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RichardKennaway comments on Scientific Self-Help: The State of Our Knowledge - Less Wrong

138 Post author: lukeprog 20 January 2011 08:44PM

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Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 January 2011 09:46:08AM 10 points [-]

I guessed you were talking about PUA from the very first paragraph. But as you conclude by saying (without naming it) that PUA is but one example, what other areas of self-help do you believe fit your description?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 January 2011 08:24:06PM *  19 points [-]

I don't know if I should take that to mean that my writing is praiseworthy for its clarity, or that I've become repetitive. In any case, that's an excellent question!

An immediately obvious example would be analogous advice for women. From what I know about the relevant matters, my impression is that if accurately formulated, it would in fact end up sounding even worse for mainstream sensibilities than the PUA stuff. Similarly for further advice (for both sexes) that builds on the PUA insights for successful long-term relationships and marriages.

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity. Moreover, fully accurate no-nonsense advice about what you can do to maximize your kids' expected success in life and happiness would require a cynical analysis of many respectable social institutions, customs, and beliefs, to the point where it would probably be too offensive for mainstream sensibilities.

Some other examples I can think of are too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words, so I'll stop at this for now.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 03:17:47AM 14 points [-]

I voted your comment down for two reasons. The first is this:

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity.

Making sweeping statements about a subject with which you are admittedly unfamiliar seems like the sort of thing this community should discourage.

And in this particular case, I think you would be surprised. Parents come up against the limits of their power very, very early on, and modern parenting books are actually very forthright about it. Of course they try and put it nicely -- generally something like "You can't make a sweetpea into an azalea, but with good watering and fertile soil you can help your little sprout become the very best sweetpea he or she can be" -- but the message of being unable to push your child beyond the limits of their own aptitudes is made quite clearly and quite often.

The other reason I downvoted your comment was this:

Some other examples I can think of are too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words, so I'll stop at this for now.

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

I'm relatively new here and still learning the ropes--are comments explaining downvotes considered useful? I know I'd appreciate explanations when I get downvoted, but I don't know if others have the same preferences.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 January 2011 03:27:10AM 6 points [-]

are comments explaining downvotes considered useful?

Many people explicitly request them. They certainly aren't discouraged.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 03:56:44AM 3 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 January 2011 08:47:55AM *  9 points [-]

siduri:

Parents come up against the limits of their power very, very early on, and modern parenting books are actually very forthright about it.

I stand corrected, if that's the case. I'm glad if things have changed so much for the better then. (My other point from that paragraph still stands, though.)

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

I wanted to make it clear that I do have more examples in mind (rather than generalizing from one example), but the trouble is that it's hard to state them briefly and bluntly in a way that's likely to be taken seriously and without offense on anyone's part.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 09:50:12AM 11 points [-]

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

HBD Happy Birthday
HBD Homebrew Digest
HBD Here Be Dragons
HBD Hydrogen Bond Donor
HBD Has Been Drinking (police communications)
HBD Holden by Design (car enhancement company; Australia)
HBD Hadron Blind Detector
HBD Human Biodiversity
HBD Hypophosphatemic Bone Disease
HBD Hemoglobin--Delta Locus
HBD Hot Bearing Detector (trains)
HBD Half Board
HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan, Battlefield 2)
HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan)
HBD Hybrid Booster Drive (Electric Vehicle Institute)
HBD Handheld Business Device
HBD Hydraulic Bottom Detector
HBD Hierarchical Block Design
HBD Highest Benefit Density
HBD Hot Bus Driver

I can't even decipher HBD with google's help. Where is this dark corner of the web?

Comment author: shokwave 24 January 2011 10:01:11AM *  18 points [-]

HBD Human Biodiversity

Also known as race-realism, commonly associated with politically-incorrect but factually-supported statements like "blacks have lower IQs than whites", often found making the point that everybody accepts human biodiversity when it doesn't offend a minority - ie, recognising that West African heritage is advantageous for short-distance sprint running. 99% confident this is what was being hinted at.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 January 2011 04:09:17PM 22 points [-]

Um... hinting about how your opinions are too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly will make people assume that your opinions are whatever they imagine to be incredibly dark and dreadful. This is not a great communication strategy.

Comment author: steven0461 24 January 2011 10:43:37PM 11 points [-]

hinting about how your opinions are too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly will make people assume that your opinions are whatever they imagine to be incredibly dark and dreadful.

I would assume that, on average, the abstract fact that someone believes something horrible is easier to forget, harder to feel upset about, and harder to use against someone than the specific concrete details of the horrible thing.

Comment author: Oligopsony 25 January 2011 05:26:14PM 5 points [-]

I suppose it's a question of whether you want to mildly scandalize everyone or highly offend some people while sending a costly (and thus credible) "I'm on your side" signal to your comrades.

How many people, in the first instance, assume that you are coyly agreeing with them ("aha, a fellow oppressed racist!") is probably the most mysterious variable here, but it's probably more efficient to use shibboleths that outsiders haven't identified yet.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 08:25:25PM 4 points [-]

Perhaps not, but it's great for suspense.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 January 2011 05:09:58PM *  3 points [-]

Well, there's a significant difference between "too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words" and "too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly." I think some other factors also played an important part in the association, especially since I don't even see how these things could be plausibly connected to the topic at hand in the given context.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2011 05:40:37PM 2 points [-]

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

I wasn't the only one. But I apologize for misreading you.

I jumped there from the line "there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity." The HBD crowd talks a lot about "ugly truths" involving "the limits imposed by heredity," too. I admit there's not much connection to self-help, although I'm moderately confident that a real HBD proponent would probably manufacture one if asked.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 25 January 2011 11:21:50PM *  4 points [-]

No need to apologize; in retrospect it's clear to me how you could have made that association. "HBD" (a term which I find quite silly) is not among my intellectual leitmotifs. In fact, I'm still not sure what to think of these controversies.

That said, however dangerous and incendiary this topic might be in the mainstream, on LW it's rarely approached but not at all problematic in the sense of inflaming passions and destroying discourse. Those few times I've seen it raised here, the discussion was entirely polite, knowledgeable, and without moral condemnations and protestations of offense. What exactly determines the patterns of dangerous discourse-breaking topics on LW and makes them different from the mainstream is a quite fascinating question, in my view.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 January 2011 03:49:25AM *  10 points [-]

I'm relatively new here and still learning the ropes--are comments explaining downvotes considered useful?

You can avoid unnecessary meta by just pointing out the problems with a comment, without explicitly stating whether you also downvoted the comment for their presence.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 03:56:02AM 2 points [-]

That's a good point. I'll do that in future.

Comment author: jsalvatier 22 January 2011 12:53:33AM 3 points [-]

Bryan Caplan has some interesting evidence based things to say on the topic of parenting. For example: on nagging children to eat their vegetables, he argues that parenting basically doesn't matter at all (link). He writes a lot about the evidence, economics and the family (link). Much of it is good.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 December 2012 01:06:00AM 1 point [-]

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity. Moreover, fully accurate no-nonsense advice about what you can do to maximize your kids' expected success in life and happiness would require a cynical analysis of many respectable social institutions, customs, and beliefs, to the point where it would probably be too offensive for mainstream sensibilities.

Less than two years later, Yvain is doing pretty much that on his blog.

Comment author: MugaSofer 02 January 2013 07:19:59PM -2 points [-]

An immediately obvious example would be analogous advice for women. From what I know about the relevant matters, my impression is that if accurately formulated, it would in fact end up sounding even worse for mainstream sensibilities than the PUA stuff.

... really?