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Comment author: adamzerner 22 March 2017 08:08:44PM *  1 point [-]

Another example:

Yeah, you could tell about your gender, sex, sexual orientation and gender role... but are you a boy or are you a girl???

Of course, the latter question isn't asking about something observable.

In response to Decision Theory FAQ
Comment author: adamzerner 12 December 2016 08:19:42PM *  0 points [-]

Typo:

Usually, it is argued that each of the axioms are pragmatically justified because an agent which violates the axioms can face situations in which they are guaranteed end up worse off (from their own perspective).

Should read:

guaranteed to end up worse off

In response to Decision Theory FAQ
Comment author: adamzerner 12 December 2016 07:42:04PM 0 points [-]

I find it helpful to use the term "security level" to understand maximin/leximin and "hope level" to understand maximax. "Security level" is the worst case scenario, and under maximin/leximin we want to maximize it. "Hope level" is the best case scenario, and under maximax, we want to maximize it.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 November 2016 01:02:16PM *  25 points [-]

I used to do this a lot on Less Wrong; then I started thinking I should do work that was somehow "more important". In hindsight, I think I undervalued the importance of pointing out minor reasoning/content errors on Less Wrong. "Someone is wrong on less wrong" seems to me to be an actually worth fixing; it seems like that's how we make a community that is capable of vetting arguments.

Participating in online discussions tends to reduce one's attention span. There's the variable reinforcement factor. There's also the fact that a person who comes to a discussion earlier gets more visibility. This incentivizes checking for new discussions frequently. (These two factors exacerbate one another.)

These effects are so strong that if I stay away from the internet for a few days ("internet fast"), my attention span increases dramatically. And if I've posted comments online yesterday, it's hard for me to focus today--there's always something in the back of my mind that wants to check & see if anyone's responded. I need to refrain from making new comments for several days before I can really focus.

Lots of people have noticed that online discussions sap their productivity this way. And due to the affect heuristic, they downgrade the importance & usefulness of online discussions in general. I think this inspired Patri's Self-Improvement or Shiny Distraction post. Like video games, Less Wrong can be distracting... so if video games are a distracting waste of time, Less Wrong must also be, right?

Except that doesn't follow. Online content can be really valuable to read. Bloggers don't have an incentive to pad their ideas the way book authors do. And they write simply instead of unnecessarily obfuscating like academics. (Some related discussion.)

Participating in discussions online is often high leverage. The ratio of readers to participants in online discussions can be quite high. Some numbers from the LW-sphere that back this up:

  • In 2010, Kevin created a thread where he asked lurkers to say hi. The thread generated 617 comments.

  • 77% of respondents to the Less Wrong survey have never posted a comment. (And this is a population of readers who were sufficiently engaged to take the survey!)

  • Here's a relatively obscure comment of mine that was voted to +2. But it was read by at least 135 logged-in users. Since 54+% of the LW readership has never registered an account, this obscure comment was likely read by 270+ people. A similar case study--deeply threaded comment posted 4 days after a top-level post, read by at least 22 logged-in users.

Based on this line of reasoning, I'm currently working on the problem of preserving focus while participating in online discussions. I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear thoughts from anyone who wants to spend a minute brainstorming.

Comment author: adamzerner 29 November 2016 07:53:55AM *  6 points [-]

Regarding the idea that online discussion hurts attention span and productivity, I agree for the reasons you say. The book Deep Work (my review) talks more about it. I'm not too familiar with the actual research, but my mind seems to recall that the research supports this idea. Time Well Spent is a movement that deals with this topic and has some good content/resources.

I think it's important to separate internet time from non-internet time. The author talks about this in Deep Work. He recommends that internet time be scheduled in advance, that way you're not internetting mindlessly out of impulse. If willpower is an issue, try Self Control, or going somewhere without internet. I sometimes find it useful to lock my phone in the mailbox downstairs.

I'm no expert, but suspect that LW could do a better job designing for Time Well Spent.

