Why the EA Forum?

Effec­tive al­tru­ism is about figur­ing out how to do the most good, and then do­ing it. We want the EA Fo­rum to be the on­line hub for figur­ing out how to do good.

Figur­ing out how to do good is im­por­tant. Singer’s drown­ing child ar­gu­ment has redi­rected tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to­wards effec­tive char­i­ties. Bostrom’s work on ex­is­ten­tial risk has cre­ated a thriv­ing field of peo­ple work­ing to brighten the fu­ture of hu­man­ity. There are prob­a­bly other im­por­tant ideas that we haven’t found yet, and the Fo­rum is de­signed to help us find them.

In or­der to figure out how to do good as a com­mu­nity, we need to co­or­di­nate and share ideas. Effec­tive al­tru­ism needs a cen­tral hub for dis­cus­sion, and a place where peo­ple can learn about all the move­ment’s best ideas, old and new. We want to make the EA Fo­rum the hub for both of those things.

We think that ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity can con­tribute to this pro­ject, and we en­courage you to do so by post­ing, cross-post­ing, and com­ment­ing.

Why in­tel­lec­tual progress matters

Figur­ing out how to do good is im­por­tant. We still don’t un­der­stand many im­por­tant facts about the world, so to change the world we need to dis­cover new things and gain more ac­cu­rate be­liefs. This al­lows us to do more in the fu­ture.

In­deed, the com­mu­nity is founded upon ideas and anal­y­sis, which are them­selves ex­am­ples of in­tel­lec­tual pro­cess—and of­ten very re­cent ex­am­ples. The Drown­ing Child ar­gu­ment is less than 50 years old. GiveWell’s anal­y­sis of the effec­tive­ness of global health char­i­ties be­gan roughly a decade ago. Many of EA’s core ideas have de­vel­oped within the last few years; it’s highly prob­a­ble that some of the ideas we’ll think of as “core” ten years from now have yet to be pro­posed.

Our in­tel­lec­tual progress mat­ters be­cause it can sig­nifi­cantly in­crease the amount of good we do as a com­mu­nity. Real­iz­ing that we should care about a wide range of be­ings (hu­mans in other coun­tries, an­i­mals in fac­tory farms, peo­ple in the fu­ture), seems like it in­creases our effec­tive­ness by an or­der of mag­ni­tude or more. And im­prov­ing our em­piri­cal un­der­stand­ing is likely to lead to similarly vast gains. So al­though in­tel­lec­tual progress is difficult, it yields sig­nifi­cant benefits.

Mak­ing progress as a community

Much in­tel­lec­tual progress is done as part of a com­mu­nity: even when an in­di­vi­d­ual has an im­por­tant new in­sight, it tends to take many peo­ple to bring the idea to ma­tu­rity. Aca­demic sci­ence is per­haps the most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of this.

In­tel­lec­tual progress is not just some­thing done by pro­fes­sional philoso­phers. It’s some­thing that ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity can con­tribute to.

Just as you might donate some of your in­come with­out work­ing full-time for a char­ity, you can con­tribute in­tel­lec­tu­ally with­out be­com­ing a full-time re­searcher. For ex­am­ple, you could ag­gre­gate data on the num­ber of in­ver­te­brates in the world, tweak GiveWell’s cost-effec­tive­ness model, or an­a­lyze the his­tory of an in­ter­est­ing so­cial move­ment. And you can also help by writ­ing up ex­pla­na­tions or sum­maries of oth­ers’ work. Whilst you do so, you’ll be sharp­en­ing your think­ing, un­der­stand­ing oth­ers’ ideas bet­ter, and learn­ing about im­por­tant top­ics.

This is why open fo­rums have his­tor­i­cally been places where key ideas be­hind effec­tive al­tru­ism have been ham­mered out—for in­stance, Feli­ci­fia, LessWrong, SL4, and many on the EA Fo­rum it­self.

