Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Optimization and its dicontents

Optimization here means colloquially.

"I want to optimize my life" etc.

Why is it so difficult? (either to optimize life or any other real life targets)

First, lets note the implied definition of this elusive yet tempting optimization

Its is always beyond the obvious. Nobody goes "I have not slept, let me optimize my sleep and go to bed". This is technically an optimization. But it is too obvious, and a given to be included.

We will normally optimize our lives, cooking, etc without resorting to explicit optimization talk.

Optimization talks about the less obvious, usually ignored, yet still plausibly achievable plans.

Thus, optimization will normally be somewhat marginal. Not marginal really, but veering towards the margin in terms of added value.

Difficulty and not being obvious is another feature of so-called optimization. The reason is as above. Adding more salt to a dish might be marginal in value, but is so easy to do that it sin;t included.

Those definitions in themselves explain some mysteries about optimization. Why it is not always done. They also lay the ground to deeper study optimization, how it might work, and why so often it either is not initiated, and why it sometimes actually fail. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Stanford prison study - how moralizing destroys science

A recent inquiry argues that the famous Stanford prison study was faulty and scientifically invalid.

It in an example of how missing moralizing in science destroys scientific inquiry.

The prison study is unique. It created a huge backlash on ethics etc.

The unintended consequence of the ethics distraction was two fold:
1) deter from any kind of replication
2) create the impression that the science is solid, if not for the annoying / out of context ethics "issues"
3) there was an implied "mission" to reform prisons. Which - again - messed up proper scientific inquiry.

Great example on how moralizing leads to bad scientific progress.

PS.  I'm not in position to decide if the study was indeed faulty. I honestly don't know. I would need very serious study of the details and the various parties version of events to have a proper opinion!

Monday, June 4, 2018

#MeToo: the skewed distribution of repeated offenders.

An old Jewish tale.

Two merchants have a dispute.
They go the the rabbi to arbitrate.
Come merchant 1 and details his side of events, the rabbi listens and nods: "You are right"
His opposite side come in with his perspective, and the rabbi goes "you are right"

The rabbi's wife is sitting there listening to the whole thing and she can't stand it:
What idiocy is this? he is right, and he is right too! this makes no sense.

The rabbi - calmly - "You are absolutely right"

This joke is quite descriptive of the #MeToo controversy.

Can both be right?
The women listing their various grievances and experiences AND the men saying that this is wierd extremism?

Yes, both are right.

How could that be?

We have many women that report on copious amounts of harassments / rape etc.
We have numerous men that listen to it dubiously. "This can't be true" they say with utter conviction.

The solution is statistical and very simple.

Repeated offenders.

Let's assume that we have 10 out of 100 men that are prolific sexual offenders.
He will harass a lot, rape if an opportunity arises, and generally engage in various unsavory behaviors towards women.

The other 90, are the average Joe. They might wink at a woman at the coffee shop, or even try to talk to her if they think she is looking back. They sometimes go to dates, and occasionally things aren't super clear. So they might on rate occasion displease a woman, but usually without malice of ill intent.

The women will suffer a lot. Few harassers are enough to terrorise many women.
A noxious men can inconvenience 20 women a day.
Average Joe will start talking to a woman once in awhile, but not in industrial numbers.
The average Joe looking at a woman to see if she is looking back, might not even be noticed by her. And if he is polite enough, she might not feel discomfort.
But the calouss one will be well remembered.

The number of times a woman is inappropriately approached might be very high. Even if most men will not harass.

Why would the average men believe the #MeToo stories? If he and his close friends never behave this way, how could he believe the stories?

Here comes the mix up of harassment and awkward encounters.

The average Joe has had his numbers of misunderstandings with women. Not malicious. usually not damaging either. But discomfiting nevertheless.

Average Joe will assume that #MeToo is about those subtle misunderstanding. And gesture wrongly comprehended. The mutually drunk encounter. The bad date. You name it.

Extreme feminists will help in this error.
They will drag real women suffering into the gray dating mishaps. They will say
     "YES! you see this traumatised woman? She suffered from people like you that have not filled in the 200 page consent form before touching the lady finger"
     "It is all insensitive gross misogynists like you all. Yes all men and you are not exempt"

Causing derision and disbelief. Making rape victims harder to believe. And putting off men from listening.

But the suffering is common and real. It just comes from a noxious minority.

PS. The implications for policy and public discourse are many. The reader is invited to think it out.

   "Mate" by Geoffrey Miller and Tucker Max discusses the asymmetry of sexual misconduct. Where a minority of repeated offenders cause innumerable numbers of offences.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Criticism threshold: Middling criticism masquerading as devastating takedown

Levels of arguments have their own meaning and implications.

Saying "argument 7b in this book is doubtful" differs from "this guy is a murderer"

But those get mixed up.

Jordan Peterson awakens this point yet again.

