How can people be actually converted?

post by yttrium · 2012-02-05T22:13:47.363Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 94 comments

Have you ever convinced a religious person to become atheistic? How did you do this? How long did it take? Were the people in some sort of life crisis, or were they just living along?

This is probably a quite difficult task of persuasion. So stories how people were successful at it could be very interesting to improve ones' persuasion abilities.

Relatedly, it might be interesting to know what religious groups have gathered on techniques to convert people to their religion - are there some manuals/techniques floating around?

94 comments

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comment by lukeprog · 2012-02-05T22:58:10.138Z · score: 41 (47 votes) · LW · GW

Have you ever convinced a religious person to become atheistic?

Yes, a few dozen, exclusively through my writing.

My impression is that the arguments have almost no effect. What has an effect is being smart, likable, and altruistic, while occasionally mocking religion and sending signals that being religious is socially uncool.

comment by taelor · 2012-02-06T03:38:34.547Z · score: 36 (36 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, people will only convert for precisely the wrong reasons.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2012-02-06T09:58:27.661Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, people will only convert for precisely the wrong reasons.

Absolutely true. If they were ready to accept the correct arguments, they would have become atheist on their own.

The probability for a given person to have developed a skeptical mind, have overcome the possible brainwashing effect of a religious education and all the possible correlated biases/fallacies (sunk-cost, belief-in-belief, etc.) and not having heard a compelling anti-religious argument is very low. Therefore, you can convert them either following the long, hard, but certainly more rewarding path of making them skeptical, if not rational, or you can bombard them with emotional nukes to demolish the emotional concrete walls that protect the religious belief.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2012-02-08T15:30:59.650Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In other, other words: People generally don't become skeptical until they realize they are really wrong on something really important to them.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-02-06T16:22:19.783Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

People already have plenty of evidence; they just need a social reason to change their filter.

What I'd say is different between conversions and de-conversions is that the social incentive for religious conversion often takes the form of peer pressure or wanting to belong to a particular group, while de-conversion seems to just require evidence that you won't be completely cut off from good/cool/interesting people if you turn atheist.

I should say that the main evidence I have here is my own history (one data point in each set) as well as a few observed de-conversions in my friends (and one aborted de-conversion from a person who couldn't imagine letting go of his devout family and friends). And I've known people who converted (before I met them) to religion for reasons that sounded more like an innate yearning for deontology.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-02-06T20:10:25.116Z · score: 3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You can't talk people out of something they weren't talked into.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-02-06T01:01:58.878Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know of anyone who argued someone else into atheism, ever. (Of course this may happen, but not so frequently.)

But I know plenty of people who were swayed by being a third party to a good discussion, or by reading someone else's ideas as a passive observer.

This suggests to me that Task #1 is finding ways for people to engage with your ideas without involving a status competition between you and them.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-07T01:01:22.274Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For convincing people in person, I've always tried to follow the maxim "Don't argue, discuss." You can present arguments, but it's important to frame them as "I think X because..." or "My take on this is X" and so forth, rather than "X is wrong because..." or "The usual solution to this is X, but that doesn't make sense because..."

With online debates, it's different because your actual interlocutor is only a small part of the audience to your arguments.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2012-02-06T03:52:22.395Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This suggests to me that Task #1 is finding ways for people to engage with your ideas without involving a status competition between you and them.

I think this is exactly right. In other words, people who don't yet know how to leave themselves a line of retreat might, at the outset, need us to do it for them.

comment by fiddlemath · 2012-02-06T08:03:26.476Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Having a "line of retreat" -- feeling like the world won't end if they change their mind -- is part of it.

But the problem, here, is yet more general. A lot of people at my local meetup are people who I trust and like, and who accept the value of updating on evidence -- and even show respect for someone changing their minds! Even in discussions with these friends, I notice fear and loss when I lose a friendly argument. Admitting that you are wrong is a loss of status, even if only your interlocutor is watching. Every argument has aspects of status competition. I notice all this in myself, and I suspect that freely admitting when I'm wrong is one of my strongest rationalist abilities.

In others, it's pretty obvious. I can watch all this happen in their faces, when admitting that they're wrong requires an active force of will.

So, if we can find some setting for truth-seeking arguments without the status competition, we improve how quickly we learn from each other. If somehow we can remove the status competition from a discussion we're having with anybody, anywhere, then we remove significant barriers to communication.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-02-06T23:15:48.033Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Admitting that you are wrong is a loss of status, even if only your interlocutor is watching. Every argument has aspects of status competition.

It's a loss of status, to whom?

I've heard that expressed before, but I am usually immensely impressed by someone who can see that they are wrong and admit it, particularly if I already think they are a smarty pants. Sure, you've lost the battle, which is often just a big swinging dick contest anyway, but you've won the war. Grasping an argument and being able to see that you are wrong is much more impressive than just having the right answer.

