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ciphergoth comments on Rationality Quotes October 2011 - Less Wrong

3 Post author: MinibearRex 03 October 2011 06:41AM

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Comment author: ciphergoth 13 October 2011 09:32:09PM 30 points [-]

News flash, dearies: there’s lots of areas of life that aren’t ‘science’ where people do tend to get a mite hung up on particulars of what is and is not, in fact, true. Like in bookkeeping. Like in criminal investigations. Like when they’re trying to establish where their spouse was last night.

Like, in fact, in most facets of life, hundreds of times a day, even if accounting isn’t your field and you’re not the accused at a criminal trial, and you’re not even married. Getting the facts right isn’t a concern of ‘science’, specifically. It’s a general concern of human beings. Getting reality right is, frequently, indeed, rather important if you wish to stay alive. It’s not a particularly academic question whether the car is or is not coming, when you cross the road. It’s the sort of thing one likes to get right. And we don’t generally call this ‘science’, either. We call it ‘looking’.

-- AJ Milne

Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 03:06:35AM 1 point [-]

Not to be confused with A. A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh.

For some context, this is a response to allegations of scientism, a word with remarkably overt anti-epistemological connotations.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 01:16:21AM 2 points [-]

a word with remarkably overt anti-epistemological connotations.

Really, I see it as describing a family of genuine failure modes that people trying to be "scientific" often fall into. For example:

a) attempting to argue by definition that something is "science" and therefore right.

b) arguing that just because some evidence isn't scientific, that it's not valid evidence.

c) insisting that the results of the latest scientific research should are right, despite results in the relevant field having a very poor replication rate.

In case people try to argue that these errors rarely get made, here is a comment by Yvain with 22 karma that makes errors (b) and (c).

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 October 2011 01:21:39AM *  3 points [-]

Can you point out where Yvain makes those comments that you think violate b and c? Reading that post it looks to me like Yvain's points are a little more nuanced than that.

Note incidentally that while you might be able to use the word that way, the vast majority of people who use it seem to use it in a way closer to what sketerpot is talking about. If one interacts at all with either young earth creationists or homeopaths for example it often doesn't take long before the term is thrown around.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 02:52:43AM 2 points [-]

Can you point out where Yvain makes those comments that you think violate b and c?

Here are some excerpts from Yvain's comments that exhibit the problems I mentioned, (as well as others that maybe I should add).

Okay, but don't make the mistake of the guy who says "The mainstream media is all lies - so I'll only trust what I read on shady Internet conspiracy sites". Saying that there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research doesn't license you to discount any specific medical finding unless you have particular reason to believe that finding is false.

This essentially error (b) with elements of (c). From a Bayesian perspective "saying there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research" does mean one should decrease the weight one assigns to all medical findings, thus one should assign more (relative weight) to other, non-scientific, evidence, e.g., evidence likely to be based an anecdotes.

The study mentioned above looks at exciting cutting-edge research over the past decade. It says that 40% or so was proven wrong. This is good and to the credit of medical science! It means the system is working as it should in retesting things and getting the false stuff out.

This argument violates conservation of expected evidence.

[Here follows several paragraphs describing of how much he discourages people from being afraid to take statins along with some references to "good doctors" and "correctly prescribed statin" that seem to be there to help set up a potential No True Scotsman] If my doctor recommends I take statin, I don't care about the base rates for statin "correctly prescribed" by "good doctors", I care about the base rate of statin as actually prescribed by actual doctors.

Then Nancy tells her anecdote

part of what spooked me about them was running into a woman whose husband had taken permanent muscle damage from them, which suggested to me that the side effect might not be all that rare.

Yvain's reply begins:

Rhabdomyolysis, which I think is the kind of severe permanent muscle damage you're talking about, is well-known enough as a side effect of statins that it's taught in first year medical school classes.

Funny how he didn't see fit to mention this it his first post while he spent several paragraphs arguing for why satins are perfectly safe.

