Emotional Status: I started working on this project before the FTX collapse and all subsequent controversies and drama. I notice an internal sense that I am "piling on" or "kicking EA while it's down." This isn't my intention, and I understand if a person reading this feels burned out on EA criticisms and would rather focus on object level forum posts right now.
I have just released the first three episodes of a new interview podcast on criticisms of EA:
- Democratizing Risk and EA with Carla Zoe Cremer and Luke Kemp
- Expected Value and Critical Rationalism with Vaden Masrani and Ben Chugg
- Is EA an Ideology? with James Fodor
I am in the process of contacting potential guests for future episodes, and would love any suggestions on who I should interview next. Here is an anonymous feedback form that you can use to tell me anything you don't want to write in a comment.
Some quick thoughts, poorly structured:
After listening to the rest of that post with James, I'll flag that while I agree that "EA is a lot like what many would call an ideology", I disagree with some of the content in the second half.
I think using tools like ethnography, agent based modeling, and Phenomenology, could be neat, but to me, they're pretty low-priority in improvements to EA now. I'd imagine it could take some serious effort in any ($200k? $300? Someone strong would have to come along with a proposal first) to produce something that really changes decision making, and I can think of other things I'd prefer that money be spent on.
There seems to be some assumption that the reason why such actions weren't taken by EA was because EAs weren't at all familiar and didn't read James' post. I think that often a more likely reason is just because it's a lot of work to do things, we have limited resources, and we have a lot of other really important initiatives to do. Often decision makers have a decent sense of a lot of potential actions, and have decided against them for decent reasons.
Similarly, I don't feel like the argument brought forth against the use of the word "aligned" when discussing a person was very useful. In that case I would have liked for you to have tried to really pin things down on what a good solution would look like. I think it's really easy to error on the side of "overfit on specific background beliefs" or "underfit on specific background beliefs", and tricky to strike a balance.
My impression is that critics of "EA Orthodoxy" basically always have some orthodoxy of their own. For example, I imagine few would say we should openly welcome Nazi sympathizers, as an extreme example. If they really have no orthodoxy, and are okay with absolutely any position, I'd find this itself an extreme and unusual position that almost all listeners would disagree with.
Thank you for both comments! :)
I feel the same. Hopefully with this podcast I can increase the percentage of EA criticisms that is constructive and fun-to-engage-with.
I agree, although I think that some subset of the low quality criticism can be steel manned into valid points that may not have come up in an internal brainstorming session. And yes I am still experimenting with how much push back to give, and the first and second episodes are quite different on that metric.
I think this is fair, and I honestly don't have a good solution. I think the word "aligned" can point to a real and important thing in the world but also has the risk of in practice just being used to point to the ingroup.
Note that saying "this isn't my intention" doesn't prevent net negative effects of a theory of change from applying. Otherwise, doing good would be a lot easier.
I also highly recommend clarifying what exactly you're criticizing, i.e. the philosophy, the movement norms or some institutions that are core to the movement.
Finally, I usually find the criticism of people a) at the core of the movement and b) highly truth-seeking most relevant to improve the movement so I would expect that if you're trying to improve the movement, you may want to focus on these people. There exists relevant criticisms external to the movement but usually they will lack of context and thus fail to address some key trade-offs that the movement cares about.
Here's a small list of people I would be excited to hear on EA flaws and their recommandations for change:
+1 for clarification. It could be neat if you could use a standard diagram to pinpoint what sort of criticism each one is.
For example, see this one from Astral Codex Ten.
Thank you for your comment and especially your guest recommendations! :)
I completely agree. But I still think that saying when a harm was unintentional is an important signaling mechanism. For example, if I step on your foot, saying "Sorry, that was an accident" doesn't stop you from experiencing pain but hopefully prevents us from getting into a fight. Of course it is possible for signals like this to be misused by bad actors.
Ideally all of the above, with different episodes focusing on different aspects. Though I agree I should make the scope of the criticism clear at the beginning of each episode. I think the Ozzie's comment below has a good break down that I may use in the future.
Hey Nick! I've listened to episodes 1 and 3 during my commute over the week so far (I'd already listened to Episode 2 as Vaden and Ben had released it on Increments a bit ahead of you), and I want to say I thought they were all really great and well presented. I hope you are considering more, and while I get the trepidation about not 'piling on', I think all of these episodes are really valuable contributions to the community.
For those reading who are maybe a bit more sceptical, I'd really urge you to listen to all three episodes. Nick is a good host, and all 3 conversations are good with no sense of a host playing 'gotcha' with their guests. James poses a good challenge to one the Forum's most upvoted posts, Vaden especially poses core philosophical challenges to longtermism that haven't got a super convincing response yet imo (you may not find his challenges convincing, but they are some of the best ones posed so far), and it's just worth listening to Luke and Carla in their own terms in Episode 1. Do I agree with everything they say? No. But having listened to their episode, I have no idea how the hell EA-space reacted so poorly to them the first time around. Not looking to open up the fight again, but if like me you've only had second-hand knowledge of the affair, I'd really suggest listening to that one and coming to you own opinion.
Finally, again to Nick thank you for making them. I hope this inspires others to continue this good faith engagement with critics of EAs central orthodoxy (both from within and outside of EA)
Original post here, James's Forum response here
A key blog post here, but it's worth reading the other posts too
If you want to look, read here - especially the comments
Thank you for this super kind comment! ^_^
For me the ironic thing about critiquing current practices of EA is that it is, in itself, an act of EA.
The same can't necessarily be said for critiquing the underlying premise of EA.