Quick summary: "Hidden rationalists" are what I call authors who espouse rationalist principles, and probably think of themselves as rational people, but don't always write on "traditional" Less Wrong-ish topics and probably haven't heard of Less Wrong.

I've noticed that a lot of my rationalist friends seem to read the same ten blogs, and while it's great to have a core set of favorite authors, it's also nice to stretch out a bit and see how everyday rationalists are doing cool stuff in their own fields of expertise. I've found many people who push my rationalist buttons in fields of interest to me (journalism, fitness, etc.), and I'm sure other LWers have their own people in their own fields.

So I'm setting up this post as a place to link to/summarize the work of your favorite hidden rationalists. Be liberal with your suggestions!

Another way to phrase this: Who are the people/sources who give you the same feelings you get when you read your favorite LW posts, but who many of us probably haven't heard of?


Here's my list, to kick things off:


  • Peter Sandman, professional risk communication consultant. Often writes alongside Jody Lanard. Specialties: Effective communication, dealing with irrational people in a kind and efficient way, carefully weighing risks and benefits. My favorite recent post of his deals with empathy for Ebola victims and is a major, Slate Star Codex-esque tour de force. His "guestbook comments" page is better than his collection of web articles, but both are quite good.
  • Doug McGuff, MD, fitness guru and author of the exercise book with the highest citation-to-page ratio of any I've seen. His big thing is "superslow training", where you perform short and extremely intense workouts (video here). I've been moving in this direction for about 18 months now, and I've been able to cut my workout time approximately in half without losing strength. May not work for everyone, but reminds me of Leverage Research's sleep experiments; if it happens to work for you, you gain a heck of a lot of time. I also love the way he emphasizes the utility of strength training for all ages/genders -- very different from what you'd see on a lot of weightlifting sites.
  • Philosophers' Mail. A website maintained by applied philosophers at the School of Life, which reminds me of a hippy-dippy European version of CFAR (in a good way). Not much science, but a lot of clever musings on the ways that philosophy can help us live, and some excellent summaries of philosophers who are hard to read in the original. (Their piece on Vermeer is a personal favorite, as is this essay on Simon Cowell.) This recently stopped posting new material, but the School of Life now collects similar work through The Book of Life

Finally, I'll mention something many more people are probably aware of: I Am A, where people with interesting lives and experiences answer questions about those things. Few sites are better for broadening one's horizons; lots of concentrated honesty. Plus, the chance to update on beliefs you didn't even know you had.

Once more: Who are the people/sources who give you the same feeling you get when you read your favorite LW posts, but who many of us probably haven't heard of?



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43 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:39 AM

Nate Silver and his team at FiveThirtyEight might never have heard of Less Wrong, but they do exemplary Bayesian reasoning at length and in depth, on lot of current topics. They're especially great at branching from current topics of interest into discussions of rational analysis.

I just read most of Signal and the Noise, and he brings up Overcoming Bias and interviewed Robin Hanson, and then his next chapter is about being "less wrong" (he specifically and repeatedly uses this phrase) when using bayesian reasoning. Is this a coincidence?

Probably not a coincidence. He also recently linked to SlateStarCodex twice and he has Leah Libresco on the team. I didn't know any of that when I wrote the comment above.

patio11 on Hacker News. He has a blog which is occasionally updated with really long articles, often about marketing. I don't always read them, especially the whole way through, but his advice seems good and actionable.

[-][anonymous]8y 3

Seconded. He also probably knows more about expat business in Japan than anyone else.

Mr.Money Mustache on finance and positive psychology. Specialties are doing the math of everyday life, and understanding the concept of the hedonic treadmill.

I am a big fan of his. If you want to retire in ten or fifteen years, and yes that's not only possible, but achievable without any major sacrifices, read him. He is someone who has taken what science knows about happiness and really applied it.

It's possible and achievable without major sacrifices with high probability, if you're reasonably well paid.

The basic tricks are (1) put a really substantial fraction of your income, at least about half, into savings -- index funds or similar -- and (2) learn to live a less gratuitously-spendy life than is normal in the affluent West, especially in the US. I strongly endorse both of these; but living on half your nominal income is much much much easier, and requires much much much less sacrifice, if that income is $100k/year than if it's $30k/year.

