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vipulnaik comments on Why & How to Make Progress on Diversity & Inclusion in EA - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: vipulnaik 27 October 2017 12:16:19AM *  16 points [-]

I find it interesting that most of the examples given in the article conform to mainstream, politically correct opinion about who is and isn't overrepresented. A pretty similar article could be written about e.g. math graduate students with almost the exact list of overrepresented and underrepresented groups. In that sense it doesn't seem to get to the core of what unique blind spots or expansion problems EA might have.

An alternate perspective would be to look at minorities, subgroups, and geographical patterns that are way overrepresented in EAs relative to the world population, or even, say, the US population; this could help triangulate to blind spots in EA or ways that make it difficult for EA to connect with broader populations. A few things stand out.

Of these, I know at least (1) and (2) have put off people or been major points of concern.

(1) Heavy clustering in the San Francisco Bay Area and a few other population centers, excluding large numbers of people from being able to participate in EA while feeling a meaningful sense of in-person community. It doesn't help that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most notoriously expensive in the world, and also located in a country (the United States) that is hard for most people to enter and live in.

(2) Overrepresentation of "poly" sexual orientations and behaviors relative to larger populations -- so that even those who aren't poly have trouble getting along in EA if they don't like rubbing shoulders with poly folks.

(3) Large proportion of people of Jewish descent. I don't think there's any problem with this, but some people might argue that this makes the ethics of EA heavily influenced by traditional Jewish ethical approaches, to the exclusion of other religious and ethical traditions. [This isn't just a reflection of greater success of people of Jewish descent; I think EAs are overrepresented among Jews even after education and income controls].

(4) Overrepresentation of vegetarians and vegans. I'm not complaining, but others might argue that this reduces EAs' ability to connect with the culinary habits and food-related traditions of a lot of cultures.

Comment author: Lila 27 October 2017 12:31:06AM 10 points [-]

I can see 1-3 being problems to some extent (and I don't think Kelly would disagree)... but "overrepresentation of vegetarians and vegans"?? You might as well complain about an overrepresentation of people who donate to charity.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 01:54:20AM 0 points [-]

I find it interesting that most of the examples given in the article conform to mainstream, politically correct opinion about who is and isn't overrepresented

I think about this a different way. I think it weird, given there's so much mainstream discussion of inclusion, that it hasn't seemed to penetrate into EA. That makes EA the odd one out. Hence it might be good to identify the generic blindspots, even if we haven't yet honed in on EA specific ones.

I think you're approach of looking for over-represented people is interested and promising. What I find surprising is that you didn't zone in on the most obvious one, which is that EA is really heavily weighed with philosophers and maths-y types, such as software engineers.

Comment author: vipulnaik 27 October 2017 02:16:59AM *  3 points [-]

I tried to avoid things that have already been discussed heavily and publicly in the community, and I think the math/philosopher angle is one that is often mentioned in the context of EA not being diverse enough. The post itself notes:

"""people who are both that and young, white, cis-male, upper middle class, from men-dominated fields, technology-focused, status-driven, with a propensity for chest-beating, overconfidence, narrow-picture thinking/micro-optimization, and discomfort with emotions."""

This also mentioned in the post by Alexander Gordon-Brown that Kelly links to: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ek/ea_diversity_unpacking_pandoras_box/

"""EA is heavy on mathematicians, programmers, economists and philosophers. Those groups can get a lot done, but they can't get everything done. If we want to grow, I think we could do with more PR types. Because we're largely web-based, people who understand how to make things visually appealing also seem valuable. My personal experience in London is that we would love more organisers, though I can imagine this varying by location."""

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:29:09AM 2 points [-]

I'm really not sure why my comment was so heavily downvoted without explanation. I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea. Assuming that is what I've been downvoted for, that makes me feel disappointed in the online EA community and increases my belief this is a problem.

I tried to avoid things that have already been discussed heavily and publicly in the community

I think this may be part of the problem in this context. Some EAs seem to take the attitude (i'm exaggerating a bit for effect) that if there was a post on the internet about it once, it's been discussed. This itself is pretty unwelcoming and exclusive, and it penalises people who haven't been in the community for multiple or haven't spend many hours reading around internet posts. My subjective view is that this topic is under-discussed relative to how much I feel it should be discussed.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 27 October 2017 04:40:06PM *  15 points [-]

"I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea."

This is a misreading. I'm almost sure you were downvoted because readers perceived this to be the reverse of the truth: "I think it weird, given there's so much mainstream discussion of inclusion, that it hasn't seemed to penetrate into EA."

It's a topic that has been discussed intensely, frequently and continuously in EA since its inception, both online and off. If someone had asked me to compile a list of the all-time most-discussed topics in EA, this would be near the top. That's not to say we shouldn't continue discussing it here of course and I appreciate Kelly's quite comprehensive list of the possible ways we could try to increase diversity in the community.

Comment author: vipulnaik 27 October 2017 02:02:08PM 7 points [-]

I'm not sure why you brought up the downvoting in your reply to my reply to your comment, rather than replying directly to the downvoted comment. To be clear, though, I did not downvote the comment, ask others to downvote the comment, or hear from others saying they had downvoted the comment.

Also, I could (and should) have been clearer that I was focusing only on points that I didn't see covered in the post, rather than providing an exhaustive list of points. I generally try to comment with marginal value-add rather than reiterating things already mentioned in the post, which I think is sound, but for others who don't know I'm doing that, it can be misleading. Thank you for making me notice that.

Also:

I think this may be part of the problem in this context. Some EAs seem to take the attitude (i'm exaggerating a bit for effect) that if there was a post on the internet about it once, it's been discussed.

