Hm, I’m a bit unhappy with the framing of symptoms vs. root causes, and am skeptical about whether it captures a real thing (when it comes to mental health and drugs vs. therapy). I’m worried that making the difference between the two contributes to the problems alexrjl pointed out.
Note, I have no clinical expertise and am just spitballing: e.g. I understand the following trajectory as archetypical for what others might call “aha! First a patch and then root causes”:
[Low energy --> takes antidepressants --> then has enough energy to do therapy & changes thought patterns etc. --> becomes long-term better afterwards doesn’t need antidepressants anymore”]
But even if somebody had a trajectory like this, I’m not convinced that the thought patterns should count as root cause and not e.g. physiological imbalances that gave these kind of thought patterns a rich feeding ground in the first place (, which were addressed by antidepressants and perhaps to be addressed first before long-term improvement is possible). This makes me think that even if there is some matter of fact, it’s not particularly meaningful.
(This seems even more true to me for things like ADHD—not even sure what root causes would be here -, but which weren’t central to OP)
I think you might plausibly have a different and coherent conception of the root causes vs. symptoms thing, but I’m worried of using that distinction anyway because root causes is pretty normatively connotated, and people have all kinds of associations to it. (Would still be curious to hear your conceptualisation if you have one)
I care much less/have no particular thoughts on this distinction in non-mental-health cases, which were the focus of OP.
+1 to appreciating the OP, and I’ll probably try out some of the things suggested!
Hah! Random somewhat fun personal anecdote: I think tracking actually helped me a bit with that. When I first started tracking I was pretty neurotic about doing it super exactly. Having to change my toggl so frequently + seeing the ‘2 minutes of supposed work X’ at the end of the day when looking at my toggl was so embarrassing that I improved a bit over time. Now I’m either better at swtiching less often and less neurotic about tracking or only the latter. It also makes me feel worse to follow some distraction if I know my time is currently being tracked as something else.
I might be a little bit less worried about the time delay of the response. I’d be surprised if fewer than say 80% of the people who would say they find this very concerning won’t end up also reading the response from ACE.
FWIW, depending on the definition of ‘very concerning’, I wouldn’t find this surprising. I think people often read things, vaguely update, know that there’s another side of the story that they don’t know, have the thing they read become a lot less salient, happen to not see the follow-up because they don’t check the forum much, and end up having an updated opinion (e.g. about ACE in this case) much later without really remembering why.
(e.g. I find myself very often saying things like “oh, there was this EA post that vaguely said X and maybe you should be concerned about Y because of this, although I don’t know how exactly this ended in the end” when others talk about some X-or-Y-related topic, esp. when the post is a bit older. My model of others is that they then don’t go check, but some of them go on to say “Oh, I think there’s a post that vaguely says X, and maybe you be concerned about Y because of this, but I didn’t read it, so don’t take me too seriously” etc. and this post sounds like something this could happen with.)
Maybe I’m just particularly epistemically unvirtuous and underestimate others. Maybe for the people who don’t end up looking it up but just having this knowingly-shifty-somewhat-update the information just isn’t very decision-relevant and it doesn’t matter much. But I generally think information that I got with lots of epistemic disclaimers and that have lots of disclaimers in my head do influence me quite a bit and writing this makes me think I should just stop saying dubious things.
And if hours went into carefully picking the original ten episodes and deciding how to sequence them, I’d like to see modifications made via a process of re-listening to different podcasts for hours and experimenting with their effects in different orders, seeing what “arcs” they form, etc., rather than via quick EA Forum comments and happy recollections of isolated episodes.
I agree that that’s how I want the eventual decision to be made. I’m not sure what exactly the intended message of this paragraph was, but at least one reading is that you want to discourage comments like Brian’s or otherwise extensive discussion on the contents of the podcast list. In case anyone reads it that way, I strongly disagree.
This has some flavor of ‘X at EA organisation Y probably thought about this for much longer than me/works on this professionally, so I’ll defer to them’, which I think EAs generally say/think/do too often. It’s very easy to miss things even when you’ve worked on something for a while (esp. if it’s more in the some months than many years range) and outsiders often can actually contribute something important. I think this is already surprisingly often the case with research, and much more so the case with something like an intro resource where people’s reactions are explicitly part of what you’re optimizing for. (Obviously what we care about are new-people’s reactions, but I still think that people-within-EA-reactions are pretty informative for that. And either way, people within EA are clearly stakeholders of what 80,000 Hours does.)
