Progress Open Thread: March 2021

by Aaron Gertler1 min read3rd Mar 202126 comments

10

Open Thread
Frontpage

The Progress Open Thread is a place to share good news, big or small.

See this post for an explanation of why we have these threads.

What goes in a progress thread comment? 

Think of this as an org update thread for individuals. You might talk about...

  • Securing a new job, internship, grant, or scholarship
  • Starting or making progress on a personal project
  • Helping someone else get involved in EA
  • Making a donation you feel really excited about
  • Taking the Giving What We Can pledge or signing up for Try Giving
  • Writing something you liked outside the Forum (whether it's a paper you've submitted to a journal or just an insightful Facebook comment)
  • Any of the above happening to someone else, if you think they'd be happy for you to share the news
  • Other EA-related progress in the world (disease eradication, cage-free laws, cool new research papers, etc.)
26 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:48 AM
New Comment

Going to do my best to lean into Aaron's "this is a humilty free zone" message from the first progress thread and hopefully get the ball rolling.

  • I won $1350 and a hoody in various forecasting competitions which finished in February ($850 + hoody of which was performance based, the other $500 was participation based).
  • For a few reasons, I've gradually started to get the impression that people respect and are interested in what I have to say about things. I'm not sure how related this is to the above, or how sensible it is on their part, but it feals really good!
  • I was invited to join a weekly call with a few people I vaguely knew on Twitter, and it's been a highlight of most weeks! They're all really nice and very interesting to talk to.

Congratulations!

 I have  always been a bit of an antinatalist. In spite of that, I had a boy 3 years ago. My partner and I would like to open our home and heart to more children at home (we have a little boy already). However, we don't feel comfortable with the idea of creating new ones when there are so many needing a family already.  In our country, less than 0.05% of the families who apply want to adopt teenagers and around 85% percent only want babies. We started the process so we can meet our future 15 years old new "baby" soon, who was never chosen by a family before because he was getting older and older.  We are happy! Many of these older children grow up not ever having a healthy family.

 I would like to know what people feel about reproduction. Also, is adoption only for people who can't conceive and want to have children? What if you can change just one single life and that life changes the world? Is it worth to invest love, energy and money on just one life as a personal contribution?

I came across an article titled Improving Long-Term Outcomes in Adolescent Adoption which seems potentially very useful for you, both before and after adoption. (You may have already found it through your own research, but just case...)

I had not. Thank you! Very useful.

I am very grateful with you all for all I have learnt through this post. Our decision was made out of good will, but never good will is enough and I learn this every day as I get more involved in EA. I shared this information because I truly thought we were doing good by risking it and giving a chance to people that not very often are given one, and I was happy about this. Also because I am new to EA and I believe this community has a lot to offer with respect to tricky issues.  
Adoption processes are very slow so we haven't even met the person yet. I probably should have added that we had applied to adopt other teenagers but we were not allowed to follow since they required parents with no children (I understood later from people that work for the family court  that what was probably the case because of their history of abuse, but I am not certain about this so I can't be sure what is the control the court has over the issue). 
On the other hand, I must confess I usually feel discouraged to raise as many issues I would like because I don't feel smart/informed enough, and it feels a bit selfish/inconvenient since there is so much information and logic I should go through before posting (I wish I had the time to read and study more!). Nevertheless, I have had a great experience in all platforms with EAs and I have always been treated with respect, even with sensitive topics or not very well developed ideas or assumptions.   Thank you!

I realize this is a sensitive topic, but as it sounds like you have not yet firmly committed I will go ahead and encourage you to strongly consider not adopting an older child, for several reasons.

Firstly, people significantly over-estimate their ability to change the outcomes for adopted children. This has been well studied with twin adoption studies, which generally find that adopted children's outcomes are closely linked to their biological parents - and not very linked to their adaptive parents. A good (if slightly dated now) introduction to this is Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, reviewed and excerpted here

Secondly, by adopting an older child you put yourself in a much worse position. To the (limited) extent that good parenting can improve things, at 15 years a lot of that opportunity has been missed. 

Worse, you are suffering from severe adverse selection. By adopting a much older child, you are choosing a child than has been repeated not adopted by other people. This suggests that, even relative to the general class of kids up for adoption, this child is likely to have significant behavioural issues.

Finally, it is a well established fact that one of the biggest threats to children comes from their mothers getting new boyfriends who are not genetically related to the child; this results in a something like a 10x increase in child abuse risk vs traditional families. I have never seen similar statistics around older adopted children but I would consider whether they might present a similar risk to your son given the 12 year age gap.