In my case, I was basing it on stuff explicitly, directly mentioned in the post on which I am commenting, and a prominently linked post. This isn't "there was a post on the internet about it once" this is more like "it is mentioned right here, in this post". So I don't think my comment is an example of this problem you highlight.

Speaking to the general problem you claim happens, I think it is a reasonable concern. I don't generally endorse expecting people to have intricate knowledge of years' worth of community material. People who cite previous discussions should generally try to link as specifically as possible to them, so that others can easily know what they're talking about without having had a full map of past discussions.

But imo it's also bad to bring up points as if they are brand new, when they have already been discussed before, and especially when others in the discussion have already explicitly linked to past discussions of those points.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 28 October 2017 12:51:31AM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure why you brought up the downvoting in your reply to my reply to your comment

Sorry. That was a user error.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 28 October 2017 12:54:40AM *  6 points [-]

So many different boxes to reply to! I'll do one reply for everything here.

My main reflection is that either 1. I really haven't personally had much discussion of inclusivity in my time in the EA movement (and this may just be an outlier/coincidence) or 2. I'm just much more receptive to this sort of chat than the average EA. I live among Oxford students and this probably gives me a different reference point (e.g. people do sometimes introduce themselves with their pronouns here). I forget how disconcertingly social justice-y I found the University when I first moved here.

Either way, the effect is I really haven't felt like I've had too many discussion in EA about diversity. It's not like it's my favourite topic or anything.

Comment author: hollymorgan 28 October 2017 02:56:17PM 2 points [-]

FWIW, I read your comments as a useful data point ("Huh. Here's someone who's been pretty involved in EA for a year or two [not certain that's accurate] and hasn't come across many discussions of diversity/inclusion.")

Comment author: AGB 29 October 2017 03:14:11PM 0 points [-]

Either way, the effect is I really haven't felt like I've had too many discussion in EA about diversity. It's not like it's my favourite topic or anything.

It's extremely hard to generalize here because different geographies have such different stories to tell, but my personal take is that the level of (public) discussion about diversity within EA has dipped somewhat over time.

When I wrote the Pandora's Box 2.5 years ago, I remember being sincerely worried that low-quality discussion of the issue would swamp a lot of good things that EA was accomplishing, and I wanted build some consensus before that got out of hand. I can't really imagine feeling that way now.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 27 October 2017 05:55:26PM 6 points [-]

I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea. Assuming that is what I've been downvoted for, that makes me feel disappointed in the online EA community and increases my belief this is a problem.

This seems like a lot to infer from some downvotes.

FWIW I didn't downvote your comment but it annoyed me. It was this:

I think it weird, given there's so much mainstream discussion of inclusion, that it hasn't seemed to penetrate into EA.

I feel like I've seen quite a lot of discussion of diversity in EA, and I don't think it's been overly unsophisticated. This comment therefore feels frustrating, like the "why doesn't EA talk about systemic change?" comments. I would guess this is a common feeling, given the positive response to http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1g3/why_how_to_make_progress_on_diversity_inclusion/c7n . That might explain the downvotes. On the other hand, this

My subjective view is that this topic is under-discussed relative to how much I feel it should be discussed.

feels much more positive to me. Okay, Michael Plant thinks we need to have a lot of discussion about this for some reason. Fair enough.

Comment author: casebash 27 October 2017 11:17:16AM *  1 point [-]

Hmm, I am surprised that people downvoted it so much as well. Perhaps people thought that the comment was naive, ie. that even if you were in favour of taking some diversity measures, we shouldn't do it just because everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon.

I suspect that you would have received a more positive response if you'd written something more measured like: "The fact that so many other groups have decided to implement diversity measures provides some degree of Bayesian evidence that it is a good idea"

Comment author: thebestwecan 27 October 2017 01:20:53PM *  0 points [-]

I wouldn't concern yourself much with downvotes on this forum. People use downvotes for a lot more than the useful/not useful distinction they're designed for (most common other reason is to just signal against views they disagree with when they see an opening). I was recently talking to someone about what big improvements I'd like to see in the EA community's online discussion norms, and honestly if I could either remove bad comment behavior or remove bad liking/voting behavior, it'd actually be the latter.

To put it another way, though I'm still not sure exactly how to explain this, I think no downvotes and one thoughtful comment explaining why your comment is wrong (and no upvotes on that comment) should do more to change your mind than a large number of downvotes on your comment.

I'm really still in favor of just removing downvotes from this forum, since this issue has been so persistent over the years. I think there would be downsides, but the hostile/groupthink/dogpiling environment that the downvoting behavior facilitates is just really really terrible.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 27 October 2017 05:26:35PM 2 points [-]

I previously defended keeping down-votes, I confess I'm not so sure now.

A fairly common trait is people conflate some viewpoint independent metric of 'quality' with 'whether I like this person of the view they espouse'. I'm sure most users have voting patterns that line up with these predictors pretty strongly, although there is some residual signal from quality: I imagine a view where one has a pretty low threshold for upvoting stuff sympathetic to ones view, and a very high one for upvoting non-sympathetic, and vice versa for downvotes.

I'm not sure how the dynamic changes if you get rid of downvotes though. Assuredly there's a similar effect where people just refrain to upvote your stuff and slavishly upvote your opponents. There probably is some value in 'nuking' really low quality remarks to save everyone time. Unsure.

Comment author: thebestwecan 28 October 2017 02:18:19PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I'm totally onboard with all of that, including the uncertainty.

My view on downvoting is less that we need to remove it, and more that the status quo is terrible and we should be trying really hard to fix it.