Open Thread

Here is our monthly place to discuss Overcoming Bias topics that have not appeared in recent posts.

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  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    I don’t know if this has been posted on, but it’s pretty interesting–the effects of depression on the accuracy of self-evaluations. Also, I’m curious if anyone knows about research on whether depressed people become more pessimistic when predicting their future happiness.

  • tcpkac

    pdf23ds, you might be interested in the review paper by Taylor & Brown, 1988, ‘Illusion and Well-Being’ which can be found at :
    http://io.uwinnipeg.ca/~morton/modern_drama/depression2.pdf
    There is some suggestion that depressed people self-assess accurately, others self-assess over-positively.
    The abstract of the paper reads :
    “Many prominent theorists have argued that accurate perceptions of the self, the world, and the future are essential for mental health. Yet considerable research evidence suggests that overly positive self-evaluations, exaggerated perceptions of control or mastery, and unrealistic optimism are characteristic of normal human thought. Moreover, these illusions appear to promote other criteria of mental health, including the ability to care about others, th ability to be happy or contented, and the ability to engage in productive and creative work. These strategies may succeed, in large part, because both the social world and cognitive-processing mechanisms impose filters on incoming information that distort it in a positive direction; negative information may well be isolated and represented in as unthreatening a manner as possible. These positive illusions may be esecially useful when an individual receives negative feedback or is otherwise threatened and may be especially adaptive under these circumstances.”

  • Chris Vickers

    That survey you posted last summer, for research being done with Jason Briggeman: was there ever any followup on that, or did I just miss it?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Chris, we are still working on the survey data, but hope to have something to show within a few months.

  • Julian Morrison

    Could you put the survey back up even in non-takeable form? I’m curious.

  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    tcpkac, I believe that’s the research I had in mind. But that paper doesn’t address the separate question of whether depression induces pessimism.

  • Adam Safron

    Please see below for a proposal on a method for decreasing bias in political discourse.

    Presidential debates perform the vital function of informing the electorate about their potential representatives. The televised format, however, creates a time-bottleneck that debases the quality of political discourse. Inadequate speaking opportunities force debate participants to explain their positions in absurdly short periods of time. In this context, candidates need to use simplified–and often sensationalized–arguments that fail to address the complexity of the issues. Perhaps even more insidiously, time-limitations give candidates plausible deniability when they avoid discussing important, but controversial topics. Finally, the televised format limits the number of candidates that can take part in discussions and almost invariably ensures that minority opinions will be neglected.

    The limitations of televised debates could largely be overcome in alternative venues such as online discussion forums. On a discussion board, candidates would have the time to fully explain their positions and provide point-by-point critiques of their opponents’ statements. In contrast to the current situation in televised debates, there might actually be a chance for fruitful dialogue.

    Even more radically, perhaps the candidates could respond to the top-rated comments from non-candidates. If someone comes up with an important critique of a political position, they should be expected to respond to it, no matter who raised the critique. Ideally, we would force our representatives to publicly defend their positions in these forums for as long as they want to be part of politics. Open discussion shouldn’t be limited to election seasons.

    By hosting the debates on a major website like Facebook or Digg or a similar site, it might be easier to incentivize the candidates to participate. And seeing as it is an election season, this could be a unique opportunity for starting projects of this nature. It will be much more difficult to generate buy-in after the election. Internet debates would be good for everyone: they would generate publicity for the candidates, they would generate traffic for the hosting website, and they would help to educate and empower the electorate.

    What do people think?

  • EZ

    I would like to see some discussion of the failure of the prediction markets to offer any insights into this presidential race. I was assuming that they would be better predictors than the public polling, but they seemed to follow the polling almost exactly, and were just as wrong when the polls turned out to be wrong. What I really do not understand is that while most Americans thought Giuliani was the frontrunner, and every political expert knew he would most likely not end up winning, he was the most most expensive contract almost through Iowa! I was so confident in prediction markets that I assumed that some insiders had information that was dominating experts betting against him, therefore I did not try to bet.
    I would love to hear Robin explain why this does not provide evidence against the practical use of these markets.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Bet next time, EZ.

