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wedrifid 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: 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.