487Joined Feb 2017


I'm a senior software developer in Canada (earning ~US$70K in a good year) who, being late to the EA party, earns to give. Historically I've have a chronic lack of interest in making money; instead I've developed an unhealthy interest in foundational software that free markets don't build because their effects would consist almost entirely of positive externalities.

I dream of making the world better by improving programming languages and developer tools, but AFAIK no funding is available for this kind of work outside academia. My open-source projects can be seen at loyc.net, core.loyc.net, ungglish.loyc.net and ecsharp.net (among others).


I'm sure working for Metaculus or Manifold or OWID would be great.

I was hoping to get some help thinking of something smaller in scope and/or profitable that could eventually grow into this bigger vision. A few years from now, I might be able to afford to self-fund it by working for free (worth >$100,000 annually) but it'll be tough with a family of four and I've lost the enthusiasm I once had for building things alone with no support (it hasn't worked out well before). Plus there's an opportunity cost in terms of my various other ideas. Somehow I have to figure out how to get someone else interested...

You were right, this is one of the least popular ideas around. Perhaps even EAs think the truth is easy to find, that falsehoods aren't very harmful, or that automation can't help? I'm confused too. LW liked it a bit more, but not much.

Sort of related to this, I started to design an easier dialect of English because I think English is too hard and that (1) it would be easier to learn it in stages and (2) two people who have learned the easier dialect could speak it among themselves. This would be nice in reverse; I married a Filipino but found it difficult to learn Tagalog because of the lack of available Tagalog courses and the fact that my wife doesn't understand and cannot explain the grammar of her language. I wish I could learn an intentionally-designed pidgeon/simplified version of the language before tackling the whole thing. Hearing the language spoken in the house for several years hasn't helped.

It would be good for EAs to learn other languages, but it's hard. I studied Spanish in my free time for four years, but I remained terrible at it, my vocabulary is still small and I usually can't understand what Spanish people are saying. If I moved to Mexico I'm sure I would learn better. But I have various reasons not to.

Well, it's new. There are some comments on LW. Currently I'm not ready to put much time in this, but what are your areas of expertise?

We are strongly against racism. It's just that Nick Bostrom is not racist (even though I find that his comment 26 years ago was extremely cringe and his apology wasn't done particularly well.)

Perhaps you have some insight about what was meant by "the views this particular academic expressed in his communications"? The criticisms of Bostrom I've seen have consistently declined to say what "views" they are referring to. One exception to this is that I heard one person say that almost everyone thinks it is racist to say that a racial IQ gap exists. To anyone who thinks this, I suggest searching for the word "gap" in this Wikipedia article. And by the way, the main thread for discussing the apology is here.

Bostrom did not say it was unknown how much the gap is genetic vs environmental. He said he didn't know. This apparently made some people mad, but I think what made people more mad was that they read things into the apology that Bostrom didn't say, then got mad about it.

There is a Wikipedia page that says

The scientific consensus is that there is no evidence for a genetic component behind IQ differences between racial groups.[9 citations]

I've also glanced at a couple of scientific papers that seem to imply otherwise (this one and this one). These papers basically say that most experts think the role of genetics is greater than zero. I don't care to investigate with a ten-foot pole why Wikipedia is in tension with these papers, and I don't blame Bostrom for feeling the same way.

I think this issue is a lot like the lab-leak hypothesis of Covid: it doesn't really matter whether Covid escaped from a lab, because gain-of-function research is dangerous either way, so our policy will be the same either way (oppose GoF research). In the same way, it doesn't seem very useful to study racial IQ differences; our policy decision should be the same regardless (reduce poverty in Africa—poverty is bad; prosperity and education both increase IQ).  And I have no doubt Bostrom would agree.

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Give him money for a fishing net or a nice plow, that'll help more.

They know what they need. They just need some money for it.

I find it extremely [...] threatening, and quite frightening that an exalted leader [...] holds these [...] beliefs

You haven't said what "these beliefs" refers to, but given the preceding context, you seem to be strongly objecting not to any belief Bostrom holds, but to his lack of belief. In other words, it is threatening and frightening (in context) that Bostrom said: "It is not my area of expertise, and I don’t have any particular interest in the question. I would leave to others, who have more relevant knowledge, to debate whether or not in addition to environmental factors, epigenetic or genetic factors play any role".

You mention a Wikipedia article that you don't link to directly. I think you mean this one. Perhaps the most notable thing in this article is the following:

The scientific consensus is that there is no evidence for a genetic component behind IQ differences between racial groups.[148][149][150][147][151][152][153][52][154] Growing evidence indicates that environmental factors, not genetic ones, explain the racial IQ gap.[37][147][155][151]

I suppose you believe either (1) that it was completely unacceptable  that Bostrom did not study up on this topic before writing an apology, or (2) that there is no need to study up because scientific study is not required to make a determination. Either way, I don't agree. Please let me know whether I have understood your position correctly.

I feel like some people are reading "I completely repudiate this disgusting email from 26 years ago" and thinking that he has not repudiated the entire email, just because he also says "The invocation of a racial slur was repulsive". I wonder if you interpreted it that way.

