TruePath comments on High Time For Drug Policy Reform. Part 4/4: Estimating Cost-Effectiveness vs Other Causes; What EA Should Do Next - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: TruePath 29 August 2017 06:59:00AM *  0 points [-]

I'm a huge supporter of drug policy reform and try to advocate it as much as I can in my personal life. Originally, I was going to post here suggesting we need a better breakdown of particular issues which are particularly ripe for policy reform (say reforming how drug weights are calculated) and the relative effectiveness of various interventions (lobbying, ads, lectures etc..).

However, on reflection I think there might be good reasons not to get involved in this project.

Probably the biggest problem for both EA and drug policy reform is the perception that the people involved are just a bunch of weirdos (we're emotionally stunted nerds and they are a bunch of stoners). This perception reduces donations to EA causes (you don't get the same status boost if its weird) and stops people from listening to the arguments of people in dpr.

If EA is seen as being a big supporter of DPR efforts this risks making the situation worse for both groups. I can just imagine an average lesswrong contributor being interviewed on TV as to why he supports dpr and when the reporter asks him how this affects him personally he starts enthusiastically explaining his use of nootropics and the public dismisses the whole thing as just weird druggies trying to make it legal to get high. This doesn't mean those of us who believe in EA can't quietly donate to dpr organizations but it probably does prevent us from doing what EA does best, determining the particular interventions that work best at a fine grained level and doing that.

This makes me skeptical this is a particularly good place to intervene. If we are going to work in policy change at all we should pick an area where we can push for very particular effective issues without the risk of backlash (to both us and dpr organiations).

Comment author: ChristianKleineidam 29 August 2017 10:07:29AM 0 points [-]

I don't think the average nootropics user would appear to have a goal of getting a legal high in a television broadcast.

It's more interesting for a journalist to tell a story about a computer programmer who takes LSD to help him with a difficult programming problem on which he worked for months without a satisfying answer than to tell a story about the computer programmer wanting to get high with LSD.

The story about how nerds in Silicon Valley do everything to enchance their performance is more interesting than the story about a random person taking drugs.

More generally EA is also full of weird causes as Scott Alexander describes very well in his blog post about EA Global.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 29 August 2017 09:39:22AM 0 points [-]

You could have written the same thing 2 years ago replacing "drug policy reform" with "artificial intelligence" and made exactly the same argument: "AI is weird, it will damage EA, imagine interviewing an AI nerd like Elon Musk on tv, etc". Except lots of people now take AI seriously, it's received lots of public money and attention and lots is getting done.This is presumably because the arguments for AI were strong.

You seem to be presenting me with a Morton's Fork (a false dilemma caused by contradictory observations reaching the same conclusons): "if X is seen as weird, don't work on it. If X is not seen as weird, then it can't be neglected so there's no point working on it either." This can't be right, because it would rule out every cause.

I think the role EA fills in the world is exactly finding the important problems in the world others are ignoring, perhaps because those problems seem to weird, and then argue they are worth taking seriously. Notice there's something odd about saying "I've become convinced the arguments for X are very strong, but no one else will be convinced so let's abandon cause X". If you found argument for X persuasive, others probably will too and X is well worth working on. Clearly, we should avoid arguing for weird causes that would do no good. I didn't think DPR was important, now I think it's very substantial.

More generally, I think concerns about reputation and backlash our overstated (#spotlight effect), but I'd be open to someone showing me evidence to the contrary.