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RationalWiki's take on LW

1 Post author: LordSnow 09 May 2012 10:58PM

I am not sure whether this has been posted here before but I came across this: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/LessWrong

What do you think about RationalWiki in general, and their opinion regarding LW?

Comments (43)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 10 May 2012 12:31:07AM *  33 points [-]

I've browsed through a bunch of topics on RationalWiki, and it looks like a heavily ideological website. Thus, it tends to be extremely unreliable and biased on any topic that has even the slightest whiff of controversy. Anyone who makes a genuine effort to form an accurate view of the world will surely come to have at least some beliefs that will be met with scorn and sneering by the sort of people who write on RW.

Comment author: J_Taylor 10 May 2012 03:59:24AM *  9 points [-]

RationalWiki may not be a great place for gaining accurate world-views, but it is a fantastic repository of the sort of rationalized pseudo-philosophy which the modern atheist movement loves. For those individuals of a certain contrarian nature, I imagine it can also be rather droll in an ironic sort of way. For example:

From New England:

This is New England's Irony #4 — that a region that, for all of its history, had been so uptight could also be so remarkably progressive on so many issues.

and

And on top of that, there's Irony #5 — the direct descendants of the old Puritan congregational churches, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Church, are the most liberal Christian denominations in America, and possibly the world, throwing their support behind gay rights and other socially progressive causes.

Comment author: J_Taylor 10 May 2012 05:38:52PM 6 points [-]

For those who downvoted, the two most obvious reasons would be either me insulting the epistemological practices of the modern atheist movement or me making a reference to the theories of Moldbug. Regardless of whether or not this is the case, I would find an explanation of downvotes to be very useful.

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 06:36:18PM 0 points [-]

Well, I upvoted. I might downvote for Moldbug, though. What was the Moldbug bit?

Comment author: J_Taylor 10 May 2012 06:42:55PM 11 points [-]

Moldbug claims that American liberalism is a descendent of American Puritanism and, as such, there is no irony in a Puritan-descended church being liberal.

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 06:53:14PM 0 points [-]

o_0 I'd ask for a link, but life is too short to read Moldbug. Does he explain the Enlightenment in general as a descendant of Puritanism, or something similar? 'Cos the world, and RW, are slightly bigger than America.

Comment author: J_Taylor 10 May 2012 07:16:49PM *  8 points [-]

First, my excessive precision may have been rather myopic.

Nonetheless, Moldbug does, in fact, hold that the Enlightenment (a nebulous historical concept) was a manifestation of a particular strain of Protestantism.

If you do have the time, here is a relevant Moldbug article:

How Dawkins Got Pwned (part 2)

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 08:23:36PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for that. I'm sure Moldbug can write clearly and concisely, and one day he will. Apparently he spent the previous epic post conclusively proving a hypothesis (that Richard Dawkins is the kind of atheist who is a cultural Christian) that Dawkins has stated outright repeatedly. Well done.

It is not clear from the first thousand words if he comes up with evidence of actual ideological descent, as compared to the hypothesis of exploration of a similar attitudinal conceptspace: being able to say "see? that's just like Calvin! A bit!" is not actually proof-level evidence of a link. (The error is of a similar kind to straw postmodernists mapping out the hermeneutics of Moby Dick and seeing World War II described therein. Ideological attitudes repeat in history, because humans are cognitively much the same; similarities are useful in forming predictions, but don't constitute the firm evidence of descent that Moldbug claims here.)

Is there a glossary to the jargon he uses in this post (M.41, M.42)?

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 August 2012 05:19:51PM *  -1 points [-]

Is there a glossary to the jargon he uses in this post (M.41, M.42)?

Without looking at the post... I'd say that M.41 is the dark, troubled and uncertain time that we live in, and M.42 is prophesized to be the Time of Ending itself, when either the God-Emperor will return in His full glory to lead mankind anew, or the Imperium will be torn apart by Chaos and the ravening xenos, never to be rebuilt. So there.

Edit: I looked at the post, but I still prefer the WH40k interpretation, since it suits them neo-reactionaries better!

Comment author: Bugmaster 10 May 2012 04:46:47AM 1 point [-]

Hmm, really ? Can you offer some examples ? I've browsed some of the articles on the site, and they didn't strike me as unduly biased -- unless snark counts as bias. But then again, I'm not sure what you mean by "controversial"; some topics, such as creationism or global warming, are controversial in mainstream culture, but fairly mundane here on Less Wrong.

