Comment author: BenHoffman 13 January 2017 07:28:21PM 9 points [-]

My thoughts on this are too long for a comment, but I've written them up here - posting a link in the spirit of making this forum post a comprehensive roundup: http://benjaminrosshoffman.com/honesty-and-perjury/

Comment author: Linch 11 January 2017 09:48:12PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: Ben H's comment below convincingly illustrated that I misunderstood him. I apologize for contributing to any misinformation.

EDIT 2: Looking upwards of the comment chain, I think this is a very reasonable reading of Benquo's comment:

"I'm having a hard time reconciling these. In particular, it seems like if you make both these claims, you're basically saying that EAs shouldn't publicly criticize the pledge without GWWC's permission because that undercuts GWWC's goals. That seems very surprising to me. Am I misunderstanding you?"

I think my mistake is that in haste, I confused the different Bens with similar (but far from identical) opinions and formed an inaccurate model.

Original post:

Reposted from FB, I apologize if the language here is less polished than desired.

1) It's a common courtesy for journalists (and GiveWell) to message the organizations they're writing about for a response.

2) Sometimes said organizations are too busy, etc. to respond to said criticisms.

3) Ben Todd suggested that we have this norm in EA as well.

4) My interpretation of 1)+2) means you give people a chance to respond/comment to your criticism before airing it, especially if there are contexts that are missing.

5) Most others have taken 1), 2) and 3) to necessarily imply that orgs should have the right to waive criticism before they appear on air.

I believe 5) is incorrect because it is very different from the base cases I am aware of (GiveWell asks charities to comment before publishing their charity reports, journalists asking for a comment from people they write about).

Why are people taking 5) as the default interpretation here?

Comment author: BenHoffman 12 January 2017 09:44:05AM *  0 points [-]

For what it's worth, your comment helped me clarify my position, and I wish I'd been able to express myself that clearly earlier.

Also, somewhat embarrassingly, I am also Benquo (I think I accidentally signed up once via mobile, forgot, and signed up again via desktop.) Hopefully I'll remember to just use this login going forward.

Comment author: Linch 11 January 2017 09:48:12PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: Ben H's comment below convincingly illustrated that I misunderstood him. I apologize for contributing to any misinformation.

EDIT 2: Looking upwards of the comment chain, I think this is a very reasonable reading of Benquo's comment:

"I'm having a hard time reconciling these. In particular, it seems like if you make both these claims, you're basically saying that EAs shouldn't publicly criticize the pledge without GWWC's permission because that undercuts GWWC's goals. That seems very surprising to me. Am I misunderstanding you?"

I think my mistake is that in haste, I confused the different Bens with similar (but far from identical) opinions and formed an inaccurate model.

Original post:

Reposted from FB, I apologize if the language here is less polished than desired.

1) It's a common courtesy for journalists (and GiveWell) to message the organizations they're writing about for a response.

2) Sometimes said organizations are too busy, etc. to respond to said criticisms.

3) Ben Todd suggested that we have this norm in EA as well.

4) My interpretation of 1)+2) means you give people a chance to respond/comment to your criticism before airing it, especially if there are contexts that are missing.

5) Most others have taken 1), 2) and 3) to necessarily imply that orgs should have the right to waive criticism before they appear on air.

I believe 5) is incorrect because it is very different from the base cases I am aware of (GiveWell asks charities to comment before publishing their charity reports, journalists asking for a comment from people they write about).

Why are people taking 5) as the default interpretation here?

Comment author: BenHoffman 12 January 2017 06:58:34AM *  1 point [-]

I don't think that Ben Todd is proposing (5). I think he's proposing (4), and that this proposed norm would effectively be a tax on criticism. Taxes aren't as costly as bans, and can be good if they pay for something good enough, but in this case I don't think it's worth it.

In particular, applying journalistic standards to criticism of, but not praise of, EA orgs' behavior seems like a weird position to take if what you're interested in is improving the quality of public information.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 11 January 2017 12:43:20PM 0 points [-]

I disagree with several parts. Most importantly, I don't think criticising GWWC publicly is harmful in expectation, just that it has costs, so is sometimes harmful.

Second, I think a policy of discussing criticisms with GWWC before making them public reduces these harms, so is a reasonable policy for people to consider. But, I'm not saying you need GWWC's permission to post criticism.

Comment author: BenHoffman 11 January 2017 08:22:39PM *  0 points [-]

That's good to hear. But I didn't think you were saying that criticism is generally harmful - I thought you were saying that failing to check in with GWWC first is harmful in expectation. If so, I'm curious what the most important scenarios are in which it could cause harm to start this sort of conversation in public rather than in private. If not, when do you think this advice does help?

It additionally seemed like you thought that this advice should be applied, not just to criticism of GWWC's own conduct, but to criticism of the idea of the pledge itself - which is already public, and not entirely specific to GWWC, as organizations like The Life You Can Save and REG promote similar pledges. I got this impression because Alyssa's post is limited to discussion of the public pledge itself.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 24 December 2016 05:10:00PM 2 points [-]

I feel like you're straw manning my position.

For instance, this:

If you're wondering whether GWWC has thought about these kinds of questions, you can also just ask them. They'll probably respond, and if they get a lot of requests to answer the same thing, they'll probably write about it publicly.

