339 karmaJoined Pursuing a doctoral degree (e.g. PhD)Working (0-5 years)


  • Attended an EA Global conference
  • Attended an EAGx conference
  • Attended more than three meetings with a local EA group


Have you put together an actual proposal document? Having a well laid out and argued proposal would help professionals who are willing to take the time understand and critique your work, even if it's kind of unconventional.

I also find that more experienced professionals seem to apply route knowledge and apparently seem reluctant to deviate from considering anything outside of what they practice.

To be fair, this is in a lot of cases not down to incuriosity or being too stupid or stubborn (although there are certainly a fair amount of that as well), but because they practice what they do because they believe it's the best choice based on their years of training and experience. This is where a well put together, persuasive proposal could come in handy, it gives people the time and ability to peruse and think about it in a way that verbal conversation or jumbled messages don't.

If you aren't getting support from practitioners it may be a sign that this is better suited for research at this point. Establish the science behind what you're trying to do before seeking implementation. Researcher are, in my experience, generally much more open to out of the box thinking because their risk is lower and potential rewards higher. They're also more used to looking at proposals and giving feedback, so maybe reaching out to academics or doing something like an MA could be a better option for you at this stage if you're sufficiently committed to this project to do it.

I suspect my ideas are somewhat wild compared to normal thinking, and I think it would take other people who have their own wild thoughts to comfortably critique mine.

Just as an aside, I tend to be wary of this kind of thinking and try to self critique more when I find myself going that that line. The reason I say so is that while there are certainly very valuable wild thoughts that are wild enough that "normal thinkers" can't meaningfully engage with them, they're very few and far between and the illegality more frequently tends be the result of the arguments and thinking not being well supported, ideas not being connected well to each other, or significant flaws in the idea or how its presented.

I think you're mostly asking the wrong people. I give a lot of feedback on my friends work and projects, but we all work in pretty similar areas so I know how to provide meaningful and detailed criticism and what does and doesn't make sense. If you're asking people who aren't in that field there's a good chance any detailed feedback they give you will be not very useful anyway. You also might be asking the wrong people in terms of their willingness to invest time and energy into giving someone detailed feedback because it really does take a not insignificant amount of both.

I can't be super certain these are useful tips since I don't know the exact nature of the project you're talking about, but

  • Keep the thing you're asking for feedback on as specific and brief as possible. If your idea is too broad (ie. Something like I'm going to research X using Y to do Z) there isn't really a whole lot someone can say. There needs to be concrete, detailed steps in the proposal. Brevity seems pretty straightforward, although worth underlining. I see alot of undergrad and MA students who are adamant that you have to know every detail of the background of their project and their thought process to know something is a good or bad idea or understand why it doesn't work. And sure, sometimes there are some details that are necessary, but overall it's best to pare it down the bare necessities.
  • Find people who are knowledgeable and invested in the idea. How depends pretty strongly on what it is that your doing exactly.
  • Think about if you may be the problem. There are two types of project I tend to not touch unless I'm getting paid to do it: either they're fundamentally problematic and I think saying that will kill the relationship, or I think that the person will spend hours fighting the feedback and trying to explain to me why I'm wrong and their project is great actually. Something in the way you communicate with people might be giving the impression that you'll end up doing either of these things. -Find peers doing similar things and swap feedback. This is much, much easier to do in academic work, not sure it would pan out elsewhere, but I've gotten some of the best feedback from peers rather than professors. -Depending on what this is and how much you're investing in it, seeking our professional, paid help may be a good option.

This is a rather uncharitable take on the ~weakest forms of the arguments presented. It's also the first published instance of a tendency (fortunately not a widespread one) I've seen in online EA spaces when responding to criticism to water down the philosophy of EA to something close to its broadest, most comprehensive form to the point where it becomes virtually undistinguishable from any other philanthropical enterprise. I think this is where a kind of social/intellectual history of EA ideas would be extremely valuable: it seems to be that there is a gap between what someone who is entrenched in EA and EA spaces considers EA to be versus what someone who is observing it from the outside and relying on published materials would understand it to be. [ETA because I forgot a sentence: and this probably stems from the relatively fast evolution on EA philosophy over the past 7-8 years in particular and the difficulty in understanding what is still considered fundamental and what is outdated.] This creates a disconnect between critics and EAs and I think to some extent, to put it in very imprecise terms, newer versus older EAs, and longtermist versus neartermist EAs re: what are the guiding principles and how each of these principles and these components are weighted relative to each other. I'd love to see a robust article or even better an extended dialogue between EAs discussing EA from a ship of Theseus-like perspective to see hiw far you can push these boundaries and at what point EA stops being EA.

The general tone of your comments + the line "I'm still happy I wrote that section because I wanted to defend longtermism from your attack" in one comment gives me the impression that you are, but I'm fully willing to accept that it's just the lack of emotive expressiveness in text. 

