I have read the entirety of "An 'Odyssean' Education" as well as another ~300 pages of blogposts from him, fascinated by how someone with someone who seemingly has formed his beliefs from much of the same literature I have, comes to such vastly different conclusions than me.
I mostly agree with your book review, your summary hit the nail on its head.
An 'Odyssean' Education, reads like a rough first draft at its best and like a stream of thoughts at its worst. But that's alright. Its purpose is to be a rough sketch of Dominic Cummings' worldview. It gives us insight to why he holds his beliefs and push for certain policies but not others.
I wish I could read a similar document for other prominent political figures, and get a similar understanding of their worldview as well.bdixon on Dominic Cummings - An 'Odyssean' Education [review]
Thanks for your feedback! I agree that people should read the essay and make up their minds for themselves.
To address the points you raised:
As a set of notes, it claims to address the most important economic and political priorities, and I think this is the criteria on which it should be judged. My view is that it fails to do so.
My main beef with Cummings is that he overreaches in areas he's not familiar with, and he has uncharitable disdain for the work of others, and I think this is consistent throughout the piece.
In my view there is a tension between his admiration of big government projects, but his failure to talk about democracy and link government activity to public needs. If I rewrite the piece I will make this more explicit.
I didn't find this review very helpful. Hopefully I'll be able to explain why and hopefully people will read Cummings's essay for themselves.
As you note, this is not (straightforwardly) an essay about education. It's a wide-ranging discussion of his views on a handful of core themes, and a series of disconnected thoughts on many topics. You might think these are vices in an essay, but I think it's only fair to evaluate the essay in terms of what it's actually trying to do.
As far as I can tell, it's not trying to be a comprehensive political manifesto, but most of your criticisms seem to simply be objecting that he's not talking about things you'd like him to talk about (or just not talking about them as much as you'd like):
- "One of the great failings of the piece is his failure to engage with climate change (while space exploration gets three full pages)."
- "Yet carbon emissions get very little airtime in his discussion of energy systems, and the impacts of climate change (heatwaves, floods, food shortages, and others) are not discussed at any point in the 235-page essay."
- "There's no discussion of the societal impact of advancing technologies... There's nothing on how algorithms are interacting with our social structures, locking in biases, and systematically discriminating against women. Cumming's essay has no real discussion of people, or reflection on lived experiences."
- "Notably vacant from Cummings' essay is any discussion of political representation, democracy, or even voting systems, which are in desperate need of reform."
You also complain that "Often the text moves on to another topic without linking to the previous one, and without having developed the ideas much further." But this is inevitable given that the essay ranges across an enormous variety of different topics of discussion. It might be frustrating to you as a reader if you didn't want to read a loose collection of Dominic Cummings's personal thoughts about multiple topics, but that's what you signed up for in reading the essay. There's nothing wrong with writing a personal essay which alludes to a wide range of topics without going into depth on most of them.
Notably, practically the only specific concrete criticism of anything in Cummings's essay that I found in your review was concerning one of these many digressions on technical issues of interest to him that he goes into: "he draws false equivalences between the count of neurons in a brain and the processing power of computers, when this field still has many deep uncertainties" which, for one, is a fairly mild objection but also seems only tangential to the main themes (to the extent there are any) of the essay.
I think it would have been more useful if you engaged substantively with some of the arguments Cummings makes and explained specifically where you think he goes wrong. For example, you grant that "[Cummings] agrees that markets can fail, need to be regulated, and that the government plays an important role in fostering innovation." But then you write "even advocates of market approaches, like Harvard academics Iversen and Soskice (2019) argue that successful capitalism has to always be embedded in the institutional features of democratic states" as though this you are pointing out a flaw in Cummings's position. As it stands, if I hadn't read Cummings's essay, I would have virtually no idea from reading your review what his distinctive views are and I barely know what you actually disagree with him about.
haukehillebrandt on Projects tackling nuclear risk?
The Nuclear Threat Initiative works on this.
Also see:khorton on Request for Help with Research
I appreciate that you're very specific in what you're asking for!michaela on MichaelA's Shortform
There is now a Stanford Existential Risk Initiative, which (confusingly) describes itself as:
a collaboration between Stanford faculty and students dedicated to mitigating global catastrophic risks (GCRs). Our goal is to foster engagement from students and professors to produce meaningful work aiming to preserve the future of humanity by providing skill, knowledge development, networking, and professional pathways for Stanford community members interested in pursuing GCR reduction.
And they write:
What is a Global Catastrophic Risk?
We think of global catastrophic risks (GCRs) as risks that could cause the collapse of human civilization or even the extinction of the human species.
That is much closer to a definition of an existential risk [EA · GW] (as long as we assume that the collapse is not recovered from) than of an global catastrophic risk. Given that fact and the clash between the term the initiative uses in its name and the term it uses when describing what they'll focus on, it appears this initiative is conflating these two terms/concepts.
This is unfortunate, and could lead to confusion, given that there are many events that would be global catastrophes without being existential catastrophes. An example would be a pandemic that kills hundreds of millions but that doesn't cause civilizational collapse [EA(p) · GW(p)], or that causes a collapse humanity later fully recovers from. (Furthermore, there may be existential catastrophes that aren't "global catastrophes" in the standard sense, such as "plateauing — progress flattens out at a level perhaps somewhat higher than the present level but far below technological maturity" (Bostrom).)
For further discussion, see Clarifying existential risks and existential catastrophes [EA · GW].
(I should note that I have positive impressions of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (which this initiative is a part of), that I'm very glad to see that this initiative has been set up, and that I expect they'll do very valuable work. I'm merely critiquing their use of terms.)jaspergeh on Why and how the EA-Movement has to change
On the one hand I empathise with your situation – (seemingly) interested in the guiding principles and the core idea and put off by other aspiring EAs in your immediate vicinity. On the other hand, I don't see your situation as generalisable to EA as a whole and very contrary to most experiences on conferences, in local groups etc (e.g. DGB is neither bible-like, nor an EA-blueprint imho).
Your title's "why" seems to be solely based on a small sample of local EAs and the "how" is just a 'really think about how much good the actions you take do'?
You could've addressed your local group directly, or started separate events or meet-ups meeting your standards (which is something people did before and which is encouraged as to circumvent lock-in). You could've been more careful with the generalisations and written a caveat on how to not run a local group as to not put off newcomers. But in this format, you don't really provide a differentiated critique and I'm not really sure where you're going with this post. Hence a downvote.gworley3 on Why and how the EA-Movement has to change
Although this is getting downvotes I do find it interesting at least in that it points out that at least one local group (and so probably more) are operating in ways that turn off interested folks. Unfortunately we don't know which group, although I encourage the poster to reach out to someone at CEA and maybe they can look into it and see if there is anything they can do to help this group improve (if that is indeed appropriate) as part of their community-building efforts.
But I think it's worth highlighting that here we have someone who care about about EA that they came here to make a post about how frustrated they are with their experience with EA! I think that points out that there is likely some opportunity to do better embedded in this!linch on Are there historical examples of excess panic during pandemics killing a lot of people?
No worries! :)saulius on EA Updates for May 2020
Thanks for this David. A minor mistake: Animal Charity Evaluators Community Chat is on May 31st, not 29th.