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.


The Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter
Replacing Guilt
Part 8: Putting it into Practice
Part 7: Increasing the Accuracy of Our Judgments
Part 6: Emerging Technologies
Part 5: Existential Risk
Part 4: Longtermism
Part 3: Expanding Our Compassion
Part 2: Differences in Impact
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Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’
Aaron Gertler3dModerator Comment59

As the Forum’s lead moderator, I’m posting this message, but it was written collaboratively by several moderators after a long discussion.

As a result of several comments on this post, as well as a pattern of antagonistic behavior, Phil Torres has been banned from the EA Forum for one year.

Our rules say that we discourage, and may delete, "unnecessary rudeness or offensiveness" and "behavior that interferes with good discourse". Calling someone a jerk and swearing at them is unnecessarily rude, and interferes with good discourse.

Phil also repeatedly accuses Sean of lying:

I am trying to stay calm, but I am honestly pretty f*cking upset that you repeatedly lie in your comments above, Sean [...] I won't include your response, Sean, because I'm not a jerk like you.

How can someone lie this much about a colleague and still have a job?

You repeatedly lied in your comments above. Unprofessional. I don't know how you can keep your job while lying about a colleague like that.

After having seen the material shared by Phil and Sean (who sent us some additional material he didn’t want shared on the Forum), we think the claims in question are open to interpretation but clearly not deliberate lies. For example, Sean said that Phil "has unfortunately misrepresented himself as working at CSER on various media (unclear if deliberate or not)." It’s evident from screenshots that Phil did list himself on Facebook and LinkedIn as working at CSER after he was no longer there, very plausibly by mistake. This is the kind of mistake that’s easy to make, but repeatedly saying someone is lying by pointing out the mistake is another example of unnecessary rudeness.

Of course, it’s understandable to have strong feelings if you believe someone is lying about you, but we expect Forum users to express strong feelings in a more productive way ("I think you're mistaken about that, and here's why"). Phil is sometimes more courteous, but we feel that his comments often fail to represent the culture we want to see on the Forum.

This ban is not related to Phil's academic work. We appreciate having well-informed critics on the Forum; even criticism which seems overly harsh, or somewhat off-target, can generate good discussion (e.g. this post and this response to it). For another example, see this defense of some of Phil’s views.


We encourage people to alert us to any other instances of name-calling, swearing at people, or unsubstantiated personal accusations. We aim to apply these rules consistently and proportionately to frequency/extent. (In several milder cases, we’ve messaged people with private warnings; because this case led to a ban, we’re sharing this comment publicly. And on this post, we’ve issued a warning to Halstead for unsubstantiated accusations.)

People are still welcome to cross-post Phil's work, quote him, argue for his points, and all the rest — but he won't be permitted to post here himself until 12 May, 2022.

EA Survey 2020: Demographics

It looks like the number of survey respondents dropped by about 14% from last year. Before someone else asks whether this represents a shrinking movement, I'd like to share my view:

  1. This was a weird year for getting people to participate in things. People were spending more time online, but I'd guess they also had less energy/drive to do non-fun things for altruistic reasons, especially if those things weren't related to the pandemic. I suspect that if we were to ask people who ran similar surveys, we'd often see response counts dropping to a similar degree.
  2. Since this time last year, participation metrics are up across the board for many EA things — more local groups, much more Forum activity, more GiveWell donors, a much faster rate of growth for Giving What We Can, etc.

Hence, I don't see the lower survey response count as a strong sign of movement shrinkage, so much as a sign of general fatigue showing up in the form of survey fatigue. (I think it was shared about as widely as it was last year, but differential sharing might also have mattered if that was a thing.)

RogerAckroyd's Shortform

I endorse using Shortform posts to vent! I think you're right that mentioning EA would be likely to do more harm than good in those cases, but your feelings are reasonable and I'm glad this can be a place to express them.

Some object-level thoughts not meant to interfere with your venting:

I don't feel the same way about people who oppose the death penalty, I think largely because I have a strong natural sense that justice is very important and injustice is very especially extra-bad. This doesn't influence my giving, but I definitely feel worse about the stories "innocent person is killed by the state" or "guilty person who is now wholly reformed is killed by the state" than I do the story "innocent child dies of malaria", despite knowing logically that the last of these is likely the saddest (because many more years were lost). I can understand how someone who feels similarly to me would end up spending a lot of energy opposing capital punishment.

