MichaelDickens

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What's going on with /r/AskHistorians?

AFAIK, /r/AskHistorians is the best place to hear from actual historians about historical topics. But I've noticed some trends that make it seem like the historians there generally share some bias or agenda, but I can't exactly tell what that agenda is.

The most obvious thing I noticed is from their FAQ on historians' views on other [popular] historians. I looked through these and in every single case, the /r/AskHistorians commenters dislike the pop historian. Surely at least one pop historian got it right?

I don't know about the actual object level, but a lot of /r/AskHistorians' criticisms strike me as weak:

  • They criticize Dan Carlin for (1) allegedly downplaying the Rape of Belgium even though by my listening he emphasized pretty strongly how bad it was and (2) doing a bad job answering "could Caesar have won the Battle of Hastings?" even though this is a thought experiment, not a historical question. (Some commenters criticize him for being inaccurate and others criticize him for being unoriginal, which are contradictory criticisms.)
  • They criticize Guns, Germs, and Steel for...honestly I'm a little confused about how this person disagrees with GGS.
  • Lots of criticisms of popular works for being "oversimplified", which strikes me as a dumb criticism—everything is simplified, the map is always less detailed than the territory.
  • They criticize The Better Angels of Our Nature for taking implausible figures from ancient historians at face value (fair) and for using per capita deaths instead of total deaths (per capita seems obviously correct to me?).

Seems like they are bending over backwards to talk about how bad popular historical media are, while not providing substantive criticisms. I've also noticed they like to criticize media for not citing any sources (or for citing sources that aren't sufficiently academic), but then they usually don't cite any sources themselves.

I don't know enough about history to know whether /r/AskHistorians is reliable, but I see some meta-level issues that make me skeptical. I want to get other people's takes. Am I being unfair to /r/AskHistorians?

(I don't expect to find a lot of historians on LessWrong, but I do expect to find people who are good at assessing credibility.)

I am pretty uncertain about whether this change is good, and I don't think anyone can confidently say it is or isn't good. But no other forum with voting does this (AFAIK), so it's good to try it and see what happens.

Something to think about: What sorts of observations might constitute evidence in favor of or against this system?

I agree. OP is saying people should be more willing to make low-confidence predictions, whereas the type of rambling that people do too much of is information-sparse (taking too many words to say something simple). More rambling about meaningful but low-confidence claims, and less meaningless/redundant rambling.

IMO, articles should include TLDRs, but shouldn't just be TLDRs. You have a short, high-context, high-trust summary. Then you write a longer article for people who don't have all the necessary background to understand your summary, or don't immediately trust that your summary is correct.

As a silly example, if you did an experiment to determine the acceleration due to gravity, your TLDR could simply be, "The acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s^2." And for many readers, that's all they need to know. But you should definitely also explain your methodology and present the data from your experiment.

I thought it was obviously fiction, but I didn't know that it was set in Dath Ilan, and the fact that it's set in Dath Ilan would give away that the red hair thing is fake.

You see this sort of thing with acquisitions. Say company A is currently priced at $100, and company B announces that it's acquiring A for $200 per share. A will jump up to something like $170 per share, and then slowly increase to $200 on the acquisition date. The $30 gap is there because there's some probability that the acquisition will fall through, and that probability decreases over time (unless it actually does fall through, in which case the price drops back down to ~$100).

I get motion sickness easily, but I don't often suffer from nausea because I avoid doing things that make me motion sick (e.g., reading in the car). If I took anti-nausea pills, I could do those things more.

I "know" that nausea can be handled with a pill, but it had never occurred to me to carry around a couple anti-nausea pills.

[P]eople don’t know whether they dream in colour. Dreams may not even have associated colours one way or the other! Indeed, when I asked a few friends and family whether they dreamed in colour, a surprising number of them answered “I don’t know”.

I don't know much about the science of dreams, but I suspect that the answer may be that many dreams activate rods but not cones (or, at least, activate the parts of the brain that receive signals from rods). When it's dark, and my cones are not receiving enough light to function, I wouldn't describe the world I see as "black and white"—it seems different than that—but I also can't see color. Perhaps many people's dreams work the same way. (I find that, in many of my dreams, the dream world is dark enough that I can't see color.)

I have a question about COVID spread. Based on what I know of the numbers, the rate of spread + immunity doesn't add up, but my numbers could be wrong.

It seems to me that one of two things must be true:

Before the vaccine launched, r0 was greater than 1, but still low enough that most people didn't catch it. Then, after ~50% of people in the developed world got the vaccine (and ~20% of people had already gotten COVID), r0 was low enough that COVID died out in the developed world within a few months. After the vaccine launched and most people got it, r0 was high enough that COVID continued to spread. Before the vaccine launched, r0 was far higher, and pretty much everyone got it.

But both these things are false. Why?

(One thing that could explain it is that NPIs kept the virus in check, and people started behaving much more riskily after the vaccine became available. This seems intuitively wrong because the vaccine is so much more effective than NPIs but I'm not sure about the numbers.)

(Another possible explanation is that, even though vaccines are 90%(ish) effective at preventing spread, that doesn't reduce r0 by anywhere close to 90%. Which also seems wrong to me but I don't know exactly how r0 works.)

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