Comment by waveman on Making Sense of Coronavirus Stats · 2020-02-20T23:34:57.854Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is one situation where we should value the lesswrong maxim of being aware when your level of knowledge is very limited. Hold onto your uncertainty.

As a long term investor I am very aware that statistics out of China are particularly unreliable. Even the hierarchy in China seems to have trouble getting a true picture. I saw an interview with one of the doctors in Wuhan where he related the extreme difficulties of getting people to report the bad news about what was happening up the management tree. Perhaps reflecting this, President Xi sent his man, Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, to Wuhan, to get a first hand view.

Even on the official statistics it appears Covid-19 is an order of magnitude more contagious than influenza and has a fatality rate also an order of magnitude worse. The fact that over 10% of the passengers on the Diamond Princess contacted the virus in a few weeks testifies to the contagiousness of the disease. There are troubling hints from China that deaths are far higher than admitted. The admitted deaths from covid-19 in Wuhan are no more than 10% of normal deaths in the city, yet, cremation houses are said to be having trouble keeping up, and are bringing in supplies and staff from outside to manage the workload.

Comment by waveman on Taking the Outgroup Seriously · 2020-02-17T00:19:01.092Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is sometimes true but often not.

An example:

Andrew Denton, an Australian journalist, did a podcast about the question of euthanasia ( well worth the listen During this process he attended a right to life conference. During the conference speakers spoke openly about the fact that the arguments they used in public against voluntary euthanasia were not at all their own reasons for opposing it.

In summary their actual reason for opposing VE is that in Christian theology you are not allowed to die until Jesus decides to take you / that you have suffered enough. Because this reason is unacceptable to most people, they said that they would try on various arguments and use the ones that seemed to resonate e.g. Hitler used euthanasia as an excuse to murder people, people will kill granny to get the inheritance, people will kill the disabled and other "useless eaters" , governments will encourage euthanasia to save aged care dollars.

In American politics Donald Trump started using the phrase "Drain the Swamp" frequently when he noticed that people responded to it. I leave it to the reader to judge whether it was his intention to drain the swamp, or whether he even thought it was possible.

In general IMHO people often advance bogus arguments because they know their real reasons will not be acceptable. In fact there is some evidence that confabulation is a core competency of the human brain. See e.g.

Comment by waveman on Epistemic Spot Check: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance · 2020-02-16T01:03:48.543Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Follow up on Herbert Simon. From his book "Models of my life"

Worked 60-80 hours a week. But does not detail what "work" means.

When collaborating with someone he comments that most of his day's work would be usually done by 10am, about the time his collaborator would be getting started. This perhaps hints that early in the day he did a few hours of really hard intellectual work.

What HS regarded as hard work may differ from other people. For example he learned about 20 languages to the point of being able to read papers, and 4-5 to the level of reading literature. But he regarded this as a fun/hobby thing.

He had a problem of hobbies turning into work, and had to drop several of them (e.g. playing musical instruments).

At college he only did enough work to get graded at A. Early on he spent too much time playing ping-pong and his grades slipped.

He published ~1,000 papers and 37 books and accrued to date over 350,000 citations. So he was amazingly productive.

He spent a lot of time on office politics and other managerial and administrative things.

He found writing easy and so wrote many/most of the papers he was a collaborator on.

Conclusion: HS was very smart, very productive, found things that were challenging for others to be fun/hobbies, and while it seems he did work long hours, it is not clear how much time he spent at the highest level of effort. There are hints he did concentrate his top tier work in the first few hours of the day.

Comment by waveman on A Cautionary Note on Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2020-02-16T00:56:29.218Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
As the emotional part of our brain sees imagination and memory as the same, this resolved the trauma

I think you are talking about something downstream from the problem OP reported. What you said explains why changing the memory would help. But I think it is not relevant to the question of whether you *can* change the memory.

If there are parts of you that think that holding on to the memory and to whatever partial solutions you came up with at the time are important, you will have trouble changing that, no matter what the benefits would be after the fact.

And of course given the traumatic nature of such memories, holding onto them and to the solutions you found do tend to seem very important. Books and reports of therapy are full of examples of this kind of thing.

Comment by waveman on How deferential should we be to the forecasts of subject matter experts? · 2020-02-13T09:57:20.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also to reinforce a very important point: even when experts are not very expert, they are probably a lot better than you+google+30minutes!

Comment by waveman on How deferential should we be to the forecasts of subject matter experts? · 2020-02-13T09:55:40.209Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good post. To which I would add...

There is much more to expertise than forecasting. Also

  • Designing and building "things" of various kinds that work
  • Fixing "things"

"Things" could include social systems, people, business structures, advertising campaigns, not just machines of course.

A person may be a very good football coach in the sense of putting together a team that wins, or fixing a losing team, but may not be too good at making predictions. Doctors are notoriously bad a predicting patient outcomes but are often be very skilled at actually treating them.

I think to a degree you confuse assessing whether a group does have expertise with assessing whether they are *likely* to have expertise.

As far as factors that count against expertise being reliably or significantly present, to your politics I would add

1. Money. The medical literature is replete with studies showing huge effect sizes from "who paid the piper". In pharmaceutical research this seems to result in a 4X different chance of a positive result. But there is more than this; the ability to offer speaking and consultancy fees, funding of future projects etc can have a powerful effect.

Another example is the problem alluded to in relation to the consensus about the historical Jesus. When a field is dominated by people whose livelihood depends on their continuing to espouse a certain belief, the effect goes beyond those individuals and infects the whole field.

