Let's be friendly to our allies

by JGWeissman1 min read15th Aug 201247 comments

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Less Wrong was created to produce rationalists, so that many causes could benefit from the efforts of those rationalists. The point is not just to have nice place to talk about rationality, but to really make ourselves stronger, to apply the lessons that we learn here to improve our own lives, and to improve the world.

80,000 Hours is an organization created to provide direct domain specific help to people who want to support charitable causes, the same causes Less Wrong is supposed to produce rationalists to support. 80,000 Hours has goals clearly aligned with ours. Provided we think they are pursuing their aligned goals effectively, we should be excited about this. We should be happy when they reach out to us, to see how we can work together.

So, I am very disappointed to see the negative reception of a Less Wrong post by 80,000 Hours member Benjamin Todd, asking us what questions we would like 80,000 Hours to answer for us. They are basically offering to do free research for us on things that we care about, because our goals are aligned. And yet, as of this writing, that post has a score of -7, and it has received comments complaining that it is an ad. To be clear, ads of the sort that we want to avoid do not offer free services relevant to a core purpose of our community. I won't argue whether or not the post was an ad, but I will say that it belongs on Less Wrong and we should give it a good reception.

I would like to thank Benjamin Todd and others at 80,000 hours for their work in helping people be more effective philanthropists and otherwise support important causes, and for engaging Less Wrong in this project. I also thank everyone who responded to post with their actual questions about making a difference.

And, please, can we be nice to people who help us?

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Ignoring for the moment whether or not that was a high quality post or a post that we want to be on lesswrong, I strongly disapprove of upvoting low quality or unwanted posts simply to be nice to someone.

Exactly. The voting system has an important role on this website. We should not abuse it because of something unrelated to its original role, because then it will be more difficult to use.

This said, we definitely should be friendly to 80,000 Hours, and here are a few quick ideas how to do it, without abusing the article voting system:

  • put a 80,000 Hours banner on LW homepage;

  • put a link to 80,000 Hours on the right side of LW screens;

  • put an RSS feed of 80,000 Hours on the right side of LW screens (like Overcoming Bias has now);

  • integrate RSS feed of 80,000 Hours with LW "Discussion" page; at the top it could display visually separated "Articles from friendly sites", for example top 3 articles from each;

  • create an "Announcement" area on LW homepage where people from 80,000 Hours can put their message of limited length.

Each of these ideas (and you can think about some new ones) would provide 80,000 Hours visibility on LW homepage, without asking LW readers to compromise the LW voting system. Link to friends are OK -- just not in the LW article queue.

We could use this discussion to brainstorm the best way to promote 80,000 Hours (and other friendly sites) on LW.

Should we apply the same logic to local LW meetup announcements? If not, what is different?

I think we should. Personally, I was put off for years from joining Less Wrong when it split off from Overcoming Bias because everytime I looked the home page was nothing but meetup announcements.

Interesting - I don't remember meetup announcements until a couple of years after the split.

I wasn't an active reader during the split - life had intervened. Indeed, for a while there I incorrectly believed Overcoming Bias had renamed itself Less Wrong following a redesign.

Local Meetup announcements are useful information promoting something we want that appears nowhere else. But I would still support them not being on discussion page if there was another space for them.

Redesigning the article categories would be useful. "Main" and "Discussion" are not enough for the amount and structure of articles we have now.

A possible solution is "Top Articles", "Articles", "Forum" -- the last category for meetups and recurrent topics.

People have complained before about the post list being overwhelmed with meetup announcements.

I strongly disapprove of upvoting low quality or unwanted posts simply to be nice to someone

I agree. Upvoting low quality posts is not what I am recommending. I maintain that the post in question was not low quality, but a generous invitation well suited to our community, and that dismissing it as an ad was a bad response.

Advertisements can offer useful things. The free CDs given out by AOL can be erased and used to store data. Less Wrong is not a place to get "generous invitations", it's a place to read information and arguments to do with rationality. An invitation to a black tie dinner is a thoughtful gesture, but asking "What the heck is this doing on Less Wrong"? is an appropriate response to such a gesture.

The free CDs given out by AOL can be erased and used to store data.

I don't think this is true. It's cheaper and more reliable to stamp a few million CD-ROMs from a master than it is to get each of them spinning, fire a laser at them, and then make them stop spinning.

