William MacAskill misrepresents much of the evidence underlying his key arguments in "Doing Good Better"

by guzey17th Nov 201876 comments


Doing Good BetterCriticism of effective altruismCriticism of the effective altruism communityCommunity

I decided to remove the post from the EA Forum. Please read it on my site instead.

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Hi Alexey,

I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to consider what I’ve said in the book at such length. However, I do think that there’s quite a lot that’s wrong in your post, and I’ll describe some of that below. Though I think you have noticed a couple of mistakes in the book, I think that most of the alleged errors are not errors.

I’ll just focus on what I take to be the main issues you highlight, and I won’t address the ‘dishonesty’ allegations, as I anticipate it wouldn’t be productive to do so; I’ll leave that charge for others to assess.


  • Of the main issues you refer to, I think you’ve identified two mistakes in the book: I left out a caveat in my summary of the Baird et al (2016) paper, and I conflated overheads costs and CEO pay in a way that, on the latter aspect, was unfair to Charity Navigator.
  • In neither case are these errors egregious in the way you suggest. I think that: (i) claiming that the Baird et al (2016) should cause us to believe that there is ‘no effect’ on wages is a misrepresentation of that paper; (ii) my core argument against Charity Navigator, regarding their focus on ‘financial efficiency’ metrics like overhead costs, is both successful and accurat
... (read more)

Regarding to your point about Cost-effectiveness estimates. Your other objections to my article follow a similar pattern and do not address the substantive points that I raise (I invite the reader to check for themselves).

2. Cost-effectiveness estimates

Given the previous debate that had occurred between us on how to think and talk about cost-effectiveness estimates, and the mistakes I had made in this regard, I wanted to be sure that I was presenting these estimates in a way that those at GiveWell would be happy with. So I asked an employee of GiveWell to look over the relevant parts of the manuscript of DGB before it was published; in the end five employees did so, and they were happy with how I presented GiveWell’s views and research.

How can that fact be reconciled with the quotes you give in your blog post? It’s because, in your discussion, you conflate two quite different issues: (i) how to represent that cost-effectiveness estimates provided by DCP2, or by single studies; (ii) how to represent the (in my view much more rigorous) cost-effectiveness estimates provided by GiveWell. Almost all the quotes from Holden that you give are about (i). But the quotes you criticise

... (read more)
2guzey3yI wonder why my reply has so many downvotes (-8 score) and no replies. This could of course indicate that my arguments are so bad that they're not worth engaging with, but the fact that many of the members of the community find my criticism accurate and valuable, this seems unlikely.

As a datapoint, I thought that your reply was so bad that it was not worth engaging in, although I think you did find a couple of inaccuracies in DGB and appreciate the effort you went to. I'll briefly explain my position.

I thought MacAskill's explanations were convincing and your counter-argument missed his points completely, to the extent that you seem to have an axe to grind with him. E.g. if GiveWell is happy with how their research was presented in DGB (as MacAskill mentioned), then I really don't see how you, as an outsider and non-GW representative, can complain that their research is misquoted without having extremely strong evidence. You do not have extremely strong evidence. Even if you did, there's still the matter that GW's interpretation of their numbers is not necessarily the only reasonable one (as Jan_Kulveit points out below).

You completely ignored MacAskill's convincing counter-arguments while simultaneously accusing him of ignoring the substance your argument, so it seemed to me that there was little point in debating it further with you.

2guzey3yI guess this is a valid point of view. Just in case, I emailed GiveWell about this issue.
0guzey3ysee edit above
0guzey3ysee edit above
3guzey3yHi William, Thank you for your response. I apologize for the stronger language that I used in the first public version of this post. I believe that here you do not address most of the points I made either in the first public version or in the version that was up here at the moment of your comment. I will not change the post here without explicitly noting it, now that you have replied. I'm in the process of preparing a longer reply to you.
1guzey3yIn particular, the version of the essay that I initially posted here did not discuss the strength of the relationship between income and happiness in rich and poor countries -- I agree that this was a weak argument.
2guzey3yA technical comment: neither Web Archive, nor archive.fo archive the comments to this post, so I archived this page manually. PDF from my site [https://guzey.com/files/doing-good-better/2018-11-17-16-48-GMT-DGB-EAForum.pdf] captured at 2018-11-17 16-48 GMT edit: a reddit user suggested this archive of this page: http://archive.fo/jUkMB

[comment I'm likely to regret writing; still seems right]

It seems lot of people are reacting by voting, but the karma of the post is 0. It seems to me up-votes and down-votes are really not expressive enough, so I want to add a more complex reaction.

