The latest New Yorker: All sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. … This phenomenon … is occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. … The most likely explanation for the decline is … regression to the mean. … Biologist Michael Jennions argues that the decline effect is largely a product of publication bias. Biologist Richard Palmer suspects that an equally significant issue is the selective reporting of results. … The disturbing implication … is that a lot of extraordinary scientific data is nothing but noise. (
You don't want to publish papers that are most likely to be true. You want to publish papers that change your Bayesian priors the most. This system would screen out all novel ideas.
Should we have a prediction market in how much the prediction market idea can be successfully extended in the myriad ways you propose, and then fund the development of those markets accordingly?
Of course it makes sense to develop the ideas that you continue to flog out new and different applications of the idea. And part of the value of doing that is it gets others, including myself, to thinking, what are the limits and how can we determine them?
So I ask you, how good at predicting corporate values are the stock market? Maybe this is already studied and reported?
I can certainly speak qualitatively of the stock markets failures. It did not predict the total explosion of mortgage backed securities and the effect of that on numerous banks and other large tradable companies. It did not predict the over-valuation, the over-investment, in internet companies in the 1990s.
I'd love to start seeing some education from you on the limits and failures of prediction markets intermixed with the amazing stream of abstruse proposals for their use.
I also don't see how this solves the problem. Your expected return is $50, but don't you lose $40 each of the 999 times that the study is not done? And the 1 time the study is done, you have zero payout 50% of the time and win $100K 50% of the time.
So I can only even out my variance if I bet on around 1000 markets, which is unfeasible. And the only way that high of variance would be acceptable would be if the stakes were so low that I'm not risk adverse, in which case it wouldn't be worth it for me to do the research to make the bet in the first place.
Or am I confused about this conditional money?
Paul Christiano's link above has a relevant observation:
More importantly (and in contrast to 98% of claimed P≠NP proofs), even if this attempt fails, it seems to introduce some thought-provoking new ideas, particularly a connection between statistical physics and the first-order logic characterization of NP.
The original post and content it is based on characterize the entire contribution of a published article as the truth value of some testable assertion. But most articles point the way to follow-up research by introducing new methods, new connections, and new testable hypotheses. It is very rare that some important decision is made on the basis of the claimed findings of a handful of papers. In fields where they are (medicine), there is a strong push to require publication of null results. So the authors overstate the cost of the problem.
Also, what is the alternative? Popper's falsificationism is rejected wholesale by practicing scientists because null-result papers almost never point a way toward future research. Just like the purpose of a chicken is to make more chickens, the purpose of an academic study is usually to lead to more studies. Maybe in 20 years we learn something.
You read a paper and disagree; it's estimate is .6, while your think that can at most be .5, so you think on a straight bet you could spend $40, expect to gain $50, for a profit of $10, or a 25% return. But instead there's this conditional bet; what to do? You convert your $40 into $40K conditional on the bigger study being done, which you expect to be worth $50K after a study. Your overall expected value is 0.001*$50K = $50, again for a 25% return.
I'm missing it. How am I going to get a valid opinion about a thousand different markets? If I'm allowed to bet more than $1 conditionally on each market with $1, why don't me and my friend bet opposite sides of each market at 0.5 and collect the subsidy? Why don't I do that anyway? I'd like to see an explicitly laid out structure that both provides no incentive to game the subsidy and provides sufficient incentive to bother. I can say from experience that gamblers very much do not like the idea of a bet that usually gives them their money back.
Recently Scott Aaronson ``bet'' heavily against a proposed P != NP proof. The TCS community's response is interesting and somewhat related to this discussion.
It also prompted some discussion there about gambling as a tool to improve the quality of theoretical research.
US anti-gambling laws would appear to be a problem. What can be done?
On prediction markets—They seem to point to no estimate of its results' credibility. If you try to predict the Econ Nobel Prize winner, you get a result that looks no different from applying markets to easy events. You don't know that the Nobel prediction is hard from the prediction market result, whereas common sense provides a rough indication of whether the prediction is hard or easy. In itself this doesn't constitute a problem, but it does when common sense can reach its verdict only through the investigation that relying on prediction market results causes you to forgo.
