claim that you already have it, since by making that claim you're claiming something that's not true - namely that you have already confirmed that the evidence exists.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T14:35:46.321Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand your point.

Is it dishonest to offer to present evidence when you are confident you can gather it?

For example, in the toaster scenario, is it dishonest to offer to produce proof that you bought the toaster? (Assume for the sake of argument that you save all of your receipts religiously and you are quite confident that you can produce the receipt if you are willing to take 20 minutes to rummage through your old receipts.)

comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-06-28T15:18:48.818Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it dishonest to offer to present evidence when you are confident you can gather it?

If you offer it in such a way as to assert that you already have it, yes.

If I know that someone has a certain amount of evidence for a certain thing, then seeing that evidence myself doesn't tell me much - knowing that the evidence exists is almost as good as gathering it myself. (This is what makes scientific studies work, so that people don't have to test every theory by themselves.) But knowing that someone thinks that a certain amount of evidence exists for a certain thing is much weaker, and actually seeing the evidence in this case tells me much more, because it's not particularly unusual for people to be wrong about this kind of thing, even when they claim to be certain. (Ironically, while I remember seeing a post on here that mentioned that when people were asked to give several 90%-likely predictions most of them managed to do no better than 30% correct, I can't find it, so, case in point, I guess.)

toaster scenario

I don't think this is an accurate metaphor; human brains don't work well enough for us to be that confident in most situations.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T15:26:48.370Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you offer it in such a way as to assert that you already have it, yes

I don't understand what you mean by "already have it." If I know that I can pull the evidence up on my computer screen with about 60 seconds of work, do I "have" it? If the evidence is stored my hard drive, do I "have" it? If the evidence is on a web site which is publicly accessible, do I "have" it?

I don't think this is an accurate metaphor; human brains don't work well enough for us to be that confident in most situations

It sounds like your answer to my question is "no," i.e. it would not be dishonest to offer to produce a receipt but that the example I described is extremely rare and non-representative. Do I understand you correctly?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T15:54:51.309Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I know that I can pull the evidence up on my computer screen with about 60 seconds of work, do I "have" it?

If you spend more time arguing about definitions than it would take to present your facts and settle the original point, that constitutes evidence that your motive has little or nothing to do with the pursuit of mutual understanding.

Please either present the evidence you originally offered w/r/t the correlation between race and IQ, or desist in your protestations.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T16:08:46.115Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you spend more time arguing about definitions than it would take to present your facts and settle the original point, that constitutes evidence that your motive has little or nothing to do with the pursuit of mutual understanding.

Before you go attacking my motives, maybe it would make sense to you to explain why you took us into meta-debate territory. You could have easily said something like this:

Brazil84, I think you are unreasonably standing on ceremony by offering to produce evidence rather than just doing it. However, rather than debate over whether that was appropriate or not, please just produce the evidence you offered to produce.

And yet you chose not to, instead launching a meta debate (actually a meta-meta debate). If anyone's motives are suspect, it's yours.

Please either present the evidence you originally offered w/r/t the correlation between race and IQ, or desist in your protestations.

Lol, the evidence I offered to produce was that a certain poster was being evasive. Yes, that's right -- you started a meta-meta-debate.

As far as race and IQ goes, I laid out my case on my blog post. You are free read it carefully and then come back if you want evidence or other support for any aspect of it.

http://fortaleza84.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/the-race-and-iq-question/

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T17:12:56.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have read the post in question. The heart of your argument seems to be

In other words, you see it pretty much everywhere in the United States and the rest of the world; further, various attempts to eliminate this gap have failed. This is exactly what one would expect to happen if the difference were largely genetic in origin.

Could you please provide some citations, with actual numbers, for "pretty much everywhere" and "various attempts," including at least one study more recent than... let's say 1987?

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T18:14:38.917Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could try to, but first you must comply with Rule 4 of my rules of debate.

First tell me that you are seriously skeptical that there is a black/white difference in cognitive abilities pretty much everywhere in the world.

Then tell me that you are seriously skeptical that various attempts to eliminate this gap have failed.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T19:00:38.040Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am seriously skeptical that there is such a difference "pretty much everywhere," that is, without variance along geographical, political, and economic lines.

"Various attempts have failed" taken literally means almost nothing; I am seriously skeptical that the gap has never been reduced as the result of any deliberate intervention.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T19:12:04.844Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am seriously skeptical that there is such a difference "pretty much everywhere," that is, without variance along geographical, political, and economic lines.

I don't understand what you mean by this. Of course there is variance in cognitive abilities (as well as differences in the size of the black/white gap) along geographical, political, and economic lines. And I am not claiming otherwise.

I am seriously skeptical that the gap has never been reduced as the result of any deliberate intervention

Well are you seriously skeptical that the gap has never been substantially eliminated?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T19:57:14.482Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An attempt to eliminate the gap could be considered successful in the long term if it resulted in consistent, cumulative reductions in the gap over time, without (yet) eliminating the gap outright. It's cold comfort, like a cancer patient considered 'cured' because they died of something else first, but still worthy of recognition.

And I am not claiming otherwise.

Then please either concede the point that the intelligence gap might be entirely explained by such factors, or provide a more detailed analysis of why it cannot be. For example, how much of the gap is due to differing economic opportunities, and corresponding issues of early childhood nutrition and education, resulting from discriminatory policies that were still legally enforced as of less than fifty years ago?

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T20:26:24.397Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An attempt to eliminate the gap could be considered successful in the long term if it resulted in consistent, cumulative reductions in the gap over time, without (yet) eliminating the gap outright. It's cold comfort, like a cancer patient considered 'cured' because they died of something else first, but still worthy of recognition.

Well maybe so, but the question is what exactly you are seriously skeptical of. It sounds like you are not seriously skeptical of the claim that the black/white gap has never been substantially eliminated. Do I understand you correctly?

Then please either concede the point that the intelligence gap might be entirely explained by such factors, or provide a more detailed analysis of why it cannot be.

I address that in my blog post. And it sounds like you are not seriously skeptical of the claim that the black/white gap exists pretty much everywhere, you just dispute that it's the same everywhere and you assert that other factors besides race have a general impact on cognitive abilities. Did I understand you correctly?

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T22:21:32.149Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree with you on points of fact (namely the causal mechanism behind a difference in intelligence between two subgroups of H. sapiens) about which you claim to have as-yet-unrevealed evidence. I will reply to you no further until you provide that evidence, preferably in the form of a peer-reviewed study published more recently than 1987 Q 4 conclusively supporting your hypothesis.

Furthermore, if you persist in dodging the question and playing games with 'obviousness,' I will take that as a sign of bad faith on your part, an attempt to manipulate me into saying something embarrassing.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T22:41:52.325Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

:shrug: All I did was ask you simple questions so that I could understand exactly what it is you claim to be skeptical of.

I'm not going to waste time digging up citations for things which you don't seriously dispute.

Furthermore, if you persist in dodging the question and playing games with 'obviousness,

You are the one who is dodging questions.

I asked you two simple, reasonable yes or no questions in good faith so that I could understand your position. You ignored both of them.

Debating with me is not about playing "hide the ball" Before I gather evidence, I want to know exactly where we agree and disagree. You refuse to tell me. So be it.

ETA: By the way, it's possible to be reasonably confident of various generalizations about human groups even without formal, peer-reviewed studies. I think this is pretty obvious, but I can give examples if anyone wants.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T17:31:37.231Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lol, the evidence I offered to produce was that a certain poster was being evasive. Yes, that's right -- you started a meta-meta-debate.

If the readers can't understand what you're referring to, the burden is on you to write more clearly. Furthermore, I object to your use of the word "Lol" in this context.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T18:10:06.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the readers can't understand what you're referring to, the burden is on you to write more clearly.

I see you cannot resist meta-debate.

Anyway, I would say it depends on how much effort and care those readers put into understanding. To any reasonable person, it was clear what I was referring to.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T16:56:35.696Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By the way, if you do want to debate this with me, you should know that I have my own rules of debate. You can find them here:

http://brazil84.wordpress.com/my-rules-of-debate/

In particular, you should pay attention to Rule 4.

comment by Strange7 · 2011-06-28T02:18:20.284Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It takes time and energy to gather evidence.

Irrelevant obfuscation.

If you have already gathered the necessary evidence, present it without this teasing preamble; if not, admit your ignorance and lay out the probable search costs.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-06-28T11:51:09.760Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that when I asked "would you like to see some evidence," the reasonable interpretation is that I can gather and present the evidence with a small but non-zero amount of effort.

However, if you did not understand my comment that way, that's what I meant.

And again, it would have been easy enough for the other poster to say "Yes, I am skeptical of your claim and would like to see the evidence." Since he didn't do it, I infer that he doesn't want to invest any further energy in the interaction. Which is fine, but if he doesn't want to invest further energy, I don't want to either.

comment by prase · 2010-03-24T17:36:02.010Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately cupholder was rather evasive in our discussion. That's his fault not mine.

No, you were aggressive and rude in the discussion. You have demanded a detailed answer while your questions weren't clear, and in repeated queries you didn't even try to explain what sort of answer you want. That all only to allow yourself to reply "well, I use the same standards".

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T17:45:06.777Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, you were aggressive and rude in the discussion.

your questions weren't clear

Can you please QUOTE me where I was aggressive and rude?

Can you please QUOTE a question I asked which was not clear?

"well, I use the same standards".

Actually I said something like "similar" not "same." But so what?

comment by prase · 2010-03-24T18:32:12.550Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your debating style resembles more an interrogation than a friendly discussion, and this I consider rude, but it may be only my personal feeling.

More importantly, you deliberately derailed the debate about racial differences in IQ asking about cupholder's religious beliefs, while being apparently not interested in the question. It seemed to me that the purpose of the long debate was only to prepare positions for your final argument again about racial differences in IQ. This is also on my list of rude behaviour. I don't like people asking questions in order to show that the opponent can't answer appropriately.

If I ask a question and am not satisfied with the answer, the default is to suppose that the other person didn't understood properly the question and my job is to explain it, or possibly give some motivation for it. Repeating the same question with only minimal alterations I consider aggresive. Want a quote?

But by what standard do you reject such evidence? 09:04:15AM

By what standard do you evaluate this evidence so as to reach your atheistic conclusion notwithstanding this evidence for the existence of God? 12:21:53PM

And by what standard would you decide whether the evidence is sufficiently strong? 04:21:39PM

I understand that you interpret it as a result of evasiveness of your opponent, but I simply disagree here. Cupholder has given two answers

Namely, can I fit the idea of God existing/homeopathy working/alien abduction into my broader understanding of the world, or would it require overturning practically my whole understanding of how reality works?

It is just that the evidence would have to be strong enough to go head-to-head with basic physics.

which I find quite appropriate given your question. If you don't, you should explain the question in more detail, because it is unclear. You have basically asked "what's your epistemology", itself a fine question, but full answer could fill a book. So either you wanted some specific answer, and the question was not clear - you should have asked more specifically. Or you didn't want a specific answer, and since I don't think you expected cupholder to explain his rationality in full detail, I must conclude that the question was merely rhetorical, which brings me back to rudeness.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:16:27.256Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More importantly, you deliberately derailed the debate about racial differences in IQ asking about cupholder's religious beliefs, while being apparently not interested in the question. It seemed to me that the purpose of the long debate was only to prepare positions for your final argument again about racial differences in IQ.

Well, the atheism/theism issue is a decent example of a situation where it's possible to be reasonably confident in a position without exhaustive scientific studies of the matter. And indeed, even if there are scientific studies going against your position.

I understand that you interpret it as a result of evasiveness of your opponent, but I simply disagree here.

As noted above, cupholder clearly chose an unreasonable interpretation of my question.

If you don't, you should explain the question in more detail, because it is unclear.

What exactly is the question I asked which is unclear?

comment by prase · 2010-03-24T19:28:42.670Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, the atheism/theism issue is a decent example of a situation where it's possible to be reasonably confident in a position without exhaustive scientific studies of the matter. And indeed, even if there are scientific studies going against your position.

Agreed, but I don't understand the relevance.

As noted above, cupholder clearly chose an unreasonable interpretation of my question.

I found all his interpretations (or what I think to be his interpretations) quite natural. Clearly we have conflicting intuitions. What interpretation did you have in mind, i.e. what type of answer you have expected?

What exactly is the question I asked which is unclear?

It is too general to be answered in a concise comment. Therefore, when replying one has to either choose one particular aspect or be very vague.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:40:50.027Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed, but I don't understand the relevance

As I recall, that's one of the issues which was under discussion.

I found all his interpretations (or what I think to be his interpretations) quite natural. Clearly we have conflicting intuitions. What interpretation did you have in mind,

I claim that the two questions I quoted myself asking are essentially the same question:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1t48

It is too general to be answered in a concise comment. Therefore, when replying one has to either choose one particular aspect or be very vague.

Which question are you talking about?

comment by prase · 2010-03-24T20:03:03.734Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So "reject the evidence" can mean 1) deny that the evidence exists and 2) not consider the evidence convincing. You find the interpretation 2) obvious and 1) unreasonable in the given context. Am I right? If so, well, after thinking about it for a while I admit that 2) is a lot better interpretation, but nevertheless I wouldn't call the other one unreasonable, nor I suspect cupholder of deliberate misinterpretation; people sometimes interpret others wrongly.

Which question are you talking about?

The question by what standard you reject the evidence for the existence of God?

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T20:14:48.786Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So "reject the evidence" can mean 1) deny that the evidence exists and 2) not consider the evidence convincing. You find the interpretation 2) obvious and 1) unreasonable in the given context. Am I right?

Pretty much yes.

If so, well, after thinking about it for a while I admit that 2) is a lot better interpretation, but nevertheless I wouldn't call the other one unreasonable, nor I suspect cupholder of deliberate misinterpretation; people sometimes interpret others wrongly.

I disagree, but at a minimum, it was hardly unreasonable for me to rephrase the question.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-24T19:25:23.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the atheism/theism issue is a decent example of a situation where it's possible to be reasonably confident in a position without exhaustive scientific studies

On the contrary; many people consider the issue settled because all major scientific debates in history, bar none, have ended up weighing against the notion of a personal God who takes an interest in and intervenes in human affairs.

(It is, rather, the persistence of the myth, and its influence on public affairs, that seems to demand scientific scrutiny!)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:37:16.007Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand your point. Are you saying that scientific studies are necessary to resolve the theism/atheism question?

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-24T19:49:40.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. They are a) necessary and b) already done. (The "question" I have in mind is a specific one, that of a personal God who, etc. as stated above.)

Prior to, say, the invention of writing, it would perhaps have been legitimate to consider the existence of a personal God (or gods) an open question, susceptible of being settled by investigation. In fact under a hypothesis like Julian Jaynes' humans about 3000 years ago might have had overwhelming evidence that Gods existed... yet they'd still have been mistaken about that.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-24T23:00:41.375Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In fact under a hypothesis like Julian Jaynes' humans about 3000 years ago might have had overwhelming evidence that Gods existed... yet they'd still have been mistaken about that.

Discovering this hypothesis makes reading this thread worthwhile. I'm shocked I hadn't heard of it before. Maybe the coolest, most bizarre yet plausible idea I have heard in the last two years. Just hearing it (not even believing it) modifies my worldview. Have you or anyone else read the book? Recommended?

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-25T00:05:46.662Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've read the book, which was mentioned favorably in Dennett's Consciousness Explained and forms part of the backstory to Stephenson's Snow Crash. Curiosity compelled me to look further.

My level of understanding of the book's thesis is mostly level-0, i.e. there is a "bicamerality" password but I'd have to reread the book to reacquaint myself with its precise predictions, and I'd be hard pressed to reconstruct the theory myself.

I do have a few pieces of understanding which seem level-2-ish; for instance, the hypothesis accounts for the feeling that a lot of my thinking is internal soliloquy. Also, the idea that consciousness, like love, could in large part be a "memetic" and collective construct (I use the term "meme" evocatively rather than rigorously) somehow appeals to me.

I'd recommend you read it if only for the pleasure of having one more person to discuss it with. I may have to reread it in that case.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T19:53:14.421Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. They are a) necessary and b) already done.

Would you mind pointing me in the direction of the first such scientific study? Thanks in advance.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-24T20:03:45.688Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would be futile to try and pinpoint the first chronologically, but for the one that most pointedly refuted a previously established truth, namely that "God made Man in His image", I'd start with Darwin's Origin of Species.

Though, actually, Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea is probably a better starting point, for being a gloss on Darwin.

You should know, before you ask your next pseudo-Socratic question: given that you seem intent on sticking to that style of "argumentation", I'm going to take your advice and not engage you anymore.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T20:18:11.786Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would be futile to try and pinpoint the first chronologically,

Ok, then how about an early one then.

but for the one that most pointedly refuted a previously established truth, namely that "God made Man in His image", I'd start with Darwin's Origin of Species.

So before the 19th century a rationalist could not reasonably conclude that the atheistic position is correct?

comment by thomblake · 2010-03-24T20:30:43.757Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So before the 19th century a rationalist could not reasonably conclude that the atheistic position is correct?

Do you really take this to be a reasonable interpretation / inference based on what Morendil said?

I think we might just have to stop feeding the troll.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-24T21:13:28.854Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you really take this to be a reasonable interpretation / inference based on what Morendil said?

Absolutely. The other poster claimed, in essence, that scientific studies are necessary to reach the atheistic conclusion. The implication is that before such studies were done, one could not reach that conclusion.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-03-24T21:19:11.169Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be honest, before Darwin, the Argument from Design was a pretty good reason to be a theist. (And I got this from the aforementioned Darwin's Dangerous Idea.)

comment by Jack · 2010-03-25T00:41:14.795Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eh. The "who designed the designer" problem still makes theism a mistake. Hume even argued this before Darwin was born.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-03-25T04:24:00.722Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that's a problem, but I don't think it's enough to make Deism ridiculous. Darwin was fortunate enough to find a "designer" that can exist without requiring a designer of its own, basically settling the question.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-24T22:50:37.797Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the same way that you are reasonably confident that God does not exist despite evidence to the contrary.

The existence of God has probably the lowest prior probability of any hypothesis ever seriously considered by humans. Further**, any evidence in favor of theism has been swamped by opposing evidence: evil, scientific explanations for nearly every phenomena previously attributed to God, evidence human brains are innately susceptible to believing in gods absent good evidence (and subsequent altering of the God hypothesis to account for the new evidence).

In contrast the hypothesis that the race iq gap is entirely or close to entirely environmental has a prior around .5 (lots of human differences are explained by environmental factors and lots are explained by genetics). What we have to update on consists of a handful of studies, several of which contradict each other and none of which have come close to controlling the relevant factors. We have good evidence the gap has shrunk since the Civil Rights movement, the taboo of overt racism and beneficial developments in African American social and economic position. Then there is some evidence the gap shrinks further when black children are raised by white families. There is zero net evidence that IQ correlates with skin tone. Mainstream science either holds that there is no genetic component or that the question is unresolved. Those who believe there is a genetic component will say that political correctness and egalitarianism mean that mainstream science would ignore evidence in favor of their position. Those who do not believe there is a genetic component will say that those who do are just trying to justify their racism. On balance, I update slightly in favor of the environmental hypothesis but there is enough uncertainty that the question needs more studying if we decide we care about it (I'm not sure we should).

