Open thread, Dec. 8 - Dec. 15, 2014

post by Gondolinian · 2014-12-08T00:06:02.006Z · score: 6 (7 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 293 comments

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

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293 comments

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comment by gwern · 2014-12-10T01:34:36.187Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

So, I think I've... not really 'unlocked an achievement', I guess, but hit a milestone of some sort: my first mockery in an academic publication. From the PhD thesis "Effectiveness of n-back cognitive training: quantitative and qualitative aspects", Vladimír Marček ("polar") 2014:

Now, considering this lack of clarity about IQ itself, how can the public make sense of improving IQ studies? Even more so, when research on the topic is considered a “swamp” even by experts in the field? The simple answer is it can’t. As a layman in psychology, hopefully you can tolerate the feeling of not knowing or acknowledging that we do not have enough evidence and wait and learn on the go. If you can’t tolerate the unknown you’ll probably pick your favorite study and fall prey to biased media coverage, or your friendly neighborhood intellectual, who has all the knowledge, intelligence, and especially confidence and time to argue about his opinions.

This happened repeatedly in the “Dual N-back, Brain Training & Intelligence” discussion group during my participant observation. This group, according to its owner Paul Hoskinson, has around 2500 members, from which 900 subscribed to the regular newsletter. There happened to be members who made up their minds about n-back very early on, ignored or belittled studies with contradictory evidence, loathed their authors and even systematically served their pseudo-neutral reviews to new members (ironically, these texts never went on to become “just another deficient, single peer-reviewed article”).

Fortunately, very few individuals behaved in such an extreme way. Eventually it seemed that this compulsive negativistic writing manifested itself in a negative narrow-mindedness of the group, and lowered the motivation of new members to give n-back a serious try. 3 Sometimes, there even seemed to be a relationship to PSSI personality traits.

(If you've been subscribed to the DNB ML, it's pretty clear only one poster fits Marček's description; the 'neutral reviews' would be my FAQ and in particular my meta-analysis - he pointedly cites the pro-passive-control meta-analyses, even Au which was very recent, and ignores my and other meta-analyses, even Melby-Lervåg & Hulme's. What amuses me the most is that our main clash was over whether n-back gains were due primarily to passive control groups, and here polar did a large experiment with an active control group and found... no gains. Whups.)

comment by shminux · 2014-12-09T21:53:48.282Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Making the news today is MIT taking down all Walter Lewin videos (most now, some at the end of the term) as a result of their investigation into sexual harassment allegations. This seems like a gross and unprecedented overreaction (a rough equivalent of removing all Bill Cosby videos), so I would estimate that this decision will be partially or fully reversed within 1 year, with probability of 75%.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-10T08:05:28.826Z · score: 11 (15 votes) · LW · GW

In our ridiculous societal climate, if you're not the chief inquisitor you'll be the target of the next shitstorm yourself, #MIThateswomen. You're mostly getting punished for underreacting, so you err on the side of overreacting.

If you can't beat'em, join'em. If they are crazy, the best way to be safe is to (pretend to) lead them (unless you can avoid them, which wasn't an option).

This seems like a gross and unprecedented overreaction

Welcome to the brave new world. Blood and games, keeps us busy from dealing with the issues that matter.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T16:17:03.124Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you can't beat'em, join'em. If they are crazy, the best way to be safe is to (pretend to) lead them

Historically speaking, not the best way. Once the ranks of external enemies thin or move out of reach, rabid movements start destroying their own.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-10T16:54:07.195Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You hope the roving ire of the storm front has moved on until then. (xpost /r/meteorology)

There are plenty of historical examples in which monarchs sought to defuse revolutionary pressure by "joining" some of the more moderate factions, it's one of the two typical responses (placate them versus fight them). The demise of monarchy shouldn't be taken to mean that they weren't occasionally successful, see for example Victoria of England, or the German "revolution" of 1848/49. (Disclaimer: Not claiming expertise, also not a NRx-disciple.)

ETA: Also, your argument seems to be "eventually the movement will turn on itself (see the French Revolution "devouring its children") once it runs out of external enemies", which is a general argument against joining such movements. However, the question is whether you're "allowed" to stay neutral and wait until the whole thing blows over. Typically, such isn't an option. Instead the alternatives often come down to "get beaten by them"/"become one of them". In which case the latter is preferable to the former.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T17:16:41.510Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Typically, such isn't an option.

Typically, such is. We are not talking about acceptance or even necessary obeisance -- you said the best way is to "lead them". This means much more than just proclaiming "Yes, witches are bad, I don't like them, too". This means grabbing the torch and the pitchfork and shouting "After me, lads! I know some witches that need burning!".

Take a pretty extreme case -- Stalin's Russia. You had no choice about demonstrating loyalty and singing the praises of communism and Stalin personally. But you did have a choice about joining the secret police and "leading" the hunt for the insufficiently enthusiastic.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-10T17:43:36.236Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Joining the secret police would probably render you safer (note the comparative) from being their target than trying to be an accepting bystander. The 'best way to be safe', i.e. 'the safest way', not the only potentially safe way.

Finding the least amount of cooperation you can "get away with" sets you up for being identified as a target. The worst case comes from underreacting, or from trying to find some middle ground which could be perceived as underreacting. Back to the MIT case, "leading" in the sense of "look, we 'sacked' the guy (in his emeritus activities) and destroyed his legacy even before anyone could even ask us for our reaction!". Leading in the literal sense: being the forerunner, not a follower, showing a preemptive radical reaction to signal "see, we're one of us, we're leading the wave of punishing the evil professor". "(Pretend to)" since clearly everyone involved there would like nothing more than the whole thing to go away, and to go back to business as usual once they've collectively passed the "we're the most progressive/feminist/buzzword institution ever, see we even cut off our own hand! (figuratively)" test.

I do maintain the "typically, such isn't an option", since it referred to "stay neutral and wait until the whole things blows over". I wouldn't say "acceptance or even necessary obeisance" falls under that description, that would be along the lines of "join them". Which can mean you're safe. It's just not the safest way, which is joining the secret police equivalent.

The "Gerstein Report" makes for fascinating reading, an SS scientist who purportedly sabotaged a lot of the gas production, was suspected of being a dissenter at various points, but always got away through being of high rank in the very organisation everyone was so fearful of.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T18:27:06.522Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Joining the secret police would probably render you safer (note the comparative) from being their target than trying to be an accepting bystander.

Under Stalin party members weren't very safe. For Stalin is was more important to kill members of the party that might not be according to his standards than it was to kill random people without any political power. It was quite easy to pick the wrong side in inner party battles.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-10T18:54:30.293Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T18:06:46.125Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Joining the secret police would probably render you safer (note the comparative) from being their target than trying to be an accepting bystander.

Stalin's purges around 1937 show otherwise.

Finding the least amount of cooperation you can "get away with" sets you up for being identified as a target.

That depends -- first, I'm arguing for the "hide in crowds" tactics, not for the least possible amount that doesn't get you shot immediately, and second, you are assuming the "nowhere to hide" scenario. Since we are speaking about SJWs and such, some people and organizations are forced to declare their positions, but a lot are not.

I wouldn't say "acceptance or even necessary obeisance" falls under that description, that would be along the lines of "join them".

But right in the parent post you talk about the necessity of "being the forerunner, not a follower, showing a preemptive radical reaction to signal". I continue to think that passive acceptance and active participation are very different things.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-10T18:51:02.113Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly if you can thoroughly evade the spotlight that's a good alternative and one most of us are taking right now, as we speak. Such situations do exist historically as well, no doubt, you mentioned one.

I didn't mean to overly generalize in the first comment, as you say I was assuming a "nowhere to hide" scenario because in this particular case (and similar cases these days) that's what it was: the Twitter spotlight (the modern Eye of Sauron) was about to shine upon them, and they needed to frame their role thus that it reflects a positive light. Like meeting drunk soccer fans in an alley, you gotta declare yourself to be a friend of their club, if they friend/foe query you.

Generally/Typically I do think that it is the easiest way (note the superlative, "the safest way") to evade prosecution when you're one of the prosecutors yourself. But of course that's hard to quantify, let alone when the domain spans across human history.

I didn't mean to say that typically there are no alternatives which could also keep you safe, or that the safest way is always to join the most radical part of the winning faction. But even if you're including a margin a safety in that "least possible amount", that still puts you closer to the crazy's bad side than being one of their bannermen. If they can target e.g. Richard Dawkins / UVA / Lewin they can target anyone.

Which is why, of course, ahem, I wholeheartedly support the crazies. If they asked ...

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T19:31:46.291Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Which is why, of course, ahem, I wholeheartedly support the crazies. If they asked

The problem is that they commonly ask for corpses of infidels as proof of your sincerity.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-10T19:41:58.444Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If it comes down to it, better their corpses than my own. Since I'm in this body, and not some other one.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T19:47:07.166Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That might be an interesting morality discussion, but would probably be high on heat and not so much on light.

But let me point out that you bet heavily on the crazies winning. To return to your soccer hooligans example, your choice might be between being beaten up in an alley (if you refuse) or landing in jail for aggravated assault (if you agree and join them in persuading other teams' fans with boots and broken bottles).

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-11T23:12:56.551Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Are you arguing that sexual harassment doesn't matter? It seems like your comment conflates two separate issues:1) Did MIT overreact and 2) Should sexual harassment be dealt with.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-11T23:51:07.351Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know which comment you're responding to; I'm not sure it was mine. If it was, please explain how you could possibly get the impression that "sexual harassment doesn't matter" from my comment, or where I was "conflating" anything.

If you got caught stealing, and in return your students got barred from using your library, and some of those students protested their lack of access, would a reasonable line of debate be "are you arguing that stealing doesn't matter"? Obviously not.

It is not that the punishment doesn't fit the crime in that it is "merely" excessive, it is that it is incongruent in kind. Deleting learning material because of sexual online messages (I'm sorry, sexual harassment, or cyber abuse, or whichever label sounds most dramatic) is simply a non sequitur, it doesn't accomplish anything other than placate the mob, at great cost.

These matters can be dealt with internally and aren't worth destroying someone's intellectual heritage over, nor punishing online learners who lose a valuable and non-harassing resource: videos of his lectures. The guy through his teaching of generations has done more for the common good than you and I ever will. To have that legacy publicly marred -- and access to his recorded lectures revoked -- because of inappropriate chat messages is simply bonkers.

And yes, the above does imply that I consider grouping his probable transgressions with sexual harassment and then referring to the whole affair by that umbrella term to be a classic case of the noncentral fallacy, which rightly is called The Worst Argument In The World. No, that does not mean that, say, unsolicited online sexual messages "don't matter". Nor was such an extreme and nonsensical position contained in the grandparent comment.

If he murdered his student still I would protest his lectures being taken offline. In that case, he should go to jail. There is no need to punish aspiring physics students in either case.

The logical analogue of supporting MIT's actions would be supporting that libraries be purged of any books authored by someone convicted of a serious crime. Condemning such a course of action does not imply condoning any such crime.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-12T00:35:19.477Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You wrote "Blood and games, keeps us busy from dealing with the issues that matter." Do you want to clarify what you meant there then?

Since we're in agreement that MIT overreacted, I fail to see the relevance of the vast majority of your comment.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-12T08:43:34.723Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you want to clarify what you meant there then?

Stealing is bad. We should not spend our collective attention on discussing some shmoe (nor a professor) stealing. Unrequited sexual chat messages are bad. We should not spend our collective attention on discussing some shmoe (nor a professor) sending unwanted sexual chat messages. (If you think this was sufficiently bad to warrant public attention of any kind, never ever visit Twitch.tv's chat of any female streamer. Oh Lordie (or oh Kappa, for the in-group).)

The terminal problems all around us which desperately require collective attention are in such a state of being neglected (be they oeconomical, environmental, political, societal, technological or in intersections thereof) and they cannot be solved by experts without mass support (because of the vestiges of democracy) that it is comical (or, since we're in the same boat, tragicomical) to collectively talk about someone's sexual chat messages instead ("instead" because attention is a painfully finite resource). It really is.

It's like seeing someone bleed out in front of your eyes and focussing on a pimple on his/her forehead. I'm not saying this particular outbreak of hysteria (and all the other nonsense we spend our hysteria on) is all some sinister plot/smokescreen from the powers-that-be to keep (part of) the bottom 99% busy. More like a happy coincidence, for them.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T00:43:21.588Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if the problem is connotation v. denotation here or possibly a motte/bailey fallacy, but I'm fairly confident that something like that is happening, or some massive failure of communication.

You wrote:

Welcome to the brave new world. Blood and games, keeps us busy from dealing with the issues that matter.

At minimum, the connotation of these phrases is a deliberate attempt to distract from the "serious" issues, which is an extremely different claim than the one you are apparently making above that this simply should be an extremely low priority issue. I'm also confused if you think this should be such a low priority why you persist in discussing it.

I'm also highly uncovninced that this should be such a low priority issue. Sexual harrassment and associated problems contribute to fewer women in the STEM fields, which means in general fewer people going in to STEM fields than would be otherwise. All of the issues you describe as serious problems are issues where solutions, if they arise or exist, will arise out of technology and research.

I'm not saying this particular outbreak of hysteria (and all the other nonsense we spend our hysteria on) is all some sinister plot/smokescreen from the powers-that-be to keep (part of) the bottom 99% busy. More like a happy coincidence, for them.

I'm deeply confused by this. Who are these powers-that-be and how is this in any way shape or form to their advantage? You mention the 99%, a specific idea that is in most contexts refers to a 1% income v. 99%. I'm not sure how that would be relevant to many of the serious issues that currently are issues (such as the enviromental ones you note) or others you didn't note such as existential risk. So be more explicit, who do you think benefits from this "happy coincidence" and what specific issues do you think it is distracting from that should be a higher priority?

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-15T01:38:32.085Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm also highly uncovninced that this should be such a low priority issue.

Yes, we evidently disagree on that. Let's identify that as "area of contention #1", before we dive into the specifics.

I do disagree with your chain of reasoning of "(sexual harrassment) leads to (fewer women in STEM fields) leads to (fewer/worse technological solutions to the 'all the issues I described')" playing a role commensurate with the hubbub we spend on the topic.

There are many aspects to each of the causal links (for example: is the sexual harassment situation in STEM fields particularly bad, as opposed to other university courses, or as opposed to non-university occupational choices?), and I doubt a few paragraphs will suffice to cause either of us to update. I don't mind delving into #1 by any means, but let's divide and conquer, since #1 could keep a serious discussion going for months.

I'm also confused if you think this should be such a low priority why you persist in discussing it.

If you saw the public discourse and the attention of the public raptly focussed on the welfare of ponies, to the exclusion or at least neglect of all other pressing problems, you'd discuss such a misallocation of resources as well, even if you didn't care about ponies one bit. "This is not what we should spend our attention on" would probably be your message, or what other reaction to a hypothetical pony craziness would you implement?

This is just an edge case to illustrate the principle; concerning sexual harassment, which is a serious issue overall (though less so when we're talking about chat messages), the message would be "This isn't what we should spend such a huge amount of our attention on" (versus "no attention at all on").

I'm deeply confused by this. Who are these powers-that-be and how is this in any way shape or form to their advantage?

Everyone who profits from the status quo. Which is disproportionally the global elites, those who neither suffer from droughts, nor from a lack of healthcare, nor from transmittable diseases (comparatively), nor from job insecurity, nor from ... you get the picture. Those who bought and paid for government initiatives (or the lack thereof) via myriad lobby groups. This isn't some conspiracy theory; there are many different groups with many different aims. But they have plenty of game theoretic reasons not to see the boat rocked. So all the better if the plebs keeps itself busy with lynching professors over lewd online messages.

Cui bono, you ask? Again, everyone who profits from the status quo. Everyone who'd rather not see the electorate be galvanized by issues such as Citizens United (lobby groups and the industry behind them), effective Wall Street oversight (banks), Carbon Taxes (energy giants), single payer healthcare (health care industry), gerrymandering (basically most of the elected members of The House) etc. If you are the king, you (general you) wouldn't want to roll the dice either, since you'd have nowhere to go but down, relative to the rest of society.

Not all comparisons translate well from a small scope to the big leagues, but this one does: just as your attention is a finite resource, so is society's as a whole. When your whole home is a mess, you can't clean up all the rooms at the same time. Though, of course, some amount of parallelisation is possible, you can't do all at once. For example, Obama political capital in his first term was mostly spent on the ACA (and that kind of worked against all odds). So it goes for the sexual harrassment hysteria. Which doesn't mean it's not an issue. It's just not first in line, not by a long shot (goes back to our disagreement about #1).

Then again, if humanity doesn't survive the various Malthusian (and related) disasters coming our way, there'd be no more lewd text messages, so we got that going for us, which is nice.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T01:49:47.969Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Everyone who'd rather not see the electorate be galvanized by issues such as Citizens United (lobby groups and the industry behind them), effective Wall Street oversight (banks), Carbon Taxes (energy giants), single payer healthcare (health care industry), gerrymandering (basically most of the elected members of The House) etc.

As it happens half the issues you raise there are also distractions, but best. A number of them are also ways for the elite to con the populace into giving them more power. Keep in mind that just because you've seen through one smoke screen doesn't mean there aren't others.

To take the example of Citizens United, the question there is whether a group of average individual citizens can pool their resources to create lobbying groups that have a chance to compete with individual wealthy and/or well-connected citizens.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T01:47:55.660Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, we evidently disagree on that. Let's identify that as "area of contention #1", before we dive into the specifics.

Sure. I'm curious, by the way, if you saw my reply to Alienist which discussed some of the basic evidence for this being an issue.

There are many aspects to each of the causal links (for example: is the sexual harassment situation in STEM fields particularly bad, as opposed to other university courses, or as opposed to non-university occupational choices?),

Sure, but it doesn't need to be substantially worse as a whole to have a disparate impact. Sexual harassment can combine with other problems (e.g. a pre-existing gender imbalance as well as larger cultural issues).

If you saw the public discourse and the attention of the public raptly focussed on the welfare of ponies, to the exclusion or at least neglect of all other pressing problems, you'd discuss such a misallocation of resources as well, even if you didn't care about ponies one bit. "This is not what we should spend our attention on" would probably be your message, or what other reaction to a hypothetical pony craziness would you implement?

Ignore it completely, just as you and I are ignoring what the vast majority of people really do seem to care about- e.g. celebrities. In general, if there really is a problem and some humans are putting resources into handling that problem, it isn't likely to be productive to spend time telling them that they should go do something else. It also isn't helpful to then use language that essentially compares caring about a cause to being somehow complcit in Roman style bread-and-circuses keeping the people down.

Everyone who profits from the status quo. Which is disproportionally the global elites, those who neither suffer from droughts, nor from a lack of healthcare, nor from transmittable diseases (comparatively), nor from job insecurity

How does being well-off and not suffering from any of those problems mean that one somehow benefits from the status quo? If global warming becomes a serious enough problem, it is inconvenient to everyone. If a paperclip maximizer turns all into paperclips everyone has the same problems. And at the same time, if more people are in the STEM fields or more people who can succeed at it, we all benefit.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T01:56:15.011Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ignore it completely, just as you and I are ignoring what the vast majority of people really do seem to care about

The problem with that is that the over-focus isn't harmless, it's already having negative effects, e.g., Lewin's videos being taken down. Also this is not the kind of thing that's smart to ignore for them same reason that someone living in Salem Village in 1692 probably should not ignore the increasingly popular silly belief that a lot of their problems are caused by witches.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T02:34:43.730Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with that is that the over-focus isn't harmless, it's already having negative effects, e.g., Lewin's videos being taken down.

Sure. For any given problem, some degree of focus, whether it is an overfocus or not is going to have some negative side-effects. That's essentially just the non-onesided nature of policy issues. So the question becomes where do you balance it? And moreover, how do you decide that it really has gone over too far in one direction or aother?

Also this is not the kind of thing that's smart to ignore for them same reason that someone living in Salem Village in 1692 probably should not ignore the increasingly popular silly belief that a lot of their problems are caused by witches.

Can you expand on this logic?

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-15T18:53:16.952Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious, by the way, if you saw my reply to Alienist which discussed some of the basic evidence for this being an issue.

Eh, I'm not gonna call "women being stared at" and such sexual harassment, which is what we are talking about. As I've mentioned, to discuss sexual harassment in general when our starkest disagreement lies in the sexual chat messages and the like is a Worst Argument In The World situation in any case.

Sure, but it doesn't need to be substantially worse as a whole to have a disparate impact. (...) can combine with other problems

If you have a phenomenon with multiple causes I wouldn't characterize a minor causal node as having a "disparate impact" just because it contributes to a much larger phenomenon.

Ignore it completely

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. If you saw MIRI going off on a dead-end tangent, and you are invested in its fate, "ignore it completely" is a bad choice. Same dynamic.

How does being well-off and not suffering from any of those problems mean that one somehow benefits from the status quo?

If the resources were allocated appropriate to the problems, where would the money come from? For carbon licenses and other Pigovian taxes? Yea, from the powers-that-be.

If global warming becomes a serious enough problem, it is inconvenient to everyone.

Solving it inconveniences ExxonMobil more, for the next few hundred quarterly reports.

And at the same time, if more people are in the STEM fields or more people who can succeed at it, we all benefit.

Certainly. The first step for that should be creating better role models, getting rid of the ridiculous "I'm a fragile flower waiting for good things to happen to me, since I deserve everything"-entitlement attitude people are developing, and creating more of a meritocracy (e.g. not turning people away because they have the wrong gender / wrong nationality etc.). Not becoming hysteric over sexual chat messages, when there are already rules in place against that sort of thing (and yes, the professor should be reprimanded and, if repeated, suspended, but goddamn that should not be national news).

