nhaliday + πŸ€–   101

Contingent, Not Arbitrary | Truth is contingent on what is, not on what we wish to be true.
A vital attribute of a value system of any kind is that it works. I consider this a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for goodness. A value system, when followed, should contribute to human flourishing and not produce results that violate its core ideals. This is a pragmatic, I-know-it-when-I-see-it definition. I may refine it further if the need arises.

I think that the prevailing Western values fail by this standard. I will not spend much time arguing this; many others have already. If you reject this premise, this blog may not be for you.

I consider old traditions an important source of wisdom: they have proven their worth over centuries of use. Where they agree, we should listen. Where they disagree, we should figure out why. Where modernity departs from tradition, we should be wary of the new.

Tradition has one nagging problem: it was abandoned by the West. How and why did that happen? I consider this a central question. I expect the reasons to be varied and complex. Understanding them seems necessary if we are to fix what may have been broken.

In short, I want to answer these questions:

1. How do values spread and persist? An ideology does no good if no one holds it.
2. Which values do good? Sounding good is worse than useless if it leads to ruin.

The ultimate hope would be to find a way to combine the two. Many have tried and failed. I don’t expect to succeed either, but I hope I’ll manage to clarify the questions.

Christianity Is The Schelling Point: https://contingentnotarbitrary.com/2018/02/22/christianity-is-the-schelling-point/
Restoring true Christianity is both necessary and sufficient for restoring civilization. The task is neither easy nor simple but that’s what it takes. It is also our best chance of weathering the collapse if that’s too late to avoid.

Christianity is the ultimate coordination mechanism: it unites us with a higher purpose, aligns us with the laws of reality and works on all scales, from individuals to entire civilizations. Christendom took over the world and then lost it when its faith faltered. Historically and culturally, Christianity is the unique Schelling point for the West – or it would be if we could agree on which church (if any) was the true one.

Here are my arguments for true Christianity as the Schelling point. I hope to demonstrate these points in subsequent posts; for now I’ll just list them.

- A society of saints is the most powerful human arrangement possible. It is united in purpose, ideologically stable and operates in harmony with natural law. This is true independent of scale and organization: from military hierarchy to total decentralization, from persecuted minority to total hegemony. Even democracy works among saints – that’s why it took so long to fail.
- There is such a thing as true Christianity. I don’t know how to pinpoint it but it does exist; that holds from both secular and religious perspectives. Our task is to converge on it the best we can.
- Don’t worry too much about the existence of God. I’m proof that you don’t need that assumption in order to believe – it helps but isn’t mandatory.

Pascal’s Wager never sat right with me. Now I know why: it’s a sucker bet. Let’s update it.

If God exists, we must believe because our souls and civilization depend on it. If He doesn’t exist, we must believe because civilization depends on it.

Morality Should Be Adaptive: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/04/morals-should-be-adaptive.html
I agree with this
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april 2018 by nhaliday
Charity Cost-Effectiveness in an Uncertain World – Foundational Research Institute
Evaluating the effectiveness of our actions, or even just whether they're positive or negative by our values, is very difficult. One approach is to focus on clear, quantifiable metrics and assume that the larger, indirect considerations just kind of work out. Another way to deal with uncertainty is to focus on actions that seem likely to have generally positive effects across many scenarios, and often this approach amounts to meta-level activities like encouraging positive-sum institutions, philosophical inquiry, and effective altruism in general. When we consider flow-through effects of our actions, the seemingly vast gaps in cost-effectiveness among charities are humbled to more modest differences, and we begin to find more worth in the diversity of activities that different people are pursuing.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
The Function of Reason | Edge.org
https://www.edge.org/conversation/hugo_mercier-the-argumentative-theory

How Social Is Reason?: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2017/08/how-social-is-reason.html

https://gnxp.nofe.me/2017/07/02/open-thread-732017/
Reading The Enigma of Reason. Pretty good so far. Not incredibly surprising to me so far. To be clear, their argument is somewhat orthogonal to the whole β€˜rationality’ debate you may be familiar with from Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s work (e.g., see Heuristics and Biases).

One of the major problems in analysis is that rationality, reflection and ratiocination, are slow and error prone. To get a sense of that, just read ancient Greek science. Eratosthenes may have calculated to within 1% of the true circumference of the world, but Aristotle’s speculations on the nature of reproduction were rather off.

You may be as clever as Eratosthenes, but most people are not. But you probably accept that the world is round and 24,901 miles around. If you are not American you probably are vague on miles anyway. But you know what the social consensus is, and you accept it because it seems reasonable.

One of the points in cultural evolution work is that a lot of the time rather than relying on your own intuition and or reason, it is far more effective and cognitively cheaper to follow social norms of your ingroup. I only bring this up because unfortunately many pathologies of our political and intellectual world today are not really pathologies. That is, they’re not bugs, but features.

https://gnxp.nofe.me/2017/07/23/open-thread-07232017/
Finished The Enigma of Reason. The basic thesis that reasoning is a way to convince people after you’ve already come to a conclusion, that is, rationalization, was already one I shared. That makes sense since one of the coauthors, Dan Sperber, has been influential in the β€œnaturalistic” school of anthropology. If you’ve read books like In Gods We Trust The Enigma of Reason goes fast. But it is important to note that the cognitive anthropology perspective is useful in things besides religion. I’m thinking in particular of politics.

https://gnxp.nofe.me/2017/07/30/the-delusion-of-reasons-empire/
My point here is that many of our beliefs are arrived at in an intuitive manner, and we find reasons to justify those beliefs. One of the core insights you’ll get from The Enigma of Reason is that rationalization isn’t that big of a misfire or abuse of our capacities. It’s probably just a natural outcome for what and how we use reason in our natural ecology.

Mercier and Sperber contrast their β€œinteractionist” model of what reason is for with an β€œintellectualist: model. The intellecutalist model is rather straightforward. It is one where individual reasoning capacities exist so that one may make correct inferences about the world around us, often using methods that mimic those in abstract elucidated systems such as formal logic or Bayesian reasoning. When reasoning doesn’t work right, it’s because people aren’t using it for it’s right reasons. It can be entirely solitary because the tools don’t rely on social input or opinion.

