Aaron Gertler

I moderate the Forum, and I'd be happy to review your next post before you publish:


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.


Effective Altruism Handbook: Motivation Series


Making More Sequences

At the moment, we still plan to add more material to the initial sequence (I'm glad you liked it). 

I'm currently working with someone who is writing an "EA encyclopedia" with detailed articles on a number of key terms and concepts, which will eventually replace many of the tags on the Forum (turning this site into something like an EA Wiki). I expect the existence of those articles to make producing further introductory material much easier, and I've deprioritzed further sequence-writing until that content starts to be available.

That said, a good intro sequence is something I won't be able to produce quickly given all my other work. If someone wants to try producing part of it themselves (particularly if they're introducing a certain cause area), I'd love to see that! I can review that person's work, and what they've done could become part of an "official" introduction.

Why Research into Wild Animal Suffering Concerns me

While I think the future you suggest is unlikely for reasons others have articulated, I will say that I really appreciate you making this post in the first place! Challenging a popular idea can be difficult, and I appreciate the work you did to hedge your concerns:

  • Using "concerns me" in the title (rather than e.g. "Why WAS research is a bad idea")
  • Noting that you assume people interested in the field don't actually want the bad outcome you're worried about (but that despite this assumption, you still want to be sure)

I'm guessing plenty of other people who have read or will read the Forum shared this concern to some degree, and I'm glad this post gives our site's researchers a chance to explain their positions directly.

4 Years Later: President Trump and Global Catastrophic Risk

In accordance with the Forum's policy on political posts, I'm keeping this one in "Personal Blog." 

However, I agree with much of this analysis, and I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to look in on a past prediction and evaluate the outcome.

So-Low Growth's Shortform

People have tried to estimate similar figures before. See Jeff Kaufman on dairy offsets or Gregory Lewis on meat-eating (searching the term "moral offset" will help you find other examples I haven't linked).

Some people also think this idea is conceptually bad or antithetical to EA.

Progress Open Thread: October // Student Summit 2020

I'll kick things off!

This month, I finished in second place at the Magic: the Gathering Grand Finals (sort of like the world championship). I earned $20,000 in prize money and declared that I would donate half of it to GiveWell, which gave me an excuse to talk up EA on camera for thousands of live viewers and post about it on Twitter.

This has been a whirlwind journey for me; I did unexpectedly well in a series of qualifying tournaments. Lots of luck was involved. But I think I played well, and I've been thrilled to see how interested my non-EA followers are in hearing about charity stuff (especially when I use Magic-related metaphors to explain cause prioritization).

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

Sure -- that's a good thing to clarify. When I say "opposed to," I mean that it seems like the things he presently cares about don't seem connected to a cause-neutral welfare-maximizing perspective (though I can't say I know what his motivations are, so perhaps that is what he's aiming for). 

Most notably, his PAC explicitly supports an "America First immigration policy," which seems difficult to square with his espoused libertarianism and his complaints about technological slowdown in addition to being directly opposed to work from Open Phil and others. I don't understand exactly what his aims are at this point, but it feels like he's far away enough from the EA baseline that I wouldn't want to assume a motivation of "do the most good in a cause-neutral way" anymore.

Forecasting Newsletter: September 2020.

The newsletter itself; alas, the reality of time forces me to be selective about what I choose to read more closely. But I'm glad to have the opportunity to select things at all!

Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate

Comment that came in from the EA Newsletter:

"I’m writing a PhD on alumni engagement with effective altruism as the philosophical background. I’m comparing six top 100 ranked universities in the world and their alumni engagement. The universities are Harvard, Penn State, Cambridge, Vienna, Uppsala, Helsinki. I am interested in any seminar or discussions about implementing effective altruism and historical research as I have been doing that myself for the past four years. I’m writing the PhD for the University of Helsinki for professor Laura Kolbe, I myself live on the Åland Islands." 

Pia Widén (pia.widen at aland.net)

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

Was  the "at least one EA" someone in a position of influence?

My understanding is that Thiel stopped being especially interested in EA around the time he got into politics, but he might still be making AI-related donations here and there. I'd be surprised if he had wanted to speak at any recent EA Global conference, as most of his current work seems either opposed to or orthogonal to common EA positions. But I don't have any special knowledge here. (Certainly he was never Glebbed.)

When does it make sense to support/oppose political candidates on EA grounds?

If you're still skeptical that people are reluctant or afraid to speak positively about Trump or Republicans in general...

I never said I was skeptical that people felt this way. I'm quite certain people do feel this way, because you've said you feel it and so have others. I just wanted to hear more details about that feeling of reluctance/fear, and to express doubt that no Trump supporter would ever be willing to express that support in a public EA discussion.

