What are you working on? December 2012

I'm working on adding elements to a report at work that does data visualization on a large scale (the data set is about 1 million data points; it's really not all that impressive of a subject matter, but I can't be terribly specific). The report has all of the "easy" elements I need in it, but now I'm trying to add in the harder elements. My ultimate end goal would be to add in the more complicated data along with system parameters, so I can get a handle on how parameter changes affect the output. I'd love to see Bayes nets and the like make a triumphant entrance at some point. But near as I can tell, I'd be the local expert on all of that, and anything I know about that subject matter I mostly picked up from here.

[Link] Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo's Studies Really Show

I believe the article the OP points to is actually more about how system 2 is being engaged in these systems, and is therefore not "blind obedience", i.e. a simple heuristic being engaged. From the conclusion:

On the other hand, it ignores the evidence that those who do heed authority in doing evil do so knowingly not blindly, >actively not passively, creatively not automatically. They do so out of belief not by nature, out of choice not by necessity. >In short, they should be seen—and judged—as engaged followers not as blind conformists

Equally, what is shocking about Milgram's experiments is that rather than being distressed by their actions, participants >could be led to construe them as “service” in the cause of “goodness.”

At root, the fundamental point is that tyranny does not flourish because perpetrators are helpless and ignorant of their >actions. It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous [49]. It is this >conviction that steels participants to do their dirty work and that makes them work energetically and creatively to ensure >its success. Moreover, this work is something for which they actively wish to be held accountable—so long as it secures >the approbation of those in power.

To put words into their mouth, I believe they are arguing that people's system 2's are overriding the "don't hurt people" heuristic of system 1, as opposed to system 2 analysis being overridden by a simple obedience heuristic.

[Link] The Worst-Run Big City in the U.S.

I'm leery of organizations providing their own statistics on how effective they are, which may just be another form of lobbying and propaganda. I'd lean towards carving out from the budget a group that independently assesses effectiveness of each of the organizations. It's admittedly imperfect, but it would be more impartial than what seems to be in place now, and agencies wouldn't necessarily be at a disadvantage for lacking their own internal measurement tools. That still leaves the problem of choosing the right metrics. Something simple like budget percentages and ratios would be a good place to start. There are a lot of hard-to-compare types of services out there; after school programs aren't like Meals on Wheels programs. It's hard to come up outcome based metrics to say which service is better than another when there's so many different categories. Adopting something along the lines of the financial ratings at Charity Navigator could at least get everyone on the same page for controlling costs at their organizations.

LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance

Moreover, no woman is ever going to be drawn to that, at least that I've ever heard. So it doesn't make sense as a grossly misguided pick-up strategy. Thinking about it and reading the thread, the more I think something along the lines of the Berne Games People Play dynamic is at work. It's the most charitable reading you can give to the behavior at least; the jerks taking part in this are getting some kind of attention from the woman they're targeting, even though it's negative attention. Still extremely hurtful behavior, but I can believe (or at least kid myself into believing) that men can gain insight into the behavior, realize what's going on, and stop doing it.

One of the more humiliating moments of my adult life was when two guys were making lewd comments to a female friend of mine across a parking lot. I felt absolutely helpless (I'll be blunt, they were far away and it was obvious they would kick my a__), and I can only imagine what my friend went through. She weathered it, but I'm sure that came at some cost to her psyche that women spend to much time and effort bearing. I can only say it's in the best interests of men and women if this was all curtailed.

LW Women- Minimizing the Inferential Distance

"Its importance is not merely the individual Games, but the idea of what a Game is and why people Play them."

From Berne: "Because there is so little opportunity for intimacy in daily life, and because some forms of intimacy (especially if intense) are psychologically impossible for most people, the bulk of the time in serious social life is taken up with playing games. Hence games are both necessary and desirable, and the only problem at issue is whether the games played by an individual offer the best yield for him."

So, you can debate the validity, but my take on the Berne-ian view would be that the game Catcall is the attempt to create a social boost for males by gaining a female's (albeit negative) attention.

[LINK] Was Intrade being manipulated?

I think this explanation from Wiblin* is most likely: "Nonetheless, I think this is more likely tha[t] a broad pool of Intrade participants [were] being enthusiastic about Romney against all the evidence, and [were] unaware that they could get better odds elsewhere." Is there enough evidence to investigate whether something more sinister is at work? I certainly don't know the details on Intrade and other similar markets, but perhaps there should be more stringent transparency rules to prevent potential manipulations.

