The Silence of the Bets
By Bryan Caplan
Last week’s post on “Bets, Portfolios, and Belief Revelation” sparked a long list of responses: Tyler (here, here, plus a ton on Twitter), Alex, Robin, Eli Dourado, and more. Adam Gurri kindly aggregates here. The quick version of my view: Alex shows that betting is extremely probative from an orthodox neoclassical perspective, and I show that making neoclassical assumptions more psychologically realistic makes the case for betting even stronger.
There are only two Cowenian points I feel a strong need to rebut.
1. Tyler accuses Alex and Robin of falling prey to his “fallacy of mood affiliation”:
[R]ead Robin’s framing or Alex’s repeated use of the mood-affiliated word “bullsh*t” to describe both scientific communication and reporting…
But does the charge apply? Let’s return to Tyler’s original explanation of the fallacy:
[P]eople are first choosing a mood or attitude, and then finding the disparate views which match to that mood and, to themselves, justifying those views by the mood. I call this the “fallacy of mood affiliation,” and it is one of the most underreported fallacies in human reasoning.
Frankly, I don’t see the slightest connection between mood affiliation so defined and what Robin or Alex say. They’re not “finding disparate views” to match a mood. They’re defending ONE simple proposition: bets are a very good way to discovering what people really think and figure out who’s right.
At risk of sounding exasperated: What term may we use to describe “frivolous, evasive, and irresponsible intellectual output” without being accused of Tyler’s favorite fallacy? Does Tyler seriously deny that such output surrounds us?
2. Tyler interprets the pro-betting position “as a preference for witnessing comeuppance for its own sake.” I very sincerely disavow this view in my Bettor’s Oath:
When I win a bet, I will not shame my opponent, for a betting loser has far more honor than the mass of men who live by loose and idle talk.
A better description of the underlying motive of the pro-betting position is: To draw a bright line between (a) serious thinkers who measure their words, state their views clearly, and humble themselves before the facts, and (b) frivolous thinkers who exaggerate, state their views vaguely, and feign constant vindication by events.
Why is the line between serious and frivolous thinkers so important to brightly draw? Because frivolous thinkers vastly outnumber serious thinkers, to the point that serious thinkers are difficult to detect. The world of ideas has long been a dreadful cacophony, and the Internet has aggravated this curse a thousand-fold. The Betting Norm greatly mitigates this problem by spurring frivolous voices to silence themselves. This in turn allows serious thinkers to hear each other, learn from each other, make intellectual progress, and credibly publicize their progress.