Youtube channel devoted to the art of rationality

by MrMind1 min read15th Dec 20178 comments

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For quite some time I've considered creating a Youtube channel devoted to rationality.

I live in Italy, and the political situation here bears some similarities with the US': we've seen the rise of populist figures accompanied by the debate around fake news and post-truth, usually created with the purpose of bringing more votes to those politicians.

When a fake news is exposed, the standard answer is deploring the lack of critical thinking, and blaming school for failing to teach it. But, as far as I know, schools can only teach programs that are approved by the Department of Education, which 'institutionalize' living intellectual efforts like science and history. So far, no one has institutionalized critical thinking. In a sense, you could say that it cannot be completely institutionalized.

Sometimes, it's expected that philosophy classes teaches rationality, or at least thatteaches the pupils how to think. I know that LW users will appreciate the irony.

Anyway, philosophy is taught only in high school, and especially in poorer area not enough people reach that level of education, and is only taught within some 'orientation' (here in high school you cannot compose your courses as you wish, you have 'pre-packaged' sets of courses with a scientific or humanistic or artistic orientations).

In the end, the situation is that everybody is complaining about the lack of rationality teaching, but so far no-one has put himslef at creating such content.

Cue me.

I've been a member of LW since 2010, and I've always been interested in rationality, philosophy and AI. I'm not the smartest guy, so it's quite useless for me to be in academia or other research institution, but I've been told repeatedly that I'm good at explaining complicated things in lay terms. This seems a perfect combination of features for me to create content, aimed at the Italian situation and the Italian speaking audience, that tries to popularize rationality, Bayesianism and critical thinking.

With this post I would like to call for topics. What topic could I treat and how?

I already thought about something: locating rationality in the midst of and in contrast with other approaches; a non-technical survey of Bayesian probability; excercise in critical thinking (discussing a hot topic and trying to keep your identity small); atheism; the principle and crisis of science.

What do you think?

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First, I think this is an excellent idea, and I wish you the best of luck.

Second, what mechanisms do you have in place for getting feedback about the content you produce? I'm aware that for a broadcast medium using a platform over which you do not have full control, your feasible options may be limited, but I strongly encourage you to consider (possibly when this project has reached a stable state, because this will take a non-trivial amount of resources) some amount of focus group A/B testing for comprehension and internalization. From the beginning, you should probably have one or two individuals close to your target audience (i.e. Italian-speaking, without prior Rationality experience) off of whom to bounce ideas. Yours is an ambitious plan and I would hate for it to lose contact with reality.

Third, if you are doing this at least in part as a response to irrationality in voter choices, I suggest (based on my awareness of the situation in the US) focusing on:

What statistics are comparable to each other? e.g. Politician P says that Group G is responsible for X% of Crimes. How does this compare to the national average? How does this compare to the national average when weighted by socioeconomic status to reflect the socioeconomic distribution of Group G? What factors could explain this, and which numbers are the right ones to use as a baseline?

Conservation of evidence: if a given study/exploration/piece of possible evidence has two outcomes, they can't both make you more confident in a given position. The examples I've seen used in this community are in [this article](http://lesswrong.com/lw/ii/conservationof expected_evidence/).

These are all excellent tips, thank you!

Very good idea, and it hope you make it!

Apart from the obvious "theoretical" or foundational topics, I recommend focusing on making it crystal clear how rationality can benefit "normal" people in everyday life, with examples. Especially in the beginning. I think we all know what most people associate with words like rationality. To get anything of worth out of anything non-trivial, people need to invest quite a bit of energy, and the best way to ensure that is to make the potential benefits very clear and enticing.

Honestly, I'm not sure how explaining Bayesian thinking will help people with understanding media claims.

A key to better understanding of media is to think about the fact that there's a human writing the article you are reading and that person has their own interests.

Reading good history might be more useful for understanding media than abstract considerations of Bayesian thinking. Roberts Caro The Power Broker is for example a good book that tells you about the history of Robert Moses in New York and how he interacted with the public debate.

Honestly, I'm not sure how explaining Bayesian thinking will help people with understanding media claims.

Sometimes important news are based entirely on the availability bias or the base rate fallacy: knowing them is important to cultivate a critical view of media. To understanding why they are wrong you need probabilistic reasoning. But media awareness is just an excuse, a hook to introduce Bayesian thinking, which will allow me to also talk about how to construct a critical view of science.

I really like your idea because I have a very similar idea (though the focus isn't just rationality). I've been planning to make youtube videos for a while, but have had difficulty getting myself to implement. I have outlines on topics I want to talk about already like you have here! The difference would be that I'm doing it more for myself than for those out there, because I don't expect my youtube video to get out much. My biggest hurdle currently is video editing.

When I read your content, it felt like I was reading a news article. The only thing that might be an issue with that, is that you may want to have a bigger impact on your video. I felt like if you talked about something that made me critically think more, then it would be more engaging (and hence more appealing). Like, maybe explain Bayesian thinking and how it works since your target audience probably doesn't know anything about Bayesian?

The difference would be that I'm doing it more for myself than for those out there, because I don't expect my youtube video to get out much.

I also don't know if I'll get some attention, I'm doing that entirely for myself: to leave a legacy, to look back and say that I too did something to raise the sanity waterline.

My biggest hurdle currently is video editing.

My motto: "think big, act small, move quickly". I know that my first videos will suck, I've prepared to embrace suckiness and plunge forward anyway.

That was one of the reasons I wanted to make the youtube videos as well, to leave a legacy. Hopefully I can motivate myself to keep working on it. Let me know if you're interested in sharing ideas or something. I don't think we will conflict too much since my channel will idealy be all over the place with talk about relationships and whatever other random things that interest me.