2. The pernicious effects of "great men" who can suppress dissent against their out of date views. Is the field pluralistic, realistically, and is dissent allowed? Science advances funeral by funeral. Have a look at what happened to John "Pure white and deadly" Yudkin.

3. Politics beyond what we normally think of as politics. Academia is notoriously "political" in this wider sense. Amplifying your point about reality checks, if feedback is not accurate, rapid, and unambiguous, it is hard for people in the field to know who is right, if anyone.

4. "Publish" or perish. There are massive incentives to get published or to get publicity or a high profile. This leads to people claiming expertise, results, achievements that are bogus. Consider for example the case of Theranos, which seemed, if media reports are accurate, to have no useful ability to build systems that did pathology tests, yet apparently hoodwinked many into thinking that they did.

You make a good point that claims of expertise without evidence or, worse, in the face of adverse evidence, are really really bad. I would go as far as to say that if you claim expertise but cannot prove it, I have a strong prior that you don't have it.

There are large groups of self-described experts who do not have expertise or at best have far less than they think. One should be alert to the possibility that "experts" aren't.

Comment by waveman on Epistemic Spot Check: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance · 2020-02-13T05:58:29.807Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Having said all that, there is a crying need for more work in this area.

The current lead I am following up is Herbert Simon. Will also check out Knuth.

Someone suggested Flaubert, who worked 12 hours a day. And produced 0.7 (really well honed) words per hour.

Comment by waveman on A Cautionary Note on Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2020-02-09T07:55:00.864Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I see now how this could happen, and evidently it happened to you.

It has not happened to me, even though I used it quite aggressively e.g. to instil objectively false but useful beliefs.

I am trying to work out what is different... I did this as part of the IFS (Internal Family Systems) process, as a more powerful way to resolve exiles that are hard to fix.

I suspect maybe the difference is that in IFS they make a huge deal about honoring the 'parts' including exiles. In your terms this would be the unhelpful beliefs. You need ideally to fully accept that they are there for a reason and have good intentions. In IFS it is a common rookie mistake to try to shove 'bad' "parts" (in IFS terms) away prematurely and tell them to stop doing or believing that thing right away. If you do this they will often resist vehemently in open or in covert ways. Once you do get to know them, appreciate them, acknowledge their good intentions, they are then often very willing to form the intention to change, and in this case they will not resist.

So my suggestion would be to try to get to know the 'false' belief better and to acknowledge why it is there, the good it did, the good intention behind it - and with associated beliefs - there can be quite a complex structure of chained beliefs and practices. Only then do you ask it, are you happy with the current set-up? Would you like to change anything? Ask if you do really want to change the belief in every bone of your body. Usually at this point it is pretty easy to change and you are done.

If the 'exile' *wants* to change but cannot then the UTEB techniques can be very useful. I will give one example.

As a very young student I had a vicious and sadistic teacher. Apart from her beatings, she employed psychological terror tactics seemingly designed to maximize our terror and helplessness and humiliation. I had frequent flashbacks which I see as a form of hyper-vigilance whose intention was to keep me safe. I tried all the usual techniques for resolving my flashbacks. We are here now, she is dead, I have adult resources that can protect you, I can hold you, etc, etc. These helped a bit but not entirely.

So when everything else did not succeed entirely I tried the "nuclear option" - rewriting history. I implanted a belief that the very first time she exhibited her toxic behavior a group of parents stormed into the classroom, beat her up, threw her out of the school, and warned her never to set foot in a school again, which she never did (in the rewritten history). We reverted back to our previous teacher who was lovely. This worked, even though - at some level - I know it is false. I think it worked because all the parts of me were united in resolving this issue and there was no internal conflict apart from the ongoing feelings of fear and anxiety being too strong.

So again I think you may perhaps have had some residual internal conflict about changing the belief and this may be why you did not succeed at times. I hope this helps.

Two notes

1. People may confuse what I did with a revenge fantasy. I don't think revenge fantasies are very often useful. This is different because the bad thing, in the rewritten history, did not happen. There is nothing to revenge.

2. Assuming my post makes sense to you, it may illustrate why the seemingly preposterous IFS model can be quite useful - it gives you a powerful language and structure for dealing with all these internal complexities.

Comment by waveman on Emergency Prescription Medication · 2020-01-24T04:42:31.091Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good example of where the system makes it difficult to do sensible rational things.

It's also an example of how the medical system assumes it will always be there, will not make mistakes, don't you worry etc.

It is not just for natural disasters that you need a backup supply. I found out the hard way that the capriciousness of the medical system can really hurt you. I showed up at the doctor had he told me that the drug I needed was not longer available from him, and I had to see a new specialist and "requalify". There was no way this could be done before I ran out. No-one had thought to warn me that the rules had changed. In fact they had not changed, formally. There was just this silent 'crackdown'. The word was put out that you betta not prescribe that any more, or maybe you would get audited, or raided, maybe lose your licence or medicare accreditation - there are a lot of ways we can hurt you. Maybe there will be a complaint against you that will burn a couple of years of your life to fight it.

There was a similar recent case of this with the prescription opiate crackdown. This was not what affected me, but the situation was similar. People showed up at the doctor's for a renewal and were told "nope". Your choice is cold turkey or the street. Doctors were prescribing opiates like candy and then they were not. Too bad if you were caught up in it.

As for solutions, most people suggest that putting a little bit away over time is the only solution. It is a waste of time trying to persuade the system to help you put together a just-in-case supply.