As with everything, there’s some risk of the opposite (‘not expecting enough of professionals?’), but I think EA currently is too far on the deferry end (at least within EA, I could imagine that it’s the opposite with experts outside of EA).
Meta: Rereading your comment, I think it’s more likely that your comment was either meant as a message to 80,000 Hours about how you want them to make their decision eventually or something completely different, but I think it’s good to leave thoughts on possible interpretations of what people write.
Some stuff from Paul Christiano’s ‘The sideways view’
In addition to everything that Pablo said (esp. the Tomasik stuff because AFAICT none of his stuff is on the forum?)
I found tagging buggy. I tried to tag something yesterday, and I believe it didn’t get through although it worked today. The ’S-risks” tag doesn’t show up in my list to tag posts at all, although it’s an article. But that might also be something about the difference between tags and articles that I don’t understand? I use firefox and didn’t check on other browsers.
Is there a consensus for how to use organisation tags? Specifically, is it desirable to have have every output that’s ever come out of an organisation to be tagged to them or only e.g. organisational updates? I’ve seen the first partly, but scarcely, done and am not sure about my opinion. (I mean things like “This report is published on the EA forum and the person who worked on this report was at org X at the time and wrote it as part of their job”)
edit: 3) Just adding this on here...Is there a way to tag everything that has one tag with another tag? (I’m speaking of the ‘economics’ tag + lots of more specific tags; ‘moral philosophy’ and ‘metaethics’ etc.)
I’m not a very experienced researcher, but I think in my short research career, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with self-consciousness. Here are some things I find:
Note that I mostly refer to the “I’m not worth other people’s time”, “This/I am dumb”, “This is bad, others will hate me for it” type of self-consciousness. There might be other types of self-consciousness, e.g. “I’m nervous I’m not doing the optimal thing and feel bad because then more morally horrible things will happen” in a way that’s genuinely not related to self-confidence, self-esteem etc. for which my experience will not apply. This is apart from the obvious fact that different things work for different people
Some general thoughts:
As my disclaimer might indicate, I see research self-consciousness not as bound to research. Before/outside of research/work/EA in general I didn’t notice that I had any issues with self-confidence. But for me at least, I think research/work/EA just activated some self-esteem/self-confidence issues I had before. (That is not to say that self-esteem etc. are not domain-specific, but I still think there’s some more general thing going on as well) So, I approach research self-consciousness quite holistically as character development and try to improve not strictly in the research domain, although that will hopefully also help with research self-consciousness. Because I never looked at it from a pure research-domain lens, some things might seem a bit off, but I’ll try to make it relevant.
The goal of the things I do to improve self-consciousness is not primarily to get to a state where I think my research is great, but to get to a state where I can do research, think it’s great or not, be wrong, and be okay with it. I sometimes have to remind myself of that. On the occasions on which I do and decouple my self-esteem from the research, it lowers the stakes: If my research really is crap, at least it doesn’t mean I’m crap.
Things I do to improve:
In the moment of feeling self-conscious: I would second Jason that talking to others about the object-level is magic
I also have a rule of talking to others about my research/sharing writeups whenever it feels most uncomfortable to do so. Those are often the moments when I’m most hardstuck because an anxious mind doesn’t research well, exchange with others really helps, but my anxiety traps me to stay in that bad state!
I do something easy to commit myself to something that seems scary but important for research progress, so in the moment of self-consciousness I can’t just back out again. Examples:
Social accountability is great for this. When I’m in a really self-conscious-can’t-work-state, I sometimes commit myself to send someone something I haven’t started, yet, in 30 minutes, no matter what state it’s in.
I also often find it way easier to say “yes, I’ll do this talk/discussion round at date X” or messaging another person “Hey, I have this idea I wanted to discuss, can I send you a doc?” (Even though I don’t have a good doc, yet, because I think the idea is crap) than to do the thing, so whenever I feel able to do the first, I do it and future Chi has to deal with it, no matter how self-conscious she is.
Often, just starting is the hardest thing. At least for me, that’s where feeling super self-conscious often happens and stops me from doing anything. I sometimes set a timer for 5 minutes to do work. That’s short enough that it feels ridiculous not to be able to it, and afterwards I often feel way less self-conscious and can just continue.
