Re: The Conjunction Fallacy Fallacy [WAS Re: Anti-singularity spam.]

From: Richard Loosemore (
Date: Sat Aug 26 2006 - 15:20:36 MDT

SUMMARY: If nothing else, Yudkowsky's hasty reply, below, will serve as
an amazing (and often comical) example of how not to demolish an
opponent in academic discourse. This is National Enquirer science.
This is the most ugly kind of Tabloid smear, with no actual factual
content. Don't take my word for it: dip in and enjoy the show!

I have tried to make my response entertaining, here and there, but the
basic story is going to be that Yudkowsky's reply is filled with ad
hominem accusations, none of which are supported by evidence.

Worst of all: there is no discussion of the actual topic! All of what
Yudkowsky has to say is what he thinks I have or have not read 8-|. He
implies, over and over again, that Loosemore has not read this or that
.... but it seems like Loosemore's argument goes straight over
Yudkowsky's head, because he doesn't mention it and doesn't refute it.
Asonishingly, the argument simply never comes up at all.

But let's look inside at some of the comic details:

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> Richard Loosemore wrote:
>> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
>>> Richard Loosemore wrote:
>>>> Thus, in common-or-garden nontechnical discourse, the question:
>>>> Which of the following is more probable:
>>>> 1) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
>>>> 2) Linda is a bank teller.
>>>> Would quite likely be interpreted as
>>>> Which of the following is more probable:
>>>> 1) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
>>>> 2) Linda is a bank teller and NOT active in the feminist movement.
>>> Old, old, old alternative hypothesis disconfirmed a dozen ways from
>>> Tuesday. I was very quickly summarizing an extensive literature with
>>> thousands of papers. These are not my ideas, these are the
>>> mainstream conclusions of an experimental science. Go forth and read
>>> the literature before you make up your own interpretations. I
>>> suggest starting with "Judgment Under Uncertainty" and moving on to
>>> "Heuristics and Biases".
>> You just attacked an argument that has nothing whatsoever to do with
>> the claim that I actually made.
> Well, let's see. For one thing, it flatly demonstrates that you're not
> familiar with the literature. So does your statement here:

Notice that Loosemore's innocuous opening remark - "You just attacked
an argument that has nothing whatsoever to do with the claim that I
actually made." - is met with the comment that this somehow
demonstrates that Loosemore has not read the literature.

Eh? How can this be so? How does it follow? What exactly did
Loosemore say in this sentence that demonstrated unfamiliarity with the
literature? Puzzling, to say the least.


Oh, well, let's move on.

The next passage looks like it comes from Loosemore's main post, but in
fact it was taken from a previous post.

Strangely, Yudkwosky fails to say anything whatsoever about a large
chunk of Loosemore's main post (the post he is ostensibly replying to),
and the chunk that went missing contained the central argument that
Loosemore was trying to make, spelled out in meticulous detail. For
some reason, Yudkowsky has nothing to say about that. He does not
appear to be interested in the topic, only in trying to gather evidence
that might be twisted to imply Loosemore's ignorance.

(WAIT: Has anyone except me noticed that the only thing that Yudkowsky
ever seems to do is try claim that someone has not done enough reading?).

But anyhow, let's see what Yudkowsky's has to say about that extract
from the previous Loosemore post:

[Loosemore writes:]
>> So in the case of the above experiment, I had forgotten the punchline
>> of the experiment, so I looked at it and did it on the spot.
>> Hey presto: my first answer was (2)!
>> Why? Because, even though I had been primed by all the Conjunction
>> Fallacy stuff in the last week, I completely forgot to notice that the
>> the first string was shorter than the other two (perhaps because all the
>> RRRR strings misled my eye, in the way that you may, depending on your
>> mail client, have had your own eye misled earlier in this sentence). And
>> on the other hand I did notice (because I had been primed by the only
>> relevant information given in the instructions) that there were
>> differences between the proportions of Gs and Rs in the three strings.
>> I was also rushing because I felt some urgency to prove to myself that I
>> could polish it off quickly.
>> Well well well. I am stupid and irrational, apparently! And there
>> is no other explanation for my (or the subjects') behavior: it really
>> cannot be anything except irrational stupidity.
> This is, simply put, exactly the standard experimental result *and its
> standard interpretation*: subjects substitute judgment of
> representativeness for judgment of probability.
> You noticed differences between the proportions of Gs and Rs in the
> three strings? That's called, "judgment by representativeness" or "the
> representativeness heuristic". In a nutshell.
> You could not possibly fail to recognize this if you had absorbed any
> substantial amount of literature on heuristics and biases. It'll be in
> the first chapters of any work on the subject.

