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Yvain comments on 2012 Less Wrong Census Survey: Call For Critiques/Questions - Less Wrong Discussion

20 Post author: Yvain 19 October 2012 01:12AM

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Comment author: Yvain 19 October 2012 11:14:46AM *  10 points [-]

Current status of these suggestions:

  • I will probably not be implementing any suggestion that requests a multi-checkbox style question, like:

"What activities do you enjoy? Check all that apply"

[] Fishing

[] Boating

[] Hiking

[] Climbing

The reason is that I haven't been able to figure out how to computer process these effectively; I end out with rows of boxes like "hiking,fishing" or "fishing,boating,climbing" and it's apparently beyond my limited skills to get SPSS to separate these out into separate chunks of information. I could do it like this:

Do you enjoy fishing?

[] Y

[] N

Do you enjoy boating?

[] Y

[] N

And so on, but the more options you want, the less happy I am doing this. Or, teach me a good way to solve this problem using Google Forms and SPSS.

  • I am reluctant to change questions that have been on the survey since previous years. For example, Will's suggestion to change the Politics question is good, except that if we did it we would no longer be able to confidently say something like "Less Wrong has gotten more liberal since the last survey". I would rather just include a political compass in the Bonus Questions, plus maybe maybe a more complicated one-word political affiliation question.

  • This is also part of my beef with "other", along with the fact that it's going to mean people who are 99% similar to one option but don't feel it perfectly describes them are instead going to pick something that gives us zero information. I very much agree with Vaniver here. I might or might not add it.

  • I'm balancing ability to totally perfectly capture all answers with ability to let people who just want to take a basic survey do that without answering a thousand mostly-similar questions. So while I understand that it might be theoretically desirable to separate out for example race vs. ethnicity, or country of birth vs. country of residence, or asexual romantic relationships versus sexual romantic relationships, I'm reluctant to bloat any section too much more than it's already bloated - especially the one on sex. I can already see someone like that tabloid reporter from a while back going "And also, the latest Less Wrong survey included 256 questions about your sex life!"

  • Can I get around the ethnicity problem by replacing "White (Non-Hispanic)" with "Latino"? It seems like it should work, but I'm suspicious because none of the US surveys I've encountered have ever done it.

  • Kind of want to avoid beating a dead basilisk.

  • IQ suggestions sound good.

  • ACT suggestion sounds good.

  • Most other bonus question suggestions sound good.

  • Happy to include Big Five test, AQ test, etc in the Unreasonably Long Bonus Questions section.

  • Will fix the Singularity question

  • Will probably fix moral views question to mirror PhilPapers version, even though that screws up past-survey-comparison

  • Will correct all typos

Comment author: gwern 19 October 2012 03:45:36PM 15 points [-]

Kind of want to avoid beating a dead basilisk.

If you don't beat it, someone else will, as XiXi, RationalWiki, and that newspaper demonstrate; and by omitting a question on it, we lose the ability to be able to point out that the overwhelming majority (or whatever it turns out to be) disagreed with that moderation decision. This would be one of the few questions which is genuinely useful, as opposed to interesting.

Comment author: Halfwitz 26 April 2014 06:15:27PM *  3 points [-]

Good call here, btw. I've been going through random reddit comments to posts that link to LessWrong (http://www.reddit.com/domain/lesswrong.com), discarding threads on /r/hpmor /r/lesswrong and other affiliated subs. The basilisk is brought up far more than I expected – and widely mocked. This also seems to occur in Hacker News, too – on which LessWrong was once quite popular. I wasn’t around when the incident occurred, but I’m surprised by how effective it’s been at making LessWrong low status – and its odd persistence years after its creation. Unless high IQ people are less likely to dismiss LessWrong after learning of the basilisk, it’s likely significantly reduced the effectiveness of LessWrong as a farm league for MIRI.

It really is amazingly well-optimized for discrediting MIRI and its goals, especially when amplified by censorship – which is so obviously negatively useful.