Think of it this way. If in fact your argument is more wrong, folding is the smart play. Doubling down on a bad hand is hardly status enhancing.

comment by fiddlemath · 2012-02-07T05:59:12.543Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I agree entirely: if you are soundly convinced that you have been wrong, then you have become less wrong. You win!

It's easy to say that, and relatively easy to see why it's true. It's much harder to convince all of the parts of myself that, when I see that I'm wrong, admitting it, and changing my mind, is a good thing. There is some part in-built part of me that views it as losing -- as accepting a defeat in front of an opponent.

To be a little florid: this is a relatively weak agent in me, and I usually succeed in ignoring him. But I still hear him. I'd rather he shut up. He offers, essentially, a general counterargument against me changing my mind, and is thus an impediment to updating on new evidence.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-02-07T06:27:18.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not just that you win by becoming less wrong.

My point was that at least with some people, you gain in status when you admit you were wrong.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-07T20:25:12.217Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is true, and it can be an important thing to learn, but unfortunately most of us operate on heuristics, learned or innate, that urge us not to do this.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-02-06T21:56:00.399Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think if you program yourself thoroughly enough with the idea that you are a judge of the evidence (like Ferris in this story), instead of being a soldier, you can change your mind in an argument without status loss. As soon as you start acting just a tiny bit like a soldier, defending one position and attacking another, you are going to feel pressure to do it more and more. You want to stop the cycle before it starts. If your friend introduces some new evidence or argument you're unfamiliar with, say "that seems plausible", and adjust your degree of belief in response to the argument immediately. You don't lose status because you just weren't aware of the argument.

Another idea is to work on learning to use phrases like "that seems plausible", "I could see that", "all right, I gotcha, [restate or extend opponent's last statement here]", etc. that let you change your public position without losing status.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-06T00:28:48.589Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

At least a few, online and in person, possibly more than I'm aware of. One person mentioned that he'd become an atheist as a result of observing my online debates over the course of a few months, but he never went out of his way to tell me, I only learned from following a later discussion; there might be others I've similarly influenced who've never told me.

Unlike Luke, all the people I know I've caused to convert professed to have been swayed by my actual arguments (and a fairly common reason for conversion I've heard is "I followed online debates and the atheists always had the better arguments,") but I've never known it to happen as an "aha!" moment upon being exposed to a single knockdown argument. In my experience it's always taken prolonged exposure to atheistic arguments for a sense of familiarity to build up, after which the person can have an "aha!" moment and realize they have somewhere to go from there.

Different people tolerate different demeanor, but I've never known of anyone converting someone else without making themselves likable to their targets.

In all the cases I can think of, conversion has taken a minimum of a few months of exposure to atheist ideas.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-06T01:05:51.112Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Unlike Luke, all the people I know I've caused to convert professed to have been swayed by my actual arguments

Are you sure? Keep in mind that people will generally not admit that they formed their current opinions for irrational reasons.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-06T01:30:06.722Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sure that they all professed to be swayed by my actual arguments, yes. I'm not sure that they all actually were, but I've never managed to convert anyone without using actual arguments, that I'm aware of, and I've been present for some "aha!" moments that were all responses to arguments.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-02-05T22:45:54.520Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I have normalized your formatting.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-02-06T03:03:58.626Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My brother's opinion of religion changed after he had to study Catholic theology because our young cousin wanted him to be her Confirmation sponsor. The guy who was his tutor was very much the "holier-than-thou" type and he found the actual positions of the Church on various social issues repulsive.

So that's one way. ;)

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-02-06T10:22:46.679Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Amusingly, my university's Theology department has a reputation of deconverting people, many of whom are studying the subject in order to become priests. Apparently the subject is taught in a very scientific and critical manner. E.g. the exegesis lectures talk a lot about how it was common to make someone seem more impressive by claiming that he was born of a virgin, or about how many pre-Christian religions had a god who sacrificed his son and Christianity may just have borrowed the popular motif. This can apparently be disenchanting.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-02-06T16:43:36.949Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Same thing at the academically best divinity schools in the US; they turn out a lot of non-theists, a fact that shocked me when (as a devout undergraduate) I took a "History of the New Testament" class and found myself surrounded my aspiring preachers who were losing their religion.

One interesting facet of this: since they're exposed to all of these facts by a respected scholar who's not trying to turn them into atheists (i.e. a non-adversarial interaction with someone of higher status), they're much more susceptible to the ideas than they'd be if they were arguing with an atheist peer.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2012-02-06T20:37:51.290Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

a fact that shocked me when (as a devout undergraduate) I took a "History of the New Testament" class and found myself surrounded my aspiring preachers who were losing their religion.

