Re: Fibbers' forecasts are worthless

1

I found the Gnudiraa's short version of his new book very helpful, I'll have you know. Sample:

Most people make assumptions about power and jump to ridiculous conclusions. Who does not think the country with the most men and weaponry will automatically win a war? Not counting those of you who lived through Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Take the American invasion of Grenada. Although Grenada was much the smaller country, it actually held all the aces. Had Grenada played its cards just a little better, the US would have been wiped off the face of the earth.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 7:46 AM
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2

Link in one via the author of the piece in the OP, oddly enough.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 7:46 AM
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3

I saw Heartbreak Ridge. Clint saved us.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 7:52 AM
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4

This sentence of the (good!) review is a little disingenuous:

Why am I, an academic who is supposed to be keeping his head down and toiling away on inaccessible stuff, spending so much time on reading his interviews, reviewing his book, and writing this blog post?

Well, Chris, I'm pretty sure that you're doing that because you are his competitor in the pop-sci-books-that-sell-in-airports game.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 7:53 AM
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The link in 1 is great.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:09 AM
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6

Or is he conservatively setting the proper portion to "it's all rot"--in which case the same question arises?

This actually seems pretty easy to answer. If Gladwell's books are full of neat ideas that could be true but with no evidentiary basis, and you're the sort of person who's not very creative about coming up with neat ideas, but who likes looking into their possible validity once someone else has come up with them, then Gladwell could be exactly the sort of thing you want to read even if you know he's just bullshitting.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:18 AM
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Somebody should write a Gladwell-style book but where all the science is literally, avowedly invented.
"Many people believe that skipping meals and watching too much TV willl make you less productive. But investment banker Rogblod Hoogertam watches twelve hours of reality shows a day and hasn't eaten a thing besides cigarettes in years. He claims that's the secret to his billions. Does science back him up? Sure!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:26 AM
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Hey, the review mentions Gladwell talking about an experiment on trying to read in a difficult typeface:

This leads to my last topic, the psychology experiment Gladwell deploys in David and Goliath to explain what he means by "desirable difficulties." The difficulties he talks about are serious challenges, like dyslexia or the death of a parent during one's childhood. But the experiment is a 40-person study on Princeton students who solved three mathematical reasoning problems presented in either a normal typeface or a difficult-to-read typeface. Counterintuitively, the group that read in a difficult typeface scored higher on the reasoning problems than the group that read in a normal typeface.

And it goes on to note that the result hasn't been duplicated. Newt tried to duplicate it (or, strictly, to do something similar) for his science project last spring, and also got a null result -- the typeface had no effect on data retention. I was very impressed with the hard-to-read version he came up with: printed in yellow on pink in the godawfulest font I'd ever seen.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:35 AM
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9

Yeah, all that stuff about how difficulty of acquisition improves retention (so, for instance, there's a parallel literature on taking notes with a pen or on a computer) is fairly likely to be bullshit, I think.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:39 AM
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10

That's less a problem with Gladwell than with the field of psychology.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:44 AM
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Not that Newt's result is any particular reason to believe things one way or the other. He was really disappointed at not getting a positive result, though. I had to give him the "No, that's SCIENCE! (see Dolby, 1982) If you always got the results you were expecting, there wouldn't be any point to it," pep talk to cheer him up.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:46 AM
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10: neither, actually. It's certainly a problem with (some) social psychology.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:50 AM
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"Having found no relationship between poor typeface design and data retention, I have to discount the strong version of my hypothesis about the effects of adversity. I will now move on to test the weaker claim, that only serious adversity matters. Science must proceed, but I'll still miss mom and dad."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:55 AM
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And, I should have been more clear in 12, the fact that we now know that it's probably bullshit is thanks to social psychologists, who had done the work to show non-replicability of the difficult typeface finding in plenty of time for gladwell to totally ignore it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 8:56 AM
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I figure Kottke has put at least 10000 hours into blogging and can identify the proper amount of salt at a glance.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 9:30 AM
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Part of me wants to link Sifu's link on FB, but most of me knows I'd just be trolling most of my friends who fail Halford's Middlebrow Test. And I need these friends untrolled since I'm so furious about the shutdown, and they're basically on the good side.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 9:37 AM
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That summary omits the reiterations of the key points about each lesson. They should repeat main ideas to make them more sticky. Otherwise, no one will ever learn. Because repetition helps people learn, especially redshirted kindergarteners and students who don't have the added advantage of a learning disability.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 9:47 AM
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18

