Aaron Gertler

I moderate the Forum, and I'm happy to review your posts before they're published! See here for instructions:


I'm a full-time content writer at CEA. I started Yale's student EA group, and I've also volunteered for CFAR and MIRI. I spend a few hours a month advising a small, un-Googleable private foundation that makes EA-adjacent donations.

Before joining CEA, I was a tutor, a freelance writer, a tech support agent, and a music journalist. I blog, and keep a public list of my donations, at aarongertler.net.


Effective Altruism Handbook: Motivation Series


Self-employment trends: why entrepreneurship might be making a comeback

Would you mind expanding on how you see this as relating to effective altruism? I don't see a clear connection.

An open letter to Holden from a crybaby

One of the main uses of posting to the Forum is not for readership but for feedback. And some of the worst posts may be exactly those that could benefit the most from feedback.

It seems to me like this post got a reasonable amount of feedback. The top two upvoted comments took issue with different elements of the post, and I think those commenters explained their points well. 

In my experience, heavily-downvoted posts often get a lot of feedback, at least relative to the number of people who vote on them at all. I looked up a bunch of recent posts with negative karma, and they all got comments explaining why people downvoted. Even this post (with only three total votes) at least had someone asking a reasonable question about its conclusion.

Do any counterexamples come to mind? Posts or comments with a lot of downvotes and little-to-no feedback in the form of critical replies?

Often when I see posts heavily downvoted / other comments upvoted, it's because they seem to hit a nerve that a large part of the community deeply cares about, but the comment responses don't make this clear (it is confusing!). For example, there have been a bunch of emotionally charged threads on transparency vs. censorship. 

Again, I'd be interested to see examples. I've written at least two posts that touch on issues of transparency and/or censorship, and they both got plenty of critical attention that (to me) made it clear what people were concerned about. Other posts on controversial topics also seem to fit this description (when they get more than a couple of votes overall).

If you see the Forum as more of a professional thing, I would hope we could eventually have some other alternative to give feedback to people on their written up thoughts and early blog posts.

I think the Forum should host a really wide range of things written by a wide range of people. I don't see it as "professional" at all, save in the sense that I want professional people to feel comfortable sharing their work here, same as anyone else who wants to discuss EA. 

I also think that feedback on the Forum tends to be more helpful (on average) than you'd get on almost any other free online platform. My main criticism of the Forum's commentariat is that they don't write enough comments (I'd love to see people get more feedback), but I don't know what alternative platform would be better in that regard.


A question: Do you think the Forum would be a better site, overall, if it had only upvotes and comments, but no downvotes? This would reduce the chance of people getting discouraged by downvotes, but it would also lead to an atmosphere where posts were (by default) ranked  by how much attention they received, rather than by how good people thought they were. That seems worse to me.

An open letter to Holden from a crybaby

I assume one of the references you mentioned is in this comment. Do you happen to remember where else it was brought up? 

If I could see that comment, I'd want to leave a reply to push against it, since I think the crybaby article is terrible and not a mindset the Forum should encourage at all.

An open letter to Holden from a crybaby

There's some nasty subtext in the voting patterns where things are heavily upvoted and downvoted with rather little explanation.

If I see that a post is heavily downvoted, and that several comments that criticize the post are heavily upvoted (as is the case here), I assume that people who downvoted the post generally agree with those criticisms.

In fact, I actively like the "upvoting critical comments" form of explanation if someone thinks that existing comments basically cover what they wanted to say. Otherwise, you get a Twitter-esque pile-on where a dozen people all make very similar critical comments.

(Is there some way you wish people would behave that you think avoids this scenario and the "low-explanation downvote" scenario?)

I may publish a separate comment on this post, but I thought Michelle's critique was good and upvoted. And I downvoted this post based on my main voting criterion: "Would I want to see more content like this on the EA Forum?" 

The answer is: "No, I don't want to see more content like this on the EA Forum." I think it generated much more heat than light, and there were many better ways to make the same point. I might not have downvoted the post had it been written by someone who was clearly new to the movement, for the reasons you outlined, but Sanjay isn't new. On the contrary, he's written many good posts that I upvoted because I wanted to encourage more content along those lines.

Ideally, downvotes discourage some types of posts and comments that aren't very useful to the Forum's goals, and upvotes encourage more posts and comments that are useful. There's always a risk that someone whose post gets downvoted will be discouraged from writing other posts that could be better, but critical comments seem like they would create the same risk.

Are there any other pro athlete aspiring EAs?

As a data point, I downvoted the original comment but removed the downvote after reading the edited version, which I think is phrased a lot better. 

In cases where a comment is edited after other comments critique it, I wonder if we should gently encourage a norm of having the removed words be crossed out, rather than deleted entirely? It is of course an author's right to remove anything they no longer endorse, but it can be confusing to see comments refer to material that no longer exists.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident

A stark conclusion of "you're going to lose" seems like it's updating too much on a small number of examples. 

For every story we hear about someone being cancelled, how many times has such an attempt been unsuccessful (no story) or even led to mutual reconciliation and understanding between the parties (no story)? How many times have niceness, community, and civilization won out over opposing forces?

(I once talked to a professor of mine at Yale who was accused by a student of sharing racist material. It was a misunderstanding. She resolved it with a single brief email to the student, who was glad to have been heard and had no further concerns. No story.)

I'm also not sure what your recommendation is here. Is it "refuse to communicate with people who espouse beliefs of type X"? Is it "create a centralized set of rules for how EA groups invite speakers"?

Are there any other pro athlete aspiring EAs?

I haven't heard of Phelps being involved in anything EA-related since then, so I'd guess this was just a random charity event to him (one among many).

Rob Mather of AMF organized the swim event, so he may know whether any of the high-level swimmers from that fundraiser continued to be involved with AMF afterwards.

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

I agree that the distinction is often relevant. In this case, I wanted to leave the question very open-ended to encourage more answers. (I also expected people to provide details that would allow me to see how much of their engagement was "instrumental" vs. "direct".)

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

I think there are benefits to operating independently -- I’m reading a different set of books than others are, avoiding stressful community drama, reducing the risk of groupthink, and of course saving time.

This seems very reasonable! With one caveat: If you read any exceptionally good books, consider stopping by to tell the rest of us about them :-)

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

Nice! Of all the things you've listed, were any of them the initial actions that inspired some of the others? (e.g. attending EA Global led you to use the Forum more, which led you to apply to jobs)

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