The Involuntary “Derp”

In this post, I try to add another dimension to the term derp. This term with this meaning was popularized by Noah Smith in this post.

He defines it as: “The constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors”.

This un-surprisingly happens a lot on twitter and for convenience it has been shortened. (Though perhaps he could have chosen a word that didn’t sound so silly, but it’ll probably stick like other silly sounding internet words like “blog”).

Anyway, Mike Konczal followed this up with a post about fleshing out the derp concept, when some people are so indoctrinated with their priors that they undergo “denialism” and completely fail to actually engage in the argument.

This got me thinking, the way that Smith and Konczal talk about derp it sounds like a logical error, that once they see that they are participating in derping they put some conscious thought in they will be able to stop.

Though this reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend. She had a strong prior, “Nuclear weapons are bad”. She however read, what she considered to be, well-reasoned, consistent and convincing argument, that we should allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons (I’m sorry I don’t have the link and haven’t read it, so can’t comment).

This argument contradicted her priors and if she wished to avoid derp she should have updated her priors and all would be well. I know her to be a reasonable person and usually updates her priors when faced with evidence. But she seemed to be in real distress that she couldn’t. She was experiencing what I call “The involuntary derp”.

The involuntary derp:  “Although faced with evidence to the contrary and the wish to update your priors, your prior’s evoke such a strong emotional reaction; you are unable to participate in Bayesian updating.”

There is obviously more to the idea of derp, but this is just perhaps expanding the idea out a little.


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