Comment by waveman on Predictors exist: CDT going bonkers... forever · 2020-01-14T22:27:26.156Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have guessed that by CDT you mean

But why make people guess?

Protip: define and/or provide links for opaque terms upon first use.

Comment by waveman on [Book Review] The Trouble with Physics · 2020-01-06T08:02:26.513Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
GR and QM are valid each in their own domain.

Their domain is supposed to be the universe, I think. Later people said GR is for the large scale and QM is for the small scale but nothing in the theories actually says this, AFAICT.

It could be that a straightforward extension of one or the other would solve the problem, somehow embracing or correcting the other. But all the obvious ways to do that have been explored and have failed.

Or it could be that both are fundamentally conceptually wrong, like Newtonian gravity was 'wrong' (though quite accurate most of the time). If that is the case the actual solution would look very different and would then be shown to approximate QM and GR in limiting cases.

String theory is not really a theory of physics; it is more like the idea that a certain type of theory, not yet identified, may work. So it is more of an approach or a program. But even if ST is successful, it would leave a lot of unanswered questions. And after decades their is not much sign of a breakthrough.

To be fair one key problem is a lack of data. If we could build accelerators 10^12 times as powerful as current ones, we may have something to work on. But there are so many possible theories given current data. Given no data, and no way to test theories, physics degenerates into a popularity contest.

Comment by waveman on Rule Thinkers In, Not Out · 2019-12-14T00:18:20.894Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
experimental proof that hidden variables is wrong (through the EPR experiments)

Local hidden variable theories were disproved. But that is not at all surprising given that QM is IMHO non-local, as per Einstein's "spooky nonlocality".

It is interesting that often even when Einstein was wrong, he was fruitful. His biggest mistake, as he saw it, was the cosmological constant, now referred to as dark energy. Nietzsche would have approved.

On QM his paper led to Bell's theorem and real progress. Even though his claim was wrong.

Comment by waveman on Causal Abstraction Toy Model: Medical Sensor · 2019-12-11T23:30:46.111Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like I have to read the whole post to see whether it is of interest to me, because there is no summary. Instead you seem to just wade in to the detail.

I tried reading the first sentences of each paragraph but that was useless because they are almost all opaque references to the previous material.

I suggest you add a summary and start paragraphs with a sentence encapsulating the key idea of the paragraph.

Comment by waveman on A letter on optimism about human progress · 2019-12-04T10:11:40.406Z · score: 5 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted because in brief a) this article is very one-sided b) When you read human history, the plethora of collapses IMHO puts a strong onus of proof on those who argue it won't happen again c) There are many warning signs of huge problems ahead - global warming, resource depletion (soils, fresh water, phosphates, oil, coal, uranium, numerous other minerals), overpopulation, increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons d) Our so clever civilization depends utterly on cheap energy and this looks like ending fairly soon e) There is no clear evidence that technological progress is rapid enough to solve these problems.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-12-03T03:33:16.617Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On bias see here and references. There is a lot of research about this. Note also that you do not even need to bias a particular researcher, just fund the researchers producing the answers you like, or pursuing the avenues you are interested in e.g. Coke's sponsorship of exercise research which produces papers suggesting that perhaps exercise is the answer.

One should not simply dismiss a study because of sponsorship, but be aware of what might be going on behind the scenes. And also be aware that people are oblivious to the effect that sponsorship has on them. One study of primary care doctors found a large effect on prescribing from free courses, dinners, etc, but the doctors adamantly denied any impact.

The suggestions of things to look for are valid and useful but often you just don't know what actually happened.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-12-03T03:17:58.786Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Mostly belatedly realizing that studies I took as Gospel turned out to be wrong. This triggered an intense desire to know why and how.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-12-03T03:17:16.580Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mostly medicine, nutrition, metabolism. Also finance and economics.

Comment by waveman on In Defense of Kegan · 2019-11-18T21:32:13.918Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For people wanting to understand Kegan's key ideas without too much pain, I suggest "The Discerning Heart" by Philip Lewis. It is a concise and excellent introduction to the topic.

Comment by waveman on Climate technology primer (1/3): basics · 2019-11-12T02:02:11.153Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent post.

One oversight I see often in this space, and here, relates to a carbon tax. It is stated that the revenue from a carbon tax can be used to compensate people, especially lower income people, for the increased cost of living resulting from the tax. The fatal problem with this is that in a zero emissions world, there will be no emissions and therefore no carbon tax revenue.

Of course it may be possible to compensate people via other means such as other taxes. But a carbon tax is only required because it is otherwise cheaper to emit carbon. This means costs will go up overall and that there will be a net loss (in the short term at least). There is no free lunch and someone will have to pay.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-10-30T02:10:40.938Z · score: 21 (10 votes) · LW · GW

One of the most miserable things about the LW experience is realizing how little you actually know with confidence.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-10-30T02:09:40.846Z · score: 43 (24 votes) · LW · GW

I've probably read about 1000 papers. Lessons learned the hard way...

1. Look at the sponsorship of the research and of the researchers (previous sponsorship, "consultancies" etc are also important for up to 10-15 years). This creates massive bias. E.g: A lot of medical bodies and researchers are owned by pharmaceutical companies

2. Look at ideological biases of the authors. E.g. a lot of social science research assumes as a given that genes have no effect on personality or intelligence. (Yes, really).

3. Understand statistics very deeply. There is no pain-free way to get this knowledge, but without it you cannot win here. E.g. a) The assumptions behind all the statistical models b) the limitations of alleged "corrections". You need to understand both Bayesian and Frequentist statistics in depth, to the point that they are obvious and intuitive to you.

