Locklin on science

Just as good alternatives to big-five theories of personality

Posted in five minute university, models by Scott Locklin on December 24, 2020

It is a source of irritation to me that there exists ridiculously worthless and wrong psychological models in widespread use. Big five sends me into dangerous blood pressure levels. It’s preposterous and obviously only says something about the obsessions of the WIERD substrate it allegedly applies to, more than it says anything about the diversity of personality among human beings. When I say big-five is, worthless I don’t only mean it only applies to WIERD people, though that’s observably true; I mean it pertains to states of mind rather than permanent characteristics. It also is pretty worthless in predicting behavior, which is the only useful thing about psychometrics. I don’t care what people are feeling like when they take a test unless that maps directly onto long term behavioral patterns. Otherwise, it’s just checking in; “hey how you doin’ today?”

Five factor tests are essentially bags of words that respondents are asked to agree or disagree with. The assumption is that the bag of words form a basis set for describing human personalities. I have no doubts that they cluster very well under linear regression at least on WEIRD personalities. The problem is such models don’t have much explanatory power in explaining actual human psychological variance. 

Self testing, my results are all over the map. For example I took the thing and got this, this afternoon:

Addressing them one by one: for an extrovert, I surely do spend a lot of time by myself. I’m funny and do well at parties, but my natural set point is sitting on a mountain somewhere with a book. I’ll cop to “emotional stability” in that I’m fairly unflappable, though at various times in my life I was probably pretty neurotic. Locklin the disagreeable? Certainly I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m also the dickhead who checks in on people to make sure they’re doing OK and who notices when they’re not; disagreeable people don’t do that. Conscientious; whatever -totally varies over time there are multiple 5 year periods of my life where I did nothing but chase women and drink heavily. I do usually pick things up off the floor, and go through vast map-reduce phases of gather/sort, though sometimes my desk looks like a junk pile.  Intellect/Imagination aka “Openness” -this one is most hilarious of all. It’s true, I revel in matters of the mind, I enjoy travel, art and I like messing with new ideas. While I’m fairly creative in my thinking, I’m also extremely traditional in my thinking: something that doesn’t compute with psychologists, who obviously don’t read much history or know who Ezra Pound or LeMaitre was. Or, for that matter Freeman Dyson or Heisenberg or Mendel or Celine or  Ernst Junger or Dali …. the list is endless -particularly among artistic and scientific giants. None of this is capable of predicting, say, who I voted for in the last election, or how likely I am to check in on the nice old lady upstairs. It’s just a bunch of shaggy dog stories and stereotypes about self regarding white college students in America in the mid to late 20th century.

another bad model mapped onto other cultures

I think pretty much anything is better than this; for example, the Hippocrates theory that men come in Phlegmatic, Choleric, Sanguine and Melancholic flavors is obviously better from a behavioral point of view, as they relate to how people behave. I don’t think those clusters map onto anything real, but I know people who exemplify all of these archetypes. Particularly people in Latin countries, more or less where the idea originated in ancient times.

There is also the Japanese blood type personality test. I only know a few Japanese people, and only well enough to know they take this idea seriously. I know that the English language wiki on the subject dismisses it as superstition, where the wiki link on big-five is treated with gaping credulity, and that seems to me, well, rather culturally insensitive. I’m willing to bet Japanese blood personality is more real and possibly more useful in Japan than big-five is in the US.