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T20:10:43.656Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm curious, by the way, if you saw my reply to Alienist which discussed some of the basic evidence for this being an issue.

Eh, I'm not gonna call "women being stared at" and such sexual harassment, which is what we are talking about.

The point here should be clear: of course it isn't sexual harassment. Yet the data shows that even that limited form of negative interaction can have a substantial impact on performance. A fortiori you'd expect the same thing for more serious situations.

As I've mentioned, to discuss sexual harassment in general when our starkest disagreement lies in the sexual chat messages and the like is a Worst Argument In The World situation in any case

Huh? First of all, it is highly likely that what happened with Lewin went well beyond any sort of mildly sexual chat messages. Second, the primary argument isn't even about that but the claim that in general, sexual harassment shouldn't be a high priority.

If you have a phenomenon with multiple causes I wouldn't characterize a minor causal node as having a "disparate impact" just because it contributes to a much larger phenomenon.

Missing the point. It may not be a minor causal node. The ability to identify one cause among many isn't a reason to think that it is a minor node. I can identify hundreds of ways humans die: it doesn't make cancer a minor node just because it is one among them. Moreover, in this sort of context different nodes can interact to have an impact substantially larger than any single one would.

If you saw MIRI going off on a dead-end tangent, and you are invested in its fate, "ignore it completely" is a bad choice.

Sure, but that's a specific organization with a specific set of goals. If you think this sort of thing is important then why don't you go around telling everyone who talks about celebrities or Hollywood movies or whatnot how they are wasting their time? Is wasting time your true objection?

If global warming becomes a serious enough problem, it is inconvenient to everyone.

Solving it inconveniences ExxonMobil more, for the next few hundred quarterly reports.

Ok. So it is a problem for almost everyone, and anyone at ExxonMobile who cares about their children. There's still no large set of "Powers that be" that all these problems apply to. Yes, there are small, specific groups that have interests which are counter to the interests of the general population for specific issues. But none of those will see eye-to-eye on the same issues.

And at the same time, if more people are in the STEM fields or more people who can succeed at it, we all benefit.

Certainly. The first step for that should be creating better role models, getting rid of the ridiculous "I'm a fragile flower waiting for good things to happen to me, since I deserve everything"-entitlement attitude people are developing, and creating more of a meritocracy (e.g. not turning people away because they have the wrong gender / wrong nationality etc.). Not becoming hysteric over sexual chat messages, when there are already rules in place against that sort of thing

This seems more like a series of boo lights and labels for people you don't like then a substantial point. I am however curious if you've been subject to unwanted sexual attention from people in a position of power. Have you? How frequently? How did you react? How did it make you feel? And what makes you so confident that in the actual situation in question that this was so mild that anyone who reatced can be labeled as engaging in hysterics while being a fragile flower?

yes, the professor should be reprimanded and, if repeated, suspended, but goddamn that should not be national news)

This seems inconsistent with your earlier comments. Is your primary problem simply that it happened to become a news story? That seems strange given that everyone else here (and I thought you) saw the primary reason this was on the news as the same as the primary reason that this was an overreaction; that taking down the videos was unnecessary.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-15T21:17:05.355Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The point here should be clear: of course it isn't sexual harassment. Yet the data shows that even that limited form of negative interaction can have a substantial impact on performance. A fortiori you'd expect the same thing for more serious situations.

Beware the man of one study who uses that study for conclusions concerning different phenomena. That's not how evidence works, the correct Bayesian update "a fortiori" on different behavior would be negligible. How does that even work, "if they are sexually messaged they do worse on math tests"?

Huh? First of all, it is highly likely that what happened with Lewin went well beyond any sort of mildly sexual chat messages. Second, the primary argument isn't even about that but the claim that in general, sexual harassment shouldn't be a high priority.

Hello there "mildly", I didn't see you in my original quote. That must be because you came out of thin-air. It can be explicit enough to fit right into some Gangsta rap song, it's still a chat message which shouldn't be discussed in the same breath as e.g. violent sexual assaults.

I reject logic along the lines of "A belongs to B, C belongs to B. We should deal with A because C is really serious, and we'll transfer that association with seriousness to A via B". If you want to talk about men staring at women, and what policies and punishments we should have for that, we can do that. Or for when an authority figure writes sexual messages to a college student. These are neither in kind nor in degree the same thing as many other forms of assault, sexual or otherwise.

You probably agree, so let's not strawman "sexual harassment shouldn't be a high priority" out of "sexual chat messages shouldn't be a high priority". Don't slippery-slope your way from "men staring at women" to sexual harassment as a whole (including e.g. violent rape), these are different problems requiring different solutions and most importantly different amounts of societal attention and anxiety.

Missing the point. It may not be a minor causal node.

What you said was "Sure, but it doesn't need to be substantially worse as a whole to have a disparate impact. Sexual harassment can combine with other problems (e.g. a pre-existing gender imbalance as well as larger cultural issues)" which I understood as "even if the difference was minor, combined with other factors the overall impact can be large". If you only intended to say "if it is a significant causal link on its own, it is a significant causal link on its own", that would merely be a tautology and a reminder that we disagree on #1.

If you think this sort of thing is important then why don't you go around telling everyone who talks about celebrities or Hollywood movies or whatnot how they are wasting their time?

Those topics don't replace other policy initiatives, elections aren't decided on who liked which movie best. There is an ever dwindling budget of attention for "this is unjust and must be changed" issues, and it's that budget which is spent on the 'rampant sexual harassment' chimera. I feel similarly when the news cycle about a climate conference rapidly shifts to some celebrity wedding, or when a candidate's "celebrity endorsements" outweigh his/her fiscal policies. That is my main objection, though I certainly don't enjoy the divisive toxic climate that's created as a side effect of the prominence of the topic.

Yes, there are small, specific groups that have interests which are counter to the interests of the general population for specific issues. But none of those will see eye-to-eye on the same issues.

They don't have to. It is convenient for all elites who have a disproportionate share of (capital/influence/market share in their sector/etc.) to not see that redistributed. Since such massive undertakings for the public good are the domain of politics, one would predict that elites take great care to capture the political parties. And that's precisely what we observe. Yes, many of them have different aims (Google versus the MPAA, etc.), but all of them profit from the public spotlight being on something more inconsequential to their interests, not their privileged position specifically.

I am however curious if you've been subject to unwanted sexual attention from people in a position of power.

Is this where my opinion is only valid if I have the right gender and am a rape survivor or something? Because you probably haven't been exterminated by an unfriendly AI to date, yet you presumably care about that risk.

And what makes you so confident that in the actual situation in question that this was so mild that anyone who reatced can be labeled as engaging in hysterics while being a fragile flower?

Ahem, would you read the grandparent comment again? These were general recommendations on how to increase STEM enrollment. The "The first step (to get people in the STEM fields)" should have clued you in on that. It was not meant to refer to someone "in the actual situation", least of all the student in question.

Is this so you can go off saying "that guy called people who were harassed or who engaged with the situation 'fragile flowers'", because in that case this discussion would be worthless?

It would be preposterous to put someone who received online harassment from an old MIT professor, probably in a different state, in the same category as e.g. victims of traumatic physical rape and then discuss the topic 'as a whole'. Again, Worst Argument In The World if there ever was one. Have you ever seen TwitchChat? So many future PTSD victims!

Is your primary problem simply that it happened to become a news story?

My problem is that the topic dominates public discourse to an unwarranted degree. As Time Magazine and RAINN succinctly put it: "It's time to end rape culture hysteria", see also Myth 4 in this Time article. The degree to which public perception is overemphasizing the topic is actively harmful, including to prospective female STEM students. Men at playgrounds being reported to the police for being potential pedophiles is a new phenomenon, arising out of the general hysteria about the "sexual harassment/violence"-boogeyman.

MIT taking down the videos was a reaction to get ahead of the inevitable media attention and head off any potential reputational shitstorm. In absence of such societal hysteria, the videos would not have been taken down. This is nothing but a cover-your-ass kneejerk reaction, which isn't even unreasonable given that MIT is reacting to the toxic public discourse on the topic, which is the root problem for the video removal.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T22:04:45.952Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Beware the man of one study

That's relevant when you have other studies that show something in the other direction and one is picking one study exactly. Do you have any similar studies to mention? Since you've mentioned exactly zero studies about behavior or any links to any stats in this conversation, my guess no.

who uses that study for conclusions concerning different phenomena. That's not how evidence works, the correct Bayesian update "a fortiori" on different behavior would be negligible.

Really? This seems pretty clear. If weak examples of A cause some amount of X, then one should expect that more extreme amounts of A cause more of X, and in this case we have an easy causal model that supports that.

Hello there "mildly", I didn't see you in my original quote.

You're right. Poor rephrasing on my part.

t's still a chat message which shouldn't be discussed in the same breath as e.g. violent sexual assaults.

But no one here is claiming they are the same as "violent sexual assaults". Did you see anywhere I or anyone else in this subthread tried to make that claim?

What you said was "Sure, but it doesn't need to be substantially worse as a whole to have a disparate impact. Sexual harassment can combine with other problems (e.g. a pre-existing gender imbalance as well as larger cultural issues)" which I understood as "even if the difference was minor, combined with other factors the overall impact can be large". If you only intended to say "if it is a significant causal link on its own, it is a significant causal link on its own", that would merely be a tautology and a reminder that we disagree on #1.

That's not what I said. Please reread what I said without trying to make it the stupidest argument you can.

Those topics don't replace other policy initiatives, elections aren't decided on who liked which movie best. There is an ever dwindling budget of attention for "this is unjust and must be changed" issues, and it's that budget which is spent on the 'rampant sexual harassment' chimera. I feel similarly when the news cycle about a climate conference rapidly shifts to some celebrity wedding, or when a candidate's "celebrity endorsements" outweigh his/her fiscal policies.

I'm confused. Do you see the celebrities and movies as in the same category or not? And if you don't why don't you spend time telling people to stop focusing on them?

That is my main objection, though I certainly don't enjoy the divisive toxic climate that's created as a side effect of the prominence of the topic.

In general, politically involved topics lead to toxic climate. There's nothing special about the topic in question.

They don't have to. It is convenient for all elites who have a disproportionate share of (capital/influence/market share in their sector/etc.) to not see that redistributed. Since such massive undertakings for the public good are the domain of politics, one would predict that elites take great care to capture the political parties. And that's precisely what we observe. Yes, many of them have different aims (Google versus the MPAA, etc.), but all of them profit from the public spotlight being on something more inconsequential to their interests, not their privileged position specifically.

And in your view they coordinate that how? Google and Exxon have wildly different goals as do the MPAA and Google and any other two major powers you can name.

I am however curious if you've been subject to unwanted sexual attention from people in a position of power.

Is this where my opinion is only valid if I have the right gender and am a rape survivor or something?

No. A thousands times no. As should pretty obvious since I made zero comment about your gender. But here's the thing: it is really easy to label people as "fragile flowers" or the like when they've had bad experiences you have not.

What this reminds me of is an old English teacher I knew in highschool who used to complain that it was no longer acceptable for students who had a disagreement to just leave the class-room and settle things "out doors"- he thought that this was making a weak generation of students. I believe he actually used the word "sissies" and said that the solution was for nerdy students to "man-up". But we've decided that that's not acceptable, and I suspect that you agree there. And we've all benefited. Let me suggest that maybe you should ask yourself if your comments about sexual harassment fall into the same category.

These were general recommendations on how to increase STEM enrollment. The "The first step (to get people in the STEM fields)" should have clued you in on that. It was not meant to refer to someone "in the actual situation", least of all the student in question.

So who are you talking about? Be specific. Are you claiming that the solution is to make students more willing to put up with sexual harassment and act less like "fragile flowers"? Because it certainly sounds like that, and having reread your statement it still sounds like that.

Men at playgrounds being reported to the police for being potential pedophiles is a new phenomenon, arising out of the general hysteria about the "sexual harassment/violence"-boogeyman.

The pedophile hysteria is a distinct problem which is not in general related to issues of sexual harassment. You won't even see the same people talking about it in general.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-15T22:43:58.722Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Since at this point we probably regard each other as fully mindkilled on the subject (at least I can vouch for one half of that statement), we should probably stop. I shall leave you the last word.

My reply would be along the lines of

The pedophile hysteria is a distinct problem which is not in general related

Pedophile hysteria is part of the problem in the same vein as rape hysteria and sexual harassment hysteria in general.

No. A thousands times no. As should pretty obvious since I made zero comment about your gender.

Ok then: why would you even question my personal experiences if not to discount my opinion on that basis, since if you're not facetious you know I'm male and probably haven't received unwanted sexual chat messages from female professors. It's an obvious set-up to an ad hom. Otherwise explain the question.

So who are you talking about?

Entitlement culture and a loss of the ability to concentrate and exhibit mental discipline have become endemic (take obesity as one marker), my 'fragile flower' comment was meant to apply stochastically across the board, not to the student in question specifically obviously. You must think me to be some crazy misanthrope or somesuch. It seems like the familiar "enemy detected"-pattern of political discourse.

And in your view they coordinate that how

It seems like we're regressing ... didn't we already cover that? But since you ask ... again ... let me quote ... a comment like 5 ancestors up:

I'm not saying this particular outbreak of hysteria (and all the other nonsense we spend our hysteria on) is all some sinister plot/smokescreen from the powers-that-be to keep (part of) the bottom 99% busy. More like a happy coincidence, for them.

It's easy to paint people who disagree as conspiracy nuts. Don't fall into that temptation.

Please reread what I said without trying to make it the stupidest argument you can.

I did. I have no idea what you were trying to say there, if it apparently was neither "if it is a significant causal link on its own, it is a significant causal link on its own" nor "even if the difference was minor, combined with other factors the overall impact can be large". Both are apparently the stupidest argument I can make up? Which is why I asked if I understood you correctly?

In general, politically involved topics lead to toxic climate. There's nothing special about the topic in question.

This is where I expected some sort of troll face following the quote. We seem to live in different slices of society, I can't explain why our perception would differ so fundamentally otherwise. Except the very first line of this comment, that is. Even Robin Hanson, of all people, became a target of part of the roving mob!

If weak examples of A cause some amount of X, then one should expect that more extreme amounts of A cause more of X

Look, you really need to read up on the noncentral fallacy. I really mean it. Grouping it all as "shades of A" is precisely the trap when putting disparate things into a common artificial bracket ("sexual harassment"). Violent rape is not "a more extreme amount of A on some scale where on the lower end there's 'men staring at you', ergo we can surmise that the effects can be extrapolated up". That would be the most ridiculous statement I've read this week, sorry to say. And I frequent Reddit. A study on men staring, then women doing worse at math test has near-precisely 0 bearing, and that's not because I don't look for a study showing that "men staring at women, women doing the same at the math test". It is because it's irrelevant to the topic. Wouldn't that be some bizarre slippery sloping from "men staring leads to worse math tests" to the topic of sexual harassment in toto, a bracket including rape as a central component?

I assume you've read the abstract. Shall I link it and ask you to show, precisely, how it translates to either the specific case, or "sexual harassment and STEM enrollment" in general? Is it that "women fail at math tests because men stared at them, ergo there are less women in STEM"?

I have an idea: We need some policy about "things that start with the letter A". It should be: contain all those things, since there's an atom bomb in there!

And on a final note: It would have been nice if you addressed my sources (the two Time articles), which I used as evidence that the public attention devoted to the topic doesn't fit the severity of the problem (or the lack thereof). Maybe you could choose to do so in your closing remarks?

ETA: Typos, tone.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-16T15:04:34.544Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Since at this point we probably regard each other as fully mindkilled on the subject (at least I can vouch for one half of that statement), we should probably stop. I shall leave you the last word

That's a fascinatingly passive-aggressive way of saying "I think you're hopelessly mindkilled". To be blunt, while I do certainly have suspicions in that direction, the outside view suggests that neither of us is mind-killed as much as we think the other person to be since both of us have taken positions with some degree of nuance.

Pedophile hysteria is part of the problem in the same vein as rape hysteria and sexual harassment hysteria in general.

Not really. They aren't raised by the same people and they don't even always occur in the same places. For example, much of the UK has massive pedophile hysteria but in many ways much less of a focus on sexual harassment issues than the US does.

why would you even question my personal experiences if not to discount my opinion on that basis, since if you're not facetious you know I'm male and probably haven't received unwanted sexual chat messages from female professors. It's an obvious set-up to an ad hom. Otherwise explain the question.

I did explain it. Please reread what I wrote right after that sentence where I said " it is really easy to label people as "fragile flowers" or the like when they've had bad experiences you have not." The point is that it may be worth considering whether the labels and descriptions you are attaching are based on you not having been on the receicing end.

This is where I expected some sort of troll face following the quote. We seem to live in different slices of society, I can't explain why our perception would differ so fundamentally otherwise.

And didn't you just reference the idea that politics is the mind-killer? Sure, different political subjects will lead to different degrees of toxicity in different contexts but this is very much not the only one which can do so. Try to have a conversation with a random bunch of Americans about abortion or gun control.

Even Robin Hanson, of all people, became a target of part of the roving mob!

I don't see why you see that as such an extreme thing. Robin is a borderline professional troll who trolled his way to tenure. He first became welll known for his fairly tone-deaf pushing for terrorism futures markets(pdf).

Look, you really need to read up on the noncentral fallacy.

I'm familiar with it, and you need to reread what I wrote since that's not what is going on here and the fact that you brought up rape (which is genuinely distinct) if anything shows how that's not what is going on. The point here is that actitivies which in an academic context can sexualize women make them perform more poorly. That's the common connection between the staring and sexual harassment situations. It has nothing to do with rape at all - I agree that if one were trying to make such a connection that would be stupid.

I'm not going to responde to your "letter A" paragraph accept to note that it may be fun to write but has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

It would have been nice if you addressed my sources (the two Time articles), which I used as evidence that the public attention devoted to the topic doesn't fit the severity of the problem (or the lack thereof)

There are real problems with aspects of how these issues are handled, and I'd point to Radicalizing the romanceless and Scott Aaaronson's comments here (especially comment 171) as genuine examples of the problems that the current system causes. The Time piece is to some extent correct about what they are talking about. But as you observed, what we're talking about is different. The issue at hand is not rape, and that's running into an important value which is the need for a lack of censorship in a university setting. I was actually at BU when the Robin Thicke controversy occurred, and there were people advocating for "let him come, and we'll protest outside the concert" which is a much more nuanced position than that which got essentially lost in the shuffle. But the primary problem here isn't that these problems don't exist on college campuses: they unquestionably do: the primary problem is that the current focus doesn't do much to actually impact the people who really are likely to create problems. But it is worth noting that there's also an inconsistency here in the Time piece- they note RAINN's emphasis on promoting clearer education on what constitutes consent, which is exactly a major part of what the people who advocate dealing with "rape culture" are trying to do. And again, the fact that a handful of universities have gone overboard on specific issues really isn't great evidence of a general problem, for reasons we've discussed earlier I think.

The second piece referring to what they say is a myth, I'll refer to Scott Alexander's piece here.

But neither of these pieces are terribly relevant to what we're talking about. If we're talking about sex harassment then we're talking about that. If we're talking about rape then we're talking about that. But it is not helpful (and indeed quite strange) to a paragraph earlier accuse someone else of the non-central fallacy while you yourself are bringing up the matter of rape which wasn't even what was being discussed.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T00:57:12.305Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Sexual harrassment and associated problems contribute to fewer women in the STEM fields,

Evidence? Because, the typical argument I've seen for this claim tends to boil down to "If you even have to ask you're an evil misogynistic sexist".

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T01:01:13.952Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not aware of any studies specifically. The basic argument isn't that complicated though: A) there are women who attribute their lack of involvement in the STEM fields to extremely bad experiences at an early age and B) there's an obvious way this would be causally related. Note also that some other fields such as medicine have taken more active steps to deal with sexual harrassment issues and they do have more women going into those fields.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T01:15:00.326Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The basic argument isn't that complicated though: A) there are women who attribute their lack of involvement in the STEM fields to extremely bad experiences at an early age and B) there's an obvious way this would be causally related.

There are several problems with that theory.

1) A lot of people who deice not to go into STEM had bad experiences. (In fact bad experience may very well mean wasn't good at it).

2) The kind of things they wind up pointing to as "sexual harassment", e.g., wearing a bad 50's sci-fi shirt with 'ray-gun-babes' or happening to overhear a not-quite g-rated conversation between two men, don't seem like the kind of things people should be too bothered about.

3) Women have less variance on IQ scores then men and thus we would expect fewer of them to show up in at high levels in IQ-intensive fields.

(Feminists dispute the last point, but they're arguments tend to boil down to "you're sexist for even suggesting this").

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T01:27:44.380Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what you mean by 1. Can you clarify?

As for 2, sure there's a range of behaviors and it is worth discussing that which ones do or don't matter. At the same time, the mild behavior is the one set of behavior that we actually do have studies showing it has an impact. In particular, women who have been stared at by men then perform more poorly on math tests(PDF).

3) Women have less variance on IQ scores then men and thus we would expect fewer of them to show up in at high levels in IQ-intensive fields.

Yes, up to a point. No one here is asserting that this is the only cause or the primary cause of differences in gender ratious. That's not the same thing as asserting that it isn't a cause. And IQ variance is clearly insufficient: different disciplines requiring similar needs have radically different gender ratios. And there's real evidence that in at least some cases, cultural issues are having much more of an impact than IQ- look at how the percentage of women in IT and computer related fields was steadily going up and then started dropping when personal computers appeared. See discussion here.

