I would add that it seems common for task difficulty distribution to be skewed in various idiosyncratic ways --- sufficiently common and sufficiently skewed that any uninformed generic intuition about the "noise" distribution is likely to be seriously wrong. E.g., in some fields there's important low-hanging fruit: the first few hours of training and practice might get you 10-30% of the practical benefit of the hundreds of hours of training and practice that would be required to have a comprehensive understanding. In other fields there are large clusters of skills that become easy to learn with once you learn some skill that is a shared prerequisite for the entire cluster.
lukeprog wrote "philosophers are 'spectacularly bad' at understanding that their intuitions are generated by cognitive algorithms." I am pretty confident that minds are physical/chemical systems, and that intuitions are generated by cognitive algorithms. (Furthermore, many of the alternatives I know of are so bizarre that given that such an alternative is the true reality of my universe, the conditional probability that rationality or philosophy is going to do me any good seems to be low.) But philosophy as often practiced values questioning everything, and so I don't think it's quite fair to expect philosophers to "understand" this (which I read in this context as synonymous as "take this for granted"). I'd prefer a formulation like "spectacularly bad at seriously addressing [or, perhaps, even properly understanding] the obvious hypothesis that their intuitions are generated by cognitive algorithms." It seems to me that the criticism rewritten in this form remains severe.
I'd prefer that their answers about equal responsibility for parenting be consistent with their answers for equal right to be awarded disputed child custody. Holding either consistent position (mothers' parenting presence is essentially special in very important ways that can't generally be replaced by fathers, or mothers and fathers should be treated equally) seems less wrong than opportunistically switching between one position to justify extra parental rights and roles in divorce and the other position to justify equal parental responsibilities and roles in marriage.
(Of course, my simple dichotomy shatters into more possibilities if marriage is considered a custom contract defined by negotiation between the spouses. But marriage and family law in general seem very nearly a one-size-fits-all status defined by government, with only a small admixture of contract (pre-nups and such) having AGAIK almost no legal force regarding child care and custody. Thus I don't think the dichotomy is a gross distortion.)
Of course there could well be some exaggeration for dramatic effect there --- as David Friedman likes to say, one should be skeptical of any account which might survive on its literary or entertainment value alone. But it's not any sort of logical impossibility. In Dallas near UTD (which had a strong well-funded chess team which contributed some of the strong coffeehouse players) ca. 2002 I was able to play dozens of coffeehouse games against strangers and casual acquaintances. One can also play in tournaments and in open-to-all clubs. Perhaps one could even play grudge matches against people one dislikes. Also today one can play an enormous number of strangers online, and even in the 1970s people played postal chess.
I don't have enough data to compare such gaming outcomes very well, but I'll pass on something that I thought was funny and perhaps containing enough truth to be thought-provoking (from Aaron Brown's The Poker Face of Wall Street): "National bridge champion and hedge fund manager Josh Parker explained the nuances of serious high school games players to me. The chess player did well in school, had no friends, got 800s on his SATs, and did well at a top college. The poker and backgammon set (one crowd in the 1970s) did badly in school, had tons of friends, aced their SATs, and were stars at good colleges. The bridge players flunked out of high school, had no friends, aced their SATs, and went on to drop out of top colleges. In the 1980s, we all ended up trading options together."
Also, FWIW, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are apparently in the bridge camp, though I dunno whether they played in high school.
Wei_Dai writes "I wonder if I'm missing something important by not playing chess."
I am a somewhat decent chess player[*] and a reasonable Go player (3 dan, barely, at last rated tournament a few years ago). If you're inclined to thinking about cognition itself, and about questions like the value of heuristics and approximations that only work sometimes, such games are great sources of examples. In some cases, the strong players have already thinking along those lines for more than a century, though using a different vocabulary. E.g., Go concepts like aji and thickness seem strongly related to Less Wrong discussions of the relative value of conjunctive and disjunctive plans.
There might also be some rationalist value in learning at the gut level that we're not on the primordial savannah any more by putting a thousand or so hours or more into at least one discipline where you can be utterly unmistakably crushed by someone who scores a zero on the usual societal/hindbrain tags for seriousness (like a bored 9 year old Ukrainian who obliterates you in the first round of the tournament on the way to finishing the tournament undefeated with a rating provisionally revised to 5 dan:-).
That said, I think you will probably get much more bang for your rationalist-wins-the-world buck from studying other things. In particular, I'd nominate (1) math along the usual engineering-ish main sequence (calculus, linear algebra, Fourier analysis, probability, statistics) and (2) computer programming. History and microeconomics-writ-large are also strong candidates. So it's not particularly worth studying chess or go beyond the point where you just find it fun for its own sake.