The interactionist model holds that reasoning exists because it is a method of persuasion within social contexts. It is important here to note that the authors do not believe that reasoning is simply a tool for winning debates. That is, increasing your status in a social game. Rather, their overall thesis seems to be in alignment with the idea that cognition of reasoning properly understood is a social process. In this vein they offer evidence of how juries may be superior to judges, and the general examples you find in the β€œwisdom of the crowds” literature. Overall the authors make a strong case for the importance of diversity of good-faith viewpoints, because they believe that the truth on the whole tends to win out in dialogic formats (that is, if there is a truth; they are rather unclear and muddy about normative disagreements and how those can be resolved).

The major issues tend to crop up when reasoning is used outside of its proper context. One of the literature examples, which you are surely familiar with, in The Enigma of Reason is a psychological experiment where there are two conditions, and the researchers vary the conditions and note wide differences in behavior. In particular, the experiment where psychologists put subjects into a room where someone out of view is screaming for help. When they are alone, they quite often go to see what is wrong immediately. In contrast, when there is a confederate of the psychologists in the room who ignores the screaming, people also tend to ignore the screaming.

The researchers know the cause of the change in behavior. It’s the introduction of the confederate and that person’s behavior. But the subjects when interviewed give a wide range of plausible and possible answers. In other words, they are rationalizing their behavior when called to justify it in some way. This is entirely unexpected, we all know that people are very good at coming up with answers to explain their behavior (often in the best light possible). But that doesn’t mean they truly understanding their internal reasons, which seem to be more about intuition.

But much of The Enigma of Reason also recounts how bad people are at coming up with coherent and well thought out rationalizations. That is, their β€œreasons” tend to be ad hoc and weak. We’re not very good at formal logic or even simple syllogistic reasoning. The explanation for this seems to be two-fold.

...

At this point we need to address the elephant in the room: some humans seem extremely good at reasoning in a classical sense. I’m talking about individuals such as Blaise Pascal, Carl Friedrich Gauss, and John von Neumann. Early on in The Enigma of Reason the authors point out the power of reason by alluding to Eratosthenes’s calculation of the circumference of the earth, which was only off by one percent. Myself, I would have mentioned Archimedes, who I suspect was a genius on the same level as the ones mentioned above.

Mercier and Sperber state near the end of the book that math in particular is special and a powerful way to reason. We all know this. In math the axioms are clear, and agreed upon. And one can inspect the chain of propositions in a very transparent manner. Mathematics has guard-rails for any human who attempts to engage in reasoning. By reducing the ability of humans to enter into unforced errors math is the ideal avenue for solitary individual reasoning. But it is exceptional.

Second, though it is not discussed in The Enigma of Reason there does seem to be variation in general and domain specific intelligence within the human population. People who flourish in mathematics usually have high general intelligences, but they also often exhibit a tendency to be able to engage in high levels of visual-spatial conceptualization.

One the whole the more intelligent you are the better you are able to reason. But that does not mean that those with high intelligence are immune from the traps of motivated reasoning or faulty logic. Mercier and Sperber give many examples. There are two. Linus Pauling was indisputably brilliant, but by the end of his life he was consistently pushing Vitamin C quackery (in part through a very selective interpretation of the scientific literature).* They also point out that much of Isaac Newton’s prodigious intellectual output turns out to have been focused on alchemy and esoteric exegesis which is totally impenetrable. Newton undoubtedly had a first class mind, but if the domain it was applied to was garbage, then the output was also garbage.

...

Overall, the take-homes are:

Reasoning exists to persuade in a group context through dialogue, not individual ratiocination.
Reasoning can give rise to storytelling when prompted, even if the reasons have no relationship to the underlying causality.
Motivated reasoning emerges because we are not skeptical of the reasons we proffer, but highly skeptical of reasons which refute our own.
The β€œwisdom of the crowds” is not just a curious phenomenon, but one of the primary reasons that humans have become more socially complex and our brains have larger.
Ultimately, if you want to argue someone out of their beliefs…well, good luck with that. But you should read The Enigma of Reason to understand the best strategies (many of them are common sense, and I’ve come to them independently simply through 15 years of having to engage with people of diverse viewpoints).

* R. A. Fisher, who was one of the pioneers of both evolutionary genetics and statistics, famously did not believe there was a connection between smoking and cancer. He himself smoked a pipe regularly.

** From what we know about Blaise Pascal and Isaac Newton, their personalities were such that they’d probably be killed or expelled from a hunter-gatherer band.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
trees are harlequins, words are harlequins β€” bayes: a kinda-sorta masterpost
lol, gwern: https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/6ghsxf/biweekly_rational_feed/diqr0rq/
> What sort of person thinks β€œoh yeah, my beliefs about these coefficients correspond to a Gaussian with variance 2.5β€³? And what if I do cross-validation, like I always do, and find that variance 200 works better for the problem? Was the other person wrong? But how could they have known?
> ...Even ignoring the mode vs. mean issue, I have never met anyone who could tell whether their beliefs were normally distributed vs. Laplace distributed. Have you?
I must have spent too much time in Bayesland because both those strike me as very easy and I often think them! My beliefs usually are Laplace distributed when it comes to things like genetics (it makes me very sad to see GWASes with flat priors), and my Gaussian coefficients are actually a variance of 0.70 (assuming standardized variables w.l.o.g.) as is consistent with field-wide meta-analyses indicating that d>1 is pretty rare.
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august 2017 by nhaliday
Superintelligence Risk Project Update II
https://www.jefftk.com/p/superintelligence-risk-project-update

https://www.jefftk.com/p/conversation-with-michael-littman
For example, I asked him what he thought of the idea that to we could get AGI with current techniques, primarily deep neural nets and reinforcement learning, without learning anything new about how intelligence works or how to implement it ("Prosaic AGI" [1]). He didn't think this was possible, and believes there are deep conceptual issues we still need to get a handle on. He's also less impressed with deep learning than he was before he started working in it: in his experience it's a much more brittle technology than he had been expecting. Specifically, when trying to replicate results, he's often found that they depend on a bunch of parameters being in just the right range, and without that the systems don't perform nearly as well.

The bottom line, to him, was that since we are still many breakthroughs away from getting to AGI, we can't productively work on reducing superintelligence risk now.