I wonder if EY actually thinks the basilisk idea is both correct and unavoidable. That would explain things.

Comment author: gwern 05 August 2014 10:02:14PM 2 points [-]

It really is amazingly well-optimized for discrediting MIRI and its goals, especially when amplified by censorship – which is so obviously negatively useful.

It works much better than the previous go-to slur, cryonics and freezing heads, ever did. I'm not sure why - is it the censorship aspect? Or is it the apparent resemblance to Pascal's wager?

Comment author: Kindly 19 October 2012 05:50:21PM 1 point [-]

Do you expect RationalWiki or journalists to check the survey results and report them if it turns out that people disagreed?

Comment author: gwern 19 October 2012 05:58:14PM 11 points [-]

Not at all. I expect it to be linkable in comments or rebuttals, or simply edited in, as I have in fact already done twice: http://rationalwiki.org/w/index.php?title=LessWrong&diff=prev&oldid=1035808 and http://rationalwiki.org/w/index.php?title=LessWrong&diff=prev&oldid=1035812

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 October 2012 07:44:18PM 0 points [-]

If you don't beat it, someone else will, as XiXi, RationalWiki, and that newspaper demonstrate; and by omitting a question on it, we lose the ability to be able to point out that the overwhelming majority (or whatever it turns out to be) disagreed with that moderation decision.

Do you think that an overwhelming majority of people taking the survey know enough about the case to make an informed judgment?

Comment author: gwern 19 October 2012 07:57:19PM 12 points [-]

Given how people have been describing the basilisk to me in IRC and private messages as being a' fascinating secret' and 'attracting people with mystique' and 'laugh at how they circumvented the censorship', I think more people know about it than one would expect (and that by now, it is more well known than it ever would've been otherwise).

But even if all that was wrong, that is easily addressed with the usual options like 'Other' or 'No opinion' or 'Don't care'.

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 October 2012 01:39:16PM 2 points [-]

(and that by now, it is more well known than it ever would've been otherwise).

In the case that SI is in favor of the meme, doesn't believing in the meme means that you are bound to spread the meme? The meme had the danger of making LessWrong a lot more cultish.

'laugh at how they circumvented the censorship'

Handling a dangerous meme in a way where people who come into contact with the meme don't focus their attention on the meme but laugh about the context of the meme is quite an accomplishment. It primes people for not taking it too seriously.

You wouldn't want the meme to become like Scientology's Xenu, which people actually start to buy into when they meet the meme after years in Scientology.

Comment author: gwern 22 October 2012 04:23:12PM 3 points [-]

In the case that SI is in favor of the meme, doesn't believing in the meme means that you are bound to spread the meme? The meme had the danger of making LessWrong a lot more cultish.

Er... what?

Handling a dangerous meme in a way where people who come into contact with the meme don't focus their attention on the meme but laugh about the context of the meme is quite an accomplishment. It primes people for not taking it too seriously.

So making a bit of amusement is a satisfactory compensation for handing critics a club and also exposing countless more people, perhaps orders more, to it?

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 October 2012 06:35:22PM 1 point [-]

Er... what?

The meme has some self referential properties if you take it seriously.

So making a bit of amusement is a satisfactory compensation for handing critics a club and also exposing countless more people, perhaps orders more, to it?

Not every exposure is created equally. Exposing people to the idea in a way where they don't take it seriously doesn't do much harm.

Comment author: gwern 22 October 2012 07:09:28PM 6 points [-]

Not every exposure is created equally. Exposing people to the idea in a way where they don't take it seriously doesn't do much harm.

Not every exposure is equal, but you've done nothing to show that censorship - in the hopes that it will result in mockery - will cut the risk by so many orders that it will more than counterbalance the orders more exposure and also pay for all the reputational damage.

In hindsight, clouds may have silver linings - but only an idiot tries to set up a mine in the sky.

Comment author: RobertLumley 20 October 2012 05:30:07AM 2 points [-]

(and that by now, it is more well known than it ever would've been otherwise).

