Anon Rationalist

102Joined Jan 2023


My understanding of this section:

This is also particularly disturbing as I try to convince myself and others, including and especially humans who look like me, that we might want to ignore EA's glaring diversity problem and parts of EA's unwillingness to change to build a better world for future generations rather than focus on direct threats to our lives, voting rights or civil liberties.

Was that Chris finds it difficult to justify devoting effort/time/money to EA causes (and convincing others to do so) instead of focusing "on direct threats to our lives, voting rights or civil liberties" (presumably in the context of black Americans?) because of EA's lack of diversity and willingness to discuss this topic.

While I believe that this is a nonsensical  argument against a social movement with nearly all of its attention to global health being dedicated to saving (mostly black) lives as efficiently as possible, I want to try to understand the argument as best as possible, and think you may have misinterpreted.

If one truly believes in maximizing human welfare in a rigorous and evidence-based fashion, the suggestion that these two modes of intervention (ie EA Global Health vs. USA Domestic political activism) are comparable in the saving of black lives does not add up.  One can always give to the actual effective causes without aligning or identifying with EA.

I am confused by this post. Bostrom never claimed a genetic basis for observed differences in IQ between races. He specifically did not address that and deferred to the experts in his apology. The Wikipedia page you reference supports his statement, charitably rephrased as “On average, white people score higher on IQ tests than black people.”

Is your displeasure that he did not specifically disavow potential genetic explanations, because the Wikipedia article on the topic says they are not empirically supported? (It should be noted here that all conducted surveys of intelligence researchers, though they have their problems, have found that a supermajority of experts believe at least some of the gap is genetic). Additionally, I am unaware of any transracial adoption studies or admixture studies (which, to my understanding, would be the most relevant experiments) that have not suggested at least a partial genetic explanation.

I think this is the issue that DPiepgrass highlighted. If one does not believe in rigorous empirical study of issues that could potential address human welfare, I don’t think EA is for them.

While on it's face, increasing demographic diversity seems like it would result in an increase in political diversity, I don't think that is actually true. 

This rests on several assumptions:

  1. I am looking through the lens of U.S. domestic politics, and identifying political diversity by having representation of America's two largest political parties.
  2. Increases in diversity will not be evenly distributed across the American population. (White Evangelicals are not being targeted in a diversity push, and we would expect the addition of college grad+ women and BIPOC.)

Of all demographic groups, white college grad+ men, "Sams," are the most politically diverse group, at 48 D, 46R.  By contrast, the groups typically understood to be represented by increased diversity:

  • College Grad+ Women: 65 D, 30R

There is difficulty in a lack of BIPOC breakdown by education level, but assuming that trends of increased education would result in a greater democratic disparity, these are useful lower bounds:

  • Black: 83 D, 10R
  • Hispanic: 63 D, 29 R
  • Asian American: 72 D, 17R

While I would caution against partisanship in the evaluation of ideas and programs, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong in a movement having a partisan lean to its membership. A climate change activist group can work in a non-partisan manner, but the logical consequence of their membership will be primarily Democratic voters, because that party appeals to their important issue.

if you encourage people from Ghana, you'll get whole new political ideologies nobody at silicon valley has even heard of.

I think this aspect of diversity would offer real value in terms of political diversity, and could potentially add value to EA. I think clarification on what it means to "increase diversity" are required to assess the utility. I am biased by my experience in which organizations become more "diverse" in skin color, while becoming more culturally and politically homogenous.

  1. ^

Would you prefer Bostrom's apology read:

I am sorry for saying that black people are stupider than whites. I no longer hold that view.

Even if he, with evidence, still believes it to be true? David Thorstad can write all he wants about changing his views, but the evidence of the existence of a  racial IQ gap has not changed. It is as ironclad and universally accepted by all researchers as it was in 1996 following the publication of the APA's Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns

This may be a difference of opinion, but I don't think that acknowledging observed differences in reality is a racist view. But I am interested to know if you would prefer he make the statement anyway.

I do not follow the relevance of this critique. If Nick Bostrom, or anyone else,  denied the Holocaust, and there was ample evidence to support the position, people would be talking about the virtues of his epistemic integrity. If he denied the Holocaust without ample evidence, people would be critiquing the virtues of his epistemic integrity. The crux of the matter of epistemic integrity is whether or not the evidence supports the position.