Also a friend has a FB album called "[Kid] turns 7 <3" and I'm exercising great discipline in letting it go. Because it would be unappreciated. We all know that 7 is greater than 3, though.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 9:53 AM
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19

I was amused to find out Gladwell got his start shilling for the tobacco industry.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 9:59 AM
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20

I like Gladwell's books. They are well written popularizations.

They do have plenty of errors.

Here is one from outliers that I found. The book says something like:

"In the list of the richest people in history, 14/75 are American's born in the 1860's and 1870's. "

That list was on wikipedia and was an expansion of a forbes list that listed the wealthiest americans as a ratio with respect to total american wealth at the time. This strongly gave a boost to older americans. George Washington made the list, for example. Some dumb-ass then added people from other countries according to god knows what criteria.

I can't blame someone for trusting wikipedia though.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:06 AM
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I can't blame someone for trusting wikipedia though.

In a published book?!


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:17 AM
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They are well written popularizations of, as often as not, bullshit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:19 AM
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They are well written popularizations

. . . of bad or non-existent science, as I understand it.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:20 AM
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That was scary. Fuck you Tweety!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:21 AM
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I also hadn't really thought about the extent to which "The Tipping Point" provided income to hundreds, if not thousands, of grifter "tastemakers" who were employed by marketing executives who read the book and thought, completely wrongly, they could tip-point their way to success by cutting secret deals with self-promoting hipsters. At least in 2008 or so, there were probably many blocks in Brooklyn or Silver Lake where 1/5 of the residents owed their gainful income in some meaningful way to "The Tipping Point."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:26 AM
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I'm pretty sure The Tipping Point got me free tickets to the movie Firefly.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:27 AM
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If The Tipping Point did lead to a bunch of shiftless hipsters being hired as "tastemakers" (wasn't it "connectors"? Or was that a different study), that was no different than the "coolhunter" phenomenon of a decade earlier.


Posted by: Cryptci ned | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 11:37 AM
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I remember a NYTM article about advertising trying to harness coolmakers (or the equivalent, perhaps with some other jargon-term) perhaps a decade ago.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 12:08 PM
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29

This leads to my last topic, the psychology experiment Gladwell deploys in David and Goliath to explain what he means by "desirable difficulties." The difficulties he talks about are serious challenges, like dyslexia or the death of a parent during one's childhood. But the experiment is a 40-person study on Princeton students who solved three mathematical reasoning problems presented in either a normal typeface or a difficult-to-read typeface. Counterintuitively, the group that read in a difficult typeface scored higher on the reasoning problems than the group that read in a normal typeface.

Is there a huge missing piece here? Let's just assume that the whole difficult-typeface thing is at some point shown to be replicable. Why would this tell us that dealing with dyslexia or the death of a parent builds skills? Do I just totally not understand science? I don't understand at all why anyone not a total charlatan would extrapolate from such a modest-though-interesting result to such a huge claim with so many variables. In fact, when I was reading the article, I assumed he was going to respond to the whole typeface thing not by saying "and actually the typeface experience isn't replicable" but by saying "ha, why would this tell us anything about long term, complex effects on people's lives?"

I have always described myself as more of a humanities person, so maybe there's some big science-y thing that is totally obvious and I just don't get it.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:35 PM
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30

Tense moment in Mobrothstormistan.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:45 PM
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31

29: It's a cheap experiment that weakly suggests there will be similar results in similar situations. This is sometimes the best we can do when it's too expensive to, say, murder the parents of the treatment group.