Implications: What has always struck me as difficult for prediction markets is the fact that they aren't pricing an underlying "thing"; they're pricing uncertainty itself. Even in a futures or options market, there is an underlying right to purchase at a specific price, even if that right is useless due to the current price of the commodity or stock being lower. While the options or futures contract has a potential value on a certain date, there isn't anything of value being bought and sold on a prediction market. It's just bets based on information that everyone will know on a specific date. So to me, all the pluses you get from other markets that pertain to large groups grappling over how to price good don't apply to prediction markets, because there aren't any underlying assets to price. To me, markets do a good job of rationally arriving at prices because of the constant negotiations and comparisons going on for the underlying assets. People make predictions on where market prices will go, but to me that isn't the same as these being prediction markets. The implication of all this is that for me it's not surprising to hear that there was such a large arbitrage potential between the prediction markets. I'm not such a believer in the efficient market hypothesis to believe that there isn't arbitrage potential in asset markets, but I would predict that these are fewer and smaller than there would be in prediction markets. I don't see this as an unsolvable problem, but to me it shows what prediction markets are good for, which is to keep people honest in their premises and expectations. Take a global warming discussion with a AGW proponent on one side and an AGW skeptic on another. Sans a prediction market, either person could make as dire or as rosy a claim as they like; once they start putting real money on the line, both will likely become more interested in accuracy. If all prediction markets did was to routinely get people to adhere to rational discussion (and thus adhere to Aumann's agreement theorem), arenas such as public policy would improve immensely. So, it doesn't matter that the Intrade bets didn't reflect the best of odds; that just means one of the rational actors hadn't fully adjusted yet; once their account was debited, once would assume that they were in agreement now with the party on the other end of the bet.


Causal Diagrams and Causal Models

I've been enjoying this series so far, and I found this article to be particularly helpful. I did have a minor suggestion. The turnstile and the logical negation symbols were called out, and I thought it might be useful to explicitly breakdown the probability distribution equation. The current Less Wrong audience had little problem with it, certainly, but if you were showing it to someone new to this for the first time, they might not be acquainted with it. I was thinking something along the lines of this from stattrek:

"Generally, statisticians use a capital letter to represent a random variable and a lower-case letter, to represent one of its values. For example,

X represents the random variable X.
P(X) represents the probability of X.
P(X = x) refers to the probability that the random variable X is equal to a particular value, denoted by x. As an example, P(X = 1) refers to the probability that the random variable X is equal to 1."


Also, page 2 of A Student's Guide to Maxwell's Equations does a great job of diagramming Gauss' law for electrical fields, and I think it would be helpful if this were available to breakdown the right half of the equation, with the beginning reader seeing a breakdown of the equation.

If this all was set aside in the footnote, the overall continuity of the article wouldn't be affected, and someone who might be intimidated at first by equations might see that these aren't so bad. With just a bit of exposition, more readers might be able to follow along with the entire argument, which I think could be introduced to someone with very little background.

Life is Good, More Life is Better

That's true, my original statement is too broad. To your point, that people are skeptical of cryonics in general, I am in complete agreement, and that's what I was trying to get at in my final point.

Life is Good, More Life is Better

I would disagree with the proposition that people are in any way actually OK with death. I don't think the problem is that people are at peace with death too much; instead, it's an issue that people are so afraid of death that they don't talk or even think realistically about it at all. The quotes you listed above sound like people were speaking hypothetically; if they were in an actual situation where their life was medically threatened but an intervention would likely save them I'm sure they would take the intervention without much consideration (barring depression). Instead, I believe the fear of death is so great, rational thinking about it is pushed aside. It's worse than Stockholm Syndrome, it's learned helplessness. People don't buy cryonics plans for the same reason they don't buy life insurance in the first place or even write a will, in that they're procrastinating in putting together concrete plans for something that makes them feel extremely uncomfortable.

The cryonics specific sales pitch doesn't have any happy early adopters running around saying "Thank Hanson I signed up! A cure was right around the corner, just 3 years away from being on the open market. If I hadn't enrolled I'd be...DEAD!" We're obviously not at that point yet, but if a Peter Thiel (to pull a name out of the air) were to use cryonics and successfully return to the land of the thawed, a hypothetical would become an actual, and people would become much more interested.

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