Most social worlds lack a norm of giving much extra respect to claims supported by offers to bet. This is a shame because such norms would reduce insincere untruthful claims, and so make for more accurate beliefs in listeners. But instead of advocating for change, in this post I wonder:
Well, the first sentence is truly terrible. (I recall thinking so when I first read it.):
"Most social worlds lack a norm of giving much extra respect to claims supported by offers to bet."
Interesting, but painful to read. Author needs some writing lessons, or I need a brain.
A few days ago I offered to bet on a trivial factual question. The other person said that both giving me money and receiving money from me were undesirable outcomes. So maybe another reason bets look bad is status quo bias.
Late to the party here, but one other (perhaps obvious) point is that I don't care about your sincerity most of the time when I evaluate your point of view. Why should I, unless you are appealing to facts to which you claim to have superior access? The correctness of your position is not going to be enhanced by your conviction.
If I support my statements by bets, people correct my errors. So I may only bet as much as I'm willing to pay for getting the correct information. That might be zero, if I don't want to be publicly ashamed for being wrong in 1 % of my statements. If some people also respond to the bets where I'm right, then I'm somewhat less ashamed but yet more ashamed than without the bets.
Moreover, I'd do pricing mistakes every now and then, and people would only take the bets on uncertain claims priced according to too high probability estimates (too good odds). "The winners curse."
For these reasons one would be usually hesitant to bet even without the reasons given by Hanson. I do believe, that also his reasons are mainly correct.
So I only benefit rarely, e.g., if I know something much better than others (so I can get both money and prestige) or I'm advocating a probably correct fact agains a widely-spread wrong fact and really want to advance the correct fact.
You should consider social attitudes towards pulling out a smartphone in order to settle a dispute about matters of verifiable fact (e.g. what year was the Cuban revolution, who has more home runs, etc). Looking a fact up on your phone is an even more clear cut truth-seeking device than betting, but I think it often rubs people the wrong way.
Robin's style isn't usually this bad; here, even the first sentence is horrible. (I still voted the post up because of content.) The problem is it's overqualified. Robin decided he had underanalyzed the signaling involved in betting (although not recognizing that he had underanalyzed the signaling of ideologies), and he shifted to near-mode, which is bad for writing — http://tinyurl.com/cdzotb4 .
What's harder to explain is why, being in near-mode, he didn't do better editing. There are blatant typos, reminding me of Robert Wiblin's writing. But Robin's writing improves later in the essay: he seems to have moved to far-mode. It's all in the timing. ( http://tinyurl.com/9sw54v8 .)
While on the subject of writing---let me suggest that Robin should title a post "Drexler and me again" not "Drexler and I again." The latter is unidiomatic and pretentious. It's a bad signal. (On the signaling significance of pretentiousness, see http://tinyurl.com/agft7ga .)
Then why don't you come out and tell us what actual bet you'd propose regarding Dr. Richwine's thesis that Mexican immigrants lower the national IQ. The best evidence, one supposes, is in the dissertation; so, what would the criterion be?
The problem of criterion is one various commenters have mentioned. One might think you would take the opportunity to craft the appropriate criterion to show that betting is really widely applicable (rather than an opportunity to signal confidence: by painlessly advocating betting rather than painfully engaging in it).
If you could craft a bet, I'd bet you that many "antiracists" could be induced to bet against Richwine, despite the intellectual merits of his case. It would be a great opportunity for ideological signaling. Betting him wouldn't exclude repressing him; both send the same basic signal regarding "equality"; repressing him merely happens to be feasible, whereas betting against his position (like most intellectual positions) isn't.
[And when I say bet, I mean at 50-50 odds.]
I agree 50/50 bets are more attractive, and that few want to bet those telling unwelcome truths. Which is exactly why a betting norm would help show such truths.
Dear Dr. Hanson:
Why don't you analyze betting in America? It's a big phenomenon. The greatest interest in betting is when the odds approach 50-50. That's why bookies give point spreads in football.
In contrast, when the odds are that somebody is telling an unwelcome truth, such as in the recent case of Jason Richwine's Harvard dissertation, nobody asks to bet him, they just try to silence him.
No, gambling is the mark of the upper class, while the middle class is prudent.
But still the puzzle remains: whatever else we signal via conversation, why don’t we typically expect a betting offer to signal overall-admirable confidence in a claim?
The best answer comes from considering why people often do bet casually on some things: sports events, which have been repeatedly mentioned but the key analytic point omitted. Most ordinary people don't try to make objective assessments when they bet casually on sports events. They bet for their team!