  • It is really very unfortunate that the post is framed around the question whether Will MacAskill is or is not honest. This is wrong, and makes any subsequent discussion difficult. (strong down-vote) (Also the conclusion ("he is not") is not really supported by the evidence.)
  • It is (and was even more in the blog version) over-zealous, interpreting things uncharitably, and suggesting extreme actions. (downvote)
  • At the same time, it seems really important to have an open and critical discussion, and culture where people can challenge 'canonical' EA books and movement leaders. (upvote)
  • Carefully going through the sources and checking if papers are not cherry-picked and represented truthfully is commendable. (upvote)
  • Having really good epistemics is really important, in particular with the focus on long-term. Vigilance in this direction seems good. (upvote)

So it seems really a pity the post was not framed as a question s... (read more)

I agree with all the points you make here, including on the suggested upvote/downvote distribution, and on the nature of DGB. FWIW, my (current, defeasible) plan for any future trade books I write is that they'd be more highbrow (and more caveated, and therefore drier) than DGB.

I think that's the right approach for me, at the moment. But presumably at some point the best thing to do (for some people) will be wider advocacy (wider than DGB), which will inevitably involve simplification of ideas. So we'll have to figure out what epistemic standards are appropriate in that context (given that GiveWell-level detail is off the table).

Some preliminary thoughts on heuristics for this (these are suggestions only):

Standards we'd want to keep as high as ever:

  • Is the broad brush strokes picture of what is being conveyed accurate? Is there any easy way the broad brush of what is conveyed could have been made more accurate?
  • Are the sentences being used to support this broad brush strokes picture warranted by the evidence?
  • Is this the way of communicating the core message about as caveated and detailed as one can reasonably manage?

Standards we'd need to relax:

  • Does this c
... (read more)
5Jan_Kulveit3yThanks. I think the criteria which standards to keep and which to relax you propose are reasonable. It seems an important question. I would like someone trying it to study more formally, using for example "value of information" or "rational inattention" frameworks. I can imagine experiments like giving people a longer list of arguments and trying to gather feedback on what was the value for them and then making decisions based on that. (Now this seems to be done mainly based on author's intuitions.) I agree Max's post is doing a really good job!
8guzey3yHi Jan, Thanks for the feedback. You write: I should point out that in the post I show not just a lack of caveats and details. William misrepresents the evidence. Among other things, he: * cherry picks the variables from a deworming paper he cites * interprets GW's AMF estimate in a way they specifically asked not to interpret them ("five hundred times" more effective thing — Holden wrote specifically about such arguments that they seem to require taking cost-effectiveness estimates literally) * quotes two sentences from Charity Navigator's site when the very next sentence shows that the interpretation of the previous sentences is wrong In a long response William posted here, he did not address any of these points: * he doesn't mention cherry picking (and neither does his errata page) * he doesn't mention the fact that GiveWell asked not to interpret their AMF estimate literally * and he writes "I represent CN fairly, and make a fair criticism of its approach to assessing charities.", which may be true about some general CN's position, but which has nothing to do with misquoting Charity Navigator. If the issue was just a lack of detail, of course I would not have written the post in such a tone. Initially, I considered simply emailing him a list of mistakes that I found, but as I mentioned in the post, the volume and egregiousness of misrepresentations lead me to conclude that he argued in bad faith. edit: I will email GiveWell to clarify what they think about William making claims about 500 times more benefit on the basis of their AMF estimate.

I think I understand you gradually become upset, but it seems in the process you started to miss the more favorable interpretations.

For example, with the "interpretation of the GiveWell estimates": based on reading a bunch of old discussions on archive, my _impression_ is there was at least in some point of time a genuine disagreement about how to interpret the numbers between Will, Tobi, Holden and possibly others (there was much less disagreement about the numeric values). So if this is the case, it is plausible Will was using his interpretation of the numbers, which was in some sense "bolder" than the GW interpretation. My sense of good epistemic standard is you certainly can do this, but should add a caveat with warning that the authors of the numbers have a different interpretation of them (so it is a miss of caveat). At the same time I can imagine how you can fail to do this without any bad faith - for example, if you are at some point of the discussion confused whether some object-level disagreement continues or not (especially if you ask the other party in the disagreement to check the text). Also, if my impression is correct and the core of the object-... (read more)

0guzey3yAbout cost-effectiveness estimates: I don't think your interpretation is plausible. The GiveWell page [http://archive.fo/6BvUa] that gives the $3400 estimate, specifically asks not to interpret it literally. About me deciding that MacAskill is deliberately misleading. Please see my comment [https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/9xluu2/william_macaskill_misrepresents_much_of_the/ea0ua2t/?st=joo3qz0k&sh=7eccc850] in /r/slatestarcodex in response to /u/scottalexander about it. Would love to know what you think.

