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RS60 - Q&A With Massimo and Julia

Release date: May 6, 2011

Massimo and Julia answer listeners' questions. In this installment the topics include: how much do works of fiction affect people's rationality, Bayesian vs. frequentist statistics, what is evidence, how much blame do people deserve when their actions increase the chance of them being targeted, time travel, and whether a philosophically examined life is a better life. Also, all about rationality in the movies, from Dr. Who to Scooby-Doo.

Comment on the episode teaser.

Reader Comments (11)

The problem with Bayesian hypothesis testing is that it gives researchers more parameters to tweak to get any results they want.

May 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMax

I'm a huge fan of Rationally Speaking, Massimo, Julia and Nonsense on Stilts, but perhaps I have misunderstood some of the arguments in the Bayesian-frequentist debate.

Is it not a straw man when Julia argues against the frequentist's methods by mentioning that some authors use an orthodox interpretation of the p<.05 rule.

Also Massimo’s favourite example from the cold war, where one wishes to estimate the probability of losing an atom bomb, surprised me. Massimo says that the frequentists did not even know where to begin, but Bayesians could right away come up with a probably by asking experts about the likelihood of certain events. My problem with Massimo’s example is twofold: 1) most theoretical statistician (frequentist or Bayesian) would attach this problem with conditional probabilities e.g. as in the Drake equation, and 2) then ask experts (frequents can also use Bayes's rule) about the likelihood or probability of certain events. In short, I cannot see why the frequentist’s method could not have had solved this problem and why the definition of the concept of probability is essential in solving this particular problem.

May 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEsben Agerbo

Massimo's stance on the Socrates v pig debate continues to infuriate me. it makes me wish a was a pig, so i couldn't understand how terrible an argument it is.

the fundamental problem with Mills assertion is he claims the pig doesn't know what its like to be human (true) but the human knows what its like to be a pig (false).

in more detail, my beefs are thus:

#1: high and low pleasures. this is a ridiculous way to segregate things, and contains an obvious bias in the labels chosen. if you have a personal bias towards valuing sophistication over simplicity, thats fine, but theres no reason to say chess is better than sex, or opera is better than chanting, based purely on difficulty of execution, or intellectual complexity. i find this to be a paradigm that intellectuals and old people favor, because it plays to their strengths, and downplays the pleasures of youth. its a fancy way of saying "these things are valuable because they are my areas of competence"

#2: Socrates can choose to roll in the mud? NO HE CANT. what you are implying here is that "high" pleasures exist in a hierarchy above "low pleasures", and anyone with access to the high has equal access to the low. this is obviously not true. can stephen hawking have the pleasure of turning a cartwheel or running through a field? if you have access to those pleasures, would you willingly trade them to have his lofty thoughts and sit in a wheelchair?

hawking can not roll in the mud, and i can imagine many scenarios where low pleasures are either not available to, or simply not pleasurable to, a very clever philosopher. the philosopher may not be able to enjoy sex, or may fear social situations, or may have any one of thousands of "low" pleasures out of his range. in fact, that may go some way towards explaining why he sits home amid a stack of books.

conversely, lets imagine a champion boxer who travels the world, gets married to a beautiful woman, befriends interesting people, hears millions shouting his name, develops his craft through rigorous training, and is totally illiterate. his life is chock full of low pleasures. can Stephen Hawking get up and live the life of this boxer? can you, despite all your cleverness? no. sorry. you cant just scurry down the pleasure hierarchy to feast on lower pleasures as you like. everybody gets their own set and we each have to live with it. no matter what kind of intellect you have, you don't automatically acquire the pleasures of everyone less intellectual than you.