I'd be interested in hearing more of this story.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T17:31:50.898Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Same thing at the academically best divinity schools in the US; they turn out a lot of non-theists, a fact that shocked me

Do you think this is intentional to find only the most devout preachers?

comment by orthonormal · 2012-02-06T17:58:06.982Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Unlikely; I think it's more a case of lost purposes.

One notable case is that of the Jesuit order, which from its inception had the most extensive scriptural/theological/philosophical training (seven years before ordination) of any order. In previous centuries, this reliably produced extremely devoted and intelligent priests, who racked up massive numbers of conversions as missionaries.

However, as the field of scriptural studies changed in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Jesuits incorporated new historical-critical material which contradicted some of the traditional claims of the Old Testament. (It's to their credit that they did this, even if their reasoning was that knowing the exaggerations of the Old Testament surely wouldn't undermine the core of the faith.)

But as this process continued, eventually the Jesuits transformed into one of the most liberal of the Catholic orders. The original policy came at a time when the most educated people knew of little to contradict the Church, but the world changed.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-07T19:10:59.519Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

According to Dennett Seminaries tend to deconvert people - or at least rock the foundation of their beliefs. Since studying theology means you have to engage in quite a lot of literal criticism of the bible.

The evolution of confusion 17:20

comment by Gastogh · 2012-02-08T09:22:31.425Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard similar stories (each one at least second-hand); there seems to be a binary split in the kind of people who go on to study theology in university: those who believe hard and those whose faith is already teetering.

It's also similar to my own experiences; while I never took a university-grade theology class, I did go through the Finnish school system and the associated nine years of exposure to religion.

I'll say this for religion and teaching it at school in a predominantly secular country: it's a great way to get people thinking. It was because of those religion classes that I first went out to find out about (read: "scratch the surface of") logical argumentation and fallacies of reasoning.

If only there were a way to predictably accomplish the same effect without all the collateral damage.

comment by moridinamael · 2012-02-06T00:25:51.120Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hopefully this is beneath us, but it seems that Flirt to Convert is a pretty common and powerful technique that religionists use to obtain converts.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T02:08:23.813Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, it would be a terrible thing to date someone for the purpose of converting them to LWian rationality, but personally, I was introduced to HPMoR (and consequently LW) by someone I dated. Conversely, I have had at least one person I've dated read HPMoR (but did not get into LW).

In a larger example, I can say that the recent Ohio LW meetup was 31% female, and that every one of us had been either brought or "converted" by a date or SO, so I do think this is a way to lessen the gender imbalance on here.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-02-07T22:28:30.456Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I am female, and I was introduced to Less Wrong through MoR, to which I was introduced by my SO. I then turned around and introduced him to LW.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-02-07T22:37:22.384Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your intro comment said you prefer to go without a gender. Why did this prompt you to change your mind? You could have just anonymously completed the survey.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-02-08T23:36:54.602Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have mentioned my gender on a few other occasions, since I discovered that this community treats men and women the same way. I originally wanted to keep it secret because of how it would impact the way people saw my comments in gender-related discussions, but when I noticed it had no impact, and that a lot of LWers wanted to see more women posting, I went public for the statistics.

comment by Curiouskid · 2012-02-06T22:53:11.406Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I recently had a "friend" read HPMoR, but she told me that she "skipped over the boring parts". Alas, conversion attempt failed.

I don't know if we've discussed this before, but I would find it really hard to date (or even talk to them for a long time) unless they were atheist. Thoughts? Should I be more open to dating semi-religious people?

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-07T01:08:22.552Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on what you want out of a relationship in the first place.

(I created that poll in response to a conflict of advice over that same question. Unfortunately, participation was too low to be very illuminating.)

comment by lukeprog · 2012-02-06T01:04:24.042Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

(Retracted.)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-02-06T02:09:13.857Z · score: 2 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted for sexism.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-02-06T02:13:04.240Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Retracted. I'm curious if you think my statement was inaccurate "sexism," but really I shouldn't have made the post at all due to the mind-killing-ness of the topic.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-02-06T03:18:08.021Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I do think there are ways to draw women to Less Wrong that would be easier than "flirt-to-convert". The 2011 survey indicates that we are already making progress in this area. We also drawing interest from anti-sexism bloggers such as Hugh Ristik, Clarisse Thorn and Ozymandias. The latter has started a LW-influenced feminist blog that avoids the mind-killing patterns of thought that have derailed mainstream feminism.

Of course, women are still underrepresented on LessWrong. I'm not sure how much of that is due to sexism within LW, sexism outside of LW, or innate differences between the female and male populations. But to hastily presume that women will never flock to LessWrong unless we "flirt-to-convert" is sexist. We don't want to turn into r/atheism.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-02-06T03:23:17.981Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think the initial sex disparity on OB/LW was mostly due to those communities being sexist from the start, or a selection effect caused by the subject matter, or something else?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T05:25:16.725Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The 2011 survey has us at only 8% female. That may be progress, but for me, it still isn't good enough. I am going to come right out and say that I WANT a more balanced gender representation on LW and in rationalism in general.

