All of Screwtape's Comments + Replies

If someone is motivated to "win" and have the side they started on be correct (or to get people to view the other side as incorrect) then that's a less cooperative atmosphere than I'd ideally want to run True Rejection Challenge with. I stuck the Investment tag on this one for a reason, and that reason is basically that I would expect doing this on someone's facebook wall to be frustrating and unproductive, but that doing it with an established group of friends in person to be helpful. 

(Sidenote: I'm aware that the way I'm using that tag section betwe... (read more)

If I say "Come back when your scientific journal is much later than 1880", how is that distinguishable from the kind of excuse you're talking about? I am, in fact, coming up with something that wasn't included in my original rejection, and I am in fact saying that, because of it, I shouldn't have to change my mind. The only difference is that it's a better excuse.

I agree there may be multiple reasons. "True Rejections Challenge" doesn't scan quite as well for a title, but most of the time pluralizing it to "true rejections" is accurate. Compare "Do you have an allergy" and "do you have any allergies" or "do you have a question" and "do you have any questions?" as other cases where I'd expect the other person to respond with multiples if it's needed. If you're doing this activity and someone says you have to pick just one rejection, I declare as the author of this post they're doing it wrong. (I didn't invent the co... (read more)

I had heard it second-hand about a friend's experiences in a Facebook group about atheism and I really don't know enough of the details to be able to say if I got it exactly correct. Assuming it did in fact say "reputable", and that I tried to clarify it, I probably wouldn't have clarified it enough to exclude "scientific journal from 1880". And if I was lucky enough to have done so, there's probably some other thing that I did fail to clarify, that my intelocutor could have latched onto. It's just too easy to leave in loopholes. There was also no money involved, but "I would admit that I'm wrong if..." has problems similar to "I'll pay you some money if..."--your opponent wants the prize and is motivated to win, even if it means forcing you to stick to your literal words.

Yep, you are correct, should be fixed now. Thank you!

Hypothetical: Adam writes a couple pages of initial post, Bella writes a page long reply, Adam writes a page long reply to that, Bella writes a page long reply to that, Adam reacts "not going to respond" and moves on.

That seems fine to me? Like, the norm in face to face conversation is (I think) that you're not expected to spend more than a few minutes on most replies.

Interesting! I'm quite curious how the discussion went. The groups I've run this with tend to talk about game design and how to give it more variety.

Gotcha, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying!

I think I disagree with the prevalence of situations where it's really useful to act like a group is an individual person, but I'm not sure that's your claim exactly. It's possible we're in agreement. Step one of this essay is to crystalize the idea of the Mob, this crowd that can look united but is actually different once you look closer. The conversation between Amy, Bob, and Bella is a caricature but I have seen conversations that resembled it. Sometimes it feels like Twitter is designed to create them.

Once the idea of the Mob & Bailey is in your to... (read more)

Yep this feels right to me! I think we agree on pretty much everything about this. My main concern is that your post as-is could be misinterpreted as being along the lines of "Don't try to influence groups - only try to influence individuals manually, one at a time". It'd take a pretty extreme misinterpreter to take this to the full extent, but it could still be a negative influence on peoples' ability to deal with groups of people in effective ways. Perhaps a good way of putting this is; * Mob & Bailey scenario: I am talking with X social group, which can consistently be modelled as a person-esque agent * Potential misinterpretation of your post: I am talking with individuals one at a time, and modelling these discussions as being part of a broader social structure is bad * A modelling I'd propose: I am talking with X social group, which can be modelled as a machine, with components of varying functions, comprised of people

Yeah, I do think the original Motte and Bailey can exist. If you're sitting across a table from one person and they seem to equivocate between two positions, this post is not really addressing that problem. The art of Internal Family Systems meets Double Crux is left as an exercise for another day I guess.


There's a concept in software design called Personas. A persona is a stereotype of a user; "Bill, a veteran mechanical engineer who uses our software for work" is one persona, "Alex, a novice hobbiest who saw our software on a youtube video" is another persona. I like working with personas since they're good intuition pumps. I can guess that Bill wants keyboard shortcuts and compact buttons, while Alex wants tooltips or even to have the buttons labeled. The way I've worked with personas is that the ideal persona is contemplated as a singular person, and... (read more)

That last bit was a mistake on my part. My comment origionally said that "If you are for some reason operating under the constraint that you have to send the same text to them all (maybe posting on a forum they all, and others, read then." I tried shortening it and ended up with the current nonsense.