The death penalty also has a hint of self-interest in that it is funded by tax money. I can imagine people being exceptionally angry that they are paying even the most minute fraction of the cost of executing someone. Similarly, the documentary "Life in a Day" briefly features someone who deliberately earns a very low income so they can pay no taxes and thus ensure that none of their money goes toward "war".

Open Thread: May 2021

I think you meant to add a different link.

What is your perspective on the ongoing farmer protests and strikes in India over the dramatic changes the government has introduced into the economy?

What do you mean by a "perspective"?

I think you'll be more likely to get useful responses to this question if you ask some sub-questions related to what interests you about the protests, or share your own "perspective" so that people have something to respond to.

Could GiveWell create a cryptocurrency to raise a lot of money?

There are many reasons this wouldn't be a good idea, some of which you identified. The first two:

  1. It's completely separate from GiveWell's mission and brand; it has nothing to do with their work
  2. It has nothing to do with effective altruism, and runs counter to many of the things EA tries to promote (we're interested in careful reasoning, long-term thinking, and real-world impact; your use of terms like "pyramid scheme" and "peak euphoria" show why this side of the crypto market doesn't represent those ideals)

In general, the EA movement aims to be exceedingly moral, transparent, and trustworthy, and to hold individuals/organizations in the movement to high standards. Creating speculative investment vehicles in order to take money from people who make foolish decisions just doesn't fit EA at all.

While I don't like this idea, I should emphasize that you didn't do the wrong thing by sharing it here (rather than e.g. on Reddit, or by trying to implement it yourself without asking anyone first). It's not a bad thing to consider unusual fundraising ideas: projects like EA Giving Tuesday have been quite successful despite not looking like standard fundraising. But if the outline of your idea sounds at all like "manipulating people into supporting charity" or "adding overhead cost and risk to a standard fundraiser" (which seem to be the two options for an "EA coin"), that's not a good sign.

For what it's worth, awareness of EA in the crypto community is quite high, largely thanks to the charitable giving of longtime community member Sam Bankman-Fried (founder of FTX).

EA Forum Prize: Winners for February 2021

I see that someone strong-downvoted this post, which is unusual for the prize announcement posts. To that voter, in case they see this: if you have any specific feedback, I'd be really grateful to hear it.

I know that my post summaries don't always capture the winners' best features, and if that's the problem, I'm open to making edits if someone points out "hey, you totally overlooked feature X of post Y" or "hey, this thing you said about post Y isn't accurate, fix it".

Global catastrophic biological risk

To what extent is this tag redundant with the Biosecurity tag?

I don't mean to say that those two tags cover the same thing, but are there posts that would get this tag and not the "Biosecurity" tag? Or vice-versa?

I suppose the first category could be "posts that describe risks but not strategies to address them", and the second could be "posts that describe biosecurity work against non-catastrophic threats". Not sure whether those edge cases merit having two separate tags.

Launching a new resource: 'Effective Altruism: An Introduction'

It seems like 80K wants to feature some neartermist content in their next collection, but I didn't object to the current collection for the same reason I don't object to e.g. pages on Giving What We Can's website that focus heavily on global development (example): it's good for EA-branded content to be fairly balanced on the whole, but that doesn't mean that every individual project has to be balanced.

Some examples of what I mean:

  • If EA Global had a theme like "economic growth" for one conference and 1/3 of the talks were about that, I think that could be pretty interesting, even if it wasn't representative of community members' priorities as a whole. 
  • Sometimes, I send out an edition of the EA Newsletter that is mostly development-focused, or AI-focused, because there happened to be a lot of good links about that topic that month. I think the newsletter would be worse if I felt compelled to have at least one article about every major cause area every month.

It may have been better for 80K to refer to their collection as an "introduction to global priorities" or an "introduction to longtermism" or something like that, but I also think it's perfectly legitimate to use the term "EA: An Introduction". Giving What We Can talks about "EA" but mostly presents it through examples from global development. 80K does the same but mostly talks about longtermism. EA Global is more balanced than either of those. No single one of these projects is going to dominate the world's perception of what "EA" is, and I think it's fine for them to be a bit different.

(I'm more concerned about balance in cases where something could dominate the world's perception of what EA is — I'd have been concerned if Doing Good Better had never mentioned animal welfare. I don't think that a collection of old podcast episodes, even from a pretty popular podcast, has the same kind of clout.)

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