To make in­tel­lec­tual progress, the com­mu­nity needs the right in­fras­truc­ture, amongst other things:

  1. A place to share ideas (e.g. jour­nals)

  2. A way of get­ting feed­back on in­tel­lec­tual work (e.g. dis­cus­sion groups, on­line fo­rums)

  3. An easy way to search for ex­ist­ing work (e.g. liter­a­ture re­views)

  4. Shared norms of dis­cus­sion, and stan­dards for work (e.g. karma vot­ing)

  5. Com­mon knowl­edge of core ideas, so that ideas can be built upon rather than con­stantly re­dis­cov­ered (e.g. text­books)

  6. A place for con­trib­u­tors to find im­por­tant open ques­tions in the field (e.g. re­search agen­das)

The EA Fo­rum in­tends to provide this in­fras­truc­ture, and so be­come the cen­tral place where EAs make in­tel­lec­tual progress on­line.

The Fo­rum is a place where any­one can share ideas (1) and get feed­back on them (2). If most con­tent is posted on the Fo­rum, then its search func­tion will be an easy way to find pre­vi­ous work (3). It will have shared norms of dis­cus­sion (4), speci­fi­cally those de­tailed in the mod­er­a­tion guidelines. In the next few months, and in con­sul­ta­tion with the com­mu­nity, we aim to pro­duce a core se­ries of posts out­lin­ing the com­mon knowl­edge that we can build on as a com­mu­nity (5). List­ing open re­search ques­tions (6) is an im­por­tant prob­lem that we are likely to work on in the next year.

Up­date (5/​3/​19): As a re­sult of our lead­er­ship tran­si­tion, we’ve de­pri­ori­tized the cre­ation of the core se­ries of posts men­tioned in point #5, and we can’t com­mit to a re­lease date.

So we think that we will make more progress as a com­mu­nity if we dis­cuss ideas on the Fo­rum. It’s a place to share rough notes and get feed­back, a place to fi­nally ex­plain the con­cept that keeps com­ing up in con­ver­sa­tion, and a place to cross-post and dis­cuss the most in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant con­tent that you find.

How can you con­tribute?

Write

Here are some rea­sons for post­ing to the EA Fo­rum:

  • Learning

    • Writ­ing posts is a great way to come up with im­por­tant new ideas, as well as to prac­tice your writ­ing.

    • Get­ting feed­back from other users can help you im­prove your think­ing, and no­tice the er­rors you’re mak­ing.

  • Sharing

    • Writ­ing a post for the Fo­rum is an effi­cient way to ex­plain an idea: you can do it once, then re­fer peo­ple to the post, rather than ex­plain­ing anew each time. And you can ex­plain it bet­ter than you would on the fly.

    • If you’ve writ­ten the idea up, oth­ers can also link to your ex­pla­na­tion, which saves them time.

    • You can ex­plain your ideas to some­one who’s new to the com­mu­nity, or some­one on the other side of the world, who you’ve never met.

    • When you write, you share not just your ideas, but your think­ing pat­terns—oth­ers can learn from these, and can use that knowl­edge to co­or­di­nate more eas­ily with you.

  • Self-promoting

    • Writ­ing is good way to make a name for your­self. Many re­searchers in the com­mu­nity got started by writ­ing a blog, and it’s some­thing that you can show to prospec­tive em­ploy­ers.

Of course, there are also rea­sons that you should think care­fully be­fore post­ing on the Fo­rum:

  • There might be other more use­ful things for you to do.

  • You might find it difficult to deal with crit­i­cism of your ideas.

  • Spread­ing ideas can cause harm: be care­ful to avoid un­pro­duc­tive dis­cord, and try to check your rea­son­ing so that you don’t ac­ci­den­tally mis­lead peo­ple (com­mu­nity mem­bers will also let you know if they are wor­ried about this).

Comment

Com­ment­ing is use­ful for many of the rea­sons above. In par­tic­u­lar:

  • Com­ment­ing al­lows you to share your ex­per­tise.

  • It also al­lows you to en­gage more deeply with oth­ers’ work and un­der­stand it bet­ter.

  • It is an im­por­tant way to re­in­force use­ful norms of dis­cus­sion.

Cross-Post

The Fo­rum is a place to dis­cuss all con­tent re­lated to effec­tive al­tru­ism. Cross-post­ing an in­ter­est­ing post from el­se­where can help share the post’s ideas, and also cre­ates a space for mod­er­ated dis­cus­sion about the post with other com­mu­nity mem­bers.

Learn more about the Fo­rum’s fea­tures, and how to use them, on our about page.