A slightly (I think?) different slant on why EA elitism bias/top-university focus/lack of diversity is a problem
Key point: People who come from different infrastructure/geography/etc. will often come up with different solutions, identify different problems, and predict certain issues more accurately.
Example #1 - Different solutions/developed aptitudes: I’m friends with a bunch of people doing medical residencies in the US right now. The ones at top-tier hospitals are learning, mostly, how to provide great patient care. The ones at the lower-ranked hospitals are learning things like: (1) How to navigate bureaucracy, (2) How to advocate for their patients, and (3) Where the flaws in the US medical system are.
Basically, the ones at the lower-ranked hospitals now have many more ideas about what needs to be improved in our healthcare system. To connect this to EA: People with elite backgrounds are often less likely to know where certain (HUGE) problems are (because they are not repeatedly exposed to them) and to have much less experience/detailed knowledge with regards to navigating them.
Example #2 - Accuracy/Predictions: I’m from the US midwest. We all knew Trump was going to win in 2016, or at least that he had a good shot of winning. (
Personally, I think this was because more people in the midwest regularly talks to farmer/rural relatives or people who have them, but that’s not super relevant to this post). Not only were people on the coasts generally shocked, but the media reported that everyone was shocked.
Not everyone was shocked. Millions of Americans were not shocked. It was pretty much only the “elite” Americans who were shocked.
--> If EA remains elite-heavy, our predictions are gonna be wayyyyy (and avoidably) dumb a lot of the time.
Example #3 - Maybe skip this and go to example #4 if you found the previous two examples convincing
I went to an Ivy League university. My best friends went to state schools. They are now very good at navigating bureaucracy. I am very good at believing bureaucracy should be improved (because I’ve seen decent versions!) and also believing all the red tape doesn’t apply to me (sometimes it doesn’t! though it does seem to apply to most people! and my experience then gives me an incorrect idea of how systems actually function on average!).
Often, I cannot actually ignore red tape and am inefficient at getting through it. I need to team up with people who are.
(Also, my friends who went to state schools are roughly all as analytically intelligent as I am, etc., etc., but that point has been made in these forums a lot).
Example #4 - We’re really good at understanding this in things like public health: We totally understand (I think) that in a public health intervention we should do things like talk to the people the intervention is for so as to understand goals/context/solutions they’ve already figured out. Given that the goal of EA is to maximize pretty much everything for everyone (and in the future), we should be prioritizing including people from a very wide range of contexts.
(And people from the future, once we can figure that out).
This is another set of reasons why, at this point in the history of EA, we should continue to expand to a diversity of schools/geographies/etc: Our solutions will be better, we’ll identify problem areas more effectively, and our predictions will be more accurate.
I am in agreement. I was raised in Alaska and the knowledge distribution there is different than in an urban center like NYC. For example, versus my friends in NYC, many more of my friends in Alaska would know how to fare reasonably well in a situation where there was infrastructure failure.
For instance, more people there know how to do things like grow/preserve food, hunt, build shelter, filter water, attend to first aid emergencies, communicate/collaborate in stressful environs, recreate/maintain basic technologies. This is relevant in existential risk calculations.
I’m guessing this is true in other parts of the US/world.
I also strongly agree! I think this an important topic that needs to be discussed more frequently within this community. I’m curious whether most EA participants are on the same page that the lack of demographic diversity is harmful to effectiveness.
The EA events I have attended have been much whiter (and more predominantly male) than the general population of my area, and many conversations have had an exclusive, elitist vibe to them. (This is obviously subjective but to me this manifested as people immediately asking people about their credentials, and folks initiating group conversations with narrow intellectual topics that are not inclusive.)
Strong agreement. I think another intervention here is to improve elite norms. Groupthink in the elite is particularly costly for society and drives a lot of unnecessary conflict.