The target audience is people who feel like their interlocutor is using Motte and Bailey, when what's actually happening is they're trying to talk to a group and not separating out the individuals. Each individual person who knows what Motte and Bailey is who adds Mob and Bailey to their mental toolbelt is a point scored for this post, and every frustrated argument someone would have had of the form "You all said Y, but five minutes ago you all said X! Argh!" which instead has the form "You Bob said Y, and five minutes ago you Bella said X. I'm going to re... (read more)

Somehow I completely failed to think of the line "the first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club" and I want you to know that reading it made me laugh. Thanks :)

When I've tried to do rationality practice, (as distinct from skills practice) a lot of the time what I do is set up toy problems and try to solve them. Essentially this is like trying to learn to ice skate by strapping on skates, wandering onto the ice, and falling over a lot while figuring things out. I try and pay attention to how I'm solving the problem and deliberately try different things (randomly jumping around in thought space instead of just hill climbing) ideally to find things that work better than what I'd been doing. 

A number of my Meetu... (read more)

A second order effect I'm a little worried about is rate limits create an incentive to mix threads.

If there are two people who make different points in comments and I want to respond to them, ordinarily I would reply to each of their comments and the discussion stays organized. If I'm rate limited and there are two people I want to respond to, maybe I write both replies in a single comment under one of them and mention the other.

One answer to that is asking people not to do that. One answer is eh, it's not that bad, sometimes that kind of mixing happens e... (read more)

How technically troublesome would an allow list be?

Maybe the default is everyone gets three comments on a post. People the author has banned get zero, people the author has opted in for get unlimited, the author automatically gets unlimited comments on their own post, mods automatically get unlimited comments.

(Or if this feels more like a Said and/or Duncan specific issue, make the options "Unlimited", "Limited", and "None/Banned" then default to everyone at Unlimited except for Said and/or Duncan at Limited.)

If the lifeguard isn't on duty, then it's useful to have the ability to be your own lifeguard.

I wanted to say that I appreciate the moderation style options and authors being able to delete and ban for their posts. While we're talking about what to change and what isn't working, I'd like to weigh in on the side of that being a good set of features that should be kept. Raemon, you've mentioned those features are there to be used. I've never used the capability and I'm still glad it exists. (I can barely use it actually.) Since site wide moderators aren't go... (read more)

Yeah I think this'd be much less cause for concern. (I haven't checked whether the rest of the post has anything else that felt LW-wide-police-y about it, I'd maybe have wanted a slightly different opening paragraph or something)

My current icebreakers: 

  • How did you find the community?
  • What are your obsessions or particular interests?
  • So, what do you usually do for fun?
  • Read any good books lately? I'm always looking for recommendations. 

You are correct that's a mistake, one which I believe is now fixed. Thanks for pointing it out!

Thank you for the addition! This is now added under Quick Tips. Anything else you'd suggest?

Your suggestions have been added to the list, thank you!

The warning is appreciated! I'm an O. S. Card fan so I have to have a high tolerance for long cliffhangers XD

Does anyone have a better idea of how to draw the EA/ACX/LW community overlap? The community overlap fishing expedition felt like it was pretty shaky.

Future survey discussion thread!

Obvious things I'd do different if I was going to do this again are to have a longer Request for Comments period, to be more careful with what answers allowed write-ins, and to post about this at least once on other sites. Oh, and if I knew I was running it I'd do it in December the year of, not February the year after.

Some people said thanks for reviving the census in the Further Comments field. Even with the low responses I felt like this was fun and useful for me. I can also see a lot of ways to make this easier to run th... (read more)

My biggest preference for future surveys: People sometimes characterize differences between ideologies in rat-adj spaces. For instance there's Scott Aaronson's reform vs orthodox AI risk [] distinction. Those ideological differences tend to mix together multiple distinct beliefs, for instance Scott Aaronson says that reform AI risk thinkers both tend to believe "that trying to get a broad swath of the public on board with one’s preferred AI policy is something close to a deontological imperative" and "that research on actually-existing systems as one of the only ways to get feedback from the world about which AI safety ideas are or aren’t promising". Mixing together multiple distinct beliefs into a single axis isn't necessarily unreasonable if they are correlated. But it would be interesting to me to ask about a bunch of specific beliefs so that the correlations can be mapped out using standard methods such as PCA/factor analysis.

