Comment author: Halstead 29 October 2017 11:51:52PM *  6 points [-]

Hi Greg, thanks for this post, it was very good. I thought it would help future discussion to separate these claims, which leave your argument ambiguous:

  1. You should give equal weight to your own credences and those of epistemic peers on all propositions for which you and they are epistemic peers.
  2. Claims about the nature of the community of epistemic peers and our ability to reliably identify them.

In places, you seem to identify modesty with 1, in others with the conjunction of 1 and a subset of claims in 2. 1 doesn't seem sufficient on its own for modesty, for if 1 is true but I have no epistemic peers or can't reliably identify them, then I should pay lots of attention to my own inside view of an issue. Similarly, if EAs have no epistemic peers or superiors, then they should ignore everyone else. This is compatible with conciliationism but seems immodest. The relevant claim in 2 seems to be that for most people, including EAs, with beliefs about practically important propostions, there are epistemic peers and superiors who can be reliably identified.

This noted, I wonder how different the conjunction of 1 and 2 is to epistemic chauvinism. It seems to me that I could accept 1 and 2, but demote people from my epistemic peer group with respect to a proposition p if they disagree with me about p. If I have read all of the object-level arguments on p and someone else has as well and we disagree on p, then demotion seems appropriate at least in some cases. To give an example, I've read and thought less about vagueness less than lots of much cleverer philosophers who hold a view called supervaluationism, which I believe to be extremely implausible. I believe I can explain why they are wrong with the object-level arguments about vagueness. I received the evidence that they disagree. Very good, I reply, they are not my epistemic peers with respect to this question for object level reasons x, y, and z. (Note that my reasons for demoting them are the object-level reasons; they are not that I believe that supervaluationism is false. Generally, the fact that I believe p is usually not my reason to believe that p.) This is entirely compatible with the view that I should be modest with respect to my epistemic peers.

In this spirit, I find Scott Sumner's quote deeply strange. If he thinks that "there is no objective reason to favor my view over Krugman's", then he shouldn't believe his view over Krugman's (even though he (Sumner) does). If I were in Sumner's shoes after reasoning about p and reading the object level reasons about p, then I would EITHER become agnostic or demote krugman from my epistemic peer group.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 30 October 2017 04:20:52PM 2 points [-]

Gregory, thanks for writing this up. Your writing style is charming and I really enjoy reading the many deft turns of phrase.

Moving on to the substance, I think I share JH's worries. What seems missing from your account is why people have the credences they have. Wouldn't it be easiest just to go and assess the object level reasons people have for their credences? For instance, with your Beatrice and Adam example, one (better?) way to make progress on finding out whether it's an oak or not is ask them for their reasons, rather than ask them to state their credences and take those on trust. If Beatrice says "I am tree expert but I've left my glasses at home so can't see the leaves" (or something) whereas Adam gives a terrible explanation ("I decided every fifth tree I see must be an oak tree"), that would tell us quite a lot.

Perhaps, we should defer to others either when we don't know what their reasons are but need to make a decision quickly, or we think they have the same access to object levels reasons as we do (potential example: two philosophers who've read everything but still disagree).

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 28 October 2017 09:25:08AM 0 points [-]

Respectfully, I take 'challenging P' to require offering considerations for ¬P. Remarks like "I worry you're using a fully-general argument" (without describing what it is or how my remarks produce it), "I don't think your analogy is very solid" (without offering dis-analogies) don't have much more information than simply "I disagree".

1) I'd suggest astronomical stakes considerations imply at that one of the 'big three' do have extremely large marginal returns. If one prefers something much more concrete, I'd point to the humane reforms improving quality of life for millions of animals.

2) I don't think the primacy of the big three depends in any important way on recondite issues of disability weights or population ethics. Conditional on a strict person affecting view (which denies the badness of death) I would still think the current margin of global health interventions should offer better yields. I think this based on current best estimates of disability weights in things like the GCPP, and the lack of robust evidence for something better in mental health (we should expect, for example, Enthea's results to regress significantly, perhaps all the way back to the null).

