Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

dripgrind comments on What is Bayesianism? - Less Wrong

81 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 26 February 2010 07:43AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (211)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: dripgrind 01 March 2010 02:08:28PM *  6 points [-]

I was interested in your defence of the "truther" position until I saw this this litany of questions. There are two main problems with your style of argument.

First, the quality of the evidence you are citing. Your standard of verification seems to be the Wikipedia standard - if you can find a "mainstream" source saying something, then you are happy to take it as fact (provided it fits your case). Anyone who has read newspaper coverage of something they know about in detail will know that, even in the absence of malice, the coverage is less than accurate, especially in a big and confusing event.

When Jack pointed out that a particular piece of evidence you cite is wrong (hijackers supposedly not appearing on the passenger list), you rather snidely reply "You win a cookie!", before conceding that it only took a bit of research to find out that the supposed "anomaly" never existed. But then, instead of considering what this means for the quality of all your other evidence, you then sarcastically cite the factoid that "6 of the alleged hijackers have turned up alive" as another killer anomaly, completely ignoring the possibility of identity theft/forged passports!

If you made a good-faith attempt to verify ALL the facts you rely on (rather than jumping from one factoid to another), I'm confident you would find that most of the "anomalies" have been debunked.

Second, the way you phrase all these questions shows that, even when you're not arguing from imaginary facts, you are predisposed to believe in some kind of conspiracy theory.

For example, you seem to think it's unlikely that hijackers could take over a plane using "only box-cutters", because the pilots were "professionals" who were somehow "trained" to fight and might not have found a knife sufficiently threatening. So you think two unarmed pilots would resist ten men who had knives and had already stabbed flight attendants to show they meant business? Imagine yourself actually facing down ten fanatics with knives.

The rest of your arguments that don't rely on debunked facts are about framing perfectly reasonable trains of events in terms to make them seem unlikely - in Less Wrong terms, "privileging the hypothesis". "How likely is that no heads would roll as a consequence of this security failure?" - well, since the main failure in the official account was that agencies were "stove-piped" and not talking to each other and responsibilities were unclear, this is entirely consistent. Also, governments may be reluctant to implicitly admit that something had been preventable by firing someone straight away - see "Heckuva job, Brownie".

"How likely is it that no less than three steel-framed buildings would completely collapse from fire and mechanical damage, for the first time in history, all on the same day?" It would be amazing if they'd all collapsed from independent causes! But all you are really asking is "how likely is it that a steel-framed building will collapse when hit with a fully-fueled commercial airliner, or parts of another giant steel-framed building?" Since a comparable crash had never happened before, the "first time in history" rhetoric adds nothing to your argument.

"How likely is it that the plane flown into the Pentagon would execute a difficult hairpin turn in order to fly into the most heavily-protected side of the building?"

Well, since it was piloted by a suicidal hijacker who had been trained to fly a plane, I guess it's not unlikely that it would manouevre to hit the building. Perhaps a more experienced pilot, or A GOVERNMENT HOLOGRAM DRONE (which is presumably what you're getting at), would have planned an approach that didn't involve a difficult hairpin turn. And why wouldn't an evil conspiracy want the damage to the Pentagon to be spectacular and therefore aim for the least heavily protected side? Since, you know, they know it's going to happen anyway so they can avoid being in the Pentagon at all?

If the plane had manoeuvred to hit the least heavily-protected side of the building, truthers would argue that this also showed that the pilot had uncanny inside knowledge.

"How likely is it that [buildings] would ... explode straight downward?" Well, as a non-expert I would have said a priori that seems unlikely, but the structure of the towers made that failure mode the one that would happen. All you're asking is "how likely is it that the laws of physics would operate?" I'm sure there is some truther analysis disputing that, but then you're back into the realm of imaginary evidence.

"How likely is it that this would result in pools of molten steel?" How likely is it that someone observed pools of molten aluminium, or some other substance, and misinterpreted them as molten steel? After all, you've just said that the steel girders were left behind, so there is some evidence that the fire didn't get hot enough to melt (rather than weaken) steel.

Comment author: dripgrind 01 March 2010 02:18:52PM 7 points [-]

Oh, and to try and make this vaguely on topic: say I was trying to do a Bayesian analysis of how likely woozle is to be right. Should I update on the fact that s/he is citing easily debunked facts like "the hijackers weren't on the passenger manifest", as well as on the evidence presented?

Comment author: LucasSloan 01 March 2010 04:47:53PM 3 points [-]

Yes. A bad standard of accepting evidence causes you to lose confidence in all of the other evidence.

Comment author: woozle 01 March 2010 04:34:04PM *  -1 points [-]

Your standard of verification seems to be the Wikipedia standard - if you can find a "mainstream" source saying something, then you are happy to take it as fact (provided it fits your case).

I am "happy to take it as fact" until I find something contradictory. When that happens, I generally make note of both sources and look for more authoritative information. If you have a better methodology, I am open to suggestions.