  • Remove things on the sidebar like "Recent Posts" and "Recent Comments" (first item on Time Well Spent checklist). They tempt you to click around and stay on longer. If you want to see new posts or comments, you could deliberately choose to click on a link that takes you to a new webpage that shows you those things, rather than always having them shoved in your face.
  • Give users the option of "only be able to see things in your inbox once per day". That way, you're not tempted to constantly be checking it. (second item on checklist; letting users disconnect)
  • I think it'd be cool to let people display their productivity goals on their profile. Eg. "I check LW Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Sunday mornings. I intend to be working during these hours." That way perhaps you won't feel obligated to respond to people when you should be working. Furthermore, there's the social reward/punishment aspect of it - "Hey! You posted this comment at 4:30 on a Wednesday - weren't you supposed to be working then?"

These are just some initial thoughts. I know that we can come up with much more.

Tangential comment: a big thought of mine has always been that LW (and online forums in general) lead to the same conversation threads being repeated. Ie. the topic of "how to reduce internet distractions" surely has been discussed here before. It'd be cool if there was a central place for that discussion, it was organized well into some type of community wiki. I envision there being much less "duplication" this way. I also envision a lot more time being spent on "organizing current thoughts" as opposed to "thinking new thoughts". (These thoughts are very rough and not well composed.)

Comment author: gwern 17 January 2016 02:44:22AM 4 points [-]

OK, so 42k injuries/9k deaths is sobering, but does it justify wearing a driving helmet? I've been curious about this topic and also walking helmets for a while and now that I have my own car again (ironically, given the datasets here, an old 2000 car), the topic of reducing car risks is also of some personal relevance. I'm going to give a stab at a quick and dirty decision analysis here to get an idea of how the case for driving helmets look.

First, we want to convert the absolute numbers to a probability of injury/death per mile driven:

So if you drive 5000 miles (roughly what I currently drive per year), then you have a risk of death or injury of 5000 * 1.977408384e-08 = 9.88704192e-05.

For mortality, we could say the expected loss this year for our 5k driver who is 30 years old is ~50 years at the usual \$50k/QALY, without discounting, would be 5000 * 3.431544214e-09 * (50 * 50000) = \$42. That's just the first year, while 30yo, and each year the loss shrinks since you get closer to death; a quick hack to sum the series to get a total expected loss with discounting at the usual 3%:

R> sum(sapply(seq((80-30), 0), function(t) { 5000 * 3.431544214e-09 * t * 0.97^t * 1.0 * 50000 }))
# [1] 420.5466717

Injuries is more difficult. Browsing through a few papers on TBI and QALYs, I find QALY/life-expectancy losses from TBI in juveniles: "Measuring the Cost-Effectiveness of Technologic Change in the Treatment of Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury", Tilford 2007 The estimates are kind of shocking - TBI is a very serious problem. (Not too surprising after looking at "Quality of Life After Traumatic Brain Injury: A Review of Research Approaches and Findings" and some of the citations in "Is aggressive treatment of traumatic brain injury cost-effective?" Whitmore et al 2012, or when I remember that a lot of military veteran dysfunctionality is probably due to TBI.)

Preference-weighted health outcomes in children who survived a TBI hospitalization were reported from a cohort of children admitted to 10 pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) that were located nationally. Subject inclusion criteria followed the inclusion criteria for estimating survival probabilities and required that the child be less than 18 years of age and admitted to the PICU with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-defined TBI^13^ that required either endotracheal intubation or mechanical ventilation. An initial description of these outcomes and construct validity has been reported elsewhere.^9^ Scores ranged from 0.09 to 1.00 at 3 and 6 months after discharge from the ICU, but mean scores increased from 0.51 to 0.58 between the two periods...Recent work on life expectancies after TBI suggests that life expectancy will differ significantly depending on the functional outcome of the patient after hospital discharge.^20,21^ Patients with moderate disabilities were found to have a 4-year reduction in life expectancy, whereas patients rated as extremely severe were found to have a life expectancy only 50% of the population average.^22^ A study of children and adolescents after TBI also found substantial reductions in life expectancy when severe functional limitations were present.^23^ For a child aged 15 years, life expectancy was an additional 14.9 years if the child was not mobile, 34.2 years if the child had poor mobility, and 54.8 years if mobility was fair or good...Hospital charges for pediatric TBI patients increased to a maximum of \$19,000 and then fell to approximately \$13,000...On average, children who required an ICP monitor used approximately \$18,600 worth of services in the immediate period after discharge. Service costs decreased by approximately 50% between the 3-month follow-up interview and the 6-month follow-up interview. Assuming that service use declines linearly over time, the average cost per patient is approximately \$35,750 in the first year after discharge from the PICU.