4. Understand how researchers rig results. e.g. undisclosed multiple comparisons, peeking at the data before deciding what analysis to do, failing to pre-publish the design and end points and to follow that pre-publication, "run-in periods" for drug trials, sponsor-controlled committees to review and change diagnoses... There are papers about this e.g. "why most published research findings are false".

5. After sponsorship, read the methods section carefully. Look for problems. Have valid and appropriate statistics been used? Were the logical end points assessed? Maybe then look at the conclusions. Do the conclusions match the body of the paper? Has the data from the study been made available to all qualified researchers to check the analysis? Things can change a lot when that happens e.g. Tamiflu. Is the data is only available to commercial interests and their stooges this is a bad sign.

6. Has the study been replicated by independent researchers?

7. Is the study observational? If so, does is meet generally accepted criteria for valid observational studies? (large effect, dose-response gradient, well understood causal model, well understood confounders, confounders smaller than the published effect etc).

8. Do not think you can read abstracts only and learn much that is useful.

9. Read some of the vitriolic books about the problems in research e.g. "Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime How big pharma has corrupted healthcare" by PETER C GØTZSCHE. Not everything in this book is true but it will open your eyes about what can happen.

10. Face up to the fact that 80-90% of studies are useless or wrong. You will spend a lot of time reading things only to conclude that there is not much there.

Comment by waveman on SSC Meetups Everywhere: Brighton, UK · 2019-09-14T06:03:40.494Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am thinking that "Australia" is not correkt and should read "England".

Comment by waveman on Examples of Examples · 2019-09-07T01:12:33.860Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Examples of "proof by theory"

That someone has a theory that supports something is evidence for something.


1. Once 3 people tell us something, we believe it. Some people think it, so it's true. Even knowing they are in cahoots and trying to manipulate us. I cannot source the study, but try it. It is scarily effective.

2. Ancel Keys formulated his dietary fat / heart disease hypothesis in the 1950s. Over a period of 3-4 years he moved from "hypothesis" to "almost certain" even though no new evidence arose in support of the hypothesis. It appears that every time he wrote on the issue, he noted that he himself, a very intelligent and credible authority, believed the theory, which seemed to weigh in favour of the theory. He cited his own previous papers which then added to the weight of the case, in his mind. [Keys may also have been influenced by the fact that his chief rival John Yudkin believed that sugar was the chief culprit, which view was therefore clearly wrong (theory in this case as anti-evidence). We are still sorting through the wreckage of his catastrophe].

3. Teenage fashions in clothes and politics. Teenagers are very concerned about acceptance by the group, and at the same time they have little experience and knowledge. So they seek cues from those around them as to what fashion statements and political opinions are acceptable. They are seeking cues from those around them, who are just as clueless as they are. Result: strongly held but more or less random fashions and opinions. One late teen recently told me he considers himself fortunate indeed to have been born at that one magic time when his peer group adhered to basically every right and true political and social opinion.

4. Contagion in financial markets. Didier Sornette has had some success in modeling the structure of financial bubbles and crashes based on the premise that speculators are very anxious about the direction of prices and highly uncertain about them at the same time. They have very little good information about future prices. In Sornette's model, traders take cues from traders they are in contact with, resulting in violently fluctuating "phase changes" in investor opinion leading to log-periodic hyper-exponential price moves. Again the opinions of other traders are taken as data when in fact they have little information content.

Comment by waveman on How do you learn foreign language vocabulary, beyond Anki? · 2019-08-28T04:20:07.258Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I found early on, when learning a foreign language (German and French), that it was better to read English books translated into the language at first. They tended to be lighter on the colloquial and idiomatic expressions.

There is a great book "Teach yourself a foreign language quickly" by Azzopardi tha I would recommend. It is really excellent for languages with phonetic scripts. PM me if you can't find it; I can lend you a copy.

One thing that slowed me down is my failure to 'believe' that gender of nouns is important. In German it is vital to learn the genders of nouns. Similarly in Italian (and you also need to remember the doubled consonants and where the accent lies).

You cannot learn a language in a big rush. Persistence is the key.

Comment by waveman on How do you learn foreign language vocabulary, beyond Anki? · 2019-08-28T04:12:58.893Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1. Obviously there are many general techniques for memorization you can use, which mostly amount to moving the task into either sensory/visual or spatial memory. Visual and spatial memory are huge, fat larger than verbal memory.

2. With Anki specifically:

2.1 Include an example of use in a sentence (as a separate note from the bare word).

2.2 I find it is very very useful to bring words in initially only a few at a time e.g. 5 at a time. If I bring in 50 new words I find, as with your experience, I am cycling around and the cycle time exceeds my memory.

2.3 Do it every day. I found my progress more than doubled

With these techniques I learned 1500 Italian words pretty fast. (the vocab required for B1 level).

3. Reading really helps to build vocabulary. You get exposed to the most common words more frequently, in an automatic and natural way. Start with really simple material and build up.

Comment by waveman on I'm interested in a sub-field of AI but don't know what to call it. · 2019-08-25T22:56:07.050Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models has some material about deciding between models on this though pretty low level.

Looking at my bookshelf most general AI/ML books have starting points.

"Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning" Bishop

"Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems: Networks of Plausible Inference" Pearl

"Probabilistic Graphical Models: Principles and Techniques" Koller

This is a super-hard problem but worth tackling.