When it comes to recruiting there are two completely separate issues: 1) Getting People in The Door, and 2) Keeping Them.

Right now the discussion seems focused on Getting Females in The Door, so that is what I will focus on here.

How do people join this community?

MileyCyrus mentions that OB/LW draws its readers from crowds that tend to be male-dominated. I think this is true, but it is not something that we can change within a generation:

LW draws its from the computer science, transhumanist, etc, communities.
These communities are mainly male.
Therefore LW will end up mainly male.

So looking at this, if we want to have LW more gender-balanced, we either have to have more females in the computer/transhumanist/etc communities, or we have to draw from a more gender-balanced crowd. None of these seem like feasible strategies, so we have to ask:

What is another way to Get People In The Door?

Another way people join communities is when they are "converted" by their friends. I am going to generalize here, and say that most male LWers tend to hang out with other males (because they tend toward the aforementioned computer/transhumanist/etc male-dominated communities). So when male LWers tell their friends about LW, they are probably telling other males.

If we want them to tell FEMALES about LW, there is a pretty high probability that the one female they spend the most time with is their SO, and so that will be the one female our generic male LWer is most likely to tell.

So....at this point in our discussion, we have discussed two ways that females will happen to discover LW. The first is if they are one of the few female computer/transhumanist/etc types, and accidentally stumble onto this site. This is unlikely to result in many females, due to the gender-imbalance of those communities we are drawing from.

The second option is if a male LWer tells his SO about it. This seems more likely to succeed. I would guess that male LWers have a tendency to date more rational-minded females in the first place (The same way that I have a tendency to date more rational-minded males).

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-02-06T16:44:33.064Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, my girlfriend is a lurker and found out about the site from me. Ironically, I found out about HPMOR from a female (platonic) friend of mine. Granted, that female is a Reddit editor (where she found it), so it's not exactly outside our typical demographic.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-06T16:02:03.691Z · score: -1 (13 votes) · LW · GW

The second option is if a male LWer tells his SO about it. This seems more likely to succeed. I would guess that male LWers have a tendency to date more rational-minded females in the first place (The same way that I have a tendency to date more rational-minded males).

Clearly the optimal method for this is to train as many LessWrong users in the PUA arts as possible, so that they successfully acquire as many female partners as possible in order to convert them to polyamory and rationality.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-02-06T20:07:23.383Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

That might be optimal if the goal is "attract any and all women." However, a large amount of what PUA advice focuses on is exploiting the irrationalities of certain groups of women. The women most susceptible to PUA techniques are probably not the most likely to become rationalists.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-06T23:04:37.569Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Highly intelligent women are if anything more susceptible to verbal game (the left half of the bell curve basically goes for caveman game). Granted that dosen't filter for personality type or rationality.

In any case I have to take issue with the tone here:

However, a large amount of what PUA advice focuses on is exploiting the irrationalities of certain groups of women.

Am I exploited by curvy figures and symmetric faces too?

These mostly aren't irrationalities. These are preferences. Sure you might argue, that a PUA is somehow tricking a person when he/she uses his skill to create behaviour A that is usually associated with B. Because clearly even though, people with B often get little attention in absence of A, it must be what they really want. But why are we so quick to assume this is so? Especially when it comes to sexuality. If nature found A good enough a proxy, even if B was really what gave fitness, why would it bother? If evolution did bother with that kind of optimization, contraception probably wouldn't have had the impact it has.

Naturally our society finds some such preferences objectionable or shallow. But we admit they are such in men, without any great qualms. We roll our eyes, but we don't judge (too much) or consider men bad people. Yet with women, such a proposal stirs controversy. Is this because for women personality seems to matter more in sexual attractiveness, and we perceive personality to be a morally defining characteristic? Again, why? Dark triad traits are as much a biological trait as breast size is.

BTW Why must we constantly implicitly define female preferred sexual behaviour as moral and male preferred sexual behaviour as immoral?

The women most susceptible to PUA techniques are probably not the most likely to become rationalists.

I don't think there is any evidence at all for this. People who are routinely bringing this throwaway line up, should either present it or shut up. The only thing remotely sensible that could go in this direction is that perhaps women on LW (high IQ correlates with androgynous traits) are more androgynous (male if you want to put it that way) personality wise. But even then we have no real data on any such traits in female LW users!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-07T07:11:29.147Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

perhaps women on LW (high IQ correlates with androgynous traits) are more androgynous (male if you want to put it that way) personality wise

The rest of your comment seems to suggest the word you want is masculine and not androgynous perhaps? Androgynous means having both masculine and feminine characteristics.