There are many things that matter which five-factor tests are completely blind to, for example: energy level. Some people vibrate with energy and enthusiasm. It has nothing to do with *any* of the five factors. It probably has something to do with thyroid activity and physical fitness. Dominance -some people dominate the room, and some have to be in charge otherwise they lose their shit; others go with the flow. Secretiveness; some people are not particularly forthcoming and you have no idea what they’re up to; they may even become anxious if you pry. They’re not necessarily up to anything shady, that’s just how some people are. Spooks love hiring such people. Curiosity: some people are curious about all kinds of things; other people really like sports or whatever fills up their hours.  Curious people tend to make better scientists, engineers, mechanics and detectives. Sociopathy; imagine you forgot to look for this in a life partner or cofounder -five factor doesn’t think it’s of any importance at all, because muh factors. Self reliance: some people don’t like getting help from others, other people seem to enjoy being dependent parasites. Character;  some people do as they say and say as they do. According to the five factor model, character has something to do with cleaning your room, or how likely you are to execute on a plan. Well, I’m here to tell you these are completely unrelated traits. There are deceptive, evil assholes who clean their rooms and can execute plans well, and people of the absolute highest character who live like slobs and are disorganized and lazy. Courage: some people don’t mind having grenades thrown at them all day; others wet the bed at the idea of walking around in the woods by themselves without a covid diaper on their face. Thrill seeking: some people may or may not be courageous, but seek sensory stimulation; others prefer a boring life and purchase lots of insurance. Beyond that: impulsivity is a trait many display, and others do not. You may be impulsive, a physical coward and thrill seeking: people like this exist -you meet them all the time. Five-factor will simply lump them all in with other unrelated populations of people such as one encounters on college campuses and in the clerical jobs they mostly matriculate to later. All of these are absolutely critical to people’s self conception and how they behave in the actual observable world. Modern psychology pretty much ignores them.

I think Cattell’s 16 factor test might measure more important things. However whenever I take the thing I always get a bullseye. Does this mean I have no personality, or does it mean it doesn’t measure my personality well? I think it might be a good start from a behavioral point of view, but it seems to be fairly unpopular among psychologist types. Cattell of course started out with training in the physical sciences, which is why he presumably thinks like me; wanting to make maps to observable behaviors.

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory MMPI is an old spook developed thing more or less designed to ascertain how fucked up you are. I think it’s reasonably useful for filtering out WEIRD types who might be mentally ill, or, like, evil, and things like it should probably be more widely used. This despite the fact that, in America anyway, the prevalence of personality disorders is approaching 10%. Seems useful to me even if you can only catch half of them. Tolerance of crazy and evil people is one of the worst things about modernity.

Myers Briggs I do not consider a better model; it’s astrology tier. Nobody else seems to take it seriously either, except for the people who sell the tests, and the credulous people who pass them around because they’re fun. There are other crummy ones out there; one is called DISC, and it seems to be universally reviled by academic psychology researchers, despite it being invented by the creator of Wonder Woman. I don’t know why they hate it so much; doesn’t seem much worse than five factor -maybe oriented towards winnowing out people who might be good at sales, which, unlike five-factor, is at least an ambition to be useful to somebody. Also inventing Wonder Woman is pretty cool.

Psychology is mostly a profoundly silly basket of shaggy dog stories masquerading as a serious subject; it gets sillier by the decade. The five factor test is one of the tools the psychologists seem most proud of, but it’s really just a demonstration of how intellectually bankrupt they are. Anyone who has actually understood the linear regression tool knows you can have five “good” factors and understand absolutely nothing about how the universe works. After all, butter production in Bangladesh, US cheese production and sheep population in the US and Bangladesh is an absolutely superb three factor model for the S&P500 [Leinweber’s famous PDF]. Since these mere three factors explain 99% of the variance in the S&P500, isn’t this a better model than five-factor?

We laugh at the idea that sheep, cheese and butter predict the S&P500, then credulously accept the idea that psychologists have some how nailed it with the five factor model because “muh variance” on some arbitrary data set of a ridiculously censored population sample. It’s not that I don’t think studying human behavior is interesting; it is one of the most interesting subjects there is. It’s just that psychological researchers are a bunch of doofuses.

35 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Bob Van Wagner said, on December 24, 2020 at 5:27 pm

    A dog’s personality is largely known by its shape and size. Tiny dogs tend to bark alot and be hyper. Large dogs are like Buddhas. When wolves are raised with humans like dogs, over a few generations the wolves’ descendants come to look like dogs and act like dogs. It is unfair to metrics of human facial or bone structure used as models of persnality so harshly, it is a wrong-headed, cold-shouldered, shrugging off of good data points and models, due to lack of empathy and understanding. Yes, it sure seemed silly, and prejudcial, but was the unlying concept wrong? No.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 24, 2020 at 5:31 pm

      I remember there was some cranial measurement on immigrants to the US used to justify immigration restrictions (I don’t think such things need any justification). Except their children had more American skull measurements, basically because they ate better.

      Pretty sure dog personalities come from their owners interactions with them. Dipshits think yappy little tyrant dogs are “cute” when in fact they’re being jerks. Big dogs have to be calm, otherwise they’re unmanageable and are put down; whether nature or nurture, you still never see yappy tyrant wolf hounds. Or if you do, it’s the last thing you see.