(Feminists dispute the last point, but they're arguments tend to boil down to "you're sexist for even suggesting this").

This is now the second time you've made a comment like this- bringing up an argument that hasn't been made so you can knock it down. That might be rhetorically fun but it isn't helpful. Bad arguments are made for pretty much any position possible. The fact that such arguments are being made somewhere isn't relevant for fairly obvious reasons.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-15T20:34:16.410Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In particular, women who have been stared at by men then perform more poorly on math tests(PDF).

That's a paywall, so I assume you have not read it. Here's a jailbroken copy: "When What You See Is What You Get: The Consequences of the Objectifying Gaze for Women and Men ", Gervais et al 2011 (Libgen; PDF.yt; Dropbox).

This paper inherits the usual defects of the 'stereotype threat' literature. It takes place in no-stakes situations, while stereotype threats have failed to generalize to any situations that actually matter, and blinding is questionable (they bring the subjects in, then "They also learned that they may be asked to report their feelings about themselves and others and to complete word problems", and do math problems? Gee, I'm sure none of these undergrads recruited from psychology classes figured out what the real experiment was!) The results are also a little bizarre on their face: "...the objectifying gaze also increased women’s, but not men’s, motivation to engage in subsequent interactions with their partner...the objectifying gaze did not influence body surveillance, body shame, or body dissatisfaction for women or men". Huh?

And finally, this is social psychology.

And IQ variance is clearly insufficient: different disciplines requiring similar needs have radically different gender ratios.

That does not follow. If different disciplines have non-identical needs, then depending on the exact differences in distribution shape, the correlation between IQ, and the cutoff for success (see for example the table of r vs cutoff in "What does it mean to have a low R-squared ? A warning about misleading interpretation") - not to mention the other variables which also vary between gender (Conscientiousness; degree of winner-take-all dynamics; expected work hours) - may well be sufficient to explain it. You'll need to do more work than that.

And there's real evidence that in at least some cases, cultural issues are having much more of an impact than IQ- look at how the percentage of women in IT and computer related fields was steadily going up and then started dropping when personal computers appeared. See discussion here.

See discussion here.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T21:38:22.681Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This paper inherits the usual defects of the 'stereotype threat' literature. It takes place in no-stakes situations

Sure. It is extremely difficult to test these situations in high-stakes situations for obvious reasons.

Gee, I'm sure none of these undergrads recruited from psychology classes figured out what the real experiment was!

This is an intrinsic problem in almost all psychology studies. Is there anything specific here that's worse than in other cases?

The results are also a little bizarre on their face: "...the objectifying gaze also increased women’s, but not men’s, motivation to engage in subsequent interactions with their partner...the objectifying gaze did not influence body surveillance, body shame, or body dissatisfaction for women or men". Huh?

I don't see what your point is. What do you find is bizaare about this and how do you think that undermines the study?

And finally, this is social psychology.

That's a reason to be skeptical of the results, not a reason to a priori throw them out.

That does not follow. If different disciplines have non-identical needs, then depending on the exact differences in distribution shape, the correlation between IQ, and the cutoff for success (see for example the table of r vs cutoff in "What does it mean to have a low R-squared ? A warning about misleading interpretation") - not to mention the other variables which also vary between gender (Conscientiousness; degree of winner-take-all dynamics; expected work hours) - may well be sufficient to explain it. You'll need to do more work than that.

You are correct. The word clearly is doing too much work in my comment. At minimum though, the fact that other similar disciplines don't have that situation even though they historically did is evidence that IQ variance is not all that is going on here. And that's especially the case when many of those disciplines are ones like medicine that have taken many active steps to try to encourage women to be interested in them.

And there's real evidence that in at least some cases, cultural issues are having much more of an impact than IQ- look at how the percentage of women in IT and computer related fields was steadily going up and then started dropping when personal computers appeared. See discussion here.

See discussion here.

Now seen. Having read that discussion, I agree with Kaj there. Do you have any additional point beyond which you said to Kaj there?

comment by gwern · 2014-12-15T22:02:27.404Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is extremely difficult to test these situations in high-stakes situations for obvious reasons.

It is not so difficult as all that: high-stakes tests are conducted all the time and gender is routinely recorded. I refer you to the WP article for how stereotype threat evaporates the moment it would ever matter.

This is an intrinsic problem in almost all psychology studies. Is there anything specific here that's worse than in other cases?

It is not that bad a problem in most studies, and stereotype threat studies are particularly bad.

What do you find is bizaare about this and how do you think that undermines the study?

Their results make no sense in almost any causal model of how stereotype threat would work. What sort of stereotype threat has no effect on attitudes and body images and increases interest in co-workers, and how would you expect this to support the argument you made with regard to co-workers in the real world?

That's a reason to be skeptical of the results, not a reason to a priori throw them out.

Indeed. So why did you cling to a weak reed?

Do you have any additional point beyond which you said to Kaj there?

No. I stand by the sum of my comments: that it is blatant post hoc rationalizations which contradict any theory a feminist would have made before seeing the actual data, which clearly supports an economic rather than pure bias account, and makes false claims about new CS students as well.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-16T00:01:41.183Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is not so difficult as all that: high-stakes tests are conducted all the time and gender is routinely recorded. I refer you to the WP article for how stereotype threat evaporates the moment it would ever matter.

Which studies there are you referring to as being relevant? Note by the way that the study in question isn't quite the same as stereotype threat in the classical sense anyways.

What do you find is bizaare about this and how do you think that undermines the study?

Their results make no sense in almost any causal model of how stereotype threat would work. What sort of stereotype threat has no effect on attitudes and body images and increases interest in co-workers, and how would you expect this to support the argument you made with regard to co-workers in the real world?

I'm not completely sure what model would actually do this but it could be something that causes them to think of themselves less as people doing math and more as people who are socially or sexually interested in others. But the fact that it didn't have an impact on body image is strange, and needs further investigation. In the short version though, that should suggest that this study actually is more reliable: one of the most common criticism of psychology as a discipline is that the studies have way too high a confirmation of hypotheses rate. That's been discussed on Less Wrong before. In this case, the fact that part of the study went against the intuitve hypothesis and went against what the authors explicitly hypothesized is a reason to pay more attention to it.

That's a reason to be skeptical of the results, not a reason to a priori throw them out.

Indeed. So why did you cling to a weak reed?

Because this is one of the very few studies that have looked at how sexualization impacts performance. There are a lot of stereotype threat studies (as you noted) but they don't generally look at this. I'd be happy to rely on something else or change my opinion here if there were that many more studies.

Do you have any additional point beyond which you said to Kaj there?

No. I stand by the sum of my comments: that it is blatant post hoc rationalizations which contradict any theory a feminist would have made before seeing the actual data, which clearly supports an economic rather than pure bias account, and makes false claims about new CS students as well.

So in your view, what precisely is the reason for the fact that the percentage of female CS students was consistently rising and then took a sharp drop-off? Also, why do you think Kaj disagreed with your position?

comment by gwern · 2014-12-16T02:59:58.302Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which studies there are you referring to as being relevant?

...So in your view, what precisely is the reason for the fact that the percentage of female CS students was consistently rising and then took a sharp drop-off?

If you aren't going to read the links I provided*, I'm not going to bother continuing. Both of those questions were answered.

* please note I have already gone above and beyond in not just reading your source material while you have not, but jailbreaking & critiquing that study, and also excerpting & linking contrary opinions & surveys

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-16T05:13:44.292Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you aren't going to read the links I provided*, I'm not going to bother continuing. Both of those questions were answered.

I read the conversation with Kaj and I read the links thank you very much. In that conversation you brought up a variety of different issues, focusing on the "practicality" issue but you give multiple different versions of that claim and I'm not completely sure what your primary hypothesis is. The primary claim there seems to be that the ups and downs on the graph mirror ups and downs in the market, but the primary link justifying that claim is this one you gave which doesn't make any claim other than the simple claim that the graphs match without even showing that they do. The only bit there is there that is genuinely interesting evidence is the survey showing that women pay more attention to job prospects when considering fields which is not at all sufficient to explain the size of the drop there, nor the fact that law didn't show a similar drop in the last few years when there's been a glut of lawyers.

please note I have already gone above and beyond in not just reading your source material while you have not

I don't know where you are getting the second part of that claim from. But it is true I didn't read every single link in the Kaj conversation, and I'm not sure why you think reading a single study is on the same scale as reading an additional long conversation and every single link there. So if you want to point to which of those links matter there, I'd be happy to look at them.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T01:40:06.356Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Bad arguments are made for pretty much any position possible. The fact that such arguments are being made somewhere isn't relevant for fairly obvious reasons.

On the other hand, the fact that such arguments are used to intimidate anyone who dares question a certain position is relevant (possibly successfully remember what happened to Summers). In particular it affects what arguments we expect to have been exposed to.

Furthermore in Lewin's case we have no idea what he actually did, thus the only evidence we have is that a committee at MIT decided what he did was bad. Thus to evaluation how much we should trust their conclusion it is necessary to look at the typical level of argument.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T01:56:15.950Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, the fact that such arguments are used to intimidate anyone who dares question a certain position is relevant (possibly successfully remember what happened to Summers). In particular it affects what arguments we expect to have been exposed to.

It isn't at all relevant. To use a different example (coming from the other side of the poltiical spectrum)- one argument made against releasing the recent torture report was that anyone wanting it released was "anti-American" which is essentially the same sort of thing. The presence of such arguments is in no way relevant to any actual attempt to have a discussion about whether releasing the report was the right thing. No matter what position you discuss someone will be using bad arguments to intimidate people into silence. Rise above it.

Furthermore in Lewin's case we have no idea what he actually did, thus the only evidence we have is that a committee at MIT decided what he did was bad. Thus to evaluation how much we should trust their conclusion it is necessary to look at the typical level of argument.

The typical level of argument isn't that when it comes to sexual harassment though. The typical level is a massive mix with some universities overreacting, and other's underreacting. For every example of a university overreacting there's an example of it underreacting. For example here.

But this also isn't relevant for another reason: this entire subthread isnt even discussing the specifics of the Lewin case but a more general question of whehether such issues matter and are worth discussing. It is a red herring to go back to the original situation. But if you really do care about that situation, it might be worth looking at what Scott Aaronson has said on it, I'm curious if this adjusts your estimate at all that this is a minor situation being overblown?

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T02:20:35.150Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The typical level of argument isn't that when it comes to sexual harassment though.

I've been somewhat following the situation, and yes it is. The fact that you would claim otherwise cause me to update away from trusting other claims or judgements you make on the subject.

But if you really do care about that situation, it might be worth looking at what Scott Aaronson has said on it, I'm curious if this adjusts your estimate at all that this is a minor situation being overblown?

I didn't see anything in the article that would adjust my estimate. The only thing there is that some who know told Aaronson that "this isn't a borderline case", given the kinds of things feminists consider "not borderline cases" these days that isn't strong evidence.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T02:37:48.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The typical level of argument isn't that when it comes to sexual harassment though.

I've been somewhat following the situation, and yes it is. The fact that you would claim otherwise cause me to update away from trusting other claims or judgements you make on the subject.

I'm not sure a polite response to that, so let me just ask, given that I just pointed to an example that went in the other direction, maybe it is worth considering, just maybe, possibly, that you are vulnerable here to a combination of confirmation bias and what media sources you are using? Let's as a start focus on a simple example: were you aware of the example I linked to above before I linked to it?

I didn't see anything in the article that would adjust my estimate. The only thing there is that some who know told Aaronson that "this isn't a borderline case", given the kinds of things feminists consider "not borderline cases" these days that isn't strong evidence.

At this point, I think we may be having problems with radically different priors, part of which is that I give Aaronson enough credit that I don't think he's going to go the most radical end of the women's studies department and ask for their analysis to get some idea of what happened.

comment by bogus · 2014-12-15T02:49:40.480Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

At this point, I think we may be having problems with radically different priors

Aaronson's post also states that the incidents occurred online, and for that matter on the MITx platform, which caters to MOOC users, not actual MIT students. Given these factors, I just can't see how MIT's Damnatio memoriae towards Walter Lewin could be anything but an outrageous overreaction.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T02:55:14.709Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure at all the relevance of your comment in the context of what we are quoting. The fact that this was not the regular MIT students has been known for a while. I'm also not sure what that has to do with my comment, since everyone here is in agreement that the removal of the videos was an overreaction. (However, I'm not at all sure how the fact that it was with MOOC users rather than regular students makes any difference whatsoever unless you are talking about a very marginal difference in legal liability.) What is the connection between your comment and the part of my comment that you are quoting?

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T05:46:40.720Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

At this point, I think we may be having problems with radically different priors, part of which is that I give Aaronson enough credit that I don't think he's going to go the most radical end of the women's studies department and ask for their analysis to get some idea of what happened.

He can only get information from the people who handled the case, who are likely to be SJW-types.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-15T12:28:56.026Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He can only get information from the people who handled the case, who are likely to be SJW-types.

These issues are handled in general by university committees. Does your lack of knowledge on this fact cause you to update at all about how good your judgment is for such issues?

Also it is worth noting that "SJW-types" in most contexts is a group which is by and large restricted to certain parts of the internet or some parts of certaind departments on campuses.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-15T00:28:25.113Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another question is whether Lewin is actually guilty of sexual harassment. This raises the question of how exactly "sexual harassment" is defined. Given the kind of things feminists have been trying to get away with (and scarily enough frequently succeeding) with calling "sexual harassment", for example see the recent #ShirtStorm incident (or elevatorgate, or DongleGate), my prior is that whatever Lewin did doesn't mater. That is if you call whatever Lewin did "sexual harassment" then "sexual harassment" doesn't matter, and if you define "sexual harassment" to only include things that matter then Lewin isn't guilty.

Now you might ask how exactly I can be this confident without knowing what exactly Lewin is supposed to have done. Well, Im basing my prior on a combination of two things:

1) We are in the middle of a witch hunt against "rapists" and "sexual harassers", especially on campus, with respectable columnists arguing that we shouldn't let mere facts get in the way of fighting "rape culture".

2) The reason I don't know what Lewin is supposed to have don't is because MIT hasn't seen fit to inform the public of any details. To see how big a red flag this should be, imagine if the authorities had accused Lewin of terrorism, but without even describing the plot he was supposedly involved in, much less any actual details. Would you take the official account at face value?

comment by solipsist · 2014-12-10T01:51:05.187Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Noooooooooooooo!!!!

I don't care if Walter Lewin is actually Stalin in disguise, those videos are awesome.

Does, um, anybody know if someone is linking to a backup somewhere (cough)gwern(cough)?

comment by Sarunas · 2014-12-11T12:17:32.569Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You can watch them on Youtube, e.g on this channel. If you would like to have a backup copy on your own computer, you can download them using, e.g. this Firefox addon.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-10T02:42:20.566Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

oh, they are online various places elsewhere, since the license allows copying.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-10T02:44:25.329Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Richard Feynman may have been a creep-and-a-half, but it would be a shame to stop publishing the Feynman Lectures on Physics on that regard.

(That said, Richard Feynman is dead and therefore cannot sexually harass any of his current readers.)

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-10T06:16:58.477Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

(That said, Richard Feynman is dead and therefore cannot sexually harass any of his current readers.)

A similar argument could be made that a pre-recorded lecture cannot sexually harass someone either (barring of course very creative uses of the video lecture format which we probably would have heard about by now :P ).

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-10T06:29:54.618Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

From the MIT press release, it sounds as if the former professor emeritus¹ has been harassing online students through means other than pre-recorded videos.

¹ Would that be a professor demeritus?

comment by Izeinwinter · 2014-12-10T20:37:08.563Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's MIT - they have lots of compelling lecturers. Far more likely one of them will be tasked with producing a replacement series long before then. Actually, that's probably already in motion.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-12-14T02:12:07.088Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lewin spent 25 years recording lectures. That's a quarter century working on them after he was singled out as the guy to do it, some combination of already being a good lecturer and willing to put in the work. And, no, MIT does not have a lot of compelling lecturers -- the teaching prize is known as the "Kiss of Death Award."

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-10T01:17:15.477Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Recorded on Prediction Book here.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T12:10:11.771Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The key question is whether this action increases or reduces the amount of people that watch the lectures. Has anybody any guesses?

comment by shminux · 2014-12-11T16:17:17.716Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's the key question if you evaluate the ethics of the MIT administration, as opposed to the consequences for Lewin's lessons' popularity.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T17:07:52.078Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Getting a bunch of people who otherwise wouldn't watch physics lectures to watch them because they are "banned" might be a high utillity act.

I mean what more can they do to make physics exicting?

comment by shminux · 2014-12-11T17:53:43.746Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's like you didn't read my reply...

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T23:47:56.874Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I understand some form of consequentialism is the default ethical system on LW.

If the action has positive consequences, why should it be unethical?

comment by shminux · 2014-12-12T00:01:26.159Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think (even) in consequentialism you include unforeseeable consequences into the ethical assessment of an agent. If someone plans to kill their neighbor but instead their polonium-laden coffee turned the neighbor into spider-man, they are still just as immoral, even if the act itself can be retroactively deemed good. You might even hail the agent for helping save the human race from the evil Doctor Octopus, but you certainly would not want to be their neighbor, no matter how consequentialist you are.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-12T00:28:09.865Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The streisand effect is not a unforeseeable consequence.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-12T03:18:04.085Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

True, but then if it was foreseen and used intentionally to bolster Lewin's viewership, then the ethics of the administration is even more questionable. Also, it feels like you are now arguing for the sake of arguing.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-12T12:13:07.578Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it makes sense to do things for a single reason. It's better to look at the likely effects of a decision and then decide whether or not you want to go the road that leads there.

It's still punishment for Lewin to stop hosting his videos. It's likely perceived by Lewin that way. It's perceived by the media as a symbol for it. All the social justice people feel good because of the symbolic act. It still puts the video outside of MIT.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T17:12:09.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I mean what more can they do to make physcis exicting?

Rule 34, of course. It's all physics, dontcha know? :-D

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T17:25:16.722Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The professor probably has hidden all sort of sexual suggestions in his lectures that MIT doesn't want to be associated with.

Scott Aarasson writes that "Prof. Lewin tells the students that they’re about to lose their “Maxwell’s equations virginity.”" The old professor toyed the line of what can be said in todays world of politcal correctness.

That pitch might just work to get people interested.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-08T01:18:09.770Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Last week I was going to ask if anyone had recommendations for nerd-friendly resources on public relations. Then I remembered where I was, and went "ha ha ha!"

This was possibly unfair.

Out of the many people who read Less Wrong, it feels like one or two of them should be able to recommend a good entry point for any given subject. We've got physics, mathematics, statistics, computer science, et al covered, but other areas don't enjoy the same coverage.

It does seem to me that if there were someone on Less Wrong with a background in PR (or constitutional law, or the Yugoslav conflict, or whatever), they'd probably have some ideas about what material other Less Wrongers might find accessible or valuable. With that in mind, does anyone want to volunteer an unusual-for-LW academic or professional background we can mine for information?

comment by satt · 2014-12-11T02:52:25.292Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It does seem to me that if there were someone on Less Wrong with a background in PR (or constitutional law, or the Yugoslav conflict,

To fill that last gap while we wait for an actual expert to arrive, I offer my own reading list on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Actually, it is also a watching list, because I recommend doing as I did by starting with

Watching TV science documentaries mostly soured me on documentaries in general, because I realized they have a woeful information density compared to academic books. But as an introduction to a tranche of history, a lower density documentary* was extremely useful for learning the names & places I needed to know to understand chapter- and book-length treatments of the wars.

If I read someone's name in a book I'm likely to forget it before it crops up again, but if I see ten clips of someone answering questions with their name hovering by their head, I have a good chance of remembering who they are. (Something I like a lot about the documentary is that it's not stingy with the name captions.) It also helps that the series mixes things up with photographs, maps, tourist adverts, state TV cartoons, contemporary news reports (and yes, old Yugoslav TV looks about as you'd expect it to), at least one snippet of hidden camera footage, recordings of phone calls, and amateur camcorder film.

A downside of Death of Yugoslavia is that it's too old to cover the war in Kosovo, but it's still indirectly helpful there because it gives a fair amount of background information about the province. I've also seen allegations that the film's English translations are tendentiously inaccurate, but the only remotely reliable source I have for those claims is a couple of references to ICTY transcripts in the documentary's Wikipedia article.

Once you know the broad structure of the wars, it's time for books. The documentary has an accompanying book, also called The Death of Yugoslavia, and I've yet to find an academic who dislikes it, but I haven't read it. I assumed it was a bit redundant after watching the series, and I wanted something else. I wanted academic books with contributions from many people of different nationalities (to reduce the risk of reading one-sided propaganda), written in English, and available for free somewhere on the Internet. Which led me to:

  • Charles Ingrao & Thomas Emmert (eds.), Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars' Initiative (1st ed. 2010, 2nd ed. 2012)
  • Jasminka Udovički & James Ridgeway (eds.), Burn This House: The Making and Unmaking of Yugoslavia (2000)
  • Sabrina P. Ramet, Thinking about Yugoslavia: Scholarly Debates about the Yugoslav Breakup and the Wars in Bosnia and Kosovo (2005)

The books are all a bit different. Confronting is very much an ivory tower product, with each chapter drafted by its own team, and each team headed by a pair of researchers who wrote a first draft for multiple rounds of critique & editing. The line-up of contributors has 300+ people from 30 countries, including every ex-Yugoslav country, and the introduction describes an arduous composition process which makes me picture a Yugoslavia-themed IPCC. Burn This House is a more straightforward edited volume with chapters by 11 authors from different fields (journalism, theology, history, Yugoslav foreign affairs, broadcasting, academia, and think-tank punditry). Finally, Thinking is basically a compilation of Sabrina Ramet's reviews of "more than 130[!] books about the troubled region", so you get some idea of what many scholars think even though the book is a single person's effort. All three books sport copious references to specific sources.