[because of time constrains, I will focus on just one example now]

Yes, but GiveWell is not some sort of ultimate authority on how their numbers should be interpreted. Take an ab absurdum example: NRA publishes some numbers about guns, gun-related violence, and their interpretation that there are not enough guns in the US and gun violence is low. If you basically agree with numbers, but disagree with their interpretation, surely you can use the numbers and interpret them in a different way.

GiveWell reasoning is explained in this article. Technically speaking you _can_ use the numbers directly as EV estimates if you have a very broad prior, and the prior is all the same across all the actions you are comparing. (You can argue this is technically not the right thing to do, or you can argue that GiveWell advises people not to do it.) As I stated in my original comment, I'd appreciate if such disagreements are reported. At the same time it seems difficult to do it properly in a popular text. I can imagine something like this

According to the most rigorous estimates by GiveWell, the cost to save a life in the developing world is about $3,400 (or $100 for one QALY [Quality-adjusted
... (read more)

This seems like a good argument. Thank you. I will think about it.

4smithee3yGuzey, would you consider rewriting this post, framing it not as questioning MacAskill's honesty but rather just pointing out some flaws in the representation of research? I fully buy some of your criticisms (it was an epistemic failure to not report that deworming has no effect on test scores, misrepresent Charity Navigator's views, and misrepresent the "ethical employer" poll). And I think Jan's views accurately reflect the community's views: we want to be able to have open discussion and criticism, even of the EA "canon." But it's absolutely correct that the personal attacks on MacAskill's integrity make it near impossible to have this open discussion. Even if you're still convinced that MacAskill is dishonest, wouldn't the best way to prove it to the community be to have a thorough, open debate over these factual question? Then, if it becomes clear that your criticisms are correct, people will be able to judge the honesty issue themselves. I think you're limiting your own potential here by making people not want to engage with your ideas. I'd be happy to engage with the individual criticisms here and have some back and forth, if only this was written in a less ad hominem way. Separately, does anyone have thoughts on the John Bunker DALY estimate? MacAskill claims that a developed world doctor only creates 7 DALYs, Bunker's paper doesn't seem to say anything like this, and this 80,000 Hours blog [https://80000hours.org/2012/09/how-many-lives-does-a-doctor-save-part-3-replacement-84/] estimates instead that a developed world doctor creates 600 QALYs. Was MacAskill wrong on the effectiveness of becoming a doctor?
4guzey3yHi smithee, I do wonder if I should've written this post in a less personal tone. I will consider writing a follow up to it. About me deciding that MacAskill is deliberately misleading, please see my comment [https://www.reddit.com/r/slatestarcodex/comments/9xluu2/william_macaskill_misrepresents_much_of_the/ea0ua2t/?st=joo3qz0k&sh=7eccc850] in /r/slatestarcodex in response to /u/scottalexander about it. Would love to know what you think.

I'll headline this by saying that I completely believe you're doing this in good faith, I agree with several of your criticisms, and I think this deserves to be openly discussed. But I also strongly disagree with your conclusion about MacAskill's honesty, and, even if I thought it was plausible, it still would be an unnecessary breach of etiquette that makes open conversation near impossible. I really think you should stop making this an argument about MacAskill's personal honesty. Have the facts debate, leave ad hominem aside so everyone can fully engage, and if you're proven right on the facts, then raise your honesty concerns.

First I'd like to address your individual points, then your claims about MacAskill.

