Knowing how to think

Form a passage of Antifragile, 2014, by Nassim Taleb:

Regarding the inability to keep secrets, I guess he’s never heard of NDAs. An obvious example are the strategies used by the famous quant hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, which decades later are still a secret despite considerable speculation and debate online. You would think at some point a former employee would have spilled the beans or disseminated the strategy to other hedge funds, but nope. Same for classified info from federal agencies: again, very few leaks. A notable exception were the Snowden files, but even then a lot of the information was outdated and only a tiny tip of the iceberg.

Regarding Ayn Rand books, sales are also boosted by having an entire cult or movement built around the books. This does not imply millions of people have read the books. I seriously doubt millions of people have read those enormous tomes from cover to cover. Organizations can coordinate to inflate the appearance of popularity and sales by buying the books in bulk from bookstores. This was common regarding L. Ron Hubbard books, which were bought in bulk by members of the Church of Scientology to improve the position of said books on best-seller lists.

About literacy criticism and sales, more criticism does not mean a better book, but rather suggests a bigger marketing push by the publisher (or the author being famous or well-known), which is the underlying factor, not the criticism. Scathing criticism but a huge marketing push will still mean a lot of sales. Publishers coordinate with print media to get timely reviews at the time of the book’s release, similar to movie reviews.

This is just from a single page. The whole book must be pretty bad at this rate. When writing blog posts, I try to avoid such reasoning errors.

Knowing how to think means:

Understanding the orientation of the arrow of causality
Disentangling confounders
Considering the counterfactual

Consider some examples of popular arguments online or stories:

“US interventionism is a waste of money and has produced no tangible results” But one must consider the possibility that intervention dissuades countries from aggression, which prevents wars and also saves money by not having to fight them.

“The US criminal justice system is worse or ineffective compared to elsewhere in the world despite being more punitive, militarized policing, and longer sentences” But one must control for demographics. If America’s police and criminal justice system were swapped for that of more liberal European countries, Japan, etc. would crime and unrest go up? Probably. Conversely, if demographics were swapped, would crime fall? Probably.

“Successful dieters and slimmer people are more likely to eat breakfast” Does breakfast have special metabolic properties for weight loss? No. More likely, dieters are hypoglycemic from having not eaten anything for so long between dinner-time and waking up.

“Unrest has gotten worse in America” But one must consider the possibility that social media and smart phones means more incidents of unrest are being reported, whereas in the past many incidents of unrest were unreported and ignored.