    But not too much.

    Maybe you’re smarter. Maybe you’re just lucky. If you really, truly believe that you know better than the prediction markets – bet!

    Prediction markets aren’t necessarily good predictors, just the best.

  • deanochi

    Robin Hanson has mentioned growing up in a religious cult. I would like to hear more. (I am now wondering how, and indeed whether, to challenge the friendly neighborhood Scientologists to put some thought into overcoming bias.)

  • LG

    When you were moving last week, I really missed reading your normal posts, Eli. You do great work, and the volume is outstanding — you’re well on your way to a book!

  • igor

    This may seem a bit off on this blog, since I hardly see the authors engage in the subject of parenting and teaching, but as a young father I necessarily go from Bayes and Overcoming Bias to parenting very naturally.

    So, I’d like to ask: any idea on how my 15 month old girl may (progessively) benefit from the Way of Bayes?
    Or, in other words, is there a sunday school for little bayesians…?

    I might add that while the issue may seem far removed from academic discussions of logic, I contend that words such as parenting and teaching only mean 1 thing: allowing and fostering LEARNING. Then logic doesn’t seem so far away anymore.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/Unholysmoke/ Ben Jones

    I second that Igor! If ‘the Way’ is really so counterintuitive, then young unformed minds should have a much easier time internalising it. After all, something can only be counterintuitive if you’ve had time to make up your mind (conscious or otherwise) about what is intuitive.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Ben Jones, please read Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate”. Heck, just read over Eliezer’s evolutionary psychiatry posts.

    Robin Hanson discussed his cult experience here. He discussed Scientology here.

  • Brandon Reinhart

    Interesting article on child political bias programming popped up on CNN:

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/02/04/politykes/index.html

  • Z. M. Davis

    TGGP, even if many biases are innate rather than learned in origin (to the extent that the old nature/nurture dichotomy holds up), it could still very well be the case that early education would be very effective compared to later education.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    After all, something can only be counterintuitive if you’ve had time to make up your mind (conscious or otherwise) about what is intuitive.
    That was the statement I was responding to.

  • KapKool

    Suppose that the vast majority of learned people are in 1 of 2 opposing camps about a controversial issue. Everyone in camp A believes A1 through AN and ~B1 through ~BN while everyone in camp B believes ~A1 through ~AN and B1 through BN. However, there is also a third, much smaller camp—Camp C—that is almost universally regarded as stupid, ignorant, and irrational, and believes some set of {AK} and {BK}. Even though everyone in camps A and B disagrees strongly with each other, they both agree that camp C is much more irrational than the other camp. That is, everyone in either camp A or B thinks the people in the other main camp are wrong, and at least somewhat irrational, but they think camp C is just a bunch of freaking moonbats.
    In the abstract, it’s certainly possible for {AN} and {~BN} to be about equally probable as {BN} and {~AN}, while some set of propositions from both are wildly improbable, but in the real world I think that this is rare. However, it seems to me that a lot of academic disputes are like this, and that it points to a general bias against people with completely different takes on old disputes. I’d like to know if anyone else thinks a lot of academic disputes are like this and whether or not it points to a bias.

  • Z. M. Davis

    KapKool, sounds like American politics as viewed from a libertarian perspective (cf. the Nolan chart). Eliezer has written some good posts about group polarization.

    TGGP, duly noted.

  • Ben Jones

    TGGP – I’ve read both. My point was that debiasing is difficult because it goes against our first intuitions. Yes, some of those intuitions are based in nature, but many are based in nurture. Young children don’t have the sophisticated mental machinery required to ‘examine the lens’, but then neither do they have all the psychological baggage that clogs up our abilities to see things rationally.

  • Mason

    I was skimming Intrade yesterday and found the lunar x-prize suggested by Robin, and was wondering if there was any more to that story. Mostly, how does knowing if it will be completed before 2012 provide valuable information? I’m sure it does becuase Robin is brilliant, but I don’t see it. Care to explain?

  • Aaron

    Funny quote from The Economist:

    “Unlike rats, people are rational.”