I certainly never would have heard of the idea if it hadn't become so infamous.

Comment author: Cakoluchiam 08 November 2012 08:11:59PM 0 points [-]

I probably never would have heard of the idea if someone hadn't pointed out its conspicuous omission on the census. I read completely through the original test census and it didn't even register as something so noteworthy on first pass... just another thing that I would probably understand better if I actually read more LessWrong, but since I hadn't, I'd leave my answer blank. Now I know a lot more about it and could probably (p=70%) actually put an answer down with some confidence.

Since it appears the final version of the census has been backedited onto the draft version, can anyone mention (rot13, probably, if it's that controversial) what the question was which was removed?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 October 2012 09:07:36PM *  1 point [-]

The "Don't care" option would be nice.

I would like to have one option that cannot be interpreted that it is a 'fascinating secret', whether it means 'fascinating secret which was successfully hidden from me', 'fascinating secret which should remain hidden forever', or 'fascinating secret which should be exposed'.

Comment author: TraderJoe 06 November 2012 10:59:16AM *  0 points [-]

[comment deleted]

Comment author: [deleted] 19 October 2012 11:59:57AM *  4 points [-]

I will probably not be implementing any suggestion that requests a multi-checkbox style question... [examples] The reason is that I haven't been able to figure out how to computer process these effectively; I end out with rows of boxes like "hiking,fishing" or "fishing,boating,climbing" and it's apparently beyond my limited skills to get SPSS to separate these out into separate chunks of information....[examples] Or, teach me a good way to solve this problem using Google Forms and SPSS.

I assume you can put the spreadsheet in excel, yes? Excel is much more powerful than Google docs, and I don't know SPSS.

If so, what you need is to add columns for each option, and put in the relevant version of the line below:

=IF(ISNUMBER(SEARCH("hiking",A1)),"hikes"," ")

This will search the text in box A1 (assume column A is the one with answers like "hiking, swimming, sailing" or whatever), and if it contains the text "hiking" will write "hikes", and if not will write nothing (or "doesn't hike")

If I didn't explain well enough, let me know!

ETA: And if you don't mind just having "TRUE" and "FALSE" as your output (instead of "hikes" and " ") then you can also just use

=ISNUMBER(SEARCH("hiking",A1))

Comment author: Yvain 21 October 2012 10:56:22PM 1 point [-]

Thank you. I'm going to try this, and I might ask you for more help if I can't get it to work on my own.

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 October 2012 06:59:51PM 3 points [-]

And so on, but the more options you want, the less happy I am doing this. Or, teach me a good way to solve this problem using Google Forms and SPSS.

For those issues like these stats.stackexchange is perfect. I put up the issue as a question: http://stats.stackexchange.com/questions/40771/separating-a-string-of-comma-separate-values-in-spss

Comment author: thomblake 19 October 2012 08:28:03PM *  4 points [-]

Kind of want to avoid beating a dead basilisk.

But it's an important step in basilisk preparation, especially for creatures without hands or proper surgical equipment. Remember that basilisks are also poisonous, so should be emptied of poison before cooking.

See also this method for preparing cuttlefish.

Comment author: thomblake 19 October 2012 03:12:50PM 2 points [-]

I will probably not be implementing any suggestion that requests a multi-checkbox style question...

Wow, the way Google Docs presents that data is really annoying for analysis. Normally, each option would be given its own column in the data (as though it were a 'Yes/No' like you suggested).

A bit of code from here for splitting a csv field in SPSS:

DEFINE !parse (var=!TOKENS(1) /nbval=!TOKENS(1))
COMPUTE !var=CONCAT(RTRIM(!var),';').
STRING #str(A8).
VECTOR !var (!nbval F8.0).
COMPUTE #beg=1.
LOOP #cnt=1 TO !nbval.
+COMPUTE #str=SUBSTR(!var,#beg).
+COMPUTE #end=INDEX(#str,';')-1.
+DO IF #end=-1.
+ BREAK.
+END IF.
+COMPUTE !var(#cnt)=NUMBER(SUBSTR(#str,1,#end),F8.0).
+COMPUTE #beg=#beg+#end+1.
END LOOP IF #end=-1.
EXECUTE.
!ENDDEFINE.
* Call the macro.
!parse var=c254 nbval=5.
!parse var=c256 nbval=5.

