In conversations on LessWrong you may be surprised (in fact, dismayed) to find an apparent majority of the community agreeing with each other, and disagreeing with some view you hold dear. You may be tempted to call "groupthink". Whenever that happens, please hold yourself to at least as high an epistemic standard as the people who are participating in the community, and substantiate your accusation of groupthink with actual evidence and analysis.
"Groupthink" can be an instance of applause lights, terms or explanations used not so much for their semantic content as for the warm fuzzies they are intended to trigger in your audience. Or... since "groupthink" isn't so much intended to generate applause for you, but to generate disapproval of those who disagree with you, we might coin the phrase "boo lights".
At any rate, you may be cheaply establishing (in your own eyes and the eyes of people "on your side") your status as a skeptic, without actually doing any critical thinking or even basic due diligence. Are you sure you that's what you want?
(N.B. links in this post either point to examples, or to more complete definitions of the concepts referenced; they are intended as supplementary material and this post stands on its own, you can ignore the links on a first read-through.)
Apparent consensus is not sufficient grounds for suspecting groupthink, because the "groupthink" explanatory scheme leads to further predictions than the mere appearance of consensus. For instance, groupthink results in "selection bias in collecting information" (from the Wikipedia entry). If the community has shown diligence in seeking contrary information, and yet has not rallied to your favored point of view, your accusations of groupthink are unjustified.
Disapproval of your contributions (in the form of downvoting) is not sufficient grounds for suspecting groupthink. Communities establish mechanisms of defence against disruption, in a legitimate response to a context of discourse where disruption is an ever present threat, the flip side of open participation. The voting/karma system is the current mechanism, probably flawed and probably better than nothing. Downvotes signal "we would like to see fewer comments like this one". The appropriate thing to do if you receive downvotes and you're neither a troll nor a crackpot is to simply seek feedback: ask what's wrong. Complaining only makes things worse. Complaining that the community is exhibiting censorship or groupthink makes things much worse.
Disapproval of your accusations of groupthink is still not sufficient grounds for suspecting groupthink. This community is aware of information cascades and other effects leading to groupthink, discusses them openly, and strives to adopt countervailing norms. (Note that this post generalizes to further concepts, such as censorship. Downvotes are not censorship; they are a collaborative filtering mechanism, whereby readers are encouraged to skip over some content; that content is nevertheless preserved, visible to anyone who chooses to read it; censorship, i.e. banning, does occur but much more seldom than downvoting.)
Here is a good example of someone substantiating their accusations of groupthink by reference to the actual research on groupthink. Note how much more work this is.
If you're still thinking of calling "groupthink" without doing that work... or, perhaps, if you have already done so...
Please reconsider: your behaviour devalues the technical meaning of "groupthink", which this community does have a use for (as do other communities of sincere inquiry). We want the term groupthink to still be useful when we really need it - when we actually succumb to groupthink.
I've made the point that we tend to scrutinize posts/comments more carefully for flaws when they argue against beliefs that we hold, which results in subtly flawed arguments supporting a majority position being voted up despite being flawed, while a similarly flawed argument against a majority position will more likely be discovered as flawed and voted down. This results in the appearance that there are more valid arguments supporting the majority position than there really are, and drives away those who argue against the majority position because they think they are being treated unfairly.
Does anyone disagree with this, or think that Less Wrong voters have already adequately compensated for it? Or, if you think this is a real effect, but shouldn't be called groupthink, what is the right name for it?
For the record, my views differ frequently from those on Less Wrong (I'm a frequentist, theist, platonist, etc.) but I think Less Wrong does not suffer from groupthink = censorship or repression of different views. In fact, it's amazing how little it does.
Less Wrong does have a lot of clustering of views, which is a very interesting phenomenon. I think there are reasons for why the views cluster together other than the simplest explanation that these views are all correct! (For example, considering the clustering of views that are neither correct nor incorrect, but represent preferences.)
Everyone who has argued that the "Boo lights" post intends to make it more difficult to charge groupthink is in fact right.
I'm sticking my neck out and arguing that it is presently too easy (relative to what I believe is the standard most conducive to furthering this site's mission). Yes this could well be wrong.
Some of the evidence I base this judgement on is participation in other "communities of sincere inquiry", and in particular the one where my "secret identity" is established. There the words used differed ("dogma&... (read more)
Re: "Please reconsider: your behaviour devalues the technical meaning of "groupthink""
It sounds like an attempt to raise the barrier for groupthink accusations - if you have to do a lot of extra work documenting the evidence before expressing your opinion.
IMO, people's opinions are often of interest - even without detailed references - and realizing that doesn't devalue any technical meanings.
It is best to see groupthink accusations as a cheap warning mechanism, IMO. Like pain in other words. Some false alarms are OK - while a failure to notice where a problem is occurring can be more problematical.
I am quite surprised that more Karma functions do not track both the Up Votes and the Down Votes and display a running tally of each.
On a relative basis I would be far more interested in reading a post that has had 1,000 Up Votes and 999 Down Votes, than one which has had a single Up Vote.
shit. :( i was hoping this article would tell me how i could be wrong in calling some of my friends susceptible to "groupthink", but all it's done is make it seem even moreso. not that the group is overtly conformist, but when you do something different, it feels like you stick out like a sore thumb.
really really good article. thank you for sharing it. i learned a lot. :)
EDIT: This comment does not apply to the current version of the post.
Considering the post to which you linked (about labeling the cryonics opinion on LW as groupthink) has no attempts at rebuttal, it seems like it merits an answer instead of merely dismissing it as an "attempt" - which is just saying, "This isn't sufficient" without any statement about what would be sufficient.
Lots of different words and phrases "devalue" different technical terms, since they exist outside of their technical definition. From what I can see from the OED, group think has been used as a term since 1923 and similar phrases like group mind were used in the late 19th century. Because someone makes a definition in a field it does not strip the original word or phrase of its meaning. If that was the case I'm sure lawyers would have a field day with all of us and that I could pick out quite a few misuses of onto on this site.
The technical mean... (read more)
Downvoting is a good evidence for groupthink. This site uses the same mechanism for up/downvoting comments as Reddit, so:
So for example, reddit believers largely believe in evolution. Make a comment in favour and a comment against, the former goes up while the latter goes down, and groupthink is proven. I think you need a more rigorous experimental method.