Does not mean:

EAs shouldn't publicly criticize the pledge without GWWC's permission

Comment author: BenHoffman 11 January 2017 06:07:06AM *  0 points [-]

Do you disagree with the first bullet point? Or do you disagree with the second? Or do you disagree that they jointly imply something like the bit you quoted?

Comment author: JoshYou 05 December 2016 02:25:48AM 1 point [-]

I'm still pretty confused about why you think donating 10% has to be time-confusing. People who outsource their donation decisions to, say, Givewell might only spend a few hours a year (or a few minutes, depending on how literally we interpret "outsourcing) deciding where to donate.

Comment author: BenHoffman 14 December 2016 10:36:54PM 3 points [-]

Look out in the world and you'll see lots of people excited about things that don't work or don't do what they say they'll do. Anyone can say they're evidence-backed etc. On outside view, if you only spend a few minutes on your donations each year, how much of the optimization pressure influencing your donations should you expect was marketing skill on the part of the recipient or their patron, vs selecting for actual impact?

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 05 December 2016 10:09:28AM 0 points [-]

Second, the GWWC pledge uses the phrase "for the rest of my life or until the day I retire". This is a very long-term commitment; since most EAs are young (IIRC, ~50% of pledge takers were students when they took it), it might often be for fifty years or more. As EA itself is so young (under five years old, depending on exact definitions), so rapidly growing, and so much in flux, it's probably a bad idea to "lock in" fixed strategies, for the same reason that people who take a new job every month shouldn't buy a house. This is especially true for students, or others who will shortly make large career changes (as 80,000 Hours encourages). People in that position have very little information about their life in 2040, and are therefore in a bad position to make binding decisions about it. In response to this argument, pledge taker Rob Wiblin said that, if he changed his mind about donating 10% every year being the best choice, he would simply un-take the pledge. However, this is certainly not encouraged by the pledge itself, which says "for the rest of my life" and doesn't contemplate leaving.

EA is new, but charity and altruism have been around for a while and will continue to be important. Besides, if someone really needs or wants money they will break the pledge. It's not legally binding. The wording is just to make it a stronger, better commitment.

Comment author: BenHoffman 14 December 2016 10:14:42AM *  1 point [-]

The wording is just to make it a stronger, better commitment.

How does it do that? Is that effect stable under conditions where people don't see the pledge as a binding promise?

6

Matching-donation fundraisers can be harmfully dishonest

Anna Salamon, executive director of CFAR (named with permission), recently wrote to me asking for my thoughts on fundraisers using matching donations. (Anna, together with co-writer Steve Rayhawk, has previously written on community norms that promote truth over falsehood .) My response made some general points that I wish were... Read More
Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 25 October 2016 02:48:07AM 6 points [-]

Pretty much agree with you and shlevy here, except that the wasting hundreds of collective hours carefully checking that Gleb is acting in bad faith seems more like a waste to me.

If the EA community were primarily a community that functioned in person, it would be easier and more natural to deal with bad actors like Gleb; people could privately (in small conversations, then bigger ones, none of which involve Gleb) discuss and come to a consensus about his badness, that consensus could spread in other private smallish then bigger conversations none of which involve Gleb, and people could either ignore Gleb until he goes away, or just not invite him to stuff, or explicitly kick him out in some way.

But in a community that primarily functions online, where by default conversations are public and involve everyone, including Gleb, the above dynamic is a lot harder to sustain, and instead the default approach to ostracism is public ostracism, which people interested in charitable conversational norms understandably want to avoid. But just not having ostracism at all isn't a workable alternative; sometimes bad actors creep into your community and you need an immune system capable of rejecting them. In many online communites this takes the form of a process for banning people; I don't know how workable this would be for the EA community, since my impression is that it's spread out across several platforms.

Comment author: BenHoffman 26 October 2016 05:51:58PM 9 points [-]

Seems worth establishing the fact that bad actors exist, will try to join our community, and engage in this pattern of almost plausibly deniable shamelessly bad behavior. I think EAs often have a mental block around admitting that in most of the world, lying is a cheap and effective strategy for personal gain; I think we make wrong judgments because we're missing this key fact about how the world works. I think we should generalize from this incident, and having a clear record is helpful for doing so.

Comment author: Benito 25 October 2016 11:45:15PM *  1 point [-]

I think the common point of intervention for people telling mis-truths, is not holding themselves back when they don't really have enough evidence. A person might be about to write of a quick reply, and in most communities, know that they're not going to be held accountable for any mischaracterisations of others' opinions, or referring inaccurately to studies and data. In those communities, the comments are awful. In communities where you know that, if you do this over a sustained period, Carl Shulman, Jeff Kaufman, Oliver Habryka, Gregory Lewis and more are gonna write tens of thousands of words documenting your errors, you'll be more likely to note when you haven't quite substantiated the comment you're about to hit 'send' on.

Comment author: BenHoffman 26 October 2016 05:49:13PM 3 points [-]

There's an important difference between repeatedly making errors, jumping to conclusions, or being attached to a preconceived notion (all of which which I've personally done in front of Carl plenty of times), and the sort of behavior described in the OP, which seems more like intentional misrepresentation for the sake of climbing a social status gradient.

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