Why the EA Forum?

post by Maxdalton · 2018-11-07T23:24:49.981Z · score: 28 (18 votes) · EA · GW · 9 comments

Contents

  Why intellectual progress matters
  Making progress as a community
      Intellectual progress is not just something done by professional philosophers. It’s something that everyone in the community can contribute to. 
  How can you contribute?
      Write
    Comment
    Cross-Post
None
14 comments

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 [EA · GW]. 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:

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

Comment

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

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 [EA · GW].

9 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by edoarad · 2018-11-08T11:47:02.418Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA · GW

One thing which causes me and probably many others to avoid writing more on the forum, is the feeling of writing posts which "spams" or lowers the standards of the forum. This is not mentioned here as a reason not to post. I guess that the voting system and the option of writing on the personal blog solves most of this issue, and that we prefer to encourage more people to write more instead of focusing on quality for now?

comment by Maxdalton · 2018-11-08T11:48:40.597Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

That's right - one of the main goals of having posts sorted by karma (as well as having two sections) - is to allow people to feel more comfortable posting, knowing that the best posts will rise to the top.

comment by Halffull · 2019-06-20T16:49:09.178Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Of course there's a reverse incentive here, where getting downvoted feelsbadman, and therefore you may be even less likely to want to post up unfinished thoughts, as compared to them simply getting displayed in chronological order.

comment by Habryka · 2019-06-20T18:11:35.292Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

The problem is that if your post got downvoted and displayed in chronological order, this often means you will get even more downvotes (in parts because having things in chronological order means people vote more harshly because people want to directly discourage people posting bad content, and also because your visibility doesn't reduce, which means more people have the opportunity to downvote)

comment by Halffull · 2019-06-20T19:08:25.044Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this is more an argument for "don't have downvotes at all" like hacker news or traditional forum.

Note I think your team has made the correct tradeoffs so far, this was more paying devils advocate.

comment by Habryka · 2019-06-20T19:34:28.491Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hacker news has downvotes, though they are locked behind a karma threshold, though overall I see more comments downvoted on HN than on LW or the EA Forum (you can identify them by the text being more greyish and harder to read).

comment by Mati_Roy · 2019-06-20T04:16:31.914Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not sure where to write this, so I'll write here for now.

It seems like Google doesn't properly index articles posted on this forum, which seems problematic. It makes it harder for me to retrieve articles I read for example, and also makes it harder to discover new posts although this problem is more invisible.

Any query I do with "site:forum.effectivealtruism.org" never links to articles directly, but only to other pages like user pages.

comment by Habryka · 2019-06-20T08:07:58.684Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Huh, that's particularly weird because I don't have any of that problem with LessWrong.com, which runs on the same codebase. So it must be something unique to the EA forum situation.

comment by Maxdalton · 2018-11-08T10:31:04.352Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Moderation notice: stickied on community.