Misreporting the deworming study. I think this is your best point. It seems entirely correct that if textbooks fail because they don't improve test scores, that deworming should fail by the same metric. But I agree with /u/ScottAlexander that, in popular writing, you often don't have the space to specifically go through all the literature on why deworming is better. MacAskill's deworming claims were misleading on one level, in tha... (read more)

8guzey3yThank you for a thoughtful response. 1. Deworming. Seems fair. 2. GiveWell. This seems like a good argument. I will think about it. 3. CN. If you read my post and not William's response to it, I never accuse him of conflating CEO pay and overhead. He deflects my argument by writing about this. This is indeed a minor point. I specifically accuse him of misquoting CN. As I wrote in other comments here, yes this might indeed be CN's position and in the end, they would judge the doughnuts charity highly. I do not contend this point and never did. I only wrote that MacAskill (1) quotes CN, (2) makes conclusions based on this quote about CN, (3) the very page that MacAskill takes the quote from says that their position does not lead to these conclusions. And maybe CN is being completely hypocritical! This is not a point. It is still dishonest to misquote them. 4. PlayPumps: I feel like you're kind of missing the point and I'm wondering if it might be some sort of a fundamental disagreement about unstated assumptions? I think that making dishonest argument that lead to the right conclusions is still dishonest. It seems that you (and many other EAs) feel that if the conclusion is correct, then the fact that the argument was dishonest is not so important (same as with CN). Here's what you say: And here's what I wrote in that comment specifically about this argument: And in your conclusion you write: Yes! I mostly agree with this! But (1) these are not just inaccuracies. I point out misrepresentations. (2) I believe that making dishonest arguments that advance the right conclusions is dishonest. Do I understand you correctly that you disagree with me on point (2)?

First, on honesty. As I said above, I completely agree with you on honesty: "bad arguments for a good conclusion are not justified." This is one of my (and I'd say the EA community as a whole) strongest values. Arguments are not soldiers, their only value is in their own truth. SSC's In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilization sums up my views very well. I'm glad we're after the same goal.

That said, in popular writing, it's impossible to reflect the true complexity of what's being described. So the goal is to simplify as much as possible, while losing as little truth as possible. If someone simplifies in a way that's importantly misleading, that's an important failure and should be condemned. But the more I dig into each of these arguments, the more I'm convinced MacAskill is doing a very good job maintaining truth while simplifying.

Charity Navigator. MacAskill says "One popular way of evaluating a charity is to look at financial information regarding how the charity spends its money." He says that CN takes this approach, and then quotes CN saying that many of the best charities spend 25% or less on overhead. ... (read more)

3guzey3yThank you a ton for the time and effort you put into this. I find myself disagreeing with you, but this may reflect my investment in my arguments. I will write to you later, once I reflect on this further.
-1guzey3yCN: I don't agree with you PlayPumps: I don't agree with your assessment of points 1, 2, 4. I have already apologized to MacAskill for the first, even harsher, version of the post. I will certainly apologize to him, if I conclude that the arguments he made were not made in bad faith, but at this point I find that my central point stands. As I wrote in another comment, thank you for your time and I will let you know later about my conclusions. I will likely rewrite the post after this.
4guzey3yAlso, I wonder what you think about the second half of this comment [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/7aqGFHirEvHTMD5w5/william-macaskill-misrepresents-much-of-the-evidence#SyB29tDr2xjgeHPw2] of mine in this thread. There, I point out that MacAskill responds not to any of the published versions of the essay but to a confidential draft (since he says that I'm quoting him on something that I only quoted him about in a draft). What do you think about it? Is my interpretation here plausible? What are the other plausible explanations for this? Maybe I fail to see charitable interpretations of how that happened.

I'm not sure how EA Forum displays drafts. It seems very plausible that, on this sometimes confusing platform, you're mistaken as to which draft was available where and when. If you're implying that the CEA employee sent MacAskill the draft, then yes, they should not have done that, but MacAskill played no part in that. Further, it seems basic courtesy to let someone respond to your arguments before you publicly call them a liar - you should've allowed MacAskill a chance to respond without immediate time pressure.

8guzey3yI never posted the draft that had this quote on EA Forum. Further, I clearly asked everyone I sent the drafts not to share them with anybody.

I'm sorry, this was my fault. You sent me a draft and asked me not to share it, and a few days later in rereading the email and deciding what to do with it, I wasn't careful and failed to read the part where you asked me not to share it. I shared it with Will at that point, and I apologize for my carelessness.

Well, happens. Although if you forwarded it to Will, then he probably read the part of an email where I ask not to share it with anybody, but proceeded to read that draft and respond to a confidential draft anyway.

