Comment author: cassidynelson 16 March 2018 01:05:55AM 1 point [-]

I agree, I found it surprising as well that he has taken this view. It seems like he has read a portion of Bostrom's Global Catastrophic Risks and Superintelligence, has become familiar with the general arguments and prominent examples, but then has gone on to dismiss existential threats on reasons specifically addressed in both books.

He is a bit more concerned about nuclear threats than other existential threats, but I wonder if this is the availability heuristic at work given the historical precedent instead of a well-reasoned line of argument.

Great suggestion about Sam Harris - I think Steven Pinker and him had a live chat just the other day (March 14) so may have missed this opportunity. I'm still waiting for the audio to be uploaded on Sam's podcast, but I wonder given Sam's positions if he questions Pinker on this as well.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 16 March 2018 01:57:08AM 3 points [-]

I think part of the problem is that he expressed a very dismissive stance towards AI/x-risk positions publicly, seemingly before he'd read anything about them. Now people have pushed back and pointed out his obvious errors and he's had to at least somewhat read about what the positions are, but he doesn't want to backtrack at all from his previous statement of extreme dismissiveness.

Comment author: Risto_Uuk 12 March 2018 11:00:58AM 1 point [-]

Do you offer any recommendations for communicating utilitarian ideas based on Everett's research or someone else's?

For example, in Everett's 2016 paper the following is said:

"When communicating that a consequentialist judgment was made with difficulty, negativity toward agents who made these judgments was reduced. And when a harmful action either did not blatantly violate implicit social contracts, or actually served to honor them, there was no preference for a deontologist over a consequentialist."

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 12 March 2018 09:13:30PM *  1 point [-]

I imagine more or less anything which expresses conflictedness about taking the 'utilitarian' decision and/or expresses feeling the pull of the contrary deontological norm would fit the bill for what Everett is saying here. That said, I'm not convinced that Everett (2016) is really getting at reactions to "consequentialism" (see here ( 1 , 2 )

I think that this paper by Uhlmann et al, does show that people judge negatively those who take utilitarian decisions though, even when they judge that the utilitarian act was the right one to take. Expressing conflictedness about the utilitarian decision may be a double-edged sword, therefore. I think it may well offset negative character evaluations of the person taking the utilitarian decision, but plausibly it may also reduce any credence people attached to the utilitarian act being the right one to take.

My collaborators and I did some work relevant to this, on the negative evaluation of people who make their donation decisions in a deliberative rather than explicitly empathic way. The most relevant of our experiments for this looked at the evaluation of people who both deliberated about the cost effectiveness of the donation and expressed empathy towards the recipient of the donation simultaneously. The empathy+deliberation condition was close to the empathy condition in moral evaluation (see figure 2 and closer to the deliberation condition in evaluation of reasonableness.

Comment author: Risto_Uuk 11 March 2018 03:45:43PM 2 points [-]

I think this depends on how we define mass outreach. I would consider a lot of activities organized in EA community to be mass outreach. For example, EAG, books, articles in popular media outlets, FB posts in EA group, 80 000 Hours podcast, etc. They are mass outreach because they reach a lot of people and very often don't enable an in-depth work on. Exceptions would be career coaching session at EAG event and discussing books/articles in discussion groups.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 11 March 2018 04:45:09PM 3 points [-]

I agree re. books and articles in the mass media- and these are the kinds of things it seems people are stepping back from.

I think of the EA FB group, EAG etc. to be more insider-facing than outreach (EAG used to seem to be more about general outreach, but not anymore).

The 80K podcast is an interesting middle case, since it's clearly broadcast generally, but I imagine the actual audience is pretty niche and it's a lot more in depth than any media article or even Doing Good Better (in my view). I have to wonder how far, in a couple of years, people will be saying of the podcast the same things being said of DGB, i.e. the content is sub-optimal or out of date and so we wouldn't want to spread it around. The same considerations seem, in principle, to apply in both cases, since even if people within the English-speaking world are already locked into some bad ideas, we don't want to continue locking them into new ideas, which we will judge in 2020 to have been premature/mistaken/sub-optimal.

Comment author: Risto_Uuk 11 March 2018 12:37:50PM 3 points [-]

Thank you for the post!