Comment by waveman on Am I going for a job interview with a woo pusher? · 2019-08-25T22:35:47.643Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

N=1: Person close to me had NF treatment for ADHD and it was very effective. Unfortunately the outfit closed up, there was no local alternative, and he/she regressed. I think there is something to it.

But no doubt there is a lot of woo woo everywhere. Use as interview practice and ask them what is their evidence (other than X on their web site which no doubt you will closely examine).

... looks further ... they look pretty serious to me

Comment by waveman on A misconception about immigration · 2019-08-20T02:12:37.249Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You yourself are ignoring a huge part of the issue - capital.

If there is excess capital then this is not relevant. But this is not usually the case. Each immigrant requires capital to support their life and their work. The numbers involved are huge, perhaps $300,000-500,000 per person.

Using econometric data from Australia I estimated that about 25% of its GDP is expended just keeping up with population growth, mostly from (highest in the western world) immigration. New roads, hospitals, schools, colleges, fire stations, houses, power stations, subways etc have to be built. This is why many roads that used to be free to drive on are now toll roads even though the traffic is slower. Taxes go up to pay for new public services.

The rate of spending here is proportional to the rate of growth. For a static population you only need to pay for depreciation and maintenance.

This issue is why it is a cliche in development economics that high population growth rates make it almost impossible for poor countries to get rich. All the growth is consumed paying the the higher population.

It also explains why Japan remains prosperous, clean and a nice place to visit in spite of low GDp growth. With more or less zero population growth the need for new infrastructure is low, free up ~25% of GDP.

Another (more widely viewed) form of capital is land. Combined with restrictive land use regulations in many parts of the rich west, this is a recipe for higher and more volatile land and house prices. See e.g.

Your essay reads - to me - a bit like you are working backwards from a preordained conclusion rather than working forward from the data. Could I suggest going back to square one and taking another look at the whole question.

Comment by waveman on How to improve at critical thinking on science/medical literature? · 2019-08-07T02:03:58.880Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Usually conflicts of interest and funding are disclosed (these days) in the paper. Usually I go there first, before the second step which is reading the methods section.

There are also registers of funding for medical researchers.



But it is imperfect

and of course disclosure is not a complete answer. Disclosed funding greatly affects the reported results.

Comment by waveman on What are the best resources for examining the evidence for anthropogenic climate change? · 2019-08-07T01:48:16.614Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I have generally just taken the existence of Jesus as a given

I think most people were the same. I was. Our default is to believe what we are told, especially if told by >= 3 people (a heuristic that is good to know if you want to convince someone of something).

In one sense it doesn't matter much because even assuming he existed, there is IMHO very little reliable evidence about what he said or did. Scholars widely believe that the eucharist, the feeding of the 5000 and the sermon on the mount were later additions to the story.

It is worth noting the trend here. Over time the historicity of biblical figures has eroded as older figures are gradually accepted as legendary. Usually this process occurs by the time honoured method of "science advances funeral by funeral". A new generation comes through who accept e.g. tha Abraham or Moses were mythical figures.

Comment by waveman on Epistemic Spot Check: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance · 2019-08-07T01:41:57.790Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why 4 hours?

1. 4 hours a day has been widely reported as the limit

2. The book Daily Rituals reports high achievers doing 4 hours really hard work a day.

3. Personal experience. Steep drop off after more than 4 hours; burnout after a few days much over 4 hours, etc.

4. Very few examples of people going over that number sustainably.

I suggest people track this themselves and see what happens.

I find I can get to 4.5-5 hours maybe with a lunchtime nap. Maybe much more with lots of micro-naps (doze in chair for 5 minutes).

Currently I am experimenting with turning 24 hours into two days with a long nap in the middle. I am having trouble doing this though.

N.B. This is not 4 hours of any kind of work. This is work at the maximum of intellectual effort e.g. deliberate practice, learning to ride a bicycle, memorizing vocabulary with Anki decks, practising a foreign language at the limit of your comprehension, trying to prove theorems, doing exercises on a hard scientific subject you are learning, writing at the top level of quality and/or on difficult topics, etc.

Comment by waveman on How to navigate through contradictory (health/fitness) advice? · 2019-08-06T07:39:00.694Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also, not all 'experts' are actually expert.

If they can't

  • Build/achieve/create things that are impressive and that work, or
  • Fix broken things that others can't fix, or
  • Predict the future better than simple heuristics can (e.g. present trends will continue), or
  • Explain otherwise baffling things in a parsimonious way, in a way others can't, then

They are not an expert. Even if they have fancy pieces of parchment on the walls of their office, and even if they have fancy titles.

As Barbara Oakley pointed out in the excellent "A mind for numbers", claims of expertise not accompanied by proof are worse than acknowledged incompetence. At least the acknowledged incompetent will not act on a false basis of competence.

Comment by waveman on How to navigate through contradictory (health/fitness) advice? · 2019-08-06T07:33:05.691Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is a very hard problem. I really have no answer other than learning as much as you need to know. Keep asking "what is the evidence for this?", and learn statistics deeply. I read lots of books and read the FAQs and watched the debates on /fit/ etc.

Most of the fitness advice you will hear is bad. But this is not unique; the same applies to financial advice and to medical advice, including from doctors and specialists. Conflicts of interest play a role but incompetence is rife. [Conflicts of interest: I commented to a General Practitioner here that surgeons often have a conflict of interest - they recommend surgery and also profit from. His comment was that there was no conflict - they are in it for the money!. Perhaps slightly too cynical but not bad as a first approximation. Incompetence: Anyone who has read the medical literature or looked deeply into their own medical issues and then spoken to doctors and specialists will be appalled. This post is too short to go into details but if at all possible and you have a serious medical issue - read up both on statistics and on the particular problem.] Also worth noting that, far more than most other scientific fields, medicine is a 'status' model not a 'knowledge and evidence' model. Pernicious and wrong ideas can live for decades because the people who hold them are powerful and have high status.