And if your investments misbehave badly enough, you're screwed. Firstly, if you hit a bad market crash before you were hoping to retire, your retirement date gets pushed out. Secondly, if the longish-term performance of the market turns out to be anomalously bad, you run out of money after being retired for years. You're supposed to save enough that the risk of the second failure mode is really low, so the question here is how comfortable you are with inferences like this: "Over the last 100 years or so, there's been no 40-year period in which you'd have run out of money if you held a broad stock-market-index-like portfolio and took out 3% of the initial capital, inflation-adjusted, every year; so you're safe adopting such a strategy now."

(I do not know whether the specific statement in quotation marks there is correct. There are studies whose conclusions have something like that form. Look them up before making retirement decisions.)

[EDITED to add: Just to be clear: I really do think the mustachian approach is a good one, and I follow it myself, and I do think anyone reasonably well paid who follows it has a very good chance of a comfortable early retirement. But I prefer not to see these things overstated, and I prefer to avoid formulations that -- wrongly but seductively -- encourage wealthy people to look down their noses at poorer people for whom living that way is very much harder.]

"Over the last 100 years or so, there's been no 40-year period in which you'd have run out of money if you held a broad stock-market-index-like portfolio and took out 3% of the initial capital, inflation-adjusted, every year; so you're safe adopting such a strategy now."

Assuming that you invested in the United States stock market. Argentina would have looked like a good bet back in the 1920s, but it hit some really bad times...

Mr. Money Mustache is very US centric. YMMV with the investing advice if you are in a country with different tax codes or a smaller stock market with less international exposure. The advice on how to save money is good no matter where you are.

As I said:

I do not know whether the specific statement in quotation marks there is correct.

Indeed, some stock markets are better investments than others. (How far one can predict which ones is an interesting question.)

That is absolutely true, although "reasonably" in this case works for average American household income (about 50k) if you don't live in a very high cost of living area. The same techniques that let a middle to high income household (50k+) retire early only let a 30k household make ends meet and save some money to retire comfortably around the "official" age of 65, but that's still much better than most Americans do. His thoughts on hedonic adaptation are pretty much the same as we talk about here (having probably drawn from the same sources), and not falling prey to the tendency to spend money without getting much utility from it is more key to the whole early retirement thing than earning power. That is to say, not spending money is more important than earning money.

not spending money is more important than earning money

On reflection, I think this is an oversimplification. Which is more important depends on how easy they are. For most of us, reducing spending is easier than increasing income. But if you're poorly enough paid, reducing spending may be incredibly hard and at least in principle you can increase your income a lot (special case: by taking a job, if you're currently unemployed and the tax/benefit system isn't too badly screwed up where you are).

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Increasing income probably has a higher return on investment.

Sure, coming up with a presentation on why you should get a raise/promotion takes hours of preperation, vs deciding to not buy a latte, but after you've taken the 5-7 hours it takes to build that presentation, you'll make more in one year from it than you'll save in 5 years from not getting that latte.

I find it helpful to think of all nontrivial expenditures, income gains, etc., as (1) representative of a consistent "strategy" and (2) annualized. So when you choose to buy a latte, you should consider what general principle you're acting on (e.g., "have a latte every day", "have a latte on Monday mornings when thirsty and in a hurry", etc.) and then figure out what annual difference it will make. If you get a raise it's automatically annualized (though you should also think about its effects on your future salary, hireability, status, etc.). If you get a one-off bonus from your employer, you should consider it (something kinda like) equivalent to the annual income you can get from investing it. Etc.

(Of course you don't want to be doing this in detail every single time you make a decision with financial consequences. But if you get into the habit of thinking this way, your quick judgements will probably get better.)

[-][anonymous]8y 0

That's a cool way to think about it.

For the record: I don't disagree with any of that. (But, again, the whole thing becomes much easier as your income goes up.)

Highly recommend kazerad, for Scott-level insights about human behavior. Here's his analysis of 4chan's anonymous culture. Here's another insightful essay of his. And a post on memetics. And these aren't necessarily the best posts I've read by him, just the three I happened to find first.

By the way, I'm really averse to the label "hidden rationalists". It's like complimenting people by saying "secretly a member of our ingroup, but just doesn't know it yet". Which simultaneously presupposes the person would want to be a member of our ingroup, and also that all worthwhile people are secretly members of our ingroup and just don't know it yet.