None of the books are perfect. The e-book of Burn This House is missing the pictures, replacing them with boxes labelled "Image Not Available". Confronting and Burn This House both suffer from typos and similar slip-ups, some of which corrupt dates and other numbers. I made a note of a few examples from my copy of Confronting:

  1. it is not true that in "December 1991 the European Community (EC) had just redesignated itself as the European Union (EU) with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty", because that treaty was signed on February 7, 1992
  2. it is arithmetically impossible for the ICTY's budget to have had "a tenfold increase" from "$276,000" to "$278,500,000"
  3. chapter 9's title page mentions the "three-part documentary film" The Fall of Yugoslavia, which does not exist (the authors confused The Death of Yugoslavia with the later series The Fall of Milošević)
  4. every time it gives the date when Operation Storm began (August 4, 1995), the book gets it right, except in the most relevant chapter, "The War in Croatia, 1991-1995", which mis-dates it to "2 August"

Ramet's Thinking has much less of this, though I have spotted at least one iffy statement. p. 22 says, "[m]ore than 200,000 people died in Bosnia during the war of 1992-5", a number broadly accepted when Ramet was writing, but since halved to around 100,000 (on which see Calic & Mitrović's "Ethnic Cleansing and War Crimes, 1991-1995" in Confronting).

So, worthwhile as these books are, they still call for critical thinking and careful attention. Fortunately, the bulk of the problems which set off my bullshit detector are unintentional bloopers like those I just listed, rather than vague warning signs which give me a creeping sense of "I can't put my finger on specific factual errors, but I doubt I'm getting a full, fair picture here".

Two exceptions do fall into that last category, namely the chapters on the Kosovo war by Udovički in Burn This House, and by Gow & Hadžić in Confronting. Udovički gives me pause by guilelessly citing Washington Times articles, a Cato Institute speaker, and Diane Johnstone. Gow & Hadžić take an oddly uncritical perspective on the West's actions in Kosovo, focusing on evidence supporting NATO's bombing of Serbia & Montenegro, failing to rebut opposing evidence, and arguing against charges of NATO war crimes on the naive basis that the ICTY didn't think the charges worth pursuing (and that NATO ran its mission plans past lawyers before executing those plans).

Other books. My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Mass Atrocities is an edited volume about justice and social reconstruction in ex-Yugoslavia & Rwanda. Quite dry, but some of the chapters have interesting data or descriptions of how war crime courts and other post-war projects work. Sarajevo Under Siege: Anthropology in Wartime is an inessential but engrossing ethnography documenting life in (duh) besieged Sarajevo. Debating the End of Yugoslavia, a just-released anthology springing from this conference, might prove to be a solid literature review in the vein of Ramet, but more up to date.


* Which is not to say that Death of Yugoslavia dilutes its facts to the point of becoming boring. It goes at a steady clip — except for the final half hour, which covers the juddering stop-start progress towards a peace agreement in great detail.

comment by satt · 2015-07-18T15:34:37.834Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've also seen allegations that [The Death of Yugoslavia]'s English translations are tendentiously inaccurate

An update for future readers on the Death of Yugoslavia documentary and the accuracy of its subtitles: idupizdu (heh) on YouTube is the first person I've seen to step up and list specific subtitles they think are tendentiously mis-translated.

They give 17 examples, each comparing idupizdu's transcription of the spoken Serbo-Croat, idupizdu's own English translation, and the documentary's subtitled translation. Most of the examples strike me as fairly innocuous, and I reckon the subtitles' imprecision in general is explained by the usual preference of TV editors for concision over accuracy. Still, I'm grateful to idupizdu for cataloguing examples so others can decide for themselves.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T14:56:39.999Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

PR is a quite wide field. I personally have been multiple times on TV, radio and mainstream newspapers for the topic of Quantified Self.

One of the best books to read on PR is likely Trust Me I'm Lying by Ryan Holiday. Ryan Holiday is a nerd and was Director of Marketing for the clothing company American Apparel. He also did PR for a few authors such as Robert Greene and Tucker Max.

Even when you don't want to use some of the dark arts technqiues he writes about, reading his description of how US newsmedia works, is likely very useful.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-09T23:40:50.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll look into it.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-09T14:06:20.167Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how useful I can be, but I have friends whose opinions I can ask. Fields: botany, biological conservation, zoology, genetics.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-08T14:22:48.008Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I motion to make the Stupid Questions threads monthly.

comment by jkaufman · 2014-12-08T14:58:19.470Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Start posting it monthly then.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-11T22:37:16.032Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Harper's Magazine seems to be featuring LW, among others, in its January 2015 issue in the article "Come With Us if You Want to Live: Among the apocalyptic libertarians of Silicon Valley" (apparently features Vassar, MIRI, and LW survey stats).

It's paywalled, there don't yet seem to be any copies floating around, and I can't get it through my university proxy or Libgen. Can anyone get a copy?

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-12T05:07:46.257Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

And here it is, as a pdf! (I finally thought of trying to log in as a subscriber)

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-12T03:39:57.472Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have it in hard copy, but all attempts so far to scan or photograph it have been foiled. I'm working on it, though; by far the best media piece on Less Wrong I've seen so far.

ETA - To give you an idea: the author personally attended a CFAR workshop and visited MIRI, and upon closer inspection one can make out part of the Map of Bay Area Memespace in one of the otherwise-trite collage illustrations.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-12T13:49:54.866Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

First quote about Lesswrong:

I browsed venal tech-trade publications, and tried and failed to read Less Wrong, which was written as if for aliens.

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-12T14:04:34.727Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have to say I appreciated the first description of LessWrong as "confoundingly scholastic".

comment by dxu · 2014-12-13T03:26:32.888Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...written as if for aliens.

That seems somewhat uncharitable. Most critiques of Less Wrong I've read seem to be predominantly predicated on the fact that it seems "weird". This is unfortunate, in my opinion, as Less Wrong actually has a lot to offer, and it's a shame that people are turned off by their first glance. Articles like this only serve to heighten the effect, especially since readers might not even visit Less Wrong after reading such an article. I have to confess that I wish journalists wouldn't do this sort of thing...

...but that's little more than a pipe dream. Non-academic journalism has notoriously low standards, which means they can pretty much write whatever they want. Which means that if we want to stop getting called out as "weird", we're the ones who're going to need to do something about it...

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-13T14:05:32.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Articles like this only serve to heighten the effect, especially since readers might not even visit Less Wrong after reading such an article.

The article basically says that we are a bunch of weird people with an average IQ of 138. That means that most people who read the article won't think they are at home on LW and most people probably wouldn't. On the other hand readers who want to take part in a high level discussion forum, might be motivated to check out LW.

It's okay that not everybody wants to join LW.

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-12T01:37:45.098Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Frustratingly, I have the hard copy right in front of me, but have no access to a decent camera or a scanner. >:|

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-08T01:14:50.933Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

At the Less Wrong meetup yesterday we played the Less Wrong Name Game. You may know the regular Name Game by another name. It involves all players having the name of a celebrity, historical figure, fictional character, etc., attached to their forehead. The identity of each figure is not known to the player labelled with it, and they must deduce this identity by asking a series of yes/no questions. In the Less Wrong variant, we gave each other identities from the Less Wrong memeplex/ideosphere.

We played this fairly late on at the meetup when we were down to six attendees. Our identities were Peter Singer, Aubrey de Grey, Yvain, Moloch, Philip Tetlock and The Sorting Hat.

This was fun, informative and pleasantly in-groupish. That said, when labelling someone else, I'd suggest being very sure that they've heard of the person you're assigning to them. We now know quite a few obscure facts about Philip Tetlock.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-12-08T11:41:36.933Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

In the spirit of asking personal questions on Less Wrong I'd be pleased if some of the community's brainpower could be directed in my direction. (It's a minor problem.)

After about a year of being unemployed, I found a job (hooray), but it's not a job I want to do for a long time. This means looking for a new job, but due to the long and unpredictable hours of my current job I'm left without time to look for a new job. The time away from the job is spend, in decreasing order: sleeping, quality time with girlfriend, internet, food and personal entertainment/projects. As it stands, I don't feel like I can touch either of the non-work activities without going insane, or at least not to an extent where I can shave of an hour to allocate to looking for a new job (I know from previous experience that doing it for less than an hour doesn't result in anything) without going insane.

Current options (I can see):

  • Find a way to create time (probably by spending less time faffing about on the internet). The risk here is that I'll stop having enough fun things in my life and lose productivity due to lying on the floor crying (which is a real possibility, going by previous experience).
  • Stick with the job and enroll as a working student at something to do with IT (I know what courses I want to take, I just can't translate it properly). This would take at least three years, which means being stuck in a job I don't like and missing classes due to the aforementioned unpredictable working hours.
  • Slack at work and use that time to look for a new job. The downsite here is being caught and losing the job I kinda need.

Ideas, recommendations or "third options" I failed to see?

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-08T16:31:08.600Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

After about a year of being unemployed, I found a job (hooray), but it's not a job I want to do for a long time.

In So Good They Can't Ignore You, Cal Newport argues that the path to enjoying a job goes primarily through being good at that job, not liking the job when first starting it. I suspect there is much to be gained by devoting yourself to your current job and getting good at it. Even if you transition to another job, the self-control and emotional maturity you learn by doing this is likely to transfer.

(He also argues that it's better to be in a field where quality is detectable and valuable; if you're doing commodity work, than being especially good is unlikely to get you far. But I think there's a psychological component as well: it is highly likely your coworkers and employers can detect a shift from disliking the job to liking the job, and you might be surprised at how much that transition will get you in terms of respect and power on the job.)

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-12-13T15:45:31.664Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like reasonable advice, but my reasons for not wanting the stick with the job have less to do with my enjoyment of it and more with it it not being something I'm talented at/uses the skills I'm good at, it isn't a direction I want to go with nor is it very high-paying. I like the job just fine and want to do it properly (to an extent), I'd just enjoy doing something else more.

comment by chaosmage · 2014-12-08T14:14:36.586Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Look around your current company and see if there's another job in there you'd like better (or which would suck less). Switching jobs inside a company is often easier than switching companies.

Ask someone to find a job for you. Family and close friends will often do this for free. Others might if they like you and they trust you'll remember you owe them a favor. Your girlfriend might, because it means you get more time together.

Learn how to slack and not get caught. If you're in an office, there are HowTos. If not, you can still determine which parts of your job are safest to slack off at.

If you haven't, become friends with someone who has the kind of job you want. If you have, deepen that relationship and ask to be introduced to similar friends. As long as you never directly beg for a job, it is perfectly alright to say you're looking for a job in that area.

All of this is assuming that one year of unemployment was entirely due to factors outside your control. This is very unlikely. You could almost certainly raise your employability in lots of ways that you haven't used. Move to a place with a better job market for example, dress better (to use the Halo effect), or whatever it is - basically remove some of the differences between you and the kind of person who gets the job you want.

For more advice, be a lot more specific about your situation. What kind of job do you want, why don't you have it, how much are you willing to sacrifice to get it?

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-12-13T15:49:58.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the advice. I love how Less Wrong is a place where you can say you want to slack at work and someone points you to a good resource for doing so :-)

Changing job within the company isn't an option, due to it being a small cultural non-profit that mostly works with freelance artists.

If you haven't, become friends with someone who has the kind of job you want. If you have, deepen that relationship and ask to be introduced to similar friends. As long as you never directly beg for a job, it is perfectly alright to say you're looking for a job in that area.

Will do. This should be possible.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-08T14:58:50.912Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you're interested in IT, talk to someone in your area working in IT about the options for somebody without a degree in IT to get a job in that field. In the US at least, there are a number of mini certifications that would take a lot less than 3 years. Similarly, you should explore a variety of more easily obtained technical vocations. I am not sure what the options in Belgium are. 3 years spent towards only a slight improvement sounds like a negative return on investment.

comment by Unknowns · 2014-12-08T13:42:00.335Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Are you sure cutting 15 minutes from each of the four non-work things would make you go insane?

comment by dxu · 2014-12-10T04:41:01.054Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How many hours of sleep do you get per day, on average? That seems to me the most plausible option here to cut down on without suffering any psychological or emotional effects, although of course if you're not getting much sleep as it is, it's probably best not to go with this idea. At any rate, if you sleep roughly 8 to 10 hours a day, do you think you could cut down on sleeping for maybe an hour or so, possibly by setting an alarm, or is that unfeasible?

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-10T10:46:54.866Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There're also biphasic and dual core sleep schedules which may reduce the need for sleep to ~6 hours total per day. I believe Yvain uses something like this. (ETA: It seems he does have a biphasic sleep schedule, but it's 8 hours total. (double ETA: source)) As I understand it, more extreme polyphasic sleep schedules are difficult to get into to say the least and aren't compatible with mainstream work schedules.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-10T20:01:20.363Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent point, although you are correct about the difficulty of integrating such a sleep schedule into a regular work schedule. The diagrams in the Wikipedia article, however, seem to imply that sleep episodes need to be more or less equally spaced. Is this always the case? If not, it might be possible to "shift" a nap a little bit earlier or later in order to accommodate a full-sized workday.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-10T21:57:05.141Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Something like the Everyman would likely work if Mathias could take a nap during his lunch break. (If it's a short break, he could simultaneously try out intermittent fasting. :)) I also imagine the 20-minute nap biphasic would tolerate his waiting until the late afternoon to take the nap. I don't know about the others, perhaps someone with polyphasic sleep experience could weigh-in?

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-12-13T15:52:06.063Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I sleep between 6 and 7 hours a day and that's already stretching my ability to deal with that. Biphasic sleep put too much strain on my relationship, so unless something changes in that area (and I hope it doesn't) that option is also out.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-10T16:39:20.348Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

SIA/anthropics strike again? "Fantastically Wrong: The Scientist Who Thought 22 Trillion Aliens Live in Our Solar System":

Here’s what [Thomas] Dick figured. At the time, there were an average of 280 people per square mile in England. And because he thought every surface of our universe bears life, it would naturally occur at roughly the same population density. So from comets and asteroids to the rings of Saturn, if you knew how big something was, you could guess how many beings live there. Thus, Jupiter would be the most populated object in the solar system, with 7 trillion beings. The least populated would be Vesta, the second largest asteroid in the asteroid belt, tallying just 64 million.

Dick, you see, was a very religious man, but also a voracious scientist, one of the last of the so-called natural theologists, who looked for signs of God’s influence in nature. For Dick, it simply did not make sense for God to have created the cosmos just to have it sit around unoccupied. There must be creatures out there capable of enjoying its beauty, because God wants all his work appreciated. In his book Celestial Scenery...

...You might think that living on other worlds might be difficult, but Dick assures us they’re arranged much like Earth, with mountains and valleys and such. The moon in particular has “an immense variety of elevations and depressions,” and while we can’t directly observe such features on Jupiter, Saturn, or Uranus, given their distance, when light hits them it reveals “the spots and differences of shade and color which are sometimes distinguishable on their disks,” thus betraying the uneven surfaces underneath. (We know today, of course, that these are all in fact gas giants.) God also provides atmospheres on other planetary bodies, “but we have no reason to conclude that they are exactly similar to ours.” Mars’ atmosphere, for example, is denser than our own, bestowing the planet that lovely red hue (it’s actually less dense). Others may be so thin that they allow their inhabitants to “penetrate much farther into space than we can do,” with the added bonus that such an atmosphere could “raise their spirits to the highest pitch of ecstasy, similar to some of the effects produced on our frame by inhaling that gaseous fluid called the nitrous oxyde.”...There is, though, the rather glaring problem of the crushing gravity of a planet the size of Saturn. But Dick posits that “the density of Jupiter is little more than that of water, and that of Saturn about the density of cork.” Jupiter, therefore, would have a gravity only twice as great as Earth’s—not so terrible in the grand scheme of things... And he wasn’t even the first scientist to argue that life existed elsewhere in our solar system. Far from it: It was none other than the famed astronomer William Herschel who argued that not only was there life on every planet, but on the sun as well. That blinding glow we see is simply a luminous atmosphere hiding a rocky surface that teemed with life.

(The Presumptuous Natural Philosopher notes: 'while it is true that we have no direct evidence of life on other planets, or indeed solid confirmation that the other bodies of the solar system are rocky and support life, all of this is at least consistent with our current knowledge, and consider the anthropic aspect: with a global population of ~1b in 1837, and a possible system-wide population of 22 trillion or 22,000 times the global population, would not the SIA provide crushing evidence that the other planets are likely inhabited?')

comment by JohannesDahlstrom · 2014-12-10T21:22:57.247Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But Dick posits that “the density of Jupiter is little more than that of water, and that of Saturn about the density of cork.” Jupiter, therefore, would have a gravity only twice as great as Earth’s—not so terrible in the grand scheme of things...

Well, that's kind of close. The average density of Saturn is in fact less than that of water, and the gravity at its cloudtops is only very slightly higher than at Earth's surface. Jupiter's isn't that bad, either, at ~2.5g.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-11T17:35:09.106Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but that's not impressive and you'd expect him to be close to right about those numbers. As I understand it, it's pretty easy to derive the volume of planets from optical observations of diameter, and the mass from their orbits & Newtonian mechanics, and then divide to get net density.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-08T23:20:28.766Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

23andMe/SNPs: so I recently decided I might as well get around to getting my own data since the price has not dropped much for a while and I figured out how to work around the state restrictions. I now have my raw SNP data, and I'll be posting some random notes soonish. Does anyone have any ideas for what to do with this data?

comment by Torello · 2014-12-08T23:41:37.585Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not to derail the post, but I saw on your blog you had IQ testing done. I just had it done, about to get the results.

Do you have any recommendations for resources that will help me make sense of the results? My motivation in taking the test was to see what types of problems/domains I might be good at (relative to my own performance in other domains).

comment by gwern · 2015-01-20T03:08:11.501Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any recommendations for resources that will help me make sense of the results?

Have you read through the Wikipedia articles? Often a good starting point. I can't really recommend any resources - curse of expertise at this point.

comment by Torello · 2014-12-08T23:38:35.161Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The links were broken for me.

I picking up my kit from the post office tomorrow. I'm also gifting all four grandparents with kits for Christmas. I would be very interested to hear what you plan to do with your data.

Look at this site:

http://www.23andyou.com/3rdparty

I haven't looked at it closely yet, but it may prove valuable. I would love to hear suggestions from other people on the site about what I should do with my data, especially given that all my grandparents will do it, which is probably very rare at this point in history.

comment by protest_boy · 2014-12-10T20:00:58.947Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Look at SNPs corresponding to methylation defects, and run a self experiment on any interventions that drop out of that.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-10T20:20:33.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I looked at the 'Genetic Genie' report but there didn't seem to be any major issues and apparently a number of relevant SNPs were dropped in the latest chip (from which my results come).

comment by iarwain1 · 2014-12-08T02:21:28.994Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I recently started reading up on the standard approaches to epistemology. Much of the primary discussion seems to be focused on the question "what constitutes knowledge?". The basic definition used to be that to count as knowledge it needs to be a belief, it needs to be justified, and it needs to be true. But there's the Gettier Problem which points out that there are cases that satisfy the above criteria but which we wouldn't normally consider "knowledge". Numerous alternative "theories of knowledge" have been proposed, new counter-examples have been pointed out, philosophers have split into competing camps (each under its own "-ism" title), and hundreds if not thousands of papers have been published on this topic.

But I'm totally confused. It sounds like they're just arguing about basically arbitrary definitions. So agree on a definition and get on with it. Or define different types of knowledge if that suits you better. And if that doesn't perfectly capture everything we might mean by the word "knowledge", what difference does it make? If they'd taboo the word "knowledge" would there be anything left to discuss?

I assume I'm just missing something. But if in fact they could just taboo the term and get on with more important discussions, then could someone please explain to me why so many highly intelligent, extremely thoughtful philosophers have spent so much time on a (seemingly) ridiculous discussion?

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2014-12-08T11:59:04.749Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with this. However, there are philosophers who criticize this practice. For instance, Peter Unger recently published a vehement criticism of mainstream analytic philosophy, Empty Ideas.

One influential view is that we should not try to "analyze" pre-theoretical concepts, but rather construct fruitful, exact and simple "explications". If you have that view, definitions do not become interesting for their own sake. Rather, terms and concepts are a tool in the pursuit of knowledge, which can be more or less effective. See Carnap's dicussion in Logical Foundations of Probability, pp. 3-20 (esp. p. 7).

That said, it is true that many philosophers continue to write papers on the Gettier problem in a very classical essentialist fashion, along the lines you are describing. The same goes for many other philosophical discussions (e.g. on truth, reasons, etc).

I think that there is a selection effect at work here: those who think this is silly move on to other things while those who think that it isn't keep on doing it. This creates the illusion that more people think this is a good and interesting form of philosophy than is actually the case.

Of course now and again some outsiders get so fed up with this that they write a book on it to attack it. Another similar example of this (in addition to Unger) is Ladyman and Ross's attack on mainstream analytic metaphysics (which treats questions like "is the statue and the lump of clay that is made of distinct or identical objects?). I suspect that many others feel, however, that although this kind of philosophy is a bit of a nuisance, there are other more pressing problems more worth focusing on. For instance, I suspect Nick Bostrom doesn't like this kind of philosophy, but as far as I know he hasn't spent much time criticizing it, thinking there are other problems which are more important to spend time on.