He told me that he worries that the AI risk community is not solving real problems: they're making deductions and inferences that are self-consistent but not being tested or verified in the world. Since we can't tell if that's progress, it probably isn't. I asked if he was referring to MIRI's work here, and he said their work was an example of the kind of approach he's skeptical about, though he wasn't trying to single them out. [2]

https://www.jefftk.com/p/conversation-with-an-ai-researcher
Earlier this week I had a conversation with an AI researcher [1] at one of the main industry labs as part of my project of assessing superintelligence risk. Here's what I got from them:

They see progress in ML as almost entirely constrained by hardware and data, to the point that if today's hardware and data had existed in the mid 1950s researchers would have gotten to approximately our current state within ten to twenty years. They gave the example of backprop: we saw how to train multi-layer neural nets decades before we had the computing power to actually train these nets to do useful things.

Similarly, people talk about AlphaGo as a big jump, where Go went from being "ten years away" to "done" within a couple years, but they said it wasn't like that. If Go work had stayed in academia, with academia-level budgets and resources, it probably would have taken nearly that long. What changed was a company seeing promising results, realizing what could be done, and putting way more engineers and hardware on the project than anyone had previously done. AlphaGo couldn't have happened earlier because the hardware wasn't there yet, and was only able to be brought forward by massive application of resources.

https://www.jefftk.com/p/superintelligence-risk-project-conclusion
Summary: I'm not convinced that AI risk should be highly prioritized, but I'm also not convinced that it shouldn't. Highly qualified researchers in a position to have a good sense the field have massively different views on core questions like how capable ML systems are now, how capable they will be soon, and how we can influence their development. I do think these questions are possible to get a better handle on, but I think this would require much deeper ML knowledge than I have.
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july 2017 by nhaliday
On the effects of inequality on economic growth | Nintil
After the discussion above, what should one think about the relationship between inequality and growth?

For starters, that the consensus of the literature points to our lack of knowledge, and the need to be very careful when studying these phenomena. As of today there is no solid consensus on the effects of inequality on growth. Tentatively, on the grounds of Neves et al.’s meta-analysis, we can conclude that the impact of inequality on developed countries is economically insignificant. This means that one can claim that inequality is good, bad, or neutral for growth as long as the effects claimed are small and one talks about developed countries. For developing countries, the relationships are more negative.

http://squid314.livejournal.com/320672.html
I recently finished The Spirit Level, subtitled "Why More Equal Societies Almost Almost Do Better", although "Five Million Different Scatter Plot Graphs Plus Associated Commentary" would also have worked. It was a pretty thorough manifesto for the best kind of leftism: the type that foregoes ideology and a priori arguments in exchange for a truckload of statistics showing that their proposed social remedies really work.

Inequality: some people know what they want to find: https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/economics/inequality-some-people-know-what-they-want-to-find

Inequality doesn’t matter: a primer: https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/inequality-doesnt-matter-a-primer

Inequality and visibility of wealth in experimental social networks: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature15392
- Akihiro Nishi, Hirokazu Shirado, David G. Rand & Nicholas A. Christakis

We show that wealth visibility facilitates the downstream consequences of initial inequalityβ€”in initially more unequal situations, wealth visibility leads to greater inequality than when wealth is invisible. This result reflects a heterogeneous response to visibility in richer versus poorer subjects. We also find that making wealth visible has adverse welfare consequences, yielding lower levels of overall cooperation, inter-connectedness, and wealth. High initial levels of economic inequality alone, however, have relatively few deleterious welfare effects.

https://twitter.com/NAChristakis/status/952315243572719617
https://archive.is/DpyAx
Our own work has shown that the *visibility* of inequality, more then the inequality per se, may be especially corrosive to the social fabric. https://www.nature.com/articles/nature15392 … I wonder if @WalterScheidel historical data sheds light on this idea? end 5/
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june 2017 by nhaliday
The Toxoplasma Of Rage | Slate Star Codex
The idea of liberal strategists sitting down and choosing β€œa flagship case for the campaign against police brutality” is poppycock. Moloch – the abstracted spirit of discoordination and flailing response to incentives – will publicize whatever he feels like publicizing. And if they want viewers and ad money, the media will go along with him.

Which means that it’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship case for fighting police brutality and racism is the flagship case that we in fact got. It’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship cases for believing rape victims are the ones that end up going viral. It’s not a coincidence that the only time we ever hear about factory farming is when somebody’s doing something that makes us almost sympathetic to it. It’s not coincidence, it’s not even happenstance, it’s enemy action. Under Moloch, activists are irresistably incentivized to dig their own graves. And the media is irresistably incentivized to help them.
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june 2017 by nhaliday
Performance Trends in AI | Otium
Deep learning has revolutionized the world of artificial intelligence. But how much does it improve performance? How have computers gotten better at different tasks over time, since the rise of deep learning?

In games, what the data seems to show is that exponential growth in data and computation power yields exponential improvements in raw performance. In other words, you get out what you put in. Deep learning matters, but only because it provides a way to turn Moore’s Law into corresponding performance improvements, for a wide class of problems. It’s not even clear it’s a discontinuous advance in performance over non-deep-learning systems.

In image recognition, deep learning clearly is a discontinuous advance over other algorithms. But the returns to scale and the improvements over time seem to be flattening out as we approach or surpass human accuracy.

In speech recognition, deep learning is again a discontinuous advance. We are still far away from human accuracy, and in this regime, accuracy seems to be improving linearly over time.

In machine translation, neural nets seem to have made progress over conventional techniques, but it’s not yet clear if that’s a real phenomenon, or what the trends are.

In natural language processing, trends are positive, but deep learning doesn’t generally seem to do better than trendline.

...

The learned agent performs much better than the hard-coded agent, but moves more jerkily and β€œrandomly” and doesn’t know the law of reflection. Similarly, the reports of AlphaGo producing β€œunusual” Go moves are consistent with an agent that can do pattern-recognition over a broader space than humans can, but which doesn’t find the β€œlaws” or β€œregularities” that humans do.

