ATTENTION: You are viewing a page formatted for mobile devices; to view the full web page, click HERE.

Main Area and Open Discussion > Living Room

Interesting Academic Blog: Overcoming Bias

(1/2) > >>

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:

"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?"

--- End quote ---

Anyway, it's an interesting and unusual academic blog -- worth checking out if you like that kind of thing.

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.
--- End quote ---

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:

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.

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.

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.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version