DavidMoss comments on Why not to rush to translate effective altruism into other languages - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 06 March 2018 12:31:41AM 13 points [-]

Most of the arguments here seem to be more about not rushing into conducting mass (media) outreach in foreign cultures, rather than about not rushing to translate materials.

Regarding the arguments which do concern translation:

Argument #3 (existing English materials are out of date) concerns translation, but doesn't seem an argument against translation tout court, but only against translating Doing Good Better (if we suppose this is dangerously out-dated). From #3 we might instead conclude that we need to hurry to produce new English materials, since DGB is still influencing English-speakers, and then ensure these new materials are translated for foreign readers, lest they too be corrupted by the impression given by DGB. Alternatively we might think that we should generally hold off on any kind of popularisation, in order that we can wait to popularise a superior later version of EA (but then this is just another argument against mass outreach in general).

Argument #2 (translation is very difficult) seems strong when applied to China but, as you acknowledge, less compelling when applied to closer languages/cultures like French/German. This is an important qualification, since it seems plausible that most (or almost all) active non-English-speaking EA groups fall a lot closer to France/Germany than they do to China, and EAs may reasonably disagree about whether on balance producing translations in the contexts.

The end of your post proposes an alternative to mass media outreach, the alternative 'small group, close connections' model seems very compatible with using/needing translation work, of at least a few up to date texts.

You do state in that section that you favour EA-inspired new texts being created in those new contexts, rather than translations, it seems like fidelity considerations may push in the opposite direction. If you are concerned with the fidelity of EA ideas (so much so that you think Doing Good Better, translated, might be too off-message), then it might be better to ensure that some translated EA materials are accessible to new groups rather than having people around the world try to create EA-inspired approaches.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 March 2018 04:56:55PM 2 points [-]

I've tried to initiate translation projects for EA into non-English languages in the past. I was looking for EAs who were (close to) fluent in a language and local to where outreach would take place. This was a couple years ago. So, the local EA communities outside the English-speaking world were new, small and didn't have enough people to start up their own translation project. Given the arguments in Ben's post, I don't think necessarily much was lost in not having capitalized on the opportunity to translate EA content into other languages as well.

The most successful case of translation of EA content, and moreover, the generation of brand new EA content, outside of English is in Germany. This was started by EAs who were native speakers of German, and the work of their EA Foundation (EAF). Depending on how much one thinks their circumstances could generalize, it might be best for the movement to work with local groups which successfully develop over a few years to generate new content in other languages. This content could be specialized in its messaging to the culture.

Comment author: vollmer  (EA Profile) 10 March 2018 03:51:02PM *  9 points [-]

Based on EAF's experience in Germany and Switzerland, I strongly agree with Ben's main points in the post. In the early days we made several mistakes that could have been prevented fairly easily. In particular, it seems hard to correct the perception that EA is not just about donating (to GiveWell top charities). It also remains very difficult to counter the impression that EA is mainly the practical implementation of Singer's views; e.g. Singer's views on infanticide get quoted in many media articles about EA.

Some of the challenges that might have led to this:

  • DGB and Singer's EA book were translated to German, but much of the more advanced content is only available in English.
  • Quickly translating English content is easy. However, it takes much more time to ensure high quality both in terms of language and framings/nuance, and it's even more challenging to keep these translations up to date. See the "fidelity model" blog post referenced above for more discussion of this.
  • The media frequently interview members of the community. Community members are more or less up to date with recent EA publications and would explain EA well, but the media very proactively ask about charitable donations and related issues. It takes a lot of active effort and experience with media interviews to counter this pigeonholing, which is hard to do without much practice. I personally find it pretty hard to give good guidance on this.

So as a conclusion, I think the expansion to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria could have gone much better still, and while I agree it could be the deemed most successful case of translation of EA content, I think it was worse than what we should be aiming for.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 10 March 2018 06:42:03PM 1 point [-]

That's really great feedback. Thanks.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 07 March 2018 10:36:12PM 3 points [-]

Hey David,

I'm not able to fully respond, but a few quick comments which might help to clarify:

I agree I'm combining mass media and translation somewhat. In principle, someone could propose spending translating lots of materials but not sharing them widely, but in practice people don't. Rather, the options are more like (i) translate existing materials into the new language and share widely, or (ii) speak to people in small groups.

I'm arguing in favour of (ii) initially. But then like I say near the end of the post, you'd then start to work on translating materials on the side. The aim is that we'll end up with much better translations if we do lots of in-person outreach first, work on the translations iteratively, and first build up a base of people who really understand both EA and the local language and culture.

(Whereas instead people often move directly to ideas like translating DGB and releasing, or creating an EA website in the local country with lots of content on it).

I think "lock in" might also be pretty significant. DGB creates less problems in English since we've already been locked into those misconceptions about EA. But in countries where there are no existing materials, we want to avoid those mistakes and get a fresh start.

(I also think we should prioritise having a new DGB or alternative intro resource in English, but it will take some time - this might be the best we have right now: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/resources/)

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 08 March 2018 06:34:33PM 5 points [-]

Thanks for the reply Ben.

In principle, someone could propose spending translating lots of materials but not sharing them widely, but in practice people don't. Rather, the options are more like (i) translate existing materials into the new language and share widely, or (ii) speak to people in small groups.

We may be speaking to different people. I know a number of small group leaders who want materials in their native language to share with their (small) groups, rather than to broadcast a translation on a mass scale.

I suspect that if the alternative is groups struggling through English-language materials or not using written EA materials in their groups at all (and just going it alone), then it's probably better that they have some basic translated materials (one can always advise them not to try to broadcast them widely). I agree groups can develop without mass media outreach, but I'm not sure how well they can develop (e.g. up to the 100 members you suggest in the OP) without EA materials in their language.


I think the question of 'lock-in' is trickier, though am not sure how far it applies to small groups rather than the mass media outreach. I agree that in the English speaking world memes like 'EA = effective charity' and 'EA careers = ETG' are prevalent and perhaps impossible to reverse en mass. But how 'locked in' are individual EAs and small EA groups who have, for example, read Doing Good Better? i.e. how intractable is changing their view from the Doing Good Better view to the updated view (and how far would it have been better to delay publication of Doing Good Better a few years until the ideas were more developed)? If we're dealing with translations for small groups, the situation looks more similar to small groups of EAs who have read Doing Good Better, than to mass-media broadcasting of EAish memes to the general populace. Since it's not clear how far small groups of English speaking EAs are locked in or that it would have been better to delay EA messaging in English speaking areas a few years, it's not clear to me that we should be trying to avoid/delay 'lock in' wherever else we can e.g. in the non-English speaking world.

I think this is especially so if we think less in terms of the possibility of avoiding irreversible lock-in and more in terms of a trade-off between incrementally improving EA messaging and delaying EA messaging several years (assuming that we don't think that the next iteration of EA ideas will be final, but will themselves need to be updated a handful of years later).