John_Maxwell

2678Joined Aug 2014

Comments
487

Thanks for the correction!

BTW, I hope it doesn't seem like it was picking on you -- it just occurred to me that I could do math for Rethink Priorities because your salaries are public. I have no reason to believe a cost-per-public-report estimate would be different for any other randomly chosen EA research organization in either direction. And of course most EA organizations correctly focus on making a positive impact rather than maximizing publication count.

The curation discussion made me think of this recent shortform post: "EA forum content might be declining in quality. Here are some possible mechanisms: [...]"

It seems like there has been an effort to get people less intimidated about posting to the Forum. I think this is probably good -- intimidation seems like a somewhat bad way to achieve quality control. However, with less intimidation and higher post volumes, we're leaning harder on upvotes & downvotes to direct attention and achieve quality control. Since our system is kind of like reddit's [I believe reddit is the only major social media site that's primarily driven by upvotes+downvotes rather than followings and/or recommendations], the obvious problems to fear would be the ones you see when subreddits get larger:

  • People who disagree with the current consensus get dogpiled with downvotes and self-select out of the community

  • Memes get more upvotes than in-depth content since they are more accessible and easier to consume

(My sense is that these are the 2 big mechanisms behind the common advice to seek out niche subreddits for high-quality discussion -- let me know if you're a redditor and you can think of other considerations.)

Anyway, this leaves me feeling positive about two-factor voting, including on toplevel posts. It seems like a good way to push back on the "self-selection for agreement" problem.

It also leaves me feeling positive about curation as a way to push back on the "popcorn content" problem. In fact, I might take curation even further. Brainstorming follows...

Imagine I am a forum user thinking about investing several weeks or months writing an in-depth report on some topic. Ian David Moss wrote:

...it's pretty demotivating when a post that reflects five months and hundreds of hours of work is on the front page for less than a day. I feel like there's something wrong with the system when I can spend five minutes putting together a linkpost instead and earn a greater level of engagement.

Curation as described in the OP helps a bit, because there's a chance someone will notice my post while it's on the frontpage and suggest it for curation. But imagine I could submit an abstract/TLDR to a curator asking them to rate their interest in curating a post on my chosen topic. After I finish writing my post, I could "apply for curation" and maybe have some back-and-forth with a curator to get my post good enough. Essentially making curation on the forum work a bit like publication in an academic journal. While I'm dreaming, maybe someone could be paid to fact-check/red team my post before it goes live (possibly reflected in a separate quality badge, or maybe this should actually be a prereq for curation).

I think academic journals and online forums have distinct advantages. Academic journals seem good at incentivizing people to iron out boring details. But they lack the exciting social nature of an online forum which gets people learning and discussing things for fun in their spare time. Maybe there's a way to combine the advantages of both, and have an exciting social experience that also gets boring details right. (Of course, it would be good to avoid academic publishing problems too -- I don't know too much about that though.)

Another question is the role of Facebook. I don't use it, and I know it has obvious disadvantages, but even so it seems like there's an argument for making relevant Facebook groups the designated place for less rigorous posts.

Another possible mechanism is forum leadership encouraging people to be less intimidated and write more off-the-cuff posts -- see e.g. this or this.

Side note: It seems like a small amount of prize money goes a long way.

So napkin math suggests that the per-post cost of a contest post is something like 1% of the per-post cost of a RP publication. A typical RP publication is probably much higher quality. But maybe sometimes getting a lot of shallow explorations quickly is what's desired. (Disclaimer: I haven't been reading the forum much, didn't read many contest posts, and don't have an opinion about their quality. But I did notice the organizers of the ELK contest were "surprised by the number and quality of submissions".)

A related point re: quality is that smaller prize pools presumably select for people with lower opportunity costs. If I'm a talented professional who commands a high hourly rate, I might do the expected value math on e.g. the criticism prize and decide it's not worthwhile to enter.

It's also not clear if the large number of entries will persist in the longer term. Not winning can be pretty demoralizing. Supposing a talented professional goes against their better judgement and puts a lot of time into their entry, then loses and has no idea why. Will they enter the next contest they see? Probably not. They're liable to interpret lack of a prize as "the contest organizers didn't think it was worth my time to make a submission".

Supposing bivalves are in fact capable of suffering, might it still be economical to farm them in a way that causes almost no suffering? Presumably they don't suffer from confinement the way most animals do...

Seems to me that scarcity can also be grift-inducing, e.g. if a tech company only hires the very top performers on its interview, it might find that most hires are people who looked up the questions beforehand and rehearsed the answers. But if the company hires any solid performer, that doesn't induce a rehearsal arms race -- if it's possible to get hired without rehearsing, some people will value their integrity enough to do this.