Having dyslexia is weakly analogous to living in a world where all typefaces are difficult.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:46 PM
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32

And, tension over, pain begins.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:47 PM
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33

Really, really weak.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:49 PM
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34

Hawaiian Punch describing a sticker with a fortune cookie image: "See, it has a wedge like a vagina." She is right!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:52 PM
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29: You're absolutely right: it is an extremely stupid argument to begin with. People are attacked to the no-replication thing because a straightforward factual error seems like a more definitive take down than simply pointing out a bad analogy.

If someone makes a bad analogy, they can evade criticism by playing up the vagueness. "Oh I didn't mean to say that being poor was exactly like bad typeface, I was just pointing out that there are some provocative similarities." On the other hand, if half of the analogy simply isn't true, no amount of hemming and hawing will save their case.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 2:52 PM
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Having dyslexia is weakly analogous to living in a world where all typefaces are difficult.

There are those who argue it's fairly strongly analogous to that, actually. To the point that it's not really an analogy, but more yes, that's exactly what it's like for dyslexic people, their perception of visual word forms is different which makes reading difficult. It's not the only theory, and as far as I know it's not the best theory, but it's one theory that I've heard taken seriously before.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 3:38 PM
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37

Sifu, I remember reading something a long time ago by someone named Shaywitz that suggested that the problem in dyslexia involved errors in processing on the phonological level. here's something by her that pops up on a google search.

Would the phonological hypothesis conflict with the claim that dyslexia is like a difficult typeface? After all, it means that the problem isn't visual. It happens after the visual input is converted to some representation of verbal speech, right?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 3:58 PM
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So, for instance, there are typefaces that are designed to compensate for the problems dyslexics have with normal typefaces, building on research which postulates that specific perceptual effects (crowding) are more problematic for dyslexics. That's not quite the same as saying "typefaces look different to dyslexics" but it's not that far off, either, and there's evidence that processing in the visual word form area, which is essentially the typeface equivalent of the face procesing areas that are impaired in face blindness, is impaired in dyslexics, which would argue for a perceptual story.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 3:58 PM
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37.2: it probably would, yeah. I think they're competing hypotheses.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 3:58 PM
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40

34: Little Mara called fortune cookies "feet crackers" because, I think, she imagined a little cartoon (duck?) body atop them.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 6:26 PM
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32, 33: Pain is weakness leaving the analogy.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 6:45 PM
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42

39: Unless there are two different types of dyslexics, letter agnosics and people with phoneme problems.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 6:48 PM
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42: true. Or alternately problems with phonological rehearsing when first learning to read could lead to lack of development of the VWFA and subsequent lack of facility processing word forms. I've never heard anybody advance either of those theories (for all I know the latter one IS the phonological theory), but I know very little about this.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 7-13 6:52 PM
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29: But the experiment is a 40-person study on Princeton students who solved three mathematical reasoning problems presented in either a normal typeface or a difficult-to-read typeface. Counterintuitively, the group that read in a difficult typeface scored higher on the reasoning problems than the group that read in a normal typeface.

Hmm, I assumed* that this would be referring to the (I thought replicable) experiments that Kahnemann discusses where people do better on "tricky" but easily solvable problems when they are forced to slow down and thereby engage their "hard thinking modules" rather than giving the superficially plausible answer. So in that case not about whatever 7 et seq are going on about. (Although re-reading LB's snippet, maybe it isn't; and if it were, it would have nothing to do with Gladwell's David and Goliath stories).

*Not interested enough to actually read the context in the review.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 3:19 AM
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45

The canonical question for the test I am thinking of is:

A bat and ball together cost $1.10.
The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 3:23 AM
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So I guess an entry for the "dollars to donuts" subthread would be "bats to balls."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 3:24 AM
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If you pull apart the package to separate the ball and the bat, I'm calling the cops.


Posted by: Opinionated Store Clerk | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 5:10 AM
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45: the Cognitive Reflection Test. No, the stuff we're talking about has nothing to do with that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 6:14 AM
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That test is pretty easy if you write it out as algebra.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 6:15 AM
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50

Heh.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 10- 8-13 6:19 AM
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