[Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form.

post by arikr · 2019-09-10T19:38:09.975Z · score: 81 (46 votes) · EA · GW · 14 comments

Contents

  Why this is a valuable exercise
None
14 comments

Submit your answers anonymously here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfiUmvT4Z6hXIk_1xAh9u-VcNzERUPyWGmJjJQypZb943Pjsg/viewform?usp=sf_link

See the results here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfiUmvT4Z6hXIk_1xAh9u-VcNzERUPyWGmJjJQypZb943Pjsg/viewanalytics?usp=form_confirm

Inspired by: http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html

Let's start with a test: Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers?

If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think what you're told.

Why this is a valuable exercise

Some would ask, why would one want to do this? Why deliberately go poking around among nasty, disreputable ideas? Why look under rocks?
I do it, first of all, for the same reason I did look under rocks as a kid: plain curiosity. And I'm especially curious about anything that's forbidden. Let me see and decide for myself.
Second, I do it because I don't like the idea of being mistaken. If, like other eras, we believe things that will later seem ridiculous, I want to know what they are so that I, at least, can avoid believing them.
Third, I do it because it's good for the brain. To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that's in the habit of going where it's not supposed to.
Great work tends to grow out of ideas that others have overlooked, and no idea is so overlooked as one that's unthinkable. Natural selection, for example. It's so simple. Why didn't anyone think of it before? Well, that is all too obvious. Darwin himself was careful to tiptoe around the implications of his theory. He wanted to spend his time thinking about biology, not arguing with people who accused him of being an atheist.

Thanks to Khorton for the suggestion to do it as a Google form.

14 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2019-09-13T20:25:35.316Z · score: 20 (13 votes) · EA · GW

A non-trivial fraction of the responses seem to me like widely-held beliefs ('popular unpopular opinions'), at least in my particular EA cluster (UK, mostly London). Some of them and other perhaps less widely-held ones I have expressed to other people, and there at least weren't any immediate obvious social repercussions.

Of course there are also many responses I completely disagree with.

"We should evaluate reducing abortions as an EA cause."

I once even wrote a research proposal on this for the CEA Summer Research Fellowship 2017. I was then invited to the programme.

comment by Larks · 2019-09-16T01:02:09.270Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW
I once even wrote a research proposal on this for the CEA Summer Research Fellowship 2017. I was then invited to the programme.

Could you link to the research by any chance?

comment by Jamie_Harris · 2019-09-12T21:45:43.789Z · score: 17 (32 votes) · EA · GW

I'm very glad that people feel reluctant to express some of those opinions, especially in the unexplained, offensive format that they were expressed in those answers.

Also, some of the comments have very similar wording, which makes me suspect that someone/some people inputted multiple entries.

comment by BenMillwood · 2019-09-15T05:48:42.699Z · score: 16 (13 votes) · EA · GW

Yeah I think you have to view this exercise as optimizing for one end of the correctness-originality spectrum. Most of what is submitted is going to be uncomfortable admitting in public because it's just plain wrong, so if this exercise is to have any value at all, it's in sifting through all the nonsense, some of it pretty rotten, in the hope of finding one or two actually interesting things in there.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2019-09-15T20:22:00.631Z · score: 17 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I think there are more than "one or two" interesting things there.

comment by Edmund_nelson · 2019-09-14T16:21:07.003Z · score: 16 (9 votes) · EA · GW

The way this was presented I would expect that people state their thesis but not the explanation. It's "what is unpopular opinion" thread, not a "explain your unpopular opinion" thread.

comment by saulius · 2019-09-15T17:16:40.546Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Even though it may be presented this way, I think it would be valuable if people explained their statements more. E.g., three people wrote that "we should evaluate reducing abortions as an EA cause" or something along those lines, but none of them explained why they think it's promising. If someone could write an elevator pitch for it as an answer to the form (or this comment), I'd be interested to read.

comment by DarwinsRottweiler · 2019-09-15T23:09:18.034Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · EA · GW

The case for abortion in EA was defended in this Reddit post.

comment by Denise_Melchin · 2019-09-15T21:36:08.166Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I would expect that apart from contraception global health interventions to be most helpful in reducing deaths of unborn humans. Miscarriages and stillbirths are a much bigger deal than abortions, and in developing countries there is still a lot of room for health interventions to help for little money.

I would be surprised if other interventions to reduce unborn deaths were very cost-effective, even if you have a worldview which values embryos as much as newborns.*

I'd just be curious to see a writeup, especially of the impact of contraception access. Unborn humans don't feature in traditional QALY-based effectiveness analyses and I'd be interested how the results would change if they were included, even if at a discounted rate. I am not expecting this to be a promising area for most people interested in effective altruism.

*An exception might be if you value pre-implantation blastocysts as much as born humans, in which case your priority could well be to sterilize everyone. See also Toby Ord's paper The Scourge.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-09-15T20:42:46.291Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Abortion was discussed a bit in the first version of this post [EA · GW].

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-09-15T21:13:14.766Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW
Also, some of the comments have very similar wording, which makes me suspect that someone/some people inputted multiple entries.

The post also didn't specify one submission per person, so I wouldn't really count this against anyone. In some cases, it's clear that the submitter was making no attempt to hide it; at least one even referenced their previous submission.

comment by Tetraspace Grouping · 2019-09-12T23:41:51.087Z · score: 15 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Two people mentioned the CEA not being very effective as an unpopular opinion they hold; has any good recent criticism of the CEA been published?

comment by MichaelStJules · 2019-09-15T21:11:02.126Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · EA · GW

There are a few comments shitting on different cause areas and in a manner sounding like statement of fact and with little explanation (others were critical but at least explained), but these disagreements are largely based on differing ethical values, priors or weight given to evidence. Given the impression of confidence I get from these comments, I wonder if the submitters actually understand the arguments for why some EAs prioritize these causes over the ones the submitters prioritize. Or maybe they didn't feel the need to qualify their statements further, because the post is only asking for opinions.

Also, maybe there's some retaliation here, since each of AI risk, global health and poverty, and animal protection have been shat on.

comment by ishaan · 2019-09-18T19:00:29.858Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW
Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers? If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think what you're told.

Not necessarily! You might just be less averse to disagreement. Or perhaps you (rightly or wrongly) feel less personally vulnerable to the potential consequences of stating unpopular opinions and criticism.

Or, maybe you did quite a lot of independent thinking that differed dramatically from what you were "told", and then gravitated towards one or more social circles that happen to have greater tolerance for the things you believe, which perhaps one or more of your communities of origin did not.