It's certainly possible, even likely, that "some people" in the community would react negatively to hearing that someone was a Trump supporter, in a way that made future interactions a bit less collaborative or more fraught. But I think that's the nature of expressing strong opinions generally, in almost any community. Someone who came out as a communist would likely face similar challenges. Same for someone who was very religious, or a supporter of PETA, or a fan of Antifa. Probably not for a moderate liberal, even an outspoken one, but that's because EAs are overwhelmingly moderately liberal.

This phenomenon makes it hard to have totally open discussions on many topics, politics among them. And I agree with you that any public discussion about politics within EA could be skewed* -- but I just don't think it would be skewed to the point that an idea many people held wouldn't show up at all.

 People write controversial Forum comments all the time. People have bitter online arguments in various EA spaces. There are plenty of loud and opinionated people in the community who aren't concerned about how others will react to them (heck, anyone who wants to can make an anonymous account on the Forum -- where are the anonymous Trump supporters?).

*This is one reason I'd prefer we not have much partisan political discussion here. And if a group of people were to look for "political donation opportunities," I'd hope that they would start by looking carefully at the object-level virtues of each important candidate in a given election, without partisanship.


Can it really be that out of thousands of forum users and FB friends/followers, there is not one Trump or Republican supporter who might object to voting for Democrats on object-level grounds,

I've seen political posts from EAs I know that drew in Trump supporters who happened to be in their social networks (though I'm not sure how many of said supporters would consider themselves interested in EA). But I don't spend much time on Facebook in general, and EA Twitter doesn't have especially active political conversation in my experience (most of Rob Wiblin's recent posts have ~1 comment, and he's one of the most popular EA Twitter users). So I'm interested in your experiences (and those of other people who spend more time than I do in the relevant spaces). Are these FB/Twitter posts getting 5 comments? 10? 50?

When people respond to partisan political posts from friends they know personally, I'd expect agreeable responses to dominate. When my socialist Facebook friends post about socialism, they get a lot of responses from other socialists and very few from capitalists, even though I expect they have lots of capitalists in their social networks, and I wouldn't expect capitalists who respond to them to be worried about shunning given that capitalism is a normal position in elite spaces. I think people just don't like starting arguments with their friends over touchy subjects.

Of course, this assumes that the dynamic in play is "responding to a friend." If these are posts in discussion-oriented spaces and there are lots of responses, and the responses are all one-sided, that's stronger evidence that people don't want to speak out in support of Trump. (However, it also seems plausible that EA is so anti-Trump generally that there just aren't people around who disagree and care enough to comment, especially given how much of the community is non-American.)


As for this Forum: On the post we're now discussing, the opinionated comments are (as I type this) as follows:

  • Our back-and-forth (with Ian's contribution)
  • Your comment which links to other comments where you push back on the post
  • xccf's comment pushing back on the post and making what I see as a good-faith attempt to steelman Trump supporters
  • Ryan Carey's comment pushing back on the post
  • Linch's comment pushing back on the post (and related discussion)
  • Abraham Rowe's generally supportive comment
  • My comment pushing back on the post (though my tone was supportive)
  • Ben's comment pushing back on the post (but supporting Ian for taking the time to discuss things)
  • MarcSerna's comment pushing back on the post
  • MichaelStJules presenting some neutral thoughts/feedback
  • JTM endorsing the concept of the post and pushing for more discussion
  • Jordan Warner's comment pushing back on the post

Almost unanimously, people seem to want EA to stay out of partisan political stuff. No one aside from Ian and maybe JTM actually argued against Trump on the object level. I'm not surprised that there were no pro-Trump arguments on the object level.

Comments on the "recommendations for donating to beat Trump post" are:

  • Me noting that we won't frontpage it (and expressing support for the cause)
  • A discussion between Peter and Ian about the general case for donating vs. volunteering
  • Other comments by Peter where he mentions he'd consider donating

And... that's it. Only three unique respondents, hardly a landslide even if they all express a desire for Trump to lose the election.

On which other Forum posts would it make sense for a pro-Trump EA to discuss their support for Trump? The subject is only now coming up with the election season almost over (kbog had his "Candidate Scoring System" posts a while back, but those didn't lead to much or any partisan discussion IIRC). If it took until now for someone to write the post "supporting Democrats might be a good EA cause" and 90% of EA leans left, I'm not surprised that the post "supporting Republicans might be a good EA cause" hasn't come up.

In some posts made around the time of the 2016 election, there were a few comments pointing out potential benefits of a President Trump (see HenryMaine and Larks here). There were more anti-Trump comments, but nothing surprising given the underlying demographics of EA. I just don't think there's enough overall activity on the Forum for "no recent object-level pro-Trump comments" to mean much.

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