M

MWStory

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I think the fact that forecasting is a popular hobby is probably pretty distorting of priorities.

There are now thousands of EAs whose experience of forecasting is participating in fun competitions which have been optimised for their enjoyment. This mass of opinion and consequent discourse has very little connection to what should be the ultimate end goal of forecasting: providing useful information to decision makers.

For example, I’d love to know how INFER is going. Are the forecasts relevant to decision makers? Who reads their reports? How well do people figuring out what to forecast understand the range of policy options available and prioritise forecasts to inform them? Is there regular contact and a trusting relationship at senior executive level? Would it help more if the forecasting were faster, or broader in scope?

These are all very important questions but are invisible to forecaster participants so end up not being talked about much.

I think if you extend this belief outwards it starts to look unwieldy and “proves too much”. Even if you think that executives don’t care about having access to good predictions the way that business owners do, then why not ask why business owners aren’t paying?

What better test of the claim "we are producing useful/actionable information about the future, and/or developing workable processes for others to do the same" do we have than some of the thousands of organisations whose survival depends on this kind of information being willing to pay for it? 

I’m also v interested in the bully ban campaign issue. 

Some prominent EAs criticised the campaign because they thought that the lives saved (around 5 lives per year at current rates plus many more maulings, and more still if we expect that the bully population would have continued to grow as it was doing prior to the ban), while valuable, would not exceed the cost of effort involved. But the RSPCA actively campaigned against this life-saving policy and continues to argue for its reversal. Why?

nb I actually think the EA bully ban critics might have been "right for the wrong reasons". While they vastly overestimated the effort involved in the campaign and therefore imagined more resources were spent per life than was actually the case (in fact the campaign had no external funding, just a few months part time work from Lawrence Newport which would make the anti-bully campaign about as effective as a GiveWell top charity in expenditure per life saved), it turns out that Dr Newport is a generational campaigning talent and if you value his time that way then a few months of effort actually does represent a significant commitment. Though if you count talent discovery as a campaign outcome it tips the balance the other way again!

I assume Peter means it’s not fine to signal the lack of cooperativeness you describe above