Buck

I work on various longtermist things, including movement building.

Comments

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

I am glad to have you around, of course.

My claim is just that I doubt you thought that if the rate of posts like this was 50% lower, you would have been substantially more likely to get involved with EA; I'd be very interested to hear I was wrong about that.

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

I am not sure whether I think it's a net cost that some people will be put off from EA by posts like this, because I think that people who would bounce off EA because of posts like this aren't obviously net-positive to have in EA. (My main model here is that the behavior described in this post is pretty obviously bad, and the kind of SJ-sympathetic EAs who I expect to be net sources of value probably agree that this behavior is bad. Secondarily, I think that people who are really enthusiastic about EA are pretty likely to stick around even when they're infuriated by things EAs are saying. For example, when I was fairly new to the EA community in 2014, I felt really mad about the many EAs who dismissed the moral patienthood of animals for reasons I thought were bad, but EAs were so obviously my people that I stuck around nevertheless. If you know someone (eg yourself) who you think is a counterargument to this claim of mine, feel free to message me.)

But I think that there are some analogous topics where it is indeed costly to alienate people. For example, I think it's pretty worthwhile for me as a longtermist to be nice to people who prioritize animal welfare and global poverty, because I think that many people who prioritize those causes make EA much stronger. For different reasons, I think it's worth putting some effort into not mocking religions or political views.

In cases like these, I mostly agree with "you need to figure out the exchange rate between welcomingness and unfiltered conversations".

I think that becoming more skillful at doing both well is an important skill for a community like ours to have more of. That's ok if it's not your personal priority right now, but I would like community norms to reward learning that skill more. My view is that Will's comment was doing just that, and I upvoted it as a result. 

I guess I expect the net result of Will's comment was more to punish Hypatia than to push community norms in a healthy direction. If he wanted to just push norms without trying to harm someone who was basically just saying true and important things, I think he should have made a different top level post, and he also shouldn't have made his other top level comment.

(Not saying you disagree with the content of his comment, you said you agreed with it in fact, but in my view, demonstrated you didn't fully grok it nevertheless).

There's a difference between understanding a consideration and thinking that it's the dominant consideration in a particular situation :) 

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

More generally, I think our disagreement here probably comes down to something like this:

There's a tradeoff between having a culture where true and important things are easy to say, and a culture where group X feels maximally welcome.  As you say, if we're skillful we can do both of these, by being careful about our language and always sounding charitable and not repeatedly making similar posts.

But this comes at a cost. I personally feel much less excited about writing about certain topics because I'd have to be super careful about them. And most of the EAs I know, especially those who have some amount of authority among EAs, feel much more restricted than I do. I think that this makes EA noticeably worse, because it means that it's much harder for these EAs to explain their thoughts on things.

And so I think it's noticeably costly to criticise people for not being more careful and tactful. It's worth it in some cases, but we should remember that it's costly when we're considering pushing people to be more careful and tactful.

I  personally think that "you shouldn't write criticisms of  an org for doing X, even when the criticisms are accurate and X is bad, because of criticising X has cultural connotations" is too far in the "restrict people's ability to say true things, for the sake of making people feel welcome".

(Some context here is that I wrote a Facebook post about ACE with similar content to this post last September.)

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

(I'm writing these comments kind of quickly, sorry for sloppiness.)

With regard to

Where X is the bad thing ACE did, the situation is clearly far more nuanced as to how bad it is than something like sexual misconduct, which, by the time we have decided something deserves that label, is unequivocally bad.

In this particular case, Will seems to agree that X was bad and concerning, which is why my comment felt fair to me.

I would have no meta-level objection to a comment saying "I disagree that X is bad, I think it's actually fine".

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

I think that this totally misses the point. The point of this post isn't to inform ACE that some of the things they've done seem bad--they are totally aware that some people think this. It's to inform other people that ACE has behaved badly, in order to pressure ACE and other orgs not to behave similarly in future, and so that other people can (if they want) trust ACE less or be less inclined to support them.

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

I agree with the content of your comment, Will, but feel a bit unhappy with it anyway. Apologies for the unpleasantly political metaphor,  but as an intuition pump imagine the following comment.