The "Wikipedia standard" seems to work pretty well, though -- didn't someone do a study comparing Wikipedia's accuracy with Encyclopedia Britannica's, and they came out about even?

you rather snidely reply "You win a cookie!", before conceding that it only took a bit of research to find out that the supposed "anomaly" never existed. But then, instead of considering what this means for the quality of all your other evidence, you then sarcastically cite the factoid that "6 of the alleged hijackers have turned up alive" as another killer anomaly, completely ignoring the possibility of identity theft/forged passports!

I wasn't intending to be snide; I apologize if it came across that way. I meant it sincerely: Jack found an error in my work, which I have since corrected. I see this as a good thing, and a vital part of the process of successive approximation towards the truth.

I also did not cite the 6 living hijackers as a "killer anomaly" but specifically said it didn't seem to be worth worrying about -- below the level of my "anomaly filter".

Just as an example of my thought-processes on this: I haven't yet seen any evidence that the "living hijackers" weren't simply people with the same names as some of those ascribed to the hijackers. I'd need to see some evidence that all (or most) of the other hijackers had been identified as being on the planes but none of those six before thinking that there might have been an error... and even then, so what? If those six men weren't actually on the plane, that is a loose end to be explored -- why did investigators believe they were on the plane? -- but hardly incriminating.

If you made a good-faith attempt to verify ALL the facts you rely on (rather than jumping from one factoid to another), I'm confident you would find that most of the "anomalies" have been debunked.

I verify when I can, but I am not paid to do this. This is why my site (issuepedia.org) is a wiki: so that anyone who finds errors or omissions can make their own corrections. I don't know of any other site investigating 9/11 which provides a wiki interface, so I consider this a valuable service (even if nobody else seems to).

For example, you seem to think it's unlikely that hijackers could take over a plane using "only box-cutters", because the pilots were "professionals" who were somehow "trained" to fight and might not have found a knife sufficiently threatening. So you think two unarmed pilots would resist ten men who had knives and had already stabbed flight attendants to show they meant business? Imagine yourself actually facing down ten fanatics with knives.

The idea that this is unlikely is one I have seen repeatedly, and it makes sense to me: if someone came at me with a box-cutter, I'd be tempted to laugh at them even if I wasn't responsible for a plane-load of passengers -- and I've never been good at physical combat. Furthermore, the "Pilots for 9/11 Truth" site -- which is operated by licensed pilots (it has a page listing its members by name and experience) -- backs up this statement.

And that's the best authority I can find. If you can find me an experienced pilot (or a military veteran, for that matter) who thinks that this is nonsense, I would very much like to hear from them.

The rest of your arguments that don't rely on debunked facts are about framing perfectly reasonable trains of events in terms to make them seem unlikely - in Less Wrong terms, "privileging the hypothesis". "How likely is that...

I did that precisely as a counter to someone who was doing the same thing in the other direction -- to show that if you accepted "how likely..." as a valid form of argument, then the case is just as strong (if not stronger) for a conspiracy as it is against.

I do not accept "apparent likeliness" as a valid form of argument, and have said so elsewhere.

Well, since it was piloted by a suicidal hijacker who had been trained to fly a plane, I guess it's not unlikely that it would manouevre to hit the building.

You're missing the point; it would have been much easier to hit the other side, the one that wasn't heavily reinforced -- which would have caused more damage, too. On top of that, the maneuver necessary to turn around and hit the reinforced side was, to all accounts, an extremely difficult one which many experienced pilots would hesitate to attempt.

(I suppose one might argue that he overshot and had to turn around; not being skilled, he didn't realize how dangerous this was... so he missed that badly on the first attempt, and yet he was skillful enough to bullseye on the second attempt, skimming barely 10 feet above the ground without even grazing it?)

But that's just one of the "how likely"s, and I shouldn't even be rising to the bait of responding; it's not essential to my main point...

...which, as I have said elsewhere, is this: 9/11 "Truthers" may be wrong, but they are (mostly) not crazy. They have some very good arguments which deserve serious consideration.

Maybe each of their arguments have been successfully knocked down, somewhere -- but I have yet to see any source which does so. All I've been able to find are straw-man attacks and curiosity-stoppers.

Comment author: dripgrind 02 March 2010 12:09:12AM *  7 points [-]

I am "happy to take it as fact" until I find something contradictory. When that happens, I generally make note of both sources and look for more authoritative information. If you have a better methodology, I am open to suggestions.

So your standard of accepting something as evidence is "a 'mainstream source' asserted it and I haven't seen someone contradict it". That seems like you are setting the bar quite low. Especially because we have seen that your claim about the hijackers not being on the passenger manifest was quickly debunked (or at least, contradicted, which is what prompts you to abandon your belief and look for more authoritative information) by simple googling. Maybe you should, at minimum, try googling all your beliefs and seeing if there is some contradictory information out there.

