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Quinn comments on Fictional Bias - Less Wrong

0 Post author: thomblake 02 April 2012 02:10AM

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Comment author: Quinn 02 April 2012 07:30:40PM 21 points [-]

I really, really dislike April Fool's jokes like this. Somebody will stumble onto this post at a later date, read it quickly, and come away misinformed.

I'll grant that the obviously horrible "Frodo Baggins" example should leave a bad taste in rationalists' mouths, but a glance at the comments shows that several readers initially took the post seriously, even on April 1st.

Comment author: pnrjulius 03 April 2012 01:21:00AM 8 points [-]

I agree completely. If you didn't read the references or notice the date, the article seems completely legitimate. It makes a couple weird claims (fictional drugs?), but if you didn't know the literature they wouldn't necessarily seem any stranger than the actual things people do (like anchoring their estimate of a car's value to their social security number). Remember that the absurdity heuristic is not a very good mode of reasoning!

So this means that while people who know Less Wrong can have a little inside joke, people who are new to rationalism and behavioral sciences could easily be fooled.

Comment author: thomblake 04 April 2012 07:29:06PM *  0 points [-]

but if you didn't know the literature they wouldn't necessarily seem any stranger than the actual things people do (like anchoring their estimate of a car's value to their social security number)

Funny you should mention that. When I first had the idea for this post back in January or February, I specifically wanted to think up a fictional bias where the examples would be stranger than anchoring, and about as relevant to everyday life if true. I could not think of one. I finally ended up writing this at the last minute when I realized "fictional bias" was a pun and decided to write the post around that title.

What I'd really like to know, is whether anyone saw my tweets or facebook posts about trying to think up a nonexistent bias, and was still fooled by the post.

Comment author: thomblake 03 April 2012 03:48:07AM *  6 points [-]

The post's own title describes the bias as fictional. It is tagged "aprilfools". All of the citations are, even at a glance, either made up or about different biases. The post is peppered with weasel words in place of real references, like "As it turns out". The comments mention it's an April Fool's gag, and point to related real articles. The examples are completely absurd - and while the absurdity heuristic isn't perfect, "even though appearances can be misleading, they're usually not."

And the effect probably does really exist!

There are several lessons in there...

Comment author: Grognor 03 April 2012 12:07:09PM 6 points [-]

And yet, I was still fooled.

You have taught me not to change my mind so easily.

why

Comment author: Quinn 03 April 2012 07:59:34PM 3 points [-]

Grognor, I don't think it's fair to insinuate that you may have learned a wrong lesson here. If it's wrong (I actually doubt that it is), then it's up to you to try to resist learning it.

As regards walking readers into a trap to teach them lessons, one of my all-time favorite LW posts does exactly this, but is very forthcoming about it. By contrast, I think thomblake overestimates the absurdity of the examples here: I thought they seemed plausible, and that "Frodo Baggins" was just poor reasoning. The comments show I'm not alone here. This level of subtlety may be appropriate on April 1st, but by April 3rd, it's dated. I would recommend editing in a final line after the conclusion but before the references indicating that this post was an April Fool's joke.

Comment author: thomblake 04 April 2012 03:43:53PM 1 point [-]

I would recommend editing in a final line after the conclusion but before the references indicating that this post was an April Fool's joke.

Done, with appropriate subtlety.

Comment author: Grognor 04 April 2012 06:21:25AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not so sure the lesson is wrong. I'm very confused by this particular meta level, and I don't think this confusion will ever actually be resolved.

Edit: but you're right, I implied that this was a bad lesson to learn and shouldn't have done that.