Also, it seems surprisingly hard to weed out. The kind of criticism that Carnap gave is at least a century old, but the Gettier problem and other similar problems are still treated seriously.

An interesting argument for why people who are critical of this kind of philosophy should do something about it is, though, that it presents a great opportunity cost:

Why should something as “quixotic”, “mostly harmless”, and null as academic philosophy rouse any strong feelings whatsoever?

Because of the opportunity cost. Harmless-and-null philosophy is crowding out something better, and has been doing so since 1950 or so. Philosophy did not have to be what it is today; it was made what it is by purposeful, destructive action.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T20:58:16.513Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think the question whether or not core foundations of analytical philosophy are correct is unimportant?

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2014-12-10T12:17:13.468Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, though I understand my comment could be read in that way. I have thought and read a lot about these questions (and written some things) and sometimes get a bit frustrated with them. I have started to become more pessimistic about the possibilities of convincing mainstream philosophers who like to work on these questions ("scholasticism with a dull knife", as a brilliant colleague of mine scribbled on his noteblock during a talk on the Gettier problem).

Perhaps we should instead focus on showing what alternative things philosophers could do. Also we should make alliances with other subjects. People outside the discipline are much more likely to want to fund work on business ethics or medical ethics than yet another go at some concept or metaphysical question.

I think this view of Matti Eklund's has a lot to be said for it:

Without borrowing wholesale Kuhn’s picture of science, I think some ideas Kuhn introduced are important to keep in mind when considering the trajectory of philosophy. Research programs are adopted, consciously or not, by a certain part of the philosophical community: certain tenets are taken for granted, certain notions are regarded as the proper ones to use as tools, and certain puzzles are regarded as the ones to focus attention on. The research program isn’t abandoned simply on the ground that seemingly compelling arguments against its fundamental assumptions are presented. Rather, it is abandoned when research conducted within its confines is no longer seen as fruitful, and when a new alternative, with some promise of success, is available.

If we can't disprove the Gettier stuff, perhaps we can hope that people will get bored of it (if we provide them with a less boring alternative).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T15:57:19.126Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If we can't disprove the Gettier stuff, perhaps we can hope that people will get bored of it (if we provide them with a less boring alternative).

When you can't disprove something the straightforward way is to accept it. In this case you can switch to a more construtivist notion of knowledge. To quote Heinz von Förster: "Truth is the invention of a liar."

Perhaps we should instead focus on showing what alternative things philosophers could do. Also we should make alliances with other subjects. People outside the discipline are much more likely to want to fund work on business ethics or medical ethics than yet another go at some concept or metaphysical question.

The problem isn't that you can't do anything useful with ontology but that a lot of analytic philosophers are confused about the subject and produce papers that provide no value.

Barry Smith does deal with the question of knowledge and get's funded because he actually does something useful. Applied ontology is useful for bioinformatics and other fields likely also would profit from it.

It possible that in one or two decades bioinformatic inspired mapping of mental states is good enough that the psychology folks with their DSM simply loses it's authority.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-08T03:00:13.033Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

why so many highly intelligent, extremely thoughtful philosophers have spent so much time on a (seemingly) ridiculous discussion?

That has been my exact reaction to most of the "big" questions, with a few exceptions.

As for the "justified true belief" "definition", each word in it is already so poorly defined, you might as well give up on it. My personal working definition of knowledge is the capability to accurately predict the outcome(s) of a certain (set of) action(s). Which probably matches an existing camp or two, not that I care.

comment by crazy88 · 2014-12-08T09:13:20.205Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, philosophers tend to be interested in the issue of conceptual analysis. Different philosophers will have a different understanding of what conceptual analysis is but one story goes something like the following. First, we start out with a rough, intuitive sense of the concepts that we use and this gives us a series of criteria for each concept (perhaps with free will one criteria would be that it relates to moral responsibility in some way and another would be it relates to the ability to do otherwise in some way). Then we try to find a more precise account of the concept that does the best (though not necessarily perfect) job of satisfying these criteria.

I personally find the level of focus on conceptual analysis in philosophy frustrating so I'm not sure that I can do justice to a defence of it. I know many very intelligent people who think it is indispensible to our reasoning though so it may well be deserving of further reflection. If you're interested in such reflection I suggest that you read Frank Jacksons, "From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defence of Conceptual Analysis". It's a short book and gives a good sense of how contemporary philosophers think about conceptual analysis (in terms of what conceptual analysis is, btw, Jackson says the following: "The short answer is that conceptual analysis is the very business of addressing when and whether a story told in one vocabulary is made true by one told in some allegedly more fundamental vocabulary.")

Off the top of my head, why might someone think conceptual analysis is important? First, conceptual analysis is all about getting clear on our terms. If you're discussing free will, it seems like a really bad idea to just debate without making clear what you mean by free will. So it seems useful to get clear on our terms.

Myself, I'm tempted to say we should get clear on our terms by stipulation (though note that even this involves a small amount of conceptual analysis or I would be just as likely to stipulate that "free will" means "eating my hat" as I would be to stipulate that it means "my decisions flow from my deliberative process": and many philosophers only use conceptual analysis in this easily-defendable manner). So I would stipulate what various meanings of free will are, say which we do and do not have and leave it to each individual to figure out how that makes them feel (which type of free will they care about).

However, a lot of people don't find this very helpful. They care about FREE WILL or MORALITY or BEING THE SAME PERSON TOMORROW (a.k.a. personal identity). And they need to know what the best realiser of the criteria that they have for this concept is to know what they care about. So if you tell a lot of people that they have free-will-1 and not free-will-2, they don't care about this: they care whether they have FREE WILL and so they need to find out which of free-will-1 and free-will-2 is a better realiser of their concept before they can work out whether they have the sort of free will that they care about. Insofar as I don't think telling people what they should desire (no, you should desire free-will-1, regardless of the nature of your concept of FREE WILL), I don't really have any objection to the claim that such a person needs to carry out a more robust project of conceptual analysis (though I feel no need to join them on the road they're travelling).

All that said, standard epistemology (as opposed to formal epistemology) is one of the worst areas of philosophy to study if you're uninterested in these conceptual debates as such debates are pretty much the entire of the field (where in many other areas of philosophy they play a smaller, though often still substantial, role).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T20:58:21.230Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If they'd taboo the word "knowledge" would there be anything left to discuss?

Yes.

If we want to have an AI that knows things we have to be specific about what knowledge is. If we have unrealistic naive concepts we will never get the knowledge into the AI.

If you want an university to teach knowledge, then it makes sense to have an idea of what the university is supposed to teach.

If you want to decide whether someone has depression, than it makes sense to ask what you mean with the sentence: "Alice has depression." Currently it might mean: "A trained psychologist has found that Alice fulfills the criteria of the DSM-V for depression." It would be possible to get saner way to deal with the issue if we would have a better grasp on the underlying ontology.

Based on certain ideas of knowledge people reject certain approaches as pseudoscience because they don't fulfill the criteria of what's believed to be necessary for knowledge generation.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-08T01:25:17.931Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Further thoughts on Imaginary Expertise...

I'm currently studying a final-year undergrad course in the mathematical underpinnings of statistics. This course has three prerequisite courses, all of which have the word "statistics" or "statistical" in the title. While the term has obviously come up beforehand, it was only a couple of chapters ago that we were given a formal definition for what a "statistic" is, (in the context of parameter sufficiency).

It occurred to me that if someone was ignorantly mouthing off about statistics, and you wanted to shut them up, you could do a lot worse than to ask "so, what exactly is a statistic?"

I've noticed beforehand that "so what exactly is money?" has a similar effect for economics pseudo-blowhards, and "so what exactly are numbers?" for maths. It's worth noting that these questions aren't even the central questions of those disciplines, (insofar as such broad categories have central questions), and they don't necessarily have canonical answers, but completely blanking on them seems indicative of immature understanding.

I've now taken to coming up with variants of these for different disciplines I think I know about.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-10T02:05:07.428Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is somewhat unfair. If you already think someone's a blowhard, and you want to take the wind out of their sails, go for it, but a lot of people who have some legitimate expertise won't have a definition at their fingertips.

Or if they do know, you'll tip them off that you don't think much of them.

Or they might give a legitimate answer that differs from your own flawed understanding. In which case you're just a jerk to judge them by it.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-10T09:59:12.412Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Reiterating what I said to ChristianKI, it's not about seeing whether the person has a "correct answer", but whether they're already aware it's a non-trivial question.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-10T17:35:06.341Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'd still say it's unfair. I was burned by a question like this in a job interview. Would you agree that that sort of high-pressure context is a poor place to ask questions like this?

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-10T18:39:54.712Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how the conversation got here. Your question is reminiscent of a friend or partner talking about the perceived-wrongdoing they suffered at the hands of a mutual acquaintance, before asking "don't you agree it was wrong of them to do that?"

It's not obvious to me that interviews are a bad situation for questions like the ones I describe in the OP. I don't know the circumstances of the interview you experienced, though I can believe it was conducted poorly and you have my sympathies.

There are obviously social consequences to going round putting people on the spot with awkward questions all the time. If people can't exercise good judgement in this matter, I don't think anything I write will save them from themselves.

comment by Punoxysm · 2014-12-10T19:33:17.972Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'll clarify: I think the ability of people to respond adequately to these questions depends as much on their confidence as their knowledge, and that interpreting their answers is very subjective. In general, asking your suggested questions are a good way to make someone look dumb or fluster them, but not the best way to correctly identify their expertise. Only in limited contexts are questions like these asked in good faith.

They're still valuable to think about because if you're ever in a position to receive these sorts of questions, you should be prepared to give at least a couple types of concise and competent-sounding answers, whether the question is asked in good faith or not.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-08T16:35:47.508Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

completely blanking on them seems indicative of immature understanding.

Or of question ambiguity. If the word exists on many layers, and they're not sure which one you're asking about, they might get stuck there. I notice that I mostly agree with your questions (a 'statistic' and 'money' are both fairly crisp ideas that have a clear use in their respective fields, and so even just pointing at what they're used for is a decent definition), but that bramflake's suggestions all seem problematic.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-09T04:28:04.555Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Money" is a vague idea. It's defined as something that can be traded for goods and services, but everything can be. It's just a question of how quickly, reliably, and consistently it can be done. Out of necessity, economists have given precise definitions of "money". At least six of them.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-09T14:27:10.635Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Money" is a vague idea.

Sort of? The sentence that immediately follows seems precise enough to me, and is the same idea (though different words) than the definition I had in mind. If someone jumps to, say, "root of all evil" or "shared fiction" instead of "trade," that does seem informative about their blowhard-nature.

comment by Metus · 2014-12-08T10:58:02.390Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Chemistry: "What is a bond between two atoms?" or "What is a reaction?"

Linguistics: "What is a word?" or "What is a language?"

comment by Princess_Stargirl · 2014-12-13T04:12:21.451Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't really like these questions. "What exactly is a number?" doesn't really have an answer. I can give the standard answer about representing integers as certain sets. And I give the details of constructing the real numbers either as cuts or Cauchy sequences of rationals. But neither answer is very satisfying imo. Saying that integers "are" certain kinds of sets seems wrong to me (as it does to Tim Gowers). My feeling is I don't know what numbers exactly are.

I understand you probably are going to attack someone's expertise if they blank and can't say anything. But people react to things differently. I could imagine a version of myself who was didn't realize she needed to spout information even if she couldn't answer the question fully.

The other problem is my best friend studied computer science not mathematics. She is however much more intelligent than myself. Her knowledge of math is really quite good. She can give the "standard answer" to "what is an integer" but cannot give the details of a construction of the real numbers (I just asked her).

So I really think we should be careful about these gotcha questions.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-13T14:27:36.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I might edit the OP. It's not about there being a right or wrong answer. The whole point of asking the question is to discriminate between "'what exactly is a number?' is a deep, nebulous, philosophical question we don't have a satisfactory answer for" and "'what exactly is a number?' is a trivial question I simply haven't asked myself yet".

It's also not necessarily about posing awkward questions to other people, but about mechanically assembling these questions for any given topic, which we can then ask ourselves.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-13T22:15:03.206Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A number is anything that acts numbery under certain operations.

Integers are very numbery. Reals are pretty numbery. Polynomials and matrices are still pretty numbery. Strings and graphs are somewhat less numbery. Rubber chickens are scarcely numbery at all.

"What is a mathematical operation?" is maybe a better question.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-14T01:00:07.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Inspired by this, I am going to come up with an amazing new philosophical theory of truth based on Perl.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2014-12-10T19:54:34.868Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This seems incredibly obnoxious and I don't understand how it's helpful. It reminds me of a little kid playing the "Why?" game. Regardless of whether someone can provide a precise exact definition for "money", I think we all understand what it is on some level. You don't have to define every single word you use in a conversation, because the definitions are already assumed to be understood... that's the whole point of having words. I agree that there are situations where two people might fundamentally disagree on the definition of a word they are using and unless they define it they will never get anywhere (e.g. utilitarians and deontologists arguing over what is "good"), but I don't see how these situations are like that.

I'm not an economist or statistician but:

Money: an item with no inherent worth of its own, but is understood to have a specific value and can be traded for goods and services

Statistics: facts about the world that are expressed in quantitative form

I don't know how either of those advanced my understanding.

Also I have had the opposite problem with academia, I find it really annoying how every professor feels like they have to spend the first day of class on "what is design?" or "what is psychology?" or "what is logic?" or etc. etc.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-10T23:12:01.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, what is logic?

Would some hypothetical alien civilisation have a notion of propositional logic, complete with equivalents of syllogisms and modus tollens and all that stuff? Would any of it be different to ours? Would they even have a concept of "proposition" or is the whole endeavour a weird parochial human construct for navigating the world? It kind of feels that logic and mathematics exist independently of logicians and mathematicians, somehow. But how? Is this actually the case? What is logic "made of"? Is this question even meaningful, and what does that say about how the universe works?

This is interesting. It's certainly way more interesting than never asking what logic is. Most people never do, and yet they still use the word "logical" in an intuitive, folksy way, convinced that they know exactly what it means. The word that comes out of the everyday user's mouth is loosely pointing to the same set of ideas that philosophers talk about when they talk about logic, but the everyday user has never bothered to follow the pointer to see where it goes.

The point of asking questions like this is to find out what ideas we take for granted without being aware of the complexity behind them. As a material object, contemporary fiat money isn't unusual, but as an artefact of human culture it has some of the weirdest properties you might possibly hope to dream up. In order to appreciate this, you have to think about what money is. Plenty of people are happy to talk about quantitative easing, the gold standard or the Eurozone as if they know what's going on, and yet they haven't asked themselves this question. Maybe they should ask themselves this question, is all I'm saying; and if they're not in a position to ask that question to themselves, maybe someone else should ask them.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T20:09:46.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know how either of those advanced my understanding.

They probably didn't because your definitions are wrong.

Until relatively recently, money did have intrinsic value. A trivial example: gold coins.

And a statistic is a technical term in statistics which has nothing to do with what you said.

comment by Plasmon · 2014-12-09T07:38:59.981Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Languages : what's a syllable?

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-08T01:46:59.869Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a fun exercise!

Genetics: "what is a gene?"

Evolution: "what is a species?" / "what is an adaption?"

Physics: "what is energy?"

comment by Metus · 2014-12-08T12:19:59.604Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Physics: "what is energy?"

I am a graduate student of physics and I am inclined to say that I now know even less about what energy is.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-08T20:49:46.549Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, that's easy. It's just another word for wakalixes.

(Two irrelevant remarks: 1. Sorry, that webpage is eyeball-bleedingly ugly. 2. I conjecture that the last two words in the excerpt are why HPMOR!Harry chose to give his army a name that enabled him to call himself General Chaos. I suspect, more precisely, that at some point Eliezer read that bit of Surely you're joking... and thought "hmm, General Chaos would be a good name for a supervillain or something".)

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-08T17:06:26.798Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. If I had to give an answer, I'd say it's the stuff that's conserved because the laws of physics don't change over time. But that's pretty theoretical - maybe an extensional definition would be better.

comment by Emile · 2014-12-08T16:03:19.384Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe completely blanking on that question is a sign of having studied some physics?

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-08T19:01:27.846Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The difference is that the guy who studies physics can explain why the question is difficult.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-08T03:02:07.462Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

These seem pretty easy to answer even for a non-expert.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-08T12:13:04.852Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

These seem pretty easy to answer even for a non-expert.

It is variously said that we share 99% of our genes with a chimpanzee, 95% of our genes with a random human, and 50% of our genes with a sibling. Explain how these can all be true statements.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T14:29:06.251Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Without wanting to claim complete coverage of the subject, let me talk about a few relevant issues::
Let's look at what's the word 'gene' supposed to mean in the first place.

A while back there was the belief that DNA mainly exists to be translated into proteins. A gene was supposed to be a sequence that's translated into a protein.

Today we now that a lot of DNA exists to be translated into RNA without producing proteins. Depending on the circumstance you might count RNA producing DNA as genes or not.

When you take a string of DNA that can produce a protein it's possible that different splicing on introns produces a different protein. Humans seem to have something between 20000 and 25000 protein coding genes but >100,000 proteins. That drastic difference in numbers was a surprise to everyone when we did the human genome project.

There seem to be multiple copies of some genes. It's not clear whether you count them multiple times and you can't count repetitions in DNA well because we sequence DNA via shotgun sequencing.

If you compare the gene for human insulin with the one for champanzee insulin you can count it as both having insulin. You could use the match score between human insulin and champanzee insulin. You could say that it's a different gene because it's not exactly the same.

In the last case you have to think about what "the same" mean. Is it enough that the same protein gets produced or do you also want the exact same DNA? There are 64 different 3 base pair combination and only 20 (+1) different amino acids, so some amino acids get encoded by multiple base pairs. Those changes could however change the amount of protein that get's produced. When producing human insulin in the lab one for example switches those base pairs to maximize protein production.

Lastly it's not quite clear which DNA sequences actually get translated into proteins. One test is to try to let yeast or another organism produce the protein based on the gene and that's expensive. It's also possible that yeast simply lacks something to read that particular gene. In absence of that proof we have imperfect computer models that suggest to us which DNA sequences look like genes and which don't.

The official protein database Uniprot therefore has Tremble (uncurated data, with errors) and Swissprot (curated data, that's supposed to be more trustworthy)

That uncertainity is high enough that the official number of human protein-coding genes gets still quoted as 20000-25000.

In addition to looking at the sequenced DNA you can also look at single-nucleotide polymorphisms. Those chips go for a selection of specific mutations and could also be used as a basis for number of how two organisms differ in their genes. At the moment the lastest 23andMe chip looks at 577,382 atDNA SNPs.

comment by tut · 2014-12-09T10:38:44.701Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

we share 99% of our genes with a chimpanzee

99% of our genes have a chimp equivalent and vice versa

95% of our genes with a random human

In 95% of something or other of their genome two random humans have the exact same allele. In the other 5% they are no more similar than a human and a chimp are in the 99% that are shared between the species.

and 50% of our genes with a sibling

Of the loci where humanity have different alleles two whole siblings have identical alleles. This is a theoretical number for average siblings in a population with no inbreeding or any population structure, actual siblings tend to be much more similar.

comment by V_V · 2014-12-08T16:44:45.899Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Non-expert there, but here are my two cents:

we share 99% of our genes with a chimpanzee

If you sequence your DNA and the DNA of a random chimp, and consider only the substrings that can be identified as genes, and measure string similarity between them, you will get a number between 98% and 99%, depending on the choice of string similarity measure (there are many reasonable choices).

95% of our genes with a random human

Never heard that before.

50% of our genes with a sibling

Suppose an unique id tag was attached to all the gene strings in the DNA of each of your parents. Even if the same gene appears in both of your parents, or even if it appears multiple times in the same parent, each instance gets a different id.
Then your parents mate and produce you and your sibling. On average, you and your sibling will share 50% of these gene ids.
Of course, many of these genes with different ids will be identical strings, hence the genetic similarity measured as in the human-chimp case will be > 99.9%.

comment by Unknowns · 2014-12-08T13:33:55.076Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Saying this as a non-expert, the percentages are obviously taken over different gene pools (e.g. there is no reason to count genes in common with a chimpanzee when you are comparing two humans or two siblings.)

comment by gmzamz · 2014-12-08T13:07:48.868Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This confuses me. I find it highly unlikely the average human shares more genes with a chimpanzee than another human and even more unlikely that siblings only share 50% of their genes.

probability estimates (statement is true):

  • 99% genetic similarity to a chimpanzee = 75%
  • 95% genetic similarity to a random human = a low nonzero number
  • 50% genetic similarity to a sibling = 0%
  • 95% genetic similarity to a random human given 99% genetic similarity to a chimp = 0%

I am going to research this.

EDIT: findings:

  1. Researching an an actual number is exceeding difficult. About 50% of the pages are non-secular websites (this may be my non-optimized google searching). The rest are a mix between technical articles and articles formatted for the average human (average being living in a English speaking and developed nations).

  2. 99% genetic similarity to a chimpanzee

Mostly correct. Estimates range between 95%^[1] and 98.8%^[2]

  • 95% genetic similarity to a random human

Incorrect. Estimates are at 0.1%^[1]. I did not notice other numbers.

  • 50% genetic similarity to a sibling

Incorrect as you stated it (comparing total gene dissimilarity). You might want to reword it since you were probably comparing what percentage of gene can be attributed to a parent.

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC129726/ [2] http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-08T13:37:14.390Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This confuses me. I find it highly unlikely the average human shares more genes with a chimpanzee than another human and even more unlikely that siblings only share 50% of their genes.