      • Bob Van Wagner said, on December 24, 2020 at 6:24 pm

        The Roman’s used a lava-based concrete which salt water improves in strength and wear, structural wear, which modern raspy pointy “sand” based concretes fail at. It is why so many Roman public works carry water even today, or at least suvive to show clear purpose two millennium later. The enviroment is also a forcing function, unvoidable in a life forms, or things, destiny. Moon dust, as the 1969 walkers found, is so abrasive it easily ruined seals and suit frabics and boot shields. Human’s can escape the bounds of Earth, but we still must adapt to the environment and to our whimsies as well. So yes, the expectations of humans drive form and function in humans and the life forms around them.

        Yet until very recently the Roman’s trick of concrete was lost to our memory. So it is that the old wisdoms of astrology, of alchemy, of the measurement of facial structures to predict behaviours, is also lost. In alchemy, which Isaac Newton considered himself a student of, we moderns very efficient mock and redefine, or perhaps in mocking have come to quite perverted understandings of what the alchemists meant, which understandings come to be predominant, and are outstandingly silly and mockable. We delight in mocking. Understanding and patience, reconstruction of what was once widely known amoung experts of other eras, is very very hard.

        This is the time we live in.

        Yet in each time, the form is an indicator, and a strong one, of the function. But the understanding of the usefulness of the form, and the acceptability of the “wisdoms”, likewise the unacceptability of possibilities to be considered, these are a function of the current, and most of that superstructure of communication in a time is not preserved readily, viz the harborworks of Caesarea in the time of Augustine and how that concrete worked.

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 24, 2020 at 6:34 pm

          It’s entirely possible there is something to physiognomy. Certainly some people’s faces provoke a strong reaction which doesn’t seem entirely wrong. And of course, there is a legitimate subject in physical anthropology, which is probably completely dead as a science due to shivering too many timbers.

          But, I’d submit the nazi phrenologist measuring the Tibetan guy above: whatever he thought he knew about Tibetan nose size is probably not knowledge worth preserving.

          • Bob Van Wagner said, on December 24, 2020 at 6:48 pm

            As individuals, humans are best judged, and in individuals the personality and character dominate, not the phrenology. “The Razor’s Edge”, eh? I thought that was the photo!

  2. Maggette said, on December 24, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Dito on the blood pressure levels.

    Jordan Peterson, the Gandalf the Grey of the INCEL snowflakes on the web, is droning on and on about that stuff. It predicts basically everything to these people. Kind of like astroIogy. I regret the 5 h I spent reading up on Wiki and papers about that shit.
    It’s absurdly bad science.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 24, 2020 at 5:33 pm

      I guess you know me pretty well by now; it was actually a JP video that originally rustled my jimmies on this subject. Talk about dumb psychologists -he raised a fruitcake BPD hypochondriac and got so addicted to pills (taking your meds shouldn’t be a rule for life; at least not that kind) he had to go visit some quacks in Russia to be put into a coma to be cured. People should clean their rooms though. Also Lobsters.

      Merry Christmas to you and your family!

      • Maggette said, on December 24, 2020 at 6:15 pm

        I never understood the hype around him. I always think I am not sophisticated enough and I am missing something.

        Wish you are havin great holidays.

        • William O. B'Livion said, on December 25, 2020 at 5:59 am

          > I never understood the hype around him.

          Fairly obvious. He stood up to the SJWs from within their fortress, and he does it with their own language, to their face.

          He’s telling people–mostly men–that they have to take control over their own lives, and that they can be better.

          He’s saying to the college age males more or less what Jocko Willink is saying to the solider/worker class. Be disciplined about your life. Work hard. Aim for a goal.

          Yeah, these are things that you shouldn’t have to hear when you’re 20. You should have been hearing them from the cradle. But my (and Scott’s) generation didn’t always hear this from our parents, and the generations after us had even less contact with their fathers (if they had fathers).

          • Scott Locklin said, on December 25, 2020 at 2:33 pm

            Magette’s culture isn’t as fucked up as America is. I’m pretty sure even the single mother families there are reasonable, where in America they’re almost universally a disaster and source of extreme social pathology.

