Aaron Gertler

I moderate the Forum, and I'd be happy to review your next post.

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. I also play Magic: the Gathering on a semi-professional level and donate half my winnings (more than $50k in 2020) to charity.

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.


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Part 8: Putting it into Practice
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EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $10,000 in prizes for good stories

Thanks for this note, Stewart.

I've edited the text to clarify that full-text works should only be published if the author has given explicit permission, either directly or by using a Creative Commons license.

The full-text suggestion was because there are lots of EA-themed works published in places like Reddit where the author's goal was clearly to show the story to as many people as possible. But you're clearly right that it's not good to assume people will reliably repost only those stories that no one would mind having shared here. Thanks for the push to fix this.

As for WSC Friedman's note requesting an option for private submission, I expect to have an update very soon.

Emrik's Shortform

My experience as a non-PhD who dropped out of EA things for two years before returning is that I felt welcome and accepted when I started showing up in EA spaces again. And now that I've been at CEA for three years, I still spend a lot of my time talking to and helping out people who are just getting started and don't have any great credentials or accomplishments; I hope that I'm not putting pressure on them when I do this.

That said, every person's experience is unique, and some people have certainly felt this kind of pressure, whether self-imposed as a result of perceived community norms or thrust upon them by people who were rude or dismissive at some point. And that's clearly awful — people shouldn't be made to feel this way in general, and it's especially galling to hear about it sometimes happening within EA. 

My impression is that few of these rude or dismissive people are themselves highly invested in the community, but my impression may be skewed by the relationships I've built with various highly invested people in the job I now have.


Lots of people with pretty normal backgrounds have clearly had enormous impact (too many examples to list!). And within the EA spaces I frequent, there's a lot of interest and excitement about people sharing their stories of joining the movement, even if those people don't have any special credentials. The most prominent example of this might be Giving What We Can.

I don't understand the "menial labor" point; the most common jobs for people in the broader EA community are very white-collar (programmers, lawyers, teachers...) What did you mean by that?


Personally, the way I view "ordinary folk dignity" in EA is through something I call "the airplane test". If I sat next to someone on an airplane and saw them reading Doing Good Better, and they seemed excited about EA when I talked to them, I'd be very happy to have met them, even if they didn't have any special ambitions beyond finding a good charity and making occasional donations. There aren't many people in the world who share our unusual collection of values; every new person is precious.

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $10,000 in prizes for good stories

Thanks for the link! Sharing it one week into a six-week contest leaves me plenty of time :-)

Why AI alignment could be hard with modern deep learning

I specifically removed the notice when I cross-posted this for Ajeya, since starting a post by Ajeya with the words "guest post by Ajeya Cotra" seemed odd. I've now added a notice back in.

Open Thread: September 2021

For some context, here’s a sample of what I’ve been working on recently for the Forum, outside of the creative writing contest:

  • Working to set up five new AMAs (uncertain how many will end up coming together) with serious thinkers
  • Presenting to the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative on the topic of “taking your summer research project and posting it on the Forum”, then helping lots of individual researchers (~10 so far) prepare to do so
  • Helping Holden Karnofsky crosspost his Cold Takes content to the Forum so that it’s available as soon as he publishes the blog versions
  • Continuing to help other people with content they submit for feedback (steady stream of 1-2 people per week)
  • Continuing to refine the Forum’s version of the EA Handbook (and serving as a facilitator for three live Virtual Program cohorts to get more input on how people experience the “official” version of this material, which has helped me improve the Forum version)
  • Creating a PR FAQ for a new metrics feature that should inspire more sharing of “serious work” by its authors, hopefully drawing more attention to it
  • Adding a lot more recent Forum content to CEA’s social media feeds, so that the best material (almost always serious work) reaches more readers. We’d been on a social media hiatus until ~two months ago, but engagement since we returned has been great!

While the creative writing contest is very visible, the vast majority of my time (as the main person trying to solicit more content for the Forum) goes towards helping people with serious work, and promoting said work.

I realize this may not speak to your point about uneasiness — I’m just sharing it for some context on the Forum’s overall trajectory and what CEA is trying to do with it.

Open Thread: September 2021

Thanks for voicing these concerns! You've articulated a not-uncommon point of view on how the Forum ought to be used, and one that we try to incorporate into our work alongside many other points of view.

I've heard some people express a desire for the Forum to look more like a peer-reviewed journal. I've heard even more express concerns in the opposite direction — that the site feels like it has a very high bar for engagement, and any content other than serious research seems suitable only for Facebook (many of those people are trying to use Facebook less or not at all).

Other people have told me that they just really enjoy creative writing, art, jokes, etc., and want the Forum to represent that side of EA culture. Sometimes, the creative work is a big part of what drew them to the movement in the first place.

I think that examples like "The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant" show that more "creative" EA content clearly has a place in the movement, and that we'd be better off with more stories of that quality. Hence, the writing contest. 

Just as not all research on the Forum is as strong as e.g. that of Rethink Priorities, not all stories will be cultural touchstones that stand the test of time. Still, I think the gems are worth having a lot of rougher content show up.

The encouragement for people to share their work in public (rather than quietly submitting it through a form) is partly in response to feedback about the Forum's "high bar", and partly to encourage more representation for that side of EA culture. I want to encourage people to share their work and not worry as much about whether something "qualifies" to be here.

(Some of the Forum's best posts have started with an author emailing me to say something like "I don't know if this is a good fit, but I figured I would check". I don't know how many additional posts we miss because people give up without asking me.)


