One of the most enjoyable things about blogging is I get to connect with a lot of smart people. I get letters and emails, and sometimes the person reaching out to me is kind enough to let me share their insights with you.
This one comes Andy McKenzie -
Saw your post: How do I write so much, you ask? Well, glad you asked from a friend's link. I like your about me and this post, like that you are self-tracking and such, keep it up man. Just want to say, you are not the only one to discuss the equal odds rule! Quick google blogs search verifies that there are at least a few: [google blog search results]. I myself have written a bit about it. :)
It is interesting to speculate whether the EOR necessarily tracks over well from scientific productivity to the blogosphere. I didn't really see that connection, possibly because I didn't really accept the EOR at face value, I read it in Simonton's actual book and I remember at first being mostly confused about the math he was talking about! But now I think it is mostly true over long periods of time and for largish groups of scientists.
But extrapolating that over to the blogosphere is kind of tricky. First there is no peer review. Peer review makes it so that if you don't have anything to write you probably won't really write much at all. Whereas in the blogosphere there is nothing stopping you from writing anything. The other bigger difference is that scientists are writing about specific topics and they have a huge emphasis on novelty. Whereas the emphasis in novelty isn't as big on the blogosphere, it's more about personality and individuality. Moreover, when you look at someone like Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias, and you cannot tell me that the likelihood of a success by him is just as high as some other random blogger, and that would be the implication of the EOR to the blogosphere, no?
I may blog some of these thoughts, they are actually pretty interesting. What do you think?
What do I think? I think that's a magnificent response from a well-read and intelligent guy, and wow, thanks for sharing that Andy. Most interesting points to think about from there:
Does the Equal-Odds rule track from scientific productivity over to other disciplines? Andy (and me, too, actually) were originally skeptical of the Equal-Odds Rule, but we both came to mostly believe it, with some caveats. I'm not 100% sold on it either, but it seems mostly correct.
Andy points out there's huge some differences between science and blogging. The biggest one - no peer review. Then he makes the observation that, "Peer review makes it so that if you don't have anything to write you probably won't really write much at all. Whereas in the blogosphere there is nothing stopping you from writing anything." I was cracking up laughing at that. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be funny, but that was laugh out loud funny for me.
Then, he points out the emphasis in blogging isn't about doing novel and original work necessarily, it's more about personality. I think it depends on what audience you're blogging for - mainstream blogging isn't about novel/original ideas yes. But at least, I'm trying to get some ideas on paper that haven't been covered before, and there are others who do. But yes, even in the most novel sort of blogging, people rehash ideas more frequently than people would in published science papers, so I see the point. A correct observation, yeah.
Finally, Andy asks - "I may blog some of these thoughts, they are actually pretty interesting. What do you think?" And my answer is - I think you absolutely should, Andy! Very good observations.
Andy recommends his best of series for new readers to his blog - "The Best of Andy McKenzie" - and wow, I was actually really impressed by the quality in there. I randomly loaded five of his articles up, and they were all good. That's pretty amazing. I'd recommend you check out Andy's work.
Next up, swapped a few great emails with Oskar from Sweden. He doesn't have a blog or site to promote, unfortunately, because he's got spot-on observations. Here we go -
In "Sun Tzu says - Make It Look Easy," I think you and Setsuna have misunderstood the message from Sun Tzu there.
He did not mean “be so skilled that you compete it without breaking a sweat”. Well, that depends on what you mean by "being skilled." If you are fightning a war, for example, you will break a sweat, no matter how skilled you are. What he actually meant is that you should try to win before the fight even starts.
For example, in a war, maybe you can get what you want through other means, without even having to go to war. Maybe you can fool you opponent into doing what you want somehow. And if that doesn't work and you go to war, maybe you can avoid fighting still, by cutting the enemies supply lines, gathering vital intelligence by code breaking, spies, or whatever. Maybe you can draw up fake plans and pretend to accidentally give them away or something. It's all about preparation and winning before the real fight even starts.
The idea can of course be applied to all kinds of competitions. Have you seen Survivor (the show where a bunch of people go to some remote island and compete for a million dollars)? It's all about stategy, but most people don't realize. People work really hard in the "challenges" for immunity, but you don't have to if you have a strong alliance and good strategy. Actually, in Survivor, it's often a good idea to lose the challenges on purpose. It's unintuitive but there are a lot of reasons you might want to do so. For example, if you win you might seem like a threat to the others so they want to vote you out. Another example (actually happened): When there were only 3 people left, and the winner of the challenge could decide who among the other 2 he/she wanted to take to the final two, a guy forfeited the challenge because he didn't want to be the one who kicked someone out of the game, because that would lead to him getting fewer votes. He went on to win the entire thing.
Masterful, masterful email from Oskar there. Just... really good stuff, really good stuff there to think about. I wrote back, said wow thanks that was awesome, and can I post it? He said yes, and elaborated some more -
By the way, I learned this stuff because I play a lot of games competitively and because I like to think about and analyse all kinds of stuff. I've played Counter-Strike for 10 years, for example. Games get a lot more enjoyable once you play to win. One side effect of competitive play is that I can't enjoy single-player games anymore. The last single-player game I enjoyed was Final Fantasy 7, and that came out in -97, before I had learned what competition was all about. One side effect of that is that I buy like 1 game a year, so if you buy a lot of games and it's hard on ur wallet, read the article in the next paragraph.
There is this who guy has written more about the competitive mindset in games. You will probably enjoy reading his blog posts on the subject: "Playing to Win, part 1" by Sirlin.
I actually have read Sirlin, and yeah, he's amazing. Highly recommended.
Thanks Oskar and Andy, those are some excellent emails, cheers for the insights.
If you want to read more, Oskar recommends "Sirlin's Playing to Win series" and Andy recommends his "best of" series as a starting point. Also, Oskar, if you ever get a site let me know and we'll edit some links in here so people can check your insights out.
Everyone else - please feel very welcome to give our gracious contributors feedback in the comments, and also to write good replies here at SebastianMarshall.com - I try to regularly feature insightful replies from comment or email, so please always feel welcome to drop a line. Thanks again Oskar and Andy.
> Whereas the emphasis in novelty isn’t as big on the blogosphere, it’s more about personality and individuality. Moreover, when you look at someone like Robin Hanson at Overcoming Bias, and you cannot tell me that the likelihood of a success by him is just as high as some other random blogger, and that would be the implication of the EOR to the blogosphere, no?
I think this is just misreading the EOR rule. Simonton is almost surely talking about predicting within-scientist odds of winning, not between-scientists.
You can find plenty of things which predict the odds of one scientist hitting a home run over the odds of another one, from IQ to personality factors ( http://lesswrong.com/lw/9m6/the_personality_of_greatcreative_scientists_open/ ). And in fact, Simonton himself has done a lot of this research! He's even done research on genetic contributions to chance of scientific greatness, see Simonton 2008 in my link.
So in other words, the EOC says you may be able to predict to some degree whether a particular scientist will achieve greatness (eg. look for Conscientious Open high-IQ white males to make predictions much better than random chance), but you won't be able to predict *which* publication of his is responsible before the fact.
I imagine Hanson has experienced this first-hand - the OB blog is popular (although I suspect not nearly as popular as it used to be, before LessWrong split off), but how well do you think post popularity correlates with what Hanson himself would have assessed as post quality before the fact? Not too well, I'd venture. And if the author can't predict it...