As a result I would encourage you to consider having another biological child instead. This is also potentially much bigger upside: instead of (hopefully) someone improving someone's life a bit, you give an entire life to someone who would not have otherwise had one. 

I agree with this, and strongly disagree with the decision by Aaron to moderate this comment (as well as with other people deciding to downvote this).  This strikes me as a totally reasonable and well-argued comment.

I've thought about this topic a good amount, and if a friend of mine were to tell me they are planning to adopt a child, I would immediately drop everything I am working on and spend at least 10 hours trying to talk them out of it, and generally be willing to spend a lot of my social capital to preven them from making this choice. 

For some calibration, risk of drug abuse, which is a reasonable baseline for other types of violent behavior as well, is about 2-3x in adopted children. This is not conditioning on it being a teenager adoption, which I expect would likely increase the ratio to more something like 3-4x, given the additional negative selection effects. 

Sibling abuse rates are something like 20% (or 80% depending on your definition). And is the most frequent form of household abuse. This means by adopting a child you are adding something like an additional 60% chance of your other child going through at least some level of abuse (and I would estimate something like a 15% chance of serious abuse). This is a lot. 

Like, this feels to me like a likely life-destroying mistake, with very predictably bad outcomes. Given that a large fraction of household abuse is sibling abuse, this is making it more likely than not that your other children will deal with substantial abuse in their childhood. This is not a "small probabilities of large downside" situation. These are large probabilities of large downsides.

So despite the fact that I spent quite a while thinking about adopting vs. having biological children a few years ago and came out in favour of having biological children for now based on similar concerns you (and Dale) raise about more adverse outcomes in adopted children, I find your conclusion to strongly dissuade from adopting very surprising.

You thinking that adopting might likely be a life-destroying mistake does not seem to line up with the adoption satisfaction data Aaron linked. Maybe you meant this specifically for adopting teenagers? It was not clear from your comment.

In many ways, I prefer more awareness about difficulties in adopting over the naive 'why don't you just adopt?!' do-gooders who want to have children often hear. So I am grateful that this topic is brought up, I would just prefer a more clear pointing out of trade-offs, as well as more emotional sensitivity on the topic.

When I looked into this, I looked more at qualitative accounts (and also tried to answer a slightly different question - does demand from potential parents for low-risk adopted children outstrip how many such children there are?) and less at quantitative data. While this seems like a clear oversight in retrospect, apparently this led me to a more negative impression than is warranted now looking at the data you linked. If you had told me that 1,5% of biological children have substantial drug abuse problems as defined in the paper and asked me to guess the percentage for adopted children, I would have guessed way more than 3,5%. I was also surprised by the adoption satisfaction data Aaron linked. So if anything, you are leaving me with a more positive impression of adoption, and are motivating me to look into the topic again.

Thus I am surprised you are so confident in your position you would be willing to spend so much time on dissuading people to adopt. (You are welcome to try to dissuade me that this is even worth my time looking into it!) To me, the outcomes do not seem to be 'very predictably bad'.

While on average adopted children have worse outcomes than biological children, this really does not need to be true for each individual making this choice. It is also not the only factor which matters. To name some examples which can tilt the decision: infertility, same-sex couples, previous difficult pregnancies or birth trauma, family history of genetic diseases like Huntington's, more garden-variety heritable risk factors for issues like ADHD, autism and depression, how high risk the potential adoptive children actually are, e.g. based on their age and previous history, etc.

I am unsure how to think about satisfaction data. My general model is that lots of satisfaction data is biased upwards and I can't really imagine a negative result from that survey, so I really don't know how much to update on it. I would currently just ignore it, unless someone had a really clever study design where they have some kind of other intervention that is similarly costly and had similar social expectations, but we know is bad for people, that we could use as a control. 

And yes, I think concerns like infertility, same-sex couples, and many other things like that can make adoption the best choice for people who really want to have children. But I do think the costs would still be there, you might just not have an alternative. 

I also think one can reduce the costs here by a lot by trying to find one of the best kids to adopt, or doing weirder things like trying to find a surrogate mother, which will probably have much less adverse selection effects (though I haven't thought through this case very much). My concern is much more about the naive way most people seem to handle adoptions, and I think there are ways to reduce the risk to a level where the tradeoffs become much less harsh.

(Arguably nitpicking, in the sense that I suspect this would not change the bottom line, posted because the use of stats here raised my eyebrows)

For some calibration, risk of drug abuse, which is a reasonable baseline for other types of violent behavior as well, is about 2-3x in adopted children. This is not conditioning on it being a teenager adoption, which I expect would likely increase the ratio to more something like 3-4x, given the additional negative selection effects. 