            I thought JP’s 10 minutes were pretty cool, sorta, kinda in that he has enough training in rhetoric (probably via psycho-therapeutic bilge) he could express himself well. On the other hand, playing to the other guy’s fiddle and engaging with their bizarro lord of the flies system of morality is a mug’s game; someone like Bolsonaro (or, to invoke a lesser devil, Yarvin) has it right. Talk directly to the people, and treat “gotcha” people as the scurrying vermin they are. Ihr seid verfluchte hunde!

            Raising him up as an exemplar is some kind of controlled oppos thing, whether it’s done on purpose or not. It wouldn’t surprise me if he himself gets a sex change in coming years. Virtually everything out of his mouth besides “clean your room” comes from the same ideology that brought us cancel culture and drag queen story hour. He’s proven it with his own disastrous recent life story, his hypochondria, psychological fragility and above all, his obsession with sickness. Look at what he and his kook daughter talk about in their vlogs, interviews and so on: they’re people who revel in their own profound brokenness. They obsess about remedies, philtres, potions, regimens: I do not believe there is anything physically wrong with either one of them, nor do I think they’re in any position to give advice to others. Many such cases in decadent current year, of course, but the youtube keeps serving me up videos of them when I’d rather be watching videos on cold war jets, Jonathan Meades, Bill Burr or Mongolian throat singers. I keep saying no more of these! It doesn’t work!

            • maggette said, on December 26, 2020 at 1:32 pm

              One of the most epic openings. To bad my ancestors got their ass handed to them after Tetoburger Wald. .
              To me JP seems obsessed. Obviously he had other problems he should have worked on. I do not wish him any harm.

              But deciding to become the victim in the story because you have been stressed out since your wife got cancer!?!?! Somebody in that story is mortally ill. And it is NOT JP. Talking about being the attention whore.

              There is a certain breed in the “new masculinity” fan boy population out there. IMHO they are actually more toxic than, or at least as toxic as, the “me too” movement. I call them the “me first” movement.

              If they would just sit back, relax……and maybe…just maybe….realize that the universe is not about them, their dreams, their goals and their manhood. Nobody fucking cares. They shouldn’t neither. Becoming aware of your own insignificance can be astonishing liberating. At least it was to me.

              The universe is a exciting, intimidating and wonderful beast. Enjoy the ride.

            • Alex Byasse said, on January 14, 2021 at 4:30 am

              The thing people don’t understand about cunts like JP is that they are the ones giving these fat purple haired lesbos a voice. Its the conflict and drama around these conversations he has with these psychos that supply the publicity and create the conversation that nobody would be having if it wasn’t for “articulated” cunts like JP talking back. His whole purpose is to wow people with arguments he thinks will make people think “hey, I didn’t think of that, this guy is pretty smart”. If you want to prove you are smart apply yourself to something that is actually useful to humanity (science and engineering) or by generating wealth for yourself, not by turning empty conversations with mentally ill outcasts of society into a career.

        • Walt said, on December 25, 2020 at 3:48 pm

          What Will said. Also American parenting is at (hopefully) a nadir and half of our boys grew up with no father in the home. Those that had a father likely had a passive one who was bossed-around by the mother. JP is a surrogate father – a bad one.

          Read “The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax if you want to understand more. James Dobson’s polemics are good also.

          Our country will definitely not survive the Millennials.

  3. atp said, on December 24, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    What’s the saying about a decent model often being useful, even if it’s wrong?

    The theoretical Jungian ideas that supposedly led to the creation of the 4-factor Myers-Briggs model are awfully hokey. I’d be suprised if they map to anything real about how the brain actually works. On the other hand, as an introverted and rather credulous 18 or 19 year-old, reading “Gifts Differing” by Myers was very useful to me in at least one important way: It made very clear that most other people do NOT think the same way I do, and it was foolishly naive of me to assume that they did.

    Some of those factors do seem to map, in part, to real things that matter. E.g., the “Thinking” vs. “Feeling” distinction. I definitely found that “F” girlfriends were harder to get along with long-term. No, not a very large sample size, but my wife is a “T”, same as me, which I don’t think was a coincidence.

    I never looked into it carefully, but AFAIK, the Big Five and Myers-Briggs are nearly equivalent. If one is the supposed gold standard while the other reviled, well, that suggests that the folks saying so don’t really know what they’re talking about.