Perhaps, contrary to the stereotype that contrasts β€œmechanical” with β€œoutside-the-box” thinking, reinforcement learners can β€œthink outside the box” but can’t find the box?

http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/08/02/where-the-falling-einstein-meets-the-rising-mouse/
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : Surprising Popularity
This week Nature published some empirical data on a surprising-popularity consensus mechanism (a previously published mechanism, e.g., Science in 2004, with variations going by the name β€œBayesian Truth Serum”). The idea is to ask people to pick from several options, and also to have each person forecast the distribution of opinion among others. The options that are picked surprisingly often, compared to what participants expected, are suggested as more likely true, and those who pick such options as better informed.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v541/n7638/full/nature21054.html
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/306/5695/462

https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/5qhvf0/a_solution_to_the_singlequestion_crowd_wisdom/
http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/okv/why_is_the_surprisingly_popular_answer_correct/

different one: http://www.pnas.org/content/114/20/5077.full.pdf
We show that market-based incentive systems produce herding effects, reduce information available to the group, and restrain collective intelligence. Therefore, we propose an incentive scheme that rewards accurate minority predictions and show that this produces optimal diversity and collective predictive accuracy. We conclude that real world systems should reward those who have shown accuracy when the majority opinion has been in error.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Thinking Outside One’s Paradigm | Academically Interesting
I think that as a scientist (or really, even as a citizen) it is important to be able to see outside one’s own paradigm. I currently think that I do a good job of this, but it seems to me that there’s a big danger of becoming more entrenched as I get older. Based on the above experiences, I plan to use the following test: When someone asks me a question about my field, how often have I not thought about it before? How tempted am I to say, β€œThat question isn’t interesting”? If these start to become more common, then I’ll know something has gone wrong.
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Adam Elkus: The Twilight of the Elites?
http://www.arnoldkling.com/blog/martin-gurri-on-post-truth/
Read the whole essay. I interpret one of the main points to be that the bond of trust between elites and the public has been broken, so that there is no longer a shared truth concerning the interpretation of events. I interpret his conclusion as being that we need to discover a new elite, one which has credibility. Easier said than done, to say the least.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/07/26/love-lives-rich-famous-verified-twitter-users-have-dating-app/
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january 2017 by nhaliday
Adaptation executors - Lesswrongwiki
Individual organisms are best thought of as adaptation-executers rather than as fitness-maximizers
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december 2016 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : Chip Away At Hard Problems
One of the most common ways that wannabe academics fail is by failing to sufficiently focus on a few topics of interest to academia. Many of them become amateur intellectuals, people who think and write more as a hobby, and less to gain professional rewards via institutions like academia, media, and business. Such amateurs are often just as smart and hard-working as professionals, and they can more directly address the topics that interest them. Professionals, in contrast, must specialize more, have less freedom to pick topics, and must try harder to impress others, which encourages the use of more difficult robust/rigorous methods.

You might think their added freedom would result in amateurs contributing more to intellectual progress, but in fact they contribute less. Yes, amateurs can and do make more initial progress when new topics arise suddenly far from topics where established expert institutions have specialized. But then over time amateurs blow their lead by focusing less and relying on easier more direct methods. They rely more on informal conversation as analysis method, they prefer personal connections over open competitions in choosing people, and they rely more on a perceived consensus among a smaller group of fellow enthusiasts. As a result, their contributions just don’t appeal as widely orΒ as long.
ratty  postrat  culture  academia  science  epistemic  hanson  frontier  contrarianism  thick-thin  long-term  regularizer  strategy  impact  essay  subculture  meta:rhetoric  aversion  discipline  curiosity  rigor  rationality  rat-pack  πŸ€–  success  2016  farmers-and-foragers  exploration-exploitation  low-hanging  clarity  vague  πŸ¦‰  optimate  systematic-ad-hoc  metameta  s:***  discovery  focus  info-dynamics  hari-seldon  grokkability-clarity 
december 2016 by nhaliday
Morris on the great divergence
Eighteenth-century intellectuals called this approach kaozheng, β€œevidential research.” It emphasized facts over speculation, bringing methodical, rigorous approaches to fields as diverse as mathematics, astronomy, geography, linguistics, and history, and consistently developing rules for assessing evidence. Kaozheng paralleled western Europe’s scientific revolution in every wayβ€”except one: it did not develop a mechanical model of nature.
history  china  asia  europe  comparison  science  culture  anthropology  industrial-revolution  quotes  ratty  economics  speculation  growth-econ  divergence  core-rats  early-modern  the-great-west-whale  roots  frontier  age-of-discovery  discovery  technology  innovation  analytical-holistic  empirical  🎩  πŸ€–  civilization  sinosphere  s:*  definite-planning  big-picture  πŸ”¬  broad-econ  info-dynamics  revolution  chart  lens  zeitgeist  wealth-of-nations  great-powers  enlightenment-renaissance-restoration-reformation  n-factor  orient  occident  modernity  the-trenches  thinking  physics 
december 2016 by nhaliday
Fact Posts: How and Why
The most useful thinking skill I've taught myself, which I think should be more widely practiced, is writing what I call "fact posts." I write a bunch of these on my blog. (I write fact posts about pregnancy and childbirth here.)

To write a fact post, you start with an empirical question, or a general topic. Something like "How common are hate crimes?" or "Are epidurals really dangerous?" or "What causes manufacturing job loss?"

It's okay if this is a topic you know very little about. This is an exercise in original seeing and showing your reasoning, not finding the official last word on a topic or doing the best analysis in the world.

Then you open up a Google doc and start taking notes.

You look for quantitative data from conventionally reliable sources. CDC data for incidences of diseases and other health risks in the US; WHO data for global health issues; Bureau of Labor Statistics data for US employment; and so on. Published scientific journal articles, especially from reputable journals and large randomized studies.

You explicitly do not look for opinion, even expert opinion. You avoid news, and you're wary of think-tank white papers. You're looking for raw information. You are taking a sola scriptura approach, for better and for worse.

And then you start letting the data show you things.

You see things that are surprising or odd, and you note that.

You see facts that seem to be inconsistent with each other, and you look into the data sources and methodology until you clear up the mystery.

You orient towards the random, the unfamiliar, the things that are totally unfamiliar to your experience. One of the major exports of Germany is valves? When was the last time I even thought about valves? Why valves, what do you use valves in? OK, show me a list of all the different kinds of machine parts, by percent of total exports.