Hopefully people here do not interpret "rationalists" as synonymous for "the LW ingroup." For one, you can be a rationalist without being a part of LW. And secondly, being a part of LW in no way certifies you as a rationalist, no matter how many internal "rationality tests" you subject yourself to.

Highly recommend kazerad, for Scott-level insights about human behavior. Here's his analysis of 4chan's anonymous culture. Here's another insightful essay of his. And a post on memetics. And these aren't necessarily the best posts I've read by him, just the three I happened to find first.

I gave him/her a shot.

After five or six pages of angry ranting about Gamergate, which was four or five pages too many, I quit. I have no dog in that fight, and I find the notion of arguing about specific people's specific lives as if they were culturally or socially significant to be a really misguided enterprise. It's tribal superstimulus, and it is both addictive and socially self-destructive.

Doug McGuff (author of Body By Science) reminds me of Staffan Lindeberg (author of Food and Western Disease).

McGuff updates away from "common wisdom" of exercise, usually in a direction that makes things better.

  • McGuff is an opponent of large amounts of moderate-intensity cardio, arguing that it has extremely poor return-on-investment (too much time, energy, effort) and causes too much injury. His recommendation to do minimal amounts of high-intensity exercise line up nicely with Romeo Steven's recommendations and recent research.

  • McGuff focuses on recovery, recommending to err on the side of too much recovery, rather than too little. I'll take exception to his recommended recovery intervals (ACSM and Romeo Stevens both recommend exercising 2–3 times a week, rather than once a week), but he's definitely erring on the right side; overtraining will waste your time, make you weak, and injure you, whereas undertraining just means you don't achieve results quite as quickly.

  • McGuff separates exercise (an activity designed to produce a physiological response) and physical activity (moving your body). This is in line with the scientific community (this very distinction is made in chapter one of ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription). In particular, since exercise is optimizing for a desirable physiological response under the constraint of not getting injured, it should come as no surprise that exercise is by far the most efficient way of achieving a desirable physioligical response and doesn't injure you. When the weather permits, I play ultimate frisbee several hours a week, and it's fun, but I've had numerous (minor) injuries and hold no illusions that I couldn't achieve approximately equivalent results with 12 minutes a week of Tabata sprints.

  • McGuff advocates for using machines over free weights because, even though the latter will produce slightly better outcomes, it's difficult to hold proper form as your muscles approach failure, and bad form with free weights is a recipe for getting injured.

  • McGuff is big on having genetics as an input to your exercise function. In particular, a routine that's optimal for the genetically gifted isn't going to be good for anyone else; if I tried exercising as much as Michael Phelps, my body would break because I'm not an outlier freak whose body can handle that much physical stress. This is in opposition to a (bad) common argument that goes "X has physique Y, which I desire. If I follow the same exercise program as X, I'll obtain physique Y. However, no matter what routine I do, I'll never have Triple H's body because my bones aren't thick enough.) McGuff like an anecdote about out-of-shape people swimming because they want the long, lean body of a swimmer, even though elite swimmers have long, lean bodies because anyone with a different body type doesn't become an elite swimmer.

However, I feel McGuff sometimes ignores or cherrypicks evidence to reach his preconceived notions of what optimal exercise ought to look like. Most notably, he advocates for one set to failure, whereas the consensus amongst people who look closely at the evidence recommend 4 sets at a weight, number of reps, and cadence such that you can barely finish the last set.

Similarly for Lindeberg in nutrition:

  • Most popular nutrition literature reads something like "X is good for you because it has a lot of Y!" Lindeberg's book reads a lot like "foods from class X are problematic because they contain Y which causes Z." (Foods from the class legumes are problematic because they contain phytic acid which is problematic because it binds to metals, meaning that you don't absorb the iron or magnesium you've eaten. Plants really didn't evolve to be good things to eat (fruit excepted).)

  • Lindeberg argues that micronutrient:calorie ratios, not macronutrient ratios, are important. (He's well-known for his study of Kitavans, an indigenous population known to not suffer from western disease. They have a very high-carbohydrate diet. Lindeberg also notes that the Inuit, who are also basically devoid of western disease, derive a few percent of their calories from carbohydrates.)

  • Lindeberg isn't overconfident. Nutrition is hard to study: we can't really placebo food, we can only usually measure biomarkers (which don't quite equal health outcomes), and doing controlled intervention studies is hard (you need to get a large group of people to adhere to a diet long enough to see far-down-the-road health outcomes), so there aren't nearly enough of them. It's also nonobvious how to "slice" food: is it that meat an unhealthy class of food, is it mostly harmless and just processed meat that's bad? Should we be comparing high carb/low carb or processed/unprocessed or GMO/natural or paleo/modern or…?

Ultimately, Lindeberg does recommend a paleo diet (which bears a passing relationship to mainstream paleo), but, on account of there not being enough good evidence, despite writing a book with >2k references, I remember not being entirely convinced he presented enough evidence to justify his recommendations.

Ultimately, what makes McGuff and Lindeberg hidden rationalists is not that they present the best arguments, although they do a better job than most. What makes them hidden rationalists is they present good arguments that lend themselves to updating. McGuff outlines a bunch of exercise principles, most of which I still use, but I made small changes when Romeo Stevens posted Optimal Exercise. Lindeberg outlines nutrition principles, which back up the paleo diet, most of which I abide by, even though I eat soylent, which is about the least-paleo thing there is.

This becomes remarkable when you compare it to the "normal" situation, which is, near as I can tell, amalgamating a mishmash heuristic from articles written by morons who have no clue what they're talking about (the prototypical example being a friend who started working out based on recommendations from bodybuilding forums.) You can certainly update in this case (I can tell friend he's exercising too frequently and he goes to the gym less often), but it's not nearly as good as being able to update intelligently: it's the difference between looking at a gallup poll and scientific evidence to determine whether global warming is true. (Actually, that methodology is better; if I'm reading random idiots on the internet, I'm subject to a massive confirmation bias. Also, only reading the 10% of literature on exercise that falls outside of Sturgeon's law saves a lot of time.)

Also, I endorse Staffan Lindeberg as a hidden rationalist and wholeheartedly recommend his book. >2k references! (To compare, OP's Body By Science has about a tenth as many. Which is exceptional—Lindeberg is just really exceptional.)

This is basically another blog recommendations thread, right? OK, here are some decent rational-ish blogs outside the LW-sphere then. I'm too lazy to write out descriptions. Try one of these tricks to find top blog posts: reddit, Hacker News.





My old physics professor: http://nebula.deanza.edu/~newton/HowtoStudyPhysics.htm

These Youtube stars coined the term "nerdfighter", which seems vaguely similar to being an effective altruist: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerdfighteria

I read this bestselling book on quitting smoking earlier today and it was actually kinda CFAR-ish. (But that might just be because I see personal development stuff in terms of CFAR's ontology after having attended their workshops.)

As I understand it "nerdfighter" is just a name for a member of that specific fandom, and defining them by the fandom's charity work is mostly just the brothers being very grateful for having a fandom and especially one that does a lot of charity work (esp. when they mobilize them to do so).

I often think of them (more the brothers than the fandom which I don't interact much with) as being my-tribe, and exemplary members of such, but not as my-tribe as those in my specific niche of nerddom (i.e. the LW sphere), and sometimes annoyingly mainstream because of that.

Doug McGuff, MD, fitness guru and author of the exercise book with the highest citation-to-page ratio of any I've seen.

I had a curious skim through this guy's blog. Soon happened upon this interview with Joe Mercola. I get that people sometimes do questionable things they wouldn't otherwise do for publicity, but this is pretty out there. For those unfamiliar with the good Dr Mercola, he's second only to Mehmet Oz in damage done to public understanding of the scientific basis of medicine. That's no flaw in McGuff's own work, but I'm a little dubious of a physician who's willing to associate with antivaxxers in a public professional context, from an ethical standpoint if nothing else. He may have good reasons for this, but it does trigger my quack-heuristic.

Yeah, this was disappointing to me as well. My feeling is that he's an "any publicity is good publicity" type, which could be seen as seedy (he has a book/classes to sell) or safe (he thinks he knows how to save a ton of time on exercising and prevent a lot of silly injuries, he wants as many people as possible to stay healthy). Having read a lot of his stuff and watched some of his talks, my beliefs tend towards the second, but it's unclear.

Ray Dalio. Businessman, founded Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world. He is one of the richest people in the world.

From descriptions of Bridgewater, he seems to run it very much in line with most LessWrong principles.

In fact, if you want an instrumentally-rational and (slightly) business-oriented version of LessWrong, Ray Dalio's principles are it. You can read here, I highly recommend it: http://www.bwater.com/Uploads/FileManager/Principles/Bridgewater-Associates-Ray-Dalio-Principles.pdf .

He is also trying to spread his take on how the economy works, in his video The Economic Machine. See it here: www.economicprinciples.org.

All in all, a fascinating person.

I would highly recommend Arnold Kling, both for his excellent blog, and his most recent book, which has been occasionally discussed on this site. Not everything he writes is necessarily "lesswrongish", mind you, but most of it is.

I'm surprised, I followed him on econlog for a long long time, but usually found him too ideological for my tastes (even though I lean pretty libertarian) and just not that interesting. What are some of your favorites?

I'd suggest you start with the "Three Languages of Politics" - see e.g. podcast here example review here. Alternatively, It's all about how to be meta-rational about politics, spotting your own biases, and the way we frame our language in political discussion. In other words, very less-wrong stuff.

I agree he is ideological in the sense that he has priors for understanding new events. We all do. I disagree that he is ideological in the sense that he fails Ideological Turing Tests, but YMMV.

Two months later, he reemerged at his own domain, promising to avoid a particular kind of discourse, one aimed at closing the minds of those on one’s own side. Although Kling was never among the worst offenders on this score, one could indeed sense a shift in his tone. He prioritized framing his opponents’ positions in the most favorable light, and he developed a framework for understanding political issues from progressive, conservative, and libertarian perspectives.

Hey that sounds pretty good! This was precisely my problem with him on EconLog. My ideology match his a lot, but I was irritated because he seemed to make okay, but not especially good arguments for things I agreed with and seemed to frame things in unnecessarily charged ways. He often framed things in a very libertarian way (in a Three Languages of Politics sense, which seems like it has a pretty cool idea), and I'm glad he does that a lot less!

His book sounds interesting.

[-][anonymous]8y 4

A few that have already been mentioned (doug hubbard and nate silver being among the top). In addition:

Simon Wardley (amazing empirical models on business strategy)

Examine.com (amazing empirical work on supplements)

Charles Munger (probably one of the most rational businessmen operating today)

Cal Newport (Awesome work on mastery)

Scott Young (Great work on learning)

Kevin Hillstrom (retail strategy)

Billy Murphy (his article on expected value is incredible)

Avi Deitcher (More awesome business startegy)

Eugine Wei (design and startup culture)

It's rarely updated these days, but Quiet Babylon has some very rewarding material. I particularly suggest the 'sequence' on architects and cyborgs.

John Medina's "Brain Rules". I also recommend/give all future* parents his "Brain Rules for Baby". I have not yet had time to read his other works, but these two make me want to.

*Also to parents of small kids. And to anyone thinking about having children.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

I agree he has the aesthetic of a rationalist- probabilism rather than dialethism, due respect for existential risks- but I doubt anyone who raves about GMO crops posing an existential risk to the species could be a rationalist.

http://bigthink.com/risk-reason-and-reality/taleb-on-gmos-advocacy-masquerading-poorly-as-honest-intellectual-argument (this article makes a lot of invalid attacks, but it provides an overview)

Afraid to step forward because of an unimaginably distant, abstract threat of ruin, while ignoring the far less distant potential for a sprint for GMO tech to mitigate other extinction risks by making it easier to produce food with limited resources (for example, the limited remaining highlands after sea level rise, temperature increase, land abuses, or from underground bunkers running on limited energy sources with limited populations).

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Downvoted for not having any explanation. Also, Taleb donates to MIRI.

Edit: Can't find evidence of Taleb donating to MIRI/CFAR.

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So this thread is devoted to outing everyone's secret identities?

/r/IAMA will also teach you not to trust an elaborate story just because you can't think of any reason someone would lie about it. Turns out people still lie about it. Perhaps they have their reasons, which we'll never know, or perhaps they're just creative writing students looking to test their skills.

Either way, there are reasons proof of identity is now required for every AMA. A long, storied history of reasons.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

Geek feminists

Nice Guys™ regard women as being moral guardians: that women should choose the nicest men for sex in order to reward them for doing the right thing.

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[-][anonymous]8y 0

Eric S. Raymond, esr.ibiblio.org and http://www.catb.org/esr/