  4. chiral3 said, on December 24, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    I was going to mention something that ATP touched on. Re M-B being informed by Jung. The concept of extro/introversion isn’t related to the dictionary definition, it’s more so defined by being recharged or drained being around people. When I am feeling low energy or psychologically drained I head for the nearest quiet room and some books. My wife? She wants to be surrounded by a group of people.

    I’ve been put through the ringer through my life. It started young where I feel like they just kept throwing intelligence tests at me because they were at a loss to understand my behavior and why I puked on tests in school. I kept getting extremely high scores and I can only assume they were just hoping they could black swan a test result that put a bow on some narrative that I was retarded. The history of intelligence tests and the immediate politicizing of them is very interesting. I think in between choking down steaks as his only sustenance and being remanded to a padded cell JP has talked about this – that they really started for military service, 80 and below being defined as this ethically horrific region where you’re essentially too f’d to do any job for the military.

    My most recent employer has a unhealthy affinity for the Hogan assessment. It’s purported to be a tool, but the real reason for it is to assess people’s ability to mix with the board and the c-suite without causing problems. I will say that it was one of the more interesting results I have ever had to go through. Hogan is chess to M-B’s checkers. Some of the questions were easy to see through (e.g, “Is the US Postal service efficient?” Of course it is. Despite any personal anecdotes to the contrary their ability to get mail to several hundred million people everyday without fucking it up on the reg is about as extraordinary as putting someone on the moon. If the fuckwits in this country had to build it today we’d be screwed; but, as is the case with bridges and dams and such, thank you to the former generations of great men.) As a rule, though, the Hogan questions were complex, nuanced, and all interrelated. It takes almost a Kabbalahistic understanding to decipher.

    We’ve largely failed at putting models and FICO scores around personality and intelligence. They have largely existed to inform the exclusion of people based on what it is believed they can’t do, versus the inclusion of people based on what it is believed they can do. Worked great for the military and the spook services. For the human potential movements? Not so much.

    • chiral3 said, on December 24, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      Just for shits and giggles I took the same test. I got 37, 26, 51, 87, 76.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 25, 2020 at 3:05 pm

      Never heard of the Hogan test; looks interesting -like they’re looking to filter out a particularly toxic kind of fuck up (who, to be fair might be fine in less stressful roles).

      I’ve given the introvert extrovert thing a lot of thought. I know the non dictionary official definition means something about “energy levels,” and that’s what 5-factor tests for, but my results are still basically a random number generator. It’s really situational. Some people give me energy, some people drain my strength. If you stop to think about it: there are few to no introverts in a state of nature. Humans don’t live that way. A general tendency to reclusiveness is probably the result of not finding one’s tribe, or living in a demoralizing society.

      • George W. said, on December 29, 2020 at 4:42 am

        Where are these tribes anyhow? I reject their existence: the workplace doesn’t count.

        Even before Corona, church participation was down, as was freemason membership, golfing participation, hunting participation, dining, movie theatres, sporting events etc. Not that those institutions that matter to me specifically, but it’s a pretty decent proxy for human reclusiveness. Also it’s increasingly common to move away from family. These stats are worse among young 20 somethings like myself.

        Most of the people I knew in college pissed away their prime drinking years with weed and video games. There was a difference in the parties I went to 8 years ago as a teenager and now, phones used to be shittier for one. Nobody is “introverted” for disliking flashlight huddles. Never went to many bars, perhaps someone else can confirm that they too have become worse. Social media is almost a prerequisite to romantic life. Can’t say I blame anyone here, it’s an effective vetting tool for crazy people and a method to show off how much money you have.

        As far as I can tell, it’s all going big and online. Small businesses begone to make way for mega-corp! Coronavirus was just the nitrous oxide. Expect more viruses from karma and poor agricultural practices.

        At least the internet has provided a small blog acknowledging that: there are limitations to OLS, the laws of thermodynamics haven’t changed, quantum computing hype is fake news, and most recently, that personality tests are a mere children’s game.

        • Scott Locklin said, on December 29, 2020 at 11:09 am

          Get off the internet, zoomer. There’s a whole world out there, to create and to conquer.