Sibling abuse rates are something like 20% (or 80% depending on your definition). And is the most frequent form of household abuse. This means by adopting a child you are adding something like an additional 60% chance of your other child going through at least some level of abuse

For the benefit of those who didn't click through the link, the rate on their chosen measure is very roughly 3.5% for adoptees versus roughly 1.5% for the general population, which I assume is where the 2-3x came from. I also buy that by adopting a teenager this number is going to be pushed up towards the foster child outcomes (~8%); a guess like 5% ("3-4x") seems reasonable.  

But you can't directly extrapolate from the ratio on a rare outcome to a typical outcome, e.g. a 20% -> 67% (67 = 20 * 5 / 1.5)  change in the absolute likelihood of sibling abuse, which I think is basically what you are doing here, though do correct me if I'm wrong since there were some numbers you gave I couldn't follow. The statistical intuition going into that is rough, but here's a concrete, if technical, example: 

A 1.5% bad tail outcome in a normal distribution means you are 2.17 standard deviations below the mean, a 5% tail outcome means you are 1.64 SDs below the mean, and so you would go 1.5% -> 5% just by dropping the mean by 0.53 SDs. But this would only move a 20% likelihood outcome to 38%, well short of 67% or even your 60%. To get a 20% outcome to 60% you need a 1.1 SD move, which would be equivalent to a 1.5% outcome becoming 14%. The choice of normal distribution in the above is arbitrary, but I expect the pattern to hold among reasonable choices for this case. 

In less technical language: you don't have to move a distribution very much to change the probability of tail outcomes by a lot, whereas almost by definition you do have to move a distribution a lot to change the probability of typical outcomes by a lot. 

Yeah, I think this is a totally fair critique and I updated some after reading it!  

I wrote the above after a long Slack conversation with Aaron at like 2AM, just trying to capture the rough shape of the argument without spending too much time on it. 

I do think actually chasing  this argument all the way through is interesting and possibly worth it. I think it's pretty plausible it could make a 2-3x difference in the final outcome (and possibly a lot more!), and I hadn't actually thought through it all the way. And while I had some gut sense it was important to differentiate between median and tail outcomes here, I hadn't properly thought through the exact relationship between the two and am appreciative of you doing some more of the thinking. 

I currently prefer your estimate of "moving it from 20% to 38%" as something like my best guess.

So, one thing I was thinking about was that people frequently use the murder-rate as a proxy for the overall crime rate, and I think I remember people doing that without any adjustment of the type you are thinking about here. Is there something special about the murder rate as a fraction of violent crimes, or should we actually make the same adjustments in that case?

I think similar adjustments should be made if you are extrapolating to crimes with very different prevalence. For example, the US murder rate is 4-5x that of the UK, but I wouldn’t expect the US to have that many more bike thefts.

Proxy seems fine if you’re focused on which country/city/etc. has higher overall crime, rather than estimating magnitude.

(FWIW, attempt at Googling the above suggest ~300k bike thefts per year in UK versus 2m in US, US population 5x bigger so that’s only 1.33x the UK rate. A quick check on bicycle sales in the two countries does not suggest that this is because of very different cycling rates. No links because on phone, but above is very rough anyway. I’m left with somewhat greater confidence that the gap is in fact <<4x, like 1.2x - 2x, though.)

Similar comments could be made about extrapolating from the large number of US billionaires (way more per capita than any other country IIRC) to the relative rates of people earning more than $200k/$50k/etc. That case might be more intuitive.

A less important motivation/mechanism is probabilities/ratios (instead of odds) are bounded above by one. For rare events 'doubling the probability' versus 'doubling the odds' get basically the same answer, but not so for more common events. Loosely, flipping a coin three times 'trebles' my risk of observing it landing tails, but the probability isn't 1.5. (cf).

E.g.

Sibling abuse rates are something like 20% (or 80% depending on your definition). And is the most frequent form of household abuse. This means by adopting a child you are adding something like an additional 60% chance of your other child going through at least some level of abuse (and I would estimate something like a 15% chance of serious abuse). [my emphasis]

If you used the 80% definition instead of 20%, then the '4x' risk factor implied by 60% additional chance (with 20% base rate) would give instead an additional 240% chance.

[(Of interest, 20% to 38% absolute likelihood would correspond to an odds ratio of ~2.5, in the ballpark of 3-4x risk factors discussed before. So maybe extrapolating extreme event ratios to less-extreme event ratios can do okay if you keep them in odds form. The underlying story might have something to do with logistic distributions closely resemble normal distributions (save at the tails), so thinking about shifting a normal distribution across the x axis so (non-linearly) more or less of it lies over a threshold loosely resembles adding increments to log-odds (equivalent to multiplying odds by a constant multiple) giving (non-linear) changes when traversing a logistic CDF.

