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Anatoly_Vorobey 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: Anatoly_Vorobey 21 January 2011 05:02:40PM 6 points [-]

This is a terrible argument:

  • it affirms the consequent;
  • the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence;
  • even allowing for the unreasonable assumption and overlooking the fallacy, the problem remains that apart from some anecdotal evidence, nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works, including people who denounce it. The most that could be concluded, even under the manifestly unreasonable assumptions, is that people who denounce PUA believe that it works, or have anecdotal evidence that it works. However, since it's reasonably common for people to both denounce PUA and believe that it's practiced by pathetic unsuccessful creeps, this conclusion is wrong, too.
Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 January 2011 07:29:12PM 8 points [-]

[the above argument] affirms the consequent;

To be fair, the above commenter only said that this constitutes "weak evidence" in favor of the hypothesis, and deducing mere evidence (as opposed to certainty) by affirming the consequent is correct reasoning. (How strong evidence should be deduced, of course, is another question that depends on the concrete case. But "shokwave" did say "weak.")

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 21 January 2011 07:58:09PM *  0 points [-]

I think that with no further information but only an affirmed consequent, treating it as nontrivial evidence, even "weak"[1], is wrong; you need to say something about alternative hypotheses, even if it's hand-wavy and vague[2]. This is somewhat of a gray area, to be sure, because the "something about alternative hypothesis" part is often taken to be implicitly understood[3]. But I don't think it's implicitly understood in this case that there aren't other, non-evo-psycho, reasonable explanations of peeps hatin' on PUA.

[1] I think that "weak" in normal usage implies "nontrivial", even though theoretically it could be trivial or zero.

[2] "If my theory is correct, the sun will rise tomorrow".

[3] If a physicist says informally "my theory predicted value X, and measurement confirms", they might take it as understood and not say that other competing theories predict a different value. But a paper will make it explicit unless it's already obvious.

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 07:57:08AM 2 points [-]

When I say 'weak evidence', I mean it. If I met one person who had been practicing PUA for six months, and they hadn't had significantly more sex in those six months than in the previous six months (as judged by some method other than self-reporting; probably by asking the person's friends or roommates), that would be stronger evidence that PUA doesn't work.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:13:55PM 1 point [-]

As I said above, I believe that you're using the phrase "weak evidence" in a non-standard way, essentially violating Grice's Maxim of Quantity. When something is as weak as in this case, people don't call it weak, they call it trivial or negligible or exceedingly weak, or some other term to transmit the idea of just how very weak it is. When people say "weak evidence", they mean that it's definitely not strong or conclusive, but there's nontrivial amount of it, it's not vanishingly small.

Comment author: shokwave 23 January 2011 04:52:55AM 3 points [-]

I do not believe it is non-standard for LessWrong. I admit I'm guilty of tailoring my posts to fit the LessWrong-specific audience.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 23 January 2011 06:52:27AM -1 points [-]

You're possibly right. I invite you to test your belief by consulting the search for "weak evidence" over LW. This probably sounds snarky, so let me quickly clarify that I don't mean this in the sense "this search confirms I'm right". I looked over the results briefly and saw that roughly half of them use further qualifiers like "astonishingly weak", "very weak", "extremely weak"and so on, which is consistent with what I'd said. But it's also possible that many results use vanilla "weak evidence" to refer to what other results call "extremely/incredibly weak" etc., and then you're right. I looked at a few "vanilla" uses in context and didn't see that, but I didn't look at enough.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:53:47PM 0 points [-]

I think you find more people for who it does not work, than for whom it works. But I doubt this works as evidence that it does not work.

There are many factors that influence success. One would be doing it wrong.

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 03:38:19PM 1 point [-]

But I doubt this works as evidence that it does not work.

Not much, no. But it works as more evidence than people denouncing it. Weak evidence! Weak! Weak.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 03:45:17PM 1 point [-]

I think I see different requirements for things working that for things not working.

People getting actively angry about something looks like a (weak) indicator that they are afraid there might be something to it. They do not get angry at 9/11 conspiracists, but laugh about them. They do get angry at the other party.

If you have someone trying to do something and be unsuccessful that tells you even less. I would not see it as indicator of not working. It is just no particular evidence.

But maybe I have the notion of what 'weak' means wrong.

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 04:20:33PM 1 point [-]

If you have someone trying to do something and be unsuccessful that tells you even less. I would not see it as indicator of not working. It is just no particular evidence.

It almost has to be evidence; even if it's just evidence that the person isn't doing it right, then you push this case through your prior for how often they do things wrong. Unless your prior is very high, you're still getting half the impact or more of the evidence. Although you could argue from the selection effect of "correct in your expectations of success" that you're almost guaranteed to only notice cases where they are doing it wrong, not cases where it doesn't work (because you don't expect it to work where it won't).

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 January 2011 04:46:11PM 0 points [-]

But it works as more evidence than people denouncing it.

More evidence than a negative amount? How much is that worth?

Weak evidence! Weak! Weak.

For practical purposes, I regard weak evidence as equivalent to no evidence. It has the value of a penny lying on the road: I do not bother to pick it up. Weak evidence is not worth wasting time on.

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 05:15:15PM 3 points [-]

More evidence than a negative amount? How much is that worth?

