Ben Stewart

1691 karmaJoined Sydney NSW, Australia


Hi, I'm Ben! I'm a Research Fellow at Open Philanthropy, though all views I express here are my own. 

Before OP I was an independent researcher in global health and biosecurity, and a Charity Entrepreneurship incubatee. I have an MD and undergrad degrees in philosophy, international relations, and neuroscience, all from the University of Sydney. 


Agreed! Australia was a leader in plain packaging for tobacco. We were the first country to introduce it, and won against tobacco companies who sued under the WTO. Since then other countries have followed suit. And our actions on gun control following the Port Arthur massacre are often used as an exemplar for US policy, though with less success.

EA research jobs are often remote, and if there aren't many meetings the timezone difference to an org's headquarters can be pretty manageable. I spent the first month at OP working from Sydney. My team was spread across the US and UK, which did make finding times suitable for everyone trickier. But it was doable. My impression is that Rethink Priorities is similarly flexible wrt location/timezone. Givewell is more restrictive - requiring people to be within 3 hours of Pacific Time.

CE/AIM's incubation program was/is spread across timezones, and if you founded a charity you'd be deciding where to live. While there are advantages to living in hubs of funders/influence, I don't think they're decisive. The issue is whether you'd be able to spend time in the field, but that can vary depending on the intervention and co-founder. 

I take your (and others') argument to be that the negative score showed the forum "worked as it should" and that the community in some holistic sense rejected the post's claims. That argument is very weak if it is based solely on the score being slightly negative (since that could be obtained just by 51% of votes). The argument is strong if the negative score is strong and signals robust rejection. Roughly, the voting pattern was:

  • Group A - early rejection, -14 score at least
  • Group B - subsequent support, +38 score at least (possible selection effect, unknown)
  • Group C - later rejection, -44 score at least (strong selection effect from David's tweet)

Around 40% of vote points were supportive, without adjusting for Group C's selection effect (again, very rough). That's a way higher fraction than I would have expected (I would have guessed maybe 5%, and hoped for less). I agree people are allowed to like posts I don't like. But this pattern suggests a much higher proportion of the forum support views which I personally think are hot garbage. I'm not saying anything should happen as a result of this. This is just another instance of a reason for me to move away from the EA community. It may be such a reason for others too.

Good points. The 38+ point uptick suggests a decent sized group of accounts that were pretty coordinated. Assuming they’re legit accounts that worries me about whatever this subgroup is. (Edit: actually, it looks like the post was on October 28 - so it was only 2 days old before it saw the uptick at some later point. It still seems likely that users would have to look for it to find it, but I’m less confident of that now)

Below are the vote scores of the October 'Genetic Enhancement' post from internet archive snapshots. The post saw an early negative reaction, then a robustly positive one over the following week (+38 change, at minimum). It remained positive for 4 months. On March 13, David Thorstad tweeted about it, which was correlated with a significant decline. The voting pattern does not suggest the EA community quickly and thoroughly rejected the post. 
Oct 28 = +4 
Oct 30 = -5
Oct 30 = -14
Nov 5 = +23
Nov 5 = +24
Nov 6 = +24
Nov 6 = +24
March 13 = +18
March 29 = -16
March 29 = -20
April 4 = -13
April 5 = -15
April 10 = -15

Thanks for engaging! Yep I agree with what you said - cross-pollination and interdisciplinary engagement and all that. For context I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the Collins' work, hence light stakes/investment for this discussion. But my impression of their work makes me skeptical that they are "highly accomplished" in any field and I am also very surprised that they would be "thinkers [you] respect" (to borrow from Austin's comment).

In terms of their ideas, I think that hosting someone as a speaker at your conference doesn't mean that you endorse all of their ideas. But I think it does mean that you endorse their broad method - how they go about thinking about and communicating their ideas. Looking at the Collins' public output, it's surprising that you would find their work intellectually honest or truth-seeking, which are presumably values of the organisers. I'll leave aside other values which they seem at odds with, which are more serious but harder to discuss. Here are some titles from their Youtube account within the last few months:
- "Why the left has to erase the gay male identity"
- "Feminists won the culture war but lost at life"
- "Is a cult using the trans movement for cover? And how you can protect your kids"
- "Starship troopers prove leftist ideology is evil"
- "Are woke ideas secretly eugenic? with Ed Dutton" (Ed Dutton is a QAnon-believing, transphobic, white supremacist. They have collaborated with him multiple times in the past few months, I haven't looked further).

To be clear, clickbait is fine. It's the tone and ideas that matter. If you think Youtube is a poor forum for intellectual content, compare their output to Rob Miles' youtube content (another speaker).  I think there's a pretty big gulf in how much intellectual respect and endorsement they deserve relative to other potential candidates. Who you respect is your call, but an important factor for whether a conference is good or not is the intellectual taste of the organizers.

Thanks, yeah I'm surprised the upsides outweigh the downsides but not my conference [own views]

Why do you think Simone and Malcolm Collins are good speakers for this conference? 

How do you expect incubating for-profit orgs to differ from AIM's experience incubating charities, and what do you plan to do to execute well despite these differences?

This was great! Interesting to see the inter-expert disagreements laid out too

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