On science's reliability problem—I wonder why the problem isn't handled by competition between different laboratories or university departments. Each department, it would seem, has an interest in obtaining reliable results. To some extent, this competitive process seems ongoing; it's not surprising that cold fusion came out of the University of Utah, not Harvard or Stanford. These institutions have an interest in instituting quality control of their research projects. In that light, I wonder if the problem of unreliable results isn't overstated, in that results that came from some labs just isn't taken seriously. Then, the problem would be waste of resources, rather than unreliable results.
What other sources gives more accurate estimates on the econ Nobel? And accuracy should increase with the subsidy; you get what you pay for. Prediction markets are a mechanism to pay for accuracy, and some problems are just hard for any mechanism.
I started skimming this post after the first paragraph or so, but the thought occured to me that rival disciplines may help the problem of peer gullibility coordination incentives.
For example, the prestige of more rigorous neuroscience has risen relative to psychology, and, separately, psychology academics seem to have been a useful check on economics academics.
Also, my sense is that the rise of computer science academics has served as a useful rival check on mathematical disciplines.
In terms of institutional design, perhaps we should consciously encourage rival disciplines.
Rival regional departments of the same disciplines might help too. For example, there seems to me to be rival economic academic schools of thought at least at Berkeley (history fundamentalism?) Chicago (rational agent-focused?), MIT (quant fundamentalism?) and GMU (libertarian shtick?). Not sure how productive regional rivalry is, to the extent it exists. I feel like something good had to have come out of MIT/Caltech hard science and engineering rivalry, and Harvard/MIT across the pond rivalry in a number of disciplines. But I can't list the benefits as clearly as I can when disciplines invade each other.
Pretty much every discipline should have a class of highly statistically literate skeptics (mini-Gelman clones), but they don't seem particularly high profile to me across the board.
I agree with Zvi Mowshowitz. Robin likes to say markets for rare events are still better than nothing, but we do have prediction markets for some events that perform very poorly. A good example is betting on the Nobel for econ. This is a clearly defined, easy payoff, and easy to study outcome that is simpler to predict than 99% of the far off disaster or medical issues Robin wants studied. Yet the prediction markets have done poorly in this (whether official ones or office betting pools). We should assume that the value of prediction markets in many other things would have at least an order of magnitude worse signal noise ratio, if not being much lower. And this assumes away transactions costs, political interference, and other institutional risks.
At what point will Robin admit that some prediction markets are too weak to give us much benefit?
One can let traders convert a dollar into a thousand conditional dollars, for a condition with a 1/1000 random chance of occurring. Alternatively, a single dollar can support a thousand conditional trades of a dollar, if one coordinates to make those thousand conditions mutually exclusive.
Prediction markets are wonderful things, but markets without sufficient incentives simply won't trade. A market that refunds all trades with probability .999 has insufficient returns on investments even at zero research cost, zero transaction cost and success rate of 1, so why should anyone looking to make money bother with it? As noted, only because of a massive subsidy, at which point I'm doing arbitrage of the two sides to collect the subsidy rather than predicting anything.
In the current journal environment, publication bias and selective reporting of results are basically the same thing if the scientist is not being blatantly deceptive (cherry-picking or lemon tossing individual patients/trials rather than experiments). I think the driving force is the demand for positive, original results for publication. Experiments with negative results or confirmations of previous results don't get published. So researchers are basically forced to keep re-doing experiments until they get a p value below 0.05, at which time they publish. This means that published ideas are at most 20 times more likely to be true than a random idea for an experiment, and the effect is much less if studies are underpowered (they usually are). The vast majority of hypotheses are wrong, and a filter of 5 to 20-fold is not enough to overcome that.
Raising the p value would help with inadvertent bias, but not eliminate it. I've gotten a p = 0.000057 result that turned out to be completely bogus. In addition, if the current requirement for positive original results continued, scientists would almost be forced to be deceptive, because honest scientists would go years without honest p = 0.001 results and that would end their careers.
But the US already has among the least insular of academic communities. It is much less inbred in the sense that top colleges abroad are more likely to hire their own PhDs immediately upon graduation. Whereas the US has more of a mixing even if they're still biased in favor of institutional clumps centered on a few places. But relative to most other countries, it's more competitive and the labor market in academia is more open.
That's hardly ideal, but much better than the historical norm.