LessWrong FAQ

byRuby1mo14th Jun 201912 comments

56


This is a new FAQ written LessWrong 2.0. This is the first version and I apologize if it is a little rough. Please comment or message with further questions, typos, things that are unclear, etc.

The old FAQ on the LessWrong Wiki still contains much excellent information, however it has not been kept up to date.

Advice! We suggest you navigate this guide with the help on the table of contents (ToC) in the left sidebar. You will need to scroll to see all of it. Mobile users need to click the menu icon in the top left.

The major sections of this FAQ are:

About LessWrong

What is LessWrong?

LessWrong is a community dedicated to improving our reasoning and decision-making. We seek to hold true beliefs and to be effective at accomplishing our goals. More generally, we want to develop and practice the art of human rationality.

To that end, LessWrong is a place to 1) develop and train rationality, and 2) apply one’s rationality to real-world problems.

LessWrong serves these purposes with its library of rationality writings, community discussion forum, open questions research platform, and community page for in-person events.

See also: Welcome to LessWrong!

What is rationality?

Rationality is a term which can have different meanings to different people. You might already associate with a few things. On LessWrong, we mean something like the following:

  • Rationality is thinking in ways which systematically arrive at truth.
  • Rationality is thinking in ways which cause you to systematically achieve your goals.
  • Rationality is trying to do better on purpose.
  • Rationality is reasoning well even in the face of massive uncertainty.
  • Rationality is making good decisions even when it’s hard.
  • Rationality is being self-aware, understanding how your own mind works, and applying this knowledge to thinking better.

See also: What Do We Mean By "Rationality"?, Why Spock is Not Rational, What are the open problems in Human Rationality?

What is the history of LessWrong?

In 2006, Eliezer Yudkowsky and others began writing on Overcoming Bias, a group blog with the general theme of how to move one’s beliefs closer to reality despite biases such as overconfidence and wishful thinking. In 2009, Eliezer moved to a new community blog, LessWrong. Eliezer seeded LessWrong with a series of daily blog posts which became known as The Sequences. These writings attracted a large community of readers and writers interested in the art of human rationality.

See also: A Brief History of LessWrong

Who runs LessWrong?

See our team page.

What makes LessWrong different from other discussion forums?

A combination of traits makes LessWrong distinct among online communities.

  1. We have unusually high standards of discourse. We emphasize curiosity, truth-seeking, critical self-reflection, intellectual collaboration, and the long attention spans required to actually think through complicated ideas.
  2. We are open to unusual ideas and are willing to doubt conventional wisdom. Curiosity and truth-seeking require a willingness to sometimes consider positions which are strange by ordinary standards, and in some cases, these positions will turn out to be credible. As a result of this openness, some unconventional ideas are prevalent on LessWrong and many more are entertained.
  3. We make intellectual progress by building on a large number of communally-shared background ideas and concepts.

Why the name? It is a bit odd . . .

I (Ruby) personally wasn’t there when the name was chosen so I’m not certain of the historical thought process, but I interpret the name “LessWrong” as expressing two important points:

  1. A humble recognition that no human is ever going to attain perfectly true beliefs and be right about everything. We should always believe that some of our beliefs are mistaken, we just don’t know which ones.
  2. A bold recognition that notwithstanding the impossibility of being perfectly right, there is still the possibility of being less wrong. Everyone believes false things, but some believe a lot fewer wrong things than others.

And so the aspiration of LessWrong is that by dedicating ourselves to learning how to think in ways which more systematically lead to truth (what we succinctly call rationality), we can meaningfully reduce our mistaken notions and have far more accurate models of reality.

Some have pointed out the relevance of The Relativity of Wrong by Isaac Asimov.

Who is this Eliezer guy I keep hearing about?

Eliezer Yudkowsky was the original founder of LessWrong back in 2009. His writings on rationality attracted to the site a large number of people enthusiastic about learning to think better. Eliezer’s best-known works are The Sequences, (later renamed Rationality: From AI to Zombies) and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. These texts are part of LessWrong’s philosophical foundation, and so unsurprisingly, you will hear mention of Eliezer not infrequently.

How does LessWrong make money?