But it still breaks down when extrapolating very large ORs from very rare events. Perhaps the underlying story here may have something to do with higher kurtosis : '>2SD events' are only (I think) ~5X more likely than >3SD events for logistic distributions, versus ~20X in normal distribution land. So large shifts in likelihood of rare(r) events would imply large logistic-land shifts (which dramatically change the whole distribution, e.g. an OR of 10 makes evens --> >90%) much more modest in normal-land (e.g. moving up an SD gives OR>10 for previously 3SD events, but ~2 for previously 'above average' ones)]

Yep, I should have definitely kept the probabilities in log-form, just to be less confusing. It wouldn't have made a huge difference to the outcome, but it seems better practice than the thing that I did.

Thanks for this explanation. That part of Habryka's comment also struck me as very suspicious when I read it, but it wasn't immediately obvious what's wrong with it exactly.

Strongly upvoted. This comment provides solid evidence in support of its argument, and led me to substantially raise my estimate of the physical risks involved in adoption. (Edit: This holds even in light of AGB's reply; as he points out, the numbers on risk are still quite high even if you make an adjustment of the type he recommends.)

I also appreciate Habryka's willingness to speak out in favor of a comment that was heavily downvoted and moderated, just as I appreciated Dale's good intentions in his initial comment.

I found Habryka's supporting evidence to be more relevant than Dale's, and his argument clearer — such that it meets the standards of rigor I was hoping for given the topic at hand.

*****

My biggest update here is on the rate of sibling abuse, which I hadn't realized was nearly as high as it seems to be. From page 25 of this report:

The report's definition of "severe assault" (ignore the bit about parents, it seems like sibling violence was measured in the same way):

I'll note that this still leaves room for interpretation. Both of my siblings hit me with objects when I was growing up, leaving marks or bruises in some cases, but I'm still glad they were born, and we get along well as adults. (We also got along well as children, most of the time.)

I'd be really interested to see data like this broken down by the type/severity of violence. I'd guess that a substantial portion of that "37 percent" number comes from things most people would perceive as normal (e.g. a 7-year-old punches her 8-year-old brother in the arm, a 10-year-old hits his twin brother with a Wiffle bat). But I could be wrong, and even much smaller numbers for "truly severe" incidents could mean a lot more risk than I'd expected.

*****

Despite this update, "never adopt" still feels extreme to me, given the chance of a very positive outcome (a child has a loving family who helps to support them, rather than no family) and the high satisfaction rates of adoptive parents (keeping in mind that those numbers are likely to be skewed by a bias towards reporting satisfaction). 

Some factors which seem like they could, in tandem, sharply reduce the risk Habryka identifies:

  • Adopting a child younger than your current children
  • Adopting a girl rather than a boy (the above report found that boys were more likely than girls to commit violent acts, but I don't know how big the difference is)
  • Doing everything you can to learn whether a child has a history of violent behavior (if a 15-year-old has a totally clean record, that seems like useful evidence)

But I'm not confident about the impact of any of these.

I strongly disagree with this comment for various reasons, and for the sake of my nerves I won't go through them all. Just one thing:

Usually the argument for adopting an older child is not that you can expect to raise their IQ points a bit or their income in adulthood. But twin adoption studies also show, and Caplan discusses that in his book, that treating your children well is something that will make a difference to them by how they remember and relate to you. The foster system is often a pretty awful experience to children, so you will make their life better by giving them a loving home, even if it will never show on their IQ tests. Feeling loved and cared for matters.

Edit: I responded to this comment after someone reported it, and hadn't seen Denise's comment at the time. She sums up one of the points I try to make here better than I did.

Second edit: I think Habryka's comment is a really good example of how to make a similar point to what Dale aimed for, with enough additional supporting evidence to abide by the Forum's rules.

Having read Habryka's comment and internalized how probable the risks of adoption can be, I appreciate Dale's comment more in retrospect. While I still don't like the way the argument for high abuse risk was presented, I could have done more to acknowledge that the spirit of the comment was "I'm taking a risk by writing a controversial comment because I see someone doing something I think is dangerous" — execution aside, this type of content is really valuable. 

*****

Moderator here!

While this comment seems to be well-intentioned, it also takes the form of:

  • "I would like to help someone."
  • "No, you shouldn't do that. They might be a dangerous person who will hurt someone you love."

This kind of argument demands better data than is present in this comment, which takes an (unlinked) statistic and extrapolates it to a fairly different scenario. 