Comment author: Multiheaded 10 May 2012 10:54:16AM *  7 points [-]

Knowing Vladimir [1], he likely means that they use exposition of stupid things like Conservapedia and Christian fundamentalism to bash all kinds of right-wing thought, especially the American variety, while not investigating liberal cognitive failures enough.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Conservative

(Note that the article above, while ridiculously biased, does have one good section, the one on the relativity of the term. And, aside from any ideological neutrality, even a moderately smart left-wing fanatic wouldn't list Ann Coulter among "Prominent conservatives" but exclude Burke or William Buckley.
So my impression is that the people who were writing it are not necessarily all that politically motivated and "brainwashed" - just unintelligent and/or ignorant.)

[1] Not knowing him, of course, just having read his many previous comments on the issue.

Comment author: Bugmaster 10 May 2012 05:46:33PM 7 points [-]

I could be wrong, but the biggest problem with that article is that they keep conflating the US-ian meaning of the word "Conservative" with the more general meaning. As you said, they tried to separate the two, but pretty much failed. IMO their article on Liberals is much more disappointing, as it's just self-indulgent satire without any meat behind it.

That said, RW's mission statement is to combat pseudoscience and authoritarianism; so at least they wear their biases on their sleeves. They don't claim to advocate for rationality in general, despite the name. I think that, when they stick to their core mission (as opposed to venturing into politics in general), they are relatively successful.

I have to admit, though, that I don't have an opinion on the Ann Coulter thing. I don't know much about her, besides that she's a pundit who said some crazy stuff at some point.

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 06:35:07PM *  8 points [-]

It's really a skeptics' wiki. And just as there's absolutely no cluefulness bar to being an atheist, there's not much cluefulness bar to being a skeptic. The name skepticwiki.org was already taken when it started. (Though they've since given up and redirected their site to RW! I've suggested the RationalWiki Foundation buy the name from them - we've already taken on evowiki.org, for example.)

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 06:58:23AM -1 points [-]

I've browsed through a bunch of topics on RationalWiki, and it looks like a heavily ideological website.

Well, that's one I haven't heard before. What precise examples were you thinking of?

Comment author: [deleted] 08 July 2012 09:21:57AM *  19 points [-]

Example.

Buckley et al did much to restore conservatism's hithertoo absurdly unintellectual base, by harking back to Burke and finding a suitable champion for their cause. We can rest assured that Burke would have found the modern tea partiers to be both dangerous and insane, in equal measure.

Rational Wiki is pretty blatantly ideological in both assumptions and spin.

Comment author: drethelin 08 July 2012 11:04:07AM 23 points [-]

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/George_Bush

Another example both of blatant bias and why I stopped reading liberal blogs even when I felt entirely on their side. Such a complete refusal to offer respect to your opponents is epistemically rude and super annoying for me to read.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 10 May 2012 03:11:15PM *  34 points [-]

Pretty much any RW article I've ever seen takes the premise that the position of the mainstream academia -- and, in case of more explicitly politicized topics, the left-center of the respectable public opinion -- is correct, and any serious contrarian position can be held only by comically nutty crackpots or sinisterly malevolent extremists. Now, this isn't always a bad heuristic: it produces more or less correct conclusions on topics where the aforementioned institutions are usually reliable, such as, say, physics. But on any topic where they are significantly biased, RW ends up as a passionate defender of all their biases and falsities. And from what I've seen, the RW writers typically make no serious effort to study such topics dispassionately, but instead jump at the first opportunity to engage in ideological warfare, typically via ignorant sneering and mocking.

As an example, you can take pretty much any topic that's matter of significant ideological controversy -- economics, history, human differences, political theory, let alone everyday politics. Out of several dozen RW articles I've read, I don't think I've seen a single one that looks like a fair attempt to make sense of the topic at hand.

Of course, you may believe that the intellectual institutions whose output inspires the RW writers are in fact reliably correct about everything. But even then, it would be clear that the latter are mostly just parroting the former without much real understanding and motivated mainly by the thrill of ideological warfare.

Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 04:05:54PM *  0 points [-]

I suspect the effect you're seeing is relative to a US-based libertarian viewpoint, and comes from many of the contributors not being in that category. So it might well look that way relative to LessWrong community norms. Describing it as a "heavily ideological website" when it's nothing of the sort is not how I would steel-man your argument, and may not serve your advocacy of said argument optimally.

What are the best example articles of what you're talking about, and what's wrong with their positions? (If possible, pick something bronze or better, silver if possible - there's certainly a lot of complete shit there, but anything silver or higher means effort's been put in and saves me just answering with a probably annoying "yeah, that article's shit".)