Further up in the thread, I claimed that (in cases like these) people denouncing it is weak evidence in favour.

It has the value of a penny lying on the road: I do not bother to pick it up.

Anecdote: I once refused to pick up a small denomination coin (we don't have pennies in Australia anymore). A friend did and promptly discovered it was a penny, from 1938, and worth two dollars to collectors.

On practical matters, though, this is a case where training will greatly decrease effort and time to pick up (more so than for pennies). If you track how much time is spent on picking up pennies and put a value on that amount of time, and then how much money in pennies you have picked up, you will probably find it not worth it. I expect this weak-evidence-picking-up will prove worth it - if it even slightly addresses the common human problem of incorrectly assessing or entirely discounting large amounts of small evidence, it comes out positive for me.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 10:47:40PM 1 point [-]

Anecdote: I once refused to pick up a small denomination coin (we don't have pennies in Australia anymore). A friend did and promptly discovered it was a penny, from 1938, and worth two dollars to collectors.

Still not worth it unless you have a personal interest in coins or expect to find or otherwise collect many such coins. (Of course many people would value the experience at more than $2 just for the novelty and the story.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 January 2011 06:07:45PM 0 points [-]

I expect this weak-evidence-picking-up will prove worth it - if it even slightly addresses the common human problem of incorrectly assessing or entirely discounting large amounts of small evidence, it comes out positive for me.

Can you give some examples of that, i.e. where large amounts of small evidence are being badly used?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 27 January 2011 05:03:55PM 0 points [-]

This appears to be) an example of an accumulation of weak evidence badly used, but in the opposite direction. (I say "appears", because I haven't read the article it references, just that LW posting and its comments.)

Probabilities of multiple events are being multiplied without concern for whether they are independent. And that is the basic practical problem with accumulating weak evidence. Look at the vast amount of evidence for the existence of Santa Claus! Even if each story only offers a microbit of evidence....well, no. The stories are not independent of each other. Collectively they prove no more than a handful of them do.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:51:36PM *  1 point [-]

But I don't think it's implicitly understood in this case that there aren't other, non-evo-psycho, reasonable explanations of peeps hatin' on PUA

After adapting to, and talking to people about at least 10 different idea packages(*), not including this one I finally noticed how dislike is not actually a statement about the idea package itself, but about its perceived strangeness. I got negative and even hostile reactions for each of them! So I assume people do not mentally process everything and then come up with a well reasoned debunk. But they more simply just run a diff(self.current_idea_set,new_idea_set) and if it is to far out reply in the negative.

Peeps hate on everything they don't already know.

(*) being vegetarian, being atheist, standard skepticism which includes a few applied topics like homeopathy and astrology, economics, some instantiations of liberty/libertarian ideas and more

[Edit: \_ as recommended in the comment below]

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 07:36:10AM 3 points [-]

diff(self.currentideaset,newideaset)

Need to escape the underscores.

diff(self.current\_idea\_set,new\_idea\_set)

diff(self.current_idea_set,new_idea_set)

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 08:50:37PM 2 points [-]

I understand your frustration, but the PUA case is different: you get lots of people denouncing it who do not as a rule denounce lifestyles very different from their own. Including, for example, some LW members.

BTW, if all the people around me reacted with hostility to unfamiliar ideas, I would, first of all, try to rule out myself as a factor (e.g. maybe I'm annoyingly preachy w/o knowing it?), and if that didn't clear things up, look for better people. Well, actually, I don't know if I'd do that, but I'd like to think I would.

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 07:45:54AM 2 points [-]

I don't see how it affirms the consequent; could you spell it out logically for me?

My reason for thinking it doesn't is that I didn't give a consequent. I gave three premises, all of which I strongly believe are true, and the consequent derived from these (you can find it in lukeprog's post) is a prediction that pick-up artists will suffer social attacks such as denunciation.

It's an abductive explanation of the state of the world, to be sure, but it depends on many other premises (evolutionary psychology is an accurate description of the world, other hypotheses are unlikely, etc). At some point you risk rejecting arguments for theories of gravity because they look like affirming the consequent; that is, your theory predicted that the object would fall at a certain rate (9.8 m/s, say) and then the object fell at a certain rate (9.81~ m/s). P therefore Q, Q, P.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:27:50PM 2 points [-]

I don't see how it affirms the consequent; could you spell it out logically for me?

Your P->Q is "if PUA works, people will try to denounce PUA". You affirm Q and deduce P. As I replied to Vladimir_M, this is fallacious unless you invest at least some effort into refuting alternative hypotheses that explain Q. You note it yourself:

(evolutionary psychology is an accurate description of the world, other hypotheses are unlikely, etc)

Now, your astonishingly reductive claim that all social acts are fitness strategies (this claim is not, in fact, part of evolutionary psychology, whose claims are far-ranging but more modest than that) is on the face of it simply wrong; and several other reasons why people might want to denounce PUA are ready at hand. You have your work cut out for you if you wish to give some convincing evidence for the claim, and against the alternative hypotheses; but before either is done at least to some degree your argument, it seems to me, is wholly unsubstantiated.

P.S. And all this doesn't take into account my third objection above, which would be true even if you were able to support deducing P from Q in your case.

