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Ben_Todd comments on Contra the Giving What We Can pledge - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Ben_Todd 06 December 2016 12:35:08AM 5 points [-]

Thanks for moving this post to here rather than FB. I think it's a good discussion, however, I wanted to flag:

None of these criticisms are new to me. I think all of them have been discussed in some depth within CEA.

This makes me wonder if the problem is actually a failure of communication. Unfortunately, issues like this are costly to communicate outside of the organisation, and it often doesn't seem like the best use of time, but maybe that's wrong.

Given this, I think it also makes sense to run critical posts past the organisation concerned before posting. They might have already dealt with the issue, or have plans to do so, in which posting the criticism is significantly less valuable (because it incurs similar costs to the org but with fewer benefits). It also helps the community avoid re-treading the same ground.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 20 December 2016 03:00:02AM *  2 points [-]

I assume this discussion is mostly aimed at people outside of CEA who are considering whether to take and help promote the pledge. I think there are many basic points which those people should probably understand but which CEA (understandably) isn't keen to talk about, and it is reasonable for people outside of CEA to talk about them instead.

I expect this discussion wasn't worth the time at any rate, but it seems like sharing it with CEA isn't really going to save time on net.

Comment author: mmKALLL 06 December 2016 01:13:20AM 2 points [-]

Why are issues like these costly to communicate outside of CEA, and why don't they seem like the best use of time? I'm not sure about what amount of interest is there for something like that, but I would imagine that this could sharply reduce the amount of investigating people outside of these organizations need to do, allowing them to use their time better as well.

Do you know whether there have there been any serious efforts to gauge the usefulness and cost of better communication?

Comment author: Ben_Todd 06 December 2016 04:42:28AM *  4 points [-]

Topics like this are sensitive and complex, so it can take a long time to write them up well. It's easy to get misunderstood or make the organisation look bad.

At the same time, the benefits might be slight, because (i) it doesn't directly contribute to growth (if users have common questions, then add them to the FAQ and other intro materials) or (ii) fundraising (if donors have questions, speak to them directly).

Remember that GWWC is getting almost 100 pledges per month atm, and very few come from places like this forum. More broadly, there's a huge number of pressing priorities. There's lots of other issues GWWC could write about but hasn't had time to as well.

If you're wondering whether GWWC has thought about these kinds of questions, you can also just ask them. They'll probably respond, and if they get a lot of requests to answer the same thing, they'll probably write about it publicly.

With figuring out strategy (e.g. whether to spend more time on communication with the EA community or something else) GWWC writes fairly lengthy public reviews every 6-12 months.

Comment author: Benquo 15 December 2016 12:28:53AM 2 points [-]

Ben_Todd, it seems to me like you're saying both these things:

  • GWWC is very busy and can’t reasonably be expected to write up all or most of the important considerations around things like whether or not to take the GWWC Pledge.

  • Considerations around the pledge are in GWWC's domain, & sensitive, so people should check in with GWWC privately before discussing them publicly, and failing to do so is harmful in expectation.

I'm having a hard time reconciling these. In particular, it seems like if you make both these claims, you're basically saying that EAs shouldn't publicly criticize the pledge without GWWC's permission because that undercuts GWWC's goals. That seems very surprising to me. Am I misunderstanding you?

Comment author: Ben_Todd 24 December 2016 05:10:00PM 2 points [-]

I feel like you're straw manning my position.

For instance, this:

If you're wondering whether GWWC has thought about these kinds of questions, you can also just ask them. They'll probably respond, and if they get a lot of requests to answer the same thing, they'll probably write about it publicly.

Does not mean:

EAs shouldn't publicly criticize the pledge without GWWC's permission

Comment author: BenHoffman 11 January 2017 06:07:06AM *  0 points [-]

Do you disagree with the first bullet point? Or do you disagree with the second? Or do you disagree that they jointly imply something like the bit you quoted?

Comment author: Ben_Todd 11 January 2017 12:43:20PM 0 points [-]

I disagree with several parts. Most importantly, I don't think criticising GWWC publicly is harmful in expectation, just that it has costs, so is sometimes harmful.

