Is xkcd "Think Logically" talking about this site?

post by summerstay · 2012-09-24T14:29:37.636Z · score: -8 (26 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 34 comments

I think we could apply the lessons, anyway, but Munroe might have our community in mind specifically. The alt-text refers to emotional biases. I'm just curious if others got the same impression.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by dbaupp · 2012-09-24T14:34:52.863Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

LW isn't the only group of people who talk about being "rational" and avoiding biases. It would be a little arrogant to think that LW was being specifically targeted.

(And anyway, I would hope that LW-style rationalism would understand the reason why chess's rules are like that. The "rationality" displayed in the comic is a straw-vulcan.)

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-09-24T17:34:04.812Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also the word being used is "logical" not rational.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-24T15:08:43.068Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The "rationality" displayed in the comic is a straw-vulcan.

Yes, and a particular kind of straw-vulcan that is also targeted by xkcd in "Physicists" and "Drama". I agree that there is no reason to think LW is being singled out here.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-09-25T01:04:20.149Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This type of Hollywood Rationality is explicitly listed in TV Tropes under "Straw Vulcan" (failure to understand that goal achievement may require locally backward steps). I haven't encountered anyone who explicitly associates that with LW in particular, and anyone who's taken an introductory AI course should know better than to think a backward step is beyond computation, logic, Bayesian agents, etc.

comment by Lightwave · 2012-09-24T19:51:47.839Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this deserves its own top level discussion post and I suspect most of the downvotes are for this reason. Maybe use the open thread next time?

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-25T00:15:56.413Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that links to comics should better go in the open thread, but this explanation for the downvotes seems incorrect--a search for "xkcd" and SMBC" shows many posts consisting of links to comics, most of them upvoted. This one was downvoted because the suggestion that the comic references LW was deemed wrong.

And I think the community's reaction was rather too harsh--it was a honest mistake by the poster, and while I can understand someone downvoting it when it had zero or few downvotes, I cannot understand someone piling on after it had been already heavily downvoted and taking it to its present value of -15, a karma score I associate with trolls, spam, personal abuse or political rants, not a honest mistake.

comment by prase · 2012-09-25T16:38:33.068Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I cannot understand someone piling on after it had been already heavily downvoted

I vote down when the post is of a kind I don't want to see here, without regard of the post's current score. This seems to me as a more sensible voting pattern than the obvious alternative and I hope I am not applying it alone.

(Disclaimer: I haven't downvoted this post.)

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-25T17:51:46.961Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, on reflection, that it is a sensible voting policy.

It is certainly simpler than mine, which under introspection, seems to be something like "upvote something that is quite below its proper score, downvote something that is quite above it, and don't bother when there is not much difference, with the deontological constraints of not upvoting when the deserved net score is negative, not downvoting when it is positive, upvoting ceteris paribus responses to myself, and probably further qualifications".

comment by prase · 2012-09-25T19:40:10.449Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The main problem I have with voting to reach the proper score is that to do it well means either that

  1. I'd have to constantly check all the posts I have voted on to see whether the score hasn't overshot and my vote isn't already moving the karma away from my desired value, or
  2. I'd have to guess the future quasi-stable rating of the post and vote according to the difference of this guess from my desired score (assuming such a rating exists, i.e. that karma of posts or comments stops wildly fluctuating some time after they are published).

(1) is obviously waste of time and (2) is too complex and error-prone. The default position of many LWers, i.e. voting according to the present standing and not checking afterwards, I dislike because the resulting score depends on the order in which the readers vote. Consider e.g. 10 readers finding the post unremarkable and deserving 0 and another 10 readers finding it worth +5. Then if the former group votes first and the latter votes last, the post ends up at +5, while in the reversed order it would stand at 0.

(I have observed that many bad posts sink rapidly soon after being posted and then slowly climb back to around zero level. I hypothesise that may be because the regular readers who may be more demanding in quality are more likely to read a post soon while the more forgiving occasional readers who check new content less often read posts later; even if there were many more regular readers than occasional readers, since most of the former group would forgo voting because the post had already got what it deserved, the latter group would dominate in the long-term voting results.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-25T22:44:30.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should note this is well-travelled ground; we have this conversation about twice a year.

You are, of course, correct about the failure mode of the adjust-towards-preferred-score strategy.

The vote-without-reference-to-preferred-score strategy has the problem where, if comment C1 has a score 5x higher than C2, someone reading them can't tell whether that reflects 5x as many people reading C1 as C2 and endorsing it about as much, or a 5x higher proportion of readers endorsed it. Which is kind of a big deal, if we want karma scores to serve as feedback about comment quality/desirability rather than thread popularity, which some of us do.

People vary in terms of which problem they're more motivated to avoid, so you end up with both behaviors in the community. When the subject comes up, proponents of adjust-toward-preferred-score typically dismiss the concern you describe by positing that there's no systematic difference between early voters and late voters, and proponents of ignore-preferred-score dismiss the above concern by positing that there's not that much variation in how many people read any given pair of comments. (Personally, I suspect both of those statements are false.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-26T11:15:52.746Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that's actually more sensible, given that upvotes and downvotes aren't shown separately (does +3 means three people want to see more comments like that and everyone else is indifferent, or does it mean seven people want to see more of them and four want to see fewer?). If they were I would do that too, but right now I mentally assign each post/comment a “deserved” score and upvote/downvoted if the current score is below/above it.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-25T03:09:09.873Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One can edit to add "Retracted" or a similar disclaimer in the post to stop the downvoting.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-25T09:52:59.941Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted because one of the chiefly repeated themes of the sequences and LW is that rationality is about winning, not about following your preconceptions about what logic means to your defeat, nor about making excuses.