One thing I think Bostrom should have specifically addressed was when he said "I like that sentence". It's not a likeable sentence! It's an ambiguous sentence (one interpretation of which is obviously false) that carries a bad connotation (in the same way that "you did worse than Joe on the test" has a different connotation than "Joe did better than you on the test", making the second sentence probably better). Worst of all, it sounds like the kind of thing racists say. The nicest thing I would say about this sentence is that it's very cringe.

Now I'm a "high-decoupler Independent", and "low-decoupler Democrats" clearly wanted Bostrom to say different things than me. However, I suspect Bostrom is a high-decoupler Independent himself, and on that basis he loses points in my mind for not addressing the sorts of things that I myself notice. On the other hand... apology-crafting is hard and I think he made a genuine attempt.

But there are several things I take issue with in Thorstad's post, just one of which I will highlight here. He said that the claim "I think it is probable that black people have a lower average IQ than mankind in general" is "widely repudiated, are based on a long history of racist pseudoscience and must be rejected" (emphasis mine). In response to this I want to highlight a comment that discusses an anti-Bostrom post on this forum:

This post says both:

> If you believe there are racial differences in intelligence, and your work forces you to work on the hard problems of resource allocation or longtermist societal evolution, nobody will trust you to do the right tradeoffs.


> If he'd said, for instance, "hey I was an idiot for thinking and saying that. We still have IQ gaps between races, which doesn't make sense. It's closing, but not fast enough. We should work harder on fixing this." That would be more sensible. Same for the community itself disavowing the explicit racism.

The first quote says believing X (that there exists a racial IQ gap) is harmful and will result in nobody trusting you. The second says X is, in fact, true.

I think that we high-decouplers tend to feel that it is deeply wrong to treat a proposition X as true if it is expressed in one way, but false/offensive if expressed in another way. If it's true, it's true, and it's okay to say so without getting the wording perfect.[1]

In the Flynn effect, which I don't believe is controversial, populations vary significantly on IQ depending on when they were born. But if timing of birth is correlated with IQ, then couldn't location of birth be correlated with IQ? Or poverty, or education? And is there not some correlation between poverty and skin color? And are not correlations usually transitive? I'm not trying to prove the case here, just trying to say that people can reasonably believe there is a correlation, and indeed, you can see that even the anti-Bostrom post above implies that a correlation exists.

Thorstad cites no evidence for his implication that the average IQ of blacks is equal to the average IQ of  everyone. To the contrary, he completely ignores environmental effects on intelligence and zeroes in on the topic of genetic effects on intelligence. So even if he made an effort to show that there's no genetic IQ gap there would still be a big loophole for environmental differences. Thorstad also didn't make an effort to show that what he was saying about genetics was true, nor did he link to someone who did make that effort (but I will. Here's someone critiquing the most famous version of HBD, and if you know of a work that directly addresses the whole body of scientific evidence rather than being designed as a rebuttal, I'd like to see it.) Overall, the piece comes across to me as unnecessarily politicized, unfair, judgemental, and not evidence-based in the places it needs to be.

Plus it tends toward dihydrogen monoxide-style arguments. To illustrate this, consider these arguments supporting the idea of man-made global warming: "denial that humans cause global warming is often funded by fossil-fuel companies with a vested interest in blocking environmental regulations, some of which have a history of unethical behavior. And many of the self-proclaimed experts who purport to show humans don't cause climate change are in fact charlatans. The Great Global Warming Swindle, a denier film, labeled fellow denier Tim Ball as the 'head of climatology' at the University  of Winnipeg, which does not, in fact, have a climatology department. As droughts, heat waves and hurricane damage figures increase, it's time to reject denial and affirm that we humans are responsible." As a former writer for SkepticalScience who fought against climate denial for years, I held my gag reflex as I wrote those sentences, because they were bad arguments. It's not that they are false; it's not that I disagree with them; it's that they are politicized statements that create more heat than light and don't help demonstrate that humans cause global warming. There are ample explainers and scientific evidence out there for man-made global warming, so you don't need to rely on guilt-by-association or negative politically-charged narratives like the one I just wrote. Same thing for Bostrom—there may be good arguments against him, but I haven't seen them.

I also believe actions speak louder than words, so that Bostrom's value seems much higher than his disvalue (I know little about his value, but a quick look at his bio suggests it is high), and that in EA we should employ the principle of charity.

  1. ^

    Also, if someone doesn't know if an idea is true, it's wrong to condemn them just for saying they don't know or for not picking a side, as Thorstad does.

I think that drawing attention to racial gaps in IQ test results without highlighting appropriate social context is in-and-of itself racist.

Why is it that this doesn't count as highlighting appropriate social context?

I also think that it is deeply unfair that unequal access to education, nutrients, and basic
healthcare leads to inequality in social outcomes, including sometimes disparities in skills and cognitive capacity. This is a huge moral travesty that we should not paper over or downplay. [apology paragraph 2]

I guess you could say that the social context is only mentioned rather than highlighted, and that there is more context he could have added.

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