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When it comes to navigating a confusing world, taking the time to be precise has virtually never been worth it for me.
The “right answers” aren’t in the minutiae of scientific studies — they’re scrawled in 8-foot letters on the sides of trucks.
Trucker epistemology means valuing accuracy — even vague accuracy — far, far above precision.
Here’s why I recommend thinking like a vaguely accurate trucker, and not like a highly precise scientist:
Prioritizing accuracy is…
A wealth of context
Prioritizing precision is…
A poverty of context
prioritizing Accuracy is…
Being accurate doesn’t actually require a ton of mental effort. All it takes is a few heuristics:
Is evidence coming from different demographics, but pointing in the same direction? (follow-up: Is evidence to the contrary coming mostly from The Authorities?)
What do Dimwits and Topwits agree on? A consensus of Dimwits and Topwits is basically a meta-analysis. Here’s my article on that.
Of course, no heuristic can promise perfect accuracy, but these are pretty solid.
Imagine how different might life be around the world, if these simple statements had been distributed just a bit earlier than they were:
COVID is coming to America
Vaccines only help for a couple months
The truth does NOT have to be complex to change your life for the better. All I ever do is try to fully appreciate the low-hanging fruit of the information world, and complexity has mostly become obsolete for me. It’s just not that useful.
I can revoke a vaguely-accurate belief instantly if evidence for something else starts to pile up. Since I was only trying to be vaguely accurate, I didn’t put a ton of thought into it, and sunk costs are low.
As soon as I’m vaguely accurate about one thing, I can move on to be vaguely accurate about other things. Being vaguely accurate provides 95% of the benefits of being precisely accurate, in 0.0001% of the time.
Wealth of context
Vague accuracy, being fast-iterating and fast-compounding, quickly provides a wealth of context with which I can evaluate new ideas and emerging issues.
prioritizing Precision is…
Look at all the PhD’s it took to figure out whether Ivermectin is useful against COVID:
Around 30 PhDs, which at a rate of $250,000 each, comes to about $7.5 million worth of schooling before we can even get started. (And they didn’t even do a good job.)
Have you ever noticed that no amount of technical sophistication is sufficient to settle a debate? The world’s top experts are always debating some fine detail that somehow determines the fate of the universe.
Know who comprehends the fate of the universe? Truckers. Scientists aren’t out there protesting obvious injustices — it’s truckers. Scientists are sitting at home measuring their p-values.
Precision work is communication between academics only. Look at this pile:
I don’t know what this says, and literally, who cares. No matter how correct it is, it’s absolutely incommunicable. Am I going to learn the technical terminology required to understand every field of scientific research — well enough to detect when scientists are trying to deceive me for political reasons — for every new current event?
If I’m precise but inaccurate, it will not be easy to discard months of careful work and start over, if I’m even willing to stomach the sunk costs at all.
More likely, I’ll stay in denial, complain about how stupid truckers are, and pat myself on the back for being a good skeptic.
Accurate conclusions can be used to navigate related issues more skillfully. This is self-evident. The problem is, the significant time and effort invested in precision does not in turn make precise accuracy significantly more useful than vague accuracy in this way.
Poverty of context
Precision requires narrowing my scope of research, and the result is that virtually nothing I learn in the process is applicable to completely different issues. There’s a sardonic joke about academia that goes “you learn more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing.”
When it comes to making personal decisions in response to rapidly-shifting current events:
accuracy good, precision bad
In a future installment, I’ll share the best method I’ve yet discovered for being accurate.