One theory that I'm fond of, both because it has some explanatory power, and because unlike other theories about this with explanatory power, it is useful to keep in mind and not based as directly on misconceptions, goes like this:
-A social group that has a high cost of exit, can afford to raise the cost of staying. That is, if it would be very bad for you to leave a group you are part of, the group can more successfully pressure you to be more conformist, work harder in service of it, and tolerate weird hierarchies.
-What distinguishes a cult, or at least ... (read more)
Really? I didn't find their reactions very weird, how would you expect them to react?
I'm not so sure about this. Speaking as someone who talks with new EAs semi-frequently, it seems much easier to get people to take the basic ideas behind longtermism seriously than, say, the idea that there is a significant risk that they will personally die from unaligned AI. I do think that diving deeper into each issue sometimes flips reactions - longtermism takes you to weird places on sufficient reflection, AI risk looks terrifying just from compiling expert opinions - but favoring the approach that shifts the burden from the philosophical controversy... (read more)
Re: "In particular, there is no secret EA database of estimates of effectiveness of every possible action (sadly). When you tell people effective altruism is about finding effective, research-based ways of doing good, it is a natural reaction to ask: “so, what are some good ways of reducing pollution in the Baltic Sea / getting more girls into competitive programming / helping people affected by [current crisis that is on the news]” or “so, what does EA think of the effectiveness of [my favorite charity]”. Here, the honest answer is often “nobody in EA kno... (read more)
This is a good summary of my position. I also agree that a significant part of the reason for the three major cause areas is history, but think that this answers a slightly different question from the one I'm approaching. It's not surprising, from the outside, that people who want to good, and have interests in common with major figures like Peter Singer, are more likely to get heavily involved with the EA movement than people who want to do good and have other values/interests. However, from the inside it doesn't give an account of why the people who do w... (read more)
I mostly agree, I don’t think I was super clear with my initial post, and have edited to try to clarify more what I mean by the “odd one out”. To respond to your point more specifically, I also agree that the reason for caring in the first place is just the strong arguments in favor of caring about non-humans, and I even agree that the formal arguments for caring about non-human animals are probably more philosophically robust that those for caring about future generations (at least in the “theory X” no-difference-made-by-identity way longtermists usually ... (read more)
I really appreciate this post. These types of memes (or more to the point the attitude towards common criticisms they reflect or normalize) bother me a lot, and I'm glad to see there's still appetite in the movement to take common arguments like these seriously.
I'm excited to read it when it comes out! I've read Askell's post on it before, I think it's mostly right, though I don't think it gets at the potential problems with offsetting for even more mild harms enough.
This comment captures a lot of my concerns about offsetting arguments in the context of veganism, as well as more generally. Spelled out a bit more, my worry for EAs is that we often:
1.Think we ought to donate a large amount
Actually donate some amount that is much smaller than this but much larger than most people
Discourage each other from sanctioning people who are donating much more than other people, for not donating enough
Offsetting bad acts can presumably fall into the same pool as other donations, which leads to the following issue:
let’s say... (read more)
Right. The problem with offsetting is that rather than (1) doing something bad (eg kicking (medieval) peasants) and then (2) offsetting it somehow (eg by donating money), the better outcome is where you do (2), ie the offset and then just don't do the bad thing at all.
Someone might claim they won't do (2) unless they do (1), and therefore the better outcome is that they do both (1) and (2) rather than neither (1) or (2). But this is deeply suspicious and suggests a very contorted psychology. ("Funny thing is that if I don't kick the peasant, I just can mak... (read more)
So, I didn't do a very good job sticking to this statement. I'm still new to the forum format, and getting a much bigger response than I had expected. I've therefore decided to just make a clean break and hold myself to it. Feel free to continue interacting in the comments, I will read all of the comments unless they really pile up, but I'll stop responding unless one of them is a direct question or something like that. If I figure out a way to, I'll pin this message at the top of the comments section.
Thanks! I'm glad you found it useful.
This is a possibility, admittedly my evidence doesn't say much about the old state of the field. If so I think that would be a good reason for optimism, so I kind of hope you're right. That said, I think some of the state of research has to come down to unintentional consequences as well. The Belmont Report is too strict even as intended for instance, but I think a great deal of its harm comes from the vagueness of the guidelines it inspired.