The two cases aren't even roughly comparable.

Now for the hundredth time, if you would like to share the knowledge that we don't have that makes you so confident you are welcome to. Persisting in arguing without presenting such evidence is trollish and honestly, probably suggests to some that you don't share their commitment to egalitarianism.

**Edited for clarification.

comment by DonGeddis · 2010-04-14T19:10:41.370Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is zero net evidence that IQ correlates with skin tone.

That's not true at all. There is overwhelming evidence that performance on IQ tests is hugely correlated with "race", which basically implies skin tone. Blacks, as a group, score 10-15 points below whites (almost a standard deviation), and (some) Asians and Jews are about half a deviation above whites.

The controversy is not whether there is correlation. The controversy is over the casual explanation. How much of this observed difference is due to genetics, how much due to environment, and how much due to the structure of standard IQ tests?

Mainstream science either holds that there is no genetic component or that the question is unresolved.

Just to clarify: the question is whether there is a genetic component to the observed difference in black/white (and other racial) group IQ scores.

There is clearly a genetic component to individual IQ scores.

This varies based on wealth. Among poor/impoverished peoples, variance in IQ scores is something like 60-90% due to environmental factors (like nutrition). Among wealthy peoples, 60-70% seems to be genetic.

The usual analogy is the height of growing corn. In nutrient-poor dirt, corn height is mostly a function of how much fertilizer/water/sun the plants get. But in well-tended farms, corn stalk height is almost completely a function of inherited genetics.

comment by Jack · 2010-04-14T19:59:06.112Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I say there is zero net evidence that IQ correlates with skin tone I'm summarizing the findings of the skin tone studies cited in the Nisbett article that was heavily discussed in this conversation. The studies examined IQ among blacks and found that whether the person was light-skinned or dark-skinned had more or less no bearing on that person's IQ (the assumption being that skin tone is a rough proxy for degree of African descent). I think this was obvious at the time from the context of the paragraph: I'm clearly summarizing findings not making general conclusions (until the end). We had been going back and forth on these issues for a while so by that point I was probably using more shorthand than usual. It may not be obvious that is what I was doing a month after the fact.

Just to clarify: the question is whether there is a genetic component to the observed difference in black/white (and other racial) group IQ scores.

Yes, I'm pretty sure the context is more that sufficient to establish that this is what I was talking about. The entire discussion was about origin of the black-white IQ gap.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-14T21:39:40.842Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The studies examined IQ among blacks and found that whether the person was light-skinned or dark-skinned had more or less no bearing on that person's IQ (the assumption being that skin tone is a rough proxy for degree of African descent).

Being more precise (pedantic?), Nisbett wrote:

the correlation between lightness of skin and IQ, averaged over a large number of studies reviewed by Shuey (1966), is in the vicinity of .10.

Assuming that correlation's not a chance fluctuation, that would imply that there is a positive correlation between skin tone and IQ. But a meager one.

comment by Jack · 2010-04-15T02:16:35.271Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At the time I wrote the comment I recall some piece of evidence that I thought countered this very low positive correlation enough that it made sense to say "zero net evidence" but I honestly don't remember what my reasoning was.

We should note btw that the existence of a positive correlation with skin tone doesn't mean some of the IQ gap is genetic. There have been studies demonstrating social advantages to having light skin.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-15T11:14:51.105Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At the time I wrote the comment I recall some piece of evidence that I thought countered this very low positive correlation enough that it made sense to say "zero net evidence" but I honestly don't remember what my reasoning was.

That's reasonable; that you were mentally weighing up Nisbett's claim against conflicting evidence hadn't occurred to me.

We should note btw that the existence of a positive correlation with skin tone doesn't mean some of the IQ gap is genetic.

Wholly agreed.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-04-14T21:47:50.210Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone happen to have any studies that report different findings? This isn't a subject where I trust one source. I know how to lie with studies.

comment by Jack · 2010-04-15T02:12:04.712Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I don't know how to update on meta analyses anymore. I do know though that Ruston and Jensen cite it uncritically (albeit deceptively, they just acknowledge the low correlation and move on) which may be evidence that Shuey (who did the meta analysis) is being honest.

Edit: The other thing I don't trust is that the Shuey analysis of the 18 studies was done in 1966! I'm not sure studies on race from that period are reliable in either direction.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-04-15T02:42:15.555Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edit: The other thing I don't trust is that the Shuey analysis of the 18 studies was done in 1966!

Wow. Just how well did they correct for all external factors? I would have expected a difference in measured IQ to appear based purely on socio-economic disadvantages that are far lesser now.

I'm not sure studies on race from that period are reliable in either direction.

I'm not sure how the political bias / scientific integrity ratio then compares to now. I do suppose that some parties would be particularly interested in finding that result at that time.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-15T12:59:06.212Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do suppose that some parties would be particularly interested in finding that result at that time.

To say the least.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-04-16T07:13:02.896Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read through the chapter. Interesting.

Not being an American I have been exposed to different kinds of discrimination stories, both historic and current. I'm also not sure how relevant the original study would be here, unless there is actually a direct relationship between skin pigmentation and IQ. Prior to European settlement the people in Australia were isolated for tens of thousands of years, leaving skin tone a relatively poor indicator of genetic kinship. That is a lot of time for selection to work on both IQ and pigmentation.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-16T13:00:10.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm also not sure how relevant the original study would be here, unless there is actually a direct relationship between skin pigmentation and IQ.

As you point out, it isn't safe to assume that skin tone reflects ancestry in every case. I think the race scientists implicitly reason that it's OK to treat skin tone as an ancestry indicator among US blacks because of the relatively recent injection of African ancestry into the US gene pool, so skin tone's association with African ancestry hasn't been wholly eliminated/confounded yet. The same obviously wouldn't apply to indigenous Australians.

comment by Jack · 2010-04-15T03:02:55.113Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looked deeper. 1966 is the 2nd edition. The first was 1958. The book both Nisbett and Rushton are citing is titled "The Testing of Negro Intelligence". From what little I can find Shuey was actually something of an early Rushton, arguing that a persistent test score gap since 1910 suggested innate intelligence differences between races. If anyone can find and electronic copy of the book let me know.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-15T12:45:19.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'll be lucky to find a copy. The book probably falls into that mid-century obscurity zone, old enough to be forgotten but not old enough to be public domain.

If it helps, the 1975 book Race Differences in Intelligence takes Shuey's results on skin color and IQ and adapts 5 of the studies she found into a table. Looking at the table, the studies are quite a mish-mash. Three report correlation coefficients, and the other two instead report average IQ for different categories of mixed ancestry people ('Light skin' v. 'Dark skin', and 'Strong evidence of white' v. 'Intermediate' v. 'Dominantly Negroid'). The studies date from 1926 to 1947, and the 1947 study's an unpublished dissertation. Each study used a different IQ test. I can only imagine there's even more variation among Shuey's full collection of studies.

comment by Jack · 2010-04-15T20:14:53.284Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not really a reply to you. I just found this and needed to put it somewhere. Anyone who has been following this discussion will be interested. It's an interesting way of posing the question.

Now plot the genome of each human as a point on our lattice. Not surprisingly, there are readily identifiable clusters of points, corresponding to traditional continental ethnic groups: Europeans, Africans, Asians, Native Americans, etc. (See, for example, Risch et al., Am. J. Hum. Genet. 76:268–275, 2005.) Of course, we can get into endless arguments about how we define European or Asian, and of course there is substructure within the clusters, but it is rather obvious that there are identifiable groupings, and as the Risch study shows, they correspond very well to self-identified notions of race.

...

We see that there can be dramatic group differences in phenotypes even if there is complete allele overlap between two groups - as long as the frequency or probability distributions are distinct. But it is these distributions that are measured by the metric we defined earlier. Two groups that form distinct clusters are likely to exhibit different frequency distributions over various genes, leading to group differences.

...

This leads us to two very distinct possibilities in human genetic variation:

Hypothesis 1: (the PC mantra) The only group differences that exist between the clusters (races) are innocuous and superficial, for example related to skin color, hair color, body type, etc.

Hypothesis 2: (the dangerous one) Group differences exist which might affect important (let us say, deep rather than superficial) and measurable characteristics, such as cognitive abilities, personality, athletic prowess, etc.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-16T20:12:13.328Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hsu's blog post makes two claims about race. The first argument is that 'Hypothesis 2' could be correct - i.e., that there could be genetically driven differences in exciting traits like IQ between races (or 'groups,' but I think we all know which 'groups' we're really interested in). I agree with this argument.

I completely disagree with the second claim, which is that genetic clustering studies constitute 'the scientific basis for race.' It's true that scientists can extract clusters from genetic data that match what we call races. If you gave me a bunch of human genotypes sampled from around the world and let me fuck around with that data and run it through PCA for a few hours, I'm sure I could do the same. But it doesn't automatically follow that my classification is correct.

For example, if you sample some whites, sample some blacks, and expect those two categories to automatically pop out of your analysis, you might be surprised. Here's a recent paper that estimated the European ancestry in African-Americans by analyzing genotypes from samples of US whites, US blacks, and several subgroups of Africans. Running PCA on all of the genotype data, and plotting the first two principal components of the subjects' genotypes in each sample gave these clusters:

If we treat the widely separated clusters as races, we don't automatically recover a black race and a white race. We end up with a Mandenka race, a white race, and a Bantu + Yoruba race, with African-Americans smeared out between them.

The researchers could no doubt have come up with an alternative rotation of the axes that would've projected all of the African samples on top of each other, and the European sample far away from them. But what would justify the alternative projection over the original one?

Maybe my own personal concept of 'race' emphasizes differences among sub-Saharan Africans, instead of continental differences. Then I might do a PCA on a set of sub-Saharan African genotypes, find a couple of principal components that best separate out the sub-Saharan African subgroups, and only then plot the north Africans and non-Africans along with the sub-Saharans.

Here are a few plots from a study that did just that. Notice now that the most widely separated clusters are three, or perhaps four, sub-Saharan African clusters - and the rest of the world forms one little cluster in the middle of them!

If I were a scientist who had started with the idea that the main races consisted of several African subgroups, plus one other race containing all non-Africans, this analysis would seem to completely vindicate my initial beliefs! But the analysis turned out the way it did mainly because the way I did it was driven by my original taxonomy of 'races.'

I've picked out two papers myself to make points, now I'll write a bit about the 'Risch et al.' paper Hsu points to. Risch et al. calculated genetic clusters by running data collected for the Family Blood Pressure Program through the structure program. Hsu writes that the clusters that emerged 'correspond very well to self-identified notions of race.'

Well, there's no ready-made algorithm which takes genotypes as input and spits out objectively determined races, and structure is no exception. There are some subtleties to how the program works. For one thing, it doesn't automatically confirm an optimal number of clusters and then sort the subjects into the appropriate number of clusters: the researcher tells structure to put subjects into some number k of clusters, and the program then does its best to fit the subjects into k clusters. So the fact that structure's output contained an intuitively pleasing number of clusters doesn't mean very much.

Another issue is that the kind of model structure uses to represent distributions of genotypes is suboptimal for cases where samples have been isolated due to distance and have suffered a lack of gene flow. But, if Hsu is correct, this is exactly the case for Risch et al.'s data, since he writes that Risch et al.'s 'clustering is a natural consequence of geographical isolation, inheritance and natural selection operating over the last 50k years since humans left Africa!'

There is more I could write, but I might as well just link this book chapter, which discusses issues with trying to algorithmically infer someone's racial ancestry. I've already written more than I meant to - sorry for the lecture - but it disappoints me when someone well-credentialed (a professor of physics!) uncritically waves around ambiguous results to shore up a folk model of race.

(Edited to fix last link.)

comment by Jack · 2010-04-16T23:32:29.275Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've already written more than I meant to - sorry for the lecture

Here of all places this is unnecessary. I posted the link specifically hoping someone would respond like this.

It's true that scientists can extract clusters from genetic data that match what we call races. If you gave me a bunch of human genotypes sampled from around the world and let me fuck around with that data and run it through PCA for a few hours, I'm sure I could do the same. But it doesn't automatically follow that my classification is correct.

If we treat the widely separated clusters as races, we don't automatically recover a black race and a white race. We end up with a Mandenka race, a white race, and a Bantu + Yoruba race, with African-Americans smeared out between them.

If we're discovering clusters that don't fit with our racial preconceptions that is evidence the clusters that do match some of our racial preconceptions aren't bullshit. Also, aren't we looking for genetic evidence of cultural and geographical isolation? Isn't the fact that we see different clusters for different groups in Africa just evidence that those groups have been (reproductively) isolated for a really long time? I would predict from these findings that when humans first left the continent there were already distinct groupings and that not all of these grouping had descendants that left Africa.

Also, from the chart posted here I would predict that the Africans kidnapped and purchased as slaves came more from the Yoruba and much less so from the Mandenka. They probably didn't all come from the Yoruba, perhaps the others came from the groups in the upper right corner of this chart that you linked in your other comment. Or perhaps they didn't come from the Yoruba but others in that corner and the Yoruba are just closely related to those other groups.

EDIT: So there were a lot of tribes that had members become slaves. Like nearly every major tribe appears to have been affected. I'm going to have to find something that tells me proportions which will take longer.

From your other comment on that chart.

The Fulani + Bulala are as far apart from some of the other African samples as they are from the Europeans!

If you go search for pictures of both you can notice the phenotype differences as well.

I'll maybe say more after I look at that chapter.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-17T00:59:34.804Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here of all places this is unnecessary. I posted the link specifically hoping someone would respond like this.

Mission accomplished! :-)

If we're discovering clusters that don't fit with our racial preconceptions that is evidence the clusters that do match some of our racial preconceptions aren't bullshit.

Sounds reasonable.

Also, aren't we looking for genetic evidence of cultural and geographical isolation? Isn't the fact that we see different clusters for different groups in Africa just evidence that those groups have been (reproductively) isolated for a really long time?

It can be, although variation along principal component axes can also represent genetic change due to migration. (I picked up on this potential confound by reading a Nature Genetics paper that made the same point from the opposite direction. That is, variation along a PC can be due to continuous geographic separation instead of migration.)

Also, from the chart posted here I would predict that the Africans kidnapped and purchased as slaves came more from the Yoruba and much less so from the Mandenka.

That's looks about right to me. Table 1 from the paper estimating African ancestry gives a detailed breakdown of the African ancestry of the African-American sample, and it fits what you suggest.

comment by stevehsu · 2010-04-16T21:21:52.641Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm typing this on an iPad so apologies for mistakes. A picture for you here:

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2009/06/genetic-clustering-40-years-of-progress.html

Yes, there are clines, but so what? The population fraction in the clinal region between the major groups is tiny.

The distance (e.g. measured by fst) between the continental groups is so large that you would have to stand on your head to not "discover" those as separate clusters.

See also here http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2008/11/human-genetic-variation-fst-and.html

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-16T22:36:42.729Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, there are clines, but so what? The population fraction in the clinal region between the major groups is tiny.

I'm not sure that this contradicts what I wrote. I acknowledge that high-resolution genotyping enables one to distinguish geographically distant samples of people. Being able to pull that off does not automatically validate 'race,' as in the conventional white people v. yellow people v. brown people v. red people taxonomy.

The distance (e.g. measured by fst) between the continental groups is so large that you would have to stand on your head to not "discover" those as separate clusters.

Or you need only come at the data with an unusual preconception of race, which would affect your analytic approach.

Also, if you take wide-ranging genetic samples across Africa (as opposed to using a handful of samples from one Nigerian city to represent all of Africa, as seems to have been done to derive your picture), it seems to me that you end up getting African clusters that can be as far apart from each other as they are from Europeans.

Another example: check out subdiagram A in this diagram, from a paper that took samples from West and South Africa. The Fulani + Bulala are as far apart from some of the other African samples as they are from the Europeans!

comment by stevehsu · 2010-04-17T01:30:54.375Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it seems to me that you end up getting African clusters that can be as far apart from each other as they are from Europeans. <

I doubt this would be the case as measured by fst. Note that distance on a principal components graph is not the same as fst: the components might be optimized to separate the clusters of choice (optimize the directions in gene space which show the most variance between the groups). It's possible in principle that some groups (e.g., pygmies) in Africa have been as effectively separated in gene flow from other Africans as, say, Nigerians and Europeans. More likely, the fst distance between any two groups of Africans is less than the distance from the Yoruba to Europeans or E. Asians. That is what happens when you analyze the (better studied) sub-population structure of, e.g., Europe and Asia. That is, no two groups in E. Asia are anywhere near as far apart as they are collectively from Europeans (and the same for any two European groups vs distance to Asia). That's just what you'd expect from the historical gene flow patterns, and I'd expect it to apply to Africa as well.

The real question is whether folk notions of ethnicity map onto clusters in gene space. If they do (and they do) it implies different frequency distributions for alleles in the groups. That raises the possibility of statistical group differences. What those differences are remains to be determined.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-17T03:53:03.588Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree on the subject of Fst; if you switch from PCA biplots to Fst, that's going to better emphasize differences due to geographical separation. (But likely still not enough to scientifically confirm a classical racial taxonomy as the one true racial taxonomy. One would still have to decide which samples to use to build one's Fst matrix and address the issue of how to extract racial categories from the Fst matrix. I'd also anticipate getting caught up in the same sort of issues as the structure program.)

The real question is whether folk notions of ethnicity map onto clusters in gene space.

Folk notions of ethnicity arguably could, because they are far more squishy and pliable than folk notions of race.

If they do (and they do) it implies different frequency distributions for alleles in the groups.

I can't help feeling that you believe I'm arguing against the validity of race because I think that disproves the possibility of statistical group differences. If so, you can rest easy. I acknowledge the possibility of statistical group differences - it doesn't live or die by the validity of race. I see (or think I do, anyway) genetic group differences in (relatively) boring traits like skin color and hair color - and if those, why not genetic group differences in drama-provoking traits like IQ, personality or genital size?

comment by stevehsu · 2010-04-17T13:51:10.401Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Folk notions of ethnicity arguably could, because they are far more squishy and pliable than folk notions of race.

OK, so we just differ in nuances of definition. If you prefer ethnicity to race, that's fine with me.

The usual lame argument is "race doesn't exist, so how could there be group differences" -- but I think neither of us is arguing that side.

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-18T04:09:51.656Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, so we just differ in nuances of definition. If you prefer ethnicity to race, that's fine with me.

Well, for whatever it's worth, I continue to disagree with one of the arguments in the blog entry I mentioned - there is more here than a minor semantic divide.

The usual lame argument is "race doesn't exist, so how could there be group differences" -- but I think neither of us is arguing that side.