I think the above examples are partly me basically doing iterated exposure therapy with myself. (I never put it in those terms before.) It’s uncomfortable and sucky, but it helps (, and I get some perverse enjoyment out of it). I try to look for the thing I’m most scared of that feels related to my research self-consciousness, that seems barely doable, and try to do it. Unless that thing becomes easier and then I go “to the next level”. E.g. maybe at some point, I want ot practice sharing my opinions publicly on a platform, but can only do so, if I ran my opinion by a friend beforehand and then excessively qualify when writing my opinion and emphasize how dumb and wrong everything could be. And that’s fine, you can “cheat” a bit. But after a while you hopefully feel comfortable enough that you can challenge yourself to cut the excessive qualifiers and running things by your friend.
Ideally, you do that with research related things (e.g. iterated exposure of all your crappy research stuff, then with you confidently backing them, then on some topic that scares you, then with scarier people etc. --> Not suggesting that this order makes sense for everyone), but we don’t always have the opportunity to iterate quickly on research because research takes time. I have the goal to improve on this generally anyway, but I think even if not, some things are good enough nearbys that are relevant to research self-consciousness. Examples:
For self-consciousness reasons, I struggle with saying “Yes, I think this is good and promising” about something I work on, which makes me useless at analyzing whether e.g. a cause area is promising, which is incidentally exactly my task right now. So I looked for things that felt similar and uncomfortable in the same way and settled for trying to post at least one opinion/idea a weekday in pre-specified channels. (I had to give up after a week, but I think it was really good and I want to continue once I have more breathing room.)
For the same reason as above, I deliberately go through my messages and delete all anxious qualifiers. I can’t always do that in all contexts because they make me too self-conscious, and I allow myself that.
I appreciate that the above self-exposure-therapy examples might be too difficult for some and that might seem intimidating. (I’ve definitely been at “I’d never, ever, ever write a comment on the forum!” I’m still self-conscious about what I up- and downvote and noone can even see that) But you can also make progress on a lower level, just try whatever seems manageable and be gentle to yourself. (And back off if you notice you chewed off too much.)
However, it can still be pretty daunting and it might be that it’s not always possible to do the above completely independently. (E.g. I think I only got started when I spent several weeks at a research organisation I respect a lot, felt terrible for many parts, but couldn’t back out and just had to do or die, and had a really good environment. I’m not sure “sticking through” would have been possible for me without that organisational context)
I personally benefited a lot from listening to other people’s stories, general content on failing, self-esteem etc. I’m not sure how applicable that is to others that try to improve research self-consciousness because I never looked at it from a pure research lens, but it’s motivating to have a positive ideal as well, and not just “self-consciousness is bad.” I usually consume non-EA podcasts and books for this.
On positive motivation:
Related to the last point of positive ideals: Recently, I found it really inspiring to look at some people who just seem to have no fear of expressing their ideas, enthusiasm, think things through themselves without anyone giving them permission etc. And I think about how valuable just these traits are apart from the whole “oh, they are so smart” thing. I find that a lot more motivating than the smartness-ideal in EA, and then I get really motivated to also become cool like that!
I guess for me there’s also a gender thing in where the idea of becoming a kickass woman is double motivating. I think I also have the feeling that I want to make progress on this on behalf of other self-conscious people that struggle more than me. I’m not really sure why I think that benefits them, but I just somehow do. (Maybe I could investigate that intuition at some point.) And that also gives me some positive motivation.
Ironically, I felt somewhat upset reading OP, I think for the reason you point out. (No criticism towards OP, I was actually amused at myself when I noticed)
I think some reason-specific heterogeneity in how easily something is expressible/norms in your society also play a role:
I think some reasons are just inherently fuzzier (or harder to crisply grasp), e.g. why certain language makes you feel excluded. (It’s really hard to point at a concrete damage (or in summer circles, something that can’t be countered with “that’s not how it’s meant [, but if you want to be sensitive, we can accommodate that].”)) I think that’s double troubling because the other person often takes you less seriously and because you might take yourself less seriously. I think at least I’m more prone to be emotional when I feel like my reasons are of this type, and maybe that’s similar for others?
some kinds of reasoning are more socially excepted in different circles. E.g. In some EA circles, I imagine the “anti”-vegan argument would be associated with higher social status, and in some EA circles it would be the other way around. At least in my case, I’m more prone to be emotional when I feel like I have the less socially approved opinion/reasoning process.