"On the one hand, I agree that it seems bad that this org apparently has a sexual harassment problem.  On the other hand, there have been a bunch of posts about sexual misconduct at various orgs recently, and these have drawn controversy, and I'm worried about the second-order effects of talking about this misconduct."

I guess my concern is that it seems like our top priority should be saying true and important things, and we should err on the side of not criticising people for doing so.

More generally I am opposed to "Criticising people for doing bad-seeming thing X would put off people who are enthusiastic about thing X."

Another take here is that if a group of people are sad that their views aren't sufficiently represented on the EA forum, they should consider making better arguments for them. I don't think we should try to ensure that the EA forum has proportionate amounts of pro-X and anti-X content for all X. (I think we should strive to evaluate content fairly; this involves not being more or less enthusiastic about content about views based on its popularity (except for instrumental reasons like "it's more interesting to hear arguments you haven't heard before).)

EDIT: Also, I think your comment is much better described as meta level than object level, despite its first sentence.

Why do so few EAs and Rationalists have children?

I’d be interested to see comparisons of the rate at which rationalists and EAs have children compared to analogous groups, controlling for example for education, age, religiosity, and income. I think this might make the difference seems smaller.

Yale EA’s Fellowship Application Scores were not Predictive of Eventual Engagement

Great post, and interesting and surprising result.

An obvious alternative selection criterion would be something like “how good would it be if this person got really into EA”; I wonder if you would be any better at predicting that. This one takes longer to get feedback on, unfortunately.

Buck's Shortform

I know a lot of people through a shared interest in truth-seeking and epistemics. I also know a lot of people through a shared interest in trying to do good in the world.

I think I would have naively expected that the people who care less about the world would be better at having good epistemics. For example, people who care a lot about particular causes might end up getting really mindkilled by politics, or might end up strongly affiliated with groups that have false beliefs as part of their tribal identity.

But I don’t think that this prediction is true: I think that I see a weak positive correlation between how altruistic people are and how good their epistemics seem.

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I think the main reason for this is that striving for accurate beliefs is unpleasant and unrewarding. In particular, having accurate beliefs involves doing things like trying actively to step outside the current frame you’re using, and looking for ways you might be wrong, and maintaining constant vigilance against disagreeing with people because they’re annoying and stupid.

Altruists often seem to me to do better than people who instrumentally value epistemics; I think this is because valuing epistemics terminally has some attractive properties compared to valuing it instrumentally. One reason this is better is that it means that you’re less likely to stop being rational when it stops being fun. For example, I find many animal rights activists very annoying, and if I didn’t feel tied to them by virtue of our shared interest in the welfare of animals, I’d be tempted to sneer at them. 

Another reason is that if you’re an altruist, you find yourself interested in various subjects that aren’t the subjects you would have learned about for fun--you have less of an opportunity to only ever think in the way you think in by default. I think that it might be healthy that altruists are forced by the world to learn subjects that are further from their predispositions. 

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I think it’s indeed true that altruistic people sometimes end up mindkilled. But I think that truth-seeking-enthusiasts seem to get mindkilled at around the same rate. One major mechanism here is that truth-seekers often start to really hate opinions that they regularly hear bad arguments for, and they end up rationalizing their way into dumb contrarian takes.

I think it’s common for altruists to avoid saying unpopular true things because they don’t want to get in trouble; I think that this isn’t actually that bad for epistemics.

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I think that EAs would have much worse epistemics if EA wasn’t pretty strongly tied to the rationalist community; I’d be pretty worried about weakening those ties. I think my claim here is that being altruistic seems to make you overall a bit better at using rationality techniques, instead of it making you substantially worse.

If Causes Differ Astronomically in Cost-Effectiveness, Then Personal Fit In Career Choice Is Unimportant

My main objection to this post is that personal fit still seems really important when choosing what to do within a cause. I think that one of EA's main insights is "if you do explicit estimates of impact, you can find really big differences in effectiveness between cause areas, and these differences normally swamp personal fit"; that's basically what you're saying here, and it's totally correct IMO. But I think it's a mistake to try to apply the same style of reasoning within causes, because the effectivenesses between different jobs are much more similar and so personal fit ends up dominating the estimate of which one will be better.

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