Correct.

comment by Jack · 2010-04-17T04:40:37.688Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So your position is that there are probably allele clusters do to cultural and geographic isolation (and therefore potentially group differences in IQ or personality) your concern is that you don't think those clusters have been shown to map one to one with our folk racial categories?

Do you think our folk racial categories aren't the product of observable phenotypes? Do you think those categories at least approximate a valid scientific taxonomy?

comment by cupholder · 2010-04-18T03:47:33.808Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My concern (or at least the one that I'm elaborating on in this thread) is that those clusters can be made to map onto folk racial categories, or made to be only partly consistent with folk racial categories, or made to be contradictory to folk racial categories, depending upon how one's own preconceptions of race color one's cluster analyses.

Do you think our folk racial categories aren't the product of observable phenotypes?

No.

Do you think those categories at least approximate a valid scientific taxonomy?

Valid for which scientific purpose? They are likely to be workable categories for a sociologist studying race relations. They are likely to be inadequate categories for a molecular anthropologist studying human genetic variation. Though I expect some molecular anthropologists (and evidently at least one professor of physics) would dispute that.

comment by bogus · 2010-03-24T23:14:20.754Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The existence of God has probably the lowest prior probability of any hypothesis ever seriously considered by humans. Any evidence in favor of theism has been swamped ...

Surely you mean 'likelihood' here, not prior probability. Prior probabilities are imputed based on one's uncertainty before any evidence is taken into account, and theism scores fairly high on this metric.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-24T23:18:59.778Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The selection should be read something like:

The existence of God has probably the lowest prior probability of any hypothesis ever seriously considered by humans.

(Due to complexity)

In addition, the hypothesis does not become more likely once we consider the evidence...

Any evidence in favor of theism has been swamped ...

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-24T23:32:18.083Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Due", not "do".

Also, I think the confusion merely arises from arrangement and Gricean-maxim(-like?) considerations - I predict adding "Further" before "[a]ny evidence" would suffice to invoke the correct interpretation.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-24T23:35:29.034Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're obviously right on both counts. Edited.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-24T23:38:36.193Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Remember to flag the edit - I like the footnote method.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-25T00:40:31.061Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The two cases aren't even roughly comparable.

The fundamental similarity is that it's possible to be reasonable confident of a conclusion based on general knowledge, common sense, and despite scientific studies to the contrary.

Now for the hundredth time, if you would like to share the knowledge that we don't have that makes you so confident you are welcome to.

Lol, you have all the knowledge necessary to come to the same conclusion as I have. Surely you are aware that the cognitive gap between blacks and whites is essentially universal and intractable*. In both time and space, as far as anyone knows. While at the same time, other explanations offered for the gap are not so.

There is only one reasonable inference from these facts. One simple explanation which is not inherently ridiculous.

*I agree that the gap can be lessened to some extent since black children face the environmental disadvantage of being raised by black parents.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-25T18:00:01.888Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's possible to be reasonable confident of a conclusion based on general knowledge, common sense, and despite scientific studies to the contrary.

This is true. It's also possible to be way too overconfident, based on these same things, and unacknowledged confounders. This is the problem that scientific studies try to address.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-25T18:22:15.956Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's also possible to be way too overconfident, based on these same things, and unacknowledged confounders

Agree.

This is the problem that scientific studies try to address.

Well, that and other things as well.

comment by ata · 2010-03-22T09:23:26.609Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

apparently even some scientific studies which supposedly demonstrate the power of prayer.

If I recall correctly, there are studies that demonstrate the power of believing one is being prayed for, whether or not one actually is. In studies where the people being prayed for don't know about it, there is no significant difference.

comment by mattnewport · 2010-03-22T11:43:47.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The largest study I know of found the opposite effect: people who knew they were being prayed for had slightly worse health outcomes.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-23T01:37:38.671Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did a google search and found this, among other things:

One of the most cited studies in prayer literature was conducted by the physician Randolph Byrd in 1988. Byrd looked at the effects of prayer in the Judeo-Christian tradition in a coronary care unit (CCU) population. Over ten months, 393 patients admitted to the CCU were randomly assigned to a treatment group that would receive distant prayers, or a control group that would receive no prayers.

Three to seven people prayed daily for the rapid recovery, and prevention of complications or death, for a single patient in the treatment group. The end result was that statistically significantly fewer patients in the prayer group required ventilation, antibiotics, had cardiopulmonary arrests, developed pneumonia, or required diuretics.

http://scientificinquiry.suite101.com/article.cfm/pray-for-me

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T18:23:22.053Z · score: -4 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I updated that post to respond to your question.

comment by Rain · 2010-03-17T19:49:23.748Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's your updated answer from the post, and my reply:

I’m a little confused. Do you deny that whites, generally speaking, outperform blacks on tests of cognitive ability?

You have presented no evidence that they do, therefore there is no evidence for me to deny.

comment by CarlShulman · 2010-03-17T23:19:56.020Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's settled science, the psychometric consensus (although genetic causation of these gaps is not consensus).

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T20:05:53.806Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You have presented no evidence that they do, therefore there is no evidence for me to deny.

When I'm debating with people, I generally don't respond to demands for evidence or cites unless the person disputes -- or is at least seriously skeptical -- about the claim in question.

This prevents people from wasting my time and/or sidetracking the discussion with frivolous demands for evidence.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-17T20:13:12.999Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this discussion you have waited for other people to bring forward the very kind of evidence that underpins your claims, which, seeing as you were the one making a claim in the first place, was your responsibility. From where I sit you're the one who is causing others to waste their time. Your contributions have been vague and overbroad, those of your interlocutors precise and information-rich.

Why should we pay attention to you?

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T20:20:44.461Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

seeing as you were the one making a claim in the first place, was your responsibility.

No, it's not my responsibility to anticipate which aspects of my claim or argument people will dispute.

For example, if I claim that men are taller than women, there's no need for me to provide a cite or evidence until somebody actually disputes my claim, or at least expresses serious skepticism about it.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-17T21:53:20.812Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Height is far more visible (and objective!) than intelligence. EDIT: And the segregation between men and women is much smaller than the segregation between blacks and whites.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T22:05:37.404Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. But so what?

If nobody is willing to dispute -- or even to state they are seriously skeptical -- about some aspect of a particular claim, what's the point of digging up evidence/cites to support that aspect of that claim?

comment by ata · 2010-03-17T22:59:28.344Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the segregation between men and women is much smaller than the segregation between blacks and whites.

That sounds questionable to me.

Obviously men and women aren't geographically segregated in the same way that whites and blacks often are, but socially, economically, and politically, I think the disparity might be greater. (In the US, the income disparity between men and women is greater than that between whites and blacks, for instance.) I'm not saying I'm necessarily very confident about this, but if it's true that "the segregation between men and women is much smaller than the segregation between blacks and whites", then I would be interested in hearing your definitions and evidence.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-18T04:37:16.350Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depending on exactly what you mean, I might or might not agree with the premise that the segregation is greater. But in any case, I don't think it has the same effect.

Geographic segregation means some whites may encounter very few blacks. Economic and political segregation doesn't mean that men do not encounter women and vice-versa. Social segregation is one of those fuzzy things again. Yes, most people have a biased sex-ratio of friends, but the world isn't Saudi Arabia, and men and women do see each other daily. The fact that blacks are a minority, whereas women and men are near parity also affects things.

comment by thomblake · 2010-03-18T01:51:51.207Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The graph you link to doesn't specify where it came from, how it was measured, or more specifically whether/how it counts housewives / married couples.

comment by ata · 2010-03-18T02:01:34.190Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where it came from: 2005 US Census. Probably doesn't make any such distinctions between married and unmarried women.

comment by thomblake · 2010-03-18T02:10:08.995Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looking at the source data files, I'm guessing there are a lot of zero incomes to be explained there, as well as things like unpaid maternity leave. I'm not sure what it's appropriate for my wife to write in the census - 0 or my salary or half my salary.

There is probably still a gender gap, but it remains to be shown that it's greater than the race gap.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2010-03-15T22:48:25.569Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A cultural explanation could exclude a genetic one. Simply put, the culture transmitted by black parents is not conducive to intellectual growth, just as the culture transmitted by Ashkenazi Jews is conducive to intellectual growth. This would also explain Alicorn's example, as the mother is more likely to do most of the cultural transmission, it would explain that data.

I'm not advocating this position, and I'm certainly not generalizing about every single member of a very large group, but this would explain the observed discrepancy and data without requiring a genetic basis. The actual explanation is doubtlessly more complicated; the point is that there are certainly other ways of explaining observed data that do not rely on genetics. That doesn't mean that genetics isn't a factor, only that it's not the case that it must be a significant one.

Also, while we're at it, I hate the term "significant." It's one of the most effective weasel words in existence.

If I wanted to claim that any one of these factors plays a significant role in the difference, I'd need to provide evidence. Because genetics is hard to see and so directly intertwined with other factors (the parents who create you generally raise you), claiming, "Genetics must be a key factor!" requires a significant amount of unambiguous evidence.

I admit there may be better evidence on this than I am familiar with, but I would be very surprised if that were the case. Good data on this topic is very hard to procure funding for.

I agree wholeheartedly with NT's statement, though. People unwilling to entertain the possibility that genetics differ between ethnic subgroups are indeed failing at rationality, though I'd have to say a socially motivated failing at rationality is less blameworthy than a personally motivated one.

comment by thomblake · 2010-03-15T22:56:37.809Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People unwilling to entertain the possibility that genetics differ between ethnic subgroups are indeed failing at rationality

Those people are failing at something much more basic than rationality. Likewise for folks who think intelligence does not have any basis in genetics (try to debate a douglas fir!)

It is obviously true that different people differ genetically, and obviously true that intelligence is related to genetics. But it is not obvious in this way that differences in intelligence between two humans would have anything to do with genetics.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T14:42:45.334Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find it interesting that no one points out that the missing heredity of IQ (not explained by genetics) may be due to other environemntal factors rather than culture.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T14:53:14.329Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually find the genetic explanation more hopefull. Genetic engineering would be a cheap and easy fix to the problem at least compared to the price of current and past attempts to close the gap.

If its culture then we are stuck with doing more or less the same things we have already done for 50 or so years, just with more money and more energy this time.

If its a mysterious hereditary factor but not the culture... I'm even less optimistic unless it would turn out to be a family of infectious agents that cause damage in the prenatal environment or alter gene expression.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-04-18T16:31:33.179Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually find the genetic explanation more hopefull. Genetic engineering would be a cheap and easy fix to the problem at least compared to the price of current and past attempts to close the gap.


I'm not too optimistic about genetic engineering. It seems that any engineering process requires a lot of failures before you figure out how to do things right. People can accept that a few astronauts and test pilots will die fiery deaths, but I doubt anyone could accept babies being born with brains messed up due to genetic tinkering.

The other thing is that poor man's genetic engineering -- i.e. eugenics -- has been available for some time now and people are very reluctant to embrace it. Even without forced sterilization, it hardly seems outrageous to tweak public policy so as to incentivize the smartest people to reproduce more and discourage the stupidest. And yet it seems it would be politically very difficult to enact even a mild policy along these lines -- its proponents would surely be condemned as racists.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-07T15:59:40.695Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The other thing is that poor man's genetic engineering -- i.e. eugenics -- has been available for some time now and people are very reluctant to embrace it. Even without forced sterilization, it hardly seems outrageous to tweak public policy so as to incentivize the smartest people to reproduce more and discourage the stupidest.

It is widely employed in the US by parents using (for whatever reason) modern reproductive technology.

Of course we don't call it that, but please what else is it, when the eggs of women with very high SAT or even GRE scores cost thousands of dollars to obtain than those that are merely average? What else is it when you search for a tall/athletic/musically talented/ academically successful sperm donor? Or terminating a pregnancy where the fetus is identified to have a genetic disorder?

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-07T21:37:56.839Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is widely employed in the US by parents using (for whatever reason) modern reproductive technology

I would say it depends what you mean by "widely employed." Among the left half of the American bell curve, what percentage of children would you guess are the result of modern reproductive technology and a voluntary search for a high IQ egg or sperm donor? I would guess it's well under 5%. i.e. not enough to have a big impact on the intelligence of future generations.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-08T10:46:38.575Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why is this down-voted?

He is right. Reproductive technology is mostly currently employed by people with above average IQ, not just because this is the general pattern with all almost all technology and medical services in general, but because high IQ people are more likley to be infertile at the period in their life when they want to have children.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-08T11:12:46.919Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

high IQ people are more likley to be infertile at the period in their life

And, incidentally, are more likely to be fertile overall. (And taller and with an ass that conforms to sex appropriate indicators of 'damn fine'.) Of course, not very much more likely.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-08T15:19:48.500Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And, incidentally, are more likely to be fertile overall.

By fertile you mean “able to have children, whether they actually have them or not”? Otherwise, that's wrong.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-09T01:10:55.014Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By fertile you mean “able to have children, whether they actually have them or not”?

Clearly.

comment by katydee · 2012-01-08T17:03:11.228Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Um, citation needed?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-09T01:20:13.862Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Um, citation needed?

Really? I thought it was a reference to common knowledge.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-07T16:17:10.223Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And yet it seems it would be politically very difficult to enact even a mild policy along these lines -- its proponents would surely be condemned as racists.

I guess that's true. But it can be framed otherwise. Let me demonstrate:

"In America today, minorities are often hardest hit by the widening gap between the rich and the poor and the gap between the technologically savvy and unsavvy. Besides the more abstract measure of "genomic literacy" blogged on by editors of the New York Beta Times last week, a recent disturbing study by the FDA shows that only 15% of African American mothers and 21% of Hispanic American mothers conceive via artificial insemination compared to 40% of white American mothers and 47% of Asian American mothers. Democratic house leaders have called for more generous government assistance and educational programs to help minorities take advantage of these vital services. In related news Republicans stir controversy by calling existing government support for such programs "racist and unconstitutional" in the already fraught atmosphere of last weeks "quarrelling preacher couple" viral video. In the first part of the YouTube video rev. Matthew Young called genetic enhancement an abomination unto God and "another attempt by elitists to push social engineering and sin, masked by false eugenic and evolutionary pseudo-science, unto an unwilling and pious public". The second part of the video is a youtube respond where his husband Jeffrey Young explains that while he strives to fulfil God's commandments to obey his minister, he just can't bring himself to think God would want people to live poorer and less fulling lives and so supports certain uses of reproductive technology and thinks government should make them available. Is this just another sign of the religious right becoming a house divided on the issue? Some experts say that the outdated legislation of 2019 may be repelled earlier than... "

In a very slow and overly cautious approach of just selecting the best embryo of the mix for implantation or even just picking the best sperm and egg, you would get convergence between the groups rather rapidly. Innovation is expensive, copying is cheap in such circumstances. Any genetic advantages of say Askenazi Jews, other Europeans or East Asians will be pretty cheap source of cognitive enhancement for the third world, while the First world will have to mine its talented fraction, which may have somewhat more unpleasant side effects.

The reason why I believe a very slow and overly cautious approach might be probable, is because we already have a very slow and overly cautious approach when it comes to new medical technology.

comment by Prismattic · 2012-01-08T00:37:33.912Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are rather over-optimistic about the ability to reduce opposition to your proposal by framing in less explictly race-related terms. There is a long history, at least in the United States, of policies of racist intent being articulated using criteria that are not explicitly related to race: poll taxes and literacy tests; vagrancy laws; the general trope of "states rights". Everyone is already primed to be looking for the racial discrimination, regardless of how you phrase it.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-08T10:44:23.291Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How is this racial discrimination against anyone but European and Asian Americans? They would bear a disproportionate amount of taxation for government services that mostly help non-Asian minorities.

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T00:00:42.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Besides the more abstract measure of "genomic literacy" blogged on by editors of the New York Beta Times last week, a recent disturbing study by the FDA shows that only 15% of African American mothers and 21% of Hispanic American mothers conceive via artificial insemination compared to 40% of white American mothers and 47% of Asian American mothers.

Doesn't sound all that plausible to me. Based on my general observations, the people at the low end of the IQ bell curve tend to reproduce in their late teens and early 20s, i.e. at ages where reproductive technology is not all that necessary.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-08T10:42:42.964Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this world people use reproductive technology even when perfectly capable of conceiving naturally because it has become much more advanced, more convenient and because children gain a considerable measurable advantage. Also I assume these would be plausible numbers because contraceptive technology has advanced, the male pill for starters or perhaps a safer, more advanced, multi-year version of something like Depo-Provera.

Basically Gattaca to reach for a fictional portrayal.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-18T21:44:04.733Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't proposing we do anything novel, except the technology needed to modify genes in human eggs and perhaps sperm. Nothing truly transhuman in scope (for now).

I assume (eye-baling what I recall from the data) there are enough similarities between various disparate ethnicities and enough diversity within ethnicities that it wouldn't be that hard to simply spread around the wealth so to speak. Just increase the frequency of a few rare alleles or take a few from other groups. Or if you are feeling extra conservative, identify genes that where sweeping say a century or three ago (not sure exactly how long ago high IQ genes became maladaptive, estimating early dates for dysgenics in recent history is difficult) and are associated with IQ and just spread those.

Sure there are very likley some IQ increasing genes that simply wouldn't work for everyone or would cause some averse result, but again I expect these to be rare considering they've been test driven.

As for messed up brains... Just perfect technology for altering genes in eggs on animals, do only what nature has already done for a exceptional group or individual then simply vigorously screen among a few hundred created embryos to figure out which to implant so one can be certain to avoid bad PR.

Generally speaking I think there really is no reason that anyone needs to suffer a IQ lower than 100 in the late 21st century. I wouldn't however dictate to parents that they can't have low IQ children if they so desired, no more that I would at a later time forbid people from living and reproducing as the Homos Sapiens classic. Nature has tested the design, it works mostly, and the benefit to mankind should we find a way to help the lower half of the bell-curve catch up at least to the current average would be immense. The non-negligible increases in economic productivity would be dwarfed by gains in quality of life. This is why I am and have been for so long a supporter of transhumanism, its potential to improve the human condition through enhancement has always captivated my imagination.

The other thing is that poor man's genetic engineering -- i.e. eugenics -- has been available for some time now and people are very reluctant to embrace it. Even without forced sterilization, it hardly seems outrageous to tweak public policy so as to incentivize the smartest people to reproduce more and discourage the stupidest. And yet it seems it would be politically very difficult to enact even a mild policy along these lines

I actually think that having the government step away from barring people access to their genetic information as well as limiting with unnecessary regulation their access to technologies that require in vitro fertilisation (in my own country only infertile couples have access to it), a greater acceptance of genetics and evolution, and a academic culture less biased against hereditarian explanations would result in a strong enough trend of people making eugenic choices to counteract most of the dysgenic decline we are experiencing. Voluntary eugenics is a wonderful way how people can improve the lives of their children.