I don't think this is true.

Me neither.

Note that I did an interview for 80k, and SI researcher Carl Shulman has put in dozens of hours helping 80k.

The Singularity Institute, at least, is very friendly to 80k. (In fact, I refer to them so often in daily speech that I have to just call them "80k" instead of "Eighty thousand hours dot org".)

I wasn't aware that when I began posting here, I automatically acquired "allies" whose posts I'm not allowed to downvote.

No one is telling you that you aren't allowed to downvote them. JGWeissman is merely suggesting that social welfare is maximized if the rationalist and effective altruism communities are encouraged to intermingle, rather than downvoting each other to oblivion.

The downvoting was related to the poor content of the article. It was essentially this:

How can you best use your time to make a difference?
Discuss.
Sincerely, 80,000 Hours

If the same article would be written by someone else, I would recommend them to ask the same question in the Open Thread. Should I vote differently just because of the person who wrote it? So now voting about articles is no longer about their quality, but becomes a political question?

Our allies are also expected to follow the local rules. We could make exception if this were the first article about 80,000 Hours on LW, so the main information of the article would be "80,000 Hours exists", but obviously that's not the case. The best way to promote friendship with our allies, is to write articles about them that actually provide information. For example, I would upvote a well-written article about "What is 80,000 Hours, what are their goals, and what exactly did they accomplish in the recent year". Because such article would contain interesting information.

If the same article would be written by someone else, I would recommend them to ask the same question in the Open Thread. Should I vote differently just because of the person who wrote it?

I would suggest that instead of downvoting until no one can see the post, you explain to them how to make their post better. I'm not even asking you to upvote, I'm just asking you not to hide important content, or if you do, at least constructively help your ally make better content. Even if LessWrong is aware of 80,000 Hours, the staff at 80,000 Hours might not be super-familiar with LessWrong, and so might accidentally violate certain local norms. Punishing them for this, rather than helpfully correcting them, is what seems counterproductive to me. Once you explain the norms, then you should feel totally free to criticize things that don't adhere to them.

So now voting about articles is no longer about their quality, but becomes a political question?

Basically everything you do has political repercussions. Insisting otherwise will probably lead to poor results.

The problem is I would rather spend my time discussing posts I like rather than critiquing posts I don't like. In this case, I saw that someone had already started the meta-discussion, so I downvoted and didn't pursue the matter further.

I am sorry that this hurts someone else's agenda. But I don't want to be a part of that game. And I don't appreciate efforts to guilt me into taking part.

And I don't appreciate efforts to guilt me into taking part.

I don't think he's trying to guilt you, he's just offering reasoning and discussion for his own stance. He's providing more information than a simple down vote, and I think that should be applauded.

I will admit the original post could have probably been written better, but I don't think we should be discouraging someone from questioning voting - especially when they're willing to engage in discourse, provide feedback, and suggest alternatives. It's an essential dialogue to keeping our garden well tended, even if his tone was a bit accusative ("I'm disappointed" instead of "Hey, what's going on here?")

I don't have a problem with people talking about upvotes and downvotes (well, actually, I do have a problem with it in many cases, especially when it's replacing what could be actual discussion, but that's not what's going on here, so it's beside the point). It's the argument in this post that bothers me, and that's what I'm trying to address here.

that sounds about right!

It was essentially this:

How can you best use your time to make a difference? Discuss. Sincerely, 80,000 Hours

I don't see how you got that summary. Benjamin Todd was not looking to start a vague discussion. He was looking to gather questions important to people trying to make a difference so that people 80K could research well thought out answers to those questions. This is a simple but important step in guiding ongoing research to focus on answering questions that matter, and we should not expect great depth in the presentation of this step. The in-depth, well written articles may come after questions have been gathered. If you want to see what they have written on research they have already done, look around on their site.

So, the way I would summarise is:

We are doing research on effective ways of making a difference in the world. Let us know what questions you have about how to make a difference, and we will see if we can focus some of our research efforts on answering your question.

I hope you will give it another look, and try to judge it not as a polished stand alone contribution, which it is not trying to be, but as an important step in a process that produces a valuable contribution.