[*] highwater mark approximately 60 seconds before I abandoned my experiment with playing chess somewhat seriously: forced threefold repetition against a 2050ish-rated player who happened to be tournament director of the local chess club minitournament, who had told me earlier that I could stop recording when my clock fell below 5 minutes, and who ruled upon my 3-fold repetition that it didn't count as a draw because the game was not being recorded
I wasn't trying to be hard on that kind of collecting, though I was making a distinction. To me, choosing stamps (as opposed to, e.g., butterflies or historical artifacts) as a type specimen suggests that the collecting is largely driven by fashion or sentiment or some other inner or social motive, not because the objects are of interest for piecing together a vast disorderly puzzle found in the outer physical world. Inner and social motives are fine with me, though my motivation in such things tends to things other than collecting. (E.g., music and Go and Chess.)
You wrote "what I chose to do to resolve the matter was to deep dive into three often-raised skeptic arguments using my knowledge of physics as a starting point" and "deliberate misinformation campaigns in the grand tradition of tobacco [etc.]".
Less Wrong is not the place for a comprehensive argument about catastrophic AGW, but I'd like to make a general Less-Wrong-ish point about your analysis here. It is perceptive to notice that millions of dollars are spent on a shoddy PR effort by the other side. It is also perceptive to notice that many of the other side's most popular arguments aren't technically very strong. It's even actively helpful to debunk unreasonable popular arguments even if you only do it for those which are popular on the other side. However, remember that it's sadly common that regardless of their technical merits, big politicized controversies tend to grow big shoddy PR efforts associated with all factions. And even medium-sized controversies tend to attract some loud clueless supporters on both sides. Thus, it's not a very useful heuristic to consider significant PR spending, or the popularity of flaky arguments, as particularly useful evidence against the underlying factual position.
It may be "too much information [about AGW]" for Less Wrong, but I feel I should support my point in this particular controversy at least a little, so... E.g., look at the behavior of Pachauri himself in the "Glaciergate" glaciers-melting-by-2035 case. I can't read the guy's mind, and indeed find some of his behavior quite odd, so for all I know it is not "deliberate." But accidental or not, it looks rather like an episode in a misinformation campaign in the sorry tradition of big-money innumerate scare-environmentalism. Also, Judith Curry just wrote a blog post which mentions, among other things, the amount of money sloshing around in various AGW-PR-related organizations associated with anti-IPCC positions. For comparison, a rather angry critic I don't know much about (but one who should, at a minimum, be constrained by British libel law) ties the Glaciergate factoid to grants of $500K and $3M, and Greenpeace USA seems to have an annual budget of around $30M.
It has a germ of truth, but I think it's deeply misleading. In particular, it needs some kind of nod to the importance of relevance to everyday life. E.g., it would be more serious to claim "all science is either physics, or the systematizing side of some useful discipline like engineering, or stamp collecting." Pure stamp collecting endeavors have nothing to stop them from veering into the behavior stereotypically associated with modern art or the Sokal hoax. Fields like paleobotany or astronomy (or, indeed, physics itself in near-unobservable limits) can become arbitrarily pure stamp collecting when the in-group controls funding. More applied fields like genetics or immunology or synthetic chemistry or geology are messy and disordered compared to pure physics, and do resemble stamp collecting in that messiness. But true stamp collecting is not merely messy, but also arbitrarily driven by fashion. To the extent that a significant amount of the interest (and money) associated with an academic field flows from applications like agriculture and medicine and resource extraction, it tends not to dive so deeply into true free-floating arbitrariness of pure stamp collecting.
It seems to me that once our ancestors' tools got good enough that their reproductive fitness was qualitatively affected by their toolmaking/toolusing capabilities (defining "tools" broadly enough to include things like weapons, fire, and clothing), they were on a steep slippery slope to the present day, so that it would take an dinosaur-killer level of contingent event to get them off it. (Language and such helps a lot too, but as they say, language and a gun will get you more than language alone.:-) Starting to slide down that slope is one kind of turning point, but it might be hard to define that "point" with a standard deviation smaller than one hundred thousand years.
The takeoff to modern science and the industrial revolution is another turning point. Among other things related to this thread, it seems to me that this takeoff is when the heuristic of not thinking about grand strategy at all seriously and instead just doing what everyone has "always" done loses some of its value, because things start changing fast enough that most people's strategies can be expected to be seriously out of date. That turning point seems to me to have been driven by arrival at some combination of sufficient individual human capabilities, sufficient population density, and sufficient communications techniques (esp. paper and printing) which serve as force multipliers for population density. Again it's hard to define precisely, both in terms of exact date of reaching sufficiency and in terms of quite how much is sufficient; the Chinese ca. 1200AD and the societies around the Mediterranean ca. 1AD seem like they had enough that you wouldn't've needed enormous differences in contingent factors to've given the takeoff to them instead of to the Atlantic trading community ca, 1700.