Whitmore et al 2012 reports similar QALY estimates for adults; for example, QALY drops from 1 at #5 (healthy) to 0.63 at #4 on the Glasgow Coma Scale (concussion-like: "Opens eyes spontaneously / Confused, disoriented / Flexion/withdrawal to painful stimuli"), and 0.26 at #3. Details on estimates:

Life expectancy for Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS) score categories 4 and 5 were obtained from 2001 US vital statistics.^2^ We assumed a GOS status of 4 had no adverse effect on life expectancy. Diminished longevities associated with GOS scores of 3 or 2 were calculated according to formulas derived from survival studies of these patients' mortality rates.^4,10,11,13^ Appendix Table 1 shows the expected years of life for each of the 4 age categories studied. Aoki and associates1 elicited utilities of different GOS states from 140 medical professionals, using the routine gamble approach. Their results are shown in Appendix Table 2. Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs)—and costs—are discounted at 3% per year of life. It is assumed that future rewards and costs are valued less than immediate ones, and routine practice is to discount them at 3% or 5% per year.^8^ As an example, a 20-year-old can expect to live, on average, 58^12^ years. If he or she remains in perfect health (utility = 1), that translates to 28.21 QALYs, with discounting. Appendix Table 3 illustrates the number of expected QALYs associated with a given age and GOS score.

So Whitmore et al 2012 finds that a healthy 20 year old's expected (discounted) QALYs of 28.21 drops to 17.77 if he is hit hard enough to trigger a #4, which at \$50k again is a huge lifetime loss of \$522,000. For the 40yo, the same calculation is \$436,500. Splitting the difference gives me a \$479,250. The losses get worse with more severe Glasgow Coma Scales, where #1 effectively equals death. Since I'm not sure how TBIs break down by Glasgow rating, I can't do an overall expected value but whatever it is, it must be >\$479,250 since that was the least damaging scenario Whitmore considered. So the expected loss from a TBI injury but not death is \$479k (ignoring the immediate medical costs since those will generally be paid by other people like insurers or the government); now we again need to compute the probability of a TBI injury each year and sum the series:

R> sum(sapply(seq((80-30), 0), function(t) { 5000 * 3.431544214e-09 * t * 0.97^t * 0.63 * 50000 }))
# [1] 264.9444032

So a quick estimate of the net present expected loss caused by TBI death or injury while in a car over a lifetime for a 30yo is -\$685. Or to put it the other way, we should be willing to pay up to \$685 to reduce our car TBI risk to zero.

Comment author: adamzerner 30 June 2016 12:20:49AM *  0 points [-]

The analysis uses $50k for a QALY. The analysis also assumes a normal lifespan of 80 years.

My impression is that LW readers are likely to place much higher values on their life, and to have longer expected lifespans. I could see LW readers having QALY's of 2-5 times the $50k figure. And I could see LW readers (ex. signed up for cryonics) having much longer expected lifespans.

So I could see that for many readers here, the downside should be multiplied by, perhaps an order of magnitude.

Comment author: gwern 17 January 2016 02:44:22AM 4 points [-]

OK, so 42k injuries/9k deaths is sobering, but does it justify wearing a driving helmet? I've been curious about this topic and also walking helmets for a while and now that I have my own car again (ironically, given the datasets here, an old 2000 car), the topic of reducing car risks is also of some personal relevance. I'm going to give a stab at a quick and dirty decision analysis here to get an idea of how the case for driving helmets look.

First, we want to convert the absolute numbers to a probability of injury/death per mile driven:

So if you drive 5000 miles (roughly what I currently drive per year), then you have a risk of death or injury of 5000 * 1.977408384e-08 = 9.88704192e-05.

