Deliberately Vague Language is Bullshit

A Paul Graham essay which is more directly related to this topic is How to Write Usefully:

Useful writing makes claims that are as strong as they can be made without becoming false.

For example, it's more useful to say that Pike's Peak is near the middle of Colorado than merely somewhere in Colorado. But if I say it's in the exact middle of Colorado, I've now gone too far, because it's a bit east of the middle.

Precision and correctness are like opposing forces. It's easy to satisfy one if you ignore the other. The converse of vaporous academic writing is the bold, but false, rhetoric of demagogues. Useful writing is bold, but true.

Monastery and Throne

The Nudgerism section seems to be mushing together various psychology-related things which don't have much to do with nudging.

Things like downplaying risks in order to prevent panic are at most very loosely related to nudging, and at least as ancient as the practice of placing objects at eye-level. Seems like an over-extension of focusing on "morale" and other Leaders of Men style attributes.

The main overlaps between the book Nudge and the awful The Cognitive Bias That Makes Us Panic About Coronavirus Bloomberg article are 1) they were both written by Cass Sunstein and 2) the one intervention that's explicitly recommended in the Bloomberg article is publicizing accurate information about coronavirus risk probabilities.

One of the main themes of the nudge movement is that human behavior is an empirical field that can be studied, and one of the main flaws of the thing being called "nudgerism" is making up ungrounded (and often inaccurate) stories about how people will behave (such as what things will induce a "false sense of security"). These stories often are made by people without relevant expertise who don't even seem to be trying very hard to make accurate predictions.

The British government has a Behavioural Insights Team which is colloquially known as the Nudge Unit; I'd guess that they didn't have much to do with the screwups that are being called "nudgerism."

Improvement for pundit prediction comparisons

I expect it will be easier to get Metaculus users to make forecasts on pundits' questions than to get pundits to make forecasts on each other's questions.

Suggested variant (with dates for concreteness):

Dec 1: deadline for pundits to submit their questions
Dec 10: metaculus announces the final version of all the questions they're using, but does not open markets
Dec 20: deadline for pundits & anyone else to privately submit their forecasts (maybe hashed), and metaculus markets open
Dec 31: current metaculus consensus becomes the official metaculus forecast for the questions, and pundits (& anyone else) can publicize the forecasts that they made by Dec 20

Contestants (anyone who submitted forecasts by Dec 20) mainly get judged based on how they did relative to the Dec 31 metaculus forecast. I expect that they will mostly be pundits making forecasts on their own questions, plus forecasting aficionados.

(We want contestants & metaculus to make their forecasts simultaneously, with neither having access to the other's forecasts, which is tricky since metaculus is a public platform. That's why I have the separate deadlines on Dec 20 & Dec 31, with contestants' forecasts initially private - hopefully that's a short enough time period so that not much new information should arise, and long enough for people to have time to make forecasts.)

With only a small sample size of questions, it may be more meaningful to evaluate contestants based on how close they came to the official metaculus forecast rather than on how accurate they were (there's a bias-variance tradeoff). As a contestant does more questions (this year or over multiple years), the comparison with what actually happened becomes more meaningful.

Strong Evidence is Common

Maybe a nitpick, but the driver's license posterior of 95% seems too high. (Or at least the claim isn't stated precisely.) I'd have less than a 95% success rate at guessing the exact name string that appears on someone's driver's license. Maybe there's a middle name between the "Mark" and the "Xu", maybe the driver's license says "Marc" or "Marcus", etc.

I think you can get to 95% with a phone number or a wifi password or similar, so this is probably just a nitpick.

Where does the phrase "central example" come from?

Although maybe not that disproportionate - one recent post was throwing off the search results. Without it, rationalish subreddits still show up a few times on the first couple pages of search results, but not overwhelmingly.

Where does the phrase "central example" come from?

Searching for the phrase on Reddit does turn up a disproportionate number of hits from /r/slatestarcodex. So not LW-exclusive, but maybe unusually common around here. Possibly traceable to Weak Men Are Superweapons:

What is the problem with statements like this?

First, they are meant to re-center a category. Remember, people think in terms of categories with central and noncentral members – a sparrow is a central bird, an ostrich a noncentral one. But if you live on the Ostrich World, which is inhabited only by ostriches, emus, and cassowaries, then probably an ostrich seems like a pretty central example of ‘bird’ and the first sparrow you see will be fantastically strange.

Right now most people’s central examples of religion are probably things like your local neighborhood church. If you’re American, it’s probably a bland Protestant denomination like the Episcopalians or something.

The guy whose central examples of religion are Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama is probably going to have a different perception of religion than the guy whose central examples are Torquemada and Fred Phelps. If you convert someone from the first kind of person to the second kind of person, you’ve gone most of the way to making them an atheist.

Where does the phrase "central example" come from?

It's not a LW-distinctive phrase. Try searching Google News, for instance. It falls out of spatial models of concepts such as prototype theory, e.g. a robin is a central example of a bird while an ostrich is not.

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