Anyway, do you have any studies which show the correlation of high IQ with masculine (or androgynous, if you do actually mean that) traits? Cursory googling didn't turn up much, but yes, I wasn't trying too hard.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-07T11:38:23.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Females with male characteristics are more androgynous. Just as males with female characteristics are.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-07T12:27:37.787Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Anyway, do you have any studies which show the correlation of high IQ with masculine (or androgynous, if you do actually mean that) traits?

I am not talking about IQ in that post. I said personality. In any case high IQ is not the defining characteristic of LessWrong posters, though I admit probably some think it is. Above average IQ however for all intents and purposes basically is a prerequisite. Thought obviously women probably have less variance in IQ scores than men, I don't think this is the limiting factor for the site.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-07T13:16:59.549Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Was only responding to this bit from your original post: "high IQ correlates with androgynous traits", without making any assumption of either the average IQ or the personality traits of LWers.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-07T14:40:01.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah I see! What I mean by that is that both high IQ males and females tend to be more androgynous. .

comment by faul_sname · 2012-02-07T02:14:26.410Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Am I exploited by curvy figures and symmetric faces too?

You probably could be influenced irrationally by them, yes. To further clarify, you would probably more readily accept the view of a curvy, symmetrical woman without further evidence than that of a flat, asymmetric one. If this is a primary influence, you're probably not the best target for rationality training.

But even then we have no real data on any such traits in female LW users!

It seems like we're disagreeing about something testable (specifically, whether susceptibility to PUA-style techniques correlates negatively with rationality). I am not particularly well-versed in all things PUA, but I have an inkling that some sort of rationality test could be incorporated in a routine, and we could find out that way.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-07T11:56:49.138Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You probably could be influenced irrationally by them, yes. To further clarify, you would probably more readily accept the view of a curvy, symmetrical woman without further evidence than that of a flat, asymmetric one. If this is a primary influence, you're probably not the best target for rationality training.

You are missing the point. Ceteris paribus, I end up enjoying relationships both long term and short term with women that have curvy figures and symmetrical faces more than with those who don't.

I might end up behaving disproportionately to the real strength of this signal, but before singling this out as a great irrationality that it is supposedly unethical to "exploit" me by using to plan your behaviour towards me, ask yourself if this is that much big a deal. Consider that we often overestimate the strength of signals like education, taste in music, intelligence, religious convictions, political stances, nationality or hair colour when it comes to picking mates.

Also if people genuinely crave X, but overestimate their utility gained from X, why in the world is it unethical to still optimize for X? I mean people are better of than if I hadn't, they just aren't as much better off as they thought they would be.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-02-07T19:02:57.071Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

all else being equal

That implies symmetry and curvaceousness of the persuader are secondary in importance in terms of the views you hold.

When did I ever say it was unethical? I have no ethical problem with the technique, but I don't think that's a particularly effective way to bring rational women into the LessWrong community.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-07T20:28:43.419Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When did I ever say it was unethical? I have no ethical problem with the technique, but I don't think that's a particularly effective way to bring rational women into the LessWrong community.

You are right you didn't say it. But you did use the word "exploit" and that does carry such connotations.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-06T23:05:03.320Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The women most susceptible to PUA techniques are probably not the most likely to become rationalists.

Also LOL echoes of bad girls vs. good girls scrip. What's next slut shaming the girls who fall for "PUA tricks"? I don't think we ever slut shame guys who go for hot young golddigers as much as we do women who go for supposedly "bad guys". Why do we pick so much on people seeking sexual fulfilment?

comment by orthonormal · 2012-02-06T16:34:53.763Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I won't claim this explains the entire disparity, but starting out on Robin Hanson's blog has to have had a pretty strong effect, given the nature of RH's frequent writings on gender politics. Every LW veteran from OB is someone who was able to agree with, tolerate or ignore those posts; and that's going to be a very slanted demographic.

(I won't go into this issue any further to avoid massive mindkilling, except to note that I think RH applies the wrong kind of cynicism to human beings in general, and that I fall into the "ignore" category when it comes to those posts.)

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-02-06T04:07:02.458Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

My best guess is that, although OB/LW do a decent job of respecting women, they draw most of their readers from crowds that keep women out. There is definitely sexism within the libertarian-atheist-hacker segment of the Internet. Women are also less likely to major in economics and computer science, and gender roles probably play some role in that.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-02-06T05:01:20.955Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect most LWers come from compsci, economics, math, hacker, atheist, or libertarian circles. Where do we find more females who would be interested in technical rationality if exposed to it, if not in those circles? Any suggestions?

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-02-06T06:28:52.403Z · score: 13 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if it was intentional, but Eliezer's decision to write a rationality fanfic as a brilliant gambit. Fanfic.net's readers are overwhelming smart, young and female.

LW and OB have a lot to say about psychology and sociology, two fields where women are more interested then men. Perhaps we could reach out to those segments?

