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

From: Jeff Medina (
Date: Tue Aug 29 2006 - 21:03:40 MDT

On 8/29/06, Richard Loosemore <> wrote:
> I am going to be extremely careful, and by being that careful I am going
> to show that you are making THE MOST INCREDIBLE MISTAKE in what you say
> below. [capitalization added]

This is a good example of the sort of grandiose, sloppy language you often use,

> Weak Claim: The Linda results can be explained away (i.e. they would
> vanish completely) if subjects were not misled or confused by the nature
> of the question. In other words, the weak claim is that the Linda
> result is purely a consequence of asking the question in such a way that
> the subject was tricked into a misunderstanding.
> Are you with me so far? This claim is an attempt to say that, in
> effect, the experimental result was an artifact of a bad design. A
> better design would ask the question in such a way that the subjects
> were not misled, and then (the weak claim would say), we would expect
> the effect to disappear.

Yup. And this is just what your words indicated.

> might give them the impression that all I was doing was writing out a
> simpleminded restatement of that Weak Claim.

I never said you were *only* writing that out. I explicitly
distinguished between this claim and your main claim in my earlier

> So, now: what happened to that Weak Claim. Well, guess what? It was
> disproved, as Eliezer put it, every whcih way from Sunday.

Yep. And if you'd recognized that this was what Eliezer was saying
and clearly stated the above, this whole back and forth would have
been avoided.

> people were not simply misunderstanding an ambiguous question,
> they were doing something wrong inside their heads. The Weak Claim was
> not supported, at the end of the day.
> But now I want to point something out to you. In my message I make a
> very precise statement: I say that the "the [Linda] question would
> quite likely be interpreted as..." and I give the alternative that was
> first proposed as a misreading of the experimental question.
> This is the crucial point: you (and Eliezer before you) jump on this
> statement and *immediately* say:
> > This is a pretty straightforward claim.
> >
> > It has been disconfirmed in the h&b lit.
> Jeff: do you *know* that the effect was much weaker when the confusion
> was eliminated? Do you *know* that when the protocol was tightened up
> to exclude that alternative explanation, the effect diminished?
> Do you understand what that means? It means that the alternative
> explanation quite likely *did* play a role in the initially observed effect.
> [...]
> And so this means that, whatever was happening, the alternative
> explanations offered DID turn out to be something that was going on in
> the minds of the subjects.

That sure is an awful lot of writing to claim something false, Richie.
 If you had said that the alternative you offered *played a role*,
that would have been fine. But you didn't. Your wording implied you
were asserting "the Weak Claim". Re-read what you wrote. There is no
text to play the semantic role of

So perhaps you *meant* something else. You didn't express it (I'd say
"didn't express it well", but you really didn't express it at all).
We all write with less than perfect clarity. I know I do. No shame
in it. But it's a pity you couldn't have just responded to Eliezer's
initial reply with the same level of clarificatory effort that you're
providing now.

> Did I say (as the people who advocated the weak claim tried to do) that
> this alternative could EXPLAIN AWAY ALL OF THE RESULT? I most certainly
> did not: that is the Weak Claim itself, and I took it for granted that
> nobody except an outsider who did not know the field would attempt to
> defend it. I wouldn't have dreamed of trying to do that. I'm no dummy.

Then you should have been more careful in stating it. Your wording
pretty strongly implicated support of the Weak Claim, and hence led
Eliezer to believe you were "an outsider who did not know the field".

> So what that means is, that when you, in your words above, quote my
> statement and then say "This is a pretty straightforward claim." and
> then "It has been disconfirmed in the h&b lit." you are guilty of not
> looking at the precise words that I used, and perhaps guilty of not
> knowing the literature:

Alas, we must continue to disagree on this point. Your wording, after
multiple readings, has the implication I and others took it to have.
"Would quite likely be interpreted as" <-- Because no quantifiers were
used ("by most of", "some of", "one aspect of"), the straightforward
reading is quantification over all subjects and their results; that
there is no effect once this is taken into account.

Yes, if folks placed enough confidence in your CogSci abilities, they
would have assumed this to be what you meant. And I'm sure in your
own head it was clear enough. The wording was not.

> you distorted its meaning in
> every bit as heinous a way as the tabloid journalist who selectively
> edits a quote to turn the meaning on its head.

Tangent: You've mentioned in the past that you don't understand why
people think you're so often histrionic. It's grandiose BS like the
above that makes you seem that way. Just FYI.

Jeff Medina
Sr. Systems Engineer, Lockheed Martin
Sr. Programmer, Elemental Solutions
Fellow, Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies
"Do you want to live forever?"
"Dunno. Ask me again in five hundred years."
(_Guards! Guards!_, Terry Pratchett)

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