Do you know anyone who might fall into this category, i.e. someone who was exposed to Less Wrong but failed to become an enthusiast, potentially due to atmosphere issues?

Yes. I know a couple of people with whom I share interest in Artificial Intelligence (this is my primary focus in loading Less Wrong web pages) who communicated to me that they did not like the site's atmosphere. Atmosphere is not exactly the word they used. One person thought the cryonics was a deal breaker. (If you read the piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about Robin Hanson and his wife you will get a good idea of the global consensus distaste for the topic.) The other person was not so specific although it was clear they were turned off completely even if they couldn't or wouldn't explain how.

Is it possible that our culture might be different if these folks were hanging around and contributing? Presumably they are disproportionately represented among certain personality types.

It is obvious that the culture here would be different if the more controversial or unpopular topics were downplayed enough not to discourage people who don't find the atmosphere convivial.

If so, can you suggest any easy steps we could take?

Here is what I have personally heard or read in comments that people find most bothersome: cryonics, polyamory, pick up artistry, density of jargon, demographic homogeneity (highly educated white males). Any steps to water that down beyond those already taken (pick up artistry is regularly criticized and Bell Curve racial IQ discussion has been all but tabooed) would not be easy to implement quickly and would have consequences beyond making for a more inclusive atmosphere.

I am not in agreement with the suitability of the word cult to characterize this issue accurately. I did the google test you describe and was surprised to see cult pop up so fast, but when I think cult I think Hare Krishnas, I think Charles Manson, I think David Koresh; I don't think Singularity Institute, and I don't think about a number of the organizations on Rick Ross' pages. Rick Ross is a man whose business makes money by promoting fear of cults. The last time I looked he had Landmark Education listed as a cult; this might be true with an extremely loose definition of the word but they haven't killed anybody yet to the best of my knowledge. I have taken a couple of courses from them and the multi-level marketing vibe is irksome but they have some excellent (and rational!) content in their courses. The last time I looked Ross did not have the Ordo Templi Orientis listed as a cult. When I was a member of that organization there were around a couple of thousand dues paying members in the United States, so I presume the OTO cult (this word is far more appropriately applied to them than Landmark) is too small for him to spend resources on.

The poster who replied that he and his wife refer to his Less Wrong activity as his cult membership is understandable to me in a light and humorous manner; I would be surprised if they really classify Less Wrong with Scientology and Charles Manson.

Cult impressions of Less Wrong/Singularity Institute

by John_Maxwell 1 min read15th Mar 2012248 comments

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If you type "less wrong c" or "singularity institute c" into Google, you'll find that people are searching for "less wrong cult" and "singularity institute cult" with some frequency. (EDIT: Please avoid testing this out, so Google doesn't autocomplete your search and reinforce their positions. This kind of problem can be hard to get rid of. Click these instead: less wrong cult, singularity institute cult.)
There doesn't seem to be anyone arguing seriously that Less Wrong is a cult, but we do give some newcomers that impression.

I have several questions related to this:

  • Did anyone reading this initially get the impression that Less Wrong was cultish when they first discovered it?
  • If so, can you suggest any easy steps we could take?
  • Is it possible that there are aspects of the atmosphere here that are driving away intelligent, rationally inclined people who might otherwise be interested in Less Wrong?
  • Do you know anyone who might fall into this category, i.e. someone who was exposed to Less Wrong but failed to become an enthusiast, potentially due to atmosphere issues?
  • Is it possible that our culture might be different if these folks were hanging around and contributing? Presumably they are disproportionately represented among certain personality types.

If you visit any Less Wrong page for the first time in a cookies-free browsing mode, you'll see this message for new users:

Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Here are the worst violators I see on that about page:

Some people consider the Sequences the most important work they have ever read.

Generally, if your comment or post is on-topic, thoughtful, and shows that you're familiar with the Sequences, your comment or post will be upvoted.

Many of us believe in the importance of developing qualities described in Twelve Virtues of Rationality: [insert mystical sounding description of how to be rational here]

And on the sequences page:

If you don't read the sequences on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions and Reductionism, little else on Less Wrong will make much sense.

This seems obviously false to me.

These may not seem like cultish statements to you, but keep in mind that you are one of the ones who decided to stick around. The typical mind fallacy may be at work. Clearly there is some population that thinks Less Wrong seems cultish, as evidenced by Google's autocomplete, and these look like good candidates for things that makes them think this.

We can fix this stuff easily, since they're both wiki pages, but I thought they were examples worth discussing.

In general, I think we could stand more community effort being put into improving our about page, which you can do now here. It's not that visible to veteran users, but it is very visible to newcomers. Note that it looks as though you'll have to click the little "Force reload from wiki" button on the about page itself for your changes to be published.

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