For mortality, we could say the expected loss this year for our 5k driver who is 30 years old is ~50 years at the usual \$50k/QALY, without discounting, would be 5000 * 3.431544214e-09 * (50 * 50000) = \$42. That's just the first year, while 30yo, and each year the loss shrinks since you get closer to death; a quick hack to sum the series to get a total expected loss with discounting at the usual 3%:

R> sum(sapply(seq((80-30), 0), function(t) { 5000 * 3.431544214e-09 * t * 0.97^t * 1.0 * 50000 }))
# [1] 420.5466717

Injuries is more difficult. Browsing through a few papers on TBI and QALYs, I find QALY/life-expectancy losses from TBI in juveniles: "Measuring the Cost-Effectiveness of Technologic Change in the Treatment of Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury", Tilford 2007 The estimates are kind of shocking - TBI is a very serious problem. (Not too surprising after looking at "Quality of Life After Traumatic Brain Injury: A Review of Research Approaches and Findings" and some of the citations in "Is aggressive treatment of traumatic brain injury cost-effective?" Whitmore et al 2012, or when I remember that a lot of military veteran dysfunctionality is probably due to TBI.)

Preference-weighted health outcomes in children who survived a TBI hospitalization were reported from a cohort of children admitted to 10 pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) that were located nationally. Subject inclusion criteria followed the inclusion criteria for estimating survival probabilities and required that the child be less than 18 years of age and admitted to the PICU with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-defined TBI^13^ that required either endotracheal intubation or mechanical ventilation. An initial description of these outcomes and construct validity has been reported elsewhere.^9^ Scores ranged from 0.09 to 1.00 at 3 and 6 months after discharge from the ICU, but mean scores increased from 0.51 to 0.58 between the two periods...Recent work on life expectancies after TBI suggests that life expectancy will differ significantly depending on the functional outcome of the patient after hospital discharge.^20,21^ Patients with moderate disabilities were found to have a 4-year reduction in life expectancy, whereas patients rated as extremely severe were found to have a life expectancy only 50% of the population average.^22^ A study of children and adolescents after TBI also found substantial reductions in life expectancy when severe functional limitations were present.^23^ For a child aged 15 years, life expectancy was an additional 14.9 years if the child was not mobile, 34.2 years if the child had poor mobility, and 54.8 years if mobility was fair or good...Hospital charges for pediatric TBI patients increased to a maximum of \$19,000 and then fell to approximately \$13,000...On average, children who required an ICP monitor used approximately \$18,600 worth of services in the immediate period after discharge. Service costs decreased by approximately 50% between the 3-month follow-up interview and the 6-month follow-up interview. Assuming that service use declines linearly over time, the average cost per patient is approximately \$35,750 in the first year after discharge from the PICU.

Whitmore et al 2012 reports similar QALY estimates for adults; for example, QALY drops from 1 at #5 (healthy) to 0.63 at #4 on the Glasgow Coma Scale (concussion-like: "Opens eyes spontaneously / Confused, disoriented / Flexion/withdrawal to painful stimuli"), and 0.26 at #3. Details on estimates:

Life expectancy for Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS) score categories 4 and 5 were obtained from 2001 US vital statistics.^2^ We assumed a GOS status of 4 had no adverse effect on life expectancy. Diminished longevities associated with GOS scores of 3 or 2 were calculated according to formulas derived from survival studies of these patients' mortality rates.^4,10,11,13^ Appendix Table 1 shows the expected years of life for each of the 4 age categories studied. Aoki and associates1 elicited utilities of different GOS states from 140 medical professionals, using the routine gamble approach. Their results are shown in Appendix Table 2. Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs)—and costs—are discounted at 3% per year of life. It is assumed that future rewards and costs are valued less than immediate ones, and routine practice is to discount them at 3% or 5% per year.^8^ As an example, a 20-year-old can expect to live, on average, 58^12^ years. If he or she remains in perfect health (utility = 1), that translates to 28.21 QALYs, with discounting. Appendix Table 3 illustrates the number of expected QALYs associated with a given age and GOS score.