(And though I swamped with many projects, I will see if I can write the article you are looking for, or find the right person to write it.)

[-][anonymous]9y -2
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[-][anonymous]9y 9

Kimochi warui.

I won't argue whether or not the post was an ad, but I will say that it belongs on Less Wrong and we should give it a good reception.

It was reasonably icky when SI started posting job openings in the discussion section -- particularly when they were trying to hire people to do work that was at the time done by volunteers.

It's even ickier now that "our friends" (and who is that "us" in your post, anyway?) are allowed to post badly written copy, together with a whole other discussion post attempting to guilt trip people into upvoting it.

This sentence quoted above is particularly icky. I stand by my comment -- even if those who originally upvoted it have changed their mind -- because it was an ad, even if it was an ad for a free service. Google manages to advertise Chrome, after all.

This is really sickening.

This sentence quoted above is particularly icky. I stand by my comment -- even if those who originally upvoted it have changed their mind -- because it was an ad, even if it was an ad for a free service. Google manages to advertise Chrome, after all.

This is really sickening.

I agree entirely. I was disgusted by the post and the response

Let's be friendly to our allies

I am. What this post seems to be doing is trying to place yourself outside that category. I am part of no group that encourages copy and paste PR posts being dumped on lesswrong.

And yet, as of this writing, that post has a score of -7, and it has received comments complaining that it is an ad.

You seem to be admitting that you are writing this post with full awareness of the context. That obviates any benefit of the doubt. It also makes the misrepresentation (or perhaps 'spin') in the earlier part of that paragraph qualify as disingenuous.

All I see here is a bunch of cheap "Yay altruism" applause, some moralizing and a demand that users ignore details and quality of an actual post because they have some kind of external status that you wish to affiliate with. I really wish lesswrong were not as susceptible to influences.

And, please, can we be nice to people who help us?

You are hindering us. More than that, you are drawing attention to one terrible (pseodo-)contribution and away from any actual contribution by this Todd fellow or about the 80k folks.

If you want to actually provide a useful benefit to a group you like then don't try to shame us into supporting trash. Instead, write your own well researched post directly evaluating either 80k itself or one of the causes or activities that it engages with.

You are judging a post meant to gather questions, a survey, against the standard for presenting original research. We are talking about initial engagement, getting a sense of which questions we want answered.

If there was confusion about who 80K is, or about what sort of questions they are looking for, then it would be good to ask. What happened people dismissed it as an ad.

What this post seems to be doing is trying to place yourself outside that category.

That makes no sense.

I am part of no group that encourages copy and paste PR posts being dumped on lesswrong.

Oh no! They posted the same offer elsewhere on the internet! And you accuse me of moralizing. I am sick of your hypocracy. Learn to evaluate your own arguments as harshly as you evaluate those you disagree with.

All I see here is a bunch of cheap "Yay altruism" applause

So if I remind people that Less Wrong was founded with altruistic purposes, and that content that helps us be effectively altruistic is in fact on topic when people try to dismiss as ad spam, I am just using applause lights, according you.

And, please, can we be nice to people who help us?

You are hindering us. More than that, you are drawing attention to one terrible (pseodo-)contribution and away from any actual contribution by this Todd fellow or about the 80k folks.

This does not make sense as a response to the quote.

If you want to actually provide a useful benefit to a group you like then don't try to shame us into supporting trash.

I disagree with this characterization of my post.

Instead, write your own well researched post directly evaluating either 80k itself or one of the causes or activities that it engages with.

Yeah, that would have been better. I did what I have time for. I have a lot of other things going on. And there was this huge disconnect between how Luke Muelhauser and Carl Shulman were interacting with 80K, as opposed to Less Wrong in general.

Wedrifid, I really don't like getting into these exchanges with you. You seem to have more time for it, and it is an effort to distangle your clever arguments. You seem to think that you can deliberately mislead people and still be honest. And I find it painfully ironic when you accuse me of intellectual dishonesty.

So, I stand by my assertion that it is worth engaging with 80K by providing them with questions we would like them to answer, and if you don't agree, you can just let those of us who want to be involved do so, without erroneous complaints about spam.

Wedrifid, I really don't like getting into these exchanges with you.

I don't recall having any significant exchanges with you---I don't doubt that it could have happened.