          • George W. said, on December 31, 2020 at 10:43 pm

            Most of which, is… on the internet for the zoomers (around 4-8 hours of it, or virtually all freetime). Future personality tests will read:

            “If someone tweets something that conflicts with your worldview, how likely is it that you will respond?”

        • Bob Van Wagner said, on December 29, 2020 at 2:17 pm

          (1) More viruses aplenty, but hope not. And more targeted ones too, personalized. All possible due to the recent years RNA and DNA engineering, post-Crisper, where a party can start making it’s own customized 30k+ strand of infectivity or vacciniticiy for a few thousands of dollars in lab equipment. And then one can, if the nucleus wall is breachable, target a virus for the 23-and-Me banked genome map of a particular person or family. The Chinese didn’t do the W80 steal in a way their social and cultural infrastructure of 4000 so odd years in bales of 300 would support but that same culture has the Gu Jar as a background, and favors poisoning and deadly bites more than a Sicilian grandma with doulble bolted locks on her in-law apartment mini-fridge,

          (2) The personality tests and big corp. I agree, I think, with you on the details on the ground now, but I hope along with Mr. Locklin that such shackles on human progress are blowing in the wind …. away. The personality tests come out of the WWII era mass call up of a then still agrararian and self-employed, skill for hire, and tiny biz society. Few the big corps, although famous the unions. What the Brain Trust firing up the War effort wanted was efficient utiiization of hidden brain power, and in 1940, brain power was still very much dispersed in all sorts of human endeavor, for example see the Welsh tale made movie: “How Green Was My Valley”, 1938 as Broadway stage, 1945 as Hollywood blockbuster, Bra and Ket, “[]” timewise. In 1950, iirc, 70%+ of working Americans were sel-employed, for hire. The concept of an ’employee’ meant not at all what it did in the highly regulated and legislated term of art and law it does today, where less than 20%, iirc, are self-employed captains of their own destinys, the rest are peons in a peonage called W2, or squires with FEIN’s. And the squires are miniscule in number, compared to the peonage.

          Yet the personality tests as employment HR tools came up our of that ground, it was more of a weed, not an offshoot of the IQ and aptitude tests. Not the same genes. It was, that weed of personality tests, encouraged mightily by a spiritual level breakdown in morals where the crass and immoral took the reins of power in corps, in Higher Academia and in the Deep State, mostly the federal leviathan, and then LBJ’s Great Society social workism infrastructures, grown on, like mold, Ike’s “national defense” initiatives in all national arenas. From McNamara’s game theory abyssmalism, to 1966’s novel “The Harrad Experiment”, to the huge flows of easy money in Big Ed, the pushers of destructive moralities took over the College Presidencies, the Student Life Directorates, the Board Rooms of Big Corps (Boards are full of decorations, actual ability is a trouble), the NGOs, because evil is real and in this era, a mighty motive. End times, really. A more acceptable to the normie mind take on personality tests and their rise in Big Corp is that EEOC and such restrictions on hiring, the felonization of making employement choices outside of what is politically correct in the moment, forced Big Corp into using them rather than aptitude metrics which are often called racially biased.

  5. Rickey said, on December 24, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Psychologists are like HR departments, they create a bunch of convoluted and mostly useless ideas and rules to justify their existence. The best “psychological” advice I ever read was when I checked out a library book on how to buy a used car. The author said if you are buying from an individual, examine the car where he lives and not at your own residence or a neutral location. Observe how he maintains his house/property and any other items he owns which is an excellent indicator of how he treated the car he wants to sell to you. Only an absolute moron would not clean up their car to give you a positive impression before selling it.
    Along those lines, if you want to really know a person, talking to them directly such as a job interview or giving them a psychological test may not help since they probably will give you a false impression to impress you. If possible, observe and discover how they treat their coworkers, family members, friends, waitresses, etc. and how they handle stressful situations.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 25, 2020 at 3:09 pm

      I think there is a lot of useful psychological folk wisdom like that out there. Salesmen and small businessmen (who are by nature all salesmen) are where you’re going to learn such things. Also magicians and stage hypnotists, and for crowds, public relations and image management folks. Maybe police detective types also. Such things could theoretically be systematized and made more effective, but the types of people who do psychological studies seem almost uniquely ill equipped to do so.

      I used to assume the spooks have some kind of working psychological technologies they don’t want us to know about, but most of it is probably gorp.