So Whitmore et al 2012 finds that a healthy 20 year old's expected (discounted) QALYs of 28.21 drops to 17.77 if he is hit hard enough to trigger a #4, which at \$50k again is a huge lifetime loss of \$522,000. For the 40yo, the same calculation is \$436,500. Splitting the difference gives me a \$479,250. The losses get worse with more severe Glasgow Coma Scales, where #1 effectively equals death. Since I'm not sure how TBIs break down by Glasgow rating, I can't do an overall expected value but whatever it is, it must be >\$479,250 since that was the least damaging scenario Whitmore considered. So the expected loss from a TBI injury but not death is \$479k (ignoring the immediate medical costs since those will generally be paid by other people like insurers or the government); now we again need to compute the probability of a TBI injury each year and sum the series:

R> sum(sapply(seq((80-30), 0), function(t) { 5000 * 3.431544214e-09 * t * 0.97^t * 0.63 * 50000 }))
# [1] 264.9444032

So a quick estimate of the net present expected loss caused by TBI death or injury while in a car over a lifetime for a 30yo is -\$685. Or to put it the other way, we should be willing to pay up to \$685 to reduce our car TBI risk to zero.

Comment author: adamzerner 29 June 2016 11:46:47PM 0 points [-]

Thank you so much for this analysis!

In response to Sports
Comment author: CurtisSerVaas 28 December 2015 09:13:07PM *  3 points [-]

I was extremely extremely dedicated to it back in middle/high school. Actually, it was pretty much all I cared about (not an exaggeration). This may or not be crazy... but I wanted to be the best player who's ever lived. That was what I genuinely aspired and was working towards (~7th-11th grade).

This was me, but more like 6th-9th grade.

Off the top of my head, I think the main benefits I got out of playing competitive basketball were: 0. Physical fitness. 1. Ambition and competitiveness. 2. Something fun I do occasionally now. 3. Hard to describe mental skills related to practicing shooting form.

Elaboration on 1: I think it's really awesome how much "excellence porn" there in sports. You can go on youtube, and see tons of motivational videos. I wish there were the equivalent for intellectual domains. The closest you get is Paul Graham's essays for startups.

Elaboration on 3: Practicing shooting feels similar to meditation. I'm trying to pay close attention to tiny details of A. how my body is moving, B. Whether that feels like a good motion/shot or bad motion/shot C. How the ball actually moves. Furthermore, there's metacognition to see how your shot/motion changes when you're playing less close attention to it (e.g. when you're actually playing a game. Or, if you were focusing on improving your form in your legs, and then you switch to focusing on your form in your arms, you may notice that your leg form degrades again. Furthermore, you notice that leg-form and arm-form are not independent, and that there are local optima and that sometimes you have to get worse in order to get better.).

There's a lot more I could say, but I'll leave it at that for now.

In response to comment by CurtisSerVaas on Sports
Comment author: adamzerner 29 December 2015 02:36:00AM 0 points [-]

Cool stuff! Glad to hear from someone who's had similar experiences :)

In response to comment by adamzerner on Sports
Comment author: Brillyant 28 December 2015 06:12:41PM 1 point [-]

I've also been disappointed to see that people heavily reach for players in the draft, effectively saying "I disagree with all of the experts".

This can be a good strategy. I've played in leagues where the winners have won largely because they chose players before the experts projected they should go.

Following the consensus will likely yield the highest average performance over a span of several seasons, but the experts get it wrong sometimes. If you can pick the overachievers in any given season, it can yield a championship.

In response to comment by Brillyant on Sports
Comment author: adamzerner 28 December 2015 06:16:56PM 0 points [-]

Good point.

In response to Sports
Comment author: raydora 28 December 2015 01:37:48PM 1 point [-]

I no longer play sports (unless it's mandated by work), unless you count grappling on occasion.

Yes, I maintain a fantasy football team to practice statistical thinking (as opposed to actual statistics, at the moment) and because I found it ingratiates me with my colleagues. My workplace went from a den of geeks to regular Monday night football types in the space of months, so I switched from D&D to fantasy football.

It's safe to say I don't really have teams I root for (once upon a time it was Newcastle United, because I liked zebras as a kid) or sports I watch more than a few minutes of. Yet I'm interested in sports- now more than ever.

