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Jay_Shooster comments on Two Easy Ways to Help Each Other - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Maxdalton 13 April 2017 04:15:40PM *  21 points [-]

[My views, not my employer's]

I appreciate the spirit in which this was written, and I think we should all be looking out for more ways to help each other, especially in ways that directly improve skills - e.g. through the advice and mentorship you generously offer.

However, some of this feels a little deceptive to me. If people see 'speaking at a top law school' as impressive, that's probably because they think that I was invited because I'm a great speaker/have expertise that lots of people in the law school value. If in fact I was invited just because I was involved in effective altruism, and I only gave a 10 minute talk, I might be giving someone a misleading impression of my talents. Similarly, people might think that receiving the award you describe would require a higher bar of achievement than the one you suggest.

I'm probably overreacting here - this is the sort of thing that people do on CVs all of the time, and so perhaps people automatically downgrade such claims on CVs. However, I think that it's valuable for our internal culture, and for the community's reputation, to hold ourselves to high standards, and I think this article would have been better if it had noted these issues. I'm not sure whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

Comment author: Jay_Shooster 13 April 2017 09:30:31PM *  6 points [-]

"I think this article would have been better if it had noted these issues."

Yes, it would have! Very glad you raised them. This is part of what I had in mind when mentioning "reputational risk" but I'm glad you fleshed it out more fully.

That being said, I think there is a low cost way to reap the benefits I'm talking about with integrity. Perhaps we have different standards/expectations of what's misleading on a resume, and what kind of achievements should be required for certain accolades. Maybe a 20 min presentation that required a short application should be required before doing this. I don't know. But I find it hard to believe that we couldn't be much more generous with bestowing accolades to dedicated members of the community without engaging in deception.

Maybe I can try to restate this in a way that would seem less deceptive...

I genuinely believe that there are tons of deserving candidates for accolades and speaking engagements in our community. I think that we can do more to provide opportunities for these people at a very low cost. I hope to help organize an event like this in NYC. I probably wouldn't leave it open to just anyone to participate, but I would guess (from my experience with the NYC community) that few people would volunteer to speak who didn't have an interesting and informed perspective to share in a 15 minute presentation. Perhaps, I have an overly positive impression of the EA community though.

(ps. I think your response is a model of polite and constructive criticism. thanks for that!)

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 13 April 2017 10:36:50PM 4 points [-]

I agree it's possible to do these things without being misleading (e.g. give awards to those who deserve them, and put forward good speakers).

I suspect society adapts to ensure 'no free positive signals' (something like a social equivalent of conservation of energy). Imagine that you did put forward a lousy speaker (not that you were advocating doing this). If it's easy to put on events like this in such a way that nobody involved suffers a reputation hit (e.g. nobody attends and the organisation putting on the event couldn't care less that you put forward a bad speaker), then I bet the line 'gave a talk at a law school' won't actually be that useful on a CV. Or it will quickly become devalued by people who read CVs as they cotton on to what's going on.

While at any point in time there are some misleading signals you can grab that haven't yet been devalued, it's probably more efficient (and more enduring) to gain real skills and translate them into credible signals.

But your post is most charitably read as saying 'giving good speakers opportunities to perform', and 'reward people who have done virtuous things'.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 13 April 2017 11:20:47PM 2 points [-]

I'm optimistic about this and think it's potentially a good idea.

EA is potentially unusual (unique?) in having a network of smart people distributed across good universities with the goodwill to help each other. I think EA is sufficiently new and lacking lots of professionals - compared to say, law - that there's probably low hanging fruit to research and talk about. I mean, Oxford has the Prioritisation Project and that's largely undergrads. I don't mean that to demean them; quite the opposite, I think they're doing valuable work and it indicates how much there is to be done which can also be done credibly.

FWIW, I think 'awards from EA clubs' will look strange to non-EA employers who won't understand it, and not obviously meaningful/credible to EA employers. But I'm prepared to be proved wrong and would like to see the idea fleshed out more.

I also think having EAs do research and gives talk to each other is valuable even if it doesn't go on anyone's CV.

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 13 April 2017 11:24:20PM *  0 points [-]

I genuinely believe that there are tons of deserving candidates for accolades and speaking engagements in our community.

That's probably true, but I don't think it follows that the suggested strategy is unproblematic.

I guess the most plausible argument against your suggested strategy rests on the premise that there are tons of deserving candidates outside of our community as well, and that we have no reason to believe that EAs are, at present, on average under-credited. If that is right, then the aggregate effect of us systematically choosing EAs over non-EAs could, at least theoretically, be that EAs on average got more credit for their efforts than non-EAs.

I don't know how strong this effect would be, but I do think that this counter-argument should be addressed.