And by the way, what are "the intellectual institutions whose output inspires the RW writers"? I can tell you if they in fact inspired me, for example.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 11 May 2012 07:30:37AM *  34 points [-]

Describing it as a "heavily ideological website" when it's nothing of the sort is not how I would steel-man your argument, and may not serve your advocacy of said argument optimally.

I'm surprised that you perceive this characterization as controversial and unfair. From what I've seen, RW articles engage in scathing rhetoric of ideological warfare constantly and unabashedly, and their ideological perspective is, as far as I can tell, remarkably uniform and consistent.

The only way one could object to my characterization is if one agrees with the ideological positions of RW to such degree that one sees them as objectively correct, i.e. a matter of mere common sense and rational thinking, so that characterizing them as "ideological" would by itself be a dishonest rhetorical ploy. Now, I can accept this argument when it comes to the RW articles that sneer at, say, various physics crackpots (although even there, one wonders why the authors find it a worthwhile use of their time). However, I don't see how one could extend it to topics that are inherently heavily ideological and where we have nothing like the solid epistemological base that exists in hard sciences, like for example economics, history, politics, etc. Yet, from what I've seen, RW articles on such topics sneer and jeer with the same strength of conviction.

What are the best example articles of what you're talking about, and what's wrong with their positions? (If possible, pick something bronze or better... )

To avoid any possibility of cherry-picking, I'll take the links on top of the main page of RW. The first one is RW's article about itself, so I hope I can be pardoned if I skip that one. The next one is an article about "pseudoscience." So what does RW tell us about pseudoscience?

What it tells us is, basically, that "science" should be understood as the bureaucratic system implemented by the contemporary academia, and "pseudoscience" as any effort at finding truth that doesn't have the official imprimatur of this system. For an especially blatant example of this, consider their bizarre claim that peer review is somehow an essential part of science -- whereas in reality, as anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the history of science knows, peer review is a bureaucratic innovation that has been widely imposed only in the decades since WW2, and science had functioned perfectly well for centuries before that. Also, the writers seem to be badly confused about the difference between peer review and the truly important fundamental issue of replication. (By the way, one wonders what cognitive dissonance might be induced if they were aware that Homeopathy is a bona fide peer-reviewed journal!)

Note how the article doesn't even conceive of the possibility that pseudoscience might in fact be practiced by some branches of the official high-status academia, with peer review and all the other bureaucratic frills in place. Its authors clearly wouldn't be able to discuss meaningfully the question of how one could try to evaluate the reliability of the academic output in different areas and determine what sorts of pseudoscience might be thriving under prestigious academic titles and affiliations. On the contrary, all their examples are from low-status folkish superstitions and distant history. (Also, tellingly, the closest thing to a mainstream academic work that is included as an example of "pseudoscience" is The Bell Curve -- a book which was co-authored by a Harvard professor, but whose conclusions are ideologically unpalatable for the sort of people who write on RW.)

This is by no means the worst example -- for that, we'd need to look at articles about topics that have more direct political implications. But I think it does illustrate my points pretty well.

And by the way, what are "the intellectual institutions whose output inspires the RW writers"? I can tell you if they in fact inspired me, for example.

I think this should be clear from the above. What I have in mind is the mainstream academia and, in case of more immediate political topics, the left-centrist perspective of the mainstream media. (For the latter, a good litmus test is if you can imagine a given position being argued by a New York Times op-ed columnist.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 12 May 2012 04:24:37PM *  7 points [-]

For an especially blatant example of this, consider their bizarre claim that peer review is somehow an essential part of science -- whereas in reality, as anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the history of science knows, peer review is a bureaucratic innovation that has been widely imposed only in the decades since WW2, and science had functioned perfectly well for centuries before that.

Peer review existed in some forms well before that. The major journals like the various journals of the Royal Society often had pieces vetted by the editors rather than independent referees, but the point of independent review was not uncommon. Also, if one looks at the RW article on peer review, one sees that they list some of the more serious problems with the system.

The only bit of their section on peer review that seems really problematic is this:

If an idea has not been published in a single peer review journal, it is safe to say it is not science.

Whereas in physics and math and some other areas, many results come out in preprint form well before they are formally published (and in math their are a few examples of fairly important results that exist only in preprint form). Would you object to this sentence instead saying " If an idea has not been published in a single peer review journal, it is a warning sign that the idea may not be science?"