P.P.S. Thank you for the phrase "abductive reasoning", I didn't know that name, or that it was well-studied.

Comment author: shokwave 23 January 2011 06:20:47AM 0 points [-]

Your P->Q is "if PUA works, people will try to denounce PUA". You affirm Q and deduce P.

Ah, okay. Yes to that, although of course I prefer to call it abductive reasoning. I got the impression you were saying something like "kill the status of anyone more successful" was being affirmed.

Now, your astonishingly reductive claim that all social acts are fitness strategies

Never claimed all, but I didn't make it clear enough. The social framework can be used for evolutionary fitness; in this sense, it is an arena for mating struggles. And it is used in this way, and regularly.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 06:52:25AM *  2 points [-]

the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence;

"Lacks evidence" is a handy accusation, isn't it? So is tu quoque.

(I don't believe the accusation of 'lacks evidence' in this context means much more than 'I disapprove of your belief".)

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:43:20PM 4 points [-]

I'd like to think that this accusation also carries a hint that this is quite an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence. At least, that's the idea I was trying to get across without spelling it out, so as not to appear uncivil.

It really is quite an extraordinarily strong claim, and I'm still using milder language and not saying what I really think about it. It's much like saying that all social acts are really attempts to sleep with one's parent of the opposite sex, or that all social acts are actually attempts to get control of the means of production.

There are so many social acts, they are so different in different societies, and so many of them are so obviously shaped by culture and non-universal, that I have never seen any evo-psych theorist try to seriously claim that any and all of them are mating fitness strategies. Typically even the most far-reaching varieties of evo-psych claim that about a wide swath of supposedly universal social behaviors, not all social acts.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 10:38:01PM *  3 points [-]

I'd like to think that this accusation also carries a hint that this is quite an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence.

The hint was overwhelmingly clear. You were saying that your opponent was the one that needed lots of evidence while trying to present your own position as the default.

With respect to this particular premise your claim of 'extraordinary' struck me as incredibly naive. That social behaviours reduce to fitness maximising strategies is trivially obvious (and not all that interesting). There are of course going to be exceptions to the rule, humans being far from completely optimised but this claim:

the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence

... combined with things like:

the problem remains that apart from some anecdotal evidence, nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works

... suggests to me that the 'reality' you are appealing to is a purely social reality, not one that is determined by interaction with the world. "Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works"? What the...? Anyone who has lived among humans with a modicum of introspection would have more than a 'clue' that it would work. "Bloody obvious social skills development combined with lots of practice and trial and error' doesn't stop being effective just because it gets a TLA applied.

I'm frankly amazed that your refutation wasn't downvoted to oblivion. It completely misuses the fallacy of 'affirming the consequent' and implies a lack of understanding of how Bayesian reasoning works.

Note that I don't even agree with shockwave's claim as he specifies it. Your reply is just completely confused and made all the worse by opening with 'This is a terrible argument'. When you lead with that sort of denunciation (and presumption) the bar gets raised and you really need to follow up with particularly solid reasoning.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 11:42:09PM 2 points [-]

You were saying that your opponent was the one that needed lots of evidence while trying to present your own position as the default.

No, I didn't offer any position on how much of human social behavior is fitness strategy and thus didn't present anything as the default. I pointed out, correctly, that the claim that all social acts are fitness strategies is an extraordinarily strong claim.

There are of course going to be exceptions to the rule

Since my opponent's argument explicitly deduced that PUA-denunciation is a fitness strategy directly from its being a social act, and nothing else, it brooks no exceptions to the rule. If the rule is not universal, the argument falls through.

"Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works"? What the...?

It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey, anything other than anecdotal evidence. Something like this, for example.

"Bloody obvious social skills development combined with lots of practice and trial and error"

Oh, I see. Well, you're welcome to your definition of PUA, I'm not interested in debating it. If you have any data, do share.

Comment author: jimrandomh 23 January 2011 12:39:26AM 9 points [-]

Since my opponent's argument...

Be very wary when you start thinking of a participant in a conversation as an "opponent". Discussions are not battles, and the goal is not to win; it is to acquire correct beliefs. And/or to make yourself look good. But if you think of it as a battle, you are more likely to reject true some true statements that seem like evidence against your beliefs, and to accept false ones that seem like evidence for them. The consequences of that may be farther reaching than just the conversation they came up in.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 23 January 2011 12:44:55AM 0 points [-]

Be very wary when you start thinking of a participant in a conversation as an "opponent".

I kind of picked up the term from the comment I was replying to; but you are right, I shouldn't have. Thanks.

Comment author: HughRistik 23 January 2011 06:08:48AM 4 points [-]

It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey, anything other than anecdotal evidence.

I've been emailing a few researchers a year trying to develop some interest in studies of the effectiveness of pickup. Unfortunately, until science gets off its ass, we can't get that particular proof.

Until that time, however, I don't think it's correct to say that "nobody has a clue" as to whether pickup works. While wedrifid is being a bit prickly, I think he's basically correct. It's a bit strange that on the subject of pickup, the burden of proof suddenly rises, and people suddenly throw out types of evidence that they normally find valuable.

