Written by LW user Sarah Constantin
This post was a reminder of the availability of the option to just go and find out about the world, to start by googling and see where your curiosity leads you, to explore and build up models of the world, even if you don't have any starting knowledge. I think it's a great skill and there are worlds where EA's would benefit from being a lot better at it, since the problems we're trying to solve have all kinds of pieces and connections to the rest of the world e.g. knowing about AI might involve understanding how semiconductors work, and also the politics of the South China Sea and also who Elon Musk is currently friends and enemies with.
To write a fact post, you start with an empirical question, or a general topic. Something like "How common are hate crimes?" or "Are epidurals really dangerous?" or "What causes manufacturing job loss?"
It's okay if this is a topic you know very little about. This is an exercise in original seeing and showing your reasoning, not finding the official last word on a topic or doing the best analysis in the world.
Then you open up a Google doc and start taking notes.
....And then you start letting the data show you things.
You see things that are surprising or odd, and you note that.
You see facts that seem to be inconsistent with each other, and you look into the data sources and methodology until you clear up the mystery.
The advantage of fact posts is that they give you the ability to form independent opinions based on evidence. It's a sort of practice of the skill of seeing. They likely aren't the optimal way to get the most accurate beliefs -- listening to the best experts would almost certainly be better -- but you, personally, may not know who the best experts are, or may be overwhelmed by the swirl of controversy. Fact posts give you a relatively low-effort way of coming to informed opinions. They make you into the proverbial 'educated layman.'