We don’t. The LessWrong organization is a nonprofit funded by donations.

This hopefully has the benefit of reducing our incentives to optimize for clicks and pageviews. Instead, we can focus on our stated purpose.

I have feedback, complaints, or questions not answered in this FAQ. What should I do?

You have several options.

  1. Message the LessWrong team via Intercom (available in the bottom right). Ensure you don't have Hide Intercom set in your account settings.
  2. Send a private message to a member of the LessWrong team (see these on the team page)
  3. Ask a question
  4. For complaints and concerns regarding the LessWrong team, you can message Vaniver.

Oh no! I think I lost my post/draft/sanity! What can I do?

LessWrong stores revisions of posts as you’re drafting them. If you think you have lost content, please message the team via Intercom and we’ll see what we can do.

Getting Started

I’m new. Where do I start?

We encourage new users to read for a while before diving into discussions or making their own posts. This is helpful for new users to understand the site’s culture and background.

  • Our welcome page offers a high-level description of LessWrong and includes a list of sample posts. It is a great way to get a feel for what LessWrong is like.
  • For new members who want to get up to speed, we direct you towards our core readings which can be found on the Library page and are described elsewhere in this FAQ.
  • At the same time, feel free to browse more recent content. This answer describes all the way you can locate content on LessWrong.
  • Unlike other places on the Internet, it is often worthwhile to read the comment sections on posts. Our commenting guidelines state that is preferable to:
    • Aim to explain, not persuade.
    • Present your own perspective rather than state group consensus or invoking authorities.
    • Get curious. If you disagree with someone, try to figure out what they’re thinking. What’s their model? Don’t just assume they’re dumb or evil.

If you’re very new and you begin posting or commenting, you might find that you are quickly downvoted. This doesn’t mean you’re bad or unwelcome! But you are probably violating a norm or ignoring expected knowledge on the site. We suggest you read up a bit more before trying again later.

What's a good and fast way to learn about how the website works?

LessWrong extensively uses tool-tips and content previews to help users understand how the site works and see what content is even before they click.

We encourage you to mouse over most elements of the site to see what pops up. You will find:

  • Items in the left sidebar have tool-tips.
  • Hovering over post titles displays an excerpt, reading time, and other meta info.
  • Hovering over usernames displays karma, join date, number of posts and comments, and a bio if the user has set one.
  • Hovering over karma scores displays the number of votes (in our karma system, karma does not usually equal the number of votes).

How do I create an account? (And why should I?)

Although not required to use the LessWrong website; we recommend creating an account so that you can:

  • Subscribe to users and different classes of posts.
  • Save your user settings
  • Vote and comment on posts.
  • Store your reading history, enabling tailored recommendations and potentially new features such as viewing your reading history and creating custom reading lists.

Creating an account takes under 30 seconds. Click here to login or create an account and enter a username, email, and password.



Once you have created an account, feel free to introduce yourself in the latest Open/Welcome thread. Let others know how you found LessWrong, your background, and what you’re hoping for from LessWrong. This allows existing members to point you in the direction of material which you might especially like.

How do I Ask Questions/Make Posts/Go to My Profile/Private Message/Log Out?

For logged-in users, you can access all these options via the drop-down menu accessible by clicking your username.

The star to the right of your username is the karma notifier (star icon) and button for notifications panel (bell icon).

How do I edit my account settings? What can I do?

By clicking on your username and clicking Edit Account, you access your account settings. There you can:

  • Set a bio for your account to let other LessWrong members know about you. If you set one, it will show up when they mouse-over your username.
  • Hide or show Intercom (messaging service with the LessWrong team members).
  • Activate the markdown editor.
  • Toggle comment collapse settings.
  • Opt into beta features (new)
  • Adjust settings for notifications of responses to your posts and comments
  • Adjust settings for the karma notifier.
  • Unsubscribe from your email subscriptions.

Reading Content

What are all the ways to access content on LessWrong?

Ah, there are many ways!

Homepage

LessWrong’s homepage has the following content sections:

  • Recommendations
    • Continue Reading (logged-in users) OR Core Reading (logged-out users)
    • From the Archives
    • Curated
  • Latest Posts
  • Recent Discussion

Continue Reading [beta]

If you have begun reading a Sequence but not yet completed all the posts in it, the Continue Reading section will conveniently suggest the next unread post to you. If you have begun reading multiple Sequences, it will the display the three most recently viewed.

