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Comment by katiehartman on Try more things. · 2014-01-14T16:21:22.506Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm much less (emotionally) motivated to try new things/deviate from my routine than I'd like to be, especially when an intervention's purpose is to improve something I'm currently not doing very well at. For example, I feel a lot more motivated to try something that might further improve a project that's already going very well than I am to try something that might turn around a project that's failing. I suspect that this is related to ugh fields. Any suggestions?

Comment by katiehartman on Free online course: How to Reason and Argue starting Mon. Any interest in study group? · 2014-01-11T09:52:42.461Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm up for committing to the first week and then continuing if it seems useful. :)

Comment by katiehartman on We need new humans, please help · 2014-01-10T16:45:30.170Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It actually seems pretty difficult to see how having children would, on average, be anywhere near as strong an option if your outcome measures are (1) number of children who would otherwise would not exist/reach adulthood and (2) number of children produced using your (presumably much better than donor-average) genetic material.

There are a lot of factors that influence the cost to raise a child (e.g. family income, number of children in a single household), but the USDA's figures suggest that even a relatively low-income family ($0-60k combined household earnings) will be spending ~$175k per child. It's no question that you could redirect that money toward organizations that would save the lives of many children for less.

Gamete donation looks pretty good, too. If you're donating eggs, you probably won't produce many children - IVF success rates are still fairly low, and most donors only produce 10-15 eggs per cycle (although they can donate several times). On the other hand, screening tends to be a lot less discerning for egg donors compared to sperm donors - physical/hereditary health seems to be the primary concern. So if you're exceptionally intelligent, altruistic, and/or happy, it might be much better for your eggs to be put to use than the typical donor's. You can also net $5-15k per cycle, which you could donate toward saving even more children.

If you're donating sperm, you can potentially produce many more children than you could reasonably support as a caregiver (Cryos, apparently the world's largest sperm bank, claims that the "average donor" can expect to father 25 children), but due to slightly more stringent screening, the difference between the quality of your sperm and the average donor's might be a bit less stark. That said, most banks seem to care about things like education and height, which aren't necessarily great proxies for the things most of us care about.

So, assuming you're accepted as a donor and you actually follow through on donating a substantial amount of money, you can with near certainty cause many more children to reach adulthood than you could possibly raise and likely cause a few (or more) children to be born with your genes. All with a substantially lower time investment than you'd expect to sacrifice for child-rearing.

Comment by katiehartman on We need new humans, please help · 2014-01-10T14:12:17.106Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there any good reason for having children you don't particularly want to have rather than (a) donating lots of high-quality gametes and (b) giving some or all of the money you would've spent on child-rearing to an organization that prevents the premature deaths of other children?

Comment by katiehartman on TED Prize Nomination · 2014-01-03T20:41:59.551Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This could be changed by promoting efficient altruism, creating local meetups of efficient altruists, etc. It's not only to find new altruists, but to give some social bonus (= warm fuzzies) to both existing and the new ones.

There's a significant difference between selling effective altruism to non-EAs and selling a specific effective charity to non-EAs. I suspect that the former is both more valuable (in the long term) and more difficult. Upping the warm-fuzzies seems to me like it would work toward both (as well as EA retention, although I know of no significant existing problem with that), which is why I find it surprising that there's not more work being done there (that I'm aware of).

I think we need to be very careful to avoid saying anything along the lines of "Warm-fuzzies? We don't need no warm-fuzzies!" Most people do seem to need them, if they're going to keep giving. And it makes us look pretentious to the uninitiated. (To be clear, I'm not implying you've said anything to indicate you do this or disagree - but it occasionally makes its way into public conversations about effective altruism and seems noteworthy.)

Comment by katiehartman on TED Prize Nomination · 2014-01-03T19:07:57.335Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes!