It's in the details. How does a tennis player improve his reaction time? How does handball transfer to boxing? How does the conditioning a football wide receiver employs differ from a midfielder's training in football? What are the steps coaches take to improve performance? When performance is at a peak, what's the best method for getting a group of people with adrenaline driving them to incorporate tactics into their play? Are tactics something you need to pay attention to? Sports provide a simple world with well-defined rules to explore the effect of competition on innovation.

If a team isn't maximizing play within those rules, that team should lose over time. There's a consequence for not paying attention to reality- especially in professional sports. If passing the ball in a particular way is bad form but it works and isn't against the rules, surely teams will eventually start doing it, and the game will have to be re-examined.

You can find a lot of these aspects in multiplayer virtual games, but the physical skills required for sports introduce a whole new element that's extremely interesting. Sure, Counter-Strike might raise your reaction time, but that's just your eyes and your hands. A squash player, now, she'll need to move her whole body.

I see the value in sports. I just don't find it fun to, actually, you know, play, due to skill mismatch. People are either way better or much worse. Unless it's capture the flag, paintball, or some other 'new' sport. The sports I do enjoy are one-on-one, but they carry a high risk of injury or are a heavy time sink.

I do wonder why people haven't come up with a better game- one that maximizes suspense and use of complex tactics.

But which sport has had the most rules changes over time? A cursory glance suggests the NFL, but I suppose I should make a note to crunch those numbers when I'm inclined.

One last thing. I think there might be a better way to structure professional teams to encourage drama. As the saying goes, you're just rooting for a jersey. Perhaps some sort of player buy-in to a team might change that. After all, city leagues, high school games, national, and even college sports make for more compelling stories.

In response to comment by raydora on Sports
Comment author: adamzerner 28 December 2015 04:49:09PM *  0 points [-]

Interesting points about sports being so meritocratic; I never thought about it that way.

Mandated by work?!

What have your experiences been like with fantasy football? Sorry to be so negative but I've been appalled at the way people approach it. I had an argument with someone once that ended up reducing to the fact that he was valuing a player by how many points they produce (Aaron Rodgers) and I was valuing him less because I was valuing him based on how many points he scores relative to what the alternative would be (I even linked him to the article, which didn't change his mind; it was an ego thing; I'm playing him in the championship now, yay competition!).

I've also been disappointed to see that people heavily reach for players in the draft, effectively saying "I disagree with all of the experts". Maybe they are just trying to have fun and don't actually think it's the best strategy? That isn't my impression, my impression is that it's genuine. Personally, I largely stick to the rankings (experts know more than me), but I do adjust based on the strategy I'm taking, and I do disagree with the experts sometimes. This year, for example, I valued the elite wide receivers very highly compared to the experts (because I liked the receivers and because I didn't like many running backs this year).

I actually never heard the expression of "rooting for a jersey", but I'm very glad to learn of it! Personally, I'm one of the few people I've encountered who doesn't root for a jersey; I root for the teams that I think play the game the right way. In basketball this means I change a lot year to year. In football, I've been a big Steeler fan for a while. Admittedly, I do "root for the jersey" to a nontrivial extent with the Steelers, but at the same time I like the way they approach things and would stop rooting for them it they stopped doing the things I like.

Sorry to hear that you haven't found people to play with whom your skills are matched well with :(

I'd be interested to see a sport (re)designed to encourage drama and fun. Leagues have taken steps to do this, but I think that they are marginal steps as opposed to a fundamental restructuring. Ex. NHL (and soccer too?) made the goals bigger, NBA and NFL penalize hand checking more which benefits the offense and makes for a higher scoring and more fast paced game.

In response to comment by adamzerner on Sports
Comment author: Dustin 27 December 2015 05:38:27PM 0 points [-]

Well...yes. I'm not sure what other interpretation of that makes much sense.

In response to comment by Dustin on Sports
Comment author: adamzerner 27 December 2015 06:33:24PM 0 points [-]

I thought "It's super boring" and "is quite rewarding" sounded like they were referring to sports themselves.

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