Loosemore's goal, in this part of his previous post, was to introduce an
example of one of the heuristics and biasses, as a way to illustrate his
central point (which central point, by the way, Yudkowsky still shows no
sign of understanding: he hasn't yet mentioned it).

But somehow, this example was taken, by Yudkowsy, to be evidence that
Loosemore does not know the names of some of the heuristics (in this
case, the Representativeness Heuristic).

The (obvious) reason why Loosemore did not mention things like the
heuristic names was that this is all easy stuff, and just not relevant
to his point: too trivial to spell out in what was supposed to be a
discussion between two people who are analyzing a technical topic that
they both know a good deal about.

But instead of attending to the topic itself, Yudkowsky seizes on
Loosemore's failure to say that this one heuristic is called the
"Representativeness Heuristic", and parades this as conclusive evidence
that Loosemore (a) does not know the name of it, and (b) has not read
any of the literature.

How does this follow? It clearly does not. Look at the use to which
the example was put. Look at the detailed analysis that Yudkowsky
edited out.


But, hey, the audience is still cool. All this is just another piece
of ad hominem silliness.

Yudkowsky shows no sign of understanding that Loosemore has been talking
very clearly about the difference between [explaining away irrationality
as entirely due to heuristics] and [trying to understand whether there
might be mechanisms that underlie the observed heuristics]. THAT is the
topic, and we are STILL waiting for it to be addressed.

It begins to look as though this latter point is too subtle for
Yudkowsky, even though Loosemore hammers away at it again and again.

But wait: here is a good example of Loosemore trying to explain it, in
the next segment that Yudkowsky quotes:

[Loosemore writes:]
>> Specifically, there are two interpretations of their role:
>> 1) The interfering mechanisms were just dumb, maladaptive strategies.
>> Basically, systematic biasses and mistakes.
>> 2) These other mechanisms were not just systematic biasses, but may
>> actually have been components of very powerful, sensible, adaptive
>> cognitive mechanisms that do not use logical reasoning, and without
>> which the system as a whole could not function. A number of people
>> have arguments that are equal or closely related to this point, so
>> Interpretation (1) is the default assumption in the literature. To the
>> extent that the literature looked at what was going on in these
>> experiments, it tended to treat the situation as one of rationality
>> corrupted by mistakes.
> The standard approach is that biases can shed light on our actual
> reasoning methods, the heuristics, that are producing the mistakes.
> Judgment by representativeness, like judgment by availability, is a
> heuristic that can often produce useful results - some even say a fast
> and frugal heuristic - but the heuristic also produces systematic
> biases, which are what reveal to us that the heuristic exists in the
> first place, and what pin down how the heuristic must be working to
> produce those specific biases.

Loosemore only has minor quibbles with this comment. But the most
important thing here is that THIS DOES NOT ADDRESS THE CLAIM THAT
LOOSEMORE HAS BEEN MAKING. Yudkowsky is just throwing out a few general
remarks, not related to anything in particular.... and then, out of the
blue, he follows up with:

> The field that emphasizes the evolutionary rationale of heuristics would
> be the "fast and frugal" crowd. (There is no sign that Loosemore is
> familiar with this paradigm, either.)


All of a sudden, he mentions the Fast and Frugal heuristic (which,
incidentally, Loosemore is perfectly familiar with, along with all the
other heuristics), and WHAM! he decides that because he has not seen
Loosemore mention the words "fast and frugal", he is entitled to deliver
the accusation "There is no sign that Loosemore is familiar with this
paradigm, either."

So Loosemore did not mention the name of something that is not relevant
to the claim he made...... and we are supposed to conclude... what??


And still we wait for some discussion of the actual argument made by
Loosemore, in his carefully crafted, detailed post.

So far, nothing! The crowd is getting restive ;-) Will it ever happen?

Only one big section to go, so maybe the really substantive discussion
is going to make a big showing at the last minute ........