  6. ian said, on December 24, 2020 at 11:27 pm

    Well, shit. You have nailed your point right on my forehead, particularly after reading the S&P500 paper. I think I finally get _that_ point. Thanks.

    So where should I look to get a sense of good statistics, or conversely, how to spot bad statistics? Is there one or two topics I can look at, or just “all” of statistics?

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 25, 2020 at 3:16 pm

      The simplest thing is to assume all studies are false. Most have fatal sample bias, or are p-value hacked. Most experts are idiots, and the most successful ones are simply good at catering to the prejudices of upper middle class managerial types who write the funny papers, and who are almost universally dunderheads. It’s like predicting the S&P 500 will go up every day; you’ll be right 2/3 of the time.

      If you become an expert statistician capable of debunking such things, you’re not likely to make many friends. Even in organizations who make money via being right about things; scientific organizations, drug companies, universities will become off limits to you. You’ll basically condemn yourself to working at a narrow aristocracy of hedge funds that hire people “low on agreeableness.”

      • chiral3 said, on December 25, 2020 at 3:45 pm

        A conversation I had maybe 20 years ago with our old mutual friend, originally out of Germany, fondness for cats, has always stuck with me. It was around the time that bulge brackets were hiring technical analysts. What? Fibonacci, resonances, numerology, resistance bands? I thought it was objectively nuts. Of course it’s all bullshit but he says “No, no, no, it’s a system that people stick too, that’s why it isn’t nuts.” It dawns on me that there is value, even if it’s built on bullshit. The system is a method that disallows the human tendency to muck with things when you’re in the shit. The old adage “plan the trade and trade the plan” is because most people aren’t brutally cold and tactical when the shit is hitting the fan, usually doing the opposite of what you should do in that situation, fueled by a vast reservoir of cognitive biases. So the value to the system isn’t the system itself, but the governor on the human interface. Maybe the same thing applies to management voodoo and DSM bug-collecting psychobabble.

        Living in a world today where kids run python code they copy-pasted from the internet that tells them the sun rises because roosters crow may not bode well for this observation. But systems control the masses, allow for credentialization, cow colleges, soothes the psyche with order.

  7. maggette said, on December 26, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    That was something that always puzzled me. At what point does “having a model is always better than having no model” become ridiculous?
    Our mutual friend who writes books on trading options once wrote something along the lines of: whenever you have a rough understanding of the strengths, weaknesses and limits of the model, the model can add value.

    Maybe I just overreact to the people that take the M-B stuff too seriously? I don’t know.The little research I did on the topic was not very convincing.

    • Scott Locklin said, on December 26, 2020 at 5:06 pm

      About all I can get from M-B or whatever is “some people have personalities.” Technical analysis is actually fairly reasonable in comparison; especially when combined with bet sizing: it tells you to do specific things in certain conditions and you have an objective figure of merit you can test. Can big five or M-B tell us how to treat a person with this typology? Place them in jobs? I doubt it.

    • chiral3 said, on December 26, 2020 at 6:34 pm

      I suppose this is where it becomes definitional, or at least philosophy. One could argue that we are always going off models, that they aren’t necessarily exogenous. We apply heuristics and other meta-classification reasoning all the time. While I function similarly to a Kalman filter in some ways I do much better at driving than a Kalman filter. Even more fundamentally, Husserl’s phenomenology would consider my knowledge of the wall behind me as I write this – the precise reconstruction of it’s properties in my mind allowing me to contemplate it’s function given I can hear the wind outside but not feel the wind – as a model. I can even predict with this model, quite precisely. It’s a model because the wall doesn’t exist in my head. Athletes run Monte Calro simulation all the time to obtain some of the benefit of performing a physical movement without the cost. Gary Marcus wrote an interesting, albeit dated, book that touches on some of this called The Algebraic Mind.