It puzzles me as well. I believe the answer is that there are multiple concepts of "shared genes", but I have never been clear what they are.

comment by Dahlen · 2014-12-08T17:08:00.636Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That depends on the meaning of "our". A smaller and smaller subset of genes is being considered, as you shift focus from chimp to human to sibling. In the chimp example, the statistic may as well have been made for your entire genome, including stuff like genes coding for cell membrane (which doesn't vary wildly with species/taxonomy, more likely to vary with tissue type -- don't know, not a biologist). In the sibling example, you take for granted that the greatest part of your genome is going to be shared by virtue of both of you being human, exclude those genes, and only count the rest.

If you establish similarity/difference by counting the same set of genes (for instance all of them, like with chimps), the difference between you and your sibling might only differ by very, very few percentage points down from 100%, and that's not exactly telling us anything useful, is it?

At least this is how I understand it, and why that type of sentence doesn't confuse me. Again, not a biologist, sorry for possible stupid mistakes/inaccuracies.

comment by Ilverin · 2014-12-08T15:47:53.563Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Disclaimer: Not remotely an expert at biology, but I will try to explain.

One can think of the word "gene" as having multiple related uses.

Use 1: "Genotype". Even if we have different color hair, we likely both have the same "gene" for hair which could be considered shared with chimpanzees. If you could re-write DNA nucleobases, you could change your hair color without changing the gene itself, you would merely be changing the "gene encoding". The word "genotype" refers to a "function" which takes in a "gene encoding" and outputs a "gene phenotype"

Use 2: "Gene phenotype". If we both have the same color hair, we would have the same "Gene phenotype". Suppose the genotype for hair is a gene that uses simple dominance. In this case, we could have the same phenotype even with different gene encodings. Suppose you have the gene encoding "BB" whereas I have the gene encoding "Bb". In this case, we could both have black hair, the same "Gene phenotype", but have different "Gene encodings".

Use 3: "Gene encoding". If we have different color hair, then we have different gene encodings (but we have the same "genotype" as described in "Use 1"). This "gene encoding" is commonly not shared between siblings and less commonly shared between species.

So "we share 99% of our genes with a chimpanzee" likely refers to "Genotype".

"95% of our genes with a random human" likely refers to "Gene phenotype".

"50% of our genes with a sibling" likely refers to "Gene encoding".

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-09T04:32:40.851Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly. You have to be an expert in order to know about all of the edge-cases that make definitions difficult.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-08T03:34:57.837Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Try it-- "species" is definitely messy.

comment by solipsist · 2014-12-08T03:45:38.436Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Off the top of my head, "A collection of organisms which can interbreed with each other and produce fertile offspring", for sexual organisms, and "what humans decide is a species" for asexual organisms. Would an expert be able to do better? The word seems too old and the concept to vague to have a tight definition.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-08T12:12:51.963Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Species" is not a clean concept in a world with viruses, clines, and ring species.

More precisely, "species" is a map marker made by someone who likes discrete, mostly tree-like maps (legacy of Aristotle?)

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-08T20:29:15.694Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Species" is one rung on the phylogenetic ladder. Whether a given edge case should be classified as a species or as a subspecies can be debated, but in practical terms it is useful to have a tree-like map, because it allows you to assess the phylogenetic distance between two groups.

Also, compared to the range from class to genus, "species" is relatively clear-cut.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T15:04:00.585Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

but in practical terms it is useful to have a tree-like map, because it allows you to assess the phylogenetic distance between two groups.

That works as long as a virus doesn't transfer genes from one species to the next and thus invalidates the tree structure.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-10T20:24:40.255Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It depends on your goal. What a lot of non-biologists don't realize is that the ladder keeps going after species down through subspecies and beyond. In terms of bacteria, which do undergo horizontal gene transfer, we generally refer to them by their strain in addition to their species. The strain tells you where you got the culture, and, in lab settings, what it's used for. CAMP Staphylococcus aureus is used for the CAMP test, for example -- because you know where the strain comes from, you can be reasonably confident that it will behave like other bacteria of that strain. If you have a different strain of Staphylococcus aureus, you expect that it would probably also work for this test, but by the time you get as far away as Staphylococcus epidermidis, it's quite unlikely that you could use it successfully for the CAMP test.

In theory, you could do a DNA extraction and see if your organism has the right genes to do what you want. In practice, it's usually cheaper and easier to use a strain that you know has the right characteristics -- even among bacteria with 20 minute generation times, genetic drift is still pretty slow, and what little selective pressure there is is pushing for the strain to keep its useful properties (i.e. we throw away bad cultures).

The phylogenetic tree model is used because it makes useful predictions about the world, not because it represents the way the world actually is.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T23:46:09.391Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The phylogenetic tree model is used because it makes useful predictions about the world, not because it represents the way the world actually is.

Yes. I'm not denying that such models do have use. But on the other hand people outside of biology do often consider them to represent the world as it actually is.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-11T01:24:32.393Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think we're in agreement here.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-12-09T17:14:27.805Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Only if you define the tree genetically and not via ancestorship. Trying to go from one approach to the other is bound to be messy.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T17:52:06.777Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Only if you define the tree genetically and not via ancestorship.

In the age of DNA sequencing all the good maps are done based on genetic data.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-08T06:19:52.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All of the organisms descended from a most recent common ancestor; we pick the MRCA semi-arbitrarily based on criteria like "sexual compatibility of descendents".

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-08T13:52:26.217Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

we pick the MRCA semi-arbitrarily based on criteria like "sexual compatibility of descendents".

"I know we're both humpback whales, but he's nowhere near as adventurous as I'd like him to be..."

comment by solipsist · 2014-12-08T11:05:55.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think species can be paraphyletic. If we sent a family of llamas into outer space and they evolved into Space Llamas, there would be no common ancestor which included all terrestrial _L. glama_s but excluded L. astrollama.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T15:01:04.436Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are various genetic issues that make individuals sterile. We don't say that they are suddenly another species just because they are sterile and thus not sexually compatilbe.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-09T14:01:57.981Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And there are groups (like oribatid mites) where parthenogenesis is very common. No sex at all, though males occur. (Here's a challenge: you think of anything common among vertebrates, then look for invertebrates (including single-cellular animals) for whom it's not common. The sea-dwellers are very good for this search.)

Some people would tell you that only Homo sapiens exists as a species. Suppose a 'species' exists as a set of disjointed populations, which will never meet each other (or the probability of it happening is so much smaller than of them going extinct)...

comment by tut · 2014-12-08T13:54:12.527Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, that's a clade or a monophyletic taxon. Most species are clades, but as solipsist points out not all species are necessarily clades, and most clades are not species.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-09T16:42:18.421Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, it's more specific because of based on criteria like "sexual compatibility of descendants".

comment by solipsist · 2014-12-08T02:27:48.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Save energy, I think a smart 10-year-old would be able to give decent answers to all of those. You pretty much can't use the words without knowing what they mean.

Edit I do think energy is a good one, though. Or maybe "why is energy conserved?"

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-08T18:02:19.445Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure this has something to do with Imaginary expertise. If you ask a 10 year old kid what money happens to be, it probably gives you a straightforward answer.

On the other hand an expert might understand flaws of various different definitions of money and therefore won't give you a straightforward answer.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-08T18:19:28.673Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This isn't about whether or not one can provide a straightforward answer. It's whether or not one is even aware that the question has a non-obvious answer. Saying "actually, that's a complicated question" is a more virtuous answer than providing some unsubstantiated, ad-hoc response that falls apart under the slightest scrutiny.

It most poignantly ties in with imaginary expertise as both arise from the illusion of explanatory depth, (i.e. "I am familiar with this, therefore I understand it")

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-12T20:30:51.616Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate your reasoning, but...

First, I assume this exchange takes place among a group (part of my personal definition of “mouthing off”).

I further assume that your goal is to disparage the “pseudo-blowhard”.

Given these assumptions, your strategy can only succeed if you “blank” the pseudo-blowhard AND if the group doesn’t believe your question is trivial AND ALSO if the group does not confuse this blanking with a reasonable reaction to a surprisingly difficult question.

I think the odds are against you. Furthermore, if you do not succeed, I predict the group will think less of you. Your question will seem like a waste of time, an unwelcome redirection of the conversation, or a lame attempt to express your disagreement with the speaker.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-12-13T14:36:21.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Some people seem to have read the OP and thought "this guy is describing a way to socially humiliate people". I would have liked them to read it and think "this guy is describing a way of testing one's self-perceived understanding on a topic, informed by observations on how social humiliation seems to work".

comment by solipsist · 2014-12-08T02:49:48.681Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like 'what is a statistic?" and "what exactly is money?". I'm not sure how I feel about "what exactly are numbers?", though. Quaternions are called numbers, surreal numbers are called numbers, 2-by-2 matrices with real coefficients are not called numbers, integers mod p are called numbers... It's a messy term that doesn't correspond to any simple territory as far as I'm aware.

comment by protest_boy · 2014-12-10T20:03:02.421Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have a question about a seemingly complex social issue, so I'm interested if anyone has any insights.

Do protests actually work? Are e.g. the Ferguson/police crime protests a good way of attacking the problem? They seem to me to have a high cost, to be deflecting from the actual problem, and not enough sustained effort by people who care to push through to actual social change in the U.S.

comment by Sarunas · 2014-12-12T16:28:24.753Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

According to Stephen Pinker, protests can turn individual knowledge into mutual knowledge

In individual knowledge, A knows X and B knows X. In mutual knowledge A knows X, B knows X, A knows that B knows X; B knows and A knows X; A knows that B knows that A knows X ad infinitum. And this is a difference that has profound consequences.

For example, why is freedom of assembly enshrined as a fundamental right in a democracy and why are political revolutions often triggered when a crowd gathers in a public square to challenge the president in his palace. Well it is because

when people were at home everyone knew that they loathed the dictator, but no-one knew that other people knew that other people knew that they knew. Once you assemble in a place where everyone can see everyone else everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows that the dictator is loathed, and that gives them the collective power to challenge the authority of the dictator who otherwise could kick off dissenters one at a time.

This suggests that protests may lead to something in a particular case when most people already have individual knowledge, but they do not have mutual knowledge yet. For example, suppose those people really care about some issue and have idea what to do, then if participating in protests is risky, that signals that all those protesters are willing to take risks in order to achieve their goal (curiously, in this particular case, if protesting is safe (as it is in most Western countries), the signal might be less clear). This way individual knowledge becomes mutual knowledge. So if it is the lack of mutual knowledge that prevents their goals from being achieved, then protests might help. Otherwise, if it is something else that prevents solution (e.g.lack of idea how to solve a problem, various game theoretic (or coordination) problems that are not solved by going from individual to mutual knowledge, etc.) from being achieved, they are probably much more likely to be useless.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T20:11:52.057Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Do protests actually work?

You need to define your goals. Do protests work to achieve what?

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2014-12-10T20:36:30.844Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Em..change in policy I suppose, isn't all this protest business about it?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T21:13:36.727Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Which "change in policy" do Eric Garner protests aim to achieve? A rewriting of how indictment or grand juries work? Which "change in policy" did Occupy aim to achieve?

comment by protest_boy · 2014-12-11T01:04:30.217Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that's one issue with protests. Many people gather with ill defined goals that are tangentially related to what most would agree is the actual problem. The "actual problem" for Occupy relates to unequal distribution of wealth, and the "actual problem" for the recent police brutality protests relates to systemic bias in the criminal justice system. I'm not sure if there actually is this sort of systemic bias, nor am I sure of the implicit claim that "things have gotten worse."

So, what do protests actually achieve, and is that effective in making things better? It seems that they do raise some level of awareness in the sense that more eye balls are on the issue for a short period of time. It's unclear to me that that's effective though, especially since it's a double edged sword. Raising awareness about the issue makes the negative externalities (like rioting and looting) more likely to be picked up and emphasized about the media.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T01:08:01.963Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if there actually is this sort of systemic bias

A recent Yvain blog post might be helpful.

comment by Ixiel · 2014-12-12T14:20:59.758Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my area, protests are largely social gatherings of like minded people. I asked protesters on three occasions last year and only two of a couple dozen protesters thought they were reaching an audience that does not already agree. I stress this was not a scientific study, but at least average for anecdote.

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-12-10T20:10:28.910Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I was wondering that too; personally, I have no idea how to even begin answering the question. It would seem that at least some protests do work, as evidenced by the civil rights movement during the Martin Luther King era; but I don't know if this is true in general.

comment by knb · 2014-12-11T23:23:47.037Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think protests work if there is already a critical or near-critical mass of support in the relevant decision-making body (legislature, courts, civil service, etc.) Protests rarely change minds, but they can give already-sympathetic people a new impetus to take action in this area rather than another.

ETA: It also helps if the protesters have specific, focused demands, like "end segregation," or "bring the troops home."

comment by wadavis · 2014-12-10T21:26:27.968Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have a look at this post from Death is Bad Blog. It won't answer your questions, but it will help you shine more light on it.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-11T08:17:54.007Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Are e.g. the Ferguson/police crime protests a good way of attacking the problem?

What problem? That Blacks aren't free to steal from and intimidate Asian store owners and then charge at a police officer going for his gun?

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-11T11:57:51.963Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Whether the protesters are trying to solve a problem that actually exists is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether protests work, and you're making your irrelevant point in an extremely confrontational red-tribe-blue-tribe way. This is exactly what the whole "politics is the mind-killer" thing is about, and doesn't belong here.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T16:22:55.443Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Whether the protesters are trying to solve a problem that actually exists is entirely irrelevant to the question of whether protests work

How so? If the problem doesn't actually exist, the protests are guaranteed to NOT work. They might have a variety of different consequences but they cannot work in the sense of solving that problem.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-11T18:09:22.572Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I meant that whether these specific protesters are attacking a non-existent problem isn't relevant to the effectiveness of protesters in general. One could make an argument that there's a more general tendency for protesters to attack problems that don't really exist and therefore can't be solved, as a reason why protest is generally ineffective, but I'm pretty sure alienist wasn't doing that.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T18:57:40.685Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

isn't relevant to the effectiveness of protesters in general.

There is no good answer to the question of the effectiveness of protesters in general. The answer will always be "It depends".

comment by bogus · 2014-12-11T12:24:16.711Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree. alienist's answer was a bit flippant, but he's pointing out a real issue. If we're not even sure that there is a problem to be solved, how can we assess what protests are supposed to achieve? His links discuss newly-released grand-jury testimony (among other things) that is significant evidence, and should rationally lead us to alter our views of the Ferguson incident.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-13T08:16:58.234Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, in the parent I listed one potential "problem" that the protests were trying to "solve". You might not think of it as a problem (and I would agree), but at least some of the protesters seem to. In any case the protests probably have in fact helped to "solve" that problem. Given what happened to Officer Wilson, many cops are going to decide that they don't want to risk being the target of the next "anti-racist" media circus/protests and simply avoid policing black neighborhoods.

comment by harshhpareek · 2014-12-09T06:42:38.480Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any LessWrongers at NIPS (in Montreal) this week? Perhaps we can have a mini meetup. Send me a PM or reply if you're here. I'm here till Sunday.

comment by Vika · 2014-12-09T21:21:10.579Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm here until Thursday.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-08T01:09:40.513Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There should be a sustained writing speed measurement unit. I would name one after Wildbow: 1 bow = 100k words a month. An average fiction writer would do well to write at 0.1 bow.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-08T01:13:21.559Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted, though you should probably adjust for quality somehow. As Eliezer wrote here:

There are stories which are better than Worm, and stories which were written faster than Worm, but I don’t know of any epic which was ever written faster and better than Worm.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-08T11:45:30.184Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would imagine quality would have a separate unit, and (speed x quality) would be a third unit defined in terms of the first two, either with its own name or just referred to as "(quality unit)-bows".

comment by fezziwig · 2014-12-08T22:02:48.781Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So I guess the quality unit would be the Wild?

comment by CAE_Jones · 2014-12-09T04:36:29.127Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm seeing a doctor in two weeks, in an attempt to obtain some sort of something to attack my chronic akrasia (chronic in the sense that it appears to get worse over time). Bloodtesting is planned. Aside from thyroid hormone, iron and testosterone, is there anything specific I should ask about? If I get the chance to bring up alternatives (I.E. citing uncooperative sleep to try and aim for a -afinil), are there any in particular I should focus on?

For the record, I tried Focalin briefly in 2010, followed by Prozac. The Focalin appeared to help with focus but not choice, and either dropped off after the first week, stopped taking effect on something useful, or was placebo all along. Prozac didn't strike me as doing much of anything (or at least, I was not happy enough with the results to bother refilling after several months).

I want to try Creatine whenever possible, which probably means next week at the earliest. Should I wait until after the tests?

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-11T00:59:43.460Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't found creatine to have much mental effect, but once you start trying it I recommend trying some intense exercise - creatine made it dramatically more comfortable.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-09T02:17:13.058Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

table top particle accelerator

http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/20141108164731.shtml

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-09T17:56:18.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From what I understand, it's only table top if you don't count the laser.

comment by MrMind · 2014-12-09T11:14:36.732Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At last! Research in plasma accelerators is gaining momentum...

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-14T05:41:54.346Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The paper-machine household has finally obtained some of this mythical Soylent (v1.2) stuff that has been making waves about the internets.

Shipping: Originally ordered on June 17; shipped December 10, arrived December 13. Supposedly reorders ship in 1-2 weeks -- we shall see.

We intend this to be a breakfast/lunch substitute, as both of us are too busy to prepare breakfast and tired of buying lunch. Of course the boyfriend is one of those rare folks (around here, at least) who both enjoy cooking and are talented at it, so dinner will remain his demense when he has the time for it.

Good things:

  • One pitcher = one day's supply (2000 kcal) is brilliant design. Due to shaking requirements for mixing Soylent, one has to trust somewhat implicitly the pitcher's seal, but the thing seems sturdy enough.

  • The taste is best described as neutral, confirming other reports. The boyfriend and I expected something more like a traditional protein shake, but this is thinner and practically tasteless. Perhaps vaguely like soy milk, but much less strong? It's believable that someone could eat this exclusively for long periods of time.

  • Improved digestive health almost immediately. Boyfriend reported mild heartburn, but could be confounded by other food. No sign of the increased gas some reported with 1.0 and 1.1.

Bad things:

  • Pitcher has no markings, which makes measuring for meals a bit awkward.

  • Soylent residue becomes very difficult to remove, like most meal substitute drinks.

  • Slightly unpleasant grittiness that doesn't go away with increased shaking.

  • Still really expensive, even when you compare it to eating out. Worse when you compare it to cooking.

comment by MrMind · 2014-12-15T08:39:22.478Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please keep us updated!

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-11T17:49:22.180Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A recent paper looks at the geography of plagiarism. Paper is here. They looked at preprints on the arXiv and used sophisticated algorithms to look for text reuse that was not attributed. Not too surprisingly, certain countries have much higher reuse rates. China is one of the high rates, but it is interesting to note that Bulgaria and Egypt had higher rates- but that may be due to small sample sizes in those countries. An article about their work can be found here.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-15T03:42:36.329Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How long until someone produces a suspiciously similar paper?

comment by MathieuRoy · 2014-12-11T05:43:34.315Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

David Pizer started a petition to promote more anti-aging research.

"In 40 to 100 years, if the world governments spent money on research for aging reversal instead of for research on building weapons that can kill large numbers of people, world scientists could develop a protocol to reverse aging and at that time people could live as long as they wanted to in youthful, strong, healthy bodies."

To sign the petition, go here

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T16:56:47.169Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Before promoting a petition it would make sense to write a good one on the topic.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-11T12:12:41.797Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Currently at 13 signatures, I'm not optimistic about its prospects.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2014-12-10T18:45:46.190Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've noticed that for many LW posts - and EA posts to a lesser extent - it's very common for a comment on them to get more upvotes than the post itself. Since it's usually a lot harder to write a post than to comment on it, it seems like this isn't incentivising people to post strongly enough.

This also seems to apply to facebook posts and likes in the LW and EA groups.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T19:29:14.251Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

it seems like this isn't incentivising people to post strongly enough.

You don't want to incentivise people to make top-level posts, you want to incentivise them to contribute excellent content, and it doesn't matter much if it's in the top-level post or the comments.

The guy who thought the value of the product must reflect the labour that went into it was Karl Marx. He was wrong.

comment by Jabberslythe · 2014-12-11T17:23:10.293Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think that people making more top level posts makes the community better off. I think that a new post that someone has put work into tends to be a lot better content overall than the top comment that might just be stating what everyone else's immediate thought about this was. Top level posts are also important for generating discussion and can be valuable even if they are wrong for that reason (though obvious they are better if they are right).

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-12T15:13:26.059Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The guy who thought the value of the product must reflect the labour that went into it was Karl Marx. He was wrong.

Well, his actual claim is that any product which sells for less than its inputs cost will not exist in the long run, which is correct, because its production does not sustain itself. But this seems to be an empirically valid description of the common impression (even among Marxists) of Marx.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-12T15:43:55.371Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, his actual claim is that any product which sells for less than its inputs cost will not exist in the long run

As far as I remember, that's what he got to in the third volume of Das Kapital, but the first volume is very certain that the value of any product is a direct function of the amount of labour that went into it. I think the observation that Marx was a proponent of the Labour Theory of Value is uncontroversial? He didn't invent it, of course, but his name is strongly associated with it.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-12T16:31:43.100Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the first volume is very certain that the value of any product is a direct function of the amount of labour that went into it.

I'll have to wait until I get home to find the relevant section in my copy* to make sure I haven't misremembered it, but as I recall he claims a widget's value is lower bounded in the long run by the cost of labor because otherwise that laborer will starve / switch to doing something else.