[Loosemore writes:]
>> You say that your analysis represents the "mainstream conclusions of
>> an experimental science". And you tell me that I should "Go forth and
>> read the literature before [I] make up [my] own interpretations". You
>> think I just made up my own interpretations? I have had extensive
>> discussions about these and other issues with people like Mike
>> Oaksford (he and I were at UCNW Bangor together, then at Warwick), and
>> to a lesser extent with Nick Chater. I have also benefitted from many
>> discussions with Tom Ormerod, who does experimental work in the same
>> field. In 1987 I did an extensive analysis of Phil Johnson-Laird's
>> work, and although I never got to challenge him in person, I did talk
>> to Alan Garnham, one of his students, and got a great deal of
>> agreement from him about my understanding of the issues and my
>> specific criticisms of J-L.
>> Strangely, Oaksford and Chater disagree with your analysis, as do
>> Evans and Over. From my limited understanding of them, Maule and
>> Hodgkinson (2002), and Tetlock and Mellers (2002) would also be in
>> sympathy with the position I just took. As would many others that I
>> have talked with over the years, who do not work directly in this
>> area. Given all of this, it hardly sounds like you presented the
>> mainstream conclusions of an experimental science.
> I sampled two of these names, Mike Oaksford and Phil Johnson-Laird. I
> didn't hit any papers in the field of heuristics and biases. I see no
> evidence that they have ever worked in the field of heuristics and
> biases. I did see papers on the construction of mental models, which,
> if you happened to be completely unfamiliar with the field of heuristics
> and biases, could be mistaken for information relevant to interpreting
> the Linda experiment.

Huhh!!? 8-| These people (Chater and Oaksford, at least) know
everything there is to know about the entire field of human reasoning,
including the subfield that Yudkowsky refers to as "heuristics and
biasses". The above paragraph is entirely upside down and backwards:
only someone who had a chronically deficient understanding of cognitive
psychology would not know the connection between Mental Models and all
the various human reasoning studies.

The reader may want to contrast Yudkowsky's bizarre remarks, above,
about Johnson-Laird and Oaksford, with the following excerpts from an
elementary textbook of Cognitive Psychology:

In the chapter on "Reasoning and Deduction" there is an entire section
devoted to Mental Models, which starts with the words:

"One of the most influential approaches to deductive reasoning is the
mental model theory of Johnson-Laird (e.g. 1983, 1999)." (p. 516)

And the following two recommendations in the Further Reading section at
the end of the same chapter, on page 532, where the book's authors only
choose seven publications, two of which are by Chater and Oaksford:

Chater, N., & Oaksford, M. (2001). Human Rationality and the psychology
of reasoning: Where do we go from here? British Journal of Psychology,
92, 193-216. "The authors give a very useful overview of theory and
research on reasoning."

Oaksford, M., & Chater, N. (2001). The probabilistic approach to human
reasoning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 349-357. "This article
provides a succinct account of the main assumptions of the authors'
probabilistic approach."

(Excerpts from Eysenck and Keane "Cognitive Psychology: A Student
Handbook" 5th Edition. 2005).

Nick Chater won the Spearman Medal, Britain's highest honor to a
cognitive psychologist, so Yudkowsky's implication that these guys
probably don't have much insight into the particular part of the field
that he labels "heuristics and biasses" is laughable.

Oaksford and Chater could eat Yudkowsky for breakfast and still have
enough room to wash him down with a few cups of VSOP Darjeeling.

> I did, indeed, present the mainstream conclusions of an experimental
> science. Which, it seems, Richard has never heard of. He is not even
> aware of who works in the field and who does not; he does not know
> *which* field I am talking about.

Umm: excuse me? Where exactly was the bit where you provided any
evidence whatsoever for these assertions:

1) Loosemore "has never heard of" this field;
2) Loosemore is "not aware of who works in the field and who does not"
3) Loosemore "does not know *which* field I am talking about".

I'll be generous and lump these three together as one:


Yikes, only two paragraphs to go.

[Yudkowsky writes:]
> I won't say that Richard was "bluffing" - since he has no idea the field
> of heuristics and biases exists, he has no idea that his distantly
> related reading about other things, is not knowledge of that field. But
> he is still rather ignorant and rather unaware of it.

Does this count as the same accusation, or a new one? No evidence, in
any case. Oh, what the hell:


[Yudkowsky writes:]
> My original email reply to his first message still says all that needed
> to be said: RTFM! (To name a specific M, "Judgment Under Uncertainty"
> would do him some good.)

And that's all, folks.

That's all Yudkowsky had to say.

Five allegations with no evidence, except the circumstantial fact that
Loosemore neglected to mention some unimportant names .... and then an
assertion that his original email still says all that had to be said.



My god, there wasn't any!! The specific points that Loosemore made,
which completely demolished Yudkowsky's original email every which way
from Sunday, were never even mentioned by Yudkowsky at all!


Just exactly who is being unreasonable here? I am trying to get real,
substantive topics discussed at a high level of intellectual quality,
but all I can *ever* get out of this guy is sarcasm and ad hominem abuse.

Richard Loosemore.

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