Modesty and diversity: a concrete suggestion

In online discussions, the number of upvotes or likes a contribution receives is often highly correlated with the social status of the author within that community. This makes the community less epistemically diverse, and can contribute to feelings of groupthink or hero worship.

Yet both the author of a contribution and its degree of support contain bayesian evidence about its value, arguably an amount that should overwhelm your own inside view.

We want each individual to invest the socially optimal amount of resources into critically evaluating other people’s writing (which is higher than the amount that would be optimal for individual epistemic rationality). Yet we also all and each want to give sufficient weight to authority in forming our all-things-considered views.

As Greg Lewis writes:

The distinction between ‘credence by my lights’ versus ‘credence all things considered’ allows the best of both worlds. One can say ‘by my lights, P’s credence is X’ yet at the same time ‘all things considered though, I take P’s credence to be Y’. One can form one’s own model of P, think the experts are wrong about P, and marshall evidence and arguments for why you are right and they are wrong; yet soberly realise that the chances are you are more likely mistaken; yet also think this effort is nonetheless valuable because even if one is most likely heading down a dead-end, the corporate efforts of people like you promises a good chance of someone finding a better path.

Full blinding to usernames and upvote counts is great for critical thinking. If all you see is the object level, you can’t be biased by anything else. The downside is you lose a lot of relevant information. A second downside is that anonymity reduces the selfish incentives to produce good content (we socially reward high-quality, civil discussion, and punish rudeness.)

I have a suggestion for capturing (some of) the best of both worlds:

  • first, do all your reading, thinking, upvoting and commenting with full blinding
  • once you have finished, un-blind yourself and use the new information to
    • form your all-things-considered view of the topic at hand
    • update your opinion of the people involved in the discussion (for example, if someone was a jerk, you lower your opinion of them).

To enable this, there are now two user scripts which hide usernames and upvote counts on (1) the EA forum and (2) LessWrong 2.0. You’ll need to install the Stylish browser extension to use them.

Cross-posted here (clicking the link will unblind you!).


Comments (4)

Comment author: Kathy_Forth 11 November 2017 07:07:41AM *  5 points [-]

I suspect a lot of this is due to people trying to save time on reading. There are too many articles to keep up, so we (myself included) choose the articles that seem most likely to have the information I need most, and some of this priority order is author based. An additional method for people who are doing this for efficiency reasons:

We could do an experiment to find out what percentage of high status people's karma points are due to their status or getting a larger amount of attention overall than other posters. Then, us efficiency oriented people can mentally adjust the karma scores accordingly.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 November 2017 08:30:03PM 0 points [-]

You can also see the week's / month's most upvoted posts here. This gives you another way to filter for (hopefully) high-quality posts while losing only a small amount of blinding. (You know the ranking of posts that week, but you don't know their relative scores nor who wrote them).

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 08 November 2017 09:59:22PM *  3 points [-]

Well I've never felt like I am biased by seeing who is the author of a post or a comment, but I'm trying this out, may as well see how it goes.

Edit: seems like Firefox users should install this version of Stylus instead, it's newer and will work on future versions of Firefox: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/styl-us/?src=find-replacement-release-heartbeat&source=heartbeat&surveyversion=56&updateChannel=release&fxVersion=56.0.2&isDefaultBrowser=1&searchEngine=google-nocodes&syncSetup=1&utm_source=firefox&utm_medium=show-heartbeat&utm_campaign=Youradd-onStylishisnotcompatiblewithfutureFirefoxversions.&type=button&flowId=fa05a35f-9c7e-4764-b0ca-9bd1207918cc

Comment author: DonyChristie 11 November 2017 11:31:32PM 0 points [-]

Having now installed the userstyles, in order to unblind (and re-blind) myself I need to press the Stylish icon and press 'Deactivate' on the script? This might be a trivial inconvenience.