Feel free to check the thread for more context.
To better understand how common experiences like Saulius’ are, you can fill this form to answer the following questions:
- How much pressure do you feel against publicly expressing views which do not conform to those of your manager or organisation?
- This is a multiple choice question with 5 options, no, mild, moderate, significant and extreme pressure. Details about the meaning of each of these are in the form.
- In rigour, only individuals have views, but you can think about those of your organisation as the view of the median person working there weighted by seniority (as proxied by e.g. annual salary).
- What is your name?
- What is your position?
- Who is your manager?
- What is your organisation?
- What is your experience?
All questions are optional, so you can remain anonymous. That being said, the more you share, the easier it will be to identify you. To minimise selection bias, I encourage you to answer at least the 1st question. You are also welcome to share your responses below as answers to this post.
Feel free to check the submitted responses. You can update your own by submitting the form again.
For reference, you do not need to read the rest of the post to answer the questions.
My thoughts on transparency
Here are my thoughts on transparency:
- Open truth-seeking and collaborative spirit are among the values at the heart of effective altruism, and openness, integrity and collaborative spirit are among the guiding principles of the Centre for Effective Altruism. I believe these values and principles are great heuristics to contribute to a better world, and that strong evidence is required to go against them.
- I think pressure to withhold views that do not conform to those of one’s manager or organisation is mostly detrimental (although not always), as long as:
- I suppose it is worth discussing controversial topics like The Meat Eater Problem given the above are satisfied (relatedly).
- I would say people should be encouraged to share their views publicly and privately with funders, especially if they differ from those of one’s manager and organisation. In this case, the views will arguably be less known, and therefore update others more. Relatedly, I think:
- Donor engagement should not fall solely under the purview of senior management.
- Non-disparagement clauses in contracts should mostly apply in cases where it is clear that the person sharing the information is not being honest.
- One should mostly focus on the truthfulness of the information being shared rather than how it will influence the funding and reputation of one’s organisation.
- People will in expectation update towards the truth, and I expect this to be good.
- In particular, I trust funders’ ability to account for the potential biases of controversial information.
- Oliver Habryka, fund manager of the Long-Term Future Fund (LTFF), and very much involved in Lightspeed Grants, commented the following. “I feel very capable of not interpreting the statements of a single researcher as being non-representative of a whole organization, I expect other funders are similarly capable of doing that”.
- I wish people working at the same organisation discussed their disagreements more publicly, as they are often quite knowledgeable about the topics at hand (see examples in the comments of this and this posts).
- I understand organisations having open discussions could harm their reputation, but I do not see this as necessarily bad. For example, if it comes to light that:
- An organisation has systematically overestimated the cost-effectiveness of their work, it makes sense to start trusting less their cost-effectiveness analyses. In turn, this will correct biases, and contribute towards a better resource allocation across different organisations.
- There is wide disagreement about the cost-effectiveness of certain projects among people working at the organisation, the organisation will not look particularly coherent. On the other hand, avoiding compressing all the views into one means there is more information. So funders will arguably be better positioned to assess which projects they find more impactful.
- Open discussion may erode unity within organisations, thus distracting from work on their core mission. This is a drawback which has to be kept in mind. Yet, my hope is that unity can be extended from the organisational to the community and global level. Transparency is arguably key for this.
- The usefulness of open discussions depends on power dynamics.
- There is a coordination problem around sharing information which does not favour one’s own organisation, but I guess open discussions help solve it.
- I appreciate organisations being unusually transparent about the potential downsides of their work could put themselves at an unwarranted disadvantage relative to others.
- However, I would rather have a race to the top where organisations try to share the relevant information about their work than one where they try to maintain a non-ideal equilibrium by sharing as much as the typical organisation.
- Open discussions will tend to bring about more open discussions, thus enforcing truth-seeking norms, which I consider good. As an example, I am only posting this thanks to Saulius’ comment.
- I wonder how organisations and individuals can be incentivised to share information which (naively) does not seem to benefit them. As a starting point, I encourage organisations to internally discuss and publicly share their formal/informal policy around sharing potentially controversial information, like Rethink Priorities’ co-CEO Marcus Davis did.
- Anonymous accounts have been used to share (often thoughtful) controversial information (e.g. Omega’s posts).
I am a research associate at Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED), for which I work as a contractor. I have publicly expressed views which do not conform to those of my organisation nor manager. My sense is that both ALLFED and my manager would have preferred it if I had not:
- Discussed potential downsides of decreasing starvation in Future benefits of mitigating food shocks caused by abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios and Increase in future potential due to mitigating food shocks caused by abrupt sunlight reduction scenarios.
- Linkposted Nuclear winter scepticism by Bean.
- Commented on Nuclear winter - Reviewing the evidence, the complexities, and my conclusions by Michael Hinge, who works for ALLFED. Note the views expressed in the post are his own, not those of ALLFED.
- Posted and commented on Famine deaths due to the climatic effects of nuclear war.
- Commented on Intermediate Report on Abrupt Sunlight Reduction Scenarios by Stan Pinsent, researcher at the Centre for Exploratory Altruism Research (CEARCH).
- Included this section in the present post.
I felt mild pressure to conform, which I guess came from status quo bias. “A preference for the maintenance of one’s current or previous state of affairs, or a preference to not undertake any action to change this current or previous state”. It is unusual for people to be critical of the work of their organisations. By doing so, I perceived myself as going against the external and internal status quo.
My guess is that the median monthly active user of the EA Forum would not have done any of the above conditional on having my object-level views, but their personality and takes on transparency. However:
- I am glad there have been internal and public discussions about the above among people working at ALLFED.
- I have not had any trouble renewing my contract.
- I still enjoy working for ALLFED, although I now think the cost-effectiveness of work to decrease famine deaths due to global catastrophic food failures is much lower relative to when I joined it.
Thanks to Anonymous Person 1, Anonymous Person 2, Anonymous Person 3, Anonymous Person 4, Anonymous Person 5, Farrah Dingal, Oliver Habryka, Pedro Amaral Grilo, Saulius Šimčikas and Sonia Cassidy for feedback on the draft. Thanks to ChatGPT 4 and Pedro for feedback on whether I should publish the post.
I think the “not” in this sentence was mistakenly included.
I actually have a hard time coming up with examples where I thought an organisation had better not be discussing something in public. However, feel free to point to examples you are aware of.
Names ordered alphabetically.