I guess the common thread here is feeling threatened and like one needs to defend one’s opinion because it’s likely to be undermined. I guess the remedy would be… Really making sure the other person feels taken seriously (including by themselves) and safe and says everything they want? (Maybe someone else can come up with something more helpful and concrete) That’s obviously just the side of the non-offended person, but I feel like the ways the upset person could try to improve in such situations is even more generic and vague.
Obviously, this is just one type of being emotional during conversations. E.g if what I say explains any meaningful variance at all, it probably does so less for 4) than for 3). (Maybe not coincidentally since I’m not male)
Thanks for the reply!
Honestly, I’m confused by the relation to gender. I’m bracketing out genders that are both not-purely-female and not-purely-male because I don’t know enough about the patterns of qualifiers there.
In general, I think anxious qualifying is more common for women. EA isn’t known for having very many women, so I’m a bit confused why there’s seemingly so much of it in EA.
(As a side: This reminds me of a topic I didn’t bring into the original post: How much is just a selection effect and how much is EA increasing anxious qualifying. Intuitively, I at least think it’s not purely a selection effect, but I haven’t thought closely about this.)
Given the above, I would expect that women are also more likely to take the EA culture, and transform it into excessive use of anxious qualifiers, but that’s just speculation. Maybe the percentage change of anxious qualifier use is also higher for men, just because their baseline is lower
I’m not sure how this affects gender diversity in EA as a whole. I can imagine that it might actually be good because underconfident people might be less scared off if the online communication doesn’t seem too confident, and they feel like they can safely use their preferred lots-of-anxious-signalling communication strategy.
That being said, I guess that what would do the above job (at least) equally good is what I call “3” in my reply to Misha. Or, at least I’m hopeful that there are some other communication strategies that would have that benefit without encouraging anxious signalling.
edit: I noticed that the last bullet point doesn’t make much sense because I claim elsewhere that 3 can encourage 4 because they look so similar, and I stand by that.
Interestingly, maybe not instructively, I was kind of hesitant to bring gender into my original post. Partly for good reasons, but partly also because I worried about backlash or at least that some people would take it less seriously as a result. I honestly don’t know if that says much about EA/society, or solely about me. (I felt the need to include “honestly” to make it distinguishable from a random qualifier and mark it as a genuine expression of cluelessness!)
“displaying uncertainty or lack of knowledge sometimes helps me be more relaxed”
I think there’s a good version of that experience and I think that’s what you’re referring to, and I agree that’s a good use of qualifiers. Just wanted to make a note to potential readers because I think the literal reading of that statement is a bit incomplete. So, this is not really addressed at you :)
I think displaying uncertainty or lack of knowledge always helps to be more relaxed even when it comes from a place of anxious social signalling. (See my first reply for what exactly I mean with that and what I contrast it to) That’s why people do it. If you usually anxiously qualify and force yourself not to do it, that feels scary. I still think, practicing not to do it will help with self-confidence, as in taking yourself more seriously, in the long run. (Apart from efficient communication)*
Of course, sometimes you just need to qualify things (in the anxious social signalling sense) to get yourself in the right state of mind (e.g. to feel safe to openly change your mind later, freely speculate, or to say anything at all in the first place), or allowing yourself the habit of anxious social signalling makes things so much more efficient, that you should absolutely go for it and not beat yourself up over it. Actually, an-almost ideal healthy confidence probably also includes some degree of what I call anxious social signalling and it’s unrealistic to get rid of all of it.
I just found one other frame for what I meant with anxious social signalling partly being rewarded in EA. Usually, that kind of signaling means others take you less seriously. I think it’s great that that’s not so much the case in EA, but I worry that sometimes it may look like people in EA take you more seriously when you do it. Maybe because EA actually endorses what I call 3 in my first reply, but—to say the same thing for the 100th time—I worry that it also encourages anxious social signalling.
I like the suggestions, and they probably-not-so-incidentally are also things that I often tell myself I should do more and that I hate. One drawback with them is that they are already quite difficult, so I’m worried that it’s too ambitious of an ask for many. At least for an individual, it might be more tractable to (encourage them to) change their excessive use of qualifiers as a first baby step than to jump right into quantification and betting. (Of course, what people find more or less difficult confidence-wise differs. But these things are definitely quite high on my personal “how scary are things” ranking, and I would expect that that’s the case for most people.)
