David Thorstad

Research Fellow @ Global Priorities Institute
Working (0-5 years experience)
412Joined Apr 2021www.dthorstad.com


I'm a researcher at GPI. I have broad interests, but often they involve the intersection between bounded rationality and longtermism. I also like dogs. 

How I can help others

Happy to chat about global priorities research, Oxford or academia.


Let me say this: autism runs in my family, including two of my first cousins. I think that neurodivergence is not only nothing to be ashamed of, and not an "illness" to be "cured", but in fact a profound gift, and one which allows neurodivergent individuals to see what many of us do not. (Another example: Listen to Vikingur Olafsson play the piano! Nobody else hears Mozart like that.).

Neurodivergent individuals and high decouplers should not be chased out of effective altruism or any other movement. Doing this would not only be intrinsically wrong, but would also deprive the movement of profoundly important insights, and would deprive the neurodivergent of one of the few places where they can genuinely belong.

It is very important to recognize that neurodivergent individuals, among others, sometimes have a harder time recognizing violations of social norms, and to exercise some degree of patience and compassion in responding to norm violations.

It is also important for everyone, no matter their tendency towards decoupling, their neurodiversity, or their background, to understand that words can harm, and to be sensitive to the need to stop and reverse course when presented with credible evidence that words have harmed. 

Everyone reading this message, and I mean everyone, is capable of hearing "no, stop. That is wrong" or "racist science has no place in this discussion" and stopping.  It is time for the racism to stop, and the healing to begin. 

The discussion that needs to be had right now is about healing, growth and change. The time for defense is over. The time for debate is over. It is time to learn to do better. I hope that the coming weeks can be used for growth and change. 

Srinivasan is not focused on the question of whether anger is counterproductive, harmful, or has bad consequences. Srinivasan is explicitly focused on cases where anger may be counterproductive, and asks whether it would be apt.

I'm planning to write about this book for my blog when it is released. It is an important book which draws on valuable perspectives that are underrepresented in effective altruism.

It is possible (even healthy) to disagree with some aspects of the book while recognizing that all of the authors have valuable things to say, and have over their lifetimes built valuable stores of knowledge to share. This week, more than ever, I think we should recognize the importance of drawing on diverse sources of knowledge to inform altruistic decisionmaking.

On the tone of the book, I wonder what readers make of an article by the author of the introduction to the volume, Prof. Amia Srinivasan? ("The aptness of anger": https://users.ox.ac.uk/~corp1468/Research_files/jopp.12130.pdf.)This article argues that anger can be an apt response to injustice. More generally, I hope that discussions of this book can move past questions of tone to examine the substance of arguments and the evidence brought forth to support them.

If I had to make one criticism of the book, it would be that the book focuses in many places on short-termist EA projects. It is very hard for critics of EA to keep up with the rapid pace at which the EA movement evolves, particularly given that academic research tends to move slowly. I hope that this feature of the book can be contextualized within an academic publishing system in which it can take many years to bring an edited volume to press, and that readers will do their best to consider how the views expressed in this book might apply to longtermist causes as well.

Phil runs a tremendous program and I would definitely recommend that you apply!

Someone did the right thing today. Thank you.

Thanks Peter!  Your feedback on the name is much appreciated.

Please do let me know what you think of future posts. It's always good to hear from interested readers.

Thanks Noah, and sorry again for the late reply. (Vacation is over, so it's back to work today).

I'll do my best to run a series on the singularity hypothesis paper soon! (I've got a pretty big backlog, so it might be a few months, but the paper is up on the GPI website if you want to take a look before then: https://globalprioritiesinstitute.org/against-the-singularity-hypothesis-david-thorstad/).

Thanks a lot for your suggestions. I'm very happy by the fact that you didn't get upset with me for making them. I'm ... trying to tone things down a bit at the start, and I think these are some of the topics that might cause a bit more controversy. I'm also continually impressed by the ability of EAs to have hard conversations. Maybe it's time to start on some of these topics.

I'll read your red-teaming contest submission shortly.

I think your very helpful and honest response about the status of women in the EA community is perhaps a good reason to talk about it: many people just aren't paying much attention to these issues. I guess see this for the latest public problem-statement (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/t5vFLabB2mQz2tgDr/i-m-a-22-year-old-woman-involved-in-effective-altruism-i-m), although there's a fairly long history of issues going back a few years, many of which received much poorer responses from the community.

I think maybe your point about epistemic status statements is an important one that I should fold in to the discussion of credence stating. I have a suspicion that just stating epistemic statuses may not be enough to secure good epistemic standings for a literature largely founded on blog posts and forum posts (and that it really would be better to have a higher proportion of published work). I'll see what I can do to write something up about that, again conscious of the irony that I am typing these words on a forum post about my blog.

Thanks for being patient with me Noah! I enjoyed this discussion. (I'm going to be checking the EA forum less in the coming weeks, since I'm not always a regular here, but I'll try to check back when I can).

Ah right, good point! I'll try to focus more on meta funding. You're definitely right to be suspicious of this (hard to monitor; people have bad incentives; looks like we're spending an awful lot on it now). I'll see what I can say about this, and please do keep thinking about this if you have more thoughts. I like your suggestion of a co-pay.

Thanks Noah! Yeah, it's better than nothing but every once in a while it's nice to just spend a day at home, cook a nice meal and watch a movie. 

I really will get back to you. I just need a bit :).

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