[FoRK] Rules of thumb

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Mon Apr 6 15:33:42 PDT 2009

Jeff Bone wrote:
> On Apr 6, 2009, at 12:23 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:
> ....
> I have no patience for that kind of dissembling.  You are introducing 
> arbitrary complexity for no reason.  That's been your MO when 
> defending these oh-so-"nuanced" contrary positions.  In a nutshell, 
> this is why you went from being one of my favorite people to agree 
> with --- because then you didn't have to snow-job everything --- to 
> one of the most exasperating people to disagree with --- because you 
> *do* snow-job in such cases, at least with me.  I don't have a problem 
> with people that disagree;  I merely have a problem with people that 
> disagree (a) without a good understanding of why they are disagreeing, 
> or (b) who attempt to blanket the weakness of their argument in a 
> smokescreen of irrelevant detail, unnecessary complexity, and the 
> trappings of pseudo-quantitative reasoning such as the "formulae" 
> (cough) you offer above.
Complexity?  Dissembling?  I give such a summary to try to simplify and 
summarize all of the rhetoric, not that anyone will trudge through all 
of this.  It seemed to me that a lot of the discussion was a push to 
overrun-by-bluster and pointing to supporting references that often 
didn't seem to hold up.  Statements were made that tried to paint me as 
being ideologically ignoring "proof", however I did not see acceptable 
proof in many cases.
> It's called a rule of thumb for a reason.  I never presented it as 
> anything more than that.
There's nothing wrong with that, except when demands are made to accept 
such projections as high-probability predictions because [paraphrased] 
"this the accepted guestimation method, so you must give this result far 
more weight than any other opinion".  No one argued that those points 
weren't possible.
>> All kinds of misleading statements were coming out of the right; 
>> misleading statements shouldn't be tolerated from anyone by anyone 
>> who is willing to think.
> And do you, then, put me in that category?
No, not really.  I'm pretty sure we only had a gap in relaying all of 
the explanation in the jumps of conclusion needed to understand certain 
Some references to certain predicting pundits on the left and right fit 
that description.  That's what I was talking about.  Few are as rigorous 
as you are.  I'm curious how you avoid using too much of that half-baked 
trash in your analysis.
> Recall, what I was doing was offering a detailed bottom-up Fermi 
> estimation, and cross-checking it with various rules-of-thumb / 
> top-down analyses, then pairing it back based on some relatively 
> optimistic, yet plausible, factors to make it less objectionable.
Great, a number of us would like to learn more about that!
> I wouldn't describe myself as being particularly part of "the right."  
> And I don't think anything I said could be counted as misleading;  the 
> analysis itself was entirely transparent, and anyone was free to 
> provide a *reasonable* critique or alternative (though none was offered.)
We all have biases about how we extrapolate from past evidence.  Nothing 
wrong with that up to a point.  Optimism is often irrational to some 
degree, as recent studies have shown reasonably effectively.  Pessimism 
is apparently less so, but that doesn't make people pessimistic about 
something immune from being influenced beyond all likelihood.  A 
comparison to the more extreme right-wing dire warnings about Obama, 
compared to the recent evidence, seems to favor the optimists much more 
in this case.
>> And this was with respect to health care, not financial industry 
>> bailout.
> I am asserting the generality of the rule-of-thumb by showing you 
> another case where it applies.
OK.  But it seemed kind of A) like guilt-by-opposite-association and B) 
apples and oranges.
>> The former seems to be on track, even if the spin is "this is a 
>> start", while the latter was always considered to be an unknown 
>> quantity by everyone involved.
> Unknown, but not unknowable.  They've committed to spending a certain 
> amount, the forward-cast of their annual spend estimation over a 
> ten-year interval.  This is absolutely meaningless;  there is no 
> commitment whatsoever to what this is supposed to actually achieve, or 
> any indication.  But at this point they aren't asserting that it's 
> anything else;  the campaign's over, after all and for now.  The 
> initial estimate, though, was not meaningless;  it was intentionally 
> misleading.  (They offered the number with the full understanding that 
> there was no way to connect the number to the asserted goals;  there 
> was no analysis, the number came straight out of their asses and was 
> chosen, like many budgetary initial numbers picked by this 
> administration, to be "big enough (maybe)" yet "not too big to be a 
> non-starter.")
Not to sink back into that mess, however this restates the position that 
seems a misinterpretation of what was actually promised: the platform 
said something like "offered healthcare with the same terms as 
government employees".  It didn't appear to actually overpromise, unless 
you _heard_ "provide free health care to everyone not currently 
covered".  That's not what they promised, even if many people thought 
they heard that.
> Yet the amount necessary to accomplish the goal of "universal" health 
> care (insurance) is not an unknowable quantity;  we can simply back 
> into it by applying the kind of Fermi bottoms-up estimation that I 
> offered.  You can offer an alternative estimation, but as I recall you 
> did not despite repeated attempts to encourage you to do so.  The 
> closest thing you got was the kind of sophomoric rhetorical snow-job 
> you attempt again, above.
Snow job?  I don't see it that way.  I looked at the exact platform 
statement, researched what it was talking about and the Congressional 
analysis of that program, and compared that to the estimated number of 
people along with my own rule of thumbs.  I did offer specific numbers 
and estimations of the relevant population distribution over coverage 
needs.  Perhaps you didn't read that?
>> I think we all groaned when the Bush administration (if you remember) 
>> committed to the bailout.
> Yes, we did.
> jb

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