Tangentially related: I've wondered whether there might be high expected value for creating an organization (perhaps a temporary one, or one existing within a larger existing org) dedicated to figuring out how to sell EA charities effectively. There is already a growing body of research on charitable giving, but the opportunities are hardly tapped out. There seems to be an understanding that donating to EA charities tends to provide fewer warm-fuzzies than giving to their (most successful) non-EA counterparts, but few people talking about it seem to consider this very dire or changeable.

Comment by katiehartman on [Link] Changelings, Infanticide and Nortwest European Guilt Culture · 2014-01-03T18:45:59.195Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It's an interesting theory, but I'm hesitant to give much weight to weakly-supported hypotheses intended to explain very broad and inclusive phenomena, like "murders (or a lack thereof) occurring within these arbitrary geographical borders." This is especially true when there's no shortage of plausible theories and a lot of potentially-useful information is missing.

The changeling myths seem to serve the purpose of guilt-relief only insofar as they also aid shame-relief, so I''m not sure they're all that helpful. (Am I missing something?)

Basically, this reads to me like an interesting but not particularly credible just-so story.

Comment by katiehartman on Why CFAR? · 2014-01-01T13:46:48.188Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This seems irresponsible and unwise when you have substantial fixed costs, all necessary for core activities, and not much in the way of back-up resources. I can see it feasibly leading to a bunch of problems, including (a) the incentive to save up financial resources rather than put them to use toward high-EV activities and (b) difficulty hiring staff smart enough to realize that the resources from which their salaries are paid out will be highly variable month-to-month.

Comment by katiehartman on Critiquing Gary Taubes, Part 2: Atkins Redux · 2013-12-31T11:01:10.793Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I just googled it. I suspect that the "refined" in "refined carbohydrates" is a stand-in for "bad, for reasons left unspecified."

Comment by katiehartman on Why CFAR? · 2013-12-29T12:49:03.634Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Having spent a fair amount of time around CFAR staff, in the office and out, I can testify to their almost unbelievable level of self-reflection and creativity. (I recall, several months ago, Julia joking about how much time in meetings was spent discussing the meetings themselves at various levels of meta.) For what it's worth, I can't think of an organization I'd trust to have a greater grasp on its own needs and resources. If they're pushing fundraising, I'd estimate with high confidence that it's because that's where the bottleneck is.

I think donating x hours-worth of income is, with few exceptions, a better route than trying to donate x hours of personal time, especially when you consider that managing external volunteers/having discussions (a perhaps-unpredictable percentage of which will be unproductive) is itself more costly than accepting money.

I'd be willing to guess that the next best thing to donating money would be to pitch CFAR to/offer to set up introductions with high-leverage individuals who might be receptive, but only if that's the sort of thing (you have evidence for believing) you're good at.

Also, sharing information about the fundraising drive via email/Facebook/Twitter/etc. is probably worth the minimal time and effort.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-07-08T04:10:04.600Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what you mean by "valid" here - could you clarify? I will say that I think a world where beings are deriving utility from the perception of causing suffering without actually causing suffering isn't inferior to a world where beings are deriving the same amount of utility from some other activity that doesn't affect other beings, all else held equal. However, it seems like it might be difficult to maintain enough control over the system to ensure that the pro-suffering beings don't do anything that actually causes suffering.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-07-04T16:32:52.270Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It strikes me as folly, too. But "Let's go kill the sharks, then!" does not necessarily follow from "Predation is not anywhere close to optimal." Nowhere have I (or anyone else here, unless I'm mistaken) argued that we should play with massive ecosystems now.

I'm very curious why you don't feel any need to exterminate or modify predators, assuming it's likely to be something we can do in the future with some degree of caution and precision.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-07-04T16:01:01.276Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I'm using "natural lifespan" here as a placeholder for "the typical lifespan assuming nothing is actively trying to kill you." It's not great language, but I don't think it's obviously tautological.

The shark's "natural" lifespan requires that it eats other creatures. Their "natural" lifespan requires that it does not.

Yes. My question is whether that's a system that works for us.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-07-04T08:16:57.648Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you eliminate some species because you think they're mean, you're going to damage a lot more.