On the general point: I am dismissive of mental health as a cause area insofar as I don't believe it to be a good direction for EA energy to go relative to the other major ones (and especially my own 'best bet' of xrisk). I don't want it to be a cause area as it will plausibly compete for time/attention/etc. with other things I deem more important. I'm no EA leader, but I don't think we need to impute some 'anti-weirdness bias' (which I think is facially implausible given the early embrace of AI stuff etc) to explain why they might think the same.

Naturally, I may be wrong in this determination, and if I am wrong, I want to know about it. Thus having enthusiasts go into more speculative things outside the currently recognised cause areas improves likelihood of the movement self-correcting and realising mental health should be on a par with (e.g.) animal welfare as a valuable use of EA energy.

Yet anointing mental health as a cause area before this case has been persuasively made would be a bad approach. There are many other candidates for 'cause area No. n+1' which (as I suggested above) have about the same plausibility as mental health. Making them all recognised 'cause areas' seems the wrong approach. Thus the threshold should be higher.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 28 October 2017 10:59:37AM *  2 points [-]

Just to chip in.

I agree that, if you care about the far future, mental health (along with poverty, physical and pretty much anything apart from X-risk focused interventions) will look at least look like a waste of time. Further analysis may reveal this to be a bit more complicated, but this isn't the time for such complicated, further analysis.

I don't want it to be a cause area as it will plausibly compete for time/attention/etc

I think this probably isn't true, just because those interested in current-human vs far-future stuff are two different audiences. It's more a question of whether, in as much people are going to focus on current stuff, would do more good if they focused on mental health over poverty. There's a comment about moral trade to be made here.

I also find the apparent underlying attitude here unsettling. It's sort of 'I think your views are stupid and I'm confident I know best so I just want to shut them out of the conversation rather than let others make up their own mind' approach. On a personal level, I find this thinking (which, unless i'm paranoid, I've encountered in the EA world before) really annoying. I say some stuff in the area in this post on moral inclusivity.

I also think both of you being too hypothetical about mental health. Halstead and Snowden have a new report where they reckon Strong Minds is $225/DALY, which is comparable to AMF if you think AMF's live saving is equivalent to 40 years of life-improving treatments.

Drugs policy reform I consider to be less at the 'this might be a good idea but we have no reason to think so' stage and more at the 'oh wow, if this is true it's really promising and we should look into it to find out if it is true' stage. I'm unclear what the bar is to be annointed an 'official cause' or who we should allow to be in charge of such this censorious judgements.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:29:09AM 2 points [-]

I'm really not sure why my comment was so heavily downvoted without explanation. I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea. Assuming that is what I've been downvoted for, that makes me feel disappointed in the online EA community and increases my belief this is a problem.

I tried to avoid things that have already been discussed heavily and publicly in the community

I think this may be part of the problem in this context. Some EAs seem to take the attitude (i'm exaggerating a bit for effect) that if there was a post on the internet about it once, it's been discussed. This itself is pretty unwelcoming and exclusive, and it penalises people who haven't been in the community for multiple or haven't spend many hours reading around internet posts. My subjective view is that this topic is under-discussed relative to how much I feel it should be discussed.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 28 October 2017 12:54:40AM *  5 points [-]

So many different boxes to reply to! I'll do one reply for everything here.

My main reflection is that either 1. I really haven't personally had much discussion of inclusivity in my time in the EA movement (and this may just be an outlier/coincidence) or 2. I'm just much more receptive to this sort of chat than the average EA. I live among Oxford students and this probably gives me a different reference point (e.g. people do sometimes introduce themselves with their pronouns here). I forget how disconcertingly social justice-y I found the University when I first moved here.

Either way, the effect is I really haven't felt like I've had too many discussion in EA about diversity. It's not like it's my favourite topic or anything.

Comment author: vipulnaik 27 October 2017 02:02:08PM 7 points [-]

I'm not sure why you brought up the downvoting in your reply to my reply to your comment, rather than replying directly to the downvoted comment. To be clear, though, I did not downvote the comment, ask others to downvote the comment, or hear from others saying they had downvoted the comment.