I think part of the problem is government enforced licensing of medical people. if you can do a better job that current endocrinologists for example and start doing that, the government will put you in jail. Add to this the fact that membership of the esteemed order of endocrinologists is at the whim of the current endocrinologists. For example in my country having seen at least a dozen endocrinologists I have yet to find one who has even an elementary grasp of medically relevant statistics, nor have I found one who seems to be able to think of the endocrine system as a complex non-linear feedback system. Usually you don't get much beyond "your blood level is normal therefore there cannot be a problem". And how is 'normal' defined ...

Having gotten into fitness myself thanks to a back problem, I do agree with the proposition that lack of strength is behind many but not all such problems. But hormonal issues are important too - if you have low testosterone (which many young males do, and by low I mean < 450ng/dl USA or < 15nM/L everywhere else). High cortisol can also nuke any fitness program.

I also agree with warm-ups. Not with stretching. Warm up for me = a few minutes of walking and then reps of the target exercise at low weights, gradually building up 10X10kg, 5X30, 3X50, 2*65...

On the other hand I found machines to be of limited value in producing real world strength because the unnatural movements only trained a very specific set of muscles and did not train proprioception and bodily intelligence. I switched to barbells.

On cardio I think that it is good if intense and in small doses i.e. HIIT. Long moderate cardio only put up my stress hormone levels and left me debilitated. Cool down from intense cardio is important I think to restore normal blood flow and avoid staving the heart of oxygen. Again just walk a few minutes. At this time you can stretch if flexibility is a goal - now, not before exercising.

For burning calories long slow walks are best IMHO. You can use the time for 'diffuse mode' thinking which is important. If you are very young you might be able to get away with slow running.

Comment by waveman on What are the best resources for examining the evidence for anthropogenic climate change? · 2019-08-06T03:28:20.516Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I could not find one a few years ago. I read the last couple of and the first IPCC report. Read sceptic books and blogs and looked for refutations. I took what looked like the 3 strongest sceptic arguments and studied them in detail (all proved fallacious). Though I did conclude that there had been early on an overconfidence about the accuracy of the projections.

Analogously I am looking for the best rebuttal to Richard Carrier's book questioning the existence of the historial Yeshua / Joshua / Jesus (in Greek). It is difficult because almost all biblical scholars are in a position where even entertaining the question might be a career threatening move, and all the texts basically simply assume his existence. I read Bart Ehrman's attempt ( and found it an embarrassment (to him). I have looked at the Josephus and Tacitus texts and find them to be very weak evidence.

Comment by waveman on Epistemic Spot Check: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance · 2019-06-26T11:12:18.056Z · score: 14 (9 votes) · LW · GW

There seem to have been a few individuals who could work hard for more than 4 hours a day: Proust (who took vast amounts of caffeine tablets and died at 51), Erdos (who used amphetamines), Richard Stallman who was and is a super motivated individual.

In the book daily rituals, about high achievers, few worked more than 4 hours on their core hard work e.g. writing novels, science etc. You would think if it were possible to work productively at the top level more than that, someone would do it and blow away the competition.

I would be interested in any others, or any evidence that people in general can do more than 4 hours at the top level. Possibly a nap after 3 hours can get you another 30-60 minutes. This was from the violinists study that Cal Newport (I think) referred to.

In general people tend to initially find the 4 hour limit a big problem. My response is to ask people to get back to me when they are consistently doing the 4 hours and we will see how it can be extended. They tend to find it is very hard to get to 4 hours.

Comment by waveman on Defending points you don't care about · 2019-06-21T01:10:31.723Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't read this. There seemed to be no way to tell if it would be of interest other than to read the whole thing. No summary, no tldr, even the title is vague.

Comment by waveman on Is the "business cycle" an actual economic principle? · 2019-06-19T00:02:01.278Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think you may be confusing the business cycle with market cycles.


anticipate a random walk with an average of 10%/year growth,

I suggest anyone who believes this have a closer look at world wide stock market returns over time. If you cherry pick the most successful of the ~200 markets (ie the US market) and ignore inflation you can maybe get 10% PA returns.

But unless you have evidence that you can pick the most successful market prospectively, then 3-4% after inflation and costs is more like it.

Bear in mind at the start of C20 the US had only recently exited a ruinous civil war, rule of law was limited, there was rampant corruption, etc etc. Which country that (might) looks like this would you pick as the top performer of the next 100 years?

Comment by waveman on Critiquing Gary Taubes, Final: The Truth About Diets and Weight Loss · 2019-05-26T02:41:57.614Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think you are being fair minded at all here.

Consider your claim that Taubes "hailed" the 2010 study with the reality

“The biggest study so far on lowcarb diets came out last year. It compared a low-fat diet in which you got Not everyone gets fat from eating carbs, and getting rid of carbs might not make you lean. But it will make you the leanest you can be. 118 r e a d e r s d i g e s t . c o m 2 / 1 1 1,200 to 1,800 calories per day with a low-carbohydrate diet where you could eat as much as you wanted. The researchers kind of buried this part of it, by the way. They barely touched on the fact that this is a severely calorie restricted diet compared with an allyou-can-eat diet. But what they found was that the low-carb diet did just as well.

