Adam Scholl

Wiki Contributions


My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

It's true some CFAR staff have used psychedelics, and I'm sure they've sometimes mentioned that in private conversation. But CFAR as an institution never advocated psychedelic use, and that wasn't just because it was illegal, it was because (as our mentorship and instructor trainings emphasize) psychedelics often harm people.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I agree manager/staff relations have often been less clear at CFAR than most places. I claim this isn't relevant here, since (as far as I know) there aren't really even borderline examples of this happening. The closest example to something like this I can think of is that staff occasionally invited their partners to attend or volunteer at workshops, which does I think pose risk of fucky power dynamics, although dramatically less, I think, than "the clear leader of an organization, who's revered by staff as a world-historically important philosopher upon whose actions the fate of the world rests, and who has unilateral power to fire any of them, sleeps with many employees."

Am I missing something here? The communication I read from CFAR seemed like it was trying to reveal as little as it could get away with, gradually saying more (and taking a harsher stance towards Brent) in response to public pressure, not like it was trying to help me, a reader, understand what had happened.

As lead author on the Brent post, I felt bummed reading this. I tried extremely hard to avoid letting my care for/interest in CFAR affect my descriptions of what happened, or my choices about what to describe. Anna and I spent huge amounts of time—at least double-digit hours, I think triple-digit—searching for ways our cognition might be biased or motivated, and trying to correct for that. We debated and introspected about it ad nauseam, ran drafts by friends of ours who seemed unusually likely to call us on bullshit, etc.

Looking back, my sense remains that we basically succeeded—i.e., that we described the situation about as accurately and neutrally as we could have. If I'm wrong about this... well, all I can say is that it wasn't for lack of trying.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I also feel (extremely) frustrated that you wrote this, Anna. I think there are a number of obvious and significant disanalogies between the situations at Leverage versus MIRI/CFAR. There's a lot to say here, but a few examples which seem especially salient:

  • To the best of my knowledge, the leadership of neither MIRI nor CFAR has ever slept with a subordinate, much less many of them.
  • While I think staff at CFAR and MIRI probably engaged in motivated reasoning sometimes wrt PR, neither org engaged in anything close to the level of obsessive, anti-epistemic reputational control alleged in Zoe's post. CFAR and MIRI staff were not required to sign NDAs agreeing they wouldn't talk badly about the org—in fact, in my experience CFAR staff much more commonly share criticism of the org than praise. CFAR staff were regularly encouraged to share their ideas at workshops and on LessWrong, to get public feedback. And when we did mess up, we tried extremely hard to publicly and accurately describe our wrongdoing—e.g., Anna and I personally spent hundreds of hours investigating/thinking about the Brent affair, and tried so hard to avoid accidentally doing anti-epistemic reputational control (this was our most common topic of conversation during this process) that in my opinion, our writeup about it actually makes CFAR seem much more culpable than I think it was.
  • As I understand it, there were ~3 staff historically whose job descriptions involved debugging in some way which you, Anna, now feel uncomfortable with/think was fucky. But to the best of your knowledge, these situations caused much less harm than e.g. Zoe seems to have experienced, and the large majority of staff did not experience this—in general staff rarely explicitly debugged each other, and when it did happen it was clearly opt-in, and fairly symmetrical (e.g., in my personal conversations with you Anna, I'd guess the ratio of you something-like-debugging me to the reverse is maybe 3/2?).
  • CFAR put really a lot of time and effort into trying to figure out how to teach rationality techniques, and how to talk with people about x-risk, without accidentally doing something fucky to people's psyches. Our training curriculum for workshop mentors includes extensive advice on ways to avoid accidentally causing psychological harm. Harm did happen sometimes, which was why our training emphasized it so heavily. But we really fucking tried, and my sense is that we actually did very well on the whole at establishing institutional and personal knowledge about how to be gentle with people in these situations; personally, it's the skillset I'd most worry about the community losing if CFAR shut down and more events started being run by other orgs.

Insofar as you agree with the above, Anna, I'd appreciate you stating that clearly, since I think saying "the OP speaks for me" implies you think the core analogy described in the OP was non-misleading.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I like the local discourse norm of trying to err on the side of assuming good faith. But like steven0461, in this case I have trouble believing this was misleading by accident. Given how obviously false, or at least seriously misleading, many of these claims are (as I think accurately described by Anna/Duncan/Eli), my lead hypothesis is that this post was written by a former staff member, who was posing as a current staff member to make the critique seem more damning/informed, who had some ax or another to grind and who was willing to engage in deception to get it ground.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

Sure, but they led with "I'm a CFAR employee," which suggests they are a CFAR employee. Is this true?

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I've worked at CFAR for most of the last 5 years, and this comment strikes me as so wildly incorrect and misleading that I have trouble believing it was in fact written by a current CFAR employee. Would you be willing to verify your identity with some mutually trusted 3rd party, who can confirm your report here? Ben Pace has offered to do this for people in the past.

What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain?

Are you tempted to drop or reduce the size of this trade in light of the UK seeming to have (roughly speaking, for now at least) contained B.1.1.7?

Why indoor lighting is hard to get right and how to fix it

Yeah, makes sense. Fwiw, I have encountered one purportedly 97+ CRI lamp that looked awful to me. 

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