OTOH, on the community level, the approach to encourage more quantification etc. might well be more tractable. Community wide communication norms are very fuzzy and seem hard to influence on the whole. (I noticed that I didn’t draw the distinction quite where you drew it. E.g. “Acknowledgements that arguments changed your mind” are also about communication norms.)
I am a little bit worried that it might have backfire effects. More quantification and betting could mostly encourage already confident people to do so (while underconfident people are still stuck at “wouldn’t even dare to write a forum comment because that’s scary.”), make the online community seem more confident, and make entry for underconfident people harder, i.e scarier. Overall, I think the reasons to encourage a culture of betting, quantification etc. are stronger than the concerns about backfiring. But I’m not sure if that’s the case for other norms that could have that effect. (See also my reply to Emery )
Got it now, thanks! I agree there’s confident and uncertain, and it’s an important point.
I’ll spend this reply on the distinction between the two, another response on the interventions you propose, and another response on your statement that qualifiers often help you be more relaxed.
The more I think about it, the more I think that there’s quite a bit for someone to unpack here conceptually. I haven’t done so, but here a start:
There’s stating epistemic degree of epistemic uncertainty to inform others how much they should update based on your belief (e.g. “I’m 70% confident in my beliefs, i.e. I think it’s 70% likely I’d still hold them after lots of reflection.”)
There’s stating probabilities which looks similar, but just tells others what your belief is, not how confident you are in it (“I think event X is 70% likely to occur”)
There’s stating epistemic uncertainty for social reasons that are not anxiety/underconfidence driven: Making a situation less adversarial; showing that you’re willing to change your mind; making it easy for others to disagree; just picking up this style of talking from people around you
There’s stating epistemic uncertainty for social reasons that is anxiety/underconfidence driven: Showing you’re willing to change your mind, so others don’t think you’re cocky; Saying you’re not sure, so you don’t look silly if you’re wrong/any other worry you have because you think maybe you’re saying something ‘dumb’; Making a situation less adversarial because you want to avoid conflict because you don’t want others to dislike you
There’s stating uncertainty about the value of your contribution. That can honestly be done in full confidence, because you want to help the group allocate to attention optimally, so you convey information and social permission to not spend too much time on your point. I think online most of the reasons to do so do not apply (people can just ignore you), so I’m counting it mostly as anxious social signalling or in the best case, a not so useful habit. An exception are if you want to help people decide whether to read a long piece of text.
I think you’re mostly referring to 1 and 2. I think 1 and 2 are good things to encourage and 4 and 5 are bad things to encourage. Although I think 4⁄5 also have their functions and shouldn’t be fully discouraged (more in my (third reply)[https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/rWSLCMyvSbN5K5kqy/chi-s-shortform?commentId=un24bc2ZcH4mrGS8f]). I think 3 is a mix. I like 3. I really like that EA has so much of 3. But too much can be unhelpful, esp. the “this is just a habit” kind of 3.
I think 1 and 2 look quite different from 4 and 5. The main problem that it’s hard to see if something is 3 or 4 or both, and that often, you can only know if you know the intention behind a sentence. Although 1 can also sometimes be hard to tell apart from 3, 4, and 5, e.g. today I said “I could be wrong”, which triggered my 4-alarm, but I was actually doing 1. (This is alongside other norms, e.g. expert deference memes, that might encourage 4.)
I would love to see more expressions that are obviously 1, and less of what could be construed as any of 1, 3, 4, or 5. Otherwise, the main way I see to improve this communication norm is for people to individually ask themselves which of 1,3,4,5 is their intention behind a qualifier.
edit: No idea, I really love 3
I just wondered whether there is systematic bias in how much advice there is in EA for people who tend to be underconfident and people who tend to be appropriately or overconfident. Anecdotally, when I think of Memes/norms in effective altruism that I feel at least conflicted about, that’s mostly because they seem to be harmful for underconfident people to hear.
Way in which this could be true and bad: people tend to post advice that would be helpful to themselves, and underconfident people tend to not post advice/things in general.
Way in which this could be true but unclear in sign: people tend to post advice that would be helpful to themselves, and they are more appropriately or overconfident people in the community than underconfident ones.