Taubes is saying that a low carb diet with no calorie restrictions did as well as a calorie controlled high carb diet. Which is very interesting. But it is not an apples for apples comparison and in no way says that a low carb diet is no better.

I recommend people read Taubes's books for themselves and be mindful that powerful vested interests are at play in this space.

Comment by waveman on How to improve at critical thinking on science/medical literature? · 2019-05-15T00:27:36.052Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Skills: Learn both bayesian and frequentist statistics. E T Jaynes's book, also Gelman's Bayesian Data Analysis, and any solid frequentist textbook e.g. Goodman Teach Yourself Statistics 1972 edition. Also Judea Pearl Causality. Read the papers critiquing current methods (why most published research findings are false, the recent papers criticising the use of P values).

You will need calculus and linear algebra to get far but for reading the medical literature you can probably ignore measure theory.

Heuristics: Look at sponsorship, both for the study itself and for the researchers (speaking fees, sponsorship of other papers. This massively skews results.

Look for ideological or prior commitments by authors. This also massively skews results.

Look out for p hacking / garden of forking paths i.e. degrees of freedom that result in 'significant' results being claimed when this is not valid.

Understand the difference between statistical significance and practical significance. Understand how arbitrary the 5% threshold for statistical significance is. Understand that a result falling short of statistical significance may actually be evidence *for* an effect. No significant effect /= no effect, may mean probably is an effect.

Understand how little most medical people from GP to professors know about statistics and how often basic statistical errors occur in the literature (e.g. lack of statistical significant taken to be disproof as in the Vioxx debacle).

Read the methods section first. Don't read the results part of the abstract or if you do, check that all the claims made are backed up by the body of the paper.

When reading meta-analyses look hard at the papers they are based on - you cannot make silk from sows ears. Be very wary of any study that has not been replicated by independent researchers.

Be aware of the extreme weaknesses of epidemiological and observational studies and be very sceptical of claims to have "controlled for" some variable. Such attempts are usually miserable failures, invalid and can make things actually worse. See Pearl's book.

Comment by waveman on Critiquing Gary Taubes, Part 4: What Causes Obesity? · 2019-05-11T11:07:23.125Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As an example here is copypasta from the latest dietary guidelines:

Adults who are obese should change their eating and physical activity behaviors to prevent additional weight gain and/or promote weight loss. Adults who are overweight should not gain additional weight, and those with one or more CVD risk factors (e.g., hypertension and hyperlipidemia) should change their eating and physical activity behaviors to lose weight. To lose weight, most people need to reduce the number of calories they get from foods and beverages and increase their physical activity. For a weight loss of 1 to 11⁄2 pounds per week, daily intake should be reduced by 500 to 750 calories. Eating patterns that contain 1,200 to 1,500 calories each day can help most women lose weight safely, and eating patterns that contain 1,500 to 1,800 calories each day are suitable for most men for weight loss. In adults who are overweight or obese, if reduction in total calorie intake is achieved, a variety of eating patterns can produce weight loss, particularly in the first 6 months to 2 years; [9] however, more research is needed on the health implications of consuming these eating patterns long-term.

Straight wall to wall calories in calories out.

Comment by waveman on Critiquing Gary Taubes, Part 4: What Causes Obesity? · 2019-05-11T10:44:30.380Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't buy this at all.

The OP has attacked Taubes on a peripheral issue and used that to make it look like Taubes got it wrong on his central theses. And I don't think he did.

Even on this peripheral issue, I think Taubes is actually basically right. I have read 3 of his books and watched a few of his talks so I know his views on the topic.

Overwhelmingly the advice to consumers has been eat less move more. As if that was a solution to the problem of weight gain. My own doctors have said this to me. Not a word about more sophisticated approaches to regulating appetite and hunger.

The scientific rationale for the 2015-2020 guidelines has barely a thing to say about this. They have some ideas about eating less sugar and less takeaway food but evcen there the main argument is the hoary old chestnut about calorie density (fat = 9 calories / gram versus healthy carbs at 4).

Of course you can find some quotes suggesting that regulation of weight is complex. But overwhelmingly the message is calories in calories out. Ancel Keys - who dominated the field, and was funded in part by packaged food companies - gave this message repeatedly in his works.

Dietary policy in the US (and therefore in most of the world) has been a monumental failure with skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes. The fall in smoking rates and better treatments have masked the impact of this on heart disease.

There is a long and sad history of the recommendations not being evidenced based and being skewed by the packaged food industry and by vegetarian/vegan zealots (particularly more recently).The AHA's original big funding splash came from Proctor and Gamble, who marketed the wonder food, Crisco, full of "healthy" trans vegetable fats.

Read the reports over time and look at the evidence that wasn't there and the evidence that was ignored.

Comment by waveman on Critiquing Gary Taubes, Part 4: What Causes Obesity? · 2019-05-11T10:10:34.227Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Weren't you trying to argue that mainstream science doesn't make mistakes?

No Eugine

Comment by waveman on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-07T10:46:49.927Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would emphasise that you can be productive for far more than 4 hours a day. For example doing routine clerical work. But there does seem to limits on work at deliberate practice level or above. If you disagree, install Anki on your phone and download or make a deck of some things you are interested in memorizing. Keep adding cards until you have done 4 hours according to Anki (clock time may be 50% longer as you goofed off at various times without realizing it). Now do this for a week and report back.