In the big picture two human generations is a short period from a biological perspective. As long as genetic engineering of humans is available and accepted by 2060 I remain optimistic about humanities long term chances. However if the date would be pushed back to 2090 or if enhancement wasn't accepted in most of the developed world, or perhaps limited to regions with authoritarian regimes then I would be very much concerned.

comment by brazil84 · 2011-04-19T09:55:30.353Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As for messed up brains... Just perfect technology for altering genes in eggs on animals, do only what nature has already done for a exceptional group or individual then simply vigorously screen among a few hundred created embryos to figure out which to implant so one can be certain to avoid bad PR.

Maybe, we are pretty much in the realm of speculation here. I am still skeptical but I will concede the possibility that with a conservative approach including animal testing, these sorts of genetic modifications might be done with minimal risk to humans. I tend to doubt it based on the observation I made before. Also, I think it's reasonable to expect that different alleles interact and affect an organism in a lot of subtle, unpredictable ways. Dog breeders know that trying to improve one feature often has deleterious effects on other, seemingly unrelated features.

And getting your typical American of low intelligence (perhaps IQ 85) to a point where he can succeed in college (perhaps IQ 115) would seem to require a pretty big jump.

a greater acceptance of genetics and evolution, and a academic culture less biased against hereditarian explanations would result in a strong enough trend of people making eugenic choices to counteract most of the dysgenic decline we are experiencing. Voluntary eugenics is a wonderful way how people can improve the lives of their children.

I kinda doubt that the people towards the bottom of the IQ spectrum have much interest in boosting the intelligence of their children. This is based on general observation of the kind of traits they select for in mating.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T15:50:36.099Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dog breeders know that trying to improve one feature often has deleterious effects on other, seemingly unrelated features.

Since we're basically talking about IQ, the negative side effects on anything like personality or health would have to be really big to outweigh the sheer socio-economic benefits one can statistically expect for say a boost of 10 or 20 or 30 IQ points.

I kinda doubt that the people towards the bottom of the IQ spectrum have much interest in boosting the intelligence of their children. This is based on general observation of the kind of traits they select for in mating.

Depressingly plausible.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T16:55:11.250Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since we're basically talking about IQ, the negative side effects on anything like personality or health would have to be really big to outweigh the sheer socio-economic benefits one can statistically expect for say a boost of 10 or 20 or 30 IQ points.

The adverse effects quite possibly are that significant in the context of the ancestral environment, but probably not in the context of the modern world.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-07T17:09:39.924Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The adverse effects quite possibly are that significant in the context of the ancestral environment, but probably not in the context of the modern world.

You need to develop that a bit more. It is important for the benefit of the reader and thinking in general to precisely and clearly separate genetic fitness and general well being in addition to pointing out the environment has changed.

I suggest people read up on Algernon's Law and its loopholes. In short:

Any simple major enhancement to human intelligence is a net evolutionary disadvantage.

Bostrom's formulation, called “evolutionary optimality challenge” (EOC):

If the proposed intervention would result in an enhancement, why have we not already evolved to be that way?

The loopholes as given by Bostrom are:

  • Changed tradeoffs, because our envrionment has changed. What you said.
  • Value discordance, between what we'd like to optimize and what evolution is optimizing for. What I said.
  • Evolutionary restrictions, which don't apply to us. "We have access to various tools, materials, and techniques that were unavailable to evolution. Even if our engineering talent is far inferior to evolution’s, we may nevertheless be able to achieve certain things that stumped evolution, thanks to these novel aids.”"

And also in the current context of discussion (possibility of genetic differences between groups), if one accepts that say Askenazi Jews have a one stdv or half a stdv advantage over some populations due to genetic causes, looking at them today, they don't seem to have shorter or less happy lives or be undesirable people, so why not share that specific genetic wealth around? It has the neat side effect of basically rooting out one of the causes of anti-Semitism too, by reducing inequality, so it is hard to say it would hurt their interest as individuals or an ethnicity either.

Actually one doesn't need to demand genetic differences between groups for the argument that what we're seeing here probably fits either the first or the second loopholes, since we also have individual differences that are caused by genetics. We see that people with an IQ of 115 overall seem to statistically speaking today do better in nearly every measure of quality of life and many measures of psychological well being compared to people with an IQ of 85, they also live longer and are generally more desirable to have around.

comment by Baughn · 2012-01-26T23:39:12.743Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would add a fourth possibility:

Lack of time.

It seems likely to me that our civilization and technology developed at the earliest possible point it could have, in which case the high-IQ genes are simply not fixated yet, but would be if we hung around for a few (tens of) thousands more years. For that matter, there's no reason not to think we'd go well above our current maximum.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-28T12:52:18.209Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apparently smart people have fewer children than average.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T17:12:29.683Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Algernon's Law is just the concept I was thinking of; I hadn't seen this link. Thanks!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-08T11:14:55.170Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even without forced sterilization, it hardly seems outrageous to tweak public policy so as to incentivize the smartest people to reproduce more and discourage the stupidest.

Assuming intelligence to correlate with wealth, making it more expensive to raise children would seem like it would have a positive effect in that direction... but apparently rich people prefer to have one or two seriously spoiled children than half a dozen children living decently, and poor people prefer to have several children living in hardship than just one living decently. I can't think of any way to change this (which wouldn't have seriously undesirable side effects).

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T14:30:27.027Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't think of any way to change this (which wouldn't have seriously undesirable side effects).

Well if you want to use wealth as a proxy for intelligence, one approach would be to dramatically raise the tax exemption for children. This would have little effect on poor people, since they generally do not itemize their deductions -- if they owe taxes at all.

Still if such a measure were proposed as a way of encouraging smarter people to have more babies, you can bet that a lot of people will scream racism.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-08T14:50:00.320Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well if you want to use wealth as a proxy for intelligence, one approach would be to dramatically raise the tax exemption for children.

I was thinking about solutions which wouldn't significantly affect the total fertility rate, but now that I think about it, increasing it wouldn't be a “seriously undesirable side effect”, at least in (say) continental Europe or Japan.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-10T17:53:11.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now that I think about it, the fertility of lower classes could be decreased by giving out contraception for free and subsidizing abortions, but the latter could be very unpopular. (It shouldn't affect the fertility of upper classes because the price of contraception/abortions isn't one of the reasons why they're not having fewer children.)

(Why was the parent downvoted, BTW? I guess because the downvoter thinks continental Europe/Japan are already overpopulated so sub-replacement fertility there is not bad.)

comment by thomblake · 2012-01-10T17:58:31.453Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why was the parent downvoted, BTW?

Possibly because brazil84 is perceived as a troll - someone might be downvoting the entire thread.

comment by gwern · 2012-01-07T16:25:48.460Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Believing in "stereotype threat" as the main reason for the black/white IQ gap is like believing in Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God.

In what sense, exactly? Some of his arguments look logical, like the ontological argument, and others like the argument from design look empirical (and falsified by evolution).

Stereotype threat, on the other hand, looks entirely empirical, should be measurable, and can be argued against by pointing to a meta-analysis showing publication bias (I checked just now, and a full paper does not seem to have been published nor is it listed on one of the authors' homepages which otherwise lists all his work; this nonpublication is ironic if the original meta-analysis was correct...)

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T00:10:57.215Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In what sense, exactly?

In the sense that to accept the argument, one needs to allow wishful thinking to overcome basic rationality.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-08T00:22:08.094Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not even think of stereotype threat as a possible hypothesis until I read about it, at which point I thought it sounded pretty implausible for the thirty seconds it took me to reach the study results. Your model of the psychology of stereotype threat believers is just plain wrong as a matter of fact.

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T00:43:38.967Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not even think of stereotype threat as a possible hypothesis until I read about it, at which point I thought it sounded pretty implausible for the thirty seconds it took me to reach the study results. Your model of the psychology of stereotype threat believers is just plain wrong as a matter of fact.

I'm not sure what your point is here, but if you want to discuss it further (with me), feel free to comment on my blog post.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-08T01:50:24.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which one?

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-01-07T15:54:11.017Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Believing in "stereotype threat" as the main reason for the black/white IQ gap is like believing in Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God.

More or less.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-07T17:12:29.023Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's your alternative explanation for lower performance when reminded of a stereotype? Publication bias looks plausible.

What about the "one drop" criterion for race? In the US, someone with 7 great-grandparents from Europe and 1 from Africa is quite often classified as black, not white. If the discrepancy is largely genetic, we should expect much more variance among black subjects (only African ancestors to very few African ancestors) than among white ones (very few to no African ancestors) - more than the width of the gap itself, actually. Is this what we observe?

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T00:21:03.367Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's your alternative explanation for lower performance when reminded of a stereotype?

Why do I need to provide an explanation? It may very well be true that being reminded of a stereotype has a measurable effect on peoples' performance.

If the discrepancy is largely genetic, we should expect much more variance among black subjects (only African ancestors to very few African ancestors) than among white ones (very few to no African ancestors) - more than the width of the gap itself, actually

Well you would need to quantify the amount of variation among both groups. American whites are pretty diverse too. Also, I would guess that blacks with mostly European blood are pretty unusual among American blacks. So I'm not sure what to expect.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-08T01:08:32.560Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So stereotype threat exists but only explains a smallish part of the gap, with most of the rest due to genetics? 'kay.

Quantifying diversity is hard: genetic variation I don't know (KHAN!), specific genes even less, ancestry data isn't available, samples like "famous people" are skewed, etc. I mostly meant "Barack Obama: a definitely white and a definitely black parent, and he's black in the US race system. That seems common".

But here's a way to test: pick people with a race system in common (typically the US one, and I could do an European replication). Ask them to describe their race (ideally open-ended, but given small samples probably a set list). Take pictures of them and ask a (blinded, racially sampled) jury to guess their race. Measure some objective and hopefully relevant criterion like melanin in skin, or some cleverly chosen gene, or ancestry if you have it handy. Have them do some kind of intelligence test. Possibly split into groups and test conditions like "stereotype threat".

The mostly-genetics hypothesis predicts that the objective criterion will be the best predictor, and the jury estimation will be a better predictor than the self-report because it looks at phenotypical evidence of genome rather than irrelevant things like native language. The mostly-culture hypothesis predicts that the self-report will be the best predictor, and that the results will vary widely depending on local race systems.

Clever stupid "it's all interaction" idea of the day: What about a genetic predisposition to social cues such as stereotype threats?

comment by brazil84 · 2012-01-08T09:32:46.294Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So stereotype threat exists but only explains a smallish part of the gap,

I don't know if it "exists" or not. But clearly if it does exist it does not satisfactorily explain the gap.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T10:36:39.245Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I briefly summarized my position here:

http://fortaleza84.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/the-race-and-iq-question/

I am happy to respond to questions, go into more detail, and respond to arguments if you wish.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-15T20:44:48.883Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone know if there is a racial IQ gap between blacks and whites in the UK?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-01-06T20:34:43.756Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6176070.stm

Googling the answer appears to be yes. There quite a lot of sources on this, but I wanted to give a news story to show that this is already apparently a source of public concern in the country.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-16T11:39:59.701Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you make an effort to state in more detailed terms what it would mean to find that "genetics play a significant role in the black/white IQ difference", in other words what precise predictions this theory makes? (And more precisely, what predictions it makes that distinguish it from the predictions of alternative theories, such as "environmental differences resulting from e.g. discrimination play a significant role in the black/white IQ difference".)

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T12:15:25.797Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I responded to your question here:

http://fortaleza84.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/the-race-and-iq-question/

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-16T12:25:43.436Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not really. Of that (relatively short) post, the only part that counts as a prediction is "you see it pretty much everywhere in the United States and the rest of the world; further, various attempts to eliminate this gap have failed". And this is compatible with a non-genetic explanation: environmental in African countries, and from discrimination in rich countries. Attempts at eliminating other kinds of discrimination (e.g. gender) have also been less than successful.

How does a world in which the causal origin of the black/white IQ gap is genetic look different from a world in which that gap has a different explanation?

comment by mattnewport · 2010-03-16T16:09:33.115Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Attempts at eliminating other kinds of discrimination (e.g. gender) have also been less than successful.

I'd imagine there's a pretty strong correlation between belief that race differences are largely innate and belief that gender differences are largely innate. Your point is unlikely to change any minds on either side of the issue.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-16T16:30:16.474Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd imagine there's a pretty strong correlation between belief that race differences are largely innate and belief that gender differences are largely innate.

Assuming there is such a correlation, what kind of thinking would you expect it relies on?

What we really need to see, if this issue is to be approached in a Bayesian manner, is a fully laid-out hypothesis about the causal pathways that go from genes to race to intelligence to IQ, and which of these pathways bypass environmental causal links. If we do have this and are in fact approaching the issue in a Bayesian manner, then success or lack thereof in eliminating gender discrimination can be rigorously treated as evidence.

If someone has not formalized their hypothesis so as to make it testable, then their thinking is anyway of too low a grade to reach reliably correct conclusions based on the evidence, and it does not matter what evidence they look at, they'll end up right or wrong purely by chance.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T18:20:28.520Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems you did not read my entire post.

Look again more carefully.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-16T18:38:07.216Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read the entirety of your post at the time you first advertised it here, and I'm less than impressed by your implication that I wasn't careful then.

Your later expansion adds no new prediction beyond what I already conceded in the grandparent counts as a prediction. I am already on record as stating that non-genetic explanations can adequately account for the observations you report. See also this comment.

I am disinclined to spend much more time arguing the issue with you. I'll sit back and let others participate if they wish.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T18:52:55.887Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read the entirety of your post at the time you first advertised it here, and I'm less than impressed by your implication that I wasn't careful then.

:shrug: I told you that I responded to your question and proceeded to give you a link. I suppose I should have explicitly told you that I had edited the post to respond to your question.

I am already on record as stating that non-genetic explanations can adequately account for the observations you report.

Of course they can, just like you can use circles and lots of epicycles to model the orbits of planets.

ETA: I edited my post again to respond to your argument.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-16T19:13:21.074Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love the epicycle metaphor and plan to use it in the future, but it's not like there have never been ''overly simple'' explanations of phenomena in the past, either. Phlogiston, for example.

I believe what Morendil et al. wanted was closer to this degree of analysis.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T23:33:40.963Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think we need to specify what is meant by the phlogiston hypothesis. Fundamentally, the idea is that the burning of different materials, as well as processes like rusting, are all the same process. Which is basically correct when you think about it. Phlogiston is really the absence of oxygen from substances which can react with oxygen.

That said, I agree that it's possible for a hypothesis to be too simple. It's just that an overly simple hypothesis wears its flakiness on its sleeve . . . one can usually think up counter examples pretty easily. Which usually then starts the epicycle game.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-16T23:41:49.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please respond to the second paragraph.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-16T23:50:18.152Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what your point is. If he wants me to link to studies and articles, he can ask me. Before I did that, I would want to know what exactly he is disputing.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T00:34:27.924Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagine I proposed that pretty people were more likely to carry genes for sociopathy. Ask yourself what kind of evidence it would take to convince you of this claim. Use that as a reference for the amount of evidence you should present for the claim that "a signifcant amount of the black/white difference in cognitive abilities is genetic in origin."

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-17T00:49:38.512Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The prior probability would be much lower in this case. Pretty and non-pretty people don't form historically separated populations, and attractiveness isn't known to be correlated with numerous non-superficial genetic differences the way race is (e.g. genetic diseases).

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-17T06:20:13.206Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pretty and non-pretty people don't form historically separated populations,

They don't have to be physically separated to be reproductively separated. I think there is some segregation on attractiveness, but not that much.

attractiveness isn't known to be correlated with numerous non-superficial genetic differences the way race is (e.g. genetic diseases).

Of course it is! There is a huge correlation with health, often revealed through things like parasite and disease resistance.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T01:07:00.545Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those points are true, but I stand by my advice. I don't believe the difference in the amount of evidence required is tremendous, and it is a natural tendency among humans to underestimate this amount in any case.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T00:44:39.863Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagine I proposed that pretty people were more likely to carry genes for sociopathy.

Am I allowed to assume that pretty people are far more sociopathic than others by pretty much every measure of sociopathy, and even from simple observation? And that prettiness is known to be 100% genetic in origin? And that sociopathy is known to be strongly influenced by genes?

comment by Alicorn · 2010-03-17T00:49:38.716Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only if you also assume that there are many robust factors with long histories contributing to do the following:

1) Encourage you to think of pretty people as an out-group

2) Strongly bias you towards considering garden-variety not-niceness in pretty people indicative of sociopathy, while doing no such thing about garden-variety not-niceness in ugly people

3) Prompt pretty people to act more sociopathic in a variety of circumstances due to psychological factors working on them

4) Make examples of pretty sociopaths dramatically more accessible in media and public cached thoughts than examples of ugly sociopaths or pretty non-sociopaths

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T02:11:46.889Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case, the proof which would convince me is if the sociopathy gap were universal and intractable in time and space while the factors you list were not.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T01:00:32.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those variables are not changed in this hypothetical - the only variable that changes is that I propose that "pretty people are more likely to carry genes for sociopathy" in all seriousness, rather than counterfactually.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T02:13:16.770Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those variables are not changed in this hypothetical

I think you are saying "yes," in which case the proof which would convince me is if the sociopathy gap were universal and intractable.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T02:29:16.253Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are saying "yes," [...]

No, I am not. I don't know how to explain it - what I am trying to describe is the number and variety of bits of evidence you need to overwhelm the beliefs of those who are disagreeing with you here. You need to present the kind of proofs which would convince you that something you currently doubt for good reasons, something which is not a simple slam-dunk "this happens" but a complicated "the statistical distributions have different means and variances" claim, is decisively true.

The example is of less than zero importance - it's the standards of evidence I am trying to describe.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-03-17T00:36:00.761Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with this as a commensurate claim, but I'm curious about where the specific example came from.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T00:42:39.260Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I made it up to be commensurate - it has no visible basis in evidence. I could try to reverse-engineer the details of my thought-processes, if you like.

comment by mattnewport · 2010-03-17T00:54:42.193Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it has no visible basis in evidence.

Are you sure? The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us

How do we recognize the remorseless? One of their chief characteristics is a kind of glow or charisma that makes sociopaths more charming or interesting than the other people around them. They’re more spontaneous, more intense, more complex, or even sexier than everyone else, making them tricky to identify and leaving us easily seduced.

I don't know how much scientific evidence there is to back up the claims in this book but I remembered hearing about it when I read your post.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T01:28:19.386Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm. My remark appears to have been overly strong.

It has no publicly-known scientifically-rigorous basis in evidence - it may be true, but it's not widely claimed to be. This is still sufficiently like unto brazil84's claim to be comparable.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-03-17T00:44:18.198Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would indeed so like, if it's not too much trouble.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-17T01:21:02.677Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

First of all, I wanted to create a claim which was similar in scope, strength, and kind. Pretty people are probably no more common than black people in the First World; the proposed difference is not an on-or-off switch, but a statistical distinction; and it relates to genetic effects on personality.

Second, I wanted it to be similarly provocative to brazil84's claim. It is widely considered bad to call people stupid; it is widely considered bad to call people sociopaths.