There was one statin that may have had a relatively high (1/2,000 per year) rhabdomyolysis rate and was withdrawn from the market after a couple of years for that reason. The statins currently on the market have about a 1/20,000/year rhabdomyolysis rate, which is actually low enough that no one is entirely sure it's not background noise although no one's taking any chances. Since they also have a 1+/500/year heart attack prevention rate, they prevent something like 50 heart attacks for each case of rhabdomyolysis they cause, which seems "worth it".

I'm not sure but somehow I suspect these numbers assume the statin was prescribed "correctly". Furthermore, they certainly don't take into account the base rate for medical studies being false. Also, he next says:

Muscle damage rates increase by a lot if you take statins with fibrates (another cholesterol lowering drug).

Somehow I suspect the numbers he gives in the preceding paragraph assumed no drug interactions.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 October 2011 03:00:45AM 1 point [-]

I don't read most of that the way you've read it. For example, Yvain said "Saying that there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research doesn't license you to discount any specific medical finding unless you have particular reason to believe that finding is false." Discount is much stronger language than simply reducing weight in the claim.

This argument violates conservation of expected evidence.

No it doesn't. It only violates that if in the alternate case where Yvain knew that almost all new studies turn out to be right he would point this as a success of the method. I suspect that in that counterfactual, he likely would. But that's still not a b or a c type violation.

Most of the reply to Nancy while potentially problematic doesn't fall into b and c. But I don't think you are being fair when you say:

Funny how he didn't see fit to mention this it his first post while he spent several paragraphs arguing for why satins are perfectly safe.

The standard of safe is very different than listing every well known side-effect, especially if they only happen in a fraction of the population. I don't see a contradiction here, and if there is one, it doesn't seem to fall under b or c in any obvious way.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 03:30:49AM 1 point [-]

I don't read most of that the way you've read it. For example, Yvain said "Saying that there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research doesn't license you to discount any specific medical finding unless you have particular reason to believe that finding is false." Discount is much stronger language than simply reducing weight in the claim.

It's not clear what Yvain indented to mean by "discount"; however, the rest of his argument assumes he can disregard the base rate unless there you have specific evidence.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 03:18:27AM 1 point [-]

Note incidentally that while you might be able to use the word that way, the vast majority of people who use it seem to use it in a way closer to what sketerpot is talking about. If one interacts at all with either young earth creationists or homeopaths for example it often doesn't take long before the term is thrown around.

In my experience scientists arguing with creationists (I haven't looked at arguments with homeopaths) frequently make the mistakes I list above, as well as a few related ones. In particular using the AJ Milne quote ciphergoth cited in an argument against creationism is itself at best a straw man, after all the creationist also cares about getting the facts right, in fact that's why he's arguing with the scientist, because he believes the scientist has his facts wrong.

In any case the underlying argument in the AJ Milne quote is: all people are about truth; therefore, you should believe what science has to say about subject X.

This is an example of either (1) or (2) depending on how the implicit premises are made precise.

Comment author: ajmilne 02 June 2012 04:28:50AM 2 points [-]

Actually, the underlying argument is not: 'all people are about truth; therefore, you should believe what science has to say about subject X'.

The underlying argument actually is: attacking someone else's argument on the basis that said argument is apparently unreasonably concerned with something so naive as the actual facts of the matter, and smearing this as 'scientism' is purely misdirection, and utterly without logical basis. It's a culturally-based ploy that works only if one has been convinced that determining the actual facts of the matter are an exclusive and unreasonable obsession that only follows from one being afflicted with this apparent disease 'scientism', and, apparently, reasonable people not so obsessed really don't worry about such trifles as factuality.

It's a mite peculiar, to me, that you can read a comment that merely specifically says, in fact, that concerns with factual correctness are not the exclusive domain of science (and it was, in fact, a comment on a false dichotomy of exactly this nature--again, the context is at the link), and assume that what it means, apparently, is 'science by definition is right'. This assumption is utter nonsense. I've no idea where you pulled that from, but it sure as hell wasn't from my quote.

Comment author: ciphergoth 24 October 2011 09:26:31AM 2 points [-]