It may be useful for you to consider that this exchange is yours. You took the podium at the forum (in the traditional sense) and made a speech denouncing your enemies, supporting your allies and advocating a certain ideas. Then many people (in this case myself among them) replied with their own denunciations, support or advocacy. A good rule of thumb is that when you tell a group of people not to do what they have chosen to do you will get some replies, unless for some reason you have the power to suppress dissent. You don't have to reply to them. You don't even have to read them---you are not the primary audience and nobody really expects to convince the original speaker that they are wrong. But the replies will (and should) be made nonetheless.

You seem to have more time for it

I sincerely wish I did. There is a lot going on in the dynamics of this situation that relates to and threatens virtues and ideals that I value and---at least on lesswrong where it is usually safe to do so---hold sacred. If I wanted to protect those ideals effectively I would of course have to go ahead and write my own post but for me writing eloquent posts takes a lot of time and initiative.

You seem to think that you can deliberately mislead people and still be honest.

That is one way to be sure I remember you. The misleading usage of out of context quotes. I tend to recall all those who use this particular interpersonal tactic, whether against myself or others. Call it a pet peeve. Sometimes I've even provided an iterating counter. In this case I completely endorse the comment you link to. It is a straightforward renunciation of inflationary use of terms.

So, I stand by my assertion that it is worth engaging with 80K by providing them with questions we would like them to answer

Nobody (that I have noticed) has said anything to the contrary. I stand by Eliezer's exhortation:

"You have the downvote. Use it or USENET."

There is a lot going on in the dynamics of this situation that relates to and threatens virtues and ideals that I value and---at least on lesswrong where it is usually safe to do so---hold sacred. If I wanted to protect those ideals effectively I would of course have to go ahead and write my own post but for me writing eloquent posts takes a lot of time and initiative.

I would like to better understand why you and others are reacting so strongly to both Todd's post and JGWeissman's. I think I may have said this before, but I really wish you'd write more posts relative to comments so you can explain your ideas more systematically.

The misleading usage of out of context quotes. I tend to recall all those who use this particular interpersonal tactic, whether against myself or others. Call it a pet peeve.

Have you considered that they may not be deliberately quoting you misleadingly, but genuinely misunderstood your comments? In other words communicating is hard (inferential distance, etc) and it may be partly your fault that you're being misleadingly quoted so often? I think I've very rarely if ever been misleadingly quoted out of context, and attribute that at least in part to wording my comments and posts very carefully and often providing caveats against possible misunderstandings.

[-][anonymous]9y 7

Is 80K going to research my question? It has the most up votes.

In some cases, be nice with someone makes them to maintain epistemic states their future self probably not want to be in. In this case, every time you shut up about a err or wrong belief, you lose.

It's not mutually exclusive being nice and pursuing truth. but If part of LWers downvoted Todd post, is for some reason. Even if the altruistic movement are based in good data.

Making clear, I support 80k, but like any other movement who tried to save the world; takes time to visualize the benefit.

In some cases, be nice with someone makes them to maintain epistemic states their future self probably not want to be in. In this case, every time you shut up about a err or wrong belief, you lose.

Note that I said "Provided we think they are pursuing their aligned goals effectively, we should be excited about this." I did not see any complaints that they are not pursuing their goals effectively, or that they are in a bad epistemic state.

If part of LWers downvoted Todd post, is for some reason.

Yes, and I have argued that the one articulated reason is not a good one.

Upvoted for eloquently expressing what I was thinking when I noticed the post was getting downvoted.

It is worthwhile to discuss what sorts of posts are appropriate here, so I am not downvoting this post. However, I disagree with this post, so I am not removing my downvote of the post that it is asking me not to downvote. As it stands, this post is higher-ranked than the post it is asking people not to downvote, so I am guessing at least someone agrees with me.

(Also, I often downvote comments that ascribe too much importance to the voting system or psychoanalyze votes, because I fear it's a meta rat-trap. This comment is one such ... but I can't downvote my own comment. Fortunately, someone has been systematically downvoting me lately, so I can expect this comment to get the -1 I think it deserves. Unfortunately, I also often downvote comments that complain about being downvoted, so it actually deserves -2 according to my own standards, which I couldn't give it even if it wasn't mine.)