The meetups could also recruit women directly. Men don't have to bring their girlfriends, a platonic female friend works too. Or you can hold the meetups in places where women are more likely to be present (think bookshops, not bars).

If you want more women at the Singularity Summit, we could make a survey for people did not attend. Ask why they didn't come, and see if there's a difference between men and women.

But the most important thing is to make sure the rationalist/trans-humanist community is a safe place for women. Keep an eye out for what Alicorn wants to reduce. Address concerns of sexism sensitively, instead of pulling a Dawkins. In general, LW's treatment of women is better than other communities that pride themselves on being rational (e.g., atheist and Objectivist). Let's keep it that way.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-07T04:51:19.496Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The way I read your last paragraph is: "we should make lesswrong less rational, at least about gender issues, in order to better attract women".

comment by siodine · 2012-02-06T13:47:12.293Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Any suggestions?

Skepchick and Rebecca Watson; they seem to have been effective in growing the female skeptic community. And the skeptic community has the same problem LW has only they're much more resistant. LW is the more welcoming community. If it was my decision, I'd probably hire someone like Rebecca Watson for growing the female LW community, or at least try to pair up with skepchick and Watson in some way.

I believe Watson recruits by giving talks at universities, art communities, and events like Dragon*Con. She also comments on controversial women's issues which then frenzies the blogosphere and sends a lot of traffic her way.

comment by Alex_Altair · 2012-02-08T14:51:04.256Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

From my anecdotal experience, there are a lot of women in biology (or at least an equal ratio). Neuroscientists may be especially interested in LW.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-06T04:11:53.690Z · score: 2 (20 votes) · LW · GW

There is definitely sexism within the libertarian-atheist-hacker segment of the Internet.

Would you please refrain from throwing around those kinds of accusations without evidence.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-02-06T21:35:41.350Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have noticed that reddit's r/atheism is rather fond of basic sexist jokes such as:

http://todayilearned.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/how-men-and-women-take-photos.jpg

What sort of evidence would you like?

comment by dbaupp · 2012-02-06T23:23:03.537Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

reddit's r/atheism

I think that reddit as a whole (ignoring some pockets) is fond of sexist jokes.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-02-07T00:25:09.517Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

reddit as a whole (ignoring some pockets) is fond of sexist jokes

That is almost certainly the case.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-07T04:53:30.696Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If your working definition of "sexism" is implying that women may in at least some ways be different from men in ways that reasonably imply inferiority, I disagree with your definition.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-02-07T05:30:19.647Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The antecedent of your conditional is not the case. I do not have a definition of 'sexism' and am fairly confident that such a thing does not exist. That is, I am skeptical that there is a list of necessary or sufficient conditions that will match the folk-term 'sexism.'

However, the particular joke I linked to is the sort of joke that is often labeled 'sexist' by the sorts of people who care about such matters. That is good enough for me. More importantly, the joke is based off of (what seem to me to be) unjustified premises.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-02-10T08:48:10.898Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think the initial sex disparity on OB/LW was mostly due to those communities being sexist from the start, or a selection effect caused by the subject matter, or something else?

Arguably, Overcoming Bias is (or was) an "economics blog" and men think more like economists.

From the Journal of Law and Economics:

The positive economic beliefs of economists and the general public systematically differ. What factors make non-economists think more like economists? Using the Survey of Americans and Economists on the Economy, this paper shows people think more like economists: if they are well-educated; if they are male; if their real income rose over the last five years; if they expect their real income to rise over the next five years; or if they have high degrees of job security. However, neither high income nor ideological conservatism have this effect. My findings for education, gender, and income have close parallels in political science: on tests of objective political knowledge, the better-educated and males score higher, controlling for numerous other variables, and the independent effect of income is minor.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-02-06T17:04:50.668Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One potential explanation I can think of: rationality is more likely to be interesting to men because it is largely perceived as a tool for winning arguments, and in the evolutionary environment, status was more useful to men than it was to women.

Edit: I am interested in other people's opinions on this claim, as it seems to me like it may be a just so story. But I still think I believe it.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-06T04:00:33.343Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would have readily agreed that there were easier and more effective ways to draw more women to Less Wrong than flirt-to-convert before reading this comment. It suggests to me that the relative power of flirt-to-convert to other strategies is far greater than I would have predicted, and implementing more effective ones may be harder than I thought.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T17:42:35.363Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Instead of just guessing how people have come to find out about LW, I figured why don't we ASK?

I have made a poll, and posted the link on the discussion section. Please answer. Even if you are a lurker. ESPECIALLY if you are a female.

