In the comments for The Cognitive Science of Rationality, Spurlock said

The beginning of this post (the list of concrete, powerful, real/realistic, and avoidable cases of irrationality in action), is probably the best introduction to x-rationality I've read yet. I can easily imagine it hooking lots of potential readers that our previous attempts at introduction (our home page, the "welcome to LW" posts, etc) wouldn't.

In fact, I'd nominate some version of that text as our new home page text, perhaps just changing out the last couple sentences to something that encompasses more of LW in general (rather than cogsci specifically). I mean this as a serious actionable suggestion.

There are couple problems with using the specific anecdotes from the post:

  • It would make the beginning of the post seem boring for anyone who had read the homepage.
  • There has been discussion on LW that the sunk cost fallacy may not be much of a fallacy in practice, and commenters on the post were also skeptical of the rare disease example.
But the idea of starting our website off with concrete examples, the way Eliezer recently recommended starting off essays, seems like a good one.
So what are some quick, concrete, compelling stories about how irrationality sucks/rationality rocks that we could put on the homepage? Bonus points if the story is straight from a study, or is a true story that happened to you or someone you know.

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An anecdote of mine (details obscured to protect the innocent):

A friend of mine (who is okay with me sharing this) came down with a debilitating illness. He scheduled an appointment with the doctor, and attempted to diagnose himself using the Internet. During his visit with the doctor, the doctor agreed with his self-diagnosis, but demonstrated lack of knowledge regarding major findings about the relevant illness that had occurred in the last 10 years.

Deciding doctors were useless, my friend proceeded to treat himself using advice from the Internet. It wasn't until many (pain filled) months had passed that my friend realized he exhibited additional symptoms that weren't adequately explained by his self-diagnosis, and began to rethink his treatment.

This could potentially demonstrate positive bias in my friend's failure to look for disconfirming evidence for his self-diagnosis, his failure to properly understand unknown unknowns and visit more doctors, and maybe some form of priming when my friend's misdiagnosis helped his doctor fail too.

Of course, this is probably too much detail for the homepage, but the anecdote could possibly be slimmed down.

I've got 2 anecdotes where using basic rationality skills (cost-benefit analysis) led me to both reject my doctor's advice and to obtain satisfactory outcomes. I'll have to think about whether I want these anecdotes on the internet or not.

I'll have to think about whether I want these anecdotes on the internet or not.

Would it make a difference if your name is removed from the story? How big is the chance that the details would allow to identify you anyway? Would it help to suggest that the 2 anecdotes happened to 2 different people? (But then it is necessary to remove your comment from here.)

Steve and Jason were two long-term friends who decided to start a company together. But they had competing visions of what their company should do. It seemed like every month or so, their company's vision would switch to that of the other founder. Because neither Steve nor Jason was good at changing their mind in response to evidence, their company failed to find a sustainable business model and eventually flopped.

(Based on a Hacker News comment I remember reading long ago.)