There isn't scientific evidence for the effectiveness of many teachings, yet these teaching are widely regarded as effective. I doubt that your cooking behavior is informed by the ground-breaking study "The Effect of Hot Stoves on Fingers." There isn't scientific evidence that, say... waltz lessons are effective, either. Yet I bet that if you wanted to learn to waltz, you would go around the corner to a dance studio. If you doubt the instructors, you may be able to watch them do demos or performances, or see video footage.

We have evidence of a similar sort for the effectiveness of pickup.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 07:35:54AM *  2 points [-]

I've been emailing a few researchers a year trying to develop some interest in studies of the effectiveness of pickup. Unfortunately, until science gets off its ass, we can't get that particular proof.

As soon as someone finds a way to put it inside a pill and tack on a patent and there will all sorts of research on the subject. It is a shame that will quite possibly lower the quality of evidence.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 January 2011 06:28:54AM 1 point [-]

A problematic complication is that many pickup instructors suddenly start making huge sums of money by teaching pickup, in a way no waltz instructor ever did. Dishonest charlatans are likely to displace good instructors when the money is good (e.g., Tom Brown Jr.'s wild popularity in primitive skills). If there were good pickup instructors once, they may be gone now.

Comment author: HughRistik 30 January 2011 01:19:29AM *  2 points [-]

NOTE: I made a mistake in this analysis due to a brain fart. I fixed it and reposted it.

That's correct. I'm not particularly interested in defending any particular method, just the notion that pickup in general can be lead many guys to greater success.

I agree that there is plenty of dishonesty in workshops, based on reviews I've heard. I'm not so confident that the money is good. Let's do a little accounting (based on eyeballing a few well-known programs):

  • Typical price of weekend bootcamp: $2000
  • Student teacher ratio: 2-3 students to 1 teacher
  • Time: 8 hours per day, total: 24 hours. 8 hours field instruction and demonstration, and the rest would be seminars

Assuming a 3:1 student teacher ratio, each instructor would pull in $6000 for the bootcamp. $6000 / 24 hours work = $250/hour. Except we need to count the plane flight. ($6000 - $200 ticket) / (24 + 4 hour flight) = $207/hr.

That might seem like a good wage, but remember that PUAs can only run bootcamps on weekends. $207/hr * 50 weekends a year = $10,350/year. Even if you jack up the bootcamp rates to $3k (which some companies do), that's still just $15k a year per instructor.

Dance instructions can make $40k/year in metropolitan areas working multiple days a week. Accomplished dance instructors can run pricey workshops. While probably not as expensive as pickup workshops, they can have a higher student:teacher ratio. Based on a dance workshop I found in my area, guessing at a student:teacher ratio, gives the following:

$200 per person * 8:1 student:teacher ratio / 12 hours over two days = $133/hr... and the instructors don't have to travel. With a 10:1 student:teacher ratio, it's about $166/hr.

Pickup instructors obviously can't make much from bootcamps. Bootcamps just aren't scalable. You can only work on the weekend, and you have to be doing marketing and lead generation during the week. PUA gurus must make most of their money from ebooks and DVDs, unless they can do some pricier form of coaching. (Of course, dance instructors who are entrepreneurially minded will have instructional DVDs, too.) Or PUA instructors have day jobs during the week, which burns time for building their pickup business.

Running pickup workshops is clearly not a very profitable business. For teaching students live, it's not obvious by how much pickup instructors out-earn instructors in the performing arts... if at all. Doing in-field instruction is also extremely grueling, and live demonstrations are high pressure. Pickup instructors must demonstrate the techniques every weekend even when jetlagged, sick, or hoarse from shouting. On top of that, their work is stigmatized.

If anything, lack of quality of pickup instruction is more likely because PUA gurus are poorly compensated, rather than because they are well-compensated.

So... you wanna be a pickup guru?

Comment author: HughRistik 30 January 2011 03:31:30AM *  2 points [-]

That's correct. I'm not particularly interested in defending any particular method, just the notion that pickup in general can be lead many guys to greater success.

I agree that there is plenty of dishonesty in workshops, based on reviews I've heard. I'm not so confident that the money is good. Let's do a little accounting (based on eyeballing a few well-known programs):

  • Typical price of weekend bootcamp: $2000
  • Student teacher ratio: 2-3 students to 1 teacher
  • Time: 8 hours per day, total: 24 hours. 8 hours field instruction and demonstration, and the rest would be seminars

Assuming a 3:1 student teacher ratio, each instructor would pull in $6000 for the bootcamp. $6000 / 24 hours work = $250/hour. Except we need to count the plane flight. ($6000 - $200 ticket) / (24 + 4 hour flight) = $207/hr.

PUAs can only run bootcamps on weekends. $5800 * 50 weekends a year = $290,000/year. However, you are traveling virtually every weekend, and you need a marketing machine to fill seats in your destinations in front of you. And you will have no life. Looking at an actual bootcamp schedule, it seems that the workshops are $3k and the lead instructors are only working 5-19 weeks over half a year = 10-38 weeks a year.

$3k * 3 students - $300 airfare = $8700 a bootcamp * 25 bootcamps a year = $217,500. This figure is a lot more optimistic than my previous flawed analysis.