      The problem with trading models comes down to repeatability and OOS performance. The mythology around lucky idiots and the contribution from cognitive biases makes the discussion almost ludicrous outside the domain of hedging. There was a time when order book manipulation and transaction cost and tax avoidance worked (Rentec) but it’s just a different word today. Even if you wanted to stay in those spaces the models and models assumptions have been completely disrupted and/or competed away. Back in the nascent spaces with barriers to entry (competition) and asymmetric information and unevolved regulation people are making money. That’s why a 35 year old head of credit at a PE can print $50M p.a. to his basically tax exempt personal account today. Ironically this bit of fortune was the product of luck and regulation (and maybe a prepared mind). We live in a time when there’s contingent capital as an asset class. As an asset class! Why? Because everything is going to be low-vol yet we’ll have 1/2000 events every 10 years. On the back end you can see the “sombrero-ness” of data; 6th momenty stuff where everything is hugging the docile mean 95% of the time and going batshit nuts the rest of the time. You mean to tell me that traditional models fare well in this environment? I attribute much of teh death of quant to this, and it’s attributable to regulation, privatization, and competition. It’s always been that way. The short comings of the earliest capital accords in the 1990’s provided solid ground for the PhDs of the late 1990’s though 2011 to set up camp upon.

      In this regard I agree that having a rough understand of the strengths, weaknesses, and limits of a model can not only add value, but keep you from dying on a particular hill. There was something incredibly prophetic about the pomo crew – the Barthes and Borges and such. Remember Mackenzie’s An Engine and Not a Camera? Paraphrasing Milton, this idea that models were not external analyses but rather engines of economic creation? Reminds me of how modern physics is going.

      T quote Ernst Junger from The Glass Bees, “a halfwitted mathematician” can “cause more damage in a
      second than Frederick the Great,…”

      • maggette said, on December 26, 2020 at 8:19 pm

        thx to both of you.

        Chiral3, I don’t know you personally and hence I have nothing to gain from the brown nosing that follows:
        the things you write almost always strike me as extremely interesting and deep. Also, IMHO you have a talent for writing.
        You probably don’t have the time, but I would love to read more from you. If you already have a blog or something I would certainly follow!!!

        The world can rely on Scott alone for interesting posts 😉
        Sorry for hijacking.


  8. anonymous said, on December 26, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    In undergrad, I was accused of cheating on my personality test. Our professor had us all take an MBTI, before sorting us into teams for some class project. We were given the tests again when resorting for a new project. He spent something like 2 hours ranting at the class because our test results didn’t repeat to within some deviation that he needed. He had some elaborate hypothesis about how maximizing interpersonal stress would produce better work, and we were ruining it with our nefarious sabotage.

    Hell of an introduction to engineering and academia! Maybe I should have taken different lessons from it than I did at the time.

  9. anonymous said, on December 26, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    Actually, one of the lessons that I wish I had learned earlier and to a greater degree than I did was to care far less about what other people thought, and to take their worldviews, systems, and holy gibberish less seriously than I did. I took people too seriously in an attempt to learn. There are a great many interesting things to learn about the world, and those things are almost entirely obscured by the noise generated by mankind.

    Your attitude, Mr. Locklin, is why I read your blog, and it’s something I need to learn.

  10. Cameron said, on December 27, 2020 at 11:57 pm

    Scott, I hope you publish a collection of polished essays. Keep up the good work.

  11. benespen said, on January 4, 2021 at 9:19 pm

    I’ve got some mileage out of the DiSC model. It is super-simplified, as Marsden originally set it up as two different axes: how high energy are you and how questioning are you?

    It works well enough. D is high energy and questioning, I high energy and accepting, C moderate energy and questioning, and S moderate energy and accepting.

    When I learned this model, it was focused on behavior and prediction, in a corporate America kind of way. I’ve found it reasonably useful in that context, communication styles and work practices. It provided reasonably accurate rules of thumb for the kind of person who wants to have an argument over something but won’t take it personal, versus someone who’ll harbor a secret grudge for months or years; or the kind of person who wants everything important in the subject line of an email compared to someone who needs all the details.

    Is that a complete model of human personality? Hell no, but is useful, which is something. The company that owns it mucked up their assessment by jiggering the results so that 25% of people fall into their four categories, so recent versions aren’t quite as useful in the way I described.

    It is funny that Marsden doesn’t get more love right now. He was an early adopter of polyamory, and wrote Wonder Woman as a feminist icon, but then again he also characterized the high/low energy axis as dominance and submission, so maybe the psychologists don’t know what to make of him.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 5, 2021 at 7:04 pm

      The fact that the academic psychologists dislike it probably is a decent vote in its favor.
      Thanks for sharing your experience.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: