2011 Survey Results


Scott Alexander

A big thank you to the 1090 people who took the second Less Wrong Census/Survey.

Does this mean there are 1090 people who post on Less Wrong? Not necessarily. 165 people said they had zero karma, and 406 people skipped the karma question - I assume a good number of the skippers were people with zero karma or without accounts. So we can only prove that 519 people post on Less Wrong. Which is still a lot of people.

I apologize for failing to ask who had or did not have an LW account. Because there are a number of these failures, I'm putting them all in a comment to this post so they don't clutter the survey results. Please talk about changes you want for next year's survey there.

Of our 1090 respondents, 972 (89%) were male, 92 (8.4%) female, 7 (.6%) transexual, and 19 gave various other answers or objected to the question. As abysmally male-dominated as these results are, the percent of women has tripled since the last survey in mid-2009.

We're also a little more diverse than we were in 2009; our percent non-whites has risen from 6% to just below 10%. Along with 944 whites (86%) we include 38 Hispanics (3.5%), 31 East Asians (2.8%), 26 Indian Asians (2.4%) and 4 blacks (.4%).

Age ranged from a supposed minimum of 1 (they start making rationalists early these days?) to a more plausible minimum of 14, to a maximum of 77. The mean age was 27.18 years. Quartiles (25%, 50%, 75%) were 21, 25, and 30. 90% of us are under 38, 95% of us are under 45, but there are still eleven Less Wrongers over the age of 60. The average Less Wronger has aged about one week since spring 2009 - so clearly all those anti-agathics we're taking are working!

In order of frequency, we include 366 computer scientists (32.6%), 174 people in the hard sciences (16%) 80 people in finance (7.3%), 63 people in the social sciences (5.8%), 43 people involved in AI (3.9%), 39 philosophers (3.6%), 15 mathematicians (1.5%), 14 statisticians (1.3%), 15 people involved in law (1.5%) and 5 people in medicine (.5%).

48 of us (4.4%) teach in academia, 470 (43.1%) are students, 417 (38.3%) do for-profit work, 34 (3.1%) do non-profit work, 41 (3.8%) work for the government, and 72 (6.6%) are unemployed.

418 people (38.3%) have yet to receive any degrees, 400 (36.7%) have a Bachelor's or equivalent, 175 (16.1%) have a Master's or equivalent, 65 people (6%) have a Ph.D, and 19 people (1.7%) have a professional degree such as an MD or JD.

345 people (31.7%) are single and looking, 250 (22.9%) are single but not looking, 286 (26.2%) are in a relationship, and 201 (18.4%) are married. There are striking differences across men and women: women are more likely to be in a relationship and less likely to be single and looking (33% men vs. 19% women). All of these numbers look a lot like the ones from 2009.

27 people (2.5%) are asexual, 119 (10.9%) are bisexual, 24 (2.2%) are homosexual, and 902 (82.8%) are heterosexual.

625 people (57.3%) described themselves as monogamous, 145 (13.3%) as polyamorous, and 298 (27.3%) didn't really know. These numbers were similar between men and women.

The most popular political view, at least according to the much-maligned categories on the survey, was liberalism, with 376 adherents and 34.5% of the vote. Libertarianism followed at 352 (32.3%), then socialism at 290 (26.6%), conservativism at 30 (2.8%) and communism at 5 (.5%).

680 people (62.4%) were consequentialist, 152 (13.9%) virtue ethicist, 49 (4.5%) deontologist, and 145 (13.3%) did not believe in morality.

801 people (73.5%) were atheist and not spiritual, 108 (9.9%) were atheist and spiritual, 97 (8.9%) were agnostic, 30 (2.8%) were deist or pantheist or something along those lines, and 39 people (3.5%) described themselves as theists (20 committed plus 19 lukewarm)

425 people (38.1%) grew up in some flavor of nontheist family, compared to 297 (27.2%) in committed theist families and 356 in lukewarm theist families (32.7%). Common family religious backgrounds included Protestantism with 451 people (41.4%), Catholicism with 289 (26.5%) Jews with 102 (9.4%), Hindus with 20 (1.8%), Mormons with 17 (1.6%) and traditional Chinese religion with 13 (1.2%)

There was much derision on the last survey over the average IQ supposedly being 146. Clearly Less Wrong has been dumbed down since then, since the average IQ has fallen all the way down to 140. Numbers ranged from 110 all the way up to 204 (for reference, Marilyn vos Savant, who holds the Guinness World Record for highest adult IQ ever recorded, has an IQ of 185).

89 people (8.2%) have never looked at the Sequences; a further 234 (32.5%) have only given them a quick glance. 170 people have read about 25% of the sequences, 169 (15.5%) about 50%, 167 (15.3%) about 75%, and 253 people (23.2%) said they've read almost all of them. This last number is actually lower than the 302 people who have been here since the Overcoming Bias days when the Sequences were still being written (27.7% of us).

The other 72.3% of people who had to find Less Wrong the hard way. 121 people (11.1%) were referred by a friend, 259 people (23.8%) were referred by blogs, 196 people (18%) were referred by Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, 96 people (8.8%) were referred by a search engine, and only one person (.1%) was referred by a class in school.

Of the 259 people referred by blogs, 134 told me which blog referred them. There was a very long tail here, with most blogs only referring one or two people, but the overwhelming winner was Common Sense Atheism, which is responsible for 18 current Less Wrong readers. Other important blogs and sites include Hacker News (11 people), Marginal Revolution (6 people), TV Tropes (5 people), and a three way tie for fifth between Reddit, SebastianMarshall.com, and You Are Not So Smart (3 people).

Of those people who chose to list their karma, the mean value was 658 and the median was 40 (these numbers are pretty meaningless, because some people with zero karma put that down and other people did not).