The CEEALAR model is interesting because it combines a high admission rate with low salaries. You're living with EAs in an undesirable city, eating vegan food, and getting paid peanuts. This seems unattractive to professional grifters, but it might be attractive to deadbeat grifters. Deadbeat grifters seem like a better problem to have since they're less sophisticated and less ambitious on average.

Another CEEALAR thing: living with someone helps you get to know them. It's easier to put up a facade for a funder than for your roommates.

...three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

Source. When I was at CEEALAR, it seemed to me like the "college dorm" atmosphere was generating a lot of social capital for the EA movement.

I don't think CEEALAR is perfect (and I also left years ago so it may have changed). But the overall idea seems good to iterate on. People have objected in the past because of PR weirdness, but maybe that's what we need to dissuade the most dangerous sort of grifter.

I think there is no harm in setting up an alert in case there are more threads about him. The earlier you arrive in a thread, the greater the opportunity to influence the discussion. If people are going to be reading a negative comment anyways, I don't think there is much harm in replying, at least on reddit -- I don't think reddit tends to generate more views for a thread with more activity, the way twitter can. In fact, replying to the older threads on reddit could be a good way to test out messaging, since almost no one is reading at this point, but you might get replies from people who left negative comments and learn how to change their mind. I've had success arguing for minority positions on my local subreddit by being friendly, respectful, and factual.

Beyond that I'm really not sure, creating new threads could be a high-risk/high-reward strategy to use if he's falling in the polls. Maybe get him to do an AMA?

My local subreddit's subscriber count is about 20% of the population of the city, and I've never seen a political candidate post there, even though there is lots of politics discussion. I think making an AMA saying what you've learned from talking to voters, and asking users what issues are most important to them, early in a campaign could be a really powerful strategy (edit: esp. if prearranged w/ subreddit moderators). I don't know if there is a comparable subreddit for District 6 though, e.g. this subreddit only has about 1% of the city population according to Wikipedia, and it's mostly pretty pictures right now so they might not like it if you started talking about politics.

Have you thought about crossposting this to some local subreddits? I searched for Carrick's name on reddit and he seems to be very unpopular there. People are tired of his ads and think he's gonna be a shill for the crypto industry. Maybe could make a post like "Why all of the Flynn ads? An explanation from a campaign volunteer"

A model that I heard TripleByte used sounds interesting to me.

I wrote a comment about TripleByte's feedback process here; this blog post is great too. In our experience, the fear of lawsuits and PR disasters from giving feedback to rejected candidates was much overblown, even at a massive scale. (We gave every candidate feedback regardless of how well they performed on our interview.)

Something I didn't mention in my comment is that much of TripleByte's feedback email was composed of prewritten text blocks carefully optimized to be helpful and non-offensive. While interviewing a candidate, I would check boxes for things like "this candidate used their debugger poorly", and then their feedback email would automatically include a prewritten spiel with links on how to use a debugger well (or whatever). I think this model could make a lot of sense for the fund:

  • It makes giving feedback way more scalable. There's a one-time setup cost of prewriting some text blocks, and probably a minor ongoing cost of gradually improving your blocks over time, but the marginal cost of giving a candidate feedback is just 30 seconds of checking some boxes. (IIRC our approach was to tell candidates "here are some things we think it might be helpful for you to read" and then when in doubt, err on the side of checking more boxes. For funding, I'd probably take it a step further, and rank or score the text blocks according to their importance to your decision. At TripleByte, we would score the candidate on different facets of their interview performance and send them their scores -- if you're already scoring applications according to different facets, this could be a cheap way to provide feedback.)

  • Minimize lawsuit risk. It's not that costly to have a lawyer vet a few pages of prewritten text that will get reused over and over. (We didn't have a lawyer look over our feedback emails, and it turned out fine, so this is a conservative recommendation.)

  • Minimize PR risk. Someone who posts their email to Twitter can expect bored replies like "yeah, they wrote the exact same thing in my email." (Again, PR risk didn't seem to be an issue in practice despite giving lots of freeform feedback along with the prewritten blocks, so this seems like a conservative approach to me.)

If I were you, I think I'd experiment with hiring one of the writers of the TripleByte feedback emails as a contractor or consultant. Happy to make an intro.

A few final thoughts:

  • Without feedback, a rejectee is likely to come up with their own theory of why they were rejected. You have no way to observe this theory or vet its quality. So I think it's a mistake to hold yourself to a high bar. You just have to beat the rejectee's theory. (BTW, most of the EA rejectee theories I've heard have been very cynical.)

  • You might look into liability insurance if you don't have it already; it probably makes sense to get it for other reasons anyway. I'd be curious how the cost of insurance changes depending on the feedback you're giving.

Assume that people find you more authoritative, important, and hard-to-criticise than you think you are. It’s usually not enough to be open to criticism - you have to actually seek it out or visibly reward it in front of other potential critics.

Chapter 7 in this book had a number of good insights on encouraging dissent from subordinates, in the context of disaster prevention.

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