Evan_Gaensbauer comments on Effective Altruism as Global Catastrophe Mitigation - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: byanyothername 11 June 2018 06:26:58PM 3 points [-]

Evan, just a data point: I don't understand a lot of what you're saying in most of your posts/comments, and I can only think of one person I find more difficult to understand out of everyone I've come across in the EA community who I've really wanted to understand. (By which I mean "I find the way you speak confusing and I often don't know what you mean", not "Boi, you crazy".)

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 12 June 2018 12:03:11AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks. Are you referring to my posts and comments on social media? That's more transient, so I make less of an effort on social media to be legible to everyone. Do you have examples of the posts or comments of mine you mean? I don't get tons of feedback on this. Of course people tell me I'm often confusing. But the feedback isn't actionable. I can decode any posts you send me. For example, here is a post of mine where I haven't gotten any negative feedback on the content or writing style. This post was like a cross between a personal essay and dense cause prioritization discussion, so it's something I wouldn't usually post to the EA Forum. It's gotten some downvotes, but clearly more upvotes than downvotes, so somebody is finding it useful. Again, if I get some downvotes it's ultimately feedback on what does or doesn't work on the EA Forum. This is the kind of clearer feedback specifying something.

Comment author: byanyothername 12 June 2018 10:49:24AM 2 points [-]

Also the dank memes stuff...at the meta level of treating it like valuable, serious stuff... This is a separate thing as it's a case of me thinking, "Surely they're still joking...but it really sounds like they're not," but it's another reason for me to give up on trying to understand you because it's too much effort.

Comment author: byanyothername 12 June 2018 10:39:10AM *  2 points [-]

I don't want to spend too long on this, so to take the most available example (i.e. treat this more as representative than an extreme example): Your summary at the top of this post.

  • General point: I get it now but I had to re-read a few times.
  • I think the old "you're using long words" is a part of this, which is common in EA and non-colloquial terms are often worth the price of reduced accessibility, but you seem to do this more than most (e.g. "posit how" could be "suggest that"/"explore how", "heretofore" could be "thus far", "delineate" could be "identify"/"trace" etc....it's not that I don't recognise these words, they're just less familiar and so make reading more effort).
  • Perhaps long sentences with frequent subordinate clauses - and I note the irony of my using that term - and, indeed, the irony of adding a couple here - add to the density.
  • More paragraphs, subheadings, italics, proofing etc. might help a bit.

I also have the general sense that you use too many words - your comments and posts are usually long but don't seem to be saying enough to justify the length. I am reminded of Orwell:

It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say "In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that" than to say "I think".

And yes - mostly on social media. But starting to read this post prompted the comment (I feel like you have useful stuff to say so was surprised to not see many upvotes and wondered if it's because others find you hard to follow too).

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 17 June 2018 06:17:13PM 0 points [-]

One heuristic I use for writing is to try Writing Like I Talk from Paul Graham. Of course, I already tend to speak differently than most people. I find keeping my head in books changes how I think internally, and thus how I speak. It comes full circle when I write like I talk, which is different than most people talk or write. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and there are trade-offs in time taken to write. Another is to know your audience. The post in question was meant to be read by suffering reducers and those familiar with the work on the Foundational Research Institute, from whom I've already received good feedback from, so I relatively achieved my goal with my writing. Also, those posts are rougher on my personal blog, but I would edit them before I put them up on the EA Forum.

As long as it takes to read my stuff, I use a lot of words because it provides full context. For example, I'd hope someone familiar with academic jargon but relatively new to EA might come to fully understand the case of potential s-risks from terraforming, having come in knowing little to nothing about the subject. I'm aware I often use too many words, but when the time comes to make posts more accessible, I can and will do so. I appreciate this feedback though. Please feel free to provide feedback anytime. I update on it quite quickly, even from a single person. I wish more people felt comfortable doing so.

I wrote this post up because it will tie into a series of blog posts I'll be rolling out. When it's done, in context, I hope this post will make more sense. I'm going to be working with various EA organizations to bring remote volunteering opportunities to local EA groups to do direct work. I'm going to consult with Rethink Charity's research team to tighten up a model I have for coordinating teams together numbering in potentially hundreds of individuals. Soon time too may be a unit of caring.