And so, you dig in a little bit, to this part of the world that you hadn't looked at before. You cultivate the ability to spin up a lightweight sort of fannish obsessive curiosity when something seems like it might be a big deal.

And you take casual notes and impressions (though keeping track of all the numbers and their sources in your notes).

You do a little bit of arithmetic to compare things to familiar reference points. How does this source of risk compare to the risk of smoking or going horseback riding? How does the effect size of this drug compare to the effect size of psychotherapy?

You don't really want to do statistics. You might take percents, means, standard deviations, maybe a Cohen's d here and there, but nothing fancy. You're just trying to figure out what's going on.

It's often a good idea to rank things by raw scale. What is responsible for the bulk of deaths, the bulk of money moved, etc? What is big? Then pay attention more to things, and ask more questions about things, that are big. (Or disproportionately high-impact.)

You may find that this process gives you contrarian beliefs, but often you won't, you'll just have a strongly fact-based assessment of why you believe the usual thing.
ratty  lesswrong  essay  rhetoric  meta:rhetoric  epistemic  thinking  advice  street-fighting  scholar  checklists  πŸ€–  spock  writing  2016  info-foraging  rat-pack  clarity  systematic-ad-hoc  bounded-cognition  info-dynamics  let-me-see  nitty-gritty  core-rats  evidence-based  truth  grokkability-clarity 
december 2016 by nhaliday
SSC Journal Club: Expert Prediction Of Experiments | Slate Star Codex
- simple behavioral economics experiment (predicting which incentive would work best for MTurk)
- experts did better, but w/ caveats
1. prestige didn't matter, PhD students did just as well as full professors
2. field didn't matter (w/i a group of related fields)
3. advantage only present by one measure (absolute error rather than relative)
4. advantage was small
5. averaging got rid of it (wisdom of crowds)
6. doing well w/ a little empirical data for related problem predicted doing well on general problem. so expertise doesn't seem to be important as opposed just being good at forecasting?
yvain  ssc  study  summary  economics  behavioral-econ  tetlock  social-science  ratty  rationality  cool  hmm  insight  πŸ€–  meta:prediction  biases  bounded-cognition  incentives  ensembles  realness  info-dynamics  microfoundations  psychology  social-psych  expert-experience 
november 2016 by nhaliday
Edge.org: 2011 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?
commentary: http://www.kdnuggets.com/2011/01/edge-what-scientific-concept-improve-cognitive-toolkit.html

highlights:
- chunks w/ handles
- kayfabe (ie, homo hypocritus) [Eric Weinstein]
- probability distributions
- personality traits continuous w/ mental illness [Geoffrey Miller]
- path dependence
- findex (I actually do this is in Workflowy)
- base rates (the old saw)
- risk literacy (sure)
- scale analysis
- constraint satisfaction
- positive-sum games [Pinker]
expert  discussion  psychology  rationality  metabuch  list  thinking  top-n  πŸ€–  concept  pinker  org:edge  multi  models  spearhead  pre-2013  big-picture  conceptual-vocab  links  pro-rata  metameta  cooperate-defect  GT-101  q-n-a  πŸ”¬  chart  zeitgeist  canon  learning  neurons  illusion  realness  distribution  personality  psychiatry  path-dependence  info-foraging  risk  outcome-risk  scale  magnitude  zero-positive-sum  expert-experience  interests  questions 
november 2016 by nhaliday
The best kind of discrimination – The sideways view
I think it would be nice if the world had more price discrimination; we would produce more goods, and those goods would be available to more people. As a society we could enable price discrimination by providing more high-quality signals to be used by price discriminators. The IRS is in a particularly attractive position to offer such signals since income is a particularly useful signal. But realistically I think that such a proposal would require coordination in order to get consumers’ consent to make the data available (and to ensure that only upper bounds were available); the total gains are probably not large enough to justify the amount of coordination and complexity that is required.

apparently about 1/3 of income goes to capital-holders, and 2/3 to workers (wonder what the source for that is, and how consistent it is across industries)
clever-rats  ratty  alt-inst  economics  proposal  policy  markets  arbitrage  hmm  efficiency  street-fighting  analysis  gray-econ  πŸ€–  acmtariat  compensation  distribution  objektbuch  capital  labor  cost-benefit  capitalism  ideas  discrimination  supply-demand  micro 
november 2016 by nhaliday
Epistemic learned helplessness - Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz
I don’t think I’m overselling myself too much to expect that I could argue circles around the average uneducated person. Like I mean that on most topics, I could demolish their position and make them look like an idiot. Reduce them to some form of β€œLook, everything you say fits together and I can’t explain why you’re wrong, I just know you are!” Or, more plausibly, β€œShut up I don’t want to talk about this!”

And there are people who can argue circles around me. Maybe not on every topic, but on topics where they are experts and have spent their whole lives honing their arguments. When I was young I used to read pseudohistory books; Immanuel Velikovsky’s Ages in Chaos is a good example of the best this genre has to offer. I read it and it seemed so obviously correct, so perfect, that I could barely bring myself to bother to search out rebuttals.

And then I read the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct, so devastating, that I couldn’t believe I had ever been so dumb as to believe Velikovsky.

And then I read the rebuttals to the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct that I felt silly for ever doubting.

And so on for several more iterations, until the labyrinth of doubt seemed inescapable. What finally broke me out wasn’t so much the lucidity of the consensus view so much as starting to sample different crackpots. Some were almost as bright and rhetorically gifted as Velikovsky, all presented insurmountable evidence for their theories, and all had mutually exclusive ideas. After all, Noah’s Flood couldn’t have been a cultural memory both of the fall of Atlantis and of a change in the Earth’s orbit, let alone of a lost Ice Age civilization or of megatsunamis from a meteor strike. So given that at least some of those arguments are wrong and all seemed practically proven, I am obviously just gullible in the field of ancient history. Given a total lack of independent intellectual steering power and no desire to spend thirty years building an independent knowledge base of Near Eastern history, I choose to just accept the ideas of the prestigious people with professorships in Archaeology, rather than those of the universally reviled crackpots who write books about Venus being a comet.