Click here to go to the post

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-06T20:17:48.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We've had at least one thread on this before, and the question was also featured on the latest survey, although there's only a single category for people referred in person by another person.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-07T02:35:05.302Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I went ahead and played around with the survey data, and got some interesting results:

Women are more likely to have been brought into LW by either a friend or by reading HPMoR

Percentage of women referred by a friend: 18%
Percentage of men referred by a friend: 10%

Percentage of women referred by HPMoR: 33%
Percentage of men referred by HPMoR: 17%

Conversely, men were more likely to have been brought in by OB or other blogs:

Percentage of women referred by OB: 18%
Percentage of men referred by OB: 29%

Percentage of women referred by other blogs: 13%
Percentage of men referred by other blogs: 24%

Referral by search engines were about the same between the sexes, with 8% of females, and 9% of males. The rest were write-ins, most commonly of specific websites that referred them.

ETA- This is for the data for the big 2011 survey. Not for the data from the currently running survey

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-07T02:54:36.147Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, both were about the same age, with females averaging 26, and males averaging 27.

Females however, had a higher self-reported IQ and higher average karma

Average female self-reported IQ: 145.4
Average male self-reported IQ: 139.7

Average female karma: 1,599
Average male karma: 600

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T20:35:25.846Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the links! But the thread doesn't clarify between genders, and also doesn't come in an easy to manipulate format (such as a spreadsheet)

The survey does much better at this, but has almost half the respondents answer that they came from OB or HPMoR, where I am specifically asking "If you came from OB or HPMoR, then how did you find THOSE sites?"

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T02:47:46.998Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think it was an accurate claim, but perhaps made in too flippant of a manner for the sensitivity of the subject. It is pretty much the same thing I said (currently standing at +7 karma), but needed more finesse.

It didn't bother me, but I can see how it could bother others.

comment by Incorrect · 2012-02-06T02:20:42.534Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So you're going to leave the original statement up to our imaginations? Let's hope future readers aren't too imaginative :P. I'm not sure if I remember the original comment correctly, but if I do it definitely had a relatively favorable possible interpretation.

comment by siodine · 2012-02-06T02:59:44.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Were you actually referencing some specific sex difference?

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-02-10T08:41:28.592Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Taboo "sexism", please.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-06T16:02:43.602Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Since this has been redacted in a way that leaves no trace, I'm going to assume he said that a good dose of orgasmic goodness is the best way to convince people to join cults.

Oh in the first few months of a intense sexual relationship women on average converge to the males point of view than vice versa.

comment by roystgnr · 2012-02-06T16:27:42.279Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

women on average converge to the males point of view than vice versa.

Citation? I've read of and seen the opposite much more commonly, but that's based on a non-randomly-selected sub-100-person sample size so I may have been mislead by the anecdata.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-06T19:05:54.218Z · score: -1 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah I should have said Alpha males. Herbs are easily changed and chained.

In any case women generally are more conformist than men. Also I suggest you check the rates of religious conversion (male converts to match females religion vs. vice versa), I think those can be argued to be a good proxy.

comment by thakil · 2012-02-06T10:05:26.880Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Two conversion stories of my own.

My atheism feels inevitable now, but may not actually have been. I was raised as a catholic and believed myself to be having conversations with God (admittedly one sided ones), and that he was observing me al the time (which was awkward when I thought about it). I was exposed to reason and logic, as well as left wing politics. I was aware of the contradiction between my mother's belief and her not agreeing with most of the church's positions. I grew more detatched, and started declaring myself as a deist (although, having not been exposed to that particular term, I claimed (at age 17) to believe in God but not religion). Soon after I came to the realisation that there was no-one I was talking to on the other end.

I would owe most of that conversion to a supportive, non-forceful environment (while my primary school was catholic, my secondary school was secular. That said, one of the staunchest atheists, and indeed rationalist that I know went to a catholic secondary school as well), and exposure to scientific ideas. There was no pressure on me to believe a particular thing- in particular no social group required me to continue belief.

The other personal conversion moment, and the biggest "changing my mind" moment in my adult life was on vegetarianism. I was a devoted eater of meat throughout my childhood, and I presume I still love meat (admittedly it has been seven years since I have eaten it), and even mocked arguments for vegetarianism. Then at age 19 I read a book of popular philosophy. The name escapes me: it wasn't terribly good, but went chapter by chapter through popular conundrums (teleportation dilemma, for instance). There was a chapter on vegetarianism, and I found its moral arguments fairly compelling. I discussed this with several people, hoping for them to convince me that I was wrong, but failed to find a convincing counter argument.

Then a year later I had joined environmental groups at university, and had a desire to live a more ethical and environmentally friendly lifestyle. During a meeting, a compelling argument was made that one of the most significant personal actions I could take to reduce my carbon foot print was to stop eating meat. So I did.

I genuinely believe that the arguments persuaded me there. I certainly wanted to fit in with `ethical' people, but the decision that vegetarianism was more ethical was my own.

