Timothy Chan

199Joined Aug 2021


Interested in reducing suffering.


Thanks for posting this. I think "Brian Thomastik" should be "Brian Tomasik" :)

A bit late but it might be this post

What about future crucial considerations that Andrew hasn't yet discovered? Can he make any statements about them? One way to do so would be to model unknown unknowns (UUs) as being sampled from some probability distribution P: UUi ~ P for all i. The distribution of UUs so far was {3, -5, -2, 10, -1}. The sample mean is 1, and the standard error is 2.6. The standard error is big enough that Andrew can't have much confidence about future UUs, though the sample mean very weakly suggests future UUs are more likely on average to be positive than negative.

Thank you for being more charitable after reading my comment, and for your effort in a detailed response.

Again, I agree there are some epistemic benefits to calling out statements that don't seem correct, but I think there are also some large downsides to this in this case.

I think I still prefer to challenge a claim that quite blatantly (but probably unintentionally) misleads people into thinking that someone confessed to committing a crime, a claim placed in the highest upvoted comment on a post receiving a lot of attention. I think we should be suspicious of thinking ‘let bad arguments persist because criticizing them would be bad’.

I lean towards disagreeing with your claim that it’s net negative overall to point out that inaccuracy but caveat that I’m not certain of how confident I should be in that position.

One reason I think there are positives is that there are indeed cases in which allegations don’t hold up, and innocent people get hurt (note I’m not saying that this necessarily applies to this case, and from what I can tell it seems to constitute a low percentage of cases). It makes sense to consider the interests of those accused but innocent, in addition to the interests of sexual harassment victims and potential victims.

I think ensuring we aren’t overzealous requires us to uphold certain norms, even when it’s challenging to do so socially. For context, I’m not in the Anglosphere at the moment - but I do see some trends there involving strong emotions and accompanying criticisms that do worry me, and I don’t think this community should be overly concerned with potential criticism so as to not speak up to uphold those norms.

I had to make several comments following up on the misleading statement because John didn’t deliver on the statement, nor take note and rephrase his writing to be less misleading. Unfortunately, he still hasn’t done so.

is that it brings about an element of questioning

On how I’ve phrased a possible rephrasing (and the updated possible rephrasing in the edited part of the comment) of John’s statement, to reduce the misleadingness, I wasn’t as aware as you were of your concerns and didn’t know it has risks of making people feel questioned/not taken seriously when I wrote that. Your concerns make sense and I’ll keep them in mind. But I also haven’t made up my mind on the extent to which it’s important to be mindful of how I should present what I consider truthful statements (i.e. we are the ones deciding on what to make of the available evidence - so we are in fact the ones who 'consider' whether it constitutes sexual harassment) - in order to reduce the risk of such feelings.

I think the fact that you also said "I think I haven't had enough time to make a judgment myself." adds to this... To not update towards this after even a short consideration...

I think we have different understandings of the term ‘judgment’ here. In this quite serious context (which sometimes involves the law), I take ‘judgment’ to mean much more (as in 'pass judgment') than updating beliefs. I didn’t say that the evidence didn’t update my views (actually I think it’ll be absurd if it didn’t), nor did I imply that the views of one accused ‘deserves equal or greater weight’ than the testimony of multiple accusers (as Khorton wrote). That multiple people have made complaints should indeed update us towards thinking that sexual harassment happened.

But again, I take ‘judgment’ to mean much more than ‘updating’. When I said that “I think I haven't had enough time to make a judgment myself”, I meant there wasn’t enough time to make a solid conclusion about these especially troubling allegations (edit: time isn't the only thing you need - it also depends on whether there's sufficient information to analyze). This might not be the approach some people take, but there are huge personal costs at stake for the parties involved, and I don’t want to condemn anyone so quickly. Also, realize that I wrote that “I think I haven't had enough time to make a judgment myself” within one day of learning of the allegations. I think it's reasonable to be cautious of confidence.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to comment much more. I’m a slow writer and I’m exhausted from having to follow up so much. I only wanted to make that point about John’s comment and get him to follow better practices - but that’s been unsuccessful. I hope our future interactions could be under better circumstances.

Honestly, I'm new - I only just became aware of all this. I think I haven't had enough time to make a judgment myself.

But what I do know is that John's initial claim that Jacy 'admitted to several instances of sexual harassment' seemed misleading, and I decided to point that out because there was a lack of people who did so, which seems harmful to community norms.