Updated with some variations around using your field, or doing this mid discussion.

Updated with some of the feedback. The distinction between the Record (where you remember your values) and the Deck (which has things you value written is made clearer. The rules now say to get dealt one card and to trade the cards, so you're always holding something new and your Record is a chained series where you can work through the intermediate steps to compare your start and your end. Also, a couple of variations are introduced.

Updated with a couple of variations and a link to a google drive folder with multiple question sets. The True/False version is from the comments and suggestions people left. The range version is from Ben Orlin's Outrangeous.

The link labeled "Calibration Trivia Sets" goes to a single slideshow labeled "Calibration Trivia Set 1 TF" rather than a folder with multiple sets; I assume (with 95% probability :) ) that this is a mistake?

Someday I actually will run this with a big jigsaw puzzle. I don't expect that to be good, but I do enjoy watching chaos. If your group does it, please send me a video.

I'm probably too late to answer you but for the next person to ask; if you want a lot more legal immigration and a little more enforcement, I'd call that leaning more open. If you want a little more legal immigration and a lot more enforcement, I'd say that's leaning more restricted.

So if you strongly opine that there should be a lot more legal immigration and a lot more enforcement, that's "no strong opinion"? This is not satisfying, though of course there'll never be a way to make the options satisfy everyone <shrug>.

Thank you for taking it!

That is the phrasing for P(Global Catastrophic Risk) that's been used consistently since 2012 I believe. 

That does offer more info than just a No response. I'm not going to change that on a live survey that some people have already taken, but that could make sense for future censuses.

That I feel a bit embarrassed for missing. Thank you for pointing it out; since the question asks for which range the respondent had hopefully everything got answered right. I updated the description.

Yep, it's the David Friedman book. It's very roughly a bit like Ra, but instead of a swerve into high octane space magic it has some awkward wizards who express affection through academic research.

I want to do a good job on this one. The decision to mostly re-use previous questions was a deliberate attempt to return to the Scott Alexander era, and my main changes were in trying to avoid what I see as the flaws in 2017 and 2020. 2017 used special software that wound up with software issues, so I went back to Google Forms. 2020 didn't get seen by very many people, so I made an effort to get this one more visibility. So far nobody has mentioned a software issue and we already have more responses than 2020, so I'm feeling relatively good about how it's ... (read more)

3Ben Pace4mo
Thanks. All seems good here to me.

"Unofficial" is now in the post title, post description, and the title of of the Google form. Let me know if there's other changes you or the rest of the LessWrong team would like.  

The extent of support that was particularly useful was having a the visibility front page brings, which it seems this now has. Thank you to whoever did that.

I'm open to suggestions on titles and phrasing! I am not claiming to be a member of the site administration. I am claiming the lineage of the LessWrong Demographics Census, which I do not believe was ever actually run by the official LessWrong team.

For the moment, I've put up a sentence in the opening of the census stating that I'm a user, not an administrator.

Scott Alexander isn't the official LessWrong team but he was someone who actually earned had more authority. He was someone with community trust.

The request for comment post is here.

If any member of the LessWrong administration team asks me to remove this or retitle this, I'll cheerfully comply. Ben Pace, one of the site admins, was aware of my intent to do this before I put up the Request for Comment and his response was to send me a Google Doc full of brainstormed questions. I took that as light encouragement to go ahead.

As to what absolutely should be done: I'll bet you ten bucks at 5:1 neither the 2009 or the 2011 censuses were run by a site administrator or received official advance agreement ... (read more)

7Ben Pace4mo
I generally like surveys! Here's a silly little survey [] I did that 100 people filled out, here's a survey John Wentworth did on people's technical background [] that 250 people that I know informs his writing. I think small surveys that directly answer key questions are very cheap and worthwhile. It's important to do a good job on a survey that you try to make the schelling annual survey for ~10k people on the site to complete. One user made a mess of it in 2017 and the survey died (link [], same link with different comments []), and another user also didn't succeed in reviving in 2020 (link []). I think it'd be a nice-to-have to get an annual survey going, especially if it was run by someone who was trying to test particular hypotheses. For instance, if it were me, a bunch of questions on how users use the site that will help the LW team inform new feature development.  So I think it's fine for you to do a basic demographics-and-beliefs survey, though I think it's a bit much to demand/expect everyone to take your survey. Calling it "General Census" is a demand that people should actually fill it out that you have to develop buy-in for. Maybe you get lucky and everyone actually fills it out, but if it doesn't then those who filled it out will be unhappy with you for making them spend effort on a stag hunt [] where they didn't get the stag, and also people will trust you less-than-baseline in the future for such stag hunts. I don't want to