9smithee3yI've defended MacAskill extensively here, but why are people downvoting to hide this legitimate criticism? MacAskill acknowledged that he did this and apologized. If there's a reason please say so, I might be missing something. But downvoting a comment until it disappears without explaining why seems harsh. Thanks!
5Michelle_Hutchinson3yI didn't downvote the comment, but it did seem a little harsh to me. I can easily imagine being forwarded a draft article, and reading the text the person forwarding wrote, then looking at the draft, without reading the text in the email they were originally sent. (Hence missing text saying the draft was supposed to be confidential.) Assuming that Will read the part saying it was confidential seemed uncharitable to me (though it turns out to be correct). That seemed in surprising contrast to the understanding attitude taken to Julia's mistake.
4guzey3yI should note that now we know that William did in fact know that the draft was confidential. Quoting a comment of his above:
4Michelle_Hutchinson3yThat's what I meant by 'though it turns out to be correct'. Sorry for being unclear.
2guzey3ycomment above has 3 votes, -7 score, 0 replies

I second Julia in her apology. In hindsight, once I’d seen that you didn’t want the post shared I should have simply ignored it, and ensured you knew that it had been accidentally shared with me.

When it was shared with me, the damage had already been done, so I thought it made sense to start prepping a response. I didn’t think your post would change significantly, and at the time I thought it would be good for me to start going through your critique to see if there were indeed grave mistakes in DGB, and offer a speedy response for a more fruitful discussion. I’m sorry that I therefore misrepresented you. As you know, the draft you sent to Julia was quite a bit more hostile than the published version; I can only say that as a result of this I felt under attack, and that clouded my judgment.

7guzey3yAnd the first draft that I sent to my friends was much more hostile than that. Every draft gets toned down and corrected a lot. This is precisely why I ask everybody not to share them.
3guzey3yJust wanted to note that now we know that MacAskill knew that the draft was confidential.

As I nominate this, Holden Karnofsky recently wrote about "Minimal Trust Investigations" (124 upvotes), similar to Epistemic Spot Checks. This post is an example of such a minimal trust investigation.

The reason why I am nominating this post is that

  • It seems to me that Guzey was right on several object-level points
  • The EA community failed both Guzey and itself in a variety of ways, but chiefly by not rewarding good criticism that bites.

That said, as other commenters point out, the post could perhaps use a re-write. Perhaps this decade review would be a good time.

This post is an example of such a minimal trust investigation.

It's an example of a minimal trust investigation done badly.

In order to get smarter from minimal trust investigations, you need to (a) have a sense of proportion about how to update based on your conclusions, and (b) engage with counterarguments productively. Guzey has demonstrated a wild lack of (a), and while I respect his willingness to engage at length with these counterarguments on this Forum and elsewhere, the apparent lack of any updating (and his continued fixation on the leak screwup years later) speaks pretty badly.

To be clear, I do think this post provided some value, and that versions of this post quite similar to the one that actually exists would have provided much more value. But Guzey's actual behaviour here is not something we should emulate in the community, beyond the very basic idea of epistemic spot checks on EA books (which I support).

The EA community failed both Guzey and itself in a variety of ways

CEA's screwup with the essay draft was pretty bad (I've said before I think it was sufficiently bad that it should be on their mistakes page). But I was actually quite proud of the way the rest of the co... (read more)

6NunoSempere1moAhhh, but it is not clear to me that this is that disproportionate. In particular, I think this is a problem of EA people having more positive priors about MacAskill. Guzey then starts with more neutral priors, and then correctly updates downwards with his review, and then even more downwards when a promise of confidentiality was breached. Am I missing something here?

With regards to the contents of the book, I think the size of the downward updates exhibited in the essay dramatically exceeds the actual badness of what was found. Identifying errors is only the first step in an exercise like this – you then have to accurately update based on what those errors tell you. I think e.g. David Roodman's discussion of this here is a much better example of the kind of work we want to see more of on the Forum.

With regards to the confidentiality screw-up, sure, it's rational to update downwards in some general sense, but given that the actual consequences were so minor and that the alternative hypothesis (that it was just a mistake) is so plausible, I don't respect Guzey's presentation of this incident in his more recent writings (e.g. here).

2guzey23dDo you believe that the following representation of the incident is unfair? 1. upon perception of serious threat to the reputation of a co-founder of the EA community via a concern about said person, confidentiality of the person bringing up the concern was breached (despite them asking for it in two separate emails; potentially by an accident) 2. the breach was concealed by several people, including the "contact person" of the community and by the person the concern was about 3. the breach was lied about by the "contact person" of the community and by the person the concern was about And that since "the actual consequences were so minor and that the alternative hypothesis (that it was just a mistake) is so plausible" this doesn't really matter?

Do you believe that the following representation of the incident is unfair?

Yes, at present I do.