Most of the rest of the article seems ok to me, although others of your points may be valid, especially in regard to the low status nature of most of their examples (although in many locations alt med is pretty high status, especially in the American left-wing which undermines your claim somewhat.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 12 May 2012 05:50:54PM *  17 points [-]

Peer review existed in some forms well before that. The major journals like the various journals of the Royal Society often had pieces vetted by the editors rather than independent referees, but the point of independent review was not uncommon.

That is true, of course, but the sorts of editorial review that were standard before the mid-20th century were different in some very important ways. When Max Planck accepted Einsten's annus mirabilis papers, the decision was under his personal responsibility, and he was putting his own reputation on the line. This is a very different procedure from today's reliance on anonymous reviewers and impersonal committees. It's also very different from a setup where officially designated "peers" (i.e. insiders of an single exclusive group) serve as bureaucratic judges of what is valid science about some issue and what isn't. (See this old comment in which I elaborated on some important aspects of these differences.)

Also, if one looks at the RW article on peer review, one sees that they list some of the more serious problems with the system.

Notice that the "pseudoscience" article confuses peer review and replication. This clearly indicates a writer who has a very poor understanding of the present institutions of official science, but is nevertheless driven by a strong desire to mount ideological crusades on their behalf. Furthermore, the linked "peer review" article informs us that "peer review is a key part of the scientific method." This is just plain false: whether or not a given work follows the scientific method depends only on the way it's conceived and executed, and not at all on whether it's been given some kind of bureaucratic imprimatur. Robinson Crusoe would be perfectly capable of using the scientific method, limited only by his own knowledge and the resources available on the island.

Furthermore, I don't think the "peer review" article goes anywhere near a comprehensive critique of the system. It doesn't even discuss the most obvious problems that struck me the same moment I was assigned peer review work for the first time some years ago. But that's a topic for a separate long discussion.

Would you object to this sentence instead saying " If an idea has not been published in a single peer review journal, it is a warning sign that the idea may not be science?"

It depends on the field in question. In some fields (basically the hardest of the hard sciences), it is indeed a pretty good heuristic. At the other extreme, in some other fields the situation is so bad that publication in a peer-reviewed journal strongly indicates that even if the work has some valid insight, it's buried in a quagmire of bias and bad epistemology -- whereas on the other hand, perfectly valid insight is often made outside of any official accredited institutions.

In yet other cases, valid science can be done entirely unofficially by amateurs, and this isn't so rare when it comes to topics that are of little or no academic interest.

Most of the rest of the article seems ok to me, although others of your points may be valid, especially in regard to the low status nature of most of their examples (although in many locations alt med is pretty high status, especially in the American left-wing which undermines your claim somewhat.)

I didn't claim that RW falls for left-wing nonsense in general. If the left-wing nonsense in question is opposed by the mainstream academia, or if it's too far left to be embraced by the respectable left-center intellectual and media institutions, RW will also be opposed to it. (Although, again, its criticism will end up biased insofar as these institutions are biased towards the issue.)

The real problem is what happens if pseudoscience is in fact done by the official and prestigious academia and with all the official bureaucratic trappings of "science" in place. A truly correct and informative treatment of "pseudoscience" should give us some idea of how to recognize this situation. Yet the RW writers seem incapable of even conceiving such a possibility, and their entire output is driven by the desire to equate "pseudoscience" with non-academic contrarian positions. (Or, in case of the example of The Bell Curve, with work whose conclusions are unacceptable to the ideological left-center, even though they are more or less in line with the beliefs of a substantial number of academics specializing in the issues it deals with, and the work has some academic affiliation.) Now, you may disagree whether it's fair to label such bias as "ideological" -- although I think it's an appropriate description -- but I don't see on what grounds you would disagree with the diagnosis of the problem itself.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 07 September 2015 09:20:59AM *  1 point [-]

The only way one could object to my characterization is if one agrees with the ideological positions of RW to such degree that one sees them as objectively correct

Are you quite sure your own biases aren't invisible to you for the same reason?

Comment author: gjm 07 September 2015 01:34:58PM 0 points [-]

FWIW I largely agree with Vladimir_M that RW has a strong tendency to assume a broadly left-centrist political position. This happens also to be more or less my political position, so I'm fairly sure this isn't the result of political fanaticism on my part.

I'm not sure I'd describe it as "heavily ideological", for the rather boring reason that to me that suggests not only a definite political position but a fairly extreme political position, and being "broadly left-centrist" isn't that.

But, e.g., take a look at the page on David Cameron and tell me that it doesn't have a hefty dose of political spin on it. Again, I'm not saying this because my ox has been gored here; I agree with a lot of what the page says about him and would certainly never vote for him.

