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Author Topic: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias  (Read 2832 times)

mouser

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Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« on: June 14, 2014, 05:35:19 AM »
I wanted to post about a blog that I check out regularly, called "Overcoming Bias", that I thought might be of interest to some here.

It's a somewhat strange blog, written by an economics professor and futurist (Robin Hanson), that discusses human behavior and societal interactions and incentives.


I'm not endorsing his opinions, and it's a little hard to describe what I find interesting about the blog -- except that the tone of it is quite different (perhaps the author has Aspergers or is able to view issues unusually dispassionately) -- it's hard to put my finger on it.

The blog often comes across to me as matter-of-factly talking about things that seem slightly off-kilter, but in a very plain and logical way.  Like an alien analyzing human behavior without our normal social moorings.  Think "spock" from star trek.  I suppose this is the kind of approach you expect from an economist but the results when applied to human behavior can be quite interesting.  He's often talking about "signaling" -- like the signals that people give off to attract mates, and proposing unusual hypotheticals and thought experiments in order to make a point.

For example, from some recent excerpts:

Quote
"So my advice is to choose a focus for your honesty, a narrow enough focus to have a decent chance at achieving honesty. Make your focus more narrow the more dangerous is your focus area. Try to insulate beliefs on your focus topics from beliefs on risky topics like your own value, and try to arrange things so you will be penalized for dishonesty. Don’t persent yourself as a “rationalist” who is more honest on all topics, but instead as at best “rationalist on X.”

"There’s a simple signaling explanation here. We like to do big things, as they make us seem big. We don’t want to be obvious about this motive, so we pretend to have financial calculations to justify them. But we are purposely sloppy about those calculations, so that we can justify the big projects we want."

"Consider two possible work strategies. One strategy is just to try to do a good job. The other is to try to kiss ass and please your boss any way you can. Of course you can try either strategy, both, or neither. Which makes four different kinds of workers. Now ask yourself, of these four kinds of workers, which ones do you think achieve the most career success? Which ones have the most job and life satisfaction?"

Anyway, it's an interesting and unusual academic blog -- worth checking out if you like that kind of thing.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2014, 12:32:16 PM by mouser »

40hz

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Re: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2014, 12:21:24 PM »
Quote
I have little patience with those whose thinking is sloppy, small, or devoid of abstraction. And I’m not a joiner; I rebel against groups with “our beliefs”, especially when members must keep criticisms private, so as not to give ammunition to “them.” I love to argue one on one, and common beliefs are not important for friendship — instead I value honesty and passion.

Strikes me (from his bio) as a bright guy who's devoid of manners, and is short on respect for others he doesn't consider his intellectual equals. It's an unfortunately typical attitude shared by many "university types" I've dealt/worked/fought with over the years. So it goes.

And now, after reading a few of his mini-screeds, he begins to strike me much the way Ayn Rand does. Some excellent ideas and/or observations wedded to some highly questionable conclusions and interpretations.

I'll have to give his blog a more in depth read when I can spare the time. I'm already slightly pissed about a few things I've read in there - so it ought to be a fun blogcrawl for me. :D

@Mouser - Thx for sharing! :Thmbsup:

IainB

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Re: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« Reply #2 on: June 15, 2014, 09:45:38 AM »
Yes, it is an interesting find.
Generally, I would recommend one looks at what a person's reasoning is in what he/she states in a written form, and the rationale, validity/truth of same.
One does not necessarily have to like the person or the way he/she puts things in order to appreciate their rationale (or lack thereof).
However, if a set of reasoning leads up to and/or supports a statement of belief, then that usually sounds the warning bell for rationalisation. It would be interesting if one found rationalisation in that website.

40hz

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Re: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« Reply #3 on: June 15, 2014, 11:39:00 AM »
And he does seem to be willfully blind to the level of bias displayed in some of his own core set of 'givens' doesn't he?

I always worry a little when these cross-disciplinary types start enthusiastically applying the tools of one discipline to an area they're not specifically designed or intended to he used in. But thats certainly the trend these days. And why you now see theoretical physicists developing formulas for hedge funds and actors penning books on health topics they have little expertise in. (NOTE: personal experience, "reading some books" or extensively browsing the web does not automatically an expert make.)

On a certain level, anything can be made to appear equivalent or similiar to virtually anything else. And that way lies "brain rot" according to AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, who cautions us to focus on the differences rather than the similarities between things.
« Last Edit: June 15, 2014, 11:48:13 AM by 40hz »

mouser

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Re: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2014, 11:51:08 AM »
I had a slightly different take on reading some of his stuff -- what puts me off was the feeling that, regardless of the validity of his observations and analysis -- embracing some of this stuff seems like it would turn you into a real jerk.  Kind of like reading a book that tells you how to manipulate others and befriend people with political connections that will benefit you.

Regardless, i always appreciate reading a thoughtful unique perspective on things.

IainB

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Re: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« Reply #5 on: June 15, 2014, 10:23:55 PM »
And he does seem to be willfully blind to the level of bias displayed in some of his own core set of 'givens' doesn't he? ...
Yes, I wondered about that too. Maybe it is there as a deliberate challenge for someone to argue against and get a bit of discussion going in the blog comments. He does say he likes argument.

...I always worry a little when these cross-disciplinary types start enthusiastically applying the tools of one discipline to an area they're not specifically designed or intended to he used in. ...
Yes, and then in many cases what happens is they seem to apply those tools incorrectly too - e.g., the abuse of stochastic method by people who have never been trained in it. I reckon a lot of the blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of SPSS. Suddenly, everybody's a half-baked wannabe statistician using half-baked methods, attempting to "prove" their irrational pet half-baked theories, and correlation becomes causality. Next, they go on to prove that black is white and get killed on a pedestrian crossing...(HHGTTG).

...Regardless, i always appreciate reading a thoughtful unique perspective on things.
Yes, me too, though I much prefer it if I also learn something new from that unique perspective - a good example would be Number Watch:
Quote
Number Watch 
 All about the scares, scams, junk, panics and flummery cooked up by the media, politicians, bureaucrats, so-called scientists and others who try to confuse you with wrong numbers.

Working to combat Math Hysteria.

"It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tost upon the sea: a pleasure to stand in the window of the castle and to see the battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth ( a hill not to be commanded and where the air is always clear and serene), and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below."
From Of Truth, Francis Bacon.

- it is a site set up by one Professor John Brignell, an engineer and mathematician. The discussion forum is pretty good with some lively rational discussion - and humour.

Renegade

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Re: Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias
« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2014, 08:50:40 PM »
Interesting. I read through a few posts.

The first one was this:

http://www.overcomin...king-as-respect.html

Sigh... He identifies a pet peeve of mine. A relatively minor one, but an annoying one. Skipping the rant...

I had a slightly different take on reading some of his stuff -- what puts me off was the feeling that, regardless of the validity of his observations and analysis -- embracing some of this stuff seems like it would turn you into a real jerk.  Kind of like reading a book that tells you how to manipulate others and befriend people with political connections that will benefit you.

Regardless, i always appreciate reading a thoughtful unique perspective on things.

Going way off on another topic, but related to my highlight above, (FAIR WARNING - THE LINK HERE **WILL** OFFEND MANY PEOPLE) Christopher Cantwell's blog has much of that in it, and in a far more blatant way. He's NOT subtle. While much of what he has to say is well reasoned, it, well, I suppose that you really need to read for yourself to see what's up there. Most people would be repulsed by what he has to say, but such is the nature of the knee jerk reaction.

I would be curious to know what Robin Hanson would have to say about Christopher Cantwell. Just how far could Robin push his ability to overcome his own bias there?
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