Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 14 March 2018 12:04:18AM 3 points [-]

This is great. You might want to cross-post it to LessWrong, since a lot of visitors to that site which may not visit the EA Forum would probably be interested in this information.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 13 March 2018 11:57:13PM 2 points [-]

I find when I do up a draft of a post in Google Docs, and copy-paste the whole thing to either the EA Forum or LW, the hypertext link formatting remains intact. Sometimes it can mess up the other formatting, though, so it's not the best idea if you're using bullet points or other graphical elements in a post. If you could write up posts in Google Docs and copy-paste them to your Medium blog too without having to recreate the links, then you wouldn't have the problem with recreating links on one or the other site. I don't have a Medium blog, so I wouldn't know if it's possible to copy-paste into it with the links intact.

Comment author: vollmer  (EA Profile) 10 March 2018 03:51:02PM *  8 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: weeatquince  (EA Profile) 09 March 2018 03:24:45PM 4 points [-]

My point was not trying to pick up policy interventions specifically. I think more broadly there is too often an attitude of arrogance among EAs who think that because they can do cause prioritisation better than their peers they can also solve difficult problems better than experts in those fields. (I know I have been guilty of this at points).


In policy, I agree with you that EA policy projects fall across a large spectrum from highly professional to poorly thought-out.

That said I think that even at the better end of the spectrum there is a lack of professional lobbyists being employed by EA organisations and more of a do-it-ourselves attitude. EA orgs often prefer to hire enthusiastic EAs rather than expensive experts (which maybe a totally legitimate approach, I have no strong view on the matter).

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 10 March 2018 12:01:44AM 1 point [-]

What fields come to mind specifically as ones EAs arrogantly think they can solve problems better than experts can? EA is diverse, so we could be talking about a lot of different things. Re: policy, I think a large part of it is EA is still too small a movement to afford expensive experts or otherwise have a high degree of influence. I consider policy efforts in EA successes as a young movement it's been able to get tabled initiatives in a few countries. These don't often result in much happening, so these are relatively modest outcomes. Certainly there is greater opportunity in the future for EA to influence policy, hopefully by working more with experts in the future.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 March 2018 09:41:04PM *  1 point [-]

Can whoever downvoted this say why so I can improve? Anonymously if you want.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 March 2018 05:29:48PM 2 points [-]

If you don't give feedback, here's a tip for how I figure why I might have been downvoted when it's not at first clear to me why. I read my comment again, and imagine from a perspective of someone in EA very different from me. Other people's perceptions and intuitions of how our words come across on the internet can be very different from our own. I often notice things in my own comments after the fact as a result. The part of your comment which stood out to me with the typical tone on the EA Forum was referring to some earnest translation effort as "alien and uncool". For various reasons, I can imagine someone seeing arguments from coolness are bad or inappropriate for the EA Forum, although I assume ostensibly you weren't that serious about the comment.

Comment author: RyanCarey 05 March 2018 12:08:49PM 6 points [-]

Is it still alien and uncool if you look at an article as a whole and just rewrite it from scratch in French, rather than translating each line? (Kind-of like if I lose my copy of an essay and then rewrite the same ideas in new prose.)

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 March 2018 05:23:36PM 2 points [-]

The EA Handbook you put together included essays originally published as blog posts by individual EA community members in English. There's no reason there couldn't be an EA Handbook for original content generated in and for other languages. There's probably enough content in German to produce a "German EA Handbook". I'm not confident there is enough original EA content in other languages such that a corresponding EA handbook could be produced.

Comment author: weeatquince  (EA Profile) 05 March 2018 07:32:32PM *  9 points [-]

Good article Ben!


I think similar risks arise with translating effective altruism to new domains or new audiances with particular expertise.

I've felt this when interacting with people looking to apply effective altruism ideas in policy. Such exercises should be approached with caution: you cannot just tell policy makers to use evidence (they've already heard about evidence) or to put all their resources to whatever looks most effective (wouldn't work) etc.

Similarly I suspect there is something to the fact that I find EA materials have had limited acceptance among experts in international development.


I would go a step further and say that the aim should not solely be one of translating EA ideas but also of improving EA ideas. Currently EA is fairly un-diverse in terms of cultures, plurality of ethical views, academic background, etc. I think we can learn a lot from those we are trying to reach out to.


(Minor aside I think mass outreach efforts done well have been are still are valuable and this article underplays that)

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 March 2018 05:19:59PM 3 points [-]

It's my impression most policy efforts coming out of EA in most countries are from experienced, professional organizations which work with or hire policy experts. The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) has worked with university institutes at Cambridge and Oxford to produce policy reports of global catastrophic risks for European governments. The Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF) has in Germany and Switzerland done policy advocacy, initiated by philosophy post-docs and the like. Before involvement in EA, they weren't particularly experienced in philosophy, but their efforts haven't backfired in any sense. I haven't tracked what portion of their campaigns succeeded at the ballot box, but being able to start things like referendums on animal rights/welfare without opposition and backlash from the public could be considered successes in themselves.

There isn't centralization across the EA community worldwide for work in the policy sector, so technically a group some country could start doing policy work in the name of EA without any kind of external assessment. So a culture of pursuing policy work much more cautiously can definitely still be worth promoting within EA. I notice the examples I gave were about causes like animal advocacy and global catastrophic risks, compared to your example of international development. My examples are of sectors which aren't already as common in academia and policy. So the EA community has been able to effectively break a lot of new ground in policy research and advocacy regarding these causes. Fields like international development and others with a history of more extensive institutional support are more complicated. They require more specialization and expertise to do effective work upon.

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: 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.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 March 2018 04:47:43PM 2 points [-]

Yeah, I haven't been checking. What data gave you that impression?

Comment author: gworley3  (EA Profile) 18 February 2018 06:14:21PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for writing this. I don't think I've seen anyone tell the story quite so well, and I was there for all of it!

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 05 March 2018 08:08:36AM 0 points [-]

Yeah, it was my pleasure :) The story was surprisingly easy to tell with a few key quotes from AI alignment/rationality community figures historically crucial in building up the field to how big and prominent it is now.

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