Here's my submission. :)
The submission doesn't qualify as serious, and was past the deadline. So we won't be considering it.
(1) Frustrating vagueness and seas of generality: This post, as well as many other posts you have recently written (such as http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/radical-empathy , http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/worldview-diversification , http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/update-how-were-thinking-about-openness-and-information-sharing , http://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/22/front-loading-personal-giving-year/) struck me as fairly vague. Even posts where you were trying to be concrete (e.g., http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/three-key-issues-ive-changed-my-mind-about , http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/potential-risks-advanced-artificial-intelligence-philanthropic-opportunity) were really hard for me to parse and get a grip on your precise arguments.
I didn't really reflect on this much with the previous posts, but reading your current post sheds some light: the vagueness is not a bug, from your perspective, it's a corollary of trying to make your content really hard for people to take issue with. And I think therein lies the problem. I think of specificity, falsifiability, and concreteness as keys to furthering discourse and helping actually converge on key truths and correcting error. By glorifying the rejection of these virtues, I think your writing does a disservice to public discourse.
For a point of contrast, here are some posts from GiveWell and Open Phil that I feel were sufficiently specific that they added value to a conversation: http://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/06/why-i-mostly-believe-in-worms/ , http://blog.givewell.org/2017/01/04/how-thin-the-reed-generalizing-from-worms-at-work/ , http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/initial-grants-support-corporate-cage-free-reforms , http://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/12/amf-population-ethics/ -- notice how most of these posts make a large number of very concrete claims and highlight their opposition to very specific other parties, which makes them targets of criticism and insult, but really helps delineate an issue and pushes conversations forward. I'm interested in seeing more of this sort of stuff and less of overly cautious diplomatic posts like yours.
One point to add: the frustratingly vague posts tend to get FEWER comments than the specific, concrete posts.
From my list, the posts I identified as clearly vague:
http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/radical-empathy got 1 comment (a question that hasn't been answered)
http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/worldview-diversification got 1 comment (a single sentence praising the post)
http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/update-how-were-thinking-about-openness-and-information-sharing got 6 comments
http://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/22/front-loading-personal-giving-year/ got 8 comments
In contrast, the posts I identified as sufficiently specific (even though they tended on the fairly technical side)
http://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/06/why-i-mostly-believe-in-worms/ got 17 comments
http://blog.givewell.org/2017/01/04/how-thin-the-reed-generalizing-from-worms-at-work/ got 14 comments
http://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/initial-grants-support-corporate-cage-free-reforms got 27 comments
http://blog.givewell.org/2016/12/12/amf-population-ethics/ got 7 comments
If engagement is any indication, then people really thirst for specific, concrete content. But that's not necessarily in contradiction with Holden's point, since his goal isn't to generate engagement. In fact comments engagement can even be viewed negatively in his framework because it means more effort necessary to respond to and keep up with comments.
Thank you for the illuminative post, Holden. I appreciate you taking the time to write this, despite your admittedly busy schedule. I found much to disagree with in the approach you champion in the post, that I attempt to articulate below.
In brief: (1) Frustrating vagueness and seas of generality in your current post and recent posts, (2) Overstated connotations of expertise with regards to transparency and openness, (3) Artificially filtering out positive reputational effects, then claiming that the reputational effects of openness are skewed negative, (4) Repeatedly shifting the locus of blame to external critics rather than owning up to responsibility.
I'll post each point as a reply comment to this since the overall comment exceeds the length limits for a comment.
(4) Repeatedly shifting the locus of blame to external critics rather than owning up to responsibility: You keep alluding to costs of publishing your work more clearly, yet there are no examples of how such costs have negatively affected Open Phil, or the specific monetary, emotional, or other damages you have incurred (this is related to (1), where I am critical of your frustrating vagueness). This vagueness makes your claims of the risks to openness frustrating to evaluate in your case.
As a more general claim about being public, though, your claim strikes me as misguided. The main obstacle to writing up stuff for the public is just that writing stuff up takes a lot of time, but this is mostly a limitation on the part of the writer. The writer doesn't have a clear picture of what he or she wants to say. The writer does not have a clear idea of how to convey the idea clearly. The writer lacks the time and resources to put things together. Failure to do this is a failure on the part of the writer. Blaming readers for continually trying to misinterpret their writing, or carrying out witch hunts, is simply failing to take responsibility.
A more humble framing would highlight this fact, and some of its difficult implications, e.g.: "As somebody in charge of a foundation that is spending ~$100 million a year and recommending tens of millions in donations by others, I need to be very clear in my thinking and reasoning. Unfortunately, I have found that it's often easier and cheaper to spend millions of dollars in grants than write up a clear public-facing document on the reasons for doing so. I'm very committed to writing publicly where it is possible (and you can see evidence of this in all the grant writeups for Open Phil and the detailed charity evaluations for GiveWell). However, there are many cases where writing up my reasoning is more daunting than signing off on millions of dollars in money. I hope that we are able to figure out better approaches to reducing the costs of writing things up."
(3) Artificially filtering out positive reputational effects, then claiming that the reputational effects of openness are skewed negative.
"By "public discourse," I mean communications that are available to the public and that are primarily aimed at clearly describing one's thinking, exploring differences with others, etc. with a focus on truth-seeking rather than on fundraising, advocacy, promotion, etc."