Second, I think a policy of discussing criticisms with GWWC before making them public reduces these harms, so is a reasonable policy for people to consider. But, I'm not saying you need GWWC's permission to post criticism.

Comment author: BenHoffman 11 January 2017 08:22:39PM *  0 points [-]

That's good to hear. But I didn't think you were saying that criticism is generally harmful - I thought you were saying that failing to check in with GWWC first is harmful in expectation. If so, I'm curious what the most important scenarios are in which it could cause harm to start this sort of conversation in public rather than in private. If not, when do you think this advice does help?

It additionally seemed like you thought that this advice should be applied, not just to criticism of GWWC's own conduct, but to criticism of the idea of the pledge itself - which is already public, and not entirely specific to GWWC, as organizations like The Life You Can Save and REG promote similar pledges. I got this impression because Alyssa's post is limited to discussion of the public pledge itself.

Comment author: Linch 11 January 2017 09:48:12PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: Ben H's comment below convincingly illustrated that I misunderstood him. I apologize for contributing to any misinformation.

EDIT 2: Looking upwards of the comment chain, I think this is a very reasonable reading of Benquo's comment:

"I'm having a hard time reconciling these. In particular, it seems like if you make both these claims, you're basically saying that EAs shouldn't publicly criticize the pledge without GWWC's permission because that undercuts GWWC's goals. That seems very surprising to me. Am I misunderstanding you?"

I think my mistake is that in haste, I confused the different Bens with similar (but far from identical) opinions and formed an inaccurate model.

Original post:

Reposted from FB, I apologize if the language here is less polished than desired.

1) It's a common courtesy for journalists (and GiveWell) to message the organizations they're writing about for a response.

2) Sometimes said organizations are too busy, etc. to respond to said criticisms.

3) Ben Todd suggested that we have this norm in EA as well.

4) My interpretation of 1)+2) means you give people a chance to respond/comment to your criticism before airing it, especially if there are contexts that are missing.

5) Most others have taken 1), 2) and 3) to necessarily imply that orgs should have the right to waive criticism before they appear on air.

I believe 5) is incorrect because it is very different from the base cases I am aware of (GiveWell asks charities to comment before publishing their charity reports, journalists asking for a comment from people they write about).

Why are people taking 5) as the default interpretation here?

Comment author: BenHoffman 12 January 2017 06:58:34AM *  1 point [-]

I don't think that Ben Todd is proposing (5). I think he's proposing (4), and that this proposed norm would effectively be a tax on criticism. Taxes aren't as costly as bans, and can be good if they pay for something good enough, but in this case I don't think it's worth it.

In particular, applying journalistic standards to criticism of, but not praise of, EA orgs' behavior seems like a weird position to take if what you're interested in is improving the quality of public information.

Comment author: BenHoffman 12 January 2017 09:44:05AM *  0 points [-]

For what it's worth, your comment helped me clarify my position, and I wish I'd been able to express myself that clearly earlier.

Also, somewhat embarrassingly, I am also Benquo (I think I accidentally signed up once via mobile, forgot, and signed up again via desktop.) Hopefully I'll remember to just use this login going forward.

Comment author: mmKALLL 06 January 2017 05:45:39AM *  0 points [-]

Upon revisiting this post and the comments it has garnered, I found myself wondering about another thing I'd like to ask from you:

How would one go about getting involved with the work of CEA or, say, 80,000 Hours? What kinds of skill sets would be essential for having a high impact while doing such meta work? Do you consider the potential impact for doing meta work to be higher than when earning to give?

Also, thanks for the detailed responses so far! I can see why it's not reasonable to place writing on topics like these on high priority, but it doesn't exactly give a sense of transparency either. Not that I would know how important or effective giving a sense of transparency would be, though.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 06 December 2016 01:40:38AM 1 point [-]

Do you mean it would save them time deciding whether to take the pledge given the pros and cons, or deciding what they think of Giving What We Can or CEA's strategy?