Please don't use this kind of reasoning to make negative claims about entire groups of people (e.g. teenagers who are available for adoption).

*****

Edit: Taking the mod hat off in this section, which is just a comment from one user to another:

The reasoning "you may not be able to change their outcomes, ergo this isn't worth doing" also seems a bit beside the point. Changing a person's life doesn't have to entail e.g. changing their educational attainment or future income. It can also just entail giving them a stable home and a family of people who care about them. 

(I don't have statistics on hand, but I think it's very likely that adopted teenagers report higher life satisfaction than teenagers who don't get adopted. I'll gladly donate $50 to the charity of someone's choice if they find solid data showing otherwise, since my first few minutes of research didn't get me anywhere.)

*****

A version of this comment that would have been better: "Studies X and Y show that parents tend to regret adopting older children and/or that older children tend to report lower life satisfaction after being adopted. Consider that doing this might make you unhappy and not help the person you want to help." Or even: "Studies X and Y show that the risk of violence in the home rises from A% to B% in families that adopt an older child." 

The current comment makes unkind assumptions about a group of people without accurate data to back them — so despite the good intentions, it falls afoul of our rules.

Thanks for the feedback. While you are a moderator and can of course moderate as you wish, I must admit I found it confusing. I tried looking through the rules to find anything related to this:

The current comment makes unkind assumptions about a group of people without accurate data to back them — so despite the good intentions, it falls afoul of our rules.

The closest I could find was this section:

   Unnecessary rudeness or offensiveness

But this is of course quite different. My comment's tone was not particularly rude (e.g. no swearing, personal attacks), and nor was the content 'unnecessary' - or at least no more so than many other comments on the forum. In a situation whether there is a logical reason why a course of action is bad, but no hard empirical data, what alternative is there but to share our best attempt at reasoning?

Furthermore, I am not sure it is true that I made unkind assumptions; I assume you are refering to this section, but it is clearly an inference, not an assumption, that older adopted children present an elevated risk, and one that is couched in measured language like 'consider' and 'might':

Finally, it is a well established fact that one of the biggest threats to children comes from their mothers getting new boyfriends who are not genetically related to the child; this results in a something like a 10x increase in child abuse risk vs traditional families. I have never seen similar statistics around older adopted children but I would consider whether they might present a similar risk to your son given the 12 year age gap.

Indeed, arguably my comment was actually encouraged by the rules:

Polish: We'd rather see an idea presented imperfectly than not see it at all.

Worse, I think your objection is an isolated demand for rigor. It is very common for people to express arguments in the absence of hard statistical data; such data-heavy comments are a minority of those on the forum. Even among top-level articles such sources are often omitted - for example this highly upvoted post from the frontpage contains almost no statistics at all, yet I don't think this is a major problem.

So what is different here? My guess is the true crux of your objection is that my comment expresses a negative view of a group who it is not socially acceptable to criticize (you will note that Denise's comment also implies negative things, about a different group, but she has received no pushback because her target is considered socially acceptable to criticize)

But I encourage you to reconsider this, because as Effective Altruists we need to ensure our beliefs are as accurate as possible. This is not a topic of idle speculation: my comment was written to be specifically action guiding, and the negative facts about adopted children, especially older adopted children, are a crucial component of any fair evaluation of the risks and benefits of this decision. We should not be straw rationalists who are unable to act in the absence of RCTs; we can and should use evidence from other domains to make logical inferences when we have to make decisions under uncertainty. If we punish such comments, while allowing relatively statistic-light 'positive' comments we create a persistent bias which will lead us to social desirability bias. It is well known that the EA movement has a bias against conservatives; we should not let this bias morph into a moderation policy.


Less importantly, I also think you may not have properly understood my argument, because you raise this as a challenge:

I think it's very likely that adopted teenagers report higher life satisfaction than teenagers who don't get adopted. I'll gladly donate $50 to the charity of someone's choice if they find solid data showing otherwise, since my first few minutes of research didn't get me anywhere.

Yet better outcomes for adopted teenagers over non-adopted teenagers is actually a logical consequence of the  considerations I mentioned, because never-adopted children will have even worse adverse selection problems than late-adopted children!

Upvoted. I felt this reply was engaging in good faith, and it's given me a chance to add clarity about the Forum's moderation policy.

I tried looking through the rules to find anything related to this: "The current comment makes unkind assumptions about a group of people without accurate data to back them — so despite the good intentions, it falls afoul of our rules."