Way in which this could be true but appropriate: advice that would be harmful when overconfident people internalize it tends to be more harmful than advice that’s harmful to underconfident people. Hence, people post proportionally less of the first.
(I don’t think the vast space of possible advice just has more advice that’s harmful for underconfident people to hear than advice that’s harmful for overconfident people to hear.)
Maybe memes/norms that might be helpful for underconfident for people to hear or their properties that could be harmful for underconfident people are also just more salient to me.
Thanks for the reply and for linking the post, I enjoyed reading the conversation. I agree that there’s an important difference. The point I was trying to make is that one can look like the other, and that I’m worried that a culture of epistemic uncertainty can accidentally foster a culture of anxious social signaling, esp. when people who are inclined to be underconfident can smuggle anxious social signaling in disguised (to the speaker/writer themselves) as epistemic uncertainty. And because anxious social signalling can superficially look similar to epistemic uncertainty, they see other people in their community show similar-ish behavior and see similar-ish behavior be rewarded.
Not sure how to address this without harming epistemic uncertainty though. (although I’m inclined to think the right trade-off point involves more risk of less of the good communication of epistemic uncertainty)
Or was your point that you disagree that they look superficially similar? And hence, one wouldn’t encourage the other? And if that’s indeed your point, would you independently agree or disagree that there’s a lot of anxious social signaling of uncertainty in effective altruism?
Should we interview people with high status in the effective altruism community (or make other content) featuring their (personal) story, how they have overcome challenges, and live into their values?
I think it’s no secret that effective altruism has some problems with community health. (This is not to belittle the great work that is done in this space.) Posts that talk about personal struggles, for example related to self-esteem and impact, usually get highly upvoted. While many people agree that we should reward dedication and that the thing that really matters is to try your best given your resources, I think that, within EA, the main thing that gives you status, that many people admire, desire, and tie their self-esteem to is being smart.
Other altruistic communities seem to do a better job at making people feel included. I think this has already been discussed a lot, and there seem to be some reasons for why this is just inherently harder for effective altruism to do. But one specific thing I noticed is what I associate with leaders of different altruistic communities.
When I think of most high status people in effective altruism, I don’t think of their altruistic (or other personal) virtues, I think ‘Wow, they’re smart.’ Not because of a lack of altruistic virtues—I assume -, but because smartness is just more salient to me. On the other hand, when I think of other people, for example Michelle Obama or Melinda Gates or even Alicia Keys for that matter, I do think “Wow, these people are so badass. They really live into their values.” I wouldn’t want to use them as role models for how to have impact, but I do use them as role models for what kind of person I would like to be. I admire them as people, and they inspire me to work on myself to become like them in relevant respects, and they make me think it’s possible. I am worried that people look at high status people in effective altruism for what kind of person they would like to be, but the main trait of those people they are presented with is smartness, which is mostly intractable to try to improve.
I don’t think this difference is because these non-EAs lack any smartness or achievement that I could admire. I think it’s because I have consumed content where their personal story and values were put front and centre alongside what they did and how they achieved it. Similarly, I don’t think that high status people in effective altruism lack any personal virtue I could aspire to, but I’m simply not exposed to it.
I don’t know if it would actually improve this aspect of community health, and whether it’s overall worth the time of all people involved (although I think the answer is yes if the answer to the first is yes), but this made me wonder if we should create more content with high status people in the effective altruism community that is similar to the kind of interviews with non-EAs I mentioned. ‘That kind of content’ is pretty vague, and one would have to figure out how we can best celebrate the kind of virtues we want to celebrate, and whether this could work, in principle, with effective altruism. (Maybe the personal virtues we most admire in high status effective altruists just are detrimental to the self esteem of others. I can imagine that with some presentations of impact obsession for example.) But this might be a worth while idea, and I am somewhat hopeful that this could be combined with the presentation of more object-level content (the type that 80k interviews are mostly about).