That qualifier is very important, as with it the statement is a correct observation about equilibria, and without it the statement is an incorrect empirical claim (people can make mistakes and misinvest resources in the short run) that typically takes on a prescriptive or moralistic flavor.

* It's been a long time since I read Marx for a reason. I'm not seeing it in the 40 pages I was expecting it to be in, so who knows if it's there.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-13T05:49:00.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, thanks to the magic of the 'net let me quote from Volume 1:

A use value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or materialised in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article. The quantity of labour, however, is measured by its duration, and labour time in its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours. ...

We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production. ...

On the one hand all labour is, speaking physiologically, an expenditure of human labour power, and in its character of identical abstract human labour, it creates and forms the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labour is the expenditure of human labour power in a special form and with a definite aim, and in this, its character of concrete useful labour, it produces use values.

I think Marx is quite clear on what he believes creates the value of the product.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-13T17:56:36.285Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think Marx is quite clear on what he believes creates the value of the product.

I think the first part of that sentence is very dangerous: Marx does not use the writing style most modern readers of English are used to. For example, "plainly" can be either read as stating that the underlying reality is as simple as the description (as I think most moderns would interpret that sentence) xor that the underlying reality is less simple than the description (as most moderns would interpret that sentence if he used "simplistically" or "naively" instead). I'm moderately confident that the second case is the intended one: in the first volume, Marx makes a sketch, that he then refines again and again and again in the volumes to follow, and so to call him "very certain" of the sketch in the first volume is misreading him (or, at least, misrepresenting him).

All Marx is doing here is acknowledging that all commodities can be traded for each other, and that means there is some idea of a 'common standard of exchange-value,' and the obvious 'natural currency' in which to express exchange values is a sort of generalized human time. Consider this section a few pages later:

Since the magnitude of the value of a commodity represents only the quantity of labour embodied in it, it follows that that all commodities, when taken in certain proportions, must be equal in value.

The following section also serves as evidence that he is using generalized human labor just as a reference for prices:

Skilled labour counts only as simple labour intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labor, a given quantity of skilled labor being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labor.

To step back, Marx spends several pages discussing the difference between "Use value" and "exchange value"- the first is what we call 'utility,' and the second 'price,' and Marx typically uses "value" to refer to "exchange value"- consider this paragraph:

The use-values, coat, linen, %c., i.e., the bodies of commodities, are combinations of two elements--matter and labour. If we take away the useful labour expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man. That latter can work only as Nature does, that is by changing the form of matter. Nay more, in this work of changing the form he is constantly helped by natural forces. We seen, then, that labour is not the only source of material wealth, of use-values produced by labour.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-15T20:36:32.955Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

All that feels a bit too post-modern to me :-/ Even if Marx's thinking changed in between Vol 1 and Vol 3, that's not a good thing for the theory and cherry-picking is still cherry-picking.

Without going into what Marx really believed, let me just point out that the labour theory of value is widely accepted by Marxists (those that still remain) as the correct one, see e.g. here.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-15T23:17:52.517Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even if Marx's thinking changed in between Vol 1 and Vol 3, that's not a good thing for the theory and cherry-picking is still cherry-picking.

! The point isn't that Marx changed his mind, but that, among other communication problems, he makes many broad statements and then carves away caveats, either afterwards or in some definition elsewhere (that hopefully you've remembered correctly). For this particular example, though, consider the paragraph that you cut out with an elipsis:

Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power. The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average labour-power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time that is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour-time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time.

This is an explicit disavowal of the simplest possible interpretation of the labor theory of value, the claim that "labor in = value out." The 'labor' he's talking about isn't actual labor, but hypothetical generalized labor, and it basically exists just to be a natural currency.

let me just point out that the labour theory of value is widely accepted by Marxists (those that still remain) as the correct one, see e.g. here.

Sure, and I agreed on that point up here. LTV, as I see it, runs into huge Motte and Bailey problems, where the actual theory is inoffensive as a "dollar theory of price," in which the 'price' of a commodity is the 'number of dollars it costs', but the conclusions people want to use it for are "the past doesn't matter, everyone owns everything!" As far as I can tell, though, Marx stayed in the motte, and this is where the "I'm not a Marxist" statement comes from.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T01:20:28.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

he makes many broad statements and then carves away caveats

Which makes his thesis kinda hard to pin down, doesn't it? So what precise, hard, falsifiable statements about the nature of value of a good does Marx make, you think?

the actual theory is inoffensive as a "dollar theory of price," in which the 'price' of a commodity is the 'number of dollars it costs'

That's not inoffensive at all. There is a great divide between thinking the value comes from the supply side and thinking the value comes from the demand side. The theory is inoffensive if you make it say nothing useful, but that's not how it has been read.

Marx stayed in the motte

Did he now? You think he didn't make any connections between the LTV and his characterization of the bourgeoisie as parasites inasmuch all the value is created by the labour of the workers?

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-15T03:43:49.139Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't posts get ten times the karma as comments?

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-15T12:52:40.111Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Only in Main. In Discussion, votes are only 1 karma, and I have noticed something similar to what the GP is describing in Discussion.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T17:20:54.012Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Now we know what kind of sex the British politicians do not like.

comment by RowanE · 2014-12-11T12:11:16.008Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The law change is just "if it was already illegal to put it on a DVD and sell it, now it's also illegal for other kinds of porn", so if anything I'd consider it a step forward, making the laws consistent and bringing already-existing shitty laws into the spotlight. Although possibly I'm having too much faith in the public and in their ability to influence the government.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T16:58:26.909Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure that the actors are politicians instead of burocrats.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-09T18:32:03.178Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm glad my Stupid Questions monthly thread idea was well received. I'm also thinking of making a monthly thread for lifehacks in the spirit of this post, though without calling them munchkin ideas, as I worry that might seem weird without context. Any thoughts on that, or should I just go ahead and try to post one?

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-12-08T04:51:30.147Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Does anyone consider the recently deceased Nathaniel Branden an important intellectual? He based his career on making grandiose claims about "self-esteem," yet mainstream psychological research doesn't support his views:

https://medium.com/matter-archive/the-man-who-destroyed-americas-ego-94d214257b5

This relates to the phenomenon of getting on in years and realizing that the books which mattered to you earlier in life don't seem to have aged well when you revisit them.

comment by gwern · 2014-12-09T01:04:50.943Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I had no idea Nathaniel Branden was a psychotherapist, or that he's partially to blame for the self-esteem movement! I always vaguely assumed he was just an Objectivist.

Does anyone consider the recently deceased Nathaniel Branden an important intellectual? He based his career on making grandiose claims about "self-esteem," yet mainstream psychological research doesn't support his views:

Being wrong doesn't mean you weren't important. The self-esteem movement affected a lot of schools and was pretty popular; to the extent he's to blame for it, then he was indeed important.

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-12-08T04:18:19.239Z · score: 2 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently when the adherents of an ideological movement seize political power, they put a lot of effort into rewriting the story of the nation state's recent past which casts the previous order of affairs in a bad light compared to the allegedly improved way the new rulers say they'll run things. That explains why, for example, American historical accounts of the Revolutionary War usually don't explore whether the revolutionists had reasonable grievances, or whether King George III had a defensible case for maintaining and asserting his authority over the American Colonies. Americans have come to a collective decision to cut off inquiry into those questions, at least as far as indoctrinating the young goes, because certain kinds of answers throw into doubt the legitimacy of the way things actually happened.

I wonder how much of that has happened on a larger scale to Western civilization because of the political success of adherents to the Enlightenment. Since I discovered Neoreaction and it has poked at the splinter in my mind, I have engaged in crimethink about whether we have an impoverished understanding of social alternatives because the Enlightenment's intellectuals and their heirs have worked very hard, and very successfully, at making sure that we get a heavily biased view of how things worked in the before-times which makes it look terrible compared to its replacement. Yet the splinter in our minds remains. Just ask questions about whether we really benefit from democracy, equality or feminism, and the emotional reactions from some people (David Brin, for example) show genuine anxiety on their part. These excessively emotional responses resemble how reminders of death, called "mortality salience" in Terror Management Theory, activate people's anxiety buffers to try to suppress distressing thoughts.

Did our ancestors in the West invent the Enlightenment, with its emotionally soothing message about human nature, to manage some kind of terror we should confront directly instead of trying to hide from it?

comment by gjm · 2014-12-08T09:38:11.158Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

American historical accounts of the Revolutionary War usually don't explore whether the revolutionists had reasonable grievances

For what it's worth, I've been in the UK since about age four and everything I learned about the American Revolution took the view that the Americans were basically in the right. I don't know how typical this is, but if it is then one explanation (not the only one but maybe the most plausible) is that actually that's the conclusion most reasonable people would come to when looking at the available evidence, and the most plausible explanation of that is that actually the Americans were (according to typical present-day values) in the right.

crimethink

I don't think this sort of overheated language is helpful. No one is going to put you in prison (or even fine you, or even mock you gently) for thinking that current views of the Enlightenment may be misleadingly positive.

These excessively emotional responses resemble how [...]

Emotional responses are also what one would expect if a thing has (really, truly) been established only with difficulty and much opposition and turned out to be extremely beneficial, and if the person making the response is worried that it's being attacked again.

It is usually best to determine that something is wrong before undertaking to explain the mental pathologies that produce it. (The idea described at the other end of that link is about doing this to beliefs, but I think one can say much the same about attitudes.)

Did our ancestors [...] invent the Enlightenment [...] to manage some kind of terror

This seems like one hell of a leap. There are things other than fear of death that lead people to respond emotionally to things. I already mentioned one above, but there are plenty of unflattering ones if NRx has already made it impossible for you to take seriously the possibility that admirers of "Enlightenment values" might be sincere and sane: for instance, maybe people like David Brin have so much of their personal identity invested in such values that criticism of them feels itself like a personal threat. Or maybe they don't really believe in the Enlightenment any more than you do, but they recognize (as you do) the extent to which present-day Western society is built on it, and fear the consequences if it's overthrown.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-11T04:04:48.098Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, I've been in the UK since about age four and everything I learned about the American Revolution took the view that the Americans were basically in the right. I don't know how typical this is, but if it is then one explanation (not the only one but maybe the most plausible) is that actually that's the conclusion most reasonable people would come to when looking at the available evidence, and the most plausible explanation of that is that actually the Americans were (according to typical present-day values) in the right.

http://www.gwern.net/Mistakes#the-american-revolution

comment by gjm · 2014-12-11T09:42:47.294Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting: thanks.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-08T15:46:44.050Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It is usually best to determine that something is wrong before undertaking to explain the mental pathologies that produce it.

applause

comment by MichaelAnissimov · 2014-12-08T21:45:44.733Z · score: 0 (14 votes) · LW · GW

It's crimethink in the sense that people automatically downvote anything critical of the Enlightenment.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-08T23:49:33.186Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

people automatically downvote anything critical of the Enlightenment

Evidence?

(It looks to me as if most of the unthinking downvoting on LW is done by neoreactionaries. But being not at all neoreactionary-minded myself, it's likely that it looks more that way to me than it is in reality.)

Of course, even if your claim were true that wouldn't suffice to make "crimethink" an appropriate word; the whole horror of the term in 1984 is that the Party tries (apparently quite successfully) to control not only actions, not only words, but thoughts, and did it by means a little more brutal than downvotes.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-11T14:22:35.076Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Backing up your general observation. Someone just went ahead and upvoted advancedatheist's original comment, upvoated Michael's comment, and then apparently downvoted every critical comment in this subthread. If they can give an explanation for why they think your responsed to advanced deserved a downvote I'd be really intrigued to hear it.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T15:32:15.266Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Nearly any political discussion has a few people downvoting on LW. If that's the standard every political discussion is crimethink.

There also the idea that policies should be judged on their merits and not based on whether or not they are enlightment policies and as such a post focusing on criticism a policy based on being an enlightenment policy might be downvoted for reasons having nothing to do with "crimethink".

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-08T10:03:43.842Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

The Enlightenment began with Epicurus. Perhaps even earlier, but Epicurus is the earliest source we have. Perhaps for as long as one man has said "God", another has said "Man".

I've been reading "Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Revolution", by Matthew Stewart, since seeing a quote from it on the current quotes thread. That, and another book I read this year, "Victorian Sensation", suggest a different history of all this.

This is just a quick outline, or I'd have to spend days writing this up. "Epicurus' Dangerous Idea", as Stewart calls it, was simply this: we live in and are part of a material universe. There are no gods, or if there are they don't care about us, or they're metaphors for our own ideals, but at any rate they're not up there in the sky watching out for us and answering our prayers. We are all we have, and we are made of atoms that have come together for a little while, and when we die and they come apart again, we are gone.

Well, of course we are, any of us here might say, but following Yvain's method of reading philosophy backwards, we should ask, what made this idea so offensive to people from the ancient Greeks onward? God, or the Gods, were part of people's everyday mental furniture. The Gods taught us virtue and set our foot on the right road. Evil acts were, quite literally, offences against the Gods. God made all this: when you looked at the world, you were looking at the work of God. God moved the sun, or the sun was a god. God brought sickness, and recovery from sickness. God hardened the heart of the Pharoah and inspired the saints. God quickened the seed in the ground and in the womb, and God decreed that our years were three score and ten.

And Epicurus said "Atoms" and started an itch that never went away.

From that we eventually got to really practising the idea, universal now, that you can find out how stuff works by looking at it. And we've never found anything to contradict Epicurus' original vision. People like Galileo and Newton, and all the scientists before them, put foundations under Epicurus' speculations by making major discoveries about how the universe worked, and God was nowhere to be found. "I have no need of that hypothesis" runs the anecdote of Laplace and Napoleon, but the idea has been around since ancient times. The poet Kabir wrote in the 15th century:

There is nothing but water in the holy pools.
I know, I have been swimming in them.

All the gods sculpted of wood or ivory can't say a word.
I know, I have been crying out to them.

"Victorian Sensation" is a book about another book, Robert Chambers' "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation". (If you know Chambers' English Dictionary, that was published by Robert and his brother William, who were publishers and literary figures in Scotland.) "Vestiges" was first published anonymously in 1844, and ran through many editions. It was nothing less than a summary of the scientific knowledge of the time, as it related to the structure of the universe, the geological history of the Earth, and the development of species. This was well before Darwin's Origin. Darwin read Vestiges and considered the book an important one.

The atheistic implications of the work were evident to everyone, even though Chambers, like many writers on these things before him, was careful to attribute the marvellous clockwork to the divine hand setting it in motion. But what need of God in a universe that ran by itself?

What sustained the social order in earlier times, the social order that neoreactionaries like to praise so much, was religion. When God is not in His Heaven, overseeing all, rewarding the good and punishing the evil, whither Man? But how can that belief be sustained, in the face of the inexorable power of the single most dangerous idea of all: that you can observe a lot by looking?

John C. Wright is the only example of a Christian neoreactionary I've encountered. There may be others, but all the others I've seen here on LW or on the sites that have from time to time been linked to, say not a word of religion, beyond praising its moral character. None profess any faith themselves, although other than advancedatheist's choice of moniker, I have not noticed them professing atheism either. They want the virtue of past times without the religion that was its foundation. They are silent about how to expel the elephant from the drawing room without letting the bull into the china shop.

To find virtue in a material world: a grand project. Who will carry it out?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-08T10:26:13.862Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

And an even briefer sketch of now a neoreactionary might answer that last challenge.

The problem in former times of virtue, the neoreactionary might say, is that people did not know enough to be able to demonstrate what is virtue and what is vice. People have always known right from wrong, but they have not known how they know, any more than they knew how they see. Having God as the explanation, even though it be a false one, had the beneficial effect of protecting their knowledge from their ignorance. When people generally began to see that there was no God (including those who believed they believed, but whose God had dwindled to the shadowy ghost in the background), virtue decayed, for we are all like Chesterton's fence-lifters, discarding a thing, however useful, when we notice that we do not see the reason for it.

But now, the neoreactionary might continue, in the last century, or perhaps just the last few decades, we have discovered the material origin of virtue. This knowledge comes primarily from evolutionary biology and neuroscience, and history reinterpreted in its light. We know how societies flourish and how they decay. We know how we know right from wrong. With this new knowledge, we shall restore virtue to the world.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-08T21:29:22.005Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To which the progressive might even more briefly respond:

Yeah, our people tried some of that in the early 20th century. The project was supposed to make society better by making better people. It applied scientific knowledge of Darwinian evolution, Mendelian genetics, and the science of psychology that gave us the ability to measure feeblemindedness and mental degeneracy.

It was called eugenics. It didn't work.

Its failure was not that it was pseudoscience. Quite a lot of it wasn't. Its failure was that it involved giving a political and technical elite a kind of power over other people that couldn't not be abused — abused to control others; abused to enact ancient prejudices like antisemitism, and new ones like middle-class fear of the poor and rural; abused to allay some people's fears of a collapsing, degenerating society at the expense of other people's bodies and lives.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T18:21:52.766Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you overrate the influence on science on German nationalism. The idea that blood relationships matter doesn't come out of science. It's a much older idea.

Or are you speaking about something that doesn't have something to do with Germany?

and new ones like middle-class fear of the poor and rural

What are you talking about? Late 20st century US thought?

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-09T23:49:57.711Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you overrate the influence on science on German nationalism. The idea that blood relationships matter doesn't come out of science. It's a much older idea.

The specific ideas behind Nazi eugenics and "racial hygiene" derive — in part — from earlier eugenics and racial-hygiene movements in the US. See, for instance, the Indiana eugenics act of 1907 and, more pointedly, the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which combined legislation against mixed-race marriages with compulsory sterilization of the "feebleminded".

and new ones like middle-class fear of the poor and rural

What are you talking about? Late 20st century US thought?

No, early-20th-century US thought,. I should have been more clear: by "new" I meant "new at the time", not "recent as of today". The idea that poor rural families were inbred hives of criminality, madness, and race-mixing was one of the motivations behind American eugenics of the early 20th century.

Thing is, it's true that many mental disorders are heritable. In that regard, the early eugenicists were not operating entirely on pseudoscience. But they went wrong in believing that if nations refused to use law and violence to control people's reproduction (and, ultimately, to kill the "unfit"), that society (or "the race") would degenerate.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T03:08:53.577Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

After WWI Germans did try to copy American culture and might have copied scientifically motivated racism. On the other hand that stopped a bit with the Nazis. They didn't care about copying the US. "Blut und Boden" ("blood and soil") was a quite old idea.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-10T03:58:33.740Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Racial hygiene" isn't really the same as "scientific racism". The latter seems to be used more to refer to the anthropological theories of racial superiority, now euphemistically called "human biodiversity" by their advocates.

But "racial hygiene" policies included the elimination of "undesirable" gene lines within the advocates' favored race — first through forced sterilization, and later through killing.

The German 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring reads like an echo of Harry Laughlin's 1922 Model Eugenical Sterilization Law, which was the model for the sterilization provisions in Virginia's 1924 law.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T13:28:56.579Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In 1933 in some sense yes. Hermann Muckermann who was co-author of the law did study in the US. By 1936 the Nazi however forbid him from speaking publically.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-09T00:16:00.074Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's the main failure mode of ethical naturalism. "You must die, because SCIENCE!"

What would the progressive atheist's answer be to the challenge of producing virtue from matter? I'd try writing that one as well, but I think I'd end up caricaturing it.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-09T03:11:30.587Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's the main failure mode of ethical naturalism. "You must die, because SCIENCE!"

My libertarian shard says it's the main failure mode of politics: "You must die, because POWER!"

What would the progressive atheist's answer be to the challenge of producing virtue from matter?

No idea, but mine is game theory coupled with compassion — a System 2 mathematical insight and a System 1 intuitive and trained response. Ethics comes down to symmetry among agents: my good is no more or less The Good than your good. Humans can recognize this both as a matter of explicit mathematical-philosophical reasoning, and using intuitive-emotional responses (which can be trained). Virtuous humans both recognize and feel that symmetry, and vicious humans do not recognize or feel it.

The basic ethical failing that leads to atrocities is not usually the lack of System 2 ethical reasoning, but the sentiment (or System 1 trained reaction) that those people are not really people; they are some sort of mockery of people who do not deserve compassion. See Rorty, "Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality".

What we see in the history of eugenics politics is the notion that society can progress by freeing itself from having to care about certain kinds of people — so that they can be subjected to medical violation, mutilation, or extermination. But this is the same thing that we see in religious antisemitism or any number of other sources of the dehumanization meme. Dehumanization works the same evil whether it's couched in the language of progressive science, the Lutheran language of Nazi antisemitism, or in the order to the Albigensian crusaders: "Kill them all; God will know his own."

Rorty's critique of ethics since Plato has a weird echo when we're talking about eugenics, though:

It would have been better if Plato had decided, as Aristotle was to decide, that there was nothing much to be done with people like Thrasymachus and Callicles and that the problem was how to avoid having children who would be like Thrasymachus and Callicles.

But speaking of science and ethics, I think it's really kinda weird that humanity had the Golden Rule from traditional sources since antiquity, but didn't invent the math to describe it until the mid-20th century — the same time frame in which engineering gave to politics the ability to destroy the world.

comment by bogus · 2014-12-09T02:08:55.347Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It should be noted that a moral tradition needs not be theistic in nature, much less Abrahamic-Zoroastrian - Confucianism is a case in point here. And even a "material universe" cosmology may be sen in a variety of quite diverging ways. A particle physicist may argue - much as Democritus and Epicurus did - that our ontology should be a reductionist one, founded on some kinds of irreducible elements, and that it is a moral imperative to understand these tiny elements of nature by running huge, incredibly costly and perhaps risky experiments using particle accelerators.