Third, it is not inconceivable that someone could draw the conclusion. Numerous studies have shown that pretty people are considered better people than ugly people given the same actions; therefore it is possible for pretty people to get away with being worse.

Fourth, brazil84 is likely not to believe it is true - and, in fact, likely to believe it is unlikely. The point of the exercise is to suggest something which would require strong, non-obvious evidence to convince, precisely because the people brazil84 seeks to convince demand strong, non-obvious evidence.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-03-15T20:30:56.303Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have a clue either way.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-15T19:35:10.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is obvious that going into an affective death spiral against genetically-based racial differences in intelligence is very common and speaks poorly of rationality. It is not obvious (at least from most people's, or my, knowledge base) that significant differences of that kind exist.

comment by byrnema · 2010-03-17T00:48:28.760Z · score: -3 (27 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's something I want to say here that I think is really important to be said, but I'm having trouble finding the words. Please paraphrase and augment my message in a more coherent direction, if you can figure out how to, but what I want to say is along these lines:

I think it is really important that we bring up the fact that the statement we're arguing about is fundamentally racist and treating this question as just a question of fact lends way too much respectability to the question. I mean, who cares if one genetic group has a higher average IQ than another genetic group? It's NOT like discussing the third digit of pi, and not just because it's more complex.

I'm afraid we're offending minority groups reading this site and I feel acutely embarrassed by the possibility that we'll bring the subject up, dabble in it, and then won't argue carefully enough or fully enough because we don't have the resources, subtlety or interest. People will come here and think that Less Wrong doesn't really care. I realize that people in these threads are providing arguments, but they seem too calm and impartial, given the issues involved.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-18T04:32:45.247Z · score: 12 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People will come here and think that Less Wrong doesn't really care. I realize that people in these threads are providing arguments, but they seem too calm and impartial, given the issues involved.

You mean not appearing to have been mind-killed is a bad thing?

comment by gregconen · 2010-03-18T04:40:27.437Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean not appearing to have been mind-killed is a bad thing?

Welcome to the world. Sanity is not always valued so highly here as you might be used to.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-18T04:47:39.182Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Welcome to the world.

Don't confuse preference with prediction.

Sanity is not always valued so highly here as you might be used to.

Where else have I been where sanity is valued more highly and how do I get back to it?

comment by gregconen · 2010-03-18T04:52:33.935Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see my joke fell flat.

In the world at large, sanity is valued much less than it is here at lesswrong. Absurd as it sounds, many people would value righteous indignation above rational debate, or even above positive results.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-18T05:02:39.119Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see my joke fell flat.

See the recent discussion on jokes with Rain. The joke implication missed.

Absurd as it sounds, many people would value righteous indignation above rational debate, or even above positive results.

I almost wish that did sound absurd.

comment by anon895 · 2011-09-24T18:50:13.898Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean conspicuously not displaying the emotion that should fit the facts sends a signal that it's not present and that you possibly don't think it should be, a position that isn't exactly unheard of in the present world?

comment by byrnema · 2010-03-18T15:45:50.072Z · score: 0 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess I'm missing the humanitarian aspect; facts don't exist in a vacuum and the "question of fact" we're considering has already cut reality into an absurd slice of state space. Given the world we live in, I would like to see some solidarity with a discriminated group before we dive into answering an ill-posed question willy-nilly.

It seems to me that there are so many foundational questions we'd need to consider first.

What is intelligence? Who gets to define intelligence? Could we possibly measure intelligence in an accurate non-culturally-skewed way? If we could define intelligence, what would its dimension be (i.e., how many parameters would we need to specify it)?

Should the multi-dimensional measure of intelligence be assigned according to a person's peak potential, or their average potential? If measures of peak potential verses range of potential vary independently from person to person, how would we compare two people? In general, how do we compare two multi-dimensional distributions that don't have the same shape?

What is the value of asking about the result due to genetics in particular given that it is practically impossible to separate genetic and environmental effects? Consider:

(i) without the effects of cultural selection maintaining the different populations, genetic meanings of 'black' and 'white' would quickly become meaningless

(ii) even if someone imagined they were controlling for genetics by looking at cross-racial adoptions, a lot of cultural selection has already occurred in the biological mother's choice of partner and with environmental effects during gestation (there is already a large health gap between mothers of each race, and if the child was given up for adoption, the care during gestation may be an influencing factor)

(iii) Genetics is a result of environmental selection anyway, and it might be non-sensical to compare distributions that are not in equilibrium.

Given that the question is so complex and ill-posed you have to ask why the question is being asked. What exactly would be irrational about not wanting to glibly admit (socially) if one group has a higher IQ than another group, if it was possible to know it? Is it irrational to not want to entertain a racist agenda? Is it irrational to find it quite troubling that someone you're talking to would want to discuss the issue of whether one race is inferior to another race, for any reason? I understand that we can't avoid 'truth' just because it is troubling, but what kind of 'truth' are we pursuing here? I don't think we're qualified to answer this last set of questions. We're reductionists, and need to keep in mind that some issues are so complex there's no way to currently address them without being greedy.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-22T05:00:49.386Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems like you're trying to torture the answer you want into the question.

comment by Morendil · 2010-03-18T16:01:53.160Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think we're qualified to answer this last set of questions.

We're qualified to inquire into any topic that seems worthy of curiosity.

There seems to be much convergent evidence that people who self-identify as "black" tend to test more poorly on some standard measures of cognitive ability than do people who self-identify as "white", and I don't think acknowledging that makes someone racist.

I'm in violent agreement with you that a) self-identification as a member of some ethnic group is a cultural phenomenon, not obviously related to any "natural kinds" or empirical clusters, b) standard measures of cognitive ability are a very poor proxy for what we may generally think of as "competencies", whereby individual humans contribute value to the world, c) it's unclear even if the 'genetic' claim were established as fact what influence it should have on social policies.

If we think about a) clearly enough we might be able to dissolve the confusing term "race" and that seems perhaps a worthy goal. If we think about b) clearly we might be able to dissolve the confusing term "intelligence" and its cortege of mysterious questions, and if we think about c) clearly enough the mysterious questions of ethics.

Isn't that what this site has been about all along?

comment by byrnema · 2010-03-18T16:12:57.258Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for helping to frame this. I believe I can clarify my position now as the following: I'm afraid it is unethical to dive into the relationship between (a) and (b) if we can gauge in advance we are going to be unsuccessful (culturally, politically, real-world-wise) with (c). Let's stick with working on (a), (b) and (c) in the abstract before we dive into a real-world example for which even our discussion will have immediate personal and socio-political consequences.

(Or let's work on (c) first. This is what I mean by facts not existing in a vacuum.)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-26T02:17:24.819Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There seems to be much convergent evidence that people who self-identify as "black" tend to test more poorly on some standard measures of cognitive ability than do people who self-identify as "white", and I don't think acknowledging that makes someone racist.

Yes, it does, by definition. If you disagree, define racism in a way such that someone who believes different races have different distributions of attributes is not racist.

The problem is we have two meanings of "racist". One is "a person who believes the distribution of traits differs among races". The other is, roughly, "a person who hates members of other races". Most people believe these are equivalent.

comment by Emile · 2011-09-26T15:26:40.670Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is we have two meanings of "racist". One is "a person who believes the distribution of traits differs among races". The other is, roughly, "a person who hates members of other races". Most people believe these are equivalent.

I agree with what you mean, but I'm not sure the demarcation line between the two is very sharp, especially for non-nerds who don't overthink the issue.

Our brains store information as rough summaries, and don't always separate the value judgement from the characteristics. I'm not sure that there's a big difference between the mental representations for "X has such-and-such negative characteristic" and "I don't like X".

comment by Morendil · 2011-09-26T07:27:49.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll pass on playing definitional games. What are we arguing about?

comment by wnoise · 2011-09-26T02:38:53.942Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first is a singularly useless definition satisfied by everyone. Everyone believes that the distribution of skin color differs between black people and white people.

I'd propose a third definition: "someone who treats different people differently based on their race."

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-09-26T02:49:08.699Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suggested alternate that captures what I think Phil means by the first definition "a person who believes the distribution of traits differs among races in a way that matters in some deep sense." That doesn't make it much more precise but I think it captures what he is trying to say in terms of your objection.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-27T02:01:25.987Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everyone believes that the distribution of skin color differs between black people and white people.

I think this makes the first definition a singularly useful one, because people who think about it and try to be consistent must either find some way in which skin color is a qualitatively different kind of property than every other property people have, or they must admit they are racists.

comment by wnoise · 2011-09-27T02:54:17.413Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's useful as a polemical tool, not useful in describing the ordinary meaning of the word, that describes actual clusters of common characteristics observed out in the world. I'm uninterested in using definitions constructed for polemical purposes instead of describing empirically observed clusters.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-09-26T08:09:25.115Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing I'm afraid of is that the forces of political correctness would only permit inquiring into sensitive topics as long as the questions are framed and definitions (of things such as "intelligence") redefined to such a state, that it's not possible to get a politically incorrect answer, facts be damned.

Is it irrational to find it quite troubling that someone you're talking to would want to discuss the issue of whether one race is inferior to another race, for any reason?

I don't know if it's "irrational", but I find it troubling when someone wishes to discourage inquiring - for any reason, at that! - into some topic. Whenever that happens, I smell a conflict between free inquiry and a moral fashion. It's pretty obvious to me which side I should take there...

Yes, some topics are more dangerous than others, more politically loaded or likely to offend or difficult to reduce. But to me it also means they are promising. Widely held views on such a topic are at least somewhat likely to prove incorrect.

I don't think we're qualified to answer this last set of questions.

We're not qualified, and we never will be, and we shouldn't ever hope or try to be?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-19T00:18:36.088Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe that (i), (ii) and (iii) are real reasons. In fact, I think your real reasons may be better in as much as they are normative and I probably accept them in a somewhat milder form.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-09-26T09:39:27.708Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it irrational to find it quite troubling that someone you're talking to would want to discuss the issue of whether one race is inferior to another race, for any reason?

I don't know about that. I just know that it has the instrumental consequence of me holding the 'you' in question in utter contempt. I pretty much write off people as intellectually irrelevant unless I have reason to believe that their epistemic incompetence is an isolated event.

The people with the advocated flaw of thought should be expected to be extremely prejudiced. Because they are obliged to do... what's it called again? When you be sexist or racist or otherwise discriminate because you think it makes things fair? Affirmative action. That's the one. You have to take affirmative action whenever there is a difference in performance because it couldn't possibly be due to actual individual merit. If a basketball team has a greater proportion of black people than would be representative of the population it is because they are racist.

Oh, and I should expect them to conclude that Ethiopians are all drug cheats. Because their success is a statistically implausible sampling from a fair distribution.

This isn't to say that I encourage bringing up the subject of racial inequalities when it is not immediately relevant. The times I can recall holding people in contempt is if they speak up on the subject and declare equivalence (contrary to evidence), speak up and condemn anyone who doesn't make their own error or when people comment on a decision that relies on the forbidden epistemic question as a premise as though their opinion has any meaning. Because that is just, well, evil.

EDIT: Oh, wow! I just noticed that the grandparent is me! Hi Wedrifid_2010! What comment brought me back here again?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T04:13:03.670Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted because you have stumbled upon the issue with all of these seemingly-abstract discussions of race and IQ.

You don't have to deny that IQ is something measurable or that it has correlates with other things (both personal traits, and life outcomes) to be unwilling to take at face value that what IQ is measuring can best be described as "general intelligence." Context is of massive importance here.

The focus on genetics is especially problematic, but I suspect that reflects a prevailing subconscious attitude that IQ is pretty much just that: a measure of your general intelligence. Most of the people on this site are probably not poor, not women (though that ratio seems to be changing, I daresay it's still nothing like even) not members of a racial minority in their country (I'm guessing the vast majority here are either "white" colonials in North America or Australia, or else Western Europeans), probably not disabled in a highly-visible way...

In short, these issues are just abstract to them, so they will tend to have very few "buttons" around it except around being seen as bigoted towards people who are.

As to the question itself, you've nailed the issue when you say:

Given that the question is so complex and ill-posed you have to ask why the question is being asked. What exactly would be irrational about not wanting to glibly admit (socially) if one group has a higher IQ than another group, if it was possible to know it? Is it irrational to not want to entertain a racist agenda? Is it irrational to find it quite troubling that someone you're talking to would want to discuss the issue of whether one race is inferior to another race, for any reason? I understand that we can't avoid 'truth' just because it is troubling, but what kind of 'truth' are we pursuing here?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-26T02:29:15.991Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...

comment by Roko · 2010-05-03T00:04:16.214Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can hear the Race-IQ question screaming as Byrnema applies her methods to it:

No! Please! Anything but the Dark Side Epistemology! I'll tell you anything you want! Einstein was black! AAARGH!

comment by wedrifid · 2010-03-18T04:18:46.539Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Consider the point Brazil was making in the context, by making the claim more realistically comparable now to making the "no God" claim some time ago.

I think it is really important that we bring up the fact that the statement we're arguing about is fundamentally [religiously intollerant] and treating this question as just a question of fact lends way too much respectability to the question.

I would expect similar social pressure for the God question historically (in a god-denying but PC heavy context). It seems to me that the comparison is an accurate one.

comment by brazil84 · 2010-03-17T02:21:18.185Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean, who cares if one genetic group has a higher average IQ than another genetic group?

For purposes of this discussion, the reason I care is that the racial IQ gap is the big taboo of our age just as the existence of God was the big taboo at some point in the past (and still is to a certain extent).

The real test for whether or not somebody is a "cheap credit" skeptic will necessarily involve inflammatory issues, it seems to me.

comment by orthonormal · 2010-03-22T06:01:52.417Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The real test for whether or not somebody is a "cheap credit" skeptic will necessarily involve inflammatory issues, it seems to me.

Wow, yeah. This suggests another Umeshism to me:

If you haven't horrified or offended anyone you care about, you're not a genuine skeptic.

(It goes without saying that the inverse of this statement is false.)

comment by juliawise · 2011-09-24T16:48:19.348Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It matters to me as a person considering adopting children.

comment by JackChristopher · 2010-03-18T03:56:26.469Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, byrnema. Speaking that way is status lowering.

Talking matter-of-factly about things that the other person finds displeasing or offensive.

It makes people feel bad. So it's no surprise site stumbler (from certain groups) are bound to sprint. But that wouldn't prove they couldn't talk controversials.

Side note: I have a mixed background.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-24T21:13:12.193Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm afraid we're offending minority groups reading this site

There is probably a substantial population of people who are minorities and more offended by your projection of them as emotionally fragile and thin skinned, if you'll pardon the expression.

comment by byrnema · 2011-09-26T01:02:08.319Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've meditated on this comment, and have sorted this out: your comment appears to be raising the question, in a particularly non-face-saving way, of whether this conversation is offensive.

Because if it is offensive, then I can surely regret offending. If it isn't offensive, only then would I be projecting 'emotional fragility and thin-skinned-ness'.

I would like to point out the obvious, that if it turns out to not be offensive, then this only means that I am emotionally fragile and thin-skinned, a persona I'm happy to wear if it gives me liberty to speak out earlier than otherwise. I speak again of the discomfort I feel of 'speaking out' towards the end of this comment. I'm not sure where it comes from but it's not really a fear of being emotionally fragile. Rather, it's the confusion of not knowing where to draw the line, and looking for a line to be crossed, and wondering if the line was crossed already and you should already have said something or say something stronger.

I would guess (charitably, I hope) that you expect that any carefully measured, rational discussion of any issue should not be offensive.

However, from previous experience I simply don't trust this site to have this conversation. My prejudice is that in particular commenters here are overall too naive to notice, or too apathetic to respond appropriately, to the ways evil introduces itself into these intended rational conversations.

Humans are humans are humans everywhere. We have this potential for evil when we try to convince ourselves we're superior to another group of humans. The next step is rationalize things being different for that group of people. We've already been there, for a long time, with minorities. Things are better but they're still bad and humans are humans are always humans. I'll skip enumerating examples of the blatant racism I've encountered in my life. There's way to much hatred going on to pretend that this is 'just a question', and there is too much potential for abuse -- even if the conversation really is rational, which I believe might be possible in a closed discussion here -- due to the public nature of the conversation.

My point isn't that this question is particularly taboo (I think it's rather absurd, actually) or that a rational discussion isn't possible. I really think there are other steps that need to be taken first, for example, beginning with a panel of people specifically educated in the appropriate topic (social justice? I've no idea) to moderate and make the correct disclaimers regarding the intention of the discussion. I think we (including myself certainly, I have continuously felt extremely uncomfortable speaking out due to being so inarticulate and uninformed) are just butchering the topic, applying a hack-saw willy-nilly to a set of issues that needs some care, considering.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-09-26T02:04:12.363Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would guess (charitably, I hope) that you expect that any carefully measured, rational discussion of any issue should not be offensive.

Why would anyone expect that?

What does it mean to be offended? How is it different from being insulted? Is an insult that is true not an insult?

comment by Emile · 2011-09-26T15:13:40.802Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Relevant: The Nature of Offense.

As you may have guessed by now, I think the answer is status. Specifically, to give offense is to imply that a person or group has or should have low status. Taking offense then becomes easy to explain: it’s to defend someone’s status from such an implication, out of a sense of either fairness or self-interest.

Seems to match this case perfectly.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-09-26T21:34:15.158Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would guess (charitably, I hope) that you expect that any carefully measured, rational discussion of any issue should not be offensive.

Offensiveness is not a property of a discussion, it's a property of a relationship between an action like speech or a discussion and a person, the offended person. For every discussion, there are possible minds who would be offended by it.

superior

Error: word undefined. Any definition implicates not only a theory of facts of the world but also a theory of values.

There's way to much hatred going on

Why do you speak primarily of hatred, rather than of other emotions, or of thoughts, or of consequences? For example, it is possible to feel hated while actually being despised, envied, or not thought of at all; one can only infer another's emotions, it's an unsure thing.

make the correct disclaimers regarding the intention of the discussion.

Your enemies are not innately evil. When you infer only one meaning from someone's speech, it is not necessarily what they meant, and the notion both the listener and the speaker may have that the speech only had one meaning is a failure of inferential distance. These are the most important disclaimers.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T03:59:49.948Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm afraid we're offending minority groups reading this site and I feel acutely embarrassed by the possibility that we'll > bring the subject up, dabble in it, and then won't argue carefully enough or fully enough because we don't have the resources, subtlety or interest.

Frankly, "offending" is almost the wrong thing to worry about here. No amount of spinning people's beliefs here on LW would make it less apparent to most non-White people visiting the site that the ideas and goals on display here are skewed by the site's existing demographics.

There is serious, entrenched bias in this site's population around matters racial. I am willing to make a bet that greater than 75 percent of this site's membership is White or from some European majority ethnic group; their perspectives on what racism even is are affected by their experiences with it, and I daresay most people here have very little experience with racism.