Note: Some of the replies below conflate the more stringent notion of 'judgment' that I'm referring to, with a less stringent notion of 'update'. The evidence should certainly update us, but there is a higher bar for judgments. 

Then I think it'd be more accurate if you write 'he admitted to several instances of what I consider to be sexual harassment'. 

At the moment, your claim that 'he admitted to several instances of sexual harassment' seems very misleading. You haven't provided evidence that supports the claim that he confessed to committing such crimes.

EDIT: I'm approaching this issue with much less lived experience than some of the other commenters here. There appear to be more individuals than just John who are confident in the allegations, so perhaps 'what [John considers] to be sexual harassment' is not enough, and instead 'what [X, Y and so on...] consider to be sexual harassment' is better. (From what I can tell, the apology post also features some comments that push back on that confidence, to varying extents, and it may be worth mentioning that too. I'm not following this issue extensively and I don't know if there have been any updates since that post.) I still think John's comment, as it stands, ('he admitted to several instances of sexual harassment') is misleading and harmful to community norms. I think people should point out bad epistemics despite possible social pressures to do otherwise.

1 - CEA says that the complaints relate to inappropriate behaviour in the sexual realm which they found 'credible and concerning' and which he pretends to apologise for in the apology post, presumably to avoid a legal battle

I still don't see where 'he admitted to several instances of sexual harassment' as you've claimed.

Could you

  1.  Quote where in the linked text or elsewhere 'he admitted to several instances of sexual harassment'?
  2. As someone asked in another comment, 'provide links or specific quotes regarding his claim of being a founder of EA?'

Do you have any sense of exactly how unlikely it is that bivalves suffer?

Brian Tomasik wrote this analysis of bivalve suffering. I think it offers some good reasons not to conclude that it's super unlikely.

It might be that how much weight/likelihood to place on bivalve suffering is ultimately quite subjective though (e.g., I think I would place more weight on it than as expressed in the article because of different intuitions about how much different processes matter as evidence of suffering).

To add to the other comment, (to my knowledge) Brian Tomasik coined the terms s-risks and suffering-focused ethics, established foundational research into the problem of wild animal suffering, and had a part in co-founding two existing organizations that have a strong focus on reducing s-risks, i.e. the Center on Long-Term Risk (CLR) and the Center for Reducing Suffering (CRS).

Suffering-focused ethics refers to a broad set of moral views focused on preventing suffering (e.g. some Buddhist ethics might fall under this category). 

While Brian Tomasik's writings are written from a "suffering-focused perspective", most of them are in the form of in-depth analyses relevant to how to reduce suffering, rather than ethical theory - which makes the work possibly relevant even if someone isn't as suffering-focused as he is but has at least some concern for suffering. For the moral views themselves another researcher, Magnus Vinding, has written a book on suffering-focused ethics.

None of the researchers/research organizations I mention above endorse bringing about human extinction. In general, how to best reduce suffering is (rightfully, in my view) seen as quite complex in this community (as another comment hinted at).

I agree there should be more reflection (moral or factual) into the assumption that we should prioritize preventing human extinction. :)

That being said, we should emphasize that some of the risk factors for extinction also seem to be risk factors for more suffering and s-risks - which suggests that negative utilitarians as well as s-risk reducers wouldn't support shifting focus away from those dealing with those risk factors - unless there are better opportunities for impact. Examples of these risk factors include more conflict, polarization and the unsafe development of AI, especially without concern for cooperative aspects to prevent potential conflict between different AI or their operators.

Of course, this might not apply to all risk factors of extinction. Still, s-risk reducers and suffering reducers might think that it's bad to (intentionally or otherwise) act in a way that results in people trying to bring it about (see https://www.utilitarianism.com/nu/nufaq.html#3.2 ) which might raise the question of precisely how much emphasis to put on this as a community.

More considerations include whether other civilizations exist (e.g. aliens), and if so, how many. This also makes it unclear what antinatalism suggests. If the focus is on fewer births then we need to find out whether human civilization would increase or decrease the total number of births in the future compared to alternative scenarios where, e.g., aliens own the resources humans would have owned.

Also remember that an existential risk (x-risk) is a "risk of an existential catastrophe, i.e. one that threatens the destruction of humanity’s longterm potential". This means existential risks aren't the same as extinction risks. S-risks that destroy humanity's longterm potential are also x-risks.

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