I think converting when you know that you are on your own is harder and a braver thing to do, and both those conversions cost me not that much; my family was supportive of both choices, the only real cost is not eating meat anymore. For people who stand to lose social standing and possibly good friends by changing their minds I suspect it would be much harder.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-02-06T01:51:48.431Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have an anecdote, but my situation is probably not representative. I started out as an evolution-accepting theist who didn't belong to an organized church. I'm pretty sure I believed instead of belief in belief, but since my beliefs didn't match those of any organized religion, I didn't have a community of other believers around me.

I was converted to atheism by watching atheist youtube videos, to which I was introduced by a series mocking creationists. When I realized that the smartest, most science-savvy commentators were atheists offering good arguments for atheism, I converted over a period of a month or two. The key arguments for me were that my personal religious experiences were understood to be my own brain and not necessarily God, and that the burden of proof was on theists.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-02-06T03:48:42.428Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure I believed instead of belief in belief, but since my beliefs didn't match those of any organized religion, I didn't have a community of other believers around me.

I've encountered a lot of theists whose beliefs didn't match those of any organized religion. They tend to assume their religious outlook is exceptional or unusual (when I first started seriously investigating people's religious beliefs, it astonished me how little real communication most people have about their beliefs with people outside a very small circle,) but they tend to form fairly similar beliefs. I would definitely not say that they're any less prone to belief in belief than theists in organized sects; if anything, I think they're more so, because they tend to let go of those beliefs that are most falsifiable.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-02-07T02:11:59.282Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My beliefs were cobbled together from SF and fantasy novels; they were Scientology-style weird. They were also falsifiable and falsified themselves, and the atheist videos made me stop suppressing the cognitive dissonance.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-06T06:39:11.766Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think from my own experience a conversion is just a switch of tribal affiliations. That means, it takes two components:

  1. a sense of rejection from your previous community.

  2. a sense of connection to the new one.

So the reason why indirect arguments seem to work better would be because if you argue directly you don't normally argue with someone but against them which reduces if not reverts the sense of connection. If my theory is correct then in direct conversation a more socratic method would be better. But you will probably not be successful until you somehow disconnect the theist from his circle or catch him at a time when he feels somewhat disconnected.

comment by jhuffman · 2012-02-10T00:26:33.157Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sure this is true in some cases but not all of them. I've barely ever talked to anyone about my own fall from grace as a child and then again after a relapse in my teens, it was almost a completely introspective experience although what is interesting is that my relapse into Christianity was very much a social product. Still, atheism has never been an important part of my identity. In my mind the fact that I don't watch televised sporting contests sets me further apart from my peers than the fact that I'm an atheist.

I de-converted my wife just by being an atheist and never making a big deal about it one way or another; I think she just needed to see an example of someone getting along fine without the theism.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-02-06T16:53:19.027Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Putting all of the "social mechanisms of conversion" ideas together, it seems to me that the best way to help de-convert a religious person is to welcome them into a non-religious social circle, thus giving them the social freedom to explore their doubts without fear of total ostracism. (The group doesn't even have to be mostly comprised of non-theists, just not comprised of people who all belong to similar religions!) And if they bring up their doubts to you, it's a good time to talk.

And the best part is that whether or not it changes anyone's mind, you've just gained a friend.

(The flip side is this: avoid joining social circles where a majority are devout followers of the same religion- it will mess with your head...)

comment by drethelin · 2012-02-06T00:07:22.741Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was told once that things I said in english class helped convert a friend of mine to atheism, but this was so long ago that I can't really remember what I said. In terms of my own experiences of giving up beliefs I've had, a key factor is readability and honesty in presentation. Things like Yvain's non-libertarian faq are fun to read and seriously strive to address the viewpoints that I formerly held as a libertarian. It didn't make fun of libertarianism, but allowed it to reveal its own silliness by talking about it.

comment by jkaufman · 2012-02-09T22:06:52.683Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was curious about "Yvain's non-libertarian faq" so I looked for it. I found it.

comment by TraderJoe · 2012-03-05T19:42:47.697Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

[comment deleted]

comment by Shephard · 2012-02-06T23:18:09.353Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A number of commenters have referenced the idea of being a spectator instead of a target, and I think this is important. One-on-one debates often have a competitive aspect to them that can make people defensive (nobody wants to feel like they've "lost" the "argument").

And really, converting people on a case-by-case basis is probably one of the least efficient approaches to cultural change. My guess is that it's more important to create a healthy "atmosphere for conversion", and I think a big part of that is just being outspoken and unashamed about your atheism. The more people do that, the more it'll be normalized - exposure>persuasion. The arguments are all out there anyway. When someone is ready, they'll seek them out, whether that's talking to atheist friends, watching youtube videos, reading books, or whatever.

And for the record, my own transition occurred in my mid-twenties, somewhere between starting an introduction to philosophy book and finishing Michael Shermer's "Why People Believe Weird Things".

comment by MartinB · 2012-02-09T11:38:24.763Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

»A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.« Debate culture is often not particularly well developed, so no hook to start from.