I'd just like to point out that (a) "mean" is a very poor descriptor of predation (neither its severity nor its connotations re: motivation do justice to reality), and (b) this use of "damage" relies on the use of "healthy" to describe a population of beings routinely devoured alive well before the end of their natural lifespans. If we "damaged" a previously "healthy" system wherein the same sorts of things were happening to humans, we would almost certainly consider it a good thing.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-21T17:45:58.022Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For the record, the chicken that survived had retained most of the brainstem. He was able to walk ("clumsily') and attempted some reflexive behaviors, but he was hardly "functional" to anyone who knows enough about chickens to assume that they do more than walk and occasionally lunge at the ground.

The chicken's ability to survive with only the brain stem isn't shocking. Anencephalic babies can sometimes breathe, eat, cry, and reflexively "respond" to external stimuli. One survived for two and a half years. This was a rare case, but so was the chicken - there were other attempts to keep decapitated chickens alive, and none have been successful.

This isn't to say that we don't have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals or treat reflexive behaviors as meaningful - we do. But pointing that out isn't where the conversation ends. Chickens are an easy target because common knowledge dictates that they're stupid animals, because most people haven't spent any substantial amount of time with them and assume there isn't anything particularly interesting about their behavior, and because we have a vested interest in believing that there's nothing of value going on in their brains.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-19T00:32:16.424Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I like Beyond Meat, but I think the praise for it has been overblown. For example, the Effective Animal Activism link you've provided says:

[Beyond Meat] mimics chicken to such a degree that renowned New York Times food journalist and author Mark Bittman claimed that it "fooled me badly in a blind tasting".

But reading Bittman's piece, the reader will quickly realize that the quote above is taken out of context:

It doesn’t taste much like chicken, but since most white meat chicken doesn’t taste like much anyway, that’s hardly a problem; both are about texture, chew and the ingredients you put on them or combine with them. When you take Brown’s product, cut it up and combine it with, say, chopped tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise with some seasoning in it, and wrap it in a burrito, you won’t know the difference between that and chicken.

I like soy meat alternatives just fine, but vegans and vegetarians are the market. People who enjoy the taste of meat and don't see the ethical problems with it don't want a relatively expensive alternative with a flavor they have to mask. There's demand for in-vitro meat because there's demand for meat. If you can make a product that tastes the same and costs less, people will buy it.

Maybe it's likely impossible to scale vat meat such that it is actually cheaper to produce, long-term, than meat from conventionally-raised livestock. Has this sort of analysis been done? I'd assume from the numbers New Harvest quotes - 45% reduction in energy use, 95% reduction in water use, etc. - that it is actually possible.

If you put vat meat on a styrofoam plate with a label with a big red barn on it and a cheaper price tag than the stuff next to it, people almost certainly will buy it. If consumers were that discerning about how their meat was produced, they wouldn't buy the stuff that came from an animal that spent its entire life knee-deep in its own excrement.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-17T03:03:17.394Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If AMF can add about 30 years of healthy human life for $2000 by averting malaria and a human is worth 40x that of a chicken, then we'd need to pay less than $1.67 to avert a year of suffering for a chicken (assuming averting a year of suffering is the same as adding a year of healthy life, which is a messy assumption).

This might be a minor point, but I don't think it's necessarily a given that one year of healthy, average-quality life offsets one year of factory farm-style confinement. If we were only discussing humans, I don't think anyone would consider a year under those conditions to be offset by a healthy year.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-17T02:52:17.223Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you consider young children and very low-intelligence people to be morally-relevant?

(If - in the case of children - you consider potential for later development to be a key factor, we can instead discuss only children who have terminal illnesses.)

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-17T00:26:35.405Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

We're treading close to terminal values here. I will express some aesthetic preference for nature qua nature.

That strikes me as inconsistent, assuming that preventing suffering/minimizing disutility is also a terminal value. In those terms, nature is bad. Really, really bad.