You can dismiss a Continue Reading suggestion by hovering your mouse over the item and clicking the grey cross which appears (desktop) or clicking the black cross on the item (mobile).

Core Reading

In place of Continue Reading, Logged-out users are shown Core Reading which suggests the opening posts from LessWrong's core readings. The core readings describe the intellectual foundations of LessWrong and are described here.

From the Archives [beta]

LessWrong has thousands of high-quality posts accumulated over its ten-year history. The From the Archives section displays three posts randomly selected from LessWrong's historical archive*.

*These features are in beta and the algorithm is likely to change (2019-06-17).

Currently, a post can appear in this section if:

  • You have never read it while logged-in
  • The post has a karma score of at least 50
  • The post is not tagged Meta (deprecated category) and has not been manually excluded by moderators.
    • Moderators manually exclude posts if they have aged poorly in a way that wouldn't be captured by votes at the time, e.g. announcements of conferences that have already happened or reporting of studies that later failed to replicate.

Continue Reading and From the Archives were announced in this post and further elaboration and discussion can be found there.

Curated

Each week, LessWrong’s moderation team selects on average two posts which seem to us to be especially well-written, insightful, instructive, or otherwise important. These are tagged as curated posts and appear with a star icon next to the title.

The three most recently curated posts appear in the Curated section. You can view more Curated posts by clicking View All Curated Posts or selecting the Curated filter on the AllPosts page.

Beneath the Curated section is a button to subscribe via email or RSS to curated posts (~3/week).

Latest Posts

The Latest Posts section displays all* recent posts to LessWrong. These sorted magically** to balance between recency and quality (as indicated by karma score), i.e. more upvoted posts remain higher up in the Latest Posts section for longer.

*By default, only Frontpage posts are displayed in the Latest Posts section. To enable Personal blogposts to appear as well, check the checkbox beneath the section. See more in What’s the difference between Personal Blogposts and Frontpages Posts?

**LessWrong uses the following formula to rank posts in Latest Posts:

This is same the formula as used by Hacker News. You can read about it here.

Recent Discussion

This section is a purely-time based feed of the most recent comment activity happening on posts. Currently, all posts (both Personal blogposts and Frontpage) are shown. Discussion is grouped by post but restricted to only showing a few comments per post.

All Posts Page (aka Archive)

Whereas the homepage displays posts ordered with a magical algorithm, the All Posts page gives you complete control over which posts are included and how they ordered.

The All Posts page can be accessed via the left sidebar and drop-down menu (desktop); buttons on the bottom of the screen (mobile); or directly via www.lesswrong.com/allPosts

The gear icon allows you to select which posts:

  • All Posts (absolutely everything)
  • Frontpage (pages given Frontpage status by the moderation team)
  • Curated (pages given Curated status by the moderation team)
  • Questions (from our Open Questions platform)
  • Events (from the Community Events Page)
  • Meta (deprecated category containing posts about the LessWrong website and similar)

These can then be sorted by: Daily, Magic, has Recent Comments, New, Old, and Top.

The Library

The Library page is accessible from the left sidebar/drop-down menu (desktop) or the buttons at the bottom of the screen (mobile). The Library page contains sequences (ordered sets of posts) and collections (ordered sets of sequences) of LessWrong’s best writings. These are split into Core Readings, Curated Sequences, and Community Sequences.

LessWrong’s developers have put effort into making the reading experience in The Library as convenient and enjoyable as possible.

Core Readings

These are Rationality: From AI to Zombies (formerly The Sequences), The Codex, and Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. They are described in What are LessWrong’s core readings?

Curated Sequences

Similar Curated posts, Curated sequences are sets of posts which LessWrong’s moderation team think are especially valuable and ought to be included in LessWrong’s intellectual canon.

Top curated sequences include:

Community Sequences

Any LessWrong site member, not just moderators, can create post sequences. These appear in the Community Sequences section.

Standout mentions include:

Sequences have qualitative benefits over posts in that an author can build towards a larger point or explain more nuanced concepts than is possible in single (even quite long) blog posts.

