Speaking for myself (re: how the LW2.0 team communicates)

by Ruby 5mo25th Apr 201920 comments

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Posts made by members of the LessWrong 2.0 team are typically made from the perspective of the individual - even when they are writing in their capacity as LessWrong team members. My (Ruby’s) model of the team’s reason for this is that even if there are collective decisions, there are no collective models. Not real models.

When the team agrees to do something, it is only because enough of the individual team members individually have models which indicate it is the right thing to do. Our models might be roughly the same at a high-level such that you can describe a “common denominator” model, but this isn’t an actual model held by an actual person. I think such “common denominator” group models are undesirable for at least the following reasons:

  1. Pressure to form consensus reduces the diversity of models, sometimes going from multiple models per person to only a single model for the group. This can then result in overconfidence in the surviving model.
  2. There might be no group model. The group might have agreed on a decision, but they never reached consensus on the reasons for it.
  3. It is costly to describe group models. Either someone has to draft the model, get feedback, make revisions, repeat, until eventually it is “good enough” or someone describes a model putatively held by the group, but which is not actually representative of the group's thinking.
  4. In fact, no individual might endorse the group model as being their own.
  5. The person describing the group model doesn’t necessarily understand things they’re including which came from others.
  6. In averaging multiple models, detail is lost and you no longer have a model which can usefully generate predictions.
  7. No individual owns the model, making it hard for any one person to elucidate, defend, or be held accountable for it.
  8. Reluctance to speak on the behalf of others means that very little gets said.

Crucially, group models which get shared externally are very often not the models which were used to make decisions. If you want to understand a decision, you want the actual model which generated it.

Given the goal of sharing our actual true thinking with the outside world (rather than nicely curated PR announcements), the LessWrong team has the rough policy that we speak from our personal point of view and avoid committing to an impersonal, authoritative, “official view of LessWrong.”

I suspect (and I believe the team generally agrees) that individual team members posting from their own points of view will ultimately result in the outside world having a better understanding of our thinking (individual and collective) than if we attempt to aggregate our individual models into the “organization’s models”. Organizations don’t have models, people do.

That said, we talk a lot to each other and our models are correlated. We tend to agree on the broad outline of things, e.g. we agree at the crudest level that LessWrong is about rationality and intellectual progress, even if we don’t agree on more detailed framings and relative emphasis. We think roughly like each other, but don’t be surprised if a different team member says about a high-level vision post I wrote that it’s not their model of it or that they don't agree with every detail.

Seemingly, this communication policy might allow us (the LessWrong team) to weasel out of our public statements. “Oh, that’s just what Ruby said - the rest of us never said that.” This is far from the intention. This policy is focused on how we communicate our reasons for doing things rather than statements about our commitments or actions. If a LessWrong team member says the LessWrong team plans to do something (especially major directions), it’s fair game to hold the entire team accountable for doing that thing.

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