I haven't yet seen evidence to support the strong claims you are making about Julia Wise's knowledge and intentions at various stages in this process. If your depiction of events is true (i.e. Wise both knowingly concealed the leak from you after realising what had happened, and explicitly lied about it somewhere) that seems very bad, but I haven't seen evidence for that. Her own explanation of what happened seems quite plausible to me.

(Conversely, we do have evidence that MacAskill read your draft, and realised it was confidential, but didn't tell you he'd seen it. That does seem bad to me, but much less bad than the leak itself – and Will has apologised for it pretty thoroughly.) 

Your initial response to Julia's apology seemed quite reasonable, so I was surprised to see you revert so strongly in your LessWrong comment a few months back. What new evidence did you get that hardened your views here so much?

And that since "the actual consequences were so minor and that the alternative hypothesis (that it was just a mistake) is so plausible" this doesn't really matter?

It matters – it w... (read more)

I haven't yet seen evidence to support the strong claims you are making about Julia Wise's knowledge and intentions at various stages in this process. If your depiction of events is true (i.e. Wise both knowingly concealed the leak from you after realising what had happened, and explicitly lied about it somewhere) that seems very bad, but I haven't seen evidence for that. Her own explanation of what happened seems quite plausible to me.

In private correspondence, Wise explained to me that she realized that my draft was not supposed to be shared very soon after sending it. After having this realization, she:

  1. made the decision to not let me know about this (until I pointed out on EA Forum that MacAskill replied to my private draft)
  2. emailed me writing "If you're able to let me know when it's likely to be published, I'd appreciate that as then I can let Will know to take a look."

Your initial response to Julia's apology seemed quite reasonable, so I was surprised to see you revert so strongly in your LessWrong comment a few months back. What new evidence did you get that hardened your views here so much?

3 years ago, when I wrote that comment, I did not know that she concealed th... (read more)

I don't agree with this review at all.

I'm commenting because you are really good in every sense, also your comment is upvoted and together this is a sign that I am wrong. I want to understand more.

Also, the consequent discussion would do as you suggest in giving attention to Guzey's ideas (although in my comment I don't find much content in them).


Here are comments on object level points in Guzey's recent reply:

The book misrepresented Charity Navigator's emphasis on reducing overhead per https://guzey.com/books/doing-good-better/#charity-navigator

This is technically true but seems to be a nitpick.

What is going on is that MacAskill is probably pointing out that the focus on expenses and not theory of change/effectiveness is a massive hurdle that contributes to the culture of scarcity and "winning two games". This undermines effectiveness of charities.

I guess that the truth is Charity Navigator has little ability or interest in examining the uses of overhead or understanding theory of change of charities. 

It seems that Guzey objects to MacAskill using 0.1% as an exaggeration, and seems to point out Charity Navigator is "ok" with 25%. This isn't that substantive (and I'... (read more)

Even rounding down all of the other things that are negative signals to me, this fixation on this episode after these years seems like a strong sign to me, and most people I know, of the low value of the ideas from this person.

This part sounds deeply wrong to me, but that's probably because I've read more of Guzey's work besides this one piece.

I occasionally encounter people who would have been happy to burn their youth and spend their efforts on projects that would good bets from an EA perspective. When they don't get to for one reason or another (maybe they were being too status-seeking too soon, maybe they would have been a great chief of staff or a co-founder together with someone who was epistemically stronger, maybe they didn't have the right support networks, etc.), it strikes me as regrettable.

I think that some of Guzey's later work is valuable, and in particular his New Science organization looks like a good bet to take. I think he got some funding from the Survival and Flourishing Fund, which is EA adjacent.

1Charles He1moBelow is my reply to this comment and your other one. I'm not sure this is valuable or wise for me to write all this, but it seems better to communicate. I was sincere about when I said I didn't understand and wanted to learn why you rated Guzey's criticism highly. I think I learned a lot more now. _________________________ You said "This part sounds deeply wrong to me, but that's probably because I've read more of Guzey's work besides this one piece": Note that I made a writing error in the relevant paragraph. It is possible this changed the meaning of my comment and this rightfully offended you. When I said: I meant: The first version could imply there is some "establishment" (yuck) and that these people share my negative opinion. This is incorrect, I had no other prior knowledge of opinions about Guzey and knew nothing about him. _________________________ You said here: This seems wise and thoughtful. I didn't know about this. _________________________ You made another comment: I skimmed this, in the spirit of what you suggested. The truth is that I find reviews like this often on the internet, and I use reviews of this quality for a lot of beliefs. If I didn't know anything about Guzey, I would use his review to update in favor his ideas. But at the same time, I find many of Guzey's choices in content and style different than people who successfully advance scientific arguments. _________________________ I think that, combined with virtue and good judgement, being loyal to someone is good. In non-EA contexts, I have tried to back up friends who need support in hostile situations. In these situations, the truth is that I can become strategic. When being strategic, I try to minimize or even rewrite the content where they were wrong. This can lead to compromise and closure, but this needs coordination and maturity.