Thanks for asking the question — I should have linked to the exact section I was referencing, which was:

This criterion is based on Scott Alexander's moderation policy, which I'll quote here:

If you want to say something that might not be true – anything controversial, speculative, or highly opinionated – then you had better make sure it is both kind and necessary. Kind, in that you don’t rush to insult people who disagree with you. Necessary in that it’s on topic, and not only contributes something to the discussion but contributes more to the discussion than it’s likely to take away through starting a fight.

(Where he uses "necessary", we use "relevant".)

The version of "kind" I'm thinking of doesn't just encompass "not insulting people", but covers other everyday aspects of the word. The relevant one here is: "Don't insinuate that a given member of a certain group is likely to be dangerous, to the point that you don't recommend people interact closely with them." See the following:

Finally, it is a well established fact that one of the biggest threats to children comes from their mothers getting new boyfriends who are not genetically related to the child; this results in a something like a 10x increase in child abuse risk vs traditional families. I have never seen similar statistics around older adopted children but I would consider whether they might present a similar risk to your son given the 12 year age gap.

If a comment speculates that a sizable group of people pose a serious hazard to the people they live with, I hold it to a higher standard, as I believe Scott would.

This comment is speculative, and I'd argue using the above standard that it isn't kind. It's certainly relevant, in that you are referring to a situation someone plans to seek out, but 1 out of 3 is still an occasion for a warning.

...one that is couched in measured language like 'consider' and 'might'.

It's better to use this kind of language than to not use it. But as a moderator, I'm wary of even measured language (in this context — no data, negative stereotyping) when someone uses a "measured" point in the service of a less measured conclusion: "I encourage you to strongly consider not adopting an older child" (emphasis mine). 

The word "strongly", to me, reads as "I believe the thing I'm about to argue for is true; even if I'm not trying to force you to agree with me, I really think you should." If that wasn't your intention, I'm sorry to have misconstrued what you meant to imply.

In a situation whether there is a logical reason why a course of action is bad, but no hard empirical data, what alternative is there but to share our best attempt at reasoning?

The alternatives I suggested involved finding data, which is a really good thing to do when you are speculating about the violent proclivities of a group of people. 

Given the choice of "make an inference without empirical data that a group of people has violent proclivities" or "don't make that inference", I'd prefer people refrain from making such inferences. It's very easy for online discussions to get tangled up in arguments about stereotyping; asking people to bring hard data if they want to get into those topics seems reasonable to me. 

(For example, under the standard you seem to be suggesting, you could have gone on in your comment to speculate about the safest gender, race, national origin, and IQ of child to adopt. Even if these were all just "inferences", I can't imagine them improving the quality of discussion, because I've never seen the internet work that way.)

Polish: We'd rather see an idea presented imperfectly than not see it at all.

Rather than content, this line is meant to refer to a post's formatting: an "unpolished" post, to my mind, is one that is messy and disorganized, rather than speculative. 

That said, I can see why people might think it refers to speculation. I'll consider edits I could make to clear this up, and to explain more about how we see the trade-off between "polish" (in the sense of accuracy/empiricism), kindness, and relevance.

Worse, I think your objection is an isolated demand for rigor. It is very common for people to express arguments in the absence of hard statistical data; such data-heavy comments are a minority of those on the forum. Even among top-level articles such sources are often omitted - for example this highly upvoted post from the frontpage contains almost no statistics at all, yet I don't think this is a major problem.

I'd gladly acknowledge my objection as an isolated demand for rigor. A comment policy of "unkind comments are held to a higher standard for accuracy" seems to require making isolated demands for rigor. (Of course, we could be more clear in our rules that we do hold such comments to a higher standard — again, I upvoted your reply because it's given me some ideas for ways to improve that page.)

My guess is the true crux of your objection is that my comment expresses a negative view of a group who it is not socially acceptable to criticize (you will note that Denise's comment also implies negative things, about a different group, but she has received no pushback because her target is considered socially acceptable to criticize).

If you ever see anyone on the Forum express negative views of a group without empirical data to back them up, please feel free to report their comment! I'd like to apply our standards fairly, even to criticism of groups that are "socially acceptable" targets in other places.

I don't know which part of Denise's comment you are referring to. My best guess is:

The foster system is often a pretty awful experience to children.

This doesn't imply negative things about any particular people or group of people. It specifically refers to a "system". Even if people who work in the foster system are generally kind and competent, the experience of growing up without a family in a family-centric culture, surrounded by a constantly shifting group of people, and feeling generally unwanted/out of place in society... well, it's often going to be pretty awful.

(Similarly, saying "sewers are an unpleasant work environment" doesn't read to me as a criticism of sewer designers; there are other, more obvious reasons that you'd prefer not to work in a sewer.) 