If you exclude from public discourse any benefits pertaining to fundraising, advocacy, and promotion, then you are essentially stacking the deck against public discourse -- now any reputational or time-sink impacts are likely to be negative.
Here's an alternate perspective. Any public statement should be thought of both in terms of the object-level points it is making (specifically, the information it is directly providing or what it is trying to convince people of), and secondarily in terms of how it affects the status and reputation of the person or organization making the statement, and/or their broader goals. For instance, when I wrote http://effective-altruism.com/ea/15o/effective_altruism_forum_web_traffic_from_google/ my direct goal was to provide information about web traffic to the Effective Altruism Forum and what the patterns tell us about effective altruism movement growth, but an indirect goal was to highlight the value of using data-driven analytics, and in particular website analytics, something I've championed in the past. Whether you choose to label the public statement as "fundraising", "advocacy", or whatever, is somewhat besides the point.
(2) Overstated connotations of expertise with respect to the value of transparency and openness:
"Regardless of the underlying reasons, we have put a lot of effort over a long period of time into public discourse, and have reaped very little of this particular kind of benefit (though we have reaped other benefits - more below). I'm aware that this claim may strike some as unlikely and/or disappointing, but it is my lived experience, and I think at this point it would be hard to argue that it is simply explained by a lack of effort or interest in public discourse."
Your writing makes it appear like you've left no stone unturned to try every approach at transparency and confirmed that the masses are wanting. But digging into the facts suggests support for a much weaker conclusion. Which is: for the particular approach that GiveWell used and the particular kind of content that GiveWell shared, the people who responded in ways that made sense to you and were useful to you were restricted to a narrow pool. There is no good reason offered on why these findings would be general across any domains or expository approaches than the ones you've narrowly tried at GiveWell.
This doesn't mean GiveWell or Open Phil is obligated to try new approaches -- but it does suggest more humility in making claims about the broader value of transparency and openness.
There is a wealth of ways that people seek to make their work transparent. Public projects on GitHub make details about both their code evolution and contributor list available by default, without putting in any specific effort into it, because of the way the system is designed. This pays off to different extents for different kinds of projects; in some cases, there are a lot of issue reports and bugfixes from random strangers, in many others, nobody except the core contributors cares. In some, malicious folks find vulnerabilities in the code because it's so open. If you ran a few projects on GitHub and observed something about how frequently strangers make valuable commits or file bug reports, it would not behoove you to then use that information to make broad claims about the value of putting projects on GitHub. Well, you seem to be doing the same based on a couple of things you ran (GiveWell, Open Phil).
Transparency/Semi-transparency/openness is a complex subject and a lot of its value comes from a wide variety of downstream effects that differentially apply in different contexts. Just a few of the considerations: precommitment (which gives more meaning to transparency, think research preregistration), transparent-by-definition processes and workflows (think tools like git on GitHub, automatically and transparently updated accounts ledgers such as those on blockchains), computability and pluggability (stuff that is in a computable format and can therefore be plugged into other datasets or analyses with minimal effort by others, e.g., the Open Philanthropy grants database and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (both of which were used by Issa in collating summary information about grant trends and patterns), donation logs (which I used to power the donations lists at https://donations.vipulnaik.com/)), integrity and consistency forced by transparency (basically your data has to check out if you are making it transparently available, e.g., when I moved all my contract work payments to https://contractwork.vipulnaik.com/ , I had to make sure the entire payment system was consistent), etc.
It seems like, at GiveWell, many of the key parts of transparency (precommitment, transparent-by-definition processes and workflows, computability and pluggability, integrity and consistency) are in minimal use. Given this rather abridged use case of transparency (which could be great for you), it really doesn't make sense to argue broadly about the value of being transparent.
Here is what I'd consider a better way to frame this:
"At GiveWell, we made some of our reasoning and the output of our work transparent, and reaped a variety of benefits. However, we did not get widespread engagement from the general public for our work. Getting engagement from the general public was something we wanted and hoped to achieve but not the main focus of our work. We couldn't figure out the right strategy for doing it, and have deprioritized it. I hope that others can benefit from what worked and didn't work in our efforts to engage the public with our research, and come up with better strategies to engender public engagement. I should be clear that I am not making any broader claims about the value of transparency in contexts beyond ours."
I appreciate posts like this -- they are very helpful (and would be more so if I were thinking of donating money or contributing in kind to the topic).
(cross posted on facebook):
I was thinking of applying... it's a question I'm quite interested in. The deadline is the same as ICML tho!
I had an idea I will mention here:
funding pools: 1. You and your friends whose values and judgement you trust and who all have small-scale funding requests join together.
2. A potential donor evaluates one funding opportunity at random, and funds all or none of them on the basis of that evaluation.
3. You have now increased the ratio of funding / evaluation available to a potential donor by a factor of #projects
4. There is an incentive for you to NOT include people in your pool if you think their proposal is quite inferior to yours... however, you might be incentivized to include somewhat inferior proposals in order to reach a threshold where the combined funding opportunity is large enough to attract more potential donors.
Awesome, excited to see you flesh out your thinking and submit!
"So if I could be expected to work 4380 hours over 2016-2019, earn $660K (95%: $580K to $860K) and donate $160K, that’s an expected earnings of $150.68 per hour worked. [...] I consider my entire earnings to be the altruistic value of this project."
What about taxes?
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