Take the struggle to even define what it is downthread. Is it hating people of other skin colors? Is it acknowledging that skin color differences exist? Or only that there might be clusters of humanity grouped by some kind of shared trait?

Those definitions have very little to do with how racism is actually experienced by people of color in the US (it is difficult to even speak of this in a global context, since different regions of the globe have different experiences with colonialism, their diaspora and indigenous populations have different experiences of marginalization in different places). In the real world, it's more complicated than that.

In the US population, white people's ancestors were mostly settlers and colonists from abroad. But black people's ancestors were mostly brought over involuntarily as property, not as people. Most East Asian families that came here a long time ago were barely-tolerated migrant workers welcome for their labor, but distrusted by the white population, unable to become citizens and unable to access many of the social networks open to whites only. Don't even get me started on what Native populations faced during the first couple centuries (or even within the last one -- how many people on this site realize it was still common practice for Indian Health Service doctors to perform involuntary sterilization on Native women when they came in for unrelated health complaints, or to give birth?) .

Not all white people wound up rich, but just being seen as white meant a greater chance of access to all kinds of social and wealth-creating opportunities (great example: The Homestead Act and westward expansion -- basically not open to non-whites, reliant upon government funds and promises of newly-conquered or even still-owned Indian land). Not all of them saw the statistical benefit turn to their favor specifically, but those those who did more reliably had something to pass on to their descendants, meaning their descendants got to start with that much more in their favor. And because white people were the numerical majority and cultural majority (in terms of being the group that the largest number of media outlets, service providers, marketing types, politicians and so on were aiming to serve, represent, sell to or satisfy) this country's society and culture have built up to be focused around the needs, resources, ambitions, desires and so on of an assumedly-white populace. They're the mainstream. They're the normal against which anything else is seen as an alternative.

This has compound effects as the generations go by. Poverty is every bit as inheritable as wealth, and for a much larger proportion of non-whites than whites, that's what they'll be born to. Poverty impacts health, opportunities for work and education, the social networks to which you can reasonably expect access, access to income, how hard you have to work to make ends meet, and a whole host of other things. This is before you get into active bigotry -- and while today it's hard to get away with signalling active bigotry in a mainstream context, it's still trivial in practice to get away with many forms of unstated, even subconscious discrimination, conscious or not.

I'm outlining only a very small portion of the picture here -- understanding how majority vs minority social positioning can affect your life seems to be very difficult for members of the majority, probably because on an individual level you're all just living your lives and are acclimated to your own context. That context shapes your worldview in many subtle ways, and leads to many biases that are non-obvious to many members of this site (indeed, I fully expect the noise-to-signal ratio here to get bad in short order, though I hope I'm wrong about that).

So, yeah, you do have a point that the cavalier discussion of racial IQ differentials is probably a bit unseemly for a group probably composed mostly of white USians, Australians, Canadians and Europeans and tends to signal some things that may be offputting to people of color -- but trust me, those things are going to come through abundantly anyhow.

(And yes, for the record, seeing race-and-IQ-discussions carried out on this site is just painful; but then it seems like so many people here tend to view IQ as primarily-genetic, whereas I tend to view it as more a measure of proficiency at functioning in an industrialized, highly-individualistic, mostly-urban capitalist society. Most of the people here wouldn't last a day in a hunter-gatherer's world; it is darn convenient that your idea of "general intelligence" is skewed towards the challenges you face in your own everyday life!)

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-09-26T04:11:18.935Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, this is well written and does bring up some valid points. But there are some serious issues:

First, your comment about defining racism misses the point: The issue there was specifically whether individuals are being racist and what that means. You seem to be arguing that that might not be terrible relevant. But that doesn't undermine that discussion at all.

Another issue is that there a large set of minorities which have succeeded quite well in the US despite having had serious issues in the past. The Chinese and the Jews are excellent examples (the second curiously enough seems to be overrepresented here.)

so many people here tend to view IQ as primarily-genetic, whereas I tend to view it as more a measure of proficiency at functioning in an industrialized, highly-individualistic, mostly-urban capitalist society.

This confuses me in that you seem to be arguing that ability to function in an "industrialized, highly-individualistic, mostly-urban capitalist society" must not be genetic. But all the time traits which evolved in one context turn out to be relevant in a new environment. Incidentally, there's a fair bit of evidence that conscientiousness matters as much if not more than IQ for actually succeeding in modern societies. (See e.g. this paper).

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T04:20:32.504Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

First, your comment about defining racism misses the point: The issue there was specifically whether individuals are being racist and what that means.

I think it's sort of important to understand what Property X is before we can meaningfully argue about whether a given case specimen has Property X, let alone whether it's meaningful to group them in Reference Class X. Isn't it putting the cart before the horse to do it the other way?

Another issue is that there a large set of minorities which have succeeded quite well in the US despite having had serious issues in the past. The Chinese and the Jews are excellent examples (the second curiously enough seems to be overrepresented here.)

The Chinese and the Jews have hard remarkably different outcome distributions, and Jews in the US generally fit into the "white" category these days (and have for a long time). I'd avoid over-presuming on the amount of success Chinese-Americans have had, too -- see the Model Minority Stereotype, and consider that for most Asian Americans they've only enjoyed comparable gains to many whites at the cost of having to work two to four times harder to achieve it.

Even then, I'd still hardly call Chinese Americans included in mainstream-society; they're still predominantly seen as "other" by whites except insofar as they assimilate.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-26T04:24:14.809Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I'm arguing is that most people here seem to view IQ as "general intelligence" rather than context-specific functional level, and I don't think that's warranted. If you mean the latter when you say IQ, then we agree that far, but I haven't found it safe to assume that here.

Assuming we do agree on that point, I'd add that as to whether it's primarily genetic, I am skeptical, and while I would not call the question inherently uninteresting, I think it's been poorly-framed and doesn't warrant anything like the level of attention it receives compared to the many other questions that could be asked. The specific questions that seem to occur to people and their level of interest strikes me as very skewed.

comment by Roko · 2010-03-15T11:31:19.399Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconded. And I'll add that asking whether people support the renewal of the nuclear deterrent was a good one for centre/left people here in the uk.

For right-wingers, something like getting them to admit that Scandinavia is doing something right with its high tax system and consequent high happiness.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-15T19:32:14.451Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It isn't topical anymore but a couple years ago getting an American liberal's take on the Dubai Ports World controversy worked pretty well. Also, progressive criticisms of the Bush administration for not implementing more aggressive cargo inspections and airplane security were pretty much just about getting in shots at the administration and not based on evidence.

Last year's debates on bailouts for the automobile and banking sectors struck me as mostly consisting of political signaling with only a handful of people who actually had any idea what they were talking about. You'd see people arguing either side without actually making any reference to any of the economics involved. I.e. "We need to make sure these people don't lose their jobs!" versus "You're just trying to help out your fat cat friends!".

Getting someone on the center-left to admit certain advantages of free trade and market economies probably works as well. The brute opposition to "sweatshops" without offering any constructive policy to provide the people who work in such places with alternatives strikes me as another good example.

It's a little harder for me to do this for the American right-wing since a sizeable portion (definitely not all of it, just an especially vocal part) of it appears to hold their positions for exclusively non-evidential reasons. Some of these reasons don't event appear to have propositional content. (Maybe conservatives see the left this way, though. It might just be that I'm too far away from the right-wing to see this clearly).

A conservative's position on industry subsides- agriculture, textile, sugar etc. is a probably a decent indicator, though. I'd say immigration but the people who oppose it might have good reasons given their terminal values.

A lot of times you can tell when someone holds a position for political reasons just by their diction. It is a really bad sign If someone is using the same phrases and buzzwords as the candidates they support. This reminds me: A little over a year ago the college Democrats here held a debate for the Democratic Presidential Primary. Each candidate was represented by a student who was supporting that candidate. I thought it had potential since being unofficial representatives the students would be comfortable leveling some harsh criticisms and really diving into their reasons for supporting their candidate. The actual candidates are always too afraid of screwing up or alienating someone to diverge from their talking points. What actually happened isn't surprising once you think about the kind of people who are heavily involved in the college branches of political parties (especially at my university). If you haven't guessed it, what happened was this: Every student representative sat on the stage reciting the very same talking points their candidate was already using to dodge criticisms and spin issues in the real debates. It was like a horrifying training session where students learn to ignore evidence, reason in favor of political hackery and bullshit.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T01:55:17.286Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was like a horrifying training session where students learn to ignore evidence, reason in favor of political hackery and bullshit.

I can't quite summon up all the splenetic juices I need to hate that sort of thing the way it needs to be hated. I live in Canada, and crikey are our politicians langues-du-bois. You should have seen the candidates debate at the last election. Every one of them just hit their keywords, as I recall. The Conservative Harper tinkled the ivories about "tough on crime," "fiscal responsibility" and "liberal corruption" (mercifully not "family values"). The Liberal Dion played a crab canon about "environment" and "recession." And the NDP (Social-Democratic) Layton just did a sort of Ambrosian chant incorporating every word that has ever made a progressive feel warm and fuzzy inside: "rights" "working families" "aboriginals" "choice" "fat cats" and "social spending." It made me want to elect Silvio Berlusconi.

comment by magfrump · 2010-03-16T03:46:19.956Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did not understand any of this post, but I enjoyed all of it.

ETA: I am now envisioning a Canadian man just chanting those phrases, over and over, clapping his hands and stomping his feet.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T03:55:07.234Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I endeavour to give satisfaction. =)

Anything I can clarify? Probably did overdo the classical music metaphors a little...

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T04:10:38.206Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looking over your comments, the breadth of your vocabulary really is splendid. Do words like "splenetic" just come to your tongue or are you commenting away with a thesaurus open?

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T04:26:57.770Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh, it's kind of you to say. Basically, I grew up on a steady diet of shows like Black Adder, Jeeves and Wooster, Fawlty Towers... and authors like Douglas Adams, Rex Stout & Terry Pratchett. So my way of expressing myself has become more than a bit idiosyncratic.

comment by magfrump · 2010-03-16T13:59:14.087Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mostly I just didn't recognize any of the names, but I did recognize what you were talking about. I don't think clarification is what is really necessary here; since the purpose of your post seems to be more anecdotal evidence and venting than a fountain of new ideas.

If your post WAS supposed to be a fountain of new ideas, then it could use a little extra explanation.

I feel like that came off as a little more negative than I wanted it to so I'd like to note that I did enjoy and vote up your post.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T03:57:15.349Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you Canadians use liberal like we Americans use it or like Europeans use it?

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T04:15:20.550Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More the European way. It definitely does not have the strong negative connotations, even among conservatives. Also worth noting that one of our two main political parties is actually called the Liberal Party of Canada.

Another fun fact: Liberals are also affectionately known as Grits, and Conservatives as Tories.

comment by komponisto · 2010-03-16T18:25:30.281Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you Canadians use liberal like we Americans use it or like Europeans use it?

More the European way...Also worth noting that one of our two main political parties is actually called the Liberal Party of Canada.

My understanding is that that party is roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Democrats or U.K. Labour -- which would make the usage of "liberal" much more like the American usage (meaning "left-wing") than the European usage (meaning "opposed to high levels of economic regulation").

comment by taryneast · 2011-06-27T11:24:34.800Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

uh - interesting. Thanks for pointing that out.

In Australia the Liberal party is right-wing (liberal on free trade policies, not on social policies), so I tend to get confused about discussions of "liberals" in the US unless I remember to switch definitions before reading.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T19:29:44.322Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is that. I thought Jack was getting at the negative connotation aspect.

The Liberal party here is basically centre-left.

comment by Emile · 2010-03-15T21:51:04.025Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot of times you can tell when someone holds a position for political reasons just by their diction.

Very true. When I was fourteen years old, there were presidential elections after Mitterand's two terms (Did I tell you I was French? I'm French.). I remember a friend saying we needed change "after fourteen years of socialism", and at the time I thought there was no way that was his opinion, and that he was merely repeating what (most likely) his father said.

I guess it's even easier to recognize talking points in kids, because it's things they would never spontaneously say. I also remember my mom pointing out that a "letter to the editor" in a Children's newspaper was probably just the kid parroting a parent, because no child would write things like that - and I was mildly embarrassed because I hadn't noticed at first. Hmm, I'll have to point that kind of stuff to my kids too.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-15T17:33:53.955Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For right-wingers, something like getting them to admit that Scandinavia is doing something right with its high tax system and consequent high happiness.

Is the causation really that clear?

comment by simplyeric · 2010-03-15T21:24:47.343Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The phrasing might be better in a different direction:

"...getting them to admit that Scandinavia is not doing something inherently wrong with it's high tax system, given that they have relatively high happiness and quality of life."

(in that right-wing conservatives state that high taxes inherently will cause reduction of standard of living/happiness)

comment by jt4242 · 2013-04-21T14:37:57.484Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"...getting them to admit that Scandinavia is not doing something inherently wrong with it's high tax system, given that they have relatively high happiness and quality of life."

There is another conservative argument against this: To acknowledge that it might actually be true that the average happiness is increased, but to reject the morality of it.

Too see why someone might think that, imagine the following scenario: You find scientific evidence for the fact that if one forces the minority of the best-looking young women of a society at gunpoint to be of sexual service to whomever wishes to be pleased (there will be a government office regulating this) increases the average happiness of the country.

In other words, my argument questions that the happiness (needs/wishes/etc.) of a majority is at all relevant. This position is also known as individualism and at the root of (American) conservatism.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-26T12:46:28.459Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even better, we could imagine that torturing Jews to death increases average happiness, because of all the happy racists.

Or removing Freedom would end all wars and poverty

Or [insert sacred value tradeoff here] would result in positive net utility.

IOW, that seems like a mindkilling example.

comment by PrawnOfFate · 2013-04-21T15:13:36.532Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Too see why someone might think that, imagine the following scenario: You find scientific evidence for the fact that if one forces the minority of the best-looking young women of a society at gunpoint to be of sexual service to whomever wishes to be pleased (there will be a government office regulating this) increases the average happiness of the country.

If you disregard the happiness of the women, anyway

In other words, my argument questions that the happiness (needs/wishes/etc.) of a majority is at all relevant. This position is also known as individualism and at the root of (American) conservatism.

This can be looked at as a form of deontology: govts don't have the right to tax anybody, and the outcomes of wisely spent taxation don't affect that.

comment by jt4242 · 2013-04-25T16:13:16.554Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you disregard the happiness of the women, anyway

No, it suffices if less women's happiness sacrificed are needed than the amount of men whose happiness will be increased (assuming the "amount of happiness" - whatever that is to mean in the first place - is equal per individual). Then you can regard the happiness of women and still score a net increase in happiness. That's the whole point of the argument.

I don't understand what you were saying in the second sentence.

comment by hesperidia · 2014-01-02T06:30:29.485Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Although I accept this argument in the abstract, I oppose anyone actually trying to propose a policy like this in the real world because, historically, men have overvalued their feelings/utilons as compared to women's feelings/utilons. It's a simple ingroup bias, but similar biases in "amount of happiness"-evaluation have historically resulted in the stable maintenance of large pockets of unhappiness in societies (see also: slavery).

comment by Mestroyer · 2014-01-02T08:05:52.182Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

historically, men have overvalued their feelings/utilons as compared to women's feelings/utilons.

I can't see why this kind of behavior would be adaptive, and experiments don't seem to bear this hypothesis out. It seems that (as should be expected) men favor women. Also, in-group bias is much weaker in men in general.

I'm not sure why women would have evolved to favor women too though.

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-09-25T21:06:26.944Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, I was especially confused by the claim that "in-group bias is much weaker in men in general." I knew that in fact, when asked to play a job interviewer or evaluator, men punished women more often than other men for trying to negotiate salary, whereas women punished everyone equally.

But I do see other evidence that calling this "in-group bias" gives the wrong idea. Maybe women tend to have a greater belief in 'gender roles,' while disagreeing with men on what those roles require/allow for men specifically. This however seems kind of odd when we see that participants in the first study (both male and female) were less likely to ask for more money from a female evaluator. I guess the women there may have a false picture of men's motives if they think men will punish them more than another women would (I don't know the exact numbers). Except, what can the men be thinking if they know that 1. women would treat them the same as everyone would treat women, and 2. the men would treat themselves more leniently than they would treat women?

ETA: actually, it seems unclear from the abstract if men did behave differently with a female evaluator!

comment by k_ebel · 2014-09-25T20:07:58.199Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't see why this kind of behavior would be adaptive, and experiments don't seem to bear this hypothesis out.

Perhaps I am missing something, but I didn't see how the study or the wiki article you linked to addressed specifically how men value "their feelings/utilons as compared to women's feelings/utilons" ? Both the experiment and the article mention prefering mothers over fathers and attributing a higher level of violence to men, neither of which I see as intrinsically linked to what I understood the previous poster to be saying. (I could be not-seeing the link, and/or I could be misinterpreting what point hesperidia was trying to make).

Related, but not entirely the same - I'm also not clear on how the "women are wonderful" effect is in any way correlated with "taking actions and/or advocating policies that benefit women as much as or more than men." History (and religion) is full of rhetoric that waxes eloquent about the wonderful nature of women, even while there is much debate as to the "sexist" nature of these societies/religions.

It's also entirely possible that I'm misinterpreting the point you're trying to make. If that's so, I'd be interested in clarifying that further.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-26T12:48:12.050Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, it suffices if less women's happiness sacrificed are needed than the amount of men whose happiness will be increased (assuming the "amount of happiness" - whatever that is to mean in the first place - is equal per individual). Then you can regard the happiness of women and still score a net increase in happiness. That's the whole point of the argument.

^ Upvoted for this.

I don't understand what you were saying in the second sentence.

If you reject deals with positive expected outcomes because they violate some sort of ethical law, you're a deontologist. That's what deontology is.

comment by BenAlbahari · 2010-03-15T14:24:23.298Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For right-wingers, something like getting them to admit that Scandinavia is doing something right with its high tax system and consequent high happiness.

In reality you can make the bar even lower. Just ask the right wingers if they're even aware of an empirical study comparing the relative happiness of Scandinavians to others.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-09-26T09:53:10.217Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's something I believe-- I might as well toss it in as a possible rationality test. I think immigration/emigration flows are a good rough test for ranking how good places are to live in. There are barriers to moving, so it's only a rough estimate. Any place which people are willing to take a high risk of dying to leave is a bad place.

However, the fact that there isn't a significant number of people moving from the US to western/northern Europe or vice versa suggests that they're roughly on a par.

comment by Baughn · 2012-01-27T00:05:54.425Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It suggests they believe they're on par. All else being equal, you're right.

With Scandinavia in particular, there's an issue in that immigrating is really hard. Which is to say, we require you to learn our language and culture. Terrible taskmasters, we are.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-01-27T01:54:55.266Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's really easy to emigrate from a country in the European Union to Sweden (presumably also Denmark, but not Norway because it's not in the union). I mean, I'm doing it at 3 AM while browsing the web! Is there a legal requirement to learn the language for immigrants from outside the EU, or did you mean you can't make it in practice without speaking the language? I would expect that sitting around in a country for five years automatically teaches you its culture.

comment by Baughn · 2012-01-28T03:02:11.475Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The second, mostly.