Of those people willing to admit the time they spent on Less Wrong, after eliminating one outlier (sorry, but you don't spend 40579 minutes daily on LW; even I don't spend that long) the mean was 21 minutes and the median was 15 minutes. There were at least a dozen people in the two to three hour range, and the winner (well, except the 40579 guy) was someone who says he spends five hours a day.

I'm going to give all the probabilities in the form [mean, (25%-quartile, 50%-quartile/median, 75%-quartile)]. There may have been some problems here revolving around people who gave numbers like .01: I didn't know whether they meant 1% or .01%. Excel helpfully rounded all numbers down to two decimal places for me, and after a while I decided not to make it stop: unless I wanted to do geometric means, I can't do justice to really small grades in probability.

The Many Worlds hypothesis is true: 56.5, (30, 65, 80)
There is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe: 69.4, (50, 90, 99)
There is intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy: 41.2, (1, 30, 80)
The supernatural (ontologically basic mental entities) exists: 5.38, (0, 0, 1)
God (a supernatural creator of the universe) exists: 5.64, (0, 0, 1)
Some revealed religion is true: 3.40, (0, 0, .15)
Average person cryonically frozen today will be successfully revived: 21.1, (1, 10, 30)
Someone now living will reach age 1000: 23.6, (1, 10, 30)
We are living in a simulation: 19, (.23, 5, 33)
Significant anthropogenic global warming is occurring: 70.7, (55, 85, 95)
Humanity will make it to 2100 without a catastrophe killing >90% of us: 67.6, (50, 80, 90)

There were a few significant demographics differences here. Women tended to be more skeptical of the extreme transhumanist claims like cryonics and antiagathics (for example, men thought the current generation had a 24.7% chance of seeing someone live to 1000 years; women thought there was only a 9.2% chance). Older people were less likely to believe in transhumanist claims, a little less likely to believe in anthropogenic global warming, and more likely to believe in aliens living in our galaxy. Community veterans were more likely to believe in Many Worlds, less likely to believe in God, and - surprisingly - less likely to believe in cryonics (significant at 5% level; could be a fluke). People who believed in high existential risk were more likely to believe in global warming, more likely to believe they had a higher IQ than average, and more likely to believe in aliens (I found that same result last time, and it puzzled me then too.)

Intriguingly, even though the sample size increased by more than 6 times, most of these results are within one to two percent of the numbers on the 2009 survey, so this supports taking them as a direct line to prevailing rationalist opinion rather than the contingent opinions of one random group.

Of possible existential risks, the most feared was a bioengineered pandemic, which got 194 votes (17.8%) - a natural pandemic got 89 (8.2%), making pandemics the overwhelming leader. Unfriendly AI followed with 180 votes (16.5%), then nuclear war with 151 (13.9%), ecological collapse with 145 votes (12.3%), economic/political collapse with 134 votes (12.3%), and asteroids and nanotech bringing up the rear with 46 votes each (4.2%).

The mean for the Singularity question is useless because of the very high numbers some people put in, but the median was 2080 (quartiles 2050, 2080, 2150). The Singularity has gotten later since 2009: the median guess then was 2067. There was some discussion about whether people might have been anchored by the previous mention of 2100 in the x-risk question. I changed the order after 104 responses to prevent this; a t-test found no significant difference between the responses before and after the change (in fact, the trend was in the wrong direction).

Only 49 people (4.5%) have never considered cryonics or don't know what it is. 388 (35.6%) of the remainder reject it, 583 (53.5%) are considering it, and 47 (4.3%) are already signed up for it. That's more than double the percent signed up in 2009.

231 people (23.4% of respondents) have attended a Less Wrong meetup.

The average person was 37.6% sure their IQ would be above average - underconfident! Imagine that! (quartiles were 10, 40, 60). The mean was 54.5% for people whose IQs really were above average, and 29.7% for people whose IQs really were below average. There was a correlation of .479 (significant at less than 1% level) between IQ and confidence in high IQ.

Isaac Newton published his Principia Mathematica in 1687. Although people guessed dates as early as 1250 and as late as 1960, the mean was...1687 (quartiles were 1650, 1680, 1720). This marks the second consecutive year that the average answer to these difficult historical questions has been exactly right (to be fair, last time it was the median that was exactly right and the mean was all of eight months off). Let no one ever say that the wisdom of crowds is not a powerful tool.

The average person was 34.3% confident in their answer, but 41.9% of people got the question right (again with the underconfidence!). There was a highly significant correlation of r = -.24 between confidence and number of years error.

This graph may take some work to read. The x-axis is confidence. The y-axis is what percent of people were correct at that confidence level. The red line you recognize as perfect calibration. The thick green line is your results from the Newton problem. The black line is results from the general population I got from a different calibration experiment tested on 50 random trivia questions; take the intercomparability of the two with a grain of salt.

As you can see, Less Wrong does significantly better than the general population. However, there are a few areas of failure. First is that, as usual, people who put zero and one hundred percent had nonzero chances of getting the question right or wrong: 16.7% of people who put "0" were right, and 28.6% of people who put "100" were wrong (interestingly, people who put 100 did worse than the average of everyone else in the 90-99 bracket, of whom only 12.2% erred). Second of all, the line is pretty horizontal from zero to fifty or so. People who thought they had a >50% chance of being right had excellent calibration, but people who gave themselves a low chance of being right were poorly calibrated. In particular, I was surprised to see so many people put numbers like "0". If you're pretty sure Newton lived after the birth of Christ, but before the present day, that alone gives you a 1% chance of randomly picking the correct 20-year interval.

160 people wanted their responses kept private. They have been removed. The rest have been sorted by age to remove any information about the time they took the survey. I've converted what's left to a .xls file, and you can download it here.