Observation about EA culture and my journey to develop self-confidence:
Today I noticed an eerie similarity between things I’m trying to work on to become more confident and effective altruism culture. For example, I am trying to reduce my excessive use of qualifiers. At the same time, qualifiers are very popular in effective altruism. It was very enlightening when a book asked me to guess whether the following piece of dialogue was from a man or woman:
‘I just had a thought, I don’t know if it’s worth mentioning...I just had a thought about [X] on this one, and I know it might not be the right time to pop it on the table, but I just thought I’d mention it in case it’s useful.’
and I just immediately thought ‘No, that’s an effective altruist’. I think what the community actually endorses is communicating the degree of epistemic certainty and making it easy to disagree, while the above quote is anxious social signalling. I do think the community does a lot of the latter though, and it’s partly rewarded because of confounding with the first. (In the above example it’s obvious, but I think anxious social signaling is also often the place where ‘I’m uncertain about this’, ‘I haven’t thought much about this’, and ‘I might be wrong’ (of course you might be wrong) come from. That’s certainly the case for me.) Tangentially, there is also a strong emphasis on deference and a somewhat conservative approach to not causing harm, esp. with new projects.
Overall, I am worried that this communication norm and the two memes I mentioned foster under-confidence, a tendency to keep yourself small, and the feeling that you need permission to work on important problems or to think through important questions. The communication norm and memes I mentioned also have upsides, esp. when targeted at overconfident people, and I haven’t figured out yet what my overall take on them is. I just thought it was an interesting observation that certain things I’m trying to decrease are particularly pervasive in the effective altruism community.
(I think there are also lots of other problems related to self-esteem and effective altruism, but I wanted to focus on this particular aspect.)
Thanks for the reply! I was initially just self-interestedly wondering which training you got and whether you would recommend it. But I am also happy to hear about your plans in that direction.
Given the time constraints, do you think there any other people for whom it would make sense to take the lead regarding this that you are not yet in touch with about this, (e.g. a specific type of person rather than specific individuals.) And if so, which traits would that person need?
You already mentioned that you want to work on it with help anyway, and I can imagine that it doesn’t make sense for any other person to take this up right now given your expertise. Still wanted to ask if you think there are any sensible versions that would involve you less and would be feasible time-wise because I also think this is a majorly important topic and would love to see something happen.
I think the comparison to “the current average experience a college graduate has” isn’t quite fair, because the group of people who see 80k’s advice and act on is is already quite selected for lots of traits (e.g. altruism). I would be surprised if the average person influenced by 80k’s EtG advice had the average college graduate experience in terms of which careers they consider and hence, where they look for advice, e.g. they might already be more inclined to go into policy, the non-profit sector or research to do good.
(I have no opinion on how your point comes out on the whole. I wasn’t around in 2015, but intuitively it would also surprise me if 80k didn’t do substantially more good during that time than bad, even bracketing out community building effects (, which, admittedly, is hard))
Hey, I wanted to probe a bit into why you don’t write in gender neutral language on your website.
(For those who are not German: in German most nouns that refer to persons are not gender neutral by default, but always refer to either male or female persons, with the male version having been the default version for a long time. In the last decade, there has been a pushback against this and people started to adopt gender neutral language, which often looks a bit clunky though.) -
I saw that you justify this with better readability in your FAQ, but I didn’t find the response very satisfying. On reasons not to write gender neutral:
Readability: My guess is that at this point, most people have gotten used to gender neutral language and don’t really stumble when they read it anymore. Actually, I think there’s probably a fair share of people that stumble when they read non-gender neutral language nowadays. There are also some less clunky solutions (e.g. the female version with a capitalized “I” or explicitly stating that you’ll alternate gender between sections/pages). (They aren’t as correct because they exclude people who are not female and male, but probably still a better alternative than not using any gender neutral language at all)
Appeal to target audience: You might worry that gender neutral language might not be appealing to some target audiences that would usually donate fairly large amounts of money, but would not if the website was written in gender neutral language. (e.g. conservative leaning, wealthy donors.) You’ll know better than I and if you have convincing arguments that this is the case (and outweighs the money you could raise from people who are repelled from non gender neutral language), I’d probably support your decision. I would be somewhat surprised by this though. To me, using gender neutral language seems fairly normal and professional and not “lefty wooi-booi student initiative” anymore (e.g. the German Federal Agency for Civic Education uses gender neutral language, at least partly.)
The time cost of using gender neutral language seems fairly small
On the other hand:
I know at least one person who isn’t involved in EA but interested in effective giving that almost didn’t donate via effektiv-spenden because you don’t use gender neutral language. I would guess that a fair proportion of your target audience might be similarly inclined.
Apart from that, I also care about gender neutral language for feminist reasons, but that’s not what I wanted to focus on