Even rounding down all of the other things that are negative signals to me, this fixation on this episode after these years seems like a strong sign to me, and most people I know, of the low value of the ideas from this person.

This is amusing to me because I literally have not written anything about this episode for 3 years, then left two comments about this a month ago (and figured this was enough and not worth returning to anymore), then was asked by two people on the EA forum to write about this because they considered this post and the episode important, so I wrote another comment, and this is enough to be accused of being "fixated" on this episode "after these years"!

I hadn't realised that your comment on LessWrong was your first public comment on the incident for 3 years. That is an update for me.

But also, I do find it quite strange to say nothing about the incident for years, then come back with a very long and personal (and to me, bitter-seeming) comment, deep in the middle of a lengthy and mostly-unrelated conversation about a completely different organisation.

Commenting on this post after it got nominated for review is, I agree, completely reasonable and expected. That said, your review isn't exactly very reflective – it reads more as just another chance to rehash the same grievance in great detail. I'd expect a review of a post that generated so much in-depth discussion and argument to mention and incorporate some of that discussion and argument; yours gives the impression that the post was simply ignored, a lone voice in the wilderness. If 72 comments represents deafening silence, I don't know what noise would look like.

[Edited to soften language.]

5guzey22dOh yes, there were comments. But no actions took place. As I noted in that "deafening silence" comment:
2NunoSempere1moI find it surprising that your comment only provides one-sided considerations. As an intuition pump, consider reading this unrelated review [https://guzey.com/books/why-we-sleep/], also by Guzey, and checking if you think it is also low quality.

The low quality of Guzey's arguments around Doing Good Better (and his unwillingness to update in the face of strong counterarguments) substantially reduced my credence in his (similarly strong) claims about Why We Sleep, and I was confused about why so many people I know put so much credence in the latter after the former.

It depends what you mean by "updating".

I think Guzey is very honest in these discussions (and subsequently), and is trying to engage with pushback from the community, which is laudable.

But I don't think he's actually changed his views to nearly the degree I would expect a well-meaning rational actor to do so, and I don't think his views about MacAskill being a bad actor are remotely in proportion to the evidence he's presented.

For example, relating to your first link, he still makes a big deal of the "interpretation of GiveWell cost-effectiveness estimates" angle, even though everyone (even GiveWell!) think he's off base here.

On the second link, he has removed most PlayPump material from the current version of his essay, which suggests he has genuinely updated there. So that's good. That said, if I found out I was as wrong about something as he originally was about PlayPumps, I hope I'd be much more willing to believe that other people might make honest errors of similar magnitude without condemning them as bad actors.

3guzey2moMore context here: * https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Kz9zMgWB5C27Pmdkh/common-knowledge-about-leverage-research-1-0?commentId=aPwqKhhAgLck2d9Dp [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Kz9zMgWB5C27Pmdkh/common-knowledge-about-leverage-research-1-0?commentId=aPwqKhhAgLck2d9Dp] * https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/hYh6jKBsKXH8mWwtc/a-contact-person-for-the-ea-community?commentId=AE6jbmuFckZqBJb4D [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/hYh6jKBsKXH8mWwtc/a-contact-person-for-the-ea-community?commentId=AE6jbmuFckZqBJb4D]

I don’t think unsuccessful applications at organizations that are distantly related to the content you’re criticizing constitute a conflict of interest.

If everybody listed their unsuccessful applications at the start of every EA Forum post, it would take up a lot of reader attention.

I heavily criticize one of the founders of CEA and heavily use the words of the founder of Open Phil in my post, which lead me to believe that I need to disclose that I applied to both organizations.

I was invited by two people to write a review of this post, so here it is.

What does this post add to the conversation?

I find this question difficult to answer.

In 2018, I had concerns about the book Doing Good Better written by one of the co-founders of the EA movement William MacAskill, so I decided to write a critical essay about it.