You could consider this a form of epistemic learned helplessness, where I know any attempt to evaluate the arguments is just going to be a bad idea so I don’t even try. If you have a good argument that the Early Bronze Age worked completely differently from the way mainstream historians believe, I just don’t want to hear about it. If you insist on telling me anyway, I will nod, say that your argument makes complete sense, and then totally refuse to change my mind or admit even the slightest possibility that you might be right.

(This is the correct Bayesian action: if I know that a false argument sounds just as convincing as a true argument, argument convincingness provides no evidence either way. I should ignore it and stick with my prior.)

...

Even the smartest people I know have a commendable tendency not to take certain ideas seriously. Bostrom’s simulation argument, the anthropic doomsday argument, Pascal’s Mugging – I’ve never heard anyone give a coherent argument against any of these, but I’ve also never met anyone who fully accepts them and lives life according to their implications.

A friend tells me of a guy who once accepted fundamentalist religion because of Pascal’s Wager. I will provisionally admit that this person β€œtakes ideas seriously”. Everyone else gets partial credit, at best.

...

Responsible doctors are at the other end of the spectrum from terrorists here. I once heard someone rail against how doctors totally ignored all the latest and most exciting medical studies. The same person, practically in the same breath, then railed against how 50% to 90% of medical studies are wrong. These two observations are not unrelated. Not only are there so many terrible studies, but pseudomedicine (not the stupid homeopathy type, but the type that links everything to some obscure chemical on an out-of-the-way metabolic pathway) has, for me, proven much like pseudohistory – unless I am an expert in that particular subsubfield of medicine, it can sound very convincing even when it’s very wrong.

The medical establishment offers a shiny tempting solution. First, a total unwillingness to trust anything, no matter how plausible it sounds, until it’s gone through an endless cycle of studies and meta-analyses. Second, a bunch of Institutes and Collaborations dedicated to filtering through all these studies and analyses and telling you what lessons you should draw from them.

I’m glad that some people never develop epistemic learned helplessness, or develop only a limited amount of it, or only in certain domains. It seems to me that although these people are more likely to become terrorists or Velikovskians or homeopaths, they’re also the only people who can figure out if something basic and unquestionable is wrong, and make this possibility well-known enough that normal people start becoming willing to consider it.

But I’m also glad epistemic learned helplessness exists. It seems like a pretty useful social safety valve most of the time.
yvain  essay  thinking  rationality  philosophy  reflection  ratty  ssc  epistemic  πŸ€–  2013  minimalism  intricacy  p:null  info-dynamics  truth  reason  s:**  contrarianism  subculture  inference  bayesian  priors-posteriors  debate  rhetoric  pessimism  nihil  spreading  flux-stasis  robust  parsimony  dark-arts  illusion 
october 2016 by nhaliday
A Fervent Defense of Frequentist Statistics - Less Wrong
Short summary. This essay makes many points, each of which I think is worth reading, but if you are only going to understand one point I think it should be β€œMyth 5β€³ below, which describes the online learning framework as a response to the claim that frequentist methods need to make strong modeling assumptions. Among other things, online learning allows me to perform the following remarkable feat: if I’m betting on horses, and I get to place bets after watching other people bet but before seeing which horse wins the race, then I can guarantee that after a relatively small number of races, I will do almost as well overall as the best other person, even if the number of other people is very large (say, 1 billion), and their performance is correlated in complicated ways.

If you’re only going to understand two points, then also read about the frequentist version of Solomonoff induction, which is described in β€œMyth 6β€³.

...

If you are like me from, say, two years ago, you are firmly convinced that Bayesian methods are superior and that you have knockdown arguments in favor of this. If this is the case, then I hope this essay will give you an experience that I myself found life-altering: the experience of having a way of thinking that seemed unquestionably true slowly dissolve into just one of many imperfect models of reality. This experience helped me gain more explicit appreciation for the skill of viewing the world from many different angles, and of distinguishing between a very successful paradigm and reality.

If you are not like me, then you may have had the experience of bringing up one of many reasonable objections to normative Bayesian epistemology, and having it shot down by one of many β€œstandard” arguments that seem wrong but not for easy-to-articulate reasons. I hope to lend some reprieve to those of you in this camp, by providing a collection of β€œstandard” replies to these standard arguments.
bayesian  philosophy  stats  rhetoric  advice  debate  critique  expert  lesswrong  commentary  discussion  regularizer  essay  exposition  πŸ€–  aphorism  spock  synthesis  clever-rats  ratty  hi-order-bits  top-n  2014  acmtariat  big-picture  acm  iidness  online-learning  lens  clarity  unit  nibble  frequentist  s:**  expert-experience  subjective-objective  grokkability-clarity 
september 2016 by nhaliday
Risk Arbitrage | Ordinary Ideas
People have different risk profiles, and different beliefs about the future. But it seems to me like these differences should probably get washed out in markets, so that as a society we pursue investments if and only if they have good returns using some particular beliefs (call them the market’s beliefs) and with respect to some particular risk profile (call it the market’s risk profile).

As it turns out, if we idealize the world hard enough these two notions collapse, yielding a single probability distribution P which has the following property: on the margins, every individual should make an investment if and only if it has a positive expected value with respect to P. This probability distribution tends to be somewhat pessimistic: because people care about wealth more in worlds where wealth is scarce (being risk averse), events like a complete market collapse receive higher probability under P than under the β€œreal” probability distribution over possible futures.
insight  thinking  hanson  rationality  explanation  finance  πŸ€–  alt-inst  spock  confusion  prediction-markets  markets  ratty  decision-theory  clever-rats  pre-2013  acmtariat  outcome-risk  info-econ  info-dynamics 
september 2016 by nhaliday
Overcoming Bias : Two Kinds Of Status
prestige and dominance

More here. I was skeptical at first, but now am convinced: humans see two kinds of status, and approve of prestige-status much more than domination-status. I’ll have much more to say about this in the coming days, but it is far from clear to me that prestige-status is as much better than domination-status as people seem to think. Efforts to achieve prestige-status also have serious negative side-effects.