User Page

Lastly, you can access a User’s posts and comments directly from their user page.

Note that you have the same options available for sorting and filtering a user’s posts as you do on the All Posts page.

What’s the difference between Frontpage posts and Personal blogposts?

Although LessWrong’s focus is on the development and application of rationality, we invite posts on almost any topic. To ensure that the default experience is still one centered on rationality, LessWrong classifies posts into Frontpage posts and Personal blogposts.

Frontpage posts must meet the criteria of being broadly relevant to LessWrong’s main interests; timeless, i.e. not about recent events; and are attempts to explain not persuade. In contrast, Personal blogposts can be on any topic of interest to the author including divisive topics (which we generally keep off the frontpage), discussions about the community, and meta posts about LessWrong itself.

Frontpage posts have visibility by default. Personal blogposts can be viewed by: i) checking the “show Personal blogposts” checkbox on the homepage, ii) via the All Posts page if “All Posts” filter option is selected, iii) via a user’s profile page, iv) in the Recent Discussion section of the homepage.

See also: Site Guide: Personal Blogposts vs Frontpage Posts

What are Curated posts?

Each week, LessWrong’s moderation team selects on average three posts which seem to us to be especially well-written, insightful, instructive, or otherwise important. These are tagged as curated posts and appear with a star icon next to the title.

All Curated posts will also be Frontpage posts.

The three most recently curated posts appear in the Curated section. You can view more Curated posts by clicking View All Curated Posts or selecting the Curated filter on the AllPosts page.

Beneath the Curated section is a button to subscribe via email or RSS to curated posts (~3/week).

What are LessWrong’s core readings?

The following texts lay the philosophical foundations of the LessWrong website and community. They are widely regarded as excellent, and, even when the ideas are not universally agreed upon, they are still commonly assumed background knowledge in the community.

Rationality: AI to Zombies (aka “the Sequences”)

In 2006, Eliezer began posting on a precursor to LessWrong, the shared blog, Overcoming Bias before the current site was launched in 2019. He posted nearly daily for several years and those writings became known as the Sequences. Later they were edited into a book, Rationality: A-Z (or RAZ).

Rationality: A-Z is a deep exploration of how human minds can come to under the world they exist in - and all the reasons they so commonly fail to do. The comprehensive work:

Eliezer covers these topics and others through allegory, anecdote, and scientific theory. He demonstrates the ideas by applying them to debates in artificial intelligence (AI), physics, metaethics, and consciousness.

To start reading R:A-Z, visit www.lesswrong.com/rationality or visit Amazon to purchase the e-book or audiobook.

The Codex

Scott Alexander’s, one of LessWrong’s earliest and most prolific contributors, wrote many essays on good reasoning, learning from the institution of science, and different ways society has and could be organized. These have been organized into the Codex. Scott’s sequences include:

His exemplary essays include:

Harry Potter and Methods of Rationality (HPMOR)

A side project of Eliezer’s grew to be one of the most highly rated Harry Potter fanfictions of all time and an excellent primer on rationality. Eliezer imagined an alternate-universe Harry Potter who grew up with loving adopted parents, one of them an Oxford scientist. In this version, Harry enters the wizarding world with Enlightenment ideals and the experimental spirit.

We recommend HPMOR to interested in an introduction to rationality via a highly entertaining narrative. Click here to read HPMOR through LessWrong or try the audiobook.

What’s with all the AI and math posts?

For both historical reasons and because these topics are relevant to human rationality, many members of the LessWrong community are interested in AI, decision-theory, math, and related topics.

  • Historically: LessWrong’s founder and author of its foundational works, Eliezer Yudkowsky, is a co-founder of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and major propopent for AI safety. His writings on LessWrong attracted many people who were interested in both rationality and AI/AI safety, causing these to be ongoing overlap between LessWrong an AI safety communities.
  • Relevancy: Artificial intelligence is very much the study of intelligence and how “minds” work. Even if you are more interested in how human minds work and in improving your human rationality, there is much to learn from thinking generally about how intelligence works (for humans or non-humans). In particular, the fields of AI often brings technical precision and rigor to thinking to the gnarly, complicated topics of intelligence and optimal decision-making.
    • Because of this relevance, many writings about human rationality on LessWrong (from Eliezer and others) make reference to concepts from AI and formal decision-theory.