Dance instructors can make $40k/year in metropolitan areas working multiple days a week, but it might not be fair to compare the average unknown dance instructor in a city to PUAs who are nationally-known through the news, or who had massive internet marketing machines. Accomplished dance instructors can run pricey workshops. While probably not as expensive as pickup workshops, they can have a higher student:teacher ratio. Based on a dance workshop I found in my area, guessing at a student:teacher ratio, gives the following:

$200 per person * 8:1 student:teacher ratio / 12 hours over two days = $133/hr... and the instructors don't have to travel. With a 10:1 student:teacher ratio, it's about $166/hr.

For another comparison, Tony Dovolani of Dancing with the Stars runs dance camps for $600 a person. $600 * 10:1 student:teacher ratio = $6000 / instructor. That overlaps with pickup earnings, though I doubt that Dovolani has the business machine to run his dance camp every weekend, considering that it's much bigger than a pickup workshop. However, if there is a 10:1 student:teacher ratio (reasonable to assume for ballroom dance classes), and considering that he has 10+ instructors working with him, he isn't spending 6 hours in a row working like a PUA instructor would.

Both dance and pickup bootcamps suffer from scalability problems, especially pickup because a lower student:teacher ratio is necessary. You can only work on the weekend, and you have to be doing marketing and lead generation during the week. Dance instructors can teach private lessons during the week for $60+ an hour. PUA gurus must make most of their money from ebooks and DVDs, unless they can do some pricier form of coaching. (Of course, dance instructors who are entrepreneurially minded will have instructional DVDs, too.) Or PUA instructors have day jobs during the week, which burns time for building their pickup business.

Running pickup workshops is clearly a very profitable business, but it looks like it's a lot of work and has a lot of overhead. To fill seats for bootcamps each week, you need a massive marketing and lead generation machine. For teaching students live, pickup seems potentially more profitable than dance, but there is overlap, especially for nationally-known instructors of their respective disciplines. If dance instructors had the marketing machines of pickup companies, the gap would be even narrower.

Doing in-field instruction is also extremely grueling, and live demonstrations are high pressure. Pickup instructors must demonstrate the techniques every weekend even when jetlagged, sick, or hoarse from shouting. On top of that, their work is stigmatized.

Now that I'm using the right numbers, it does seem plausible that pickup instructors can make pretty good sums of money if they work hard, build a strong marketing machine, constantly generate leads, and give up half their weeks traveling. The same is true of many businesses. As for dance, nationally-known pickup instructors are probably in a similar income bracket to nationally-known dance instructors, unless I'm missing something.

In both of those industries, there could be a temptation to skimp on giving 1-on-1 instruction live. Pickup instruction also has additional pressure to perform.

So... you wanna be a pickup guru?

Comment author: MartinB 30 January 2011 01:59:43AM *  1 point [-]

remember that PUAs can only run bootcamps on weekends.

That would be the only line I generally disagree with. Teaching PU is a f'ed up thing. But that also depends a bit on how much your own time is worth.

The problem of choosing a teacher looks very similar to sports. You do not want someone who is a good sport himself, but someone who can train you really well. But to choose someone, you would need to already know the stuff that is taught or at least what to look for.

Many reviews are done in the hyped up after glow right after the workshop. Where I would consider it better to see how someone is doing a year or more after such an event - but that seems to not be too helpful for the business. [edit: corrected a messed up line break in the top line quote]

Comment author: nshepperd 30 January 2011 01:58:57AM 1 point [-]

$207/hr * 50 weekends a year = $10,350/year

Huh? Units do not match. If the average weekend bootcamp makes the instructor $6000-$200 = $5800 / weekend, earnings per year should be (up to) $5800 * 50 = $290,000.

Comment author: HughRistik 30 January 2011 02:22:36AM 2 points [-]

Oops, I changed the analysis in the middle. I'll go back and re-do it.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 06 February 2011 06:20:14AM *  0 points [-]

In The Game, and in Mystery's book The Pickup Artist, the PUA instructors are shown living in fabulously-expensive mansions, driving $100,000+ cars; and described as having come into that wealth very suddenly after starting to teach pickup. David DeAngelo is believed to make millions of dollars every year.

Comment author: MartinB 06 February 2011 06:46:00AM 1 point [-]

Do not model your expectations of an art after its teachers. Especially not after the top crowd of those.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 February 2011 06:31:53AM *  0 points [-]

You are describing the reference class 'best selling authors and self publishing education marketers', not the reference class 'pickup instructors'. That a field is large enough to support the sale of popular books is hardly evidence against said field.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 12:08:17AM *  0 points [-]

Since my opponent's argument explicitly deduced that PUA-denunciation is a fitness strategy directly from its being a social act, and nothing else, it brooks no exceptions to the rule. If the rule is not universal, the argument falls through.

This claim is false. You do not understand how correct reasoning works.

It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey

So would I. This does not make your claim that "Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works" a sane claim to make. You do not understand how evidence works and are also conflating the claim "there have not been scientific studies about" with "nobody has a clue about".

Oh, I see. Well, you're welcome to your definition of PUA, I'm not interested in debating it. If you have any data, do share.

Was not a definition. It was a reference to several commonly included aspects of the behaviour and declared strategies of actual real world communities. Not something you can use the 'dismiss as semantics' tactic on.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 January 2011 03:56:59AM 6 points [-]

This claim is false. You do not understand how correct reasoning works.