It's insulting and rather ignorant that summerstay associated LW with the type of person Munroe was mocking. That type of person is pretty much the opposite of what LW is about.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-09-25T11:24:41.349Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's insulting and rather ignorant that summerstay associated LW with the type of person Munroe was mocking. That type of person is pretty much the opposite of what LW is about.

It is certainly the opposite of our ideal. Practice sometimes falls short.

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-25T12:00:00.198Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Falling short" means not finishing first in the race. This is more like running in the opposite direction.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-09-26T11:45:37.761Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whatever. Here's a recent example of the error.

comment by summerstay · 2012-09-25T12:52:21.256Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look, I like Less Wrong. It's fun. But if you want to have an influence on the world, you need to engage with the discussions the professionals are having. You need to publish in scientific journals. You need to play the game that's out there well enough to win. I don't think people should feel insulted by my suggesting this. Getting insulted by ideas that make us uncomfortable isn't what I feel this place is about.

comment by prase · 2012-09-25T16:31:28.336Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But this is a different critique, isn't it? Not being able to significantly influence the world for whatever reasons is one thing, being a strawman rationalist with a silly conception of "logic" is another thing. You may be right that LW isn't a highly influential community, but that's not what the linked xkcd is about.

comment by summerstay · 2012-09-25T18:07:54.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a lot of people are misunderstanding the linked xkcd, or maybe I am. The way I see it, It's not about misusing the word "logic." It's about people coming in from the outside, thinking that just because they are smart, they know how to solve problems in a field that they are completely inexperienced in, and have spent very little time thinking about compared to those who think about it as a full time job.

comment by prase · 2012-09-25T20:18:06.482Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't disagree about the intended message of the linked xkcd. By a "strawman rationalist with a silly conception of logic" I meant exactly that: a person who assumes that every problem can be solved by "logical thinking" and underestimates the role of expertise. (Since logic alone in the proper sense isn't sufficient to produce results - right or wrong - except in small subclass of problems, this attitude needs some abuse of the word "logic", if one indeed uses the phrase "to think logically" to denote one's own behaviour. But that's besides the point.)

The disagreement arises when you claim that the described failure mode is typical for LW. To me it seems more typical for the rather ordinary sort of crackpots who think they can do everything better than anybody else and when they lose in a direct competition they claim that the rules have been stacked against them (another part the xkcd is mocking). To show that LW is like this, it doesn't suffice to point out that we (for whatever meaning of we) aren't enough influential. You have additionally to show that we are unaware of the difficulties or are finding inane excuses for our lack of success.

Edit: to further clarify, I don't treat LW as means of influencing the world.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-25T14:27:08.541Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But if you want to have an influence on the world, you need to engage with the discussions the professionals are having. You need to publish in scientific journals. You need to play the game that's out there well enough to win. I don't think people should feel insulted by my suggesting this.

If I was remotely interested in taking what you say personally the offense I would take is regarding the presumptive condescension. I imagine the phrase "No shit!" may even spring to mind.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-25T13:14:22.320Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's one thing to believe LW isn't immune to such failures to win, it's another thing to suggest that Rundall Munroe had us specifically in mind when he was writing this.

If you are to offer the first criticism, perhaps you oughtn't present it as a criticism specifically targetted to us by Rundall Munroe.

comment by summerstay · 2012-09-25T13:51:33.908Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought that Randall Munroe might be talking about LW, but I wasn't sure, so I asked if anyone else had the same impression. At least one other person did. Most people didn't.

comment by summerstay · 2012-09-24T22:40:41.371Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I'll try that.

comment by evand · 2012-09-24T14:41:01.208Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd like to think that if Randall Munroe did a comic about LW, the humor would more specifically target LW.

comment by radical_negative_one · 2012-09-24T17:33:18.605Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hear that, Randall? You need to lampoon us better next time!

comment by TobyBartels · 2014-11-23T22:11:08.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eventually he did!

comment by maia · 2012-09-24T14:38:55.191Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see anything unique to LW in that comic.

comment by fortyeridania · 2012-09-25T00:19:28.693Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By stating beforehand that the comic reminded you of LW, you primed us to read the comic with LW in mind. This illegitimately increased the chances that readers would "see" references to LW in the comic.

comment by coffeespoons · 2012-09-25T09:35:41.696Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I saw the comic before I saw this post, and it didn't make me think of LW.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-09-24T15:12:39.891Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I already linked this in the open thread.

comment by summerstay · 2012-09-24T15:24:25.042Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tried to search for it before I posted, but failed to find it. Nice to see at least one other person felt the same way on reading the comic. I feel like we as a group are sometimes guilty of trying to reinvent the wheel instead of participating in the scholarly philosophy and AI communities by publishing papers. It's a lot easier this way, and there's less friction, but some of this has been said before, and smart people have already thought about it.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-24T15:26:03.811Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not likely. A comic with themes more aligned with LW is SMBC. This one reminds of a very recent thread.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-26T04:46:10.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If anything, this one about defecting in prisoner dilemma applies better.