See also: What is the AI Alignment Forum (AIAF) and what does it have to do with LessWrong?

What is the AI Alignment Forum (AIAF) and what does it have to do with LessWrong?

The AI Alignment Forum is an online hub for AI Safety (aka AI alignment) researchers to discuss topics in the field. The AI Alignment forum is another project of the LessWrong team’s and resultantly shares some infrastructure with LessWrong proper, i.e. shared user accounts.

Because of the overlaps between the LessWrong and AI Safety communiites and relevance of AI content to rationality, posts made to the AI Alignment forum are automatically cross-posted to LessWrong.

  • These posts will have the AIAF symbol (Omega/ 𝛀) shown next to the title and contain a warning that the content may especially technical.

I (Ruby) am advocating for there to be an easy way to filter these out for users who are not interested in AIAF content.

What is that Omega symbol I see on some posts?

Posts and comments which been cross-posted from the Alignment Forum will display their Alignment Forum karma (symbol: Omega/ 𝛀). When users with the ability to vote on Alignment Forum content vote on cross-posted AIAF on LessWrong, this will cause both the contents ordinary LessWrong karma and Alignment Forum karma to update.

Posting & Commenting

What can I post on LessWrong?

Posts on practically any topic are welcomed on LessWrong. I (and others on the team) feel it is important that members are able to “bring their entire selves” to LessWrong and are able to share all their thoughts, ideas, and experiences without fearing whether they are “on topic” for LessWrong. Rationality is not restricted to only specific domains of one’s life and neither should LessWrong be.

However, to maintain its overall focus while still allowing posts on any topic, LessWrong classifies posts as either Personal blogposts or as Frontpage posts. See more in the post on Personal Blogpost vs Frontpage Posts.

The Editor

LessWrong’s editor is what use you to enter posts and comments.

How do I use Markdown? (And not the Draft.js default editor)

By default, LessWrong uses an implementation of Draft.js, however, if you prefer, you can switch to entering your text with markdown syntax. To do, check Activate Markdown Editor checkbox in your account settings.

With the Markdown editor activated, you can use Markdown syntax for formatting.

How do I insert images?

If you are using the Draft.Js editor, select some text (or whitespace) and click the image icon in the toolbar that appears your text. Insert a URL to a hosted image. The image must be hosted! Use a free online service like Imgur or similar. Ensure you use the url to the hosted image itself, not the page displaying uploaded image (common mistake).

Note: image insertions are only enabled for posts, not comments.

If you are using the Markdown editor, using the Markdown syntax for inserting images. It is:

![image text](https://www.example.com)

As above, the link must be to a hosted image.

How do I insert spoiler protections?

LessWrong gives you a way to “avoid spoiling” your readers. Text is concealed until a user mouses over it (it works a bit less well on mobile right now). This functionality is useful for creating exercises in your posts, e.g. ask a question in your post and conceal with answer beneath spoiler protection so users don’t accidentally see it. See this post as an example.

In the Draft.js editor type `>!` on a new line, then press space, then a spoiler box should appear

In the Markdown editor, surround your text with `:::spoiler` at the beginning, and `:::` at the end.

How do I insert footnotes?

At the present time, footnotes with link highlighting and return buttons can only be inserted by using the Markdown editor. To do use, use the syntax described here.

How do I use I Latex?

If using the Draft.js editor, press Cmd-4 for inline and Cmd-M for block-level. (Ctrl on Windows).

If using Markdown, surround your LaTeX text with $, for example:

$<LaTeX text>$

What are Sequences and how do I create them?

Informally, a sequence refers to a collection of posts. While the most famous sequences are those written Eliezer, any collections of posts written by any author can be called "a sequence" on LessWrong, e.g. Lukeprog's sequence on metaethics.

The LessWrong website has special built-in support for sequences. Any user can formally create a Sequence item which will show up on the Library page and benefit from features like Next/Previous buttons on the posts and being included in Continue Reading suggestions.

