Ben Hoffman & Holden Karnofsky

by Milan_Griffes2 min read20th Mar 20212 comments

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Criticism of effective altruismCommunity
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"Youth is the seed time of good habits as well in nations as in individuals."

– Thomas Paine, Common Sense

 

Previously: 0, 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
 

toonalfrink made a good point about my last post, EA capital allocation is an inner ring

I want to reward you for bringing up the topic of power dynamics in EA. Those exist, like in any community, but especially in EA there seems to be a strong current of denying the fact that EA's are constrained by their selfish incentives like everyone else. It requires heroism to go against that current.

But by just insinuating and not delivering any concrete evidence or constructive suggestions for change, you haven't really done your homework. I advise you to withdraw this post, cut out half the narrative crap, add some evidence and a model, make a recommendation, then repost it.

 

I don't yet have enough space to articulate a full model with supporting evidence and recommendations, but happily Ben Hoffman did this exact thing several years ago with his sequence GiveWell and the problem of partial funding (a). 

I recommend reading the entirety of his summary post for the sequence; here's the beginning:

At the end of 2015, GiveWell wrote up its reasons for recommending that Good Ventures partially but not fully fund the GiveWell top charities. This reasoning seemed incomplete to me, and when I talked about it with others in the EA community, their explanations tended to switch between what seemed to me to be incomplete and mutually exclusive models of what was going on. This bothered me, because the relevant principles are close to the core of what EA is.

A foundation that plans to move around ten billion dollars and is relying on advice from GiveWell isn’t enough to get the top charities fully funded. That’s weird and surprising. The mysterious tendency to accumulate big piles of money and then not do anything with most of it seemed like a pretty important problem, and I wanted to understand it before trying to add more money to this particular pile.

So I decided to write up, as best I could, a clear, disjunctive treatment of the main arguments I’d seen for the behavior of GiveWell, the Open Philanthropy Project, and Good Ventures. Unfortunately, my writeup ended up being very long. I’ve since been encouraged to write a shorter summary with more specific recommendations. This is that summary.

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So if like toonalfrink you're desiring a complete articulation of this critique, I recommend engaging with Ben's for now and I'll fill in what I can going forward. 

 

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In other news, Holden Karnofsky has an upcoming AMA

This is interesting to me because Holden is probably the person who bears the most individual responsibility for decision-making about EA capital allocation

I only have one question for Holden for this AMA – Does his 2017 post Some thoughts on public discourse remain the best articulation of how he is thinking about engaging in public with the EA and Bay Area Rationality communities? 

This question is particularly interesting to me because Holden's public communication style has radically changed over the last 15 years. 

To see what I mean, compare the tone & style of these posts:

From my perspective, Holden and other members of the inner ring have clearly trended towards saying less in public and taking fewer people's opinions into account when making decisions about how to allocate EA capital. Holden basically says the same in the posts I linked to above. 

I think this is eyebrow-raising, to say the very least. 

The Ben Hoffman sequence I highlighted at the top of this post does a good job of articulating (some of) why this is eyebrow-raising.

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Ben Hoffman's GiveWell and the problem of Partial Funding was also posted here on the forum, with replies from OpenPhil and GiveWell staff. 

I think your title could be a bit more informative.

Holden's writing seems to follow a hype cycle on the idea of transparency. i.e. first you apply a fresh new idea too radically, you run into it's drawbacks, then you regress to a healthy moderate application of it.

As someone who has felt some of the drawbacks of being outside this "inner ring", I wouldn't complain about the transparency per se. Lack of engagement, maybe, but that turned out to be me. 

I'm still waiting for concrete suggestions. I also think your project would be more fruitful if you interviewed these people in person and published the result.