Those defending him now are likely doing so because, on some level, they are at least willing to consider holding the same specific beliefs as him on race differences, are becoming increasingly aware that these beliefs are understood to be problematic and harmful but remain committed to those beliefs and to Bostrom regardless. Don't try to sugar coat things and please be honest, with yourselves and others. Appealing to some notion of "epistemic integrity" here just seems deeply disingenuous.

This seems to rest on the false assumption that "defenders" do not hold these beliefs out of epistemic integrity, but out of some other sort of animus. I do not think that is true for most, and certainly not true for myself. I hold my understanding of Bostrom's statement (that black people are on average less intelligent than white people) to be true because that's what all available evidence suggests.[1]

Bostrom did not delve into the causal mechanism for this phenomenon, which is considerably murkier. His statement was a plain stating of observed facts. albeit in an insensitive manner. That is why people defend his epistemic integrity in this instance.

  1. ^

This is an excellent point and has meaningfully challenged my beliefs. From a policy and cause area standpoint, the rationalists seem ascendant.

EA, and this forum, “feels” less and less like LessWrong. As I mentioned, posts that have no place in a “rationalist EA” consistently garner upvotes (I do not want to link to these posts, but they probably aren’t hard to identify). This is not enough empiric data, and, having looked at the funding of cause areas, the revealed preferences of rationality seem stronger than ever, even if stated preferences lean more “normie.”

I am not sure how to reconcile this, and would invite discussion.

Maybe. I am having a hard time imagining how this solution would actually manifest and be materially different from the current arrangement.

The external face of EA, in my experience, has had a focus on global poverty reduction; everyone I’ve introduced has gotten my spiel about the inefficiencies of training American guide dogs compared to bednets, for example. Only the consequentialists ever learn more about AGI or shrimp welfare.

If the social capital/external face of EA turned around and endorsed or put funding towards rationalist causes, particularly taboo or unpopular ones, I don’t think there would be sufficient differentiation between the two in the eyes of the public. Further, the social capital branch wouldn’t want to endorse the rationalist causes: that’s what differentiates the two in the first place.

I think the two organizations or movements would have to be unaligned, and I think we are heading this way. When I see some of the upvoted posts lately, including critiques that EA is “too rational” or “doesn’t value emotional responses,” I am seeing the death knell of the movement.

Tyler Cowen recently spoke about demographics as destiny of a movement, and that EA is doomed to become the US Democratic Party. I think his critique is largely correct, and EA as I understand it, ie the application of reason to the question of how to do the most good, is likely going to end. EA was built as a rejection of social desirability in a dispassionate effort to improve wellbeing, yet as the tent gets bigger, the mission is changing.

Despite us being on seemingly opposite sides of this divide, I think we arrived at a similar conclusion. There is an equilibrium between social capital and epistemic integrity that achieves the most total good, and EA should seek that point out.

We may have different priors as to the location of that point, but it is a useful shared framing that works towards answering the question.

Do you disagree with this framing? For example, do you think that the core divide is something else?


I think this framing is accurate, and touches on a divide that has been repeatedly arising in EA discussions. I have heard this as "rationalists vs. normies," "high decouplers vs. low decouplers," and in the context of "feminization" of the movement (in reference to traditionally masculine dispassionate reason falling out of favor in exchange for emphasis on social harmony).

Additionally, I believe there are significant costs to total embrace of both sides of the "divide."

  1. There are cause areas with significant potential to improve effectiveness that are underexplored due to social stigma. A better understanding of heritability and genetic influences on all aspect of human behavior could change the trajectory of effective interventions in education, crime reduction, gene-editing, and more. A rationalist EA movement would likely do more good per dollar.
  2. Embrace of rationalism would be toxic to the brand of EA and its funding sources. The main animus I have seen for the Bostrom email is that he said black people have lower IQs than white people. This, though an empirical fact, is clearly beyond the pale to a large percentage of the population EA seeks to win over. Topics like longtermism and animal welfare are weird to most people, but HBD actively lowers public perception and resultant funding. The good per dollar may go up, but without a degree of tact, the amount of dollars would significantly decrease.

I must imagine that there is a utility function that could find the equilibrium between these two contrasting factors: where the good per dollar and amount of funding achieve the most possible total good. 

11. HBD is not generally accepted in academia.


84% of surveyed intelligence researchers believe the gaps are at least partially genetic.[1]  This statement is not just an appeal to authority, it is also inaccurate.

  1. ^

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