As for the Clickhole and meme posts — both of these happened as a result of my thinking about "EA art" a bunch as I worked on the contest, but I understand that having everything appear back-to-back could create a sense of unease!

I don't expect this to be a rising trend past the time of the creative writing contest — this was just a chance for me to share a couple of things I'd drafted or thought of long ago.

I think that humorous/creative posts have a place on the front page, which is explicitly about "relatedness to EA" rather than metrics of seriousness or "quality".  That said, the meme post now has negative karma notwithstanding my default vote, so people seem to agree that it's not a good fit; I've moved it to personal blog given that feedback.

I still stand by the Clickhole post being a genuinely good piece on the importance of cause prioritization, and most people seemed to like it.


Thanks for suggesting concrete actions! Here are my thoughts:

Create a peer-reviewed forum on top of the EA Forum, which curates research/thoughtful content. An interface like the Alignment Forum / LessWrong would work well for this.

Are the Alignment Forum and LessWrong "peer-reviewed" in any sense that the Forum isn't? The former has limits on who can post in the first place, but that doesn't seem like the same thing. (I may be unaware of some peer-review policy on one or both sites, though.)

We've had some internal discussions about what the EA Forum's equivalent(s) of the Alignment Forum might be, and it's very possible that we'll eventually produce a space for curated research content. We're reaching the end of our current "Forum year" (September 2020 - September 2021) and considering new initiatives we may launch for 2022; this is on the list of possibilities.

Create a separate place of discourse (a Facebook group?) for fun content, perhaps linked somehow from the EA Forum.

I like Facebook, but a lot of people really don't, and that site continues to be difficult to search, filter, etc. I think the Forum has useful features that people who like "fun content" should also be able to use.

More generally, we think of the Forum's purpose as "the center of EA discussion online". Not just research, but also community building, events, announcements, AMAs, short stories, and April Fool's jokes. All of these things seem like they help communities grow and flourish.

That said, I understand the concern about whether it makes sense to have everything presented in a single feed. That's why we've been building up our tag infrastructure and encouraging people to use filters — rather than present everything to everyone, we think it's better to let people choose what they want to see. But I don't think that has to mean separate websites.

Have the fun content be hidden by default, like personal posts, so people need to opt into it.

Is this a better option than "show this by default, and let people opt out of it"?

Personal posts can literally be about anything, as long as they don't violate our rules. Humorous posts that aren't EA-related, or posts authors would prefer be less visible, are hidden by the default personal filter. Filtering out a subset of EA-related posts based on our assumption that most people don't want to see them seems like a bigger step.

Does the Forum Prize lead people to write more posts?

Your 'prize posts' also curate good content and that is valuable for forum readers, I think

I think this was a relatively valuable part of the Prize as well. However, the weekly Forum Digest now gets about 700 opens/week, which is well over the total number of views the average Forum Prize post received. If people want to track good content, the Digest is a good way to do that. (It's much less selective than the Prize, but still seems like a superior form of curation overall, given how many good posts didn't receive prizes.) 

However, the Mailchimp archive only goes back 20 issues or so — I've made a note to put up a page displaying all past Digests at some point, to make the curation more complete.

Does the Forum Prize lead people to write more posts?

It ignores the potential impact of the Forum Prize on other people's writing. How many people have been inspired to write something either because of the existence of the prize itself or because of some piece of writing that they learned about because of the prize? I would bet it's not zero.

I'd also bet that it's not zero, but my experience interviewing dozens of users and surveying hundreds more suggests that the number is not very high. (I focus my interviews on people we'd especially like to see submit more content, so the Prize being relatively unimportant to them seems quite informative in that light.)

I also wanted to express that if CEA really is ceasing the Forum Prize as such, that seems like a fairly major decision that should get its own top-level post, as the prize announcements themselves do. As it is, it's buried in an article whose title poses what I think most people would consider to be a pretty esoteric research question, so I expect that a lot of people will miss it.

There will be another announcement in the upcoming Forum Prize post, which I expect to be read by more people. This post was ready before the other post, but it seemed a bit odd not to mention the decision to stop the Prize here, given the subject matter. (I'm about to note this in the above post, to clear up potential confusion.)

Indeed, I would argue that the prize adjudication process itself offers a useful infrastructure for evaluating the Forum experience. Since you have a record of the scores that posts received each month as well as the qualitative opinions of longtime judges, you have the tools you need to assess in a semi-rigorous way whether the quality of the top posts has increased or decreased over time.

Given that the number of votes remains basically fixed over time, the "record of the scores" wouldn't reveal any change in quality — we don't use a scale, just approval voting.

The judges are definitely the sorts of people I'd want to hear from w/r/t the perceived quality of top posts over time, but they are also the sorts of people who read the Forum a lot anyway (that's why I asked them to judge), so I expect I'll be able to get their opinion on this kind of thing pretty easily with or without the prize.


Overall, I also want to reiterate that the Forum Prize closing doesn't mean we won't be trying to reward quality posts, have judges evaluate posts, etc. — this will just be happening in other forms (using the budget we've freed up by not running the Prize). So I'm hoping that many of the benefits we looked for will be present in greater quantity with our new projects!

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $10,000 in prizes for good stories

If you spent $10,000 on prizes for people who did useful things in the community building / EA messaging space, and that happened to be attached to a post, it seems extremely obvious that this is okay. See, for example, EA Funds sharing information about how to apply for grants.

What is your favorite EA meme?

My favorite is elegant, emotionally weighty, and intensely relatable:

(Original post.)

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