Replace the semicolons above with commas, and it should work. Note that nbval is the number of possible options, and this code will give warnings if fewer are selected.

Comment author: thomblake 19 October 2012 03:17:42PM 4 points [-]

Actually, what I'd recommend doing for real, is moving the data to a better spreadsheet program like Open Office, doing the split programmatically there (as suggested elsewhere), and then importing the data into SPSS.

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 October 2012 07:05:40PM 0 points [-]

SPSS is a software build for doing statistics. There should be a way in SPSS to do this that's better than switching to a different software.

Comment author: thomblake 19 October 2012 07:22:21PM 5 points [-]

It's software built for doing statistics a long time ago. And it makes certain assumptions about the sorts of data you're going to be giving it. This is a solution for dealing with Google's silly nonstandard way of representing multi-punch lists, not a solution to a statistical problem. It's totally reasonable to process the raw data using some other program or script before sending it to SPSS - it's what the pros do anyway.

Comment author: Kawoomba 19 October 2012 07:18:16PM 3 points [-]

R is a free - and imo better - alternative.

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 October 2012 07:26:45PM 1 point [-]

I'm personally using R myself. That's why I can't imagine it to be hard is SPSS because. If Yvain has however spent time learning SPSS it might be costly to relearn things in R.

Comment author: Epiphany 28 October 2012 01:26:28AM *  1 point [-]

Political question solution:

Add an "other" option, then make a copy of the political question for THIS survey only, minus the "other" option, and ask "What would you have selected if "other" was not present?"

You can compare the results of the second question to past surveys and the first question to future surveys and therefore have a sense of whether LessWrong has moved in a particular direction.

Or, alternately, add a question below the political question saying:

"If you'd had an "other" option on the politics question, would you have used it?"

Comment author: army1987 28 October 2012 11:35:14PM 1 point [-]

"If you'd had an "other" option on the politics question, would you have used it?"

Or “is there any political label with which you identify more than with any of the five above”?

Comment author: Epiphany 28 October 2012 11:59:00PM 0 points [-]

Hmm I like this one better. (:

Comment author: army1987 29 October 2012 12:47:58AM 0 points [-]

OTOH, I've changed my mind and now like yours better -- but I'd replace "other" with "none of the above".

Comment author: Epiphany 29 October 2012 01:03:05AM 0 points [-]

Really? Why?

Comment author: army1987 29 October 2012 01:54:31AM 0 points [-]

Maybe there are people who don't identify with any political label at all, so not even "other" would be an accurate answer for them.

Comment author: Epiphany 29 October 2012 02:18:07AM 0 points [-]

Hmmm. But if we were to reword your question to something like: "How would you describe your political views if different from the above?" (three words) then that would make everyone happy.

Except Yvain who would have to figure out how to display those results. That might annoy him.

If Yvain won't want to display all the results, then I think you're right with a "none of the above" question. Otherwise I'd rather see a box where you can fill it in how you want.

Comment author: army1987 29 October 2012 03:08:05PM 0 points [-]

Yep. Let's not be the last straw that makes Yvain freak out and never open the survey! ;-)

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 21 October 2012 09:15:41PM 1 point [-]

I am reluctant to change questions that have been on the survey since previous years. For example, Will's suggestion to change the Politics question is good, except that if we did it we would no longer be able to confidently say something like "Less Wrong has gotten more liberal since the last survey".

