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MartinB 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: 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: Jack 25 January 2011 06:09:00AM 6 points [-]

Yup! Only took like 3 days with bed rest!

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: wedrifid 25 January 2011 05:29:15AM 0 points [-]

I thought your reference to conventional 'works' was a valid reply to Nancy's "but maybe it will also make you sad or otherwise have external costs" point. Convention would call that 'works' even though naturally it is a cost to consider. (For yet another 'although' I expect people who find a diet that works in the mid to long term to also enjoy improved experience in other aspects of life so I don't think there is much of a balance to be had there at all.)

What I would not agree with is the complete exclusion of psychological considerations from deciding whether a diet 'works' or not. For example for a bare minimum 'diet' I would argue that "have a breakfast including at least 30g of protein within 30m of waking up" works far more effectively than "eat 10% less". This is just based on how humans work at a psychological and physiological level.

I actually consider science to be a good analogy to go by and not at all as the ad absurdum imply. 'Science' is the application of various traditional rules and limits upon rational thinking that discard all sorts of reasoning that is valid for the purpose of avoiding some of the more drastic human failure modes and biases. By limiting evidence and officially sanctioned persuasion via some formulaic rules it makes it somewhat harder for money, politics and ego to sabotage epistemic progress. (Unfortunately it is still not hard enough).

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: Jack 24 January 2011 11:26:56PM 2 points [-]

It would be interesting to have a collection of basilisks somewhere, like an ammo dump for a mimetic war.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 01:39:53AM 7 points [-]

It would be interesting to have a collection of basilisks somewhere, like an ammo dump for a mimetic war.

Absolutely! Maybe not on lesswrong, that might make some people cry. But I'd love to have a list somewhere else. And this can be considered an open request to send any basilisk spotted in the wild to me personally for examination.

I've yet to see a basilisk that was remotely intimidating to me. And would like to be able to further improve my resistance to exposure to new 'basilisks' while they are framed as basilisks so I am even less likely to be vulnerable to them in the wild.

A superintelligence would almost certainly be able to construct sentences that could hack my brain and damage it. Some humans could if they were able to put me in a suitable social or physical environment and ensure ongoing exposure (and environment and exposure are far more important than the abstract concepts conveyed). But things like "Roko's Basilisk" are just cute. You can tame them and keep them as pets. :)

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2011 04:27:51AM 2 points [-]

My perspective on this is very similar to yours. If you were sent any interesting PU basilisks, would you please forward them to me?

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 04:08:12AM 2 points [-]

I violently agree with all of this. Have you seen any basilisk-like ideas besides roko's? Roko's at least looks like a real basilisk until you think about it. Everything else I've seen doesn't come close to living up to the name.

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 12:05:55AM 1 point [-]

No. It would be better to first develop defenses against them. Basilisks seem to only affect people of a certain mental capacity able to understand and process them. If you look up the Charles Langan interview, or his writings, or this Ted/Unabomba guy you see how really bright people can go wrong.

I would hate LW to contribute to that.

I want LWers and myself to not only have a realistic view of reality, but also be able to life in it and be happy and productive.

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 12:14:31AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure how you develop defenses to Basilisks without know what they are. Unless we get lucky and there is a fully general countermeasure.

I was just talking about collecting them though- it's another question entirely whether or not the list should be public. One doesn't usually leave ammo dumps unlocked.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 01:29:03AM 1 point [-]

Basilisks seem to only affect people of a certain mental capacity able to understand and process them.

And, probably more importantly, without certain other mental capacities that allow them to handle information appropriately.

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: wedrifid 24 January 2011 08:16:39AM 0 points [-]

combining PU with ... feminism

Did the two annihilate each other, destroying swathes of your cerebral cortex?

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 08:14:42AM 0 points [-]

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

Or I'll tell you. :)

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".