To create a Sequence, navigate to the library page, www.lesswrong.com/library, scroll down to the Community Sequences section and click Create New Sequence. You will then be prompted to select images for your sequence, give a title, write a description, and select posts to add by searching for them.

You can create sequences including posts which are not your own, however they will only display Next/Previous buttons if a user arrives at those posts from within your sequence.

Karma & Voting

How do I vote?

Posts and comments have buttons for upvoting and downvoting them displayed around the posts current karma score.



Further, you have the option to strong upvotes or downvote posts and comments. On desktop: hold the vote button until you see the double bars appear. On mobile: double-tap the vote button (ignore a tool-tip telling you to hold).

What should my votes mean?

We encourage people to vote such that upvote means “I want to see more of this” and downvote means “I want to see less of this.”

What’s the relationship between votes and karma? Why aren’t they the same?

Posts and comments have a karma score. A single vote will increase or decrease the karma by an integer value. Upvotes increase the karma, downvotes decrease - and these can cancel out.

Further, users have karma scores too. A user’s karma score is the sum of all the karma on their posts and comments. The votes of users with more karma have more power under LessWrong’s voting system, ensuring that users who have earned the community’s respect and trust have more influence than new sign-ups. Because some users have votes which are worth more than a single point, the karma score of a post is usually greater than the number of votes on it.

What’s the mapping between users’ karma and voting power?

A user’s vote power is determined by the code implemented in this file.

What about reacts and other dimensions of response?

We’re thinking about it! See FB/Discord Style Reacts.

Notifications & Subscriptions

The notification and subscriptions system are currently undergoing a significant upgrade. Expect the functionality to be expanded in the next week or two. We will update this documentation then.

Where do I get notifications?

See the bell icon in the upper right-hand corner. There are four tabs.

Bell: combined responses to your posts and comments + private message notifications

  1. Paper/Doc: New post notifications
  2. Speech Bubble: Notifications of comments on your posts
  3. Two Speech Bubbles: Notifications of private messages on.

What can I get notifications for?

In your account settings you can toggle notifications on and off for responses to your posts and comments.

Can I subscribe by email? What can I subscribe to?

Right now, you can subscribe to receive Curated posts by email or RSS. See the subscribe buttons beneath the Curated posts section on the homepage or in your account settings.

Messaging

How do I sent private messages to other users?

Navigate to a user's page by clicking on an appearance of their username or finding them via search. Click send message.

To read your messages, click on the notification icon (bell icon, top right) > click the two speech bubbles on the right. Or visit www.lesswrong.com/inbox.

Questions

What do you mean, questions?

The LessWrong team is actively developing a new experimental Open Questions Research Platform. The vision is to build a system which allows the LessWrong community to apply its high standards of reasoning and scholarship to solving large, important questions.

We expect LessWrong’s Open Questions to be valuable beyond existing platforms, e.g. Quora and StackExchange, for multiple reasons. Among them:

  • The LessWrong community’s focus on good reasoning and commitment to truth
  • The design of our tool to be for large [distributed] research questions.

The LessWrong teams thinks this is an excellent way to train and apply rationality.

What kind of questions can I ask?

If you have a question which seems like the LessWrong community could answer better than any other Q&A platform, we welcome you to ask it here.

We will handle making sure questions of the right type are shown in each place, so don’t worry too much about whether your question is relevant. Like with posts, we welcome questions on most topics and then categorize them appropriately.

Existing questions have been of all the following types:

  • Requests for facts
  • Requests for answers to difficult research questions
  • Requests for explanations of difficult topics
  • Requests for arguments for or against a position
  • Requests for opinions and insights on a given topic
  • Requests for personal advice
  • Recommendations, feedback, or request to hear other’s personal experiences
  • Questions about the LessWrong website

These are all good. Get a sense of what people ask on LessWrong by viewing the questions page.

How do I ask questions?

To ask a question, click on your Username (top right, you must have an account), and click Ask Question [Beta].

It is best to give your question a title which succinctly described what you’re asking (question with question marks are better than sentences) and write a longer description in the body explaining what exactly it is you want to know and why.

How can I helpfully answer questions?

You can probably help more than you think! Even if it’s not easy to answer a question outright, small contributions of information or insight can still go a long way.