My comment was written to be specifically action guiding, and the negative facts about adopted children, especially older adopted children, are a crucial component of any fair evaluation of the risks and benefits of this decision. 

The part of your comment that led me to issue a warning was your speculation about the violent tendencies of older adopted children. I've made an edit to my warning to clarify that the rest of my comment was an objection/counterpoint from one user to another.

We should not be straw rationalists who are unable to act in the absence of RCTs; we can and should use evidence from other domains to make logical inferences when we have to make decisions under uncertainty. 

I agree! But there are consequences to making certain logical inferences that I think are important to consider in the context of a public discussion forum (and in the context of any communication between imperfectly rational humans). We should not be straw rationalists who refuse to consider the social implications of communication.

A comment that refers to a negative stereotype about a group of people has fairly high downside risk. Not in isolation, of course (few people read most Forum comments), but in the sense that every instance of a thing permitted makes it more difficult to stop further instances of that thing. And when the thing is "speculation about the violent tendencies of different groups of people", there's a lot of risk to it becoming more common. (I would expect people who don't like that kind of speculation to become less active, and people who enjoy it to become more active, with generally negative consequences.)

Of course, downside risk isn't the only thing a comment can have. There are also potential benefits, which are usually going to be more important!

In this case, the potential benefit could actually be high — if the OP decides not to adopt because they anticipated helping the child become dramatically more wealthy or successful than they'd otherwise have been, and it turns out this (very likely) wouldn't have happened and the OP would have been bitterly disappointed as a result (which in turn seems bad for their adopted child), you've helped them.

However, the part of the comment that I moderated doesn't seem as beneficial, on net. I find the inference shaky (how violent are siblings, relative to parents? How common is violence toward siblings vs. stepsiblings?), and the magnitude of the risk highly unclear. And when net benefits are concerned, I don't want to ignore that the choice of "adopt vs. not adopt" has a substantial impact on the welfare of the child who is or isn't adopted. (Or at least I infer that it does; moderators also have to draw inferences sometimes.)

If we punish such comments, while allowing relatively statistic-light 'positive' comments we create a persistent bias which will lead us to social desirability bias. It is well known that the EA movement has a bias against conservatives; we should not let this bias morph into a moderation policy.

I agree that our current moderation policy seems likely to create some amount of social desirability bias, even if we aim to apply it fairly to "desirable" and "undesirable" topics.

However, there are other factors that influence a forum's success aside from "are people sharing opinions with as little bias as possible?" (Though that's an important factor, and I try not to get in the way of it unless I have a really good reason, as I think I do here.)

I'd guess that most people in EA are more likely to participate in an atmosphere that leans positive and pleasant, and where certain types of comments (e.g. negative stereotypes about groups, harsh criticism) are held to unusually high standards of rigor. And I'd guess that a forum with more participation will be more impactful, because more people will share ideas, give feedback, and so on.

(I could write many, many more paragraphs about the considerations we've had to make around balancing user experience for people with different preferences while aiming at the most impactful overall product, but I've now spent more than an hour on this comment and have to finish up.)

These are the kinds of tradeoffs I have to consider as a moderator. I also have to consider the best way to apply policies established by the people who built the Forum and fund its continued development, even if my personal preferences are a bit different in some cases. I hope that even if we don't see eye to eye on this particular post, you can see that I am at least aware of the concerns you raise.

*****

On the "bias against conservatives" point: I don't understand how this relates to our conversation. If anything, I think of adoption as a "conservative" type of action, because I associate it with large families and religious beliefs. 

There are other posts on the Forum that could be cited more easily for this concern — maybe you meant to refer to some of those?

*****

Now speaking as a commenter, rather than a moderator:

I do think your comment showed an absence of something else we encourage:

You set out to present the best case you could for the argument "don't adopt". You didn't speculate on the benefit of being adopted to a child's well-being, or how their family might benefit — instead, you focused on negative consequences. Given that really good outcomes are also possible, this focus stands out.

(To give another example: I can imagine someone posting about their plans to remarry, and someone else saying "you should strongly consider not remarrying, because stepparents are often violent towards their stepchildren". This may be true, but there are many potential benefits to remarrying, and it seems like people should remarry at least sometimes — is someone who reads your comment likely to better understand whether they should remarry?)

This isn't to say that every comment has to present all the pros and cons of a decision. I was just personally put off by that aspect.

Yet better outcomes for adopted teenagers over non-adopted teenagers is actually a logical consequence of the  considerations I mentioned, because never-adopted children will have even worse adverse selection problems than late-adopted children!

Fair enough! This is a good and helpful critique.