Not helpful.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:39:52PM 0 points [-]

nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works

I think that is a mistake. There are at least 10.000s of people who ran through all kinds of programs or self studied. Some report and increased success rate, some do not. Some do worse. How is that just mere anecdotal evidence?

You may not get the specific evidence you ask for. But you get some.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:41:41PM 2 points [-]

Oh I should add, that it does not mean that the people who achieve success know how they do it. Just that.

I noticed how in many cases successful people not only have a hard time explaining how the are successful, but honestly have a mistaken view about it. Unconscious competence.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:04:54PM *  5 points [-]

How is that not anecdotal evidence? You don't have any clear data. First of all, you don't have any aggregate statistics on those 10.000s of people - you can only ask a few for their personal opinions. Any self-reporting will be naturally biased towards success. Any information put out by a program will be naturally biased towards success. And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied PUA, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with.

Just think about diets. Every time you think you may have good evidence about PUA working or not working, think about diets. Many millions of people try them every year. You have mountains of people swearing by this diet or the other. Dozens of studies and research programs are being run all the time (and they dutifully report that almost all the fans of this diet or the other gain their weight back). And they still have no clue if low-carbs is better than low-calories, or maybe they're both good, or maybe one is better for some people and the other for the others, or whatever. Or maybe they have too many clues all going in the different directions. Do diets work?

Comment author: MartinB 23 January 2011 06:25:04PM 4 points [-]

And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied PUA, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with

And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied math, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with.

The usefulness of math is not measured by the amount of people who learn it, or the amount of people who fail to grasp its usefulness, but by the results that those who master it get.

It is not that interesting how many people try it and fail, but if it works, when done right.

I find statistical exploration of social issues rather hard. But that might just be my own ignorance on the tool set real scientists have.

But I see that someone who is sucessfull in one area might not be able to actually explain how he does it. He might have mistaken models, or ignore important factors he is not aware of. But at least he shows something is there.

Comment deleted 23 January 2011 07:41:11PM [-]
Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 08:00:55AM *  14 points [-]

Here is my best attempt to catalog the success rate of the guys with pickup background I've known in real life. Of course, in some cases I have imperfect information and don't know how they are doing, in which case I will guess, and my guess will be conservative (e.g. I will assume that they are the same way I last saw them, rather than improving since then). This sample isn't representative at all, so take it with it a grain of salt, but it will help other people understand some of my priors about the success of pickup.

  • Me: Started out with social anxiety disorder. 6 months: substantial social skills improvement. 8 months: lost virginity. Next few years: Stuck on a plateau of getting numbers and kisses, but social skills slowly improving. Since then: going in and out of flings and relationships; currently in a relationship. I could give several other success metrics, but it would sound like I'm bragging.

  • 4 other guys: Began with severe social deficits. Now they have no problem dating and go in and out of flings and relationships. One of them started out as 300 lbs and massively insecure, but lost weight, applied himself, and is now massively popular with women, to the point of sometimes refusing sex because he is looking for relationships.

  • 1: Had one relationship before pickup and was struggling after. Hooked up with several women for a year, met one he liked, dated her for a couple years, and married her.

  • 1: Started out with severe social problems and alienation, along with depression. Lost his virginity, but then struggled for multiple years without a single date. However, in the last year, he greatly improved his fashion sense and started going out multiple times a week. He is now quite socially popular, and several women in our social circle are really into him, though he isn't attracted to them. Women come up to him in clubs and compliment him. He went out with this one girl who was really into him, but he wasn't interested in a relationship, so he ended things and they are just friends. He recently had a fling with a girl who was in town.

  • 1: I give him a brush of pickup knowledge around the same time he was getting into kink subculture. Butch dominant women started looking at him like a piece of tasty meat, and were lining up to beat him. He said that the pickup stuff helped him keep up conversations when women approached him, even though he was still having trouble approaching. He is in a relationship now.

  • 1: He had pickup background improve his fashion sense and social skills, but he still has difficulties interacting with women. He is mega-cool around guys, but still feels very awkward talking to women he is interested in. He says that pickup is part of what caused the awkwardness (inverse of the previous guy). He isn't really applying himself to pickup nowadays, and working on his career.

  • 1: Similar story, except he managed to end up in a long-term relationship, which is now over.

  • 1: Similar story, except he isn't awkward around women, and gets phone numbers. He is very socially popular, but still has difficulties expressing sexuality with women.

  • 4: Guys with some exposure to pickup, mostly through me. They are still struggling and having minimal success, as far as I know. Their difficulties are easily explained within the pickup paradigm, such as fashion issues, posture (the classic computer slouch), and women reading them as extremely "nerdy" and/or emotionally inexpressive. One of them may have Asperger's syndrome. Some of these guys have gone on some online dates. These guys all have < 1 year experience with pickup.