We encourage you to look through the questions page to find questions that either have existing knowledge about or catch your curiosity about. Read through existing answers and then see what you can add. All of the following can be useful contributions in addition to direct answers:

  • A link or recommendation to a resource which might help answer the question.
  • A recommendation of who might know the answer that you could talk to.
  • A suggestion for what things, if observed, would be evidence about a question one way or another.
  • An explanation of how the question is maybe “confused” and should be dissolved.
  • Identifying a related or “sub-question” you think will help answer the bigger question.
    • Note the Ask related question feature in question pages.

Answering questions is also a great way to practice the neglected virtue of scholarship. A couple of LessWrong members have written guides helpful for getting started with scholarship. Lukeprog wrote Scholarship: How to Do It Efficiently and gwern wrote a lengthy Internet Search Tips guide.

How do I interact with questions?

Question pages might seem confusing at first. They’re not so bad. Beneath the question text you will see a textbook with three options: “New Answer”, “Ask Related Question”, and “New Comment” as pictured.

New Answer: An answer can be any response which sheds light on the question being asked, even if it’s not a complete or comprehensive answer. Some users choose to make smaller contributions as comments. There’s a bit of fuzzy line here so don’t worry about it too much. You have the ability to move responses back and forth between being comments or answers if you change your mind.

New Comment: Comments on questions can be used to ask clarifying questions and other thoughts which aren’t really answers to the question asked. You can also comment on other people’s Answers, allowing for discussion of those answers.

Ask Related Question: For large questions, sometimes you can’t answer a question directly and instead to ask another question first. You can respond to a question by asking what you think is a related question. These will then be linked in the Question UI.

Asking a (smaller) related question and then making progress on answering it is a great way to help get large research questions answered by the community.

Community Events Page

What is the LessWrong community event page?

LessWrong is both an online and offline community where members around the globe meet up in person for small and large gatherings including local meetups, regional retreats, and conferences.

The community events page is where LessWrong members can find each other in the physical world and create events and groups.

You can find the page at www.lesswrong.com/community, via the left sidebar (desktop) or bottom buttons (mobile).

What are all these categories of meetups?

The community page displays four non-exclusive categories of events and groups. These include explicitly “LessWrong” themed events plus those overlapping and adjacent communities.

These four include explicitly LessWrong themed events plus those from overlapping and adjacent communities.

What happens at rationality meetups?

Depends on the meetup! Some meetups focus on formal rationality practice while others are just opportunity’s for like-minded people to socialize - many meetups or groups split their time between the two.

What are the larger community events?

The community events page has information for large events too. Examples include the Bay Area Summer Solstice Celebration, Athena Rationality Workshop, European Community Weekend, and MIRI Summer Fellows Program.

What resources can help me run my local rationality meetup?

There is a resources section on the bottom of the community events page. Just scroll to the bottom!

Moderation

What do LessWrong moderators do?

LessWrong aims to be a well-kept garden. It is warded by a team of active moderators who ensure that discussion and content are of high quality, and that behaviors which would diminish the value of LessWrong are prevented.

Who can moderate on LessWrong?

LessWrong has a split moderation system. Most moderation activity is performed by LessWrong’s moderation team; however, users who meet certain karma thresholds can moderate their own posts plus set the moderation guidelines that appear on their posts.

Users with over 50 karma can moderate their own posts when they remain as Personal blogposts.

Users with over 2000 karma can moderate their own posts even when they have been promoted to Frontpage status.

What moderation actions can I take on my own posts?

If you meet the karma thresholds (50 on Personal blogposts, 2000 on Frontpage posts), you can perform the following moderation actions on your posts:

  • Delete comments
    • Optionally with a public notice and reason.
  • Delete comment thread without a trace (deletes all comments and children)
    • Optionally with a private reason sent to the author.
  • Ban users from commenting on a given post of yours
  • Ban users from commenting on any of your posts

Before you can moderate your own posts, you must set moderation style on your post. The following options are available:

  • Easy Going - I just delete obvious spam and trolling
  • Norm Enforcing - I try to enforce particular rules (See moderation guidelines)
  • Reign of Terror - I delete anything I judge to be annoying or counterproductive

If you select norm enforcing, you should set your custom moderation policy which will be shown at the top of the comment section and at the bottom of the new comment form of posts you can moderate.

