In February, my girlfriend and I started Rational Animations, a YouTube channel with the long-term mission of producing high-quality animated videos about rationality and Effective Altruism. The aim is to spread these ideas to a broader audience, organize fundraisers, and animate rationality and EA ideas in general.
I've been reading and interacting with the EA and rationality community for a few years. I have other accounts on the EA Forum and LW focused on a niche topic. Still, I decided to start fresh with this account for talking about more diversified topics and crossposting relevant videos from the channel, either accompanied by the scripts of the videos or by an article more suitable for Less Wrong or the EA Forum. I will probably also post articles that won't make it to the YT channel and experiment with different topics to see what is more appreciated.
My name here is "Writer" because I write the scripts for the channel. The videos you see uploaded right now are all narrated by me, but this will change soon. I also take decisions on the channel's direction, advertise it, interact with subscribers, etc. In short, I do everything that isn't animation and graphics, and I'll outsource narration to someone else.
You can consider the first three videos as trials, in which I was testing the waters. Both the animator and I are still improving, but the following videos will be increasingly representative of our future uploads.
In April, we received a grant from the Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund. We are using it for the animator's equipment, salary for the next six months, paying our new narrator, and potentially pursue paid advertisement strategies. I already experimented with YT ads, but they were disappointing. I have more creative ideas that don't rely on ads or third-party advertisers. For the longer term, the animator and I would really like to make a career with this project.
One thing I would be fond of doing is to bring articles from LW to the YouTube channel. So don't be afraid to message me if there is something that you consider particularly important or interesting that you would like to see animated. I will probably answer with a considerable delay because I'll have plenty of videos already scheduled. But I'll definitely consider your idea and get back to you if I decide to implement it.
It would also be cool to see some of the best "historic" posts adapted for YT and animated, or even recent posts that I really like. In the future, I might reach out to the author of a post to ask if I can bring it to YT.
Eternal Septembers: something to be avoided
What I won't do is aggressively advertise LessWrong and the EA Forum. If the channel succeeds, I will organize fundraisers for EA charities. If I adapt an article for YT, I will link it in the description or just credit the author. If I use quotes from an author on LW or the EA Forum, I will probably credit them on-screen. But I will never say: "Come on LW! Plenty of cool people there!" especially if the channel becomes big. Otherwise, "plenty of cool people" becomes Reddit pretty fast.
If the channel becomes big, I will also refrain from posting direct links to LW and the EA Forum. Remind me if I ever forget. And let me know if these rules are not conservative enough.
The next video will be out on June 1st at 15:00 EST. I will post an accompanying article just on LW because it is about a rationality topic. The video after that will be about an EA topic, good both for LW and the EA Forum.
I'm worried about associating Effective altruism and rationality closely in public. I think rationality is reasonably likely to make enemies. The existence of r/sneerclub is maybe the strongest evidence of this, but also the general dislike that lots of people have for silicon valley and ideas that have a very silicon valley feel to them. I'm unsure to degree people hate Dominic Cummings because he's a rationality guy, but I think it's some evidence to think that rationality is good at making enemies. Similarly, the whole NY times-Scott Alexander crazyness makes me think there's the potential for lots of people to be really anti rationality.
I don't think we should let the most unreasonable haters maneuver what we say, but if it is of any reassurance the plan is to have a channel with its own legs. It will not be a core brand thing to be associated with EA or LW*.
That said, don't discount the value of the connection rationality-EA. It's probably true that EA is rationality applied to altruism, and many of the most valuable EAs are also LW people.
*Upon reflection, this is probably too early to say and not true right now. What I can say is that at least the channel probably won't be linked to the forums for the reasons already stated in the post.
By "first three videos," I meant the first three animated videos. Pardon. There are old videos I mean to keep because they are generally on topic and either sort of historic (epic conway's game of life) or cute stuff from my adolescence, which was pretty good anyway. Not production-wise, but at least concept-wise. But most importantly most of my current public arrives from them.
Err... the comments here and on LW seem neutral to positive. So why am I being downvoted so much? Is it the post or the channel? If it is the channel, I swear that better stuff is coming D: Maybe I should have just done a post after that stuff. Too bad I guess. I didn't expect this reception.
I upvoted, but here are some comments I have. Looking at the titles of the first three videos, it wasn't clear how they related to rationality.
How Does Bitcoin Work? Simple and Precise 5…
Why Your Life Is Harder When You Are Ugly | The… (didn't notice the "Halo Effect" in the thumbnail at first)
Why You STRUGGLE to Finish on Time | The…
So perhaps people downvoted based on first impressions that it doesn't seem that related to rationality?
I enjoyed the Bitcoin, halo effect, and planning fallacy videos, but I didn't think that the video "If You Want to Find Truth You Need to Step Into Cringe" made a solid rational argument for the opening statement that "If you honestly seek truth, and if you decide to tell the truth, at some point, you will accept to appear cringe to the eyes of most people." The only evidence given was that telling other people the truth that you are a weeaboo is cringe, but that "truth" (which is about you yourself) is quite disanalogous to truths about the external world. Since the channel is branded as "rational", and you also include "Effective Altruism" in the channel description, I would like the videos to all have rigorous rational arguments. For this video, I would also have preferred a somewhat more serious overall tone in the script instead of leaning in so heavily into internet culture, so that the videos seem more respectable perhaps, but I don't have a strong preference about this.
Regarding this YouTube comment of yours: "internet dynamics are probably relatable to a YT audience. Should I worry that using them as examples would make my videos cringe in the eyes of a sophisticated audience? Well, maybe but... I prefer to defy social rules rather than accept them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it backfires, but I observed that when it works, the payoff is usually very high. Plus, it's fun." Make sure to take downside risk seriously! I don't think any of your videos so far have been risky, and I don't think talking about internet culture is risky, but it's something to keep in mind. It would be good to avoid inadvertently damaging the reputation of rationality and/or effective altruism. Ben Todd's "Why not to rush to translate effective altruism into other languages" [EA · GW] says "any kind of broad based outreach is risky because it’s hard to reverse. Once your message is out there, it tends to stick around for years, so if you get the message wrong, you’ve harmed years of future efforts. We call this the risk of ‘lock in’." I don't agree with that much of Ben Todd's post, but I think it's important to be thoughtful about the messaging that you're putting forth (not saying that you aren't). Before making the videos, do you get the scripts reviewed by other people and ask for honest feedback? Ideally, you'd get feedback from rationalists and effective altruists as well as people who are neither. If not, I would recommend doing so, especially since these videos are targeted toward the general public.
It could also help to have official subtitles. YouTube makes it pretty easy to add subtitles—you just paste in your script and then it automatically aligns it to the right time.
I think the animations are really awesome, not only in art quality but also in elucidating the subject of the video visually. It might be nice to have some non-white characters too (besides nonhuman animals like doge lol) for some more diversity.