The first, with Norway, in practice. If you have particularly valuable skills they'll overlook it, and being western helps, but immigration has pretty much had it with third-world immigrants lately.

I believe (I'm an expat, so haven't followed that closely) that we just added a requirement to join some natives on cultural trips of various kinds, too. Going hiking, that kind of thing...

We do take our hiking seriously.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-28T11:32:43.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a legal requirement to learn the language for immigrants from outside the EU, or did you mean you can't make it in practice without speaking the language?

The second, mostly.

Are there any countries to which that doesn't apply?

comment by Baughn · 2012-01-28T11:43:06.306Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, most notably the USA.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-28T12:24:32.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're saying it wouldn't be that hard to live in the US without speaking English? That doesn't sound very likely to me (though I've never been there).

(Or do you think that all people who might consider moving to the US because they think that's a better place to live in already speak decent English?)

comment by gwern · 2012-01-28T16:18:45.322Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're saying it wouldn't be that hard to live in the US without speaking English? That doesn't sound very likely to me (though I've never been there).

Ethnic conclaves are probably what Baughn is thinking of. I have the impression that this could be true in the China and Koreatowns in the biggest cities, and there are probably places where you can live happily knowing only Spanish. (I gather from Amy Chua's World on Fire that there are many such conclaves throughout the world; it helps to be a wealthier minority.)

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T13:43:59.596Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I'll add that asking whether people support the renewal of the nuclear deterrent was a good one for centre/left people here in the uk.

Now this I would not have thought of. Nuclear energy perhaps...

Do you think the nuclear deterrent should be renewed or should not, & why is it a litmus test?

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2010-03-15T17:29:00.718Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whether or not the nuclear deterrent should in fact be renewed, inability to see the point of (as opposed to mere considered disagreement with) "if you want peace, prepare for war" seems like valid proof of political derangement.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T17:38:29.046Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I see! You mean that a deranged liberal is likely to say "nuclear armament cannot possibly be a solution for anything in principle?" Yeah, that makes sense.

Come to think of it, the fear of anything nuclear, period, is probably a good predictor of irrationality on the left, as is a knee-jerk negative response to, i.a., GE crops.

comment by sketerpot · 2010-03-15T23:55:54.823Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Come to think of it, the fear of anything nuclear, period, is probably a good predictor of irrationality on the left, as is a knee-jerk negative response to, i.a., GE crops.

Simple ignorance can confuse the issue; the real indicator is how they deal with argument (assuming you really know your stuff and can present a compelling argument).

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T16:07:44.944Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I'll add that asking whether people support the renewal of the nuclear deterrent was a good one for centre/left people here in the uk.

The overwhelming evidence for it being...?

For right-wingers, something like getting them to admit that Scandinavia is doing something right with its high tax system and consequent high happiness.

The only thing happiness research has shown so far is that it's far more complicated than "tl;dr" summaries like that.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T15:46:47.444Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's explanation of my pro-ultra-behaviorist position.

First, I haven't seen any convincing evidence against ultra-behaviorism, but plenty against ultra-innatism. Look at Flynn effect for example. There's absolutely no way a universe in which ultra-innatism is true is compatible with Flynn effect. There has been so many drastic shifts in behavior without slightest shift in underlying genetic makeup of population - abandonment of violence, shift from large families and low offspring investment to small families and high offspring investment, shift from agricultural to urban lifestyle etc. - these are vastly greater than any of the proposed genetic variations. And not a single kind of proposed genetically-based behavioral variation had a convincing genetic marker found for it (yes, there are heredity studies on twins etc. but I find they highly unconvincing). So my estimate of the truth is far closer to ultra-behaviorist end than ultra-innatist end, so much closer than ultra-behaviorism might be a good "tl;dr" version, even if not 100% accurate.

And second, I find ultra-behaviorism instrumentally useful. Overestimating how much you can change your life leads to better outcomes than underestimating it and just giving up.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T16:41:14.490Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's absolutely no way a universe in which ultra-innatism is true is compatible with Flynn effect

Just to clarify, in arguing against ultra-behaviourism I am not touting the opposite stupidity of ultra-innatism instead. So yeah, I agree. The 40-0-60 heuristic is closer to my view (40% of variance due to genes, 0-10% upbringing, 60% other environmental).

There has been so many drastic shifts in behavior without slightest shift in underlying genetic makeup of population

Yup. Culture and language is an incredible thing. Still, many traits are partially heritable, some strongly so. I refer you to Bouchard's meta-analysis. Why do you find twin/sibling/adopted sibling studies unconvincing?

ultra-behaviorism might be a good "tl;dr" version, even if not 100% accurate.

That is exactly where we stand now. The problem is, genetics is getting important in public policy. The tl;dr version needs to lose the tl;d if educated people are going to make policy decisions based on it (which they are).

And second, I find ultra-behaviorism instrumentally useful. Overestimating how much you can change your life leads to better outcomes than underestimating it and just giving up.

Mm... maybe. On the other hand knowing genes matter might prevent one taking needless risks. For example, my family is swarming with alcoholics going back 3 generations. Maybe if I wasn't a teetotaler I'd be fine... on the other hand, there's no good reason to fire a gun at your head even if you're pretty sure it's not loaded.

I'm very wary of this "instrumental usefulness" of beliefs though. It seems a slippery slope.

comment by ChristianKl · 2010-03-15T19:32:53.021Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Arguing that the flynn effect shows that someone else should have a different opinion on the question of how much intelligence is heritable just shows misunderstanding of the meaning of the term of heritablity.

Otherwise it would be logical to say that all of intelligence is due to culture. Why? Let's say all individuals with IQ > 300 happen to be born past the singularity. Past singularity we have the technology to make people intelligent and therefore intelligence can't be truly innate.

Therefore modern biology defines heritability as the variance of a trait within a given population that's due to genetics. In it's essence the question of heritability doesn't only depend on genes but it also depends on the environment.

There nothing wrong with saying that the heritability changes over time. A society where every child can eat as much as it wants has probably a different heritability for IQ than a society where some children don't have enough food and other children who have wealthy parents do have enough food.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T21:40:37.717Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Past singularity we have the technology to make people intelligent and therefore intelligence can't be truly innate.

And it would be correct.

variance of a trait within a given population that's due to genetics

which is a completely meaningless concept and cannot be measured.

comment by FAWS · 2010-03-15T21:44:25.830Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Past singularity we have the technology to make people intelligent and therefore intelligence can't be truly innate.

And it would be correct.

Is hair color innate?

variance of a trait within a given population that's due to genetics

which is a completely meaningless concept and cannot be measured.

Twin studies etc?

comment by DonGeddis · 2010-03-15T23:55:17.937Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you have the same opinion about gender-linked "genetically-based behavioral variation"?

Not to open a can of worms here, but the pickup-artist (PUA) community is all about how the innate behavior of (generally heterosexual) men and women differ, in dating scenarios. And, in particular, how those real behaviors differ from the behavior that is taught and reinforced by society and culture.

You can have an opinion that all behavior is changeable, and that it is shaped by society and culture. But that would lead you to one model of how men and women act during dating. (In particular, to a mostly gender-neutral model.) The PUA community has a different model of human dating behavior ... and I would say that theirs is a good deal more accurate at predicting actual observed behavior in the field.

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T00:04:47.500Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(generally heterosexual) men and women differ, in dating scenarios

True story: My lesbian roommate runs mad game with remarkable success.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T01:40:39.876Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may be setting myself up for ridicule, but: mad game?

Do you mean she gets a lot of dates?

comment by Jack · 2010-03-16T02:06:17.534Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No worries, it's a colloquialism that is probably limited to American youth culture. I mean she does basically the kinds of things the Pick-Up Artist community would recommend men do to date and sleep with women. The remarkable success consists of her sleeping with different women multiple times a week.

comment by Cyan · 2010-03-27T23:56:41.780Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is she a natural or a self-taught unnatural (or something else)?

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-16T00:16:20.280Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can have an opinion that all behavior is changeable, and that it is shaped by society and culture. But that would lead you to one model of how men and women act during dating. (In particular, to a mostly gender-neutral model.)

That only follows if the societal pressures on men and women are mostly gender-neutral. This does not appear to be the case.

comment by jimmy · 2010-03-16T04:00:51.265Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's completely true, but you gotta wonder where the asymmetry comes from in the first place.

comment by dripgrind · 2010-03-16T14:29:15.301Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not true to say that those shifts took place without any "shift in underlying genetic makeup of population" - there has been significant human evolution over the last 6,000 years during the "shift from agricultural to urban lifestyle".

Of course, this isn't an argument for innatism, since evolution didn't cause the changes in lifestyle, but the common meme that human population genetics are exactly the same today as they were on the savannah isn't true.

comment by knb · 2010-03-18T01:32:45.734Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Radical Behaviorism has been conclusively proven false. Read about the Garcia Effect, Harry Harlowe's monkey experiments, etc. Garcia demonstrated that animals come "preprogrammed" with the ability to associate taste aversions with certain negative stimuli. This is old research, behaviorism is long dead.

Also, can you explain how you find twin studies "unconvincing"!?

And second, I find ultra-behaviorism instrumentally useful. Overestimating how much you can change your life leads to better outcomes than underestimating it and just giving up.

Similarly, religion is useful because it deludes people into believing they'll be punished for all misbehavior.

comment by taw · 2010-03-18T13:04:40.253Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to be referring to entirely different thing also called "behaviorism". One I talk about answers nature-vs-nurture by siding almost totally on the nurture side - it says virtually all variety of human behavior comes from different environments humans live in, not from them having different genes. The one you refer to is a particular theory of learning which is completely unrelated. It's not the only case of unrelated things having the same name.

Also, can you explain how you find twin studies "unconvincing"!?

Culture acts on genetic cues in arbitrary way. Let's say culture considers light skin higher status than dark skin. Then skin color genes will correlate ridiculously high with outcomes - and yet not a tiniest bit of this is genetic, it's 100% cultural effect. I see no value of any kind in such studies.

Similarly, religion is useful because it deludes people into believing they'll be punished for all misbehavior.

... and money is useful because it deludes people into believing they should work even though they could survive just fine with a lot less effort without working.

Our civilization is built upon such shared delusions.

comment by knb · 2010-03-18T15:52:29.646Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are single nucleotide polymorphisms which have a drastic impact on aggression in humans. For example one MAO-A gene type leads to hyper-aggressive behavior in humans and macaque monkeys. I doubt it is culture causing this behavior in monkeys and humans.

comment by aausch · 2010-03-15T21:34:33.228Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most of the educated people I know are ultra-behaviorists

I like that qualification. It's hard to make these calls out of the group context.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-03-15T15:05:35.971Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can tell someone is irrational if they don't believe global warming is happening. You can't conclude much if they believe it is caused by human action, as this is now de rigeur for any one democratic/liberal/educated/cosmopolitan. I don't know what you can conclude if they believe it is happening but aren't convinced that it's caused by human action; but this is a small enough percentage of cases that you don't really need to classify them.

comment by Aurini · 2010-03-15T21:17:10.273Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is a fair assessment. I was a global warming supporter up until I saw that awful movie by Al Gore; his inept, unscientific presentation drove me to start looking into the situation.

What I found was a great deal of controversy over the figures - some of the charts cited by Gore tended to suggest the opposite of his thesis (assuming he even had a thesis - that man's all over the place); that CO2 follows warming, rather than triggers it.

After looking into it further - and hearing a dozen different sets of conflicting data - I eventually gave up on understanding. I don't know enough about the subject matter to make an accurate judgement, and various sources on all sides of the debate have proved themselves to be biased or incompetent. Alcor I trust to lay out factual information on 'vitrification' - whatever the hell that is. The IPCC on the other hand has a political motivation, as (probably) do many of the scientific skeptics.

As a rough estimate, I'd assign a 60% chance that global warming is occuring, while maybe a 10% chance that the climate's cooling. This is completely ignoring the probabilities of it A) being man made, B) being catastrophic (or even bad), and C) of being correctable by current policies.

Unless if you're a climatologist or a meteorologist, I'd be very suspicious of strong stances on the matter. Perhaps a better test would be whether somebody supports A) cap-and-trade or B) using a 'science fiction' solar-umbrella satellite to cool off the earth.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-16T07:41:25.542Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

After looking into it further - and hearing a dozen different sets of conflicting data - I eventually gave up on understanding. I don't know enough about the subject matter to make an accurate judgement, and various sources on all sides of the debate have proved themselves to be biased or incompetent.

I sympathize. Frankly, most of us don't know anywhere near enough (nor should we, realistically) about climate science to truly assess the evidence ourselves, particularly when the models necessary for prediction are so complex. What to do in this case? I think we should consider the weight of opinion of actual experts. If you do this, the balance tips markedly towards AGW.

What about vested interests, you say? Well they exist on both sides, but on one side we have the fossil fuel lobby and on the other... conflict of interest wrt research grants (which is not just a problem in the case of global warming!).

Bottom line: If you can't assess the evidence directly yourself, delegate wisely.

comment by Aurini · 2010-03-17T03:25:19.770Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I generally agree with your heuristic - eg: arguing "this light should be green for longer to improve traffic efficiency" is ridiculous - but when money or politics get involved it tends to break down. For money, "Red light cameras are there to improve traffic safety, not as cash cows, and the various municipal-funded studies can be relied upon." For politics, "We have to have a speed limit on the highway, even if it's irregularly enforced, because allowing people to drive whatever speed they want is just crazy - it'd never work! The cops ticketing speeders are just protecting us from ourselves."

A better corollary than the traffic issue however, would be medicine; while the majority of us on LW (I suspect) will blindly accept the broad-strokes declared by the medical community, while simultaneously distrusting the rationality of most doctors; when it comes to a specific treatment for a serious condition most of us would be researching it ourselves This goes doubly for the psychiatric field, and area as dominated by the politics of popular thought as it is by the pharma dollars.

This is why I remain dubious about AGW (let alone Catastrophic-AGW). On the one hand we've got the oil lobbyists, and living in oil country I hear constant anecdotes about how slimy they are; but on the other side you've got the IPCC, a group of technocrats with a prior commitment to big government who are in charge of directing the research. There's a political bias at work, which I find even more frightening than the oil companies' profit motive.

As for the rest of the scientists, which ones have actually done the research, and how many are just following the conventional wisdom? Medical doctors still recommend a diet which was created by George McGovern, and I'd be surprised if more than fifty percent of them actually understand evolution (rather than just believe it) - a ridiculously simple theory when you study it.

Several prominent candidates pop up when you consider the IPCC's bias - are they anti-1st world (Carbon Credit transfers to the 3rd)? Anti-free market (heavy regulation and monitoring for all)? Or - and I think this is a major component of most green activists - are they just simply anti-car? I can imagine the plastic hippies living in the University bubble hating people for driving, and what better way to justify that hatred than arguing that CO2 is a pollutant? We never hear anything about the effects of methane on the climate - except from the low-status vegans.

When things become this jumbled, I'd say it's better to point out a third way - say 'I don't know', and pre-emptively cut the legs off of the soldier-like arguments of both sides. I'm wary of picking one side of advocates, when both groups are known, as a matter of fact, to regularly molest baby animals before having their first cup of coffee in the morning - in a way it reminds me of voting.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T15:53:56.084Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can tell someone is irrational if they don't believe global warming is happening.

It's not like a normal person can observe such changes - we're talking fraction of a degree over lifetime so far (Wikipedia says 0.74 ± 0.18 °C over entire 20th century).

It's a matter of your level of trust in "mainstream" scientists, and there's nothing particularly irrational about not having terribly much trust here.

And even global warming is real, it's still instrumentally rational to be wrong - let other people limit their carbon emissions, the world in which you drive SUV and everyone else overpays for Priuses is the optimal world for you to live in. (it would be even better to believe correctly in global warming, but be cynical enough to not give a shit about it, but many people have some sort of cynicism limit...)

comment by Jack · 2010-03-15T16:51:34.506Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it would be even better to believe correctly in global warming, but be cynical enough to not give a shit about it, but many people have some sort of cynicism limit...)

You don't have to be especially cynical, just recognize the situation as the collective action problem that it is. I'm not that cynical but I'm also not a dupe.

Also, not believing in global warming, if global warming is real, is likely to lead you to do stupid things like accepting certain bets on global mean temperature fifty years out and purchasing coastal properties. So I don't think it is instrumentally rational, either.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T16:08:33.731Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's still instrumentally rational to be wrong - let other people limit their carbon emissions

I'd describe that as a rationalization of egoism, wouldn't you?

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T16:14:56.412Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean by egoism?

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T16:48:45.164Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Key word there was rationalization. If terminology is the problem, replace "egoism" by "selfishness" and my point remains the same.

I don't buy rational egoism. What is rational is whatever advances one's goals - goals which may or may not be selfish. Considering our inbuilt empathy & love for our families, the general case is that our goals will not be purely selfish.

Even if I was a rational egoist, though, actually believing something against evidence (as distinct from declaring belief or not caring) is utterly irrational.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-03-15T16:39:22.580Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think we can agree that "instrumentally rational" is irrational.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T16:56:17.158Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is irrational in a way that it recognized limitations of human rationality, and decides that sometimes you're better off not knowing. Perfect rational being would not need it - human being sometimes might.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T17:10:47.136Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Oh all right," said the old man. "Here's a prayer for you. Got a pencil?"

"Yes," said Arthur.

"It goes like this. Let's see now: 'Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decide not to know about. Amen.' That's it. It's what you pray silently inside yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open."

"Hmmm," said Arthur. "Well thank you --"

"There's another prayer that goes with it that's very important," said the old man, "so you'd better jot this down, too."

"Okay."

"It goes, 'Lord, lord, lord...' It's best to put that bit in just in case. You can never be too sure. 'Lord, lord, lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer. Amen.' And that's it. Most of the trouble people get into in life comes from leaving out that last part."


In all seriousness, ignorance may sometimes be bliss, but conscious, willful ignorance is reprehensible. Let's actually make an effort to be all right with the way the world is, before we throw up our hands.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T17:55:16.632Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I choose to be ignorant about certain things all the time - every moment of my life spent on anything except reading Wikipedia is a choice of selective ignorance.

How much does your life improve by having more accurate view of global warming research, as opposed to being vaguely aware of it but fairly skeptical either way like most educated people? I'd guess improvement will be tiny, and the risk of such knowledge triggering your world-saving instincts is not worth it.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-15T18:15:51.390Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I choose to be ignorant about certain things all the time - every moment of my life spent on anything except reading Wikipedia is a choice of selective ignorance.

True, but that is ignorance-of-omission. You seemed to be advocating a conscious decision to keep yourself ignorant of certain well-defined areas of knowledge. Apologies if this is not so.

How much does your life improve by having more accurate view of global warming research...?