I should have added more detail to that comment (about e.g. trying really hard to compare adopted vs. eligible-but-not-adopted children with similar characteristics, or children who were successfully adopted vs. children who would have been adopted but the paperwork fell through, etc., etc.) I meant to imply "find the most reliable version of this study", but that definitely didn't come through.

Back to being a moderator:

I really don't want the Forum to be a place where people simply can't share certain true (legal, safe) information. However, there are a lot of ways to share information, and I do want to encourage people to share it in certain ways I think are better for discussion.

Aside from the alternatives I proposed in the last comment (finding more data), here are some suggested formats that could have brought your comment more in line with how I'd like Forum discussion to go. These are meant to be "examples of comments with formats that seem good", rather than "examples of exactly what you should have said" — you may well disagree with some of what I say here.

  • "From your quote X, I think you may be hoping to have outcome Y on an adopted child. I think that's unlikely, because..."
  • "You ask whether it's "worth it" to adopt an older child. While I understand the desire to help people whose welfare is especially neglected, I think there are some alternatives A and B you should consider, based on tradeoffs X and Y..."
  • "I think that bringing a happy new life into the world is actually a very good thing! Here are some thoughts on why it could lead to a better world, overall, than deciding to adopt..."
  • (I've replaced my fourth example with Habryka's comment, which does a great job of providing extra supporting data for claims about the risk of violence.)

In particular, I think the last one of these takes risks seriously without assuming that adoption is never the right option.

You don't have to write comments that look like any of these, of course — I'm just trying to show that there are ways to convey "negative" or "socially undesirable" opinions without presenting negative stereotypes of entire groups.

The version of "kind" I'm thinking of doesn't just encompass "not insulting people", but covers other everyday aspects of the word. The relevant one here is: "Don't insinuate that a given member of a certain group is likely to be dangerous, to the point that you don't recommend people interact closely with them.

This seems like quite a strange policy. You're clearly diverging from Scott's policy in a big way: he is talking about being nice to other commenters (form), but you have some major  content-based assumptions baked in. 

Indeed, your approach is in some cases the exact opposite of Scott's approach!

Consider a scenario where you are a native of a third world country, and a fellow EA is going to come visit. This person, while well intentioned, is generally quite naive, so you are keen to look out for their welfare. Alas! Shortly before they arrive, you find out they have booked accommodation in an extremely dangerous part of town, where murder, rape and kidnapping are common, and the police fear the gangs. Your country doesn't have good statistics for this area (as no-one reports crimes to the police), so you can't prove this to her, yet it is surely the kind thing to warn her of this, and encourage her to rent in a different part of the city. In doing so you are indeed insinuating that a certain group is likely to be dangerous, and encouraging ther hem to avoid contact - but this is the kind thing to do! Staying silent is the socially easy way out, but it does nothing to help your friend. Sacrificing your social standing and reputation to speak uncomfortable truths for the sake of a welfare of someone you have never met is surely the height of kindness.

 

A couple of times in your comment you discuss the danger of stereotypes. Unfortunately I think this shows a very prejudiced (if you will forgive the pun) view of stereotypes. Actually, research suggests that stereotypes are generally very accurate:

Stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable effects in all of social psychology.  Richard et al (2003) found that fewer than 5% of all effects in social psychology exceeded r’s of .50. In contrast, nearly all consensual stereotype accuracy correlations and about half of all personal stereotype accuracy correlations exceed .50.[1]

Finally, you suggested this:

For example, under the standard you seem to be suggesting, you could have gone on in your comment to speculate about the safest gender, race, national origin, and IQ of child to adopt. Even if these were all just "inferences", I can't imagine them improving the quality of discussion, because I've never seen the internet work that way.

Actually, this is a great point, and one that I think more supports my argument. One thing that it is very important for adoptive families in the US to be aware of are the issues around adopting Native American children. Because of special laws, you run the risk of the child being taken away from you long after you have taken them into your home, in a way that would not be legally possible for a non-native-american child. As a result of this I would indeed recommend parents take race into account when adopting inside the US, insomuchas they should be extra careful with native children. It is important to be able to discuss this; it's a significant risk and one we shouldn't cover up, even if some people might find the topic politically uncomfortable. 

First of all, it's great that you are considering this (or are already most of the way there?)!

Here was a discussion on the same topic that might interest you. If you have Facebook and would like to join the Parents in Effective Altruism group, there was also a discussion on this topic here.

Good luck!

Edit: I also really enjoyed the story of this couple which adopted over 20 children. They were featured in the book Strangers Drowning covering highly altruistically motivated people, which included stories about EAs as well.

I'm planning to get a COVID-19 vaccine this month. I have a disability, which makes me eligible to get the vaccine in New York State.