#3 i wont stand for this anti-pig speciesism
you and i will never know the intellectual pleasure a pig derives from smelling a dung heap. how much information is in a shit pile? can the pig tell where the poo came from? what the creature ate? what kind of animal it was? how long ago it happened? you or i might have to read a short essay to get all that information. you can call shit-smelling a low pleasure if you like, as a human it doesn't rate very high, but as a pig it may be an exquisitely high pleasure. the pig philosopher knows very well that a life without shit-smelling is hardly worth living.

pigs roll in the mud to satisfy their own piggy biology and psychology. theres no point assigning high and low values to biological processes. whats high about a human eating a fancy meal (which is after all just some sensation in the brain gathered by the tongue and nose) … and low about a pig cooling his flesh in the mud?

the larger point seemed to be that intellectual sophistication is better than simple-mindedness. all other things being equal i would agree to that. if i could double my intellectual intelligence (memory, processing power, etc), all else being equal, i would do that. the problem is that all else is NOT equal. socrates doesn't have all the capabilities of a pig. no more than hawking has all the capabilities of my imaginary boxer.

as someone who doesn't know the pleasures of the mud pile or the dung heap i cant give them their appropriate weight. but it is sufficient to say those pleasures do have some weight. "higher" pleasures also have value, but their value is not so much that we would give up everything else to have them.

Mills is speaking in favor of his own biases as an intellectual old fart, nothing more.

(btw i think last time this came up, Massimo pulled the same "we have to move on" trick, after offering a wholly unsatisfying defense of Mill's intellectual snobbery.)

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterowen

Googling tells me the bomb was recovered, contradicting Massimo (34:20).

And, googling tells me Bayes was used to find the bomb.

This doesn't contradict Massimo but did Bayesians ALSO predict the loss of the bomb "within the next year or so"?

I'm giving this low priors.

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRonH

Unfortunately, the makers of Scooby Doo sold out back in the 90's and started producing episodes where paranormal phenomena turn out to be real.

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric Sotnak

I disagree that public messaging should be different from private because of the message that might be sent

Are we concerned with preventing crime or with satisfying our tender sensibilities?

Are we excusing home and car theft by telling people to lock their patio doors and keep valuables in their cars out of sight respectively?

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAgagooga

This was my first time listening to the podcast, I love it, thanks.
On the subject of time travel in films, I highly recommend 'Summer time machine blues', a Japanese film where a bunch of kids stumble across a time machine and try to go back in time to get the remote for their air conditioner. A very silly poke at the genre.

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCat

One thing I think you missed is that it not only the blame problem with the public advise. It is also probebly ineffective. For exempel if we assume that 10 % of the wimen was wearing red and that red incresed the risk of being rape compared to wimen dressed in other colors risk. Then it could lower the risk to change to wearing other colors. However if you get all of the population to stop wearing red it does not have to be the case that all wimen now have the lower risk of the ones that originally was dresed in other colors. Becaus it could be that the risk for the population in total would still be the same even to the diffrens between induviduals had dissepered. Tis is because the red could increase the risk of beeing the target but not be the reason behind rape.
My english is very bad but hopefully you will be abel to understand what I am saying. Btw if you should make personal advice do not get male relatives friends lovers or coworkers would probably make more seance fro the evidence we have that do not wear miniskirts. (However you should really not give advice like this at all. )

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFredrika

Great episode, guys! I was wondering if you could refer me to the research you mentioned about scientists being no less bias-prone than other people and that the way science works is therefore in the aggregate. I often hear AGW deniers and alt med proponents claim there's no such thing as consensus in science and it seems this research would be pertinent.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aldridge

I don't think asking for a reference to the study is a really tough question; why can't I get a response? I've asked in several other locations as well and am getting the silent treatment in each instance.

November 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Aldridge
Julia makes a quite interesting point, that unlike when someone privately cautions someone else, that when public officials caution the entire public to dress conservatively, drink less, or conceal their cash, those public officials inappropriately cast aspersions on otherwise entirely legal and ethical conduct.

Massimo's true story about the effectiveness of the Bayesian Statisticians correctly predicting the loss of a nuclear weapon, and that we still don't know the whereabouts of that weapon even today, makes for an interesting anecdote that more people should know about.

If we have an experiment with results of p(A)<.46 and p(B)<.54, then we should probably reevaluate the results of the experiment to determine the frequency of "A AND NOT B", instead of just analyzing p(A) and P(B) separately from one another.
January 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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