Here are some interesting results, out of these 15 guys:

  • 5 (33%): Massive sexual success
  • 7 (47%): At least one relationship
  • 5 (33%): Still significant lack of success at sexual contact or dates
  • 6 (40%): Still lack of consistent success at sexual contact or dates currently, but has had some success in those areas after studying pickup
  • 2 (13%): Lack of consistent success, even though they have at least average fashion sense and social skills
  • 15 (100%): Minor social skills improvement
  • 11 (73%): Major social skills improvement
  • 1 (7%): Married

The main variables that appear to correlate with success (order of causation unclear):

  • Fashion sense, particularly non-nerdy presentation. I doubt this variable fully explains success, but it may gate improvement in other areas.
  • Social skills and self-confidence
  • Years of experience (all of the highly successful guys have multiple years of experience, and some had plateaus where they struggled)

For a sample of almost all nerdy guys with social deficits, this distribution of outcomes is probably pretty impressive, relative to the alternative (it's quite possible that by now, I would have been on a couple dates with a few women and still be a virgin). Only one guy reports pickup exacerbating his struggles.

My limited empirical evidence does suggest that success with women as a function of attractiveness is a step function. There can be periods of rapid improvement, and plateaus of little progress. There is very much a feeling of "leveling up" as things come together.

For instance, whenever I've seen a guy hit both above average fashion sense, and above average social skills, the attention he gets from women suddenly jumps. It's as if female attention is a multiplicative factor of different components of attraction.

The plateaus can be tough, especially if you start out on one. However, improvements in social skills during those times can keep you motivated.

Comment author: Jack 24 January 2011 11:41:39PM *  4 points [-]

Of course, one of the issues with estimating the effects of pickup knowledge is that none of this is placebo tested. Since PU itself teaches that self-confidence is crucial having a method for meeting women that you believe works should by itself produce positive results- especially for people who were previously too anxious to walk up to a stranger and say hello.

Also, those correlates your reporting are pretty general and 101-level. I'd be a little more suspicious of the efficacy of the more 'advanced' routines and techniques in the PUA literature.

(Though as usual I pretty much agree with you)

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 12:13:13AM 4 points [-]

You know, I have this great cure for scurvy. But I cannot tell you about it, since it has not been properly double blind tested yet.

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 12:17:52AM *  4 points [-]

I have a great cure for the flu. Take some Muscovy Duck offal and dilute it to 1 part in 100^200 with water.

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 12:21:11AM 1 point [-]

Did it work on the one guy you tried it on?

Comment author: HonoreDB 25 January 2011 12:16:29AM 1 point [-]

Placebo testing would be hilarious. Isn't that a standard comedy plot? A shy man asks for pickup and courting tips, gets terrible ones, and implements them with disastrous results?

Not safe for work.

Comment author: shokwave 25 January 2011 10:52:18AM 0 points [-]

none of this is placebo tested.

Medicine holds itself to the standard "do better than placebo". I am not sure if it is fair to hold PUA to the same standard.

Comment author: Jack 26 January 2011 12:05:47AM 1 point [-]

You don't think every professional pick-up artist/dating coach would say their material works better than placebo?

I realize of course we're not talking about formal science but we still need to be aware of the limitations of personal anecdotes versus controlled studies. Who cares if it is fair?

Comment author: rastilin 24 January 2011 06:29:33AM 3 points [-]

You might be interested to know that Style says roughly one out of twenty people who start to learn PUA reach a high level of skill.

I personally agree with Martin however; especially in relation to diets. Diets DO work, they are just difficult to implement, changing your lifestyle often is; that applies to exercise, studying a new language or anything that requires a large time investment before you see payoffs. The math comparison is especially appropriate. In this way PUA is no different from any other self improvement course that you might decide to undertake.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 January 2011 03:47:39PM 4 points [-]

Diets DO work

That depends on what you mean by "work". If your intent is to improve your life through achieving some goal, but the side effects of a strategy cause a net cost in quality of life even if the intermediate goal is achieved, then I'd say that the method doesn't work.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 January 2011 03:22:11AM 1 point [-]

That's two ways beside the point. They work by the most reasonable and common definition, and often do so without causing a net cost in quality of life. Even if diets don't suit a majority of people, they work, unlike reciting the alphabet backwards before you go to sleep.

Furthermore, if a procedure, perfectly applied, yield no significant results with 99% of the population, but clearly is effective upon the remaining 1%, it's not a sham. It might not be the most efficient procedure if you can't distinguish who it will work with beforehand, but it still works. Even if diet's aren't in such a category, the point that something can be should be accepted, and your argument should be focused on the strongest possible case.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 04:15:27AM 2 points [-]

That's two ways beside the point. They work by the most reasonable and common definition

Bear in mind that a diet only 'works' if you actually successfully keep to them in the long term. Only a minority of people stick to diets in the long term. That's where choosing diets based on convenience and ease of compliance becomes more important than raw effectiveness.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 January 2011 04:51:14AM 1 point [-]

Bear in mind that science only 'works' if you actually successfully use it over the long term. Only a minority of people stick to science in the long term. That's where choosing knowledge-gathering techniques based on convenience and ease of compliance becomes more important than raw effectiveness.

I see your point (which is valid), but mine is that the cost of using a method does not reduce the effectiveness of that method, just the number of people who apply it. One might say that it is too costly to uniformly apply science, diets or PUA, but that's a different statement than saying that they don't work.

Comment author: rastilin 25 January 2011 12:05:49AM 0 points [-]

What if your intent is to lose weight? You're pre-defining "work" for the benefit of your argument.