Also, I could (and should) have been clearer that I was focusing only on points that I didn't see covered in the post, rather than providing an exhaustive list of points. I generally try to comment with marginal value-add rather than reiterating things already mentioned in the post, which I think is sound, but for others who don't know I'm doing that, it can be misleading. Thank you for making me notice that.

Also:

I think this may be part of the problem in this context. Some EAs seem to take the attitude (i'm exaggerating a bit for effect) that if there was a post on the internet about it once, it's been discussed.

In my case, I was basing it on stuff explicitly, directly mentioned in the post on which I am commenting, and a prominently linked post. This isn't "there was a post on the internet about it once" this is more like "it is mentioned right here, in this post". So I don't think my comment is an example of this problem you highlight.

Speaking to the general problem you claim happens, I think it is a reasonable concern. I don't generally endorse expecting people to have intricate knowledge of years' worth of community material. People who cite previous discussions should generally try to link as specifically as possible to them, so that others can easily know what they're talking about without having had a full map of past discussions.

But imo it's also bad to bring up points as if they are brand new, when they have already been discussed before, and especially when others in the discussion have already explicitly linked to past discussions of those points.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 28 October 2017 12:51:31AM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure why you brought up the downvoting in your reply to my reply to your comment

Sorry. That was a user error.

Comment author: Buck 27 October 2017 11:35:22PM 13 points [-]

Just for the record, I think this is a bad idea: I think it's costly for the community when people make bad arguments, and I think that the community is pretty good at recognizing and downvoting bad arguments where they appear, and I don't think it too often downvotes stuff it shouldn't.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 28 October 2017 12:03:40AM 0 points [-]

I think we should stop having downvotes on the EA Forum

I agree with this. Contra Buck, I think people use downvotes to express things they ultimately disagree with, rather that because they genuinely find someone's comments 'unhelpful', i.e. malicious, lazy, something like that. I might also prompt people to say what they didn't like with the other person's vote, rather than just voting anonymously (and snarkily) with karma points.

Comment author: DonyChristie 26 October 2017 09:17:21PM *  22 points [-]

Discussion about inclusivity is really conspicuous by it's absence within EA. It's honeslty really weird we barely talk about it.

Are you sure? Here are some previous discussions (most of which were linked in the article above):

http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1ft/effective_altruism_for_animals_consideration_for/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ek/ea_diversity_unpacking_pandoras_box/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/sm/ea_is_elitist_should_it_stay_that_way/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/zu/making_ea_groups_more_welcoming/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/mp/pitfalls_in_diversity_outreach/ http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1e1/ea_survey_2017_series_community_demographics/ https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/1479443418778677/

I recall more discussions elsewhere in comments. Admittedly this is over several years. What would not barely talking about it look like, if not that?

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:40:46AM 1 point [-]

I guess I'm basing my subjective judgement of 'conspicuous by it's absence' by comparing how much inclusivity gets discussed in wider society vs how much it gets discussed in EA. I don't think a few posts over a few years really cuts the mustard, not when it's not obvious how much is being done on this issue.

Comment author: casebash 27 October 2017 02:34:30AM 6 points [-]

"oh, it turns out affluent white males are just a lot more moral than everyone else and there's nothing to explain here"

Do you think it is possible that EA could be majority white affluent male because programmers, philosophers, mathematicians, ect. are disproportionately white affluent male and EA has become good at recruiting these specific audiences?

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:33:25AM 2 points [-]

Interesting. Hadn't put these together in my mind. Could well be something here.