We generally encourage you to take moderation actions consistent with the moderation policy you have set on your posts, but also encourage you to ban from your posts any user who is making your life worse. You are not obligated to tolerate difficult behavior on your posts.

What do actions and duties do the LessWrong team moderators perform?

Moderators perform the following routine regular duties:

  • Reviewing all new posts and assigns them spam, personal blogpost, or Frontpage (if the author has permitted Frontpage promotion).
  • Reviewing new users when they first comment or post.
  • Deleting spam caught by our automatic filters.
  • Selecting posts for Curation.
  • Keeping an eye on discussions and ensuring they remain productive and civil.

Moderations perform the following less-common actions:

  • Issuing feedback and warnings to users who behave in ways harmful to LessWrong's discourse quality and culture.
    • These will usually start with private feedback but escalate to public warnings.
  • Banning users. Usually temporarily for a few months or a year.
  • Locking comment threads (usually temporarily) if they become overly heated and divisive.
  • Limiting the visibility of divisive, heated conversations on the site to protect the culture and what people are exposed to.
    • In one recent instance, we moved one comment thread on a post to a separate post.
    • Moderators can hide discussion threads from the Recent discussion feed on the homepage.

In extremely extreme and exceedingly severe cases:

  • The LessWrong team may decide that we cannot display certain content on the site. In this case, we will likely move that content back to a user’s drafts.

What powers do moderators have?

Moderators generally have access to the site data, most of this time this is accessed at the request of a user in the process of debugging a technical issue. We take data privacy seriously. We don’t just read private messages.

We sometimes look at a user's voting patterns when something seems fishy, but only after sanity checking with other team members that a situation actually warrants it.

Note: if a comment of yours is ever deleted, you will automatically receive a private message with its contents.

  • The ability to delete comments
    • Usually with public notice and reason.
  • The ability to delete comment threads without trace (deletes all comments and all its children)
    • Usually, with a private reason send to the author.
  • The ability to move content between different classifications, e.g. Personal blogpost, Frontpage post, Curated, Meta (deprecated category) and drafts.
  • Moderators can view drafts, but they almost never will unless they’re helping you debug something.
  • The ability to edit posts.
    • Moderators usually use this to fix awry formatting for you, e.g. your LaTeX is screwed up or egregious typos, leaving a comment saying they have done so.
  • The ability to ban users from commenting on given posts or comment threads.
  • The ability to ban users from the site (typically done temporarily).
  • The ability to lock comment threads.

What is the LessWrong moderation policy/philosophy?

Unfortunately, we do not have a recent and up to date document that speaks coherently for the whole site, however habryka’s post on Models of moderation is a good start.

Who are the moderators?

The LessWrong core team plus a few others form the current moderation team. You can see who they are on the team page.

Where can I see which actions the moderators have taken?

You can see Moderation List (warnings and bans) as well as the Moderational Log. The Moderation Log has three panels, one for deleted comments, one for users banned from commenting on specific posts (e.g. Bob can't post on Post XYZ), and one for a list of users banned from commenting on any posts of another specific user (e.g. Bob is banned from commenting on any of Carol's posts).

We apologize that the search functionality currently doesn't work well. Also, we plan to add a load more button.

How do I become a moderator?

We are not currently recruiting any new moderators and there is no current process.

That said, moderators would be recruited from among those we believe possess excellent judgment and understand LessWrong, its purpose, its culture, and its values. The best way to demonstrate this would be through consistently valuable participation on LessWrong.

What is LessWrong’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use?

Our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use can be viewed here.

Note that the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) is the relevant legal party for this privacy policy and terms of use. When Eliezer Yudkowsky founded the LessWrong website in 2009, he created it as the property of MIRI (then named the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, aka SIAI).

While we’re at it, we can add that the current LessWrong team operates legally as a part of a related organization, the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) while retaining autonomy over its internal decision-making and all decisions about the LessWrong website.

For the intertwined history of MIRI and CFAR, see this answer to a LessWrong question.


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