The thrust of anti Peterson views is prohibitive for those hating him..
his derision of Social Justice Warriors. His refusal to kowtow the PC rules and many other sins.

But those arguments fail for people outside those ideological lines.
And attempts to find more serious sins in his texts and videos seems to have failed.

Now we got a new genre of anti Peterson articles.
The middling critics.

Here is something he said that is wrong.
This aspect of his personality is - ehh - not to my taste.
His moods do not look good to me.

Which are all find and dandy points to make in reviewing public personas.

But, deception.

Those middling points are masquerading as being devastating arguments.
because someone does not like various things peterson is dangerous.

It is a subtle form of deception. But deceptive nonetheless. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Activists have a massive agency problem

Agency problem is not about crooked cheats stealing your money.

Agency = the interests of the agent differ from your interests.

Why and how they differ is not that important. What counts is having someone deciding for you, with a different set of incentives.

Activists have two forms of corrupting incentives

Material Interests

First are the known ones, which are not much talked about.
Being an activist is a career. Full of incentives. Some of which aren't compatible with being honest.

Say you fight against poverty. You want to say that there is a lot of poverty around. Truth be damned.

Every activists' incentive is to inflate the size of the problem.
Anti vaccine activists will want there to be huge numbers of vaccine side effects.
Climate fighting activists want there to be huge future damage awaiting us if we do not act. It might be true, of course. But note that like any paid operator - the activists will fare better if reality goes a certain way. They have an interest, in other words.

There are careers, salaries, prestige etc. depending on how things are marketed. Some people are honest, but the situation of activism isn't naturally pure. There is a lot to be gained, regardless of what is society's good.

Moral interests

The moral feelings can be as problematic as the material corruption.

Once you have moral feelings about a subject you lose objectivity. 
You lose rationality.
You might lose your honesty.

A couple of years ago, I walked around with a lady I met. 
While sitting near the road talking, we see a motorbike flying in the air with the student riding it bleeding.
It was hit by a car while exiting from a U-Turn.

In no way could we know who was to blame. Was the bike exiting irresponsibly into the highway? Was the car driving carelessly?

We absolutely did not know.

Yet, my lady friend told me that she want the car driver to be punished and would testify against her.

This was because of her moral outrage at the situation that got the biking student injured.

Moral outrage is a huge power. It throw our senses out the window.

Moral outrage can be as corrupting and distorting as material corruption.

The intent will not be as corrupt. But the result is the same

Saturday, September 30, 2017

failure can be a good selection process

Dating failure can be a blessing in disguise.
When things do not work with someone, it can feel that "had I done X, i might have worked"

But the failure helps you to avoid getting in love with this person which you are likely incompatible with. Sometimes, obviously it will be an accidental problem in the date. But many times, the failed date is a good selection system to avoid exactly those people that are not that compatible.

A study shows that many students become less interested in academic careers throughout their PhD years.

It sounds depressing "this arduous system is de-motivating students from becoming academics".

Reading the study above, however, it becomes clear that students' preferences get crystalized over the arduous process.

Maybe academia is better off when it only keeps the people really in love with reading papers and publishing them. Assuming those are somewhat good proxies for useful scholars.....

Why does this surprise us?

Our intuition isn't as above. Why?

1) We consider - justly - pain and failure as bad. 
But bad locally doesn't always mean overall bad. 

Of course rejection is painful. But getting rejected by  an incompatible person is generally good (ignoring the fateful night spent). 

2) The other issue is strategic / society wide vs. personal. 
Society benefits when incompatible students drop of the scholarship world. 
But those students might actually lose somewhat.

3)  We assume a rational just world. 
It feels as if students going to study have to succeed. 
It does not "make sense" such obscene irrationality is so pervasive. 

But.. lots of irrationality and stupidity do exist. We need to accept that many pain s are worthwhile if they fix stupidity. Because letting stupidity go on can be more painful than cutting it short with a jolt

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Morality vs agency

Agency is the engine behind most actions and systems.

Morality is weak. You cannot rely on morality alone to preserve and manage systems.

Every country uses punishment and various incentives to make humans and companies behave.

Thus, expecting countries to "behave" due to moral arguments is naive and doesn't work.

People thought that moral arguments will win the day for migration / international peace / democracy. It doesn't and won't work.

Incentives work. But you need nifty incentive structures to:
1) make it work
2) make people adopt it.


Regarding incentives to adopt (2 above):
You might design the system with stages, so that the initial stages will not have disincentives to current stakeholders, but the long term design will be optimal. Yeah, it feels imoral, dishonest and corrupt. But this is the way you can get it done best.

Lee Kuan Yew, the legendary Singapore leader argued that we should give immunity to dictators that step down peacefully. Of course it is "imoral", but we would have saved many lives this way, and many more countries would have gone democratic, had his idea been implemented