Thursday, September 30, 2010

Every commenter an ombudsman at F&OST...

Robin Hanson shares a great list of behaviors which are "Signs that your opinions function more to signal loyalty and ability than to estimate truth". I think I do fairly well on most of these - some of these I consciously work at. But then again, I'm a biased observer. What do readers think? Do I fare well by these standards? Do you fare well in your comments or in your own writing? And be specific please - remember, I may be biased in my self evaluation but you are probably biased too. I'm interested in this as a self-evaluation tool, and interested in how others think of themselves on each of these points. I've bolded the pit-falls that I think I am especially good at avoiding, and highlighted in red the pit-falls that I'm most likely to be guilty of:

1.You find it hard to be enthusiastic for something until you know that others oppose it.

2.You have little interest in getting clear on what exactly is the position being argued.

3.Realizing that a topic is important and neglected doesn’t make you much interested.

4.You have little interest in digging to bigger topics behind commonly argued topics.

5.You are less interested in a topic when you don’t foresee being able to talk about it.

6.You are uncomfortable taking a position near the middle of the opinion distribution.

7.You are uncomfortable taking a position of high uncertainty about who is right.

8.You care far more about current nearby events than similar distant or past/future events.

9.You find it easy to conclude that those who disagree with you are insincere or stupid.

10.You are reluctant to change your publicly stated positions in response to new info.

11.You are reluctant to agree a rival’s claim, even if you had no prior opinion on the topic.

12.You are reluctant to take a position that raises the status of rivals.

13.You care more about consistency between your beliefs than about belief accuracy.

14.You go easy on sloppy arguments by folks on “your side.”

15.You have little interest in practical concrete implications of commonly argued topics.

16.Your opinion doesn’t much change after talking with smart folks who know more. [maybe, but this is tough to assess because there's usually ample "smart folks who know more" that agree with me and "smart folks who know more" that disagree with me - so attributing this accurately is a little hard]

17.You are especially eager to drop names when explaining positions and arguments.

18.You find it hard to list weak points and counter-arguments on your positions.

19.You feel passionately about a topic, but haven’t sought out much evidence.

20.You are reluctant to not have an opinion on commonly discussed topics.


It bothers me most when people fail on #11 and #18, and these are two things that I consciously try to succeed at. You only shoot yourself in the foot if you don't familiarize yourself with the weaknesses of your own argument. You open yourself up to having other people raise the point - it's always better to raise the point yourself and acknowledge not everything is worked out yet. Number eleven is pointless too. Some people have a need to disagree with those from a "different school of thought". I think that's extremely dangerous because (1.) it could create superficial differences where there really aren't any, and (2.) it's not really clear whether you've thought through someone's claim or just opposed it because they support it.

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