I know that at least one administrator (Ben Pace) was aware of my intent to run the census if there were no objections from the LessWrong team prior to me putting up the Request For Comments. Ben sent me a Google Doc of brainstormed census questions in response. I made a request for comments post. I agree most people probably didn't see it, but don't know how to fix that without asking for more visibility, which I did. I didn't get told not to do it or that there was a decision not to give this more visibility, that part didn't get addressed. If anyone fro... (read more)

You didn't make a request that's comparable to the request that SurfingOrca made. SurfingOrca's request got community approval if you look at it's karma response while yours didn't. I think ignoring the fact that your post got single digit karma and ending your "RFC" after only five days and a single person commenting when there's no reason to rush it, is a bad sign when it comes to the question to whether you are likely trustworthy when it comes to handling sensitive private data. 
Ben Pace was the person who was previously planning a census for this year before cancelling it, so if he sent you the brainstorm doc to help, presumably you have the official LessWrong stamp of approval.
1Yair Halberstadt4mo
I think the post is slightly misleading in that it represents it as "The LessWrong census" (i.e. something done by the less wrong team), instead of a survey by a less wrong user. This is an important distinction. For example, I trust the less wrong team with my personal information much more than a random user.

You are correct and that is an important distinction I blurred in my own head, thank you.

I had read the expansions. We might be in practical agreement on 5. I would say if you're debating in the comments of a Less Wrong thread, following 5 is positive expected value. You'll avoid escalations that you'd otherwise fall into, and being defected against won't cost you too much. It stands out to me because other rules guidelines (say, 2 and 8) I would be comfortable abiding holding myself to even if I knew my interlocutor wasn't going to follow them. It's when you're having higher stakes discussions that leaving yourself open in good faith can go b... (read more)

5[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien4mo
Er, this is maybe too nitpicky, but it's pretty important to me that these are guidelines, not rules (with expansion on what a guideline means); I worked hard to make sure that the word "rules" appeared nowhere in the text outside of one quote in the appendix.

I want to say that I really like the Sazen -> expansion format, and I like the explanation -> ways you might feel -> ways a request might look format even more. 

1 to 4 and 6 to 9 I just straightforwardly agree with. 

My issue with 5 should properly be its own blog post but the too-condensed version is something like, those cases where the other person is not also trying to converge on truth are common enough and important enough that I don't blame someone for not starting from that assumption. Put another way, all of the other rules seem ... (read more)

6[DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien4mo
I wholeheartedly agree that following 5 leaves you vulnerable to defection; the claim is that (especially within a subculture like LessWrong) the results of everybody hunting stag on this one are much better than the results of everyone choosing rabbit; you will once in a while get taken advantage of for an extra minute or two/a few more rounds of the back-and-forth, but the base rate of charity in the water supply goes WAY up and this has a bunch of positive downstream effects and is worth it on net in expectation (claim). (This is elaborated on a good bit in the expansion of 5 if you haven't read it and are curious. I'd love to be tagged in an objection post, b/c I'd probably engage substantially in the comments.) 10 should maybe be toned back a bit! I strongly agree with your take on 0; this is hit pretty hard in the Sapir-Whorf piece from a couple of days ago (the thing feels effortful when it's not reflecting your inner thought processes but using the language can update the inner thought processes, and speaking in a way that reflects the inner thought processes is subjectively ~0% extra effort). But if we're wanting to gain new skill and not just stay as-good-at-discourse as we currently are, we're each going to need to be nonzero trying on some axis.

Counterargument: previous surveys specified to remove the percent sign. Assume some people will add it when they were told not to, and some people will leave it off if told to add it. Keeping the same format means that we could do things like take the average of all surveys, past and present, and the instruction-following population's answers will work just fine.

I predict people are very roughly equally likely to make the mistake in either direction and currently plan to stay consistent with previous surveys.

(To be clear, if one format was better than the ... (read more)

Your suggested Right Thing seems a decent idea. We could also put both definitions on that question, each with their own bullet points.