Comment author: casebash 27 October 2017 01:18:25AM 5 points [-]

If you aren't going to defend the claim made in the original comment, I would suggest that it would be good practise to edit the word "straight" out of the comment. There are a lot of Cached Thoughts on both sides of the debate and I would like to encourage people to break out of them.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:30:40AM 2 points [-]

okay. point taken

Comment author: vipulnaik 27 October 2017 02:16:59AM *  3 points [-]

I tried to avoid things that have already been discussed heavily and publicly in the community, and I think the math/philosopher angle is one that is often mentioned in the context of EA not being diverse enough. The post itself notes:

"""people who are both that and young, white, cis-male, upper middle class, from men-dominated fields, technology-focused, status-driven, with a propensity for chest-beating, overconfidence, narrow-picture thinking/micro-optimization, and discomfort with emotions."""

This also mentioned in the post by Alexander Gordon-Brown that Kelly links to: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ek/ea_diversity_unpacking_pandoras_box/

"""EA is heavy on mathematicians, programmers, economists and philosophers. Those groups can get a lot done, but they can't get everything done. If we want to grow, I think we could do with more PR types. Because we're largely web-based, people who understand how to make things visually appealing also seem valuable. My personal experience in London is that we would love more organisers, though I can imagine this varying by location."""

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 10:29:09AM 2 points [-]

I'm really not sure why my comment was so heavily downvoted without explanation. I'm assuming people think discussion of inclusion issues is a terrible idea. Assuming that is what I've been downvoted for, that makes me feel disappointed in the online EA community and increases my belief this is a problem.

I tried to avoid things that have already been discussed heavily and publicly in the community

I think this may be part of the problem in this context. Some EAs seem to take the attitude (i'm exaggerating a bit for effect) that if there was a post on the internet about it once, it's been discussed. This itself is pretty unwelcoming and exclusive, and it penalises people who haven't been in the community for multiple or haven't spend many hours reading around internet posts. My subjective view is that this topic is under-discussed relative to how much I feel it should be discussed.

Comment author: vipulnaik 27 October 2017 12:16:19AM *  15 points [-]

I find it interesting that most of the examples given in the article conform to mainstream, politically correct opinion about who is and isn't overrepresented. A pretty similar article could be written about e.g. math graduate students with almost the exact list of overrepresented and underrepresented groups. In that sense it doesn't seem to get to the core of what unique blind spots or expansion problems EA might have.

An alternate perspective would be to look at minorities, subgroups, and geographical patterns that are way overrepresented in EAs relative to the world population, or even, say, the US population; this could help triangulate to blind spots in EA or ways that make it difficult for EA to connect with broader populations. A few things stand out.

Of these, I know at least (1) and (2) have put off people or been major points of concern.

(1) Heavy clustering in the San Francisco Bay Area and a few other population centers, excluding large numbers of people from being able to participate in EA while feeling a meaningful sense of in-person community. It doesn't help that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most notoriously expensive in the world, and also located in a country (the United States) that is hard for most people to enter and live in.

(2) Overrepresentation of "poly" sexual orientations and behaviors relative to larger populations -- so that even those who aren't poly have trouble getting along in EA if they don't like rubbing shoulders with poly folks.

(3) Large proportion of people of Jewish descent. I don't think there's any problem with this, but some people might argue that this makes the ethics of EA heavily influenced by traditional Jewish ethical approaches, to the exclusion of other religious and ethical traditions. [This isn't just a reflection of greater success of people of Jewish descent; I think EAs are overrepresented among Jews even after education and income controls].

(4) Overrepresentation of vegetarians and vegans. I'm not complaining, but others might argue that this reduces EAs' ability to connect with the culinary habits and food-related traditions of a lot of cultures.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 27 October 2017 01:54:20AM 0 points [-]

I find it interesting that most of the examples given in the article conform to mainstream, politically correct opinion about who is and isn't overrepresented

I think about this a different way. I think it weird, given there's so much mainstream discussion of inclusion, that it hasn't seemed to penetrate into EA. That makes EA the odd one out. Hence it might be good to identify the generic blindspots, even if we haven't yet honed in on EA specific ones.

I think you're approach of looking for over-represented people is interested and promising. What I find surprising is that you didn't zone in on the most obvious one, which is that EA is really heavily weighed with philosophers and maths-y types, such as software engineers.

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