I don't think there was any kind of conversation before I published this essay and there has no been any conversation about it after about a week after I published it. For me, the silence has been deafening.

How did this

... (read more)

[EDIT: this was not a very careful comment and multiple claims were stated more strongly than I believed them, as well that my beliefs might have been not so well-supported]

I admire the amount of effort that has gone into this post and its level of rigor. I think it's very important for an epistemically healthy movement that high-status people can be criticised successfully.

I think your premises do not fully support the conclusion that MacAskill is completely untrustworthy. However, I agree that the book misrepresents sources structurally, and this is... (read more)

I think the piece is very over the top. Even if all the points were correct, it wouldn't support the damning conclusion. Some of the points seem fair, some are wrong, and some are extremely uncharitable. If you are going to level accusations of dishonesty and deliberate misrepresentation, then you need to have very strong arguments. This post falls very far short of that

-1Khorton3yTo be clear: Did you downvote Siebe's post because you disagree, the main post because you disagree, Siebe's post because you think it's unhelpful, or the main post because you think it's unhelpful?
2guzey3yThanks. I agree with you that it does not show complete untrustworthiness. Adjusted the language a little bit.
0Khorton3yWhen I saw this comment, it was at "0"points. I'm surprised, because it seems like it is helpful and written in good faith. If someone down-voted it, could you explain why?


I don't take, "[DGB] misrepresents sources structurally, and this is a convincing sign it is written in bad faith." to be either:

  • True. The OP strikes me as tendentiously uncharitable and 'out for blood' (given the earlier versions was calling for Will to be disavowed by EA per Gleb Tsipursky, trust in Will down to 0, etc.), and the very worst that should be inferred, even if we grant all the matters under dispute in its favour - which we shouldn't - would be something like "sloppy, and perhaps with a subconscious finger on the scale tilting the errors to be favourable to the thesis of the book" rather than deceit, malice, or other 'bad faith'.
  • Helpful. False accusations of bad faith are obviously toxic. But even true ones should be made with care. I was one of the co-authors on the Intentional Insights document, and in that case (with much stronger evidence suggestive of 'structural misrepresentation' or 'writing things in bad faith') we refrained as far as practicable from making these adverse inferences. We were criticised for this at the time (perhaps rightly), but I think this is the better direction to err in.
  • Kind. Self explanatory.

I'm sure Siebe makes their comment in good faith, and I agree some parts of the comment are worthwhile (e.g. I agree it is important that folks in EA can be criticised). But not overall.

6Michelle_Hutchinson3yI agree with this take on the comment as it's literally written. I think there's a chance that Siebe meant 'written in bad faith' as something more like 'written with less attention to detail than it could have been', which seems like a very reasonable conclusion to come to. (I just wanted to add a possibly more charitable interpretation, since otherwise the description of why the comment is unhelpful might seem a little harsh)

That seems like taking charitableness too far. I'm alright with finding different interpretations based on the words written, but ultimately, Siebe wrote what we wrote, and it cannot be intepreted as you suggest. It's quite a big accusation, so caution is required when making it

4SiebeRozendal3yOkay, points taken. I should have been much more careful given the strength of the accusation, and the accusation that DGB was written "in bad faith" seems (far) too strong. I guess I have a tendency to support efforts that challenge common beliefs that might not be held for the right reasons (in this case "DGB is a rigourously written book, and a good introduction to effective altruism"). This seemed to outweigh the costs of criticism, likely because my intuition often underestimates the costs of criticism. However, the OP challenged a much stronger common belief ("Will MacAskill is not an untrustworthy person") and I should have better distinguished those (both in my mind and in writing). When I was writing it, I was very doubtful about whether I was phrasing it correctly, and I don't think I succeeded. I think my intention for "written in bad faith" was meant less strongly, but a bit more than 'written with less attention to detail than it could have been': i.e. that less attention was given to details that wouldn't pan out in favour of EA. More along the lines of this: I also have a lower credence in this now. I should add that my use of "convincing" was also too strong a term, as it might be interpreted as >95% credence, instead of the >60% credence I observed at the time of writing.
-1guzey3yHi Gregory, I should point out that * the essay posted to the Effective Altruism Forum never contained the bit about disavowing Will. I did write this in the version that I posted on my site, and I removed it, after much feedback elsewhere and wrote: * As I wrote in a comment above responding to Will, prior to the publication of my essay I reached out to one of the employees of the CEA and asked them to review my draft. They first agreed, but after I sent the draft, they declined to review it.
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