What to expect when you’re not expecting

What does Scott Beaulier mean when he says:

Now, I’m quite sympathetic to the poorest of the poor being taken care of, but I had no idea until this week that “being taken care of” in this particular case means even better treatment than the treatment those who are paying to support Medicaid receive.

Nothing like a good dose of reality to reaffirm my disdain for the State!

Considering evidence is an important role in rationality, Bayesian analysis, and in the Less Wrong sequences.  This EWOT post brought to mind this older post by Eliezer (which, low and behold, was already open in my browser when I went to go look for it).

The type of anarcho-capitalism schilling I see on EWOT and other blogs reminds me of the Salem witch hunt imagery that Eliezer evokes:

no matter what the accused witch said or did, it was held a proof against her.

Just in case the parallel isn’t obvious, in the forementioned blog, high quality of care is used to support the anti-gov’t position on public health care (in this case, because the high quality- and therefore high cost – of care isn’t fair to those truly footing the bill). However, I’ve seen the opposite result – low quality of care – also being used to support the anti-gov position.

This practice surely isn’t restricted to this issue (or anarcho-capitalists!). The job of a pundit is to use their narrative to explain the outcome of any event and so, you get multiple hypotheses explaining the same event and no hypothesis seems to have the power to exclude any another one.

But the main problem is that each observer has their one-size-fits-all glove and they’re looking for hands to fit it to…and any hand will do. Any evidence they encounter confirms the theory because the theory can be retrofit onto the evidence.

This is why careful reasoning is so important.

If an observer sees high quality of care for medicare patients as evidence that you should have disdain for the state, shouldn’t low quality of care be evidence that one shouldn’t have disdain?

The statement can be broken down as such:

prior: high disdain for the state

hypothesis: if public health insurance provides better care for those who are not paying for it than for those who are, then one should have disdain for the state

evidencehigh quality care for medicare patient

outcome: high disdain for the state

This is a perfectly legitimate libertarian theory and how the original evidence calculation should have been formulated. The outcome matched the prior and therefore did not shift it much.

However, the hypothesis was, in actuality, retrofit to the evidence.

In a true probability calculation, if the outcome had been different (say, for example, medicare refused to cover the ultrasound imaging), the hypothesis would have been smashed. It would have been evidence that people receiving public health care do not get higher quality care than those who are paying for it, and we could not support our prior (disdain for the state). Clearly, if public health care sucks, the state is doing something right (keeping costs low for taxpayers, perhaps).

I’m going to generalize here and say that this is not what most libertarians (or any other political-identifying group) would have done. They would have simply found some other hypothesis that supports their prior (if the government isn’t providing high quality care, then disdain for the state, for example).

This a particular problem when you don’t allow yourself to expect counterevidence. In a practical sense, if no evidence you encounter has the ability to shift your beliefs, then you’re not coming up with testable hypothesis.

2 Comments  »

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