Nonetheless, others, perhaps more interested in ecologies and human societies, may object that particle physics tells us quite little about our everyday lives and how we can best thrive in a nurturing milieu (as in both an ecology/environment and a community/society), which many people would indeed consider as a "right", or at least as something ethically relevant. Perhaps they would have us focus on very different things to "look" at: maybe indigenous peoples - as societies that have "stood the test of time" in a very real sense - and even our closest animal relatives in the Hominidae taxon (which, incidentally, are now significantly endangered due to human activity). So, yes, there is clearly a relevant conflict here, but it's far subtler than what you're referring to. In the end, medieval philosophers and theologians may well have the last laugh, as "reason" and scientific inquiry turn out to be the slaves not just of our passions, as Hume would have it, but even moreso of our ethics and morality.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-09T10:22:28.240Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A particle physicist

You are taking particle physics for the totality of science throughout, cherry-picking a part of science most remote from everyday concerns, ignoring the rest of the elephant. We know the chemical elements, the methods of taking them from the ground, how to combine them in a million ways to produce the cornucopia of our everyday life. We know how plants grow and how to make them grow better. Because of that we build better buildings, make better roads, and grow better and more plants than our ancestors. We can talk to each other around the world in seconds and travel there in hours. Science! It works!

Perhaps they would have us focus on very different things to "look" at: maybe indigenous peoples - as societies that have "stood the test of time" in a very real sense

Who is indigenous, and what is the test of time? We are all indigenous to this planet, and for better or worse, the ones that people call "indigenous" are conspicuously not standing the test of time since encountering the ones that picked up the material ball and ran with it as fast as possible. Throughout history, the test of time has been the test of whether or not you got overrun by your neighbours. I'm not arguing that might makes right, but might certainly makes might.

In the end, medieval philosophers and theologians may well have the last laugh, as "reason" and scientific inquiry turn out to be the slaves not just of our passions, as Hume would have it, but even moreso of our ethics and morality.

That leaves out the fact the science works, and the more you do it, the more it works. It is not the slave to our passions, but the tool of our passion to make everything in our lives better, and we use it to the full. Science isn't cathedrals to particle physics, it's food on the table, houses to live in, and matter rearranged to our desire. Religion works only until everyone realizes there's no-one behind the curtain. The curtain hangs in tatters.

comment by bogus · 2014-12-09T11:52:00.142Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You are taking particle physics for the totality of science throughout, cherry-picking a part of science most remote from everyday concerns, ignoring the rest of the elephant.

Perhaps I was not clear enough, but that wasn't my intention - far from it. I was trying to highlight the diversity of scientific inquiry, by choosing a few representative fields. The elephant has many, many parts to it, and some of them are distinctly less useful or likely to "work" than others. But note that you can't even talk about what's likely to "work" without adopting some normative standards first, as you implicitly did in your reply: and our general worldview, with its cosmology (what's out there? or - even more critically - what's important? What should we be paying attention to?) and morality ("what should we do?") is going to have a big impact on such choices, in any but the most crudely-technocratic or runaway-capitalist society.

These are not trivial issues - indeed, scientists of such caliber as Einstein and Oppenheimer were famously forced to grapple with these when they found out - much to their horror and dismay, if popular accounts are to be believed - that "science" had given them the ability to build catastrophically destructive weapons. And our own MIRI is often said to be facing similar concerns in its work on AI.

Whether "religion" is relevant here depends mostly on how you define the term. But AIUI, many scholars would argue that Confucianism qualifies as one, despite it being quite non-theistic, and more in the nature of a collection of moral maxims, and of course, a basic worldview highlighting such principles as cultivating basic kindness, showing loyalty and care where appropriate, and participating in rituals that foster a sense of unity and social harmony. Many people would argue that such a "religion" could be highly appropriate for our hyper-"material" world - whatever it is that we choose "material" to mean.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-10T10:10:21.250Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But note that you can't even talk about what's likely to "work" without adopting some normative standards first

"Working" is as objective as it comes. Nobody wants to die of smallpox, and smallpox vaccination works, while prayers don't. Nobody wants to die at sea, so sailors have to know the tides, and how to determine where they are. No-one wants to starve, so farmers have to know how to make their crops thrive. They won't get that knowledge by praying for revelation. In short, people have purposes, and can observe whether what they are doing to achieve them is working. The better they can find out what works and what doesn't, the better they will achieve those purposes, whatever they are.

That is the pressure, objectively and insistently exerted by nature, to find things out. The carpenter making a better table has no need of God to tell him what sort of glue will give way and what will hold fast.

Confucianism is an interesting case, but I think it was sustained not by its own virtue but by the power of the centralised and authoritarian Chinese state, with which it was a good fit with its emphasis on loyalty and deference to superiors. The scientific revolution didn't happen there. So theocracy isn't the only thing that can stop science from happening.

As for a religion appropriate to the modern world, the traditions of the past are available to all in the Internet age. Anyone can pick and choose or make their own. But I see little future for mass religions based on fictions and unenforced by state power.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-10T01:34:17.692Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There are a lot of problems with what you've wrote here, and I think that gjm's comment is a pretty good response. However, there is a glimmer of truth in your comment. There were definite attempts to portray pre-1600s cultures as more stagnant and backwards than they were. There are two clear-cut examples. The first is the invention of the Iron Maiden) which was not an actual medieval torture device. (It is worth noting here that actual medieval tortures were still pretty bad. See Pinker's "Better Angels of Our Nature" for some discussion of the better documented horrors.) The second is the claim that medievals by and large believed that the world was flat. While, some did so, and even some church fathers did so, they were by and large a minority. The belief became more common as a Protestant slur against Catholics and gradually became a more general belief.

More generally, there have been issues of narrative. There's a standard narrative, often taught in high-school physics classes that portrays no major development in physics between Aristotle and Galileo. This is deeply wrong. Galileo and others of his time-period would not have made the advances they did were it not for people like Oresme, Buridan, and al-Bitruji. Among other important results, they developed the idea of "impetus" which was a precursor to the idea of momentum. It is unlikely that the thinkers in the late 1500s and early 1600s would have made the progress they did without these ideas. But it is also important to note that this may to some extent not be an issue of motivated falsification of history or anything like that. It may simply be a combination of that simple narratives are easy and that it would have been difficult in past times to actually have access to many historical sources. In many ways, one has more access today to many medieval texts than someone in the 1800s would have had.

Also, it really, really doesn't help to use overblown terms like "crimethink" and it is especially dangerous to fall into the thought-process that what one is thinking is somehow persectuced. Once one falls into that trap it makes the cognitive dissonance much more difficult to deal with when one finds data that might cause one to adjust one's beliefs. The fact that all the examples above are well known to historians and widely discussed shows how far any of this is from anything resembling throughtcrime.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-11T04:36:38.090Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Little observed fact: The Enlightenment was a (small r) reactionary movement, in the sense of wanting not just to preserve the status quo but to go back to a Greco-Roman status quo ante, and declaring the intermediate period the "middle" or "dark ages".

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-08T08:46:21.757Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Doesn't this line of thinking pretty much end up portraying a sort of sociopathic troll — a person who possess no values of his or her own, but who is able to provoke to anger anyone who has values — as the ideal?

comment by drethelin · 2014-12-08T08:58:58.326Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The ideal debater is probably not the ideal person

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-08T09:44:36.997Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, I agree. And I don't think we should conclude very much about the value of the Enlightenment from the fact that it's easy to troll David Brin.

comment by wobster109 · 2014-12-11T03:46:03.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wait But Why wasn't too popular last time around, but I find the site really interesting, so I'm trying again. I don't agree with everything there, but I do honestly think it's interesting to read through. Here we go!

Discussion topic of the week from a few weeks back: How long would you live if given the arbitrary choice? http://waitbutwhy.com/table/how-long-would-you-live-if-you-could-choose-any-number-of-years

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-09T21:26:08.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What would attract you to read an introductory textbook in a field very far from your own? (I have a dream to write a kind of 'Bayesian Botany in Your Backyard and Beyond' introduction into plant ecology on some point later in my life, so if it comes true, I will also ask your opinion on it:)) well, here goes nothing.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-09T21:34:46.361Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What would attract you to read an introductory textbook in a field very far from your own?

Curiosity.

Also, practical necessity, of course.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-10T06:21:33.704Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Curiosity makes you pick a book, and necessity seek it out. But actually read? (And enjoy, I mean.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T15:31:27.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Curiosity makes you at least scan through a book to see if it's worth reading. As to what makes a book interesting enough to read is a complicated subject :-) I'm sure many writers would dearly love to know :-D but there is no universal answer.

comment by ike · 2014-12-08T20:42:26.571Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(Reposted from http://thinkingornot.tumblr.com/post/104694726216/a-voting-proposal . I'm not taking the time to rewrite this from tumblr-quality to lw-jargon. The idea should be clear enough as written.)

I was thinking about an idea for voting; I don’t know if it’s been talked about before, or how feasible it is. The main purpose is to allow strategic voting in a way that makes a difference.

Basically, every vote should be not for a person, but for a short program. Every candidate is assigned a number. There is a system which maps any name to a number, so as to allow write ins. There is also another mapping from numbers to programs.

Each program gets as input all the other programs, and how many votes each of them got. Each program must output a number which corresponds to a candidate. To simplify, there will still be a standard slot for each candidate that qualifies (like today) that just runs the program “vote for candidate X no matter what”. Each program is limited in the amount of time it can run. Obviously, if your program is given the numbers of votes for the “standard” candidates, it won’t have a problem with running them in time, but there might be a problem with running other programs that try to run you. This may be solvable, similiar to the way Prisoner’s Dilemma problems with mutual cooperation can be solved when the programs can access each other’s source code.

The programs would be in a special language that is deterministic and “simple”. (In an intuitive sense, it should be a function from inputs to output that only depends on the inputs.)

One thing I should point out: this doesn’t take a lot of time to finish after the votes have been counted, as each program only has to be run once no matter how many votes it got. You could perhaps have a minimum number of votes each program needs to get before it is run at all, and put programs on the ballot that get a certain number of petition signers, or so on.

Any comments of refinements on this idea are welcome. I’d especially be interested if it turned out something like this has been talked about already.

comment by Torgo · 2014-12-08T22:28:53.025Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This doesn't sound like a system that would be easy for less intelligent/educated voters to use. I wouldn't be surprised if it would lead to a number of voters voting for candidates they didn't intend to vote for. Additionally, many more potential voters might refrain from voting at all because of the complexity of the system.

comment by ike · 2014-12-08T22:34:32.342Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's why I said a "standard" option would still be available. That would just be a standard vote for one candidate. Also, raising the sanity line for voters might be a net positive ...

comment by Torgo · 2014-12-08T22:49:10.527Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That would help, but just adding complexities to the act of voting could turn people away (just as offering more possible modes of response to surveys can sometimes decrease response rates).

Whether that would be a good thing or a bad thing depends on what the purpose of voting is. If the purpose of voting is to benefit from collective wisdom, perhaps preventing less educated/intelligent voters from voting is a net positive. However, if the purpose of voting is to represent diverse interests in order to more fairly allocate societal resources, than preventing less educated/intelligent voters from voting could leave them less effectively represented.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T16:07:08.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What if it's neither of those?

comment by ike · 2014-12-09T01:43:35.241Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Right now, I bet that over 50% of the people who vote in a US presidential general election couldn't explain how the electoral college works, and over 10% think they are voting directly for president (if anyone is less lazy than me and looks up relevant surveys, let me know.) This doesn't stop them from voting. My system would still have the individual candidates on the top, and only advanced voters would even care about going further. Is this really so much more complicated than the electoral system, compared to a direct voting system?

I know this has no chance of happening in a real government anytime soon, but I'd still like to talk about it. There are voting systems that are more complex than ones used in "production" and only used privately. (I can't name any off-hand, but I'm not so familiar with voting theory.)

Also, if this is more optimal than what's being done now, then we can educate voters, or at least know that it's better so one day when people are ready, we can switch. What led me to this idea was thinking about the National Popular Vote, which only goes into effect if it itself gets a cetain number of votes (or rather, the strategy of the states that adopted it is to do something different if enough other states also do so.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-09T18:09:36.582Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I know this has no chance of happening in a real government anytime soon, but I'd still like to talk about it.

That depends very much of what you mean with real government. There no reason why the student body of an university can't be persuaded to elect their Student Government President that way.

Various open source projects govern themselves through complex processes.

LessWrong didn't use an election to pick a moderator but we could have, if we would believe that a democratic process would have been better.

If you think you have a system for better governance than it's a mistake to focus mainly on the national level. It's bad to suggest that the national level should switch to a system that hasn't proved it's worth on a smaller scale.

As a young and idealist college student who wants to change governance, student self governance is the ideal playground. On the one hand you are facing smart people who have other interests than you, on the other hand you don't mess up too much if you get things wrong.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-10T02:46:38.341Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That depends very much of what you mean with real government. There no reason why the student body of an university can't be persuaded to elect their Student Government President that way.

Many folks' response to advocacy of weird voting systems seems to be something like — "The only reason you would advocate that weird voting system is because it gives your party some sort of sneaky advantage. I don't know enough about voting systems to know what that sneaky advantage is, but I know enough about humans to know that you're up to something."

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T03:04:31.696Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you been in any discussion with practical implications about a voting system, based on which you make that statement or is your experience mainly about talking with people who don't have an influence on actual voting systems?

comment by fubarobfusco · 2014-12-10T03:29:01.728Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It was, in fact, to do with student government. :)

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-10T14:26:39.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What kind of pitch did you gave in favor of another voting system? If all you can say is "the math is more beautiful" than that's likely not going to convince anyone.

comment by Torgo · 2014-12-09T11:46:57.895Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The electoral college system doesn't require that they look over a long list of conditional responses and select from among them; the complexities are hidden from the voters, as you mention. I don't think the complexity of the electoral college system provides much evidence for how prospective voters would react to a complex system of voting options.

Voting systems used privately can be more complex than voting systems for public office because a more educated population may be using them.

I'd be more concerned about getting a representative pool of voters than trying to get voters to learn a new more complex system. I don't believe the difficulty of strategic voting is a major problem. On the other hand, I do think that reforms that reduce the cost of voting would be useful, and are being implemented in some states.

I like the national popular vote, but the complexities of that idea, like the electoral college, are hidden from voters; I don't think it's comparable to your ballot system.

comment by obvious · 2014-12-08T17:32:02.233Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When is it wrong to enable someone to significantly reduce the quality of their life and thereby significantly increase yours, while remaining happy themselves?

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-08T17:45:35.739Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Unless the quality of life is reduced because they have a false belief that it would increase, and I can prove to a sufficient degree that that belief is false, I'd say "it's pretty much never wrong". Is it really wrong to get paid for constructing a church if I think organized religion makes people worse off? And I certainly wouldn't want someone applying that principle to me, because I know how bad other people are determining what reduces the quality of my life. It's this logic which leads to large soda bans.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-12-08T21:19:15.057Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I usually approach this sort of question by modeling people as approximations to ideal agents who reliably act in such a way as to actually optimize the world for their own values.

If I consider a hypothetical person who very closely approximates that ideal, I'd say it's generally+ not at all wrong to enable them to significantly reduce the quality of their own life... they will either do so, or not, depending on their own values.

If I consider the other extreme, a hypothetical person who reliably acts in such a way as to optimize the world for the opposite of their own values, I'd say it's generally+ wrong to enable them to make any effective choices at all.

Either way, their happiness is largely irrelevant to me except insofar as it's subsumed in their values, and whether I benefit from their actions is irrelevant.

That said: obviously I'm more inclined to motivated cognition when I benefit, and therefore need to be a lot more scrupulous about whether my thinking has gone completely off the rails.

There's something to be said for the rule of thumb that if a line of reasoning tells me it's OK for me to act in ways that predictably lower the quality of other people's lives and benefit mine, I should reject that line of reasoning as flawed... not because that's necessarily the case, but because human minds being what they are that's the way to bet.

+ There are exceptions in cases where I think their values are themselves wrong, but I think that's a different conversation.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-08T00:18:53.715Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

[META]

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-08T15:17:14.086Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like several people are against having a meta sub-thread in the Open Thread. I thought it would be a cool thing to have, I'm provisionally assuming I was wrong. If no one objects, I'll revert back to the norm of not having one in any future OTs I post.

comment by Gurkenglas · 2014-12-08T16:13:02.687Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But how could you have made this kind of announcement without a meta sub-thread?

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-09T17:16:12.454Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps I could post a top-level reply with a "[META]" tag at the top?

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-09T17:57:06.617Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

He could have made it without putting it in a sub-thread.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-12-09T08:46:36.873Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What are the arguments against it?

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-09T17:12:17.658Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Two users downvoted the [META] comment. One of them withdrew their downvote after I posted the grandparent. So not exactly arguments, but there does seem to have been a general preference revealed for not having a meta sub-thread.

comment by tut · 2014-12-09T19:28:44.842Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't downvote, but one possibility is that they prefer that the meta thread is posted by the first person to post in it rather than at the same time as the open thread. In that case they only downvoted the TLP because the thread was empty/clutter.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-09T22:28:49.468Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the input. Perhaps I could ask that anyone who has a meta comment make a [META] TLP and post their comment as a reply to it? Or should I just not mention it?

comment by Furcas · 2014-12-14T03:42:26.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-10T03:11:05.018Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the spirit of Tell culture, I'd like to make known my preference for not being downvoted without a reason given. I'm open to modifying my behavior in response to criticism, but just downvoting something I write doesn't give me much information, and I find it rather unpleasant to know that people disapprove of something I've done, without knowing what I did wrong or what I might be able to do to fix it.

comment by Unknowns · 2014-12-10T04:11:29.007Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with this sentiment. If anything, giving criticism and downvoting are alternatives, not things that go together. For example, since I don't like this idea I might have just downvoted this comment. But since I'm responding to it I'm not going to do that; it isn't necessary to downvote if I'm going to express my criticism anyway, and most likely it wouldn't be helpful either, since you'd probably just be annoyed by the downvote.

In other words, your comment is basically a criticizing of downvoting in general; if that is a reasonable preference, we should just remove the possibility of downvoting at all.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-10T04:29:25.216Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My personal downvoting policy is this: I tend to refrain from downvoting unless the comment really is atrocious in a way that I feel ought to be intuitively obvious. This has very little to do with the actual content of the comment and a great deal to do with the presentation; for example, I won't downvote a comment that I disagree with, but I will downvote a comment that I perceive as adding nothing to the discussion.

In practice, this means that I do not downvote very often; in the totality of my time here on this site, I believe I've downvoted less than ten comments. The less atrocious comments, however, I neither upvote nor downvote; instead, I write a reply discussing what I disagree with in the comment and what can be done better. (Note that in this case I actually upvoted your comment for being well-written and thoughtful, even though I disagree with your conclusion.) In that sense, my downvoting rationale adheres to your "exclusivity" principle. And yet I feel that downvoting based on pure disagreement, which you appear to be endorsing, is rude and is not a healthy behavior for the community, seeing as it basically serves to provide negative reinforcement every time someone says something contrarian, which is hardly conducive to an atmosphere of cooperative discourse. Comments that you disagree with should be replied to, not downvoted without explanation, unless there's some other factor unrelated to content that caused the downvote.

Most of the time, however, when I'm downvoted, I find that I can hardly discern the reason. I strive to make clear comments that express my point concisely without going on for to long, so whatever the reason is, it can't be presentation. Content, then? But if I'm saying something stupid or wrong, I'd very much like to know! Naturally I don't think I am, so if someone randomly downvotes one of my comments without telling me why, I'm forced to either (a) make unsupported speculations about what I'm doing wrong, or (b) disregard the downvote as uninformative and therefore not worth thinking about. Neither option seems particularly appealing to me, so I'd say that as a strategy to positively impact the behavior the of person being downvoted, your suggested policy of downvoting fails. Is there some other reason you're endorsing it?

comment by Unknowns · 2014-12-10T04:50:32.032Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I did not suggest downvoting purely on account of disagreement. It is true that if I had not responded to Gondolinian's comment, I might have downvoted it. But not just because I disagree, but because I find complaints about downvoting unpleasant and would rather see less of them on the site.

In general there might be many other reasons for downvoting which do not necessarily involve disagreement, such as vagueness, excessive verbosity, illogical reasoning, and so on. Again, of course you can simply respond and mention those things, but again in that case there is not all that much reason for downvoting at all. The advantage of downvoting is that it takes very little resources and does not require responding to something which may not be worthy of a response.

The suggested policy does not necessarily fail, for several reasons: 1) the person may indeed in some cases realize why he is being downvoted; 2) even if he does not, he may speculate randomly and modify his behavior until he is no longer downvoted -- i.e. downvoting provides selective pressure on comments; 3) in some extreme cases, it would be good even if he just becomes less likely to comment at all. In any case, as I said, the point of downvoting is that such a small use of resources is involved that it is not necessary that there be some particular positive effect in every case.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-10T21:34:18.641Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm retracting this because in retrospect, I don't think it was a good idea to post this (I was rather tired when I wrote this--not a state of mind known for its good judgement.), and I'd rather not worry about having this as a potential karma sink. While I still agree with what I wrote, I don't think it was necessary to post about it, as I think most have similar preferences, and I can see how some would read it as whining (Though that's not what I was going for.).

comment by Ixiel · 2014-12-10T20:52:17.739Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An explanation is better than a vote, sure, but isn't a vote still better than nothing at all? And up is better than down in a vacuum, but up given good is as valuable as down given bad, no? It reminds me of someone's description of pain as the greatest gift we never wanted. It is information and information tends to be good. I get not liking it, but value it. There's no cash value to high karma.