I agree that from the point of view of translation Doing Good Better might be too focused on donating to charity and on global health, but this doesn't seem to be an issue at all when it comes small in-depth discussion groups. I guess this is another argument in favor of focusing on these types of activities rather than large-scale outreach.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 11 March 2018 03:01:11PM 4 points [-]

I'm curious how much mass outreach there actually is in EA and/or what people have in mind when they talk about mass outreach.

Aside from Doing Good Better and Will/CEA's other public intellectual work, which they seem to be retreating from, it's not clear to me what mass outreach has actually been done.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 07 March 2018 10:39:30PM 3 points [-]

Some concerning data in this recent post about local groups:

One other striking feature of this category is that all of the top groups [in terms of new event attendees] were from non-Anglo-American countries. While this is purely speculative, an explanation for this pattern might be that these groups are aggressively reaching out to people unfamiliar with EA in their areas, getting them to attend events, but largely not seeing success in transferring this into increased group membership.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 08 March 2018 07:33:42PM *  4 points [-]

Thanks for the citation!

We agree this doesn't look good for (non-Anglo-American) groups running large events as outreach, in that it looks like it doesn't bear fruit in terms of increasing members or other outputs. But note the rest of the paragraph you quote, where we say:

it seems plausible that EA groups outside of the traditional geographical areas may face distinct challenges and require more tailored support (such as translation of materials).

One possible explanation for the observation above is that these groups' large events in non-Anglo-American countries don't bear so much fruit because they lack the supporting background and infrastructure (like translated materials). So, for example, if someone attends a large event in London they can easily immediately check out lots of EA websites and materials, find places to follow-up and so on; if someone attends a large event in a different country without these touch-points and critical mass, then not so much. Of course, it may also just be that these areas were less fertile ground for receiving EA message in some other way.

It's also important to note that it's not clear from the data we provided above that non-Anglo-American groups distinctively receive low payoffs from large events. If you look at the specific graph you'll see that these groups are pretty clear outliers, reporting events with many more people who are unfamiliar with effective altruism, but it's not that Anglo-American groups are running large events with lots of people unfamiliar with EA and receiving comparatively larger payoffs: rather it's that most other groups are just not running such large events with so many people unfamiliar with effective altruism. So what is distinctive about these groups is that they are running large events with lots of unfamiliar attendees at all, not that they are running these large events and failing to receive payoff.

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:

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).

Comment author: Arepo 07 March 2018 06:03:21PM *  7 points [-]

Somewhat tangentially, am I unusual in finding the idea of 'thought leaders' for a movement about careful and conscientious consideration of ideas profoundly uncomfortable?

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 07 March 2018 06:27:23PM 2 points [-]

Definitely not. Often when I see the term used in EA it's being used negatively. To be fair though, the alternative terms I was considering using, "EA insiders", "EA elites", aren't too comfortable either.

Comment author: HakonHarnes 06 March 2018 04:57:33PM 1 point [-]

We are working on all the strategies you mention in Norway. There was recently a report posted on the potential of CSR (which I imagine is what you mean by "workplace giving") in Norway (

There is also work being done in political action, both on improving the efficiency of our substantial foreign aid budget (~4.4 billion USD in 2017) and some preliminary work on prioritization of future generations.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 06 March 2018 05:31:45PM 0 points [-]

By workplace giving I had in mind things more like outreach in workplaces, payroll giving etc. (see Charity Science's old report on this: CSR would fall under what I referred to as nudging companies. (I did read the earlier report on CSR in Norway btw, and had forwarded it to a colleague working on CSR and EA).

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 05 March 2018 08:06:08AM 15 points [-]

Thanks for articulating arguments for this. There is a strong bias in favour of growth of various kinds in EA. There is an elementary growth strategy of naively pursuing growth as fast as possible. I also know several community members who are opposed to growing the movement much at all, as opposed to doing so carefully. However, hardly any effective altruists opposed to different kinds of movement growth lay out their arguments against them. This frustrates me as I'm genuinely curious to separate the good and bad arguments against rapid movement growth in EA, and that they're not publicly written out like this makes that difficult.

Giving arguments for how to do movement growth to allow for nuanced discussion, rather than if we should do much movement growth at all, is very helpful.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 05 March 2018 10:04:02PM 4 points [-]

There is a strong bias in favour of growth of various kinds in EA.

This seemed more the case a couple of years ago. I think the pendulum has swung pretty hard in the other direction among EA thought leaders.

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