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Comment author: ksvanhorn 11 March 2014 12:10:46AM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure that "jack of all trades" is a helpful identity, given the known benefits of economic specialization. Remember the origin of that term: "Jack of all trades, and master of none." It's often more useful to be really, really good at one thing and trade for what you need in other areas.

It can often be useful to have a "T-shaped" expertise, though: some level of familiarity with a wide variety of topics, and deep expertise in one area. The cross bar of the T helps you when your existing expertise and skills are not enough -- you know enough to find someone who can help you, or to know what new skills / knowledge you need to pick up. (Or, perhaps more importantly, you know what you don't know.)

Predicting Organizational Behavior

4 ksvanhorn 21 September 2013 07:33PM

Can someone recommend a good introduction to the topic of organizational behavior? My interest is in descriptive rather than prescriptive models -- I'm interested in what is known about predicting the behavior of organizations, rather than guidance on what they should do to achieve their goals. This kind of prediction strikes me as something of substantial practical use, especially to business; being able to work out the plausible range of future actions of city hall, the state legislature, Congress, regulatory agencies, competitors in the marketplace, large customers, and important suppliers would be a valuable capability in making one's own plans.


Comment author: ksvanhorn 20 September 2013 04:26:41AM 1 point [-]

Do you know why this book is on the MIRI course list? What is the connection to Friendly AI?

Comment author: ksvanhorn 03 September 2013 07:12:11PM 0 points [-]

I've certainly found this to be a useful strategy when dealing with complicated problems in software development. Sometimes a problem is just too big, and I can't quite see how all the pieces need to fit together. If I allow myself to leave some important design problems unresolved while I work on the parts that I do understand well enough to write, I often find that the other pieces then fall into place straightforwardly.

Comment author: JQuinton 13 August 2013 05:37:02PM 12 points [-]

"Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence" is such a ubiquitous cached thought in rationalist communities (that I've been involved with) that its antithesis was probably the most important thing I learned from Bayesianism.

Comment author: ksvanhorn 22 August 2013 06:56:02PM 4 points [-]

I find it interesting that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, seems to have understood this concept. In his story "Silver Blaze" he has the following conversation between Holmes and a Scotland Yard detective:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Comment author: ksvanhorn 26 September 2012 06:49:14PM 0 points [-]

There are many publicly available data sets and plenty of opportunities to mine data online, yet we see little if any original analysis based on them here. We either don't have norms encouraging this or we don't have enough people comfortable with statistics doing so.

In my case, I'm comfortable with statistics but don't know where to find the data for questions that interest me. The fact that much research is nearly inaccessible if you're not affiliated with a university or other large institution is also a problem.

Comment author: Benquo 20 June 2012 03:45:28AM 6 points [-]

Your understanding of mathematical expectation seems accurate, though the wording could be simplified a bit. I don't think that you need the "many worlds" style exposition to explain it.

One common way of thinking of expected values is as a long-run average. So If I keep playing a game with an expected loss of $10, that means that in the long run it becomes more and more probable that I'll lose an average of about $10 per game.

Comment author: ksvanhorn 20 June 2012 07:08:32PM 3 points [-]

You could write a whole book about what's wrong with this "long-run average" idea, but E. T. Jaynes already did: Probability Theory: The Logic of Science. The most obvious problem is that it means you can't talk about the expected value of a one-off event. I.e., if Dick is pondering the expected value of (time until he completes his doctorate) given his specific abilities and circumstances... well, he's not allowed to if he's a frequentist who treats probabilities and expected values as long-run averages; there is no ensemble here to take the average of.

Expected values are weighted averages, so I would recommend explaining expected values in two parts:

  • Explain the idea of probabilities as degree of confidence in an outcome (the Bayesian view);

  • Explain the idea of a weighted average, and note that the expected value is a weighted average with outcome probabilities as the weights.

You could explain the idea of a weighted average using the standard analogy of balancing a rod with weights of varying masses attached at various points, and note that larger masses "pull the balance point" towards themselves more strongly than do smaller masses.

Comment author: ksvanhorn 10 June 2012 04:55:28AM 1 point [-]

Soldiers in the American military are, of course, an untouchable target

I know I'm playing with fire, but... touch. (Warning: deliberately inflammatory polemic.)

Comment author: mwengler 31 May 2012 06:52:21AM 0 points [-]

I am not aware of any systematic attempt to study these things. My own opinion is formed from a somewhat casual reading of Matt Ridley's Rational Optimist, Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel and Collapse, and probably a few other books that don't leap to mind. These books have plenty of citation of studies if you are interested.

I think you would be hard pressed to find any existing "significant" country that does not engender a strong belief in patriotism among its populace, which does not lionize especially those who have given their lives in wars on behalf of the country. If you can think of any significant counter examples among the 50 richest or 50 most populous countries, please let me know. I am essentially hypothesizing that the scarcity of genteel foreigner-loving pacifist countries among the richest and most populous is not a mere coincidence.

Comment author: ksvanhorn 10 June 2012 04:27:37AM 1 point [-]

I think you would be hard pressed to find any existing "significant" country that does not engender a strong belief in patriotism among its populace, which does not lionize especially those who have given their lives in wars on behalf of the country.

You're begging the question here, by slipping in the assumption that these wars are "on behalf of the country," rather than on behalf of the executive (e.g. president), on behalf of some vested interest, or just colossal f*-ups. To repeat what the author said,

"If a death is just a tragedy... [y]ou have to acknowledge that yes, really, ... thousands of people -- even the Good Guy's soldiers! -- might be dying for no good reason at all."

Comment author: ksvanhorn 10 June 2012 03:56:48AM 7 points [-]

Learning about useful models helps people escape anthropomorphizing human society or the economy or government. The latter is particularly salient. I think most people slip up occasionally in assuming that say something like the United States government can be successfully modelled as a single agent to explain most of its "actions".

As an interesting (to me, at least) aside, Gene Sharp's research on nonviolent resistance indicates that successful nonviolent resistance invariably involves taking to heart this little idea -- that governments are not single agents but systems of many agents pursuing their own ends -- and exploiting it to the max.

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