The other option is to use the 2020 questions, which did not give examples but covered a little wider of a spread. Looking at the different ways this question has been asked over the years, I'm tentatively leaning towards this option.

Updated with finer grained answers, which should be easy to convert into the old "Yes, No."

I have fixed those two questions. I will fix any more that get pointed out or that I happen to spot.

There used to be lots of IQ questions, which seems to have culminated in this delightful subsection back in 2013. (Search for "Can we finally resolve this IQ controversy that comes up every year?") I have included the basic five questions, because I defaulted strongly towards keeping any question that was asked on at least three previous surveys. Also, I find the reported average to be baffling, at least somewhat convincing, and really funny.

One observation per comment is actually preferable to me! It means I can reply to each observation to argue with it state that it's been done or that I've considered it and decided to keep it, forming a nice little to-do list for me.

Hint text has been added.

I also swapped the unit to years, which is easily compared to past answers.

Wikipedia calls the branches of Islam "Branches or Denominations" and the article on Judaism suggests Commonly used terms are movements, as well as denominations varieties, traditions, groupings, streams, branches, trends, and such." Nitpickery appreciated, I'm currently happy with the divisions.

The family-religion question does have this issue. If I was going to change it, I'd change it to "What is your family's religious background, as of when you were growing up?" That makes it fit the question above it, but risks making it harder to compare across years. I'm currently lightly leaning towards leaving it as-is, figuring the value of comparison is worth it.

I have taken the detailed description format (copied more or less verbatim from previous censuses) as a warning from those who have gone before me. Besides, while Google Forms doesn't really know how to handle the percents in either format, I know how to sort numbers into buckets in Google Sheets easily so I could find out "half the respondents answered between 80% and 90%" or the like.

I just checked, and Google Sheets thinks the average of "50, 40" is 45 and that the average of "50, 40%" is 25.2. I plan to stick with the current instructions for giving probabilities.

To be clear, I wasn't proposing that the detailed description be removed! I was proposing something more like changing to I do, however, take your point about wanting it to be easy to paste things into Google Sheets or whatever. But I don't think there's any avoiding the need to check for bogus answers. If you ask for no trailing percentage signs, you just know that some people will write them anyway, and then you have to do something with them so that they don't mess up your calculations. (To be clear, this isn't an advantage of my proposal; it's also true that if you ask for trailing percentage signs, some people will miss them out. But "just copy and paste the whole lot into Google Sheets" isn't a reliable approach either way, and if you're already having to remove/repair answers where people have done the wrong thing I don't think all-percent is either better or worse than no-percent for Google Sheets processing. The average of 50% and 40% is 0.45, which is fine.)

I trust the new heading, "Section 9: Other Traditional Less Wrong Census Questions, Which Used To Be Called More Complicated Probability Questions," is perfectly satisfactory to all concerned.

Thank you for the second set of eyes by the way!

You're welcome. My apologies if you would have preferred one long comment with many observations in it, rather than one comment per thing I spotted. :-) [EDITED to add:] It was a deliberate decision, on the rather dubious grounds that maybe some people would want to be able to upvote/downvote things on a per-comment basis, though in fact I doubt there's much need for voting in this thread unless something is super-stupid or super-insightful, which I'm pretty sure none of my comments here are.

I feel like it's fine for the question not to apply to non-religious people. Combined with the Religious Views question, it's a quick sequence of "are you religious? if yes, what kind? if no, keep going, Moral Views will still apply to you." If the question included what religion someone last identified with, then you could wind up with "Are you religious?" getting four Athiests and one Theist, then "What religion, including the last religion if you're now atheist?" getting five Catholics.

Hindu is not a denomination, you are correct, and that's a case of m... (read more)

I agree that it's fine for the denomination question not to apply to non-religious people. I was just pointing out that we could, if we wanted, collect a little more information that way. (But at the cost of making interpretation slightly harder work, since as you say it would be potentially misleading to just count up answers to the denomination question without cross-referencing them against the religion question. The family-religion questions already have this problem, if problem it be.) Splitting up the non-Christian religions is probably a good idea, though I have the feeling that "denomination" isn't really the right term for many of the subdivisions you might want. E.g., you probably don't want to split up Islam any further than Shia versus Sunni versus Other Muslim, but those would generally be called "branches" or something rather than "denominations". This is all sheer nitpickery, of course :-).
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