Two Ways to the Top: Evidence That Dominance and Prestige Are Distinct Yet Viable Avenues to Social Rank and Influence: https://henrich.fas.harvard.edu/files/henrich/files/cheng_et_al_2013.pdf
Dominance (the use of force and intimidation to induce fear) and Prestige (the sharing of expertise or know-how to gain respect)

...

According to the model, Dominance initially arose in evolutionary history as a result of agonistic contests for material resources and mates that were common among nonhuman species, but continues to exist in contemporary human societies, largely in the form of psychological intimidation, coercion, and wielded control over costs and benefits (e.g., access to resources, mates, and well-being). In both humans and nonhumans, Dominance hierarchies are thought to emerge to help maintain patterns of submission directed from subordinates to Dominants, thereby minimizing agonistic battles and incurred costs.

In contrast, Prestige is likely unique to humans, because it is thought to have emerged from selection pressures to preferentially attend to and acquire cultural knowledge from highly skilled or successful others, a capacity considered to be less developed in other animals (Boyd & Richerson, 1985; Laland & Galef, 2009). In this view, social learning (i.e., copying others) evolved in humans as a low-cost fitness-maximizing, information-gathering mechanism (Boyd & Richerson, 1985). Once it became adaptive to copy skilled others, a preference for social models with better than average information would have emerged. This would promote competition for access to the highest quality models, and deference toward these models in exchange for copying and learning opportunities. Consequently, selection likely favored Prestige differentiation, with individuals possessing high-quality information or skills elevated to the top of the hierarchy. Meanwhile, other individuals may reach the highest ranks of their group’s hierarchy by wielding threat of force, regardless of the quality of their knowledge or skills. Thus, Dominance and Prestige can be thought of as coexisting avenues to attaining rank and influence within social groups, despite being underpinned by distinct motivations and behavioral patterns, and resulting in distinct patterns of imitation and deference from subordinates.

Importantly, both Dominance and Prestige are best conceptualized as cognitive and behavioral strategies (i.e., suites of subjective feelings, cognitions, motivations, and behavioral patterns that together produce certain outcomes) deployed in certain situations, and can be used (with more or less success) by any individual within a group. They are not types of individuals, or even, necessarily, traits within individuals. Instead, we assume that all situated dyadic relationships contain differential degrees of both Dominance and Prestige, such that each person is simultaneously Dominant and Prestigious to some extent, to some other individual. Thus, it is possible that a high degree of Dominance and a high degree of Prestige may be found within the same individual, and may depend on who is doing the judging. For example, by controlling students’ access to rewards and punishments, school teachers may exert Dominance in their relationships with some students, but simultaneously enjoy Prestige with others, if they are respected and deferred to for their competence and wisdom. Indeed, previous studies have shown that based on both self- and peer ratings, Dominance and Prestige are largely independent (mean r = -.03; Cheng et al., 2010).

Status Hypocrisy: https://www.overcomingbias.com/2017/01/status-hypocrisy.html
Today we tend to say that our leaders have prestige, while their leaders have dominance. That is, their leaders hold power via personal connections and the threat and practice of violence, bribes, sex, gossip, and conformity pressures. Our leaders, instead, mainly just have whatever abilities follow from our deepest respect and admiration regarding their wisdom and efforts on serious topics that matter for us all. Their leaders more seek power, while ours more have leadership thrust upon them. Because of this us/them split, we tend to try to use persuasion on us, but force on them, when seeking to to change behaviors.

...

Clearly, while there is some fact of the matter about how much a person gains their status via licit or illicit means, there is also a lot of impression management going on. We like to give others the impression that we personally mainly want prestige in ourselves and our associates, and that we only grant others status via the prestige they have earned. But let me suggest that, compared to this ideal, we actually want more dominance in ourselves and our associates than we like to admit, and we submit more often to dominance.

Cads, Dads, Doms: https://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/07/cads-dads-doms.html
"The proper dichotomy is not β€œvirile vs. wimpy” as has been supposed, but β€œexciting vs. drab,” with the former having the two distinct sub-groups β€œmacho man vs. pretty boy.” Another way to see that this is the right dichotomy is to look around the world: wherever girls really dig macho men, they also dig the peacocky musician type too, finding safe guys a bit boring. And conversely, where devoted dads do the best, it’s more difficult for macho men or in-town-for-a-day rockstars to make out like bandits. …

Whatever it is about high-pathogen-load areas that selects for greater polygynous behavior … will result in an increase in both gorilla-like and peacock-like males, since they’re two viable ways to pursue a polygynous mating strategy."

This fits with there being two kinds of status: dominance and prestige. Macho men, such as CEOs and athletes, have dominance, while musicians and artists have prestige. But women seek both short and long term mates. Since both kinds of status suggest good genes, both attract women seeking short term mates. This happens more when women are younger and richer, and when there is more disease. Foragers pretend they don’t respect dominance as much as they do, so prestigious men get more overt attention, while dominant men get more covert attention.

Women seeking long term mates also consider a man’s ability to supply resources, and may settle for poorer genes to get more resources. Dominant men tend to have more resources than prestigious men, so such men are more likely to fill both roles, being long term mates for some women and short term mates for others. Men who can offer only prestige must accept worse long term mates, while men who can offer only resources must accept few short term mates. Those low in prestige, resources, or dominance must accept no mates. A man who had prestige, dominance, and resources would get the best short and long term mates – what men are these?

Stories are biased toward dramatic events, and so are biased toward events with risky men; it is harder to tell a good story about the attraction of a resource-rich man. So stories naturally encourage short term mating. Shouldn’t this make long-term mates wary of strong mate attraction to dramatic stories?

https://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/07/cads-dads-doms.html#comment-518319076
Woman want three things: someone to fight for them (the Warrior), someone to provide for them (the Tycoon) and someone to excite their emotions or entertain them (the Wizard).

In this context,

Dom=Warrior
Dad= Tycoon
Cad= Wizard

To repeat:

Dom (Cocky)+ Dad (Generous) + Cad (Exciting/Funny) = Laid

https://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/07/cads-dads-doms.html#comment-518318987
There is an old distinction between "proximate" and "ultimate" causes. Evolution is an ultimate cause, physiology (and psychology, here) is a proximate cause. The flower bends to follow the sun because it gathers more light that way, but the immediate mechanism of the bending involves hormones called auxins. I see a lot of speculation about, say, sexual cognitive dimorphism whose ultimate cause is evolutionary, but not so much speculation about the proximate cause - the "how" of the difference, rather than the "why". And here I think a visit to an older mode of explanation like Marsden's - one which is psychological rather than genetic - can sensitize us to the fact that the proximate causes of a behavioral tendency need not be a straightforward matter of being hardwired differently.