I also recognize a libertarian attitude that we should allow other individuals to live the lives they choose in the environments they find themselves to the extent reasonably possible.

It seems arbitrary to exclude the environment from the cluster of factors that go into living "the lives they choose." I choose to not live in a hostile environment where things much larger than me are trying to flay me alive, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that most other conscious beings would choose the same if they knew they had the option.

Absent strong reasons otherwise, "do no harm" and "careful, limited action" should be the default position. The best we can do for animals that don't have several millennia of adaptation to human companionship (i.e. not dogs, cats, and horses) is to leave them alone and not destroy their natural habitat.

Taken with this...

We need to value the species as a whole, not just the individual members; and we need to value their inherent nature as predators and prey.

...it seems like you don't really have a problem with animal suffering, as long as human beings aren't the ones causing it. But the gazelle doesn't really care whether she's being chased down by a bowhunter or a lion, although she might arguably prefer that the human kill her if she knew what was in store for her from the lion.

I still don't know why you think we ought to value predators' "inherent nature" as predators or treat entire species as more important than their constituent individuals. My follow-up questions would be:

(1) If there were a species of animal who fed on the chemicals produced from intense, prolonged suffering and fear, would we be right to value its "inherent nature" as a torturer? Would it not be justifiable to either destroy it or alter it sufficiently that it didn't need to torture other creatures to eat?

(2) What is the value in keeping any given species in existence, assuming that its disappearance would have an immense positive effect on the other conscious beings in its environment? Why is having n species necessarily better than having n-1? Presumably, you wouldn't want to add the torture-predators in the question above to our ecosystem - but if they were already here, would you want them to continue existing? Are worlds in which they exist somehow better than ours?

We have neither the knowledge nor the will to protect individual, non-pet animals.

We certainly know enough to be able to cure their most common ailments, ease their physical pain, and prevent them from dying from the sort of injuries and illnesses that would finish them off in their natural environments. Our knowledge isn't perfect, but it's a stretch to say we don't have "the knowledge to protect" them. I suspect that our will to do so is constrained by the scope of the problem. "Fixing nature" is too big a task to wrap our heads around - for now. That might not always be the case.

When you ask, "Assuming that these environments are (or would be) on the whole substantially better on the measures that matter to the individual living in them, why shouldn't we?" it's not clear to me whether you're referring to why we shouldn't move humans into virtual boxes or why we shouldn't move animals into virtual boxes, or both.

Both.

If you're talking about humans, the answer is because we don't get to make that choice for other humans. I for one have no desire to live my life in Nozick box, and will oppose anyone who tries to put me in one while I'm still capable of living a normal life.

Then that environment wouldn't be better on the measures that matter to you, although I suspect that there is some plausible virtual box sufficiently better on the other measures that you would prefer it to the box you live in now. I have a hard time understanding what is so unappealing about a virtual world versus the "real one."

If you're referring to animals, the argument is similar though more indirect. Ultimately humans should not take it upon themselves to decide how another species lives.

This suggests to me that you haven't really internalized exactly how bad it is to be chased down by something that wants to pin you down and eat parts of you away until you finally die.

The burden of proof rests on those who wish to tamper with nature, not those who wish to leave it alone.

To prove what?

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-16T13:23:43.453Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We need to value the species as a whole, not just the individual members; and we need to value their inherent nature as predators and prey.

Why?

While zoos have their place, we should not seek to move all wild creatures into safe, sterile environments with no predators, pain, or danger any more than we would move all humans into isolated, AI-created virtual environments with no true interaction with reality.

Assuming that these environments are (or would be) on the whole substantially better on the measures that matter to the individual living in them, why shouldn't we?

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-16T13:05:27.825Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That seems plausible, though PETA already has a million-dollar prize for anyone who can mass-market an in-vitro meat product. Given their annual revenues (~$30 million) and the cost associated with that kind of project, it seems like they're going about it the wrong way.