The reason betting doesn't inspire confidence is that (as when a child trying to win a status contest demands: "Wanna bet" or fans bet on their team) casual betting is prototypical means for signaling allegiance without concern for truth. Blind loyalty.
[Edit.]Robin actually does make the point about loyalty in sports betting, but he sees loyalty as culturally incidental rather than essential to betting. My simpler claim is that people use betting to express loyalty in sports because betting is well-suited for that purpose. (And intellectuals don't use betting because it is poorly suited for intellectual purposes--for one reason, because it has already been and is more easily recruited for this other purpose: expressing loyalty.)
Also, in the context of making most money, when betting you should try to be as unpersuasive as you possibly could outside the bet itself, just so you have more people betting against. Everyone can see that you both betting on something and promoting it is not consistent with you trying to make money from bets
I think this is the key point: bets generate perverse incentives w.r.t. dissemination of knowledge.
If Alice strongly believes that X is true, and wants to profit from that belief by betting on it, then she needs a Bob who takes the other side of the bet.
Thus she certainly has no incentive in persuading Bob that X is true, otherwise he wouldn't be betting on X being false. On the contrary, Alice has an incentive to misrepresent her own knowledge in order to persuade Bob that X is false and that she believes X because she is mistaken. Therefore Alice has an incentive to withhold evidence and arguments for X, or even engage in deliberate deception.
Moreover, a third party Carol observing Alice and Bob betting on X generally gains no evidence on whether X is likely to be true.
It seems to me that aggressively asking other people to bet on scientific beliefs and calling them out if they refuse is an attempt to poison the well and derail proper debate towards ad hominem attacks.
I haven't read all the comments, so forgive me if someone's already said this...
As you say, betting is itself a form of signaling. Signaling models involve separating equilibria. When a form of a signaling is not present, there must be a pooling equilibrium. So... perhaps the norm against betting is a means of enforcing a pooling equilibrium. There are some people (specifically, bullshitters) who have an interest in maintaining the pooling so they cannot be outed as people with little confidence in their views.
[Deleted my distracting ad hominem argument to emphasize the key importance of understanding ideology to understand ideological signaling, in which being wrong strengthens the signal.]
There's a dearth of examples in this discussion. A famous recent example of betting on beliefs is Trump's challenge to President Obama to bet on the President's birth certificate.
What was all that "birther" and "Muslim" stuff from the Tea Party right if not signaling? But the most histrionic of signalmen was willing to "risk" the bet? Why? Because when you're engaged in ideological signaling ( http://tinyurl.com/lujqfan ), it sends a better signal to be wrong. Ideological signaling is showing loyalty such as by taking improbable or even impossible positions and showing the willingness to suffer for them (religious dogmas that are contrary to simple logic are paradigm cases).
Bets, unless sufficiently large, will increase signaling rather than decrease it if the signaled commitment is to ideology: remember Donald Trump the next time you think about bets deterring hypocrisy.
[Added. 7:30 pm] Robin explains the association between betting and loyalty as being the result of their happenstance association in betting on sporting events. To the contrary, the expression of team loyalties recruits betting because betting is an ideal ritual of loyalty. We show loyalty by hitching our futures to causes or coalitions, and the willingness to risk loss for the cause--particularly when loss is probable--signals our loyalty. Only in professional bettors, who have appropriated a loyalty ritual for their own purposes--is betting based on financial calculation.
Look, people make bets on all sorts of completely silly superstitious stuff. You making a bet should not persuade anyone much.
You have some wealth, you want to be able to convert that wealth into persuasiveness, that doesn't work (nor it should, because the bets are only informative of the beliefs if the bets are made purely to maximize wealth through betting! Not when money are made by other means and then spent via betting to buy influence), and you're coming up with silly reasons why the world is wrong that it doesn't work. That's all.
Furthermore, agent's actions are influenced by their beliefs anyway. E.g. if some guy works in highest paid position at a church construction project (building some sort of cathedral) and claims to believe he'll go to awesome heaven if the cathedral they're building will be great, the better the chance the better they work on cathedral, and even goes on in his sermons how awesome the heaven will be and how important that cathedral is, but pays himself way too much money and works way too short hours, there's something wrong with his beliefs, and you don't need bets to see that.
edit: Also, in the context of making most money, when betting you should try to be as unpersuasive as you possibly could outside the bet itself, just so you have more people betting against. Everyone can see that you both betting on something and promoting it is not consistent with you trying to make money from bets, leaving the other option: trying to spend money to buy persuasiveness.