I wasn't intending to be snide; I apologize if it came across that way. I meant it sincerely: Jack found an error in my work, which I have since corrected. I see this as a good thing, and a vital part of the process of successive approximation towards the truth.

I suggest that a better way to convey that might have been "Sorry, I was wrong" rather than "You win a cookie!" When I am making a sincere apology, I find that the phrase "You win a cookie!" can often be misconstrued.

The idea that this is unlikely is one I have seen repeatedly, and it makes sense to me: if someone came at me with a box-cutter, I'd be tempted to laugh at them even if I wasn't responsible for a plane-load of passengers -- and I've never been good at physical combat. Furthermore, the "Pilots for 9/11 Truth" site -- which is operated by licensed pilots (it has a page listing its members by name and experience) -- backs up this statement.

A box-cutter is a kind of sharp knife. A determined person with a sharp knife can kill you. An 11-year-old girl can inflict fatal injuries with a box-cutter - do you really think that five burly fanatics couldn't achieve the same thing on one adult? All the paragraph above establishes is that you - and maybe some licensed pilots - have an underdeveloped sense of the danger posed by knives.

I propose an experiment - you and a friend can prepare for a year, then I and nine heavyset friends will come at you with box-cutters (you will be unarmed). If we can't make you stop laughing off our attack, then I'll concede you are right. Deal?

Let's go into more details with this "plane manoeuvre" thing.

(I suppose one might argue that he overshot and had to turn around; not being skilled, he didn't realize how dangerous this was... so he missed that badly on the first attempt, and yet he was skillful enough to bullseye on the second attempt, skimming barely 10 feet above the ground without even grazing it?)

Well, what we should really ask is "given that we a plane made a difficult manoeuvre to hit the better-protected side of the Pentagon, how much more likely does that make a conspiracy than other possible explanations?"

Here are some possible explanations of the observed event:

  1. The hijacker aimed at the less defended side, overshot, made a desperate turn back and got lucky.

  2. The hijacker wanted to fake out possible air defences, so had planned a sudden turn which he had rehearsed dozens of times in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Coincidentally, the side he crashed into was better protected.

  3. The hijacker was originally tasked to hit a different landmark, got lost, spotted the Pentagon, made a risky turn and got lucky. Coincidentally, the side he crashed into was better protected.

  4. A conspiracy took control of four airliners. The plan was to crash two of them into the WTC, killing thousands of civilians, one into a field, and one into the Pentagon. The conspirators decided that hitting part of the Pentagon that hadn't yet been renovated with sprinklers and steel bars was going a bit too far, so they made the relevant plane do a drastic manoeuvre to hit the best-protected side. There was an unspecified reason they didn't just approach from the best-protected side to start with.

  5. A conspiracy aimed to hit the less defended side of the Pentagon, but a bug in the remote override software caused the plane to hit the most defended side.

etc.

Putting the rest of the truther evidence aside, do the conspiracy explanations stand out as more likely than the non-conspiracy explanations?

...which, as I have said elsewhere, is this: 9/11 "Truthers" may be wrong, but they are (mostly) not crazy. They have some very good arguments which deserve serious consideration.

Maybe each of their arguments have been successfully knocked down, somewhere -- but I have yet to see any source which does so. All I've been able to find are straw man attacks and curiosity-stoppers.

Well, in this thread alone, you have seen Jack knock down one of your arguments (hijackers not on manifest) to your own satisfaction. And yet you already seem to have forgotten that. Since you've already conceded a point, it's not true that the only opposition is "straw-man attacks and curiosity-stoppers". Do you think my point about alternate Pentagon scenarios is a straw man or a curiosity stopper? Is it possible that anyone arguing against you is playing whack-a-mole, and once they debunk argument A you will introduce unrelated argument B, and once they debunk that you will bring up argument C, and then once they debunk that you will retreat back to A again?

There's a third problem here - the truthers as a whole aren't arguing for a single coherent account of what really happened. True, you have outlined a detailed position (which has already changed during this thread because someone was able to use Google and consequently win a cookie), but you are actually defending the far fuzzier proposition that truthers have "some very good arguments which deserve serious consideration". This puts the burden on the debunkers, because even if someone shows that one argument is wrong, that doesn't preclude the existence of some good arguments somewhere out there. It also frees up truthers to pile on as many "anomalies" as possible, even if these are contradictory.

For example, you assert that it's suspicious that the buildings were "completely pulverized", and also that it's suspicious that some physical evidence - the passports - survived the collapse of the buildings. (And this level of suspicion is based purely on your intuition about some very extreme physical events which are outside of everyday experience. Maybe it's completely normal for small objects to be ejected intact from airliners which hit skyscrapers - have you done simulations or experiments which show otherwise?)

Anyway, this is all off-topic. I think you should do a post where you outline the top three truther arguments which deserve serious consideration.