Often people will say they practice violin for 6 hours, but you will usually find that there is a lot of down time in there.

Comment by waveman on How long can people be productive in [time period]? · 2019-05-07T10:35:11.185Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why I believe this

1. The book "daily rituals", and references therein. People at the apex of achievement seem to work - at maximum intensity, not drone tier busy work - not much more than 4 hours a day. You would think that if it were possible to do more someone would, and they would surpass them.

The typical day would be 4 hours of damn hard creative work, 4 hours of taking care of business, 4 hours of fun. A good life.

2. I go looking for exceptions that do work really hard (deliberate practice hard) and they are few and far between. They seem either to burn out (Proust - died in his early 50s) or use serious drugs (Erdos - amphetamines) or seriously affect their health (Richard Stallman).

3. That study that I can't find right now that the violinists that made it practiced for about 4-5 hours a day. They were able to eke out an extra hour by napping in the middle.

4. My own experience. OK I am not that young anymore but 4 hours a day knocks me out. I am very happy to achieve 4 hours a day. I have been tracking this and average about 2.5/day, gradually going up

When people hear about the 4 hours thing they tend to think it is far too low. My advice to people is to try to get to 4 hours and *then* worry about going past it. If you can actually work maximally hard for 4 hours a day you will kill it. If you try to go past the 4 hours your brain will find ways to "procrastinate".

Also note that IMHO you cannot "carry forward" the 4 hours. Use it or lose it. At least that is my experience. Maybe you can do 3,5,4, etc but not much more, not 2,6,0,8.

I am interested in any other exceptions apart from the ones I listed above.

Comment by waveman on Critiquing Gary Taubes, Part 4: What Causes Obesity? · 2019-04-21T23:17:09.923Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Two issues here

1. Correlation is not transitive as you seem to assume (the claim is a) sat fats corr cholesterol, and b) cholesterol corr to heart disease, therefore c) sat fats corr heart disease, therefore d) sat fats cause heart disease) . A correlated to B and B correlated to C does not even mean A is correlated to C, let alone that A causes C.

2. When you go looking for solid evidence for saturated fats causing heart disease - as I have - it just isn't there.

What seems to have happened is that the field was for many years dominated by one man Ancel Keys who had a hunch that saturated fat was the culprit. He then fell prey to the usual cognitive biases, e.g. confirmation bias, and failed to update his views based on evidence.

Unfortunately the mania against saturated fats has let to a large uptake in intake of carbs in particular sugars (which Keys said was better than SF at least on one occasion), and Omega 6 fats contained in industrial seed oils ("vegetable oils"), trans fats and various other abominations that have been replacing trans fats.

Read this and note how weak and old the evidence cited here is (president of the AHA).

Circulation. 2017;136:e1–e23. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510

Per your comment about realizing there is a mistake I get the feeling that the tide is turning and they are slowly walking it back.

Contrast the article above with this talk on the issue.

Comment by waveman on Akrasia and Shangri-La · 2019-04-15T06:19:58.221Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have a citation but I did read a paper which appeared to show that, while at first fat cells get smaller (and unhappier!), after about two years excess cells get culled. So if you can tough it out for two years it gets easier.

I acknowledge that there is also research that says otherwise. Not too easy to find, though journalism that says this is easy to find.

Both my wife and I lost about 15 kg of fat and did find after a couple of years life got easier, so maybe it's true.

Comment by waveman on The Unfinished Mystery of the Shangri-La Diet · 2019-04-15T05:59:12.211Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I had the same experience. In my case I actually tested this and I found to my great surprise that I was more productive at tough (for me) intellectual tasks when dieting (500 calorie deficit).

It might be worth testing if not actually done yet.

I do accept that some people have terrible problems mobilizing body fat for fuel. This can drive appetite.

Weight loss is a wicked problem. There can be many reasons for overeating. Psychology (i found IFS therapy best here), high insulin from excess glycemic carbs, genetic ungiftedness, hormonal issues often driven by excess fructose and/or Omega 6 fats.

What is frustrating is you have to get it all right before you lose weight sustainably.

Comment by waveman on Ideas for a fact checking widget · 2019-03-18T22:16:49.074Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is not as simple as it looks.

I think it would be better to provide a way to note that a claim is contested. It is just not clear in many cases what the facts are.

To add value to this, you could tell people what things the various parties think are facts. People might be interest to hear that the site says Elvis is still alive, the earth is flat, that evolution is a communist lie,
that this commentator said in 2007 there was a 'zero' chance of a major housing downturn in our lifetime, that this site said that Trump had no chance to win in 2016, that (6 months ago) the Muller report is going to be coming out within a few days, etc.

Other useful information: Who owns, sponsors, pays for lots of advertisements etc on that site? Where would you position them ideologically? Do they admit errors and publish retractions?

Trump has a good chance to win the 2016 election.

Fact check: False! The NYT says Clinton has > 98% chance to win!

Comment by waveman on Is there a difference between uncertainty over your utility function and uncertainty over outcomes? · 2019-03-18T22:08:04.654Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW
if you were to discover that apples were twice as valuable, you could simply pretend that you instead received twice as many apples

No, because twice as many apples are not usually twice as valuable. This because utility functions are not linear.

You can kind of deal with uncertainty about utility by fudging expectations about outcomes but, trust me, it is the primrose path to hell.

Comment by waveman on Ask LW: Have you read Yudkowsky's AI to Zombie book? · 2019-03-18T11:13:02.401Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Read a few of the sequences. Then read the book. Then read all the sequences.

I found the book very good.