Then will we be forever saddled with a significantly suboptimal question? Here's a compromise solution: This year have both the old question, unchanged, and also have a new one with the five groupings as suggested: "Reactionary", "Conservative", "Progressive", "Libertarian", "Communist"

Then in following years we can keep just this new question, while having a basis for comparison between the old and the new one.

Comment author: Unnamed 21 October 2012 11:24:19PM 4 points [-]

I don't think that adding "reactionary" would have much information-benefit; it seems like reactionaries would just be splintering off from the "conservative" category, which was already very small (just 3% of respondents last year). The vast majority (97%) of people who gave a response chose liberal, libertarian, or socialist, which suggests that the way to add information-value would be to clarify or refine those categories. (Communists were under 1%.)

There was an attempt at a more detailed political survey after last year's LW census. Its breakdown (by percent) into 12 categories came out:

31 Left libertarian, moderate non-US liberal, or "liberaltarian."
28 US liberal, progressive, or social democrat.
11 Nothing like any of those.
9 Anarcho-capitalist or minarchist, but not paleo-libertarian.
5 Libertarian socialist, anarcho-socialist, or anarcho-communist.
4 Centrist or moderate.
4 I don't care about politics.
3 Paleoconservative, paleo-libertarian, alternative right, or nationalist.
1 Fusionist conservative.
1 Green, deep ecologist, or anarcho-primitivist.
1 Marxist-Leninist.
1 Neoconservative.
1 Religious conservative.

Again, most people chose something related to liberal, socialist, or libertarian. I'm not thrilled with the particular category labels from that survey, but the results do suggest that the highest value-added would come from splitting up libertarianism into subcategories, probably left vs. right (and maybe also splitting off a category for anarchic/minarchic).

But I don't know if that would be worth the trouble to do right now. For improving the annual survey, I think it would be better to take the approach of that politics survey and run smaller-scale surveys during the year to try out different ways of asking questions, rather than flooding Yvain with hard-to-implement suggestions right before census time.

Comment author: Jay_Schweikert 23 October 2012 03:32:39PM 0 points [-]

I agree that splitting up libertarianism into subcategories would likely yield some benefit. As I understand the "left vs. right" aspect of this question, the difference would mostly come down to what the person thinks about the state's role in providing social insurance. Presumably all libertarians would support a high degree of economic and social liberty -- basically letting people make decisions for themselves so long as those decisions are voluntary and they don't hurt non-consenting parties. But where "left libertarians" would be more comfortable using taxes to provide some minimum level of welfare provisions, "right libertarians" would lean more toward minarchism and say that governments shouldn't go beyond things like courts, police, and the military.

It's entirely possible that others won't share my intuition around these concepts, but I do think this framing helps explain some of the confusion that arises from pointing to particular countries as example. European countries like Denmark and Switzerland have higher taxation and more extensive welfare states than the U.S., but they score higher on pretty much every other measure of economic freedom. That would probably make them fairly amenable to left-libertarians, but not right-libertarians/minarchists. This post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians does a pretty good job of explaining the distinction.

Relatedly, I'd say that minarchism fits more closely with something like right-libertarianism than with anarchism. There seems to be a much bigger gulf between "the state should do this small handful of important things" and "there shouldn't be a state" than between "the state should do this small handful of important things" and "the state should do this small handful of important things, and maybe a couple other ones too."

Comment author: Yvain 21 October 2012 09:55:46PM *  1 point [-]

I am doubtful that switching to your version will get any fewer complaints or be any better than the old version, but on the principle of cheap testing I will include the second question. Please tell me exactly what you want for this new question, eg do you want sentence-length descriptions of each position and if so what are they?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 21 October 2012 11:00:38PM *  0 points [-]

Here's one possible version, no description at all, just asks for what label you would assign:

Which of the following labels would you consider to best represent your political positions?

  • Reactionary
  • Conservative
  • Progressive
  • Libertarian
  • Communist
Comment author: army1987 21 October 2012 11:22:12PM 2 points [-]

That has the problem that different people will interpret "Libertarian" in different ways.