zdgroff comments on In defence of epistemic modesty - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: zdgroff 01 November 2017 11:09:37PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for writing this–as basically everyone else has said, it's really beautifully written.

I share others' (cf. Claire Zabel's comment) gratitude for the distinction you make between publicly reporting one's inside view while privately acting on one's outside view. This seems to raise a serious question about what is public and what is private. For instance, donation decisions may seem like a very private decision (unless declared publicly), but as an organization starts to grow, people will interpret that as a signal of people's views, which can lead to double-counting. I think this is actually something worth worrying about: while I think the most vocal EAs lean too far toward immodesty in expression of attitudes, EAs writ large do seem to act to a serious degree based on others' actions (at least in animal advocacy). The methodological individualism of economics and other fields that guide EAs may cause people to systematically overestimate how private certain decisions are.

Another worry I have is that people may systematically confuse expert consensus as having a wider scope for the following reason: experts who study Y may pronounce an opinion not on Y but on 'Y given X' even though they have not studied X. Economists, for instance, will often make explicit or just-shy-of-explicit claims about whether a policy is good or not, but the goodness of policies typically depends on empirical facts that most economists are equipped to consider and normative claims that economists may not be equipped to consider. It strikes me that we need to have a fine scalpel to see that we should accept economists' consensus on the direction and magnitude of policies' effects but look to political philosophers or ethicists for judgments of those effects.