This leads to my second point, which is just that we should remember that human beings actually possess consciousness. This means not only that the proximate cause of a behavior may deeply involve subjectivity, self-awareness, and an existential situation. It also means that all of these propositions about what people do are susceptible to change once they have been spelled out and become part of the culture. It is rather like the stock market: once everyone knows (or believes) something, then that information provides no advantage, creating an incentive for novelty.

Finally, the consequences of new beliefs about the how and the why of human nature and human behavior. Right or wrong, theories already begin to have consequences once they are taken up and incorporated into subjectivity. We really need a new Foucault to take on this topic.

The Economics of Social Status: http://www.meltingasphalt.com/the-economics-of-social-status/
Prestige vs. dominance. Joseph Henrich (of WEIRD fame) distinguishes two types of status. Prestige is the kind of status we get from being an impressive human specimen (think Meryl Streep), and it's governed by our 'approach' instincts. Dominance, on the other hand, is … [more]
things  status  hanson  thinking  comparison  len:short  anthropology  farmers-and-foragers  phalanges  ratty  duty  power  humility  hypocrisy  hari-seldon  multi  sex  gender  signaling  🐝  tradeoffs  evopsych  insight  models  sexuality  gender-diff  chart  postrat  yvain  ssc  simler  critique  essay  debate  paying-rent  gedanken  empirical  operational  vague  info-dynamics  len:long  community  henrich  long-short-run  rhetoric  contrarianism  coordination  social-structure  hidden-motives  politics  2016-election  rationality  links  study  summary  list  hive-mind  speculation  coalitions  values  πŸ€–  metabuch  envy  universalism-particularism  egalitarianism-hierarchy  s-factor  unintended-consequences  tribalism  group-selection  justice  inequality  competition  cultural-dynamics  peace-violence  ranking  machiavelli  authoritarianism  strategy  tactics  organizing  leadership  management  n-factor  duplication  thiel  volo-avolo  todo  technocracy  rent-seeking  incentives  econotariat  marginal-rev  civilization  rot  gibbon 
september 2016 by nhaliday
The Rise and Fall of the Bourgeois Era – spottedtoad
That is, the Bourgeois Era allowed and required men (and then women) to work within the market system to support their families, but a changing technology of production means we are more in need of consumers than producers now. The Bourgeois Era benefited from people who were in some ways β€œbred for capitalism,” by the combination of Malthusian circumstances and strong states that punished violence with violence and starved the children of those who couldn’t make a living with market labor. But the majority of the people on the planet did not go through that same, centuries-long process, which was only partially effective in the places it operated in any case.

Just in time, however, the β€œneed” for bourgeois lives has dissipated.
trends  culture  society  data  anomie  anthropology  civilization  spock  ratty  insight  innovation  unaffiliated  hmm  πŸ€–  c:*  2016  optimate  consumerism  supply-demand  fertility  wonkish  labor  winner-take-all  malthus  migration  redistribution  technocracy  nl-and-so-can-you  capitalism  the-great-west-whale  biophysical-econ  managerial-state  malaise  sociology  westminster  current-events  nationalism-globalism  roots  civic  madisonian  chart  coming-apart  dignity  welfare-state  zeitgeist  rot  the-bones  kumbaya-kult  tradition  modernity  peace-violence  recent-selection  gregory-clark  spearhead  counter-revolution  nascent-state  :/  utopia-dystopia 
august 2016 by nhaliday
Achilles and the Tortoise Talk About Floss – spottedtoad
Exactly- people already want their teeth to be clean. People already can afford floss if they want to get it. People already have been told their whole life, more-or-less, that they should floss. To a large degree, if they’re the kind of person whoΒ can follow through with flossing, they’re already doing it. So if you go and put up signs around your medical school telling people they can get paid for a study of flossing if they don’t already floss and then you randomly assign them to be told to floss or not,Β you’re not testing the effect of flossing, you’re testing the effect of being told one more time to floss if you’ve already proved that you don’t like to do it. Maybe it’s not even that good for you personally, butΒ that doesn’t mean it’s notΒ good for most people who are already flossing.
health  medicine  thinking  science  parable  counterfactual  πŸ€–  spock  evidence-based  regularizer  ratty  map-territory  unaffiliated  marginal  wonkish  dental  intricacy  measurement  confounding  discipline  intervention  persuasion  get-fit 
august 2016 by nhaliday
Chronicles of Harry
seems very active across multiple rationalist-type sites
rationality  blog  people  math  hmm  yvain  stream  πŸ€–  ratty  core-rats  diaspora 
august 2016 by nhaliday
The Control Group Is Out Of Control | Slate Star Codex
Trying to set up placebo science would be a logistical nightmare. You’d have to find a phenomenon that definitely doesn’t exist, somehow convince a whole community of scientists across the world that it does, and fund them to study it for a couple of decades without them figuring out the gig.

Luckily we have a natural experiment in terms of parapsychology – the study of psychic phenomena – which most reasonable people don’t believe exists but which a community of practicing scientists does and publishes papers on all the time.

The results are pretty dismal. Parapsychologists are able to produce experimental evidence for psychic phenomena about as easily as normal scientists are able to produce such evidence for normal, non-psychic phenomena. This suggests the existence of a very large β€œplacebo effect” in science – ie with enough energy focused on a subject, you can always produce β€œexperimental evidence” for it that meets the usual scientific standards.

http://redux.slate.com/cover-stories/2017/05/daryl-bem-proved-esp-is-real-showed-science-is-broken.html
science  study  stats  yvain  replication  summary  insight  essay  social-science  len:long  ssc  ratty  c:***  meta:science  natural-experiment  psychology  social-psych  error  bounded-cognition  postmortem  πŸ€–  2014  πŸ”¬  info-dynamics  multi  news  org:lite  longform  profile  illusion  realness 
july 2016 by nhaliday
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