Well, here's the hedonistic vs. goal-oriented view of rationality again. Not everything I do is directly related to satisfying immediate whims. I am a voter and also an engineer, as it happens. Both of these circumstances imply I have an ethical obligation to be at least somewhat conversant on questions of public policy & the environment.

I'd guess improvement will be tiny, and the risk of such knowledge triggering your world-saving instincts is not worth it.

If my "world-saving instincts" should be triggered, I want them triggered. Again, as a bare minimum, public policy depends on an informed public, and GW is a policy problem. But uninformed consent in a democracy is pointless, it doesn't count. We might just as well save money on ballot paper and install a grand Doge for all the functional difference it would entail.

comment by taw · 2010-03-15T19:11:50.362Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If democracy depended on informed voters, then we could as well give it up and set up a single party government.

Fortunately it does not.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2010-03-15T22:28:56.611Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't say it was bad. I said it was irrational.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-15T16:36:08.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not like a normal person can observe such changes - we're talking fraction of a degree over lifetime so far (Wikipedia says 0.74 ± 0.18 °C over entire 20th century).

That's not necessarily true - first, the temperature change is not uniform everywhere, and second, the effects of such changes on weather may be noticeable in ways other than simple warming (e.g. more extreme weather events). Certainly day-to-day observations cannot support the kind of confidence that many scientists have in their conclusions about global warming, but they can lend slight credence to such statements.

comment by ChrisHibbert · 2010-03-16T03:20:39.428Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the temperature change is not uniform everywhere

But it's non-uniform enough that some people are observing warming and some are observing cooling. So it seems clear from a perspective that accepts the terms of the claim that all purely local observations are uninformative.

second, the effects of such changes on weather may be noticeable in ways other than simple warming (e.g. more extreme weather events).

Tracking extreme weather events from a local perspective seems likely to give even less reliable results than looking for trends in your local climate.

If you accept the terms of the debate, you have to hope for non-biased global observations that are properly normed against a long baseline in order to make any decisions about what weather evidence counts for or against the positions. At this point, I'm having a hard time finding any non-biased observations.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-03-16T03:40:12.191Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough - I was quibbling, to a large part because:

  1. The weather in my home region has gotten weird compared to my childhood - many mild winters and summer droughts, for example.

  2. An Alaskan on DeviantArt a while ago wrote a prose piece about how she was always freezing, never warming enough in the summer to withstand the following winter ... and prefaced it with a matter-of-fact note about how that wasn't the case in recent years.

Hence, when you commented that "[i]t's not like a normal person, can observe such changes", that seemed to contradict my own experiences. But given the prior attitude effect, my experiences should probably be discounted a fair bit.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2010-03-15T22:25:08.386Z · score: 28 (28 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's an additional issue of subtlety that isn't addressed here. People will typically reveal "improper" views by starting small and seeing if their audience is sympathetic, not because they are irrational, but because they aren't stupid and they care about consequences.

That is, if I'm in some highly religious town, I'm not going to open my conversation with, "So, this whole God thing makes about as much sense as Santa Claus, am I right?" I'm going to open with, "You know, there's something about the story of Job that just doesn't sit right with me," or something else small, safe, and exploratory.

comment by Shae · 2010-03-16T14:05:16.315Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. There's another reason why people might give religion the "respect" of treating it worthy of debate, while not doing so with astrology. One might feel that religious people are taking their agendas into politics and school classrooms to the detriment of society in a way that astrologists are not, and might therefore give religionists the respect necessary to engage them in debate and hopefully change their minds.

comment by DonGeddis · 2010-03-16T22:06:06.886Z · score: 24 (43 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Proposed litmus test: infanticide.

General cultural norms label this practice as horrific, and most people's gut reactions concur. But a good chunk of rationality is separating emotions from logic. Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines, and abortion is an ok if perhaps regrettable practice ... well, scientifically, there just isn't all that much difference between a fetus a couple months before birth, and an infant a couple of months after.

This doesn't argue that infants have zero value, but instead that they should be treated more like property or perhaps like pets (rather than like adult citizens). Don't unnecessarily cause them to suffer, but on the other hand you can choose to euthanize your own, if you wish, with no criminal consequences.

Get one of your friends who claims to be a rationalist. See if they can argue passionately in favor of infanticide.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-17T04:03:57.673Z · score: 30 (36 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines, and abortion is an ok if perhaps regrettable practice ...

Kudos to you for forthrightness. But em... no. Ok, first, it seems to me you've swept the ethics of infanticide under the rug of abortion, and left it there mostly unaddressed. Is an abortion an "ok if regrettable practice?" You've just assumed the answer is always yes, under any circumstances.

I personally say "definitely yes" before brain development (~12 weeks I think), "you need to talk to your doctor" between 12 and 24 weeks, and "not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks (fully functioning brain). Anybody who knows more about development is welcome to contradict me, but those were the numbers I came up with a few years ago when I researched this.

If a baby/fetus has a mind, in my books it should be accorded rights - more and more so as it develops. I fail to see, moreover, where the dividing line ought to be in your view. Not to slippery-slope you but - why stop at infants?

*(Also note that this is a first-principles ethical argument which may have to be modified based on social expedience if it turns into policy. I don't want to encourage botched amateur abortions and cause extra harm. But those considerations are separate from the question of whether infants have worth in a moral sense.)

Once you've used atheism to eliminate a soul, and humans are "just" meat machines...

This gave me a nasty turn, because probably the most annoying idea religious people have is that if we're "just" chemicals, then nothing matters. One has to take pains to say that chemicals are just what we're made of. We have to be made out of something! :) And what we're made of has precisely zero moral significance (would we have more worth if we were made out of "spirit"?).

I mean, I could sit here all day and tell you about how you shouldn't read "Moby Dick," because it's just a bunch of meaningless pigment squiggles on compressed wood pulp. In a certain very trivial sense I am absolutely right - there is no "élan de Moby Dick" floating out in the aether somewhere independent of physical books. On the other hand I am totally missing the point.

comment by DonGeddis · 2010-03-17T17:56:29.426Z · score: 15 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is an abortion an "ok if regrettable practice?" You've just assumed the answer is always yes, under any circumstances.

Sorry, you have a point that my test won't apply to every rationalist.

The contrast I meant was: if you look at the world population, and ask how many people believe in atheism, materialism, and that abortion is not morally wrong, you'll find a significant minority. (Perhaps you yourself are not in that group.)

But if you then try to add "believes that infanticide is not morally wrong", your subpopulation will drop to basically zero.

But, rationally, the gap between the first three beliefs, and the last one, is relatively small. Purely on the basis of rationality, you ought to expect a smaller dropoff than we in fact see. Hence, most people in the first group are avoiding the repugnant conclusion for non-rational reasons. (Or believing in the first three, for non-rational reasons.)

If you personally don't agree with the first three premises, then perhaps this test isn't accurate for you.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-10-10T12:43:59.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So your point is that anyone who feels there is a moral difference between infanticide and abortion is irrational?

Because most pro-lifers already say that, in my experience.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-20T09:35:50.039Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But, rationally, the gap between the first three beliefs, and the last one, is relatively small. Purely on the basis of rationality, you ought to expect a smaller dropoff than we in fact see. Hence, most people in the first group are avoiding the repugnant conclusion for non-rational reasons. (Or believing in the first three, for non-rational reasons.)

Well, my comment from http://lesswrong.com/lw/1ww/undiscriminating_skepticism/1sek would probably be better here. I still dispute that argument, as I think this drop-off is justified, even for rationalists.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-20T05:42:30.459Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a baby/fetus has a mind, in my books it should be accorded rights - more and more so as it develops. I fail to see, moreover, where the dividing line ought to be in your view. Not to slippery-slope you but - why stop at infants?

The standard answer is that at that point there is no longer a conflict with the rights of the women whose body the infant was hooked into. We don't generally require that people give up their bodily autonomy to support the life of others.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-20T07:00:19.814Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't generally require that people give up their bodily autonomy to support the life of others.

The complication here is that a responsible, consenting adult tacitly accepts giving up her bodily autonomy (or accepts a risk of doing so) when she has sex. That's precisely the same reason men are required to pay child support even if they didn't wish for a pregnancy. (Yes, I see the asymmetry; yes, it sucks).

Case-by-case reasoning is probably a good thing in these circs, but unless the mother was not informed (minor/mental illness) or did not consent, then the only really tenable reason for a late-term abortion I can think of is health. In which case the relative weighing of rights is a tricky business, a buck I will pass to doctors, patients & hospital ethics boards.

comment by wnoise · 2010-03-20T07:57:37.098Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

but unless the mother was not informed (minor/mental illness) or did not consent,

This is already a significant retreat from your previously stated position. ("not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks)

The complication here is that a responsible, consenting adult tacitly accepts giving up her bodily autonomy (or accepts a risk of doing so) when she has sex.

That's a hell of an assertion. I don't really see any reason to accept it as other than a normative statement of what you wish would happen.

That's precisely the same reason men are required to pay child support even if they didn't wish for a pregnancy. (Yes, I see the asymmetry; yes, it sucks).

As you say, there is an asymmetry. Garnishing a wage is a bit different, and seems appropriate to me.

Case-by-case reasoning is probably a good thing in these circs,

Yes, it is, so long as it is reasoning rather than assertions that this case is different. We have to specify how it is different, and how those differences make a difference. The easiest way for me to do this is to use analogies. This is dangerous of course, as one must keep in mind that they can ignore relevant differences while emphasizing surface similarities.

So, in this case the relevant specialness you're calling out is that a risky activity was knowingly engaged in that created a person who needs life support for some time, as well as care and feeding far after that. So I'm going to try to set up an analogous situation, but without sex being the act (which I think is irrelevant) coming into the mix. This will also mean another difference: the person will not be "created" except metaphorically from a preëxisting person. I personally don't see how that would be relevant, but I suppose it is possible for others to disagree.

Suppose a person is driving, and crashes into a pedestrian. This ruptures the liver of the pedestrian. A partial transplant of the driver's liver will save the pedestrian's life. Is the driver expected to donate their liver? Should it be required by law?

Note that the donor's death rate for this operation is under 1%. When we compare this to the statistics for maternal death, we see it is similar to WHO's 2005 estimate of world average of 900 per 100,000, though developed regions have it far lower at 9 per 100000.

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-20T21:09:11.358Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is already a significant retreat from your previously stated position. ("not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks)

Is it? I suppose it is. I contain multitudes. No, honestly, I just didn't name all my caveats in the previous post (my bad). Clearly there are two people's interests to take into consideration here. Also, as I noted, that was an ethical rather than legal argument. I don't have any strong opinions about what the law should do wrt this question.

That's a hell of an assertion. I don't really see any reason to accept it as other than a normative statement of what you wish would happen.

I don't think it's unreasonable, although you're right it's not a fact statement. But I think it's a fairly well-established principle of ethics & jurisprudence that informed consent implies responsibility. Nobody has to have unprotected sex, so if you (a consenting adult) do so, any reasonably foreseeable consequences are on your shoulders.

Suppose a person is driving, and crashes into a pedestrian. This ruptures the liver of the pedestrian. A partial transplant of the driver's liver will save the pedestrian's life. Is the driver expected to donate their liver? Should it be required by law?

It's a reasonably good analogy I guess. There are two separate questions here: what should the law do, and what should the driver do. I don't think anybody wants the law to require organ donations from people who behave irresponsibly. However, put in the driver's shoes, and assuming the collision was my fault, I would feel obligated to donate (if, in this worst-case scenario, I am the only one who can).

There is a slight disanalogy here though, which is that an abortion is an act, whereas a failure to donate is an omission. It's like the difference between throwing the fat guy on the tracks and just letting the train hit the fat guy.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-20T21:26:42.569Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

which is that an abortion is an act, whereas a failure to donate is an omission

I'm curious to the reasoning on what the difference is, except maybe that, no better options being available (it seems) we use omission as the default strategy when consequences are not within our grasp (as watching and gathering more information will at least not worsen your later ability to come to a conclusion, with the only caveat that then it may be too late to act).

comment by BarbaraB · 2012-04-16T10:53:58.919Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Suppose a person is driving, and crashes into a pedestrian. This ruptures the liver of the pedestrian. A partial transplant of the driver's liver will save the pedestrian's life. Is the driver expected to donate their liver? Should it be required by law?"

For organ transplantations, the body biochemistries of the organ donor and acceptor must be somewhat compatible, otherwise the transplanted organ gets rejected by the immune system of the acceptor. The best transplantation results are between the identical twins. For unrelated people, there are tests to estimate the compatibility of organs, and databases. A conclusion: The driver is not generally expected to donate their liver, because in the majority of the cases, it would not help the victim.

Imagine an alternate universe, where all the human bodies are highly compatible for transplantation purposes.

  • Yes, I believe it might become a social norm in this alternate universe, or even a law, that the driver must donate their liver to the victim.
comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-20T09:56:31.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose a person is driving, and crashes into a pedestrian. This ruptures the liver of the pedestrian. A partial transplant of the driver's liver will save the pedestrian's life. Is the driver expected to donate their liver. Should it be required by law?

This depends mostly upon whether you think that law should enforce doing actions which save lives with insignificant risk to the actor.

If yes, then this (quite special) case is clear-cut, given a few assumptions (liver matches and is healthy, is not already scheduled for another similarly important surgery, etc. etc.). However, at least as far as I know, this is not the case.

And I doubt it will be soon (simply did not think about whether it should yet). Just an example: In Austria by default all deceased people are potential donors -- you have to file an explicit opt-out. This is quite different than for instance in Germany. Therefore we have a relatively good "source" of organs. However, though sometimes under discussion, Germany has not changed its legislation, even with the possibility to compare the numbers. Maybe for religious reasons, or freedom of whomever. I didn't follow it that close...

If such simple matters (we are talking about already medically dead persons) do not change within years, what can be expected for such, really fundamental, decisions?

comment by simplicio · 2010-03-20T21:11:24.969Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just an example: In Austria by default all deceased people are potential donors -- you have to file an explicit opt-out.

I am very much in favour of this sort of policy; it would do no end of good.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-04-22T06:26:41.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just an example: In Austria by default all deceased people are potential donors -- you have to file an explicit opt-out.

I am very much in favour of this sort of policy; it would do no end of good.

The effect of pretending to have opt-out organ donation is small. Austria is unique in really having opt-out organ donation (everywhere else, next of kin decide in practice), so it's hard to judge the effect, but it's not an outlier. In the 90s, Spain became the high outlier and Italy ceased being the low outlier, so rapid change is possible without doing anything ethically sensitive. graph. More Kieran Healy links here.

comment by BarbaraB · 2012-04-18T15:12:14.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An interesting article.

"Reform of the rules governing consent is often accompanied by an overhaul and improvement of the logistical system, and it is this—not the letter of the law—that makes a difference. Cadaveric organ procurement is an intense, time-sensitive and very fluid process that requires a great deal of co-ordination and management. Countries that invest in that layer of the system do better than others, regardless of the rules about presumed and informed consent."

In our country, we have an opt-out donation, but I guess the relatives can have a veto. I have seen a physician on TV, who said some scary things openly. Our doctors are standardly overworked and underpayed. Imagine a doctor, who, towards the end of the long shift, sees a patient dying with some of the organs intact. If he decides to report the availability of the organs, he creates an extra, several hours work for himself and others, paperwork included. There is either none or very little financial reward for reporting the organs, I do not remember exactly. They might feel heroic for the first couple of times, but, eventually, they resign and stop making these reports, after they work long enough. I have seen this on TV cca 3 years ago, do not know the current situation.

comment by Strange7 · 2013-12-14T05:35:40.635Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The driver could instead be made responsible for the victim's exact medical costs or some fraction thereof, in addition to any punitive or approximated damages. This would provide adequate incentive to seek out ways to reduce those costs, including but not limited to a voluntary donation on the part of the driver or someone who owes the driver a favor.

comment by Jiro · 2013-12-02T16:51:40.459Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the abortion example, the fetus 1) is created already attached and ending ongoing life support may not be the same as requiring that someone who is not providing it provide it, 2) needs life support for an extended period, and 3) can only use the life support of one person.

comment by thomblake · 2012-10-10T18:11:24.448Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The complication here is that a responsible, consenting adult tacitly accepts giving up her bodily autonomy (or accepts a risk of doing so) when she has sex.

The complication there is that on the standard view, one cannot give up one's bodily autonomy permanently. You cannot sell yourself into slavery. The pregnant person always has the right to opt-out of the contract.

Though the fetus would presumably be able to get damages. I guess those get paid to the next-of-kin.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-10-10T18:35:35.396Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess those get paid to the next-of-kin.

Upvoted entirely for this line, which made me spit coffee when it finally registered.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-06T03:05:31.737Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the first month of pregnancy, right, but in the seventh month you can Caesarean the baby out of the mother and put it into an incubator, can't you?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-06T05:47:43.561Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not without some risk to both, the exact amounts depending on the situation..

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-06T05:53:38.492Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I'm assuming that by “some” you mean ‘larger than that of either abortion or natural childbirth’, otherwise it wouldn't be relevant. Right?)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-10-06T09:21:14.261Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Smaller would be relevant too, for the opposite reason.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-10-10T12:53:16.036Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't generally require that people give up their bodily autonomy to support the life of others.

We don't?

In what situation, exactly, do we fail to do this? I can't think of any other real-world situation. I can imagine counterfactual ones, sure, but I'm fairly certain most people see those as analogies for abortion and respond appropriately.

comment by wnoise · 2012-10-10T15:43:31.558Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't, for instance, require people to donate redundant organs, nor even blood. Nor is organ donation mandatory even after death (prehaps it should be).

What are some cases where we do require people to give up their bodily autonomy?

comment by TimS · 2012-10-10T17:54:45.147Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mandatory drug testing?

comment by wnoise · 2012-10-12T06:11:39.437Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's the big one I can think of, and this usually arises in a very different context where it's easy to dehumanize those forced to take such tests: alleged criminals and children.

(Even in these contexts, peeing in a cup or taking a breathalyzer is quite a bit less severe than enduring a forced pregnancy. Mandatory blood draws for DUIs do upset a signifianct number of people. How you feel about employment tests and sports doping might depend on how you feel about economic coercion and whether it's truly "mandatory".)

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-24T01:19:04.919Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-20T09:31:46.537Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sidetrack:

When one chooses subjective experience of pain and pleasure as one basic necessity for the privilege of taken into account when deciding moral matters, and if one assumes that this privilege is only gradually applicable (i.e. the pain/pleasure experience of a dog is less vivid than that of a human, etc.), than the immediate right/wrongfulness of an action like abortion/infanticide with regard to the fetus/baby should correlate to similar decisions on pets.

simplicio:

I personally say "definitely yes" before brain development (~12 weeks I think), "you need to talk to your doctor" between 12 and 24 weeks, and "not unless it's going to kill you" after 24 weeks (fully functioning brain).

But, if, as I think, we also have a common ground by preferring consequentialist ethics, which also more or less leads to resolve "omission vs. act" as both being similary moral