Yes, MacAskill does have these explicit lines at certain points (I'd argue that this is the bare minimum, but it's a problem I have with a large swathe of academic and particularly pop-philosophy texts and as I said it's in some measure a matter of personal preference), but the overall tone of the text and the way he engages with counterarguments and positions still came off as polemical to me. I admittedly hold seminal texts - which WWTF is obviously intended to be - up to particularly high standards in this regard, which I think is fair but completely understand if others disagree. To be clear, I think that this also weakens the argumentation overall rather than just being a lopsided defense or a matter of tone. I think the points raised here about the intuition of neutrality are an good example of this; a more robust engagement with the intuition of neutrality and its implications for longtermism could help specify longtermism and it's different strains to make it less of an amorphous moral imperative to "think/care about future generations" and a more easily operationalized and intellectually/analytically robust moral philosophy since it would create room for a deeper discussion of how longtermist approaches that prioritize the existence of future people differ from longtermist approaches that view the benefits for future people as secondary.

Book reviews are meant to be informative and critiques aren't always meant to be negative, so I don't know why you're framing it as an attack on WWTF or MacAskill. Knowing the tone of a work is valuable information for someone reading a book review.

On a personal note, I'll say that I also agree with the "disquieting" portion of "disquietingly polemical" - I had the sense that WWTF presented longtermism and caring about future generations as a kind of foregone conclusion and moral imperative rather than something to be curious about and think deeply on, but I prefer these kinds of books to be more proactive in very strongly establishing the opposing viewpoints, so it's probably more irksome to me than it would be to others. He wasn't writing a textbook and it's prerogative to write something that's an outright manifesto if he so chooses, but that doesn't make pointing out the tone an unvalid critique.

I think this is another point where you're missing context. It's kind of a quirk of academic language, but "polemical" is usually used in contrast to analytical in texts like these - meaning that the work in question is more argumentative/persuasive than analytical or explicative, which I honestly think is a very apt description of WWTF. 

Heads up: You haven't actually responded to the comment, so DC may not see this.

I have some experience with writing grants and have a pretty robust acceptance rate, but not in anything as technical as what you're doing so take this with a grain of salt, but based on your comment here I'd either assume that there are serious issues with your grant proposal documents and communication during the grant process leading the process to breakdown before it began or soon after it did, or that your actual tech isn't as far along or as promising as they'd like for the amounts you're requesting. I obviously have no idea if the latter is true, and saying that you have initial results suggests otherwise. For the former I'd suggest getting someone who's an actual expert in the granting environment you're working in to take a look at your materials and let you know what they think you can do to develop it. In general, grant writing is a fairly specific and technical craft, especially when dealing with grantors that specialize in medical/technological/"hard science" grants, and grantmakers don't have a lot of time to investigate grants so it's not uncommon for promising but not-well written in the language of the field grants to be rejected out of hand. 

The same goes for grants that are focused on things that have been tried before and failed. More importantly, grantors have limited funds and will tend to fund things in order of priority, so maybe it really just is that they have more exciting projects to fund - things that are a surer bet, things that have already been tried and tested or are further along the R&D pipeline, things that will generate immediate results, etc., and they likely won't tell you what those are both for confidentiality and potentially legal reasons and because they don't prefer to spend their limited time giving detailed explanations and justifications to people they've rejected, particularly as related to other projects they're undertaking.

Another note: A lot of the grants I applied to were either completely unavailable to for-profit companies or very strongly preferred funding non-profit, public or academic institutions - I assume you're checking for the former, and there may not be much you can do about the latter at this point. You say "They may consider us profit-driven, assuming that we will make a lot of money from this grant. This is not true. We are genuinely prepared to provide a full report and prove that we will not profit from this initiative.", but there isn't really much that granting organizations can do if you just don't, except for maybe recuperate costs + some damages for breach of contract, but that's a hassle that they don't want to risk, and some find taking that risk to be against their principles in the first place.

I assume most people think these statements about female superiority are pretty harmless, both because they're seen more as "punching up" (given the history of men dominating women in much of the world until the late 20th century) and because the hypothesis of biological gender differences is less taboo and more scientifically established.

In my experience, the reason these statements tend to get less pushback is that they are generally explained by gendered socialization and norms rather than intrinsic biological or genetic factors, whereas the race/gender arguments that receive pushback claim that certain groups are genetically (intrinsically) inferior.

l think a lot of it comes down to goals and function.

In my experience a significant portion and function of academic conferences are to get feedback on works in progress: speakers present the project they're working on, get feedback from a specialized and expert audience, and the audience get to keep up with the current state of things. It's a part of a collaborative process, and I think that this does actually benefit from there being no recording or written published artifact, because it allows for an unpolished and much rougher version of the work to exist without there being much risk of errors in it being publicized or perpetuated through citation or sharing - kind of like a lower pressure and less risky preprint. This obviously isn't the case for all conferences or for all presentations, but it is something I've personally majorly benefitted from in my research. I've also attended some conferences where speakers were open about being more able to safely speak about politically contentious issues because they weren't worried about there being an easily accessible document for the government to use against them, but that's obviously specific to a context where academic freedom is limited by political pressure and threat of persecution.

Also, for academia, in person presentations like job talks function as a kind of dry run for hiring decisions. Academics teach, and presenting or teaching in an in person context is a different dynamic and skill set than presenting something in a prerecorded format.

In person conferences also serve major functions for both networking and building a community of researchers that have the resources and ability to interact with each other in ways that are less formal than the back and forth of academic publishing.

There's also a lot of institutional factors that come into play. Alongside the networking aspect, academics use conferences for CV building. Conferences are usually peer reviewed and having your abstract selected for presentation signals a level of quality and rigor that isn't necessarily present for producing and posting a video.

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