On the one hand I agree that that piece of evidence is my least systematic and convincing. I mostly raise it because of Willy in the world asking for a bioethicist petition on challenge trials and Matt Yglesias citing the 1Day Sooner letter in claiming that bioethicists seem out of step with regular philosophers. In this context I thought it made sense to dig a little bit into the contents of the letter. On the other hand, I do think that Sebo and Singer and McMahan and Savulescu (and for that matter Jessica Flanigan and Anders Sandberg and others) should ... (read more)
This is all fair, and I appreciate the response. I don’t mean to say that you and other critics overall have bad takes on the issue of research oversight, I agree with most of the criticisms, and think they are important. It’s just on the topic of bioethicists specifically that I find a good deal of the discourse weird (I should also add that there are plenty of particular bioethicists, like Leon Kass, who are worthy of the criticisms, I just don’t think they are representative, or the root of the problem).
This is an interesting question, and you’re right that I don’t really address it directly. That said, I’m not sure I totally understand how your criticism applies to the issue of whether bioethics as a field is worthwhile. Are you saying that the IRB system is bad for research, and if it weren’t for the presence of bioethicists this system wouldn’t be in place? As I said in the piece, I’m not an expert on IRBs myself, but this seems implausible to me. The IRB system is in place because of unclear and excessive guidelines, and the strong risk of liability t... (read more)
I think there's a ton to criticize in the institutions, don't get me wrong, I just disagree that that's how lots of the criticisms I see come off.
Quick PSA, I’m interacting in the comments pretty actively right now. If the comments section keeps growing, I will slow down on this in a bit. Please don’t think it means I don’t think your comment is worth some interaction as well, I’ve been very happy with the comments I’ve been getting so far! I just wanted to make quick note of this since I’m pretty new to the forum and a bit self-conscious about how I engage.
The cases do seem somewhat different to me as well, but I don’t think this necessarily contradicts my thesis. If the key criticism is something like “bioethicists should make their actual leanings more well-known and influential” I would agree with that. It’s just this seems more modest and less unique than many of the criticisms I have seen.
This is interesting, and I’m glad to see some pushback in the direction of the stronger thesis as well. Again, the evidence I have seen leans the other way and I have not seen evidence I consider as strong in the anti-bioethics direction, but each piece of my evidence is also fairly weak on its own. A first pass at these cases leaves me with the following reactions (the numbers don’t correspond to each of your numbered points, they’re just there for organization):
I agree, the Bensinger piece was very helpful, and wasn't in my first draft. Credit to Applied Divinity Studies for linking me to something that linked to it, or I wouldn't have found it at all.
I really appreciate you replying to this, and I read (I think) all of your blog posts on IRBs, and they are all to the best of my knowledge informative and accurate. My point is much more just that "bioethicists" seem to be a bad way of framing a bunch of these issues. As for:
I actually agree with this part of the Galef/Yglesias discussion, in that I think for major public health decisions they should generally be more a matter of public endorsement than ethical "expertise". As for what expertise might look like, I guess it would be understanding different well-known distinctions (hedonism versus desire satisfaction, act/omission versus intention) and well known dilemmas (totalist population axiology sounds no good, but neither does anything else) which can make a difference to how you think about the issues.
Actually I'm the one who posted this one, Nick edits all of my posts because they are published on his blog (though this one won't be there until he gets back to RIT). I'll be busy the next couple of days, but I'll take it under advisement!
Thanks so much! Applied Divinity Studies deserves a good deal of the credit for the style though, they really pushed me to make the tone more engaging/bold, and even gave me suggested rewrites in some places. I have gotten the subheading suggestion a couple of times now on different pieces, so you're right that I should look into doing that more going forward.
Yeah, I likewise appreciated this post and think this sort of pushback on common but under-justified or oversimplified views seems a useful service to provide.
I'd recommend not just subheadings but also a summary / key takeaways section, ideally in the style used in Open Phil and Rethink Priorities posts and described in the post Reasoning Transparency.
This is a suggestion I very often make (i.e., it's not like a weird rare issue with just this post). One reason I make it here is that I can imagine wanting to point people to this post in future but n... (read more)