(No, that article isn't bronze-or-better. Only what, 10%?, of RW articles are bronze-or-better. The propositions "RW has a definite political slant" and "RW's bronze-or-better articles mostly do a good job of political neutrality" seem perfectly consistent to me.)

Comment author: timtyler 10 May 2012 10:20:33AM *  4 points [-]

I didn't think much of RationalWiki's "meme" articles.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 07 September 2015 09:07:58AM 1 point [-]

Is LessWrong supposed to be ideology-free?

Comment author: Vaniver 07 September 2015 04:38:48PM 1 point [-]

I think the ideology on LW is supposed to be something like "epistemic rationality is tremendously important." This maps onto standard political ideologies in bizarre ways.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 07 September 2015 06:32:13PM 1 point [-]

LW seems to have ideology about MWI, cryonics, etc. Maybe LW looks as weirdly ideological to RW-ers as RW does to LW-ers. Discuss.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 September 2015 10:24:41PM 1 point [-]

LW seems to have ideology about MWI, cryonics, etc.

What do you think the word "ideology" means?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 08 September 2015 09:20:23AM 1 point [-]

A normative set of beliefs. IOW, not synonymous with politcal ideology.

Comment author: Vaniver 08 September 2015 01:49:53PM *  2 points [-]

It seems to me that LW has normative beliefs about metacognition that, if taken seriously, imply that one should take seriously ideas like MWI and cryonics and, regardless of whether or not one subscribes to them, at the very least not make bad objections to them.

I think confusing that with an object-level position is problematic.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 12 September 2015 02:55:07PM *  2 points [-]

Revisionary. LW has made much stronger statements about MWI than "should be taken seriously" .. it has used the language of "slam dunks".

One obvious way is to start with some things that are slam-dunks, and use them as anchors. Very few things qualify as slam-dunks. Cryonics doesn't rise to that level, since it involves social guesses and values, not just physicalism. I can think of only three slam-dunks off the top of my head:

Atheism: Yes. Many-worlds: Yes. "P-zombies": No. These aren't necessarily simple or easy for contrarians to work through, but the correctness seems as reliable as it gets.

Of course there are also slam-dunks like:

Natural selection: Yes. World Trade Center rigged with explosives: No.

Note also:

But there are also simpler things we could do using the same principle. Let's say we want to know whether the economy will recover, double-dip or crash. So we call up a thousand economists, ask each one "Do you have a strong opinion on whether the many-worlds interpretation is correct?", and see if the economists who have a strong opinion and answer "Yes" have a different average opinion from the average economist and from economists who say "No".

Comment author: Vaniver 12 September 2015 05:00:40PM 2 points [-]

Revisionary. LW has made much stronger statements about MWI than "should be taken seriously" .. it has used the language of "slam dunks".

I am using LW to refer to a community of users and posts; you seem to be using LW to refer to Yudkowsky. I suspect that suffices to explain our disagreement.

Comment author: username2 12 September 2015 09:25:20PM *  2 points [-]

There is a danger that the existence of this difference might lead to motte and bailey differences among LWers who do not examine their beliefs about MWI (or their beliefs about what LWers believe about MWI, for a different group of people) carefully.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 12 September 2015 05:56:58PM 0 points [-]

This still counts as normative, because the community is being urged to follow it, whether they do or not.

Comment author: shminux 09 May 2012 11:01:53PM *  9 points [-]

Typing "RationalWiki" into the search box in the upper right corner will return plenty of discussions about it.

Comment deleted 09 May 2012 11:53:16PM [-]
Comment deleted 10 May 2012 12:16:44AM [-]
Comment author: David_Gerard 10 May 2012 07:03:15AM *  6 points [-]

I'll just relink to this: Taking something seriously just because it pays you attention may not be a good idea. In the general case, if you care what RW thinks then your problem is obscurity and/or not enough focus on your own goals.

(RW loves LW really (YMMV). Think of it as the unpleasable fanbase [warning: TVTropes].)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 May 2012 09:34:25AM 2 points [-]

Taking something seriously just because it pays you attention may not be a good idea.

A shorter version is: "don't feed the trolls".

More politely, even if otherwise reasonable people happen to do something trollish, don't give attention to this act, because you might reinforce it.

Comment author: thomblake 09 May 2012 11:14:54PM 3 points [-]

It should be noted that at least one author of that article is a Lw regular.

Comment author: Randaly 10 May 2012 12:52:50AM 3 points [-]

Two, I believe: David Gerard and Tetronian