Comment author: MartinB 24 January 2011 07:29:46AM 2 points [-]

A good place to deconstruct my own argument.

The math comparison lacks in one important piece: Math is clearly defined, and has standard textbooks. If you ask around for recommendations on how to learn math you get similar responses, and will end up learning similar things - up to a certain degree. There is only one type of math! In general people agree on what math is, and what not.

PU as well as PD is a very broad, not clearly defined subject, that contains a mash-up of many other topics. It is contradictory. Done by amateurs who generally do not care about scientific results. You get advice that goes against those transported by the mainstream (which we on LW are somewhat used to in other contexts.) But you also find the statement that the subjects of your interest will generally give you bad advice and do not even know what works for them. As will your peers, your family, potential natural friends, the media, and anyone else who you could possibly ask. That makes for a very bad heuristic in regards to its truthfulness.

And then there is the annoying property of PD advice, that it is not only difficult to actually get, but that it also hurts. Sometimes we carry gaping holes that really hurt our social life, and no one has the guts to tell us, since they are afraid of a bad reaction.

One easy to understand example is trying to tell a colleague or friend that he needs to do something about his smell.

I am not aware of a safe way to navigate this. It would be interesting to see real scientists, or science minded people undertake this exploration. But there are way to many possibilities to have it go wrong.

PU does contain basilisks. So handle with care. And do not believe any one particular source completely.

Comment author: TobyBartels 25 January 2011 05:20:40AM *  4 points [-]

There is only one type of math! In general people agree on what math is, and what not.

The second sentence here is true, but the first one is false. There is mainstream math, and then there are alternatives. Of course, there are insane crackpot ideas, but there are also alternative forms of mathematics that are studied by serious researchers who earn tenure for it and prove valid theorems. Buzzwords to search for include "intuitionism", "constructive mathematics", "predicatvism", "finitism", and "nonclassical mathematics" generally.

This mostly only affects things from after the 19th century, however, so nothing significant about the mathematics that most people learn in school. Even going on to more advanced material, there is a very definite mainstream to follow, so this doesn't really affect your point; this is just a hobby horse of mine.

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 05:55:09AM 0 points [-]

And Though shall get a geek point for it. I was kind of waiting for someone to point this out.

Comment author: TobyBartels 30 January 2011 03:34:56PM *  1 point [-]

And I should have mentioned "experimental mathematics", which is really different! This term can be interpreted in weak and strong ways; the former, in which experiments are a preliminary to proof, is normal, but the latter, in which massive computer-generated experimental results are accepted as a substitute for proof when proof seems unlikely, is different. The key point is that most true theorems that we can understand have no proofs that we can understand, a fact that can itself be proved (at least if if you use length of the text as a proxy for whether we can understand it).

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 07:59:10AM 3 points [-]

PU does contain basilisks.

Oooh, PU basilisks. Where? Show me!

Comment author: MartinB 24 January 2011 08:05:09AM 0 points [-]

Are you sure you want me to do that on a public forum? I do not want to have my account deleted for posting dangerous stuff.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 08:09:27AM 1 point [-]

Then message me. The concept of a PU basilisk seems unlikely to me but still somewhat intriguing. The closest things I can imagine are in the form of disillusionment with ideals.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 08:12:42AM 0 points [-]

If you tell wedrifid privately, then you have to promise to tell me.

I have a few minor basilisks (not from PU alone, but from combining PU with psychometrics or feminism). Nothing so bad that I think it would make people want to ban me, but it might be disconcerting and depressing for many people, and some of it I'm still thinking through.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 January 2011 06:22:55AM *  1 point [-]

The usefulness of math is not measured by the amount of people who learn it, or the amount of people who fail to grasp its usefulness, but by the results that those who master it get.

Where "those who master it" is defined by "the intersection of people who tried it, and people who get good results".

Anatoly's observations are spot on, whereas MartinB's ignore the problems with self-selection bias, and could also be used as a defense of psychotherapy, ouija boards, and picking lottery numbers from fortune cookies.

More importantly, we don't even have evidence that pickup artist techniques work for anyone! All we have are testimonials from people highly-incentivized to make them. Is there any factual evidence that David DeAngelo, Neil Strauss, or any of these PUAs actually have slept with many beautiful women?

It would be hard to provide such evidence - but that doesn't mean we can just trust them.

Comment author: wedrifid 29 January 2011 07:58:53AM *  -1 points [-]

More importantly, we don't even have evidence that pickup artist techniques work for anyone! All we have are testimonials from people highly-incentivized to make them. Is there any factual evidence that David DeAngelo, Neil Strauss, or any of these PUAs actually have slept with many beautiful women?

Yes. Video evidence and an overwhelming abundance of eyewitness reports. Including reports from women who they have dated. All of this is evidence that someone could assert is faked or engineered by some ingenious plot with payed actors and widespread bribes. Technically.

Anatoly's observations are spot on, whereas MartinB's ignore the problems with self-selection bias, and could also be used as a defense of psychotherapy, ouija boards, and picking lottery numbers from fortune cookies.

If we are going to throw about insulting analogies for rhetorical effect then a more appropriate one would be "moon landing".