From a utilitarian perspective, wireheading livestock might be an even better option - though that probably would be perceived by most animal activists (and people in general) as vaguely dystopian.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-16T12:15:26.192Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I'm really curious why all of the major animal welfare/rights organizations seem to be putting more emphasis on vegan outreach than on in-vitro meat/genetic modification research. I have a hard time imagining a scenario where any arbitrary (but large) contribution toward vegan outreach leads to greater suffering reduction than the same amount put toward hastening a more efficient and cruelty-free system for producing meat.

Comment by katiehartman on Effective Altruism Through Advertising Vegetarianism? · 2013-06-16T11:59:52.352Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

By the way. One question I always wanted to ask a pro-animal-rights type: would you support a program for the extinction/reductions of the population of predatory animals on the grounds that they cause large amounts of unnecessary suffering to their prey?

I've heard this posed as a "gotcha" question for vegetarians/vegans. The socially acceptable answer is the one that caters to two widespread and largely unexamined assumptions: that extinction is just bad, always, and that nature is just generally good. If the questioned responds in any other way, he or she can be written off right there. Who the hell thinks nature is a bad thing and genocide is a good thing?

But once you get past the idea that nature is somehow inherently good and that ending any particular species is inherently bad, there's not really any way to justify allowing the natural world to exist the way it does if you can do something about it.

Comment by katiehartman on The cup-holder paradox · 2013-03-26T08:53:57.803Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This was my first reaction, too. I recall my car-buying experience consisting mostly of me trying to keep up with my impressions about seat-feel, head space, visibility, dash design, etc. and trying to somehow aggregate that information with numbers that I really didn't know how to process in the first place (e.g. safety ratings, scores from reviews, prices vs. upkeep costs). It wasn't until I'd pretty much picked out my car that I made an effort to mentally simulate a typical drive.

Comment by katiehartman on Programming the LW Study Hall · 2013-03-20T03:02:35.916Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to see gamification components - a point system, leaderboard, badges/achievements, etc.

Comment by katiehartman on [LINK] Inferring the rate of psychopathy from roadkill experiment · 2012-07-30T21:48:05.003Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As with the original experiment, the "cat" would be far enough onto the shoulder that it would only be hit if the driver intentionally swerved off of the road. For safety reasons (and to reduce confounds), I'd set it up on a straightaway with wide lanes.

Frankly, if someone is going to regret making the decision to deliberately harm an animal, I'd rather they have their change of heart after "killing" a dummy and not the real thing.

Comment by katiehartman on [LINK] Inferring the rate of psychopathy from roadkill experiment · 2012-07-23T11:23:31.937Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I really, really want to repeat this test with something furry. Anybody know of an affordable toy mammal that might withstand getting hit by an SUV repeatedly?

I once hit some sort of large bird on the highway when it flew directly into my lane from a cluster of bushes off the shoulder. It was so close to me when it entered my lane that all that registered was "white, flying." There was no way I could have avoided hitting it, but I had to pull off the road to bawl over it for a few minutes. I don't expect people to react the same way I did, but I definitely expect them to not intentionally kill roadside wildlife.

EDIT: It would also be a great idea to run a test with a fake cat. People have all sorts of reasons for discounting the suffering of animals, but it would be very, very difficult to justify killing something that is somewhat likely to be someone's beloved pet. It would also be more visible than a tarantula, snake, or turtle, which might prevent the number of hits from being deflated as the result of a certain percentage of drivers not seeing the dummy at all.

Comment by katiehartman on What have you recently tried, and failed at? · 2012-07-07T15:49:00.571Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I've become an insufferable list-maker. I've been meaning to start a blog, largely to improve my ability to organize and effectively communicate challenging concepts. Every time I sit down to "start work on the blog," I find myself ending up with a stack of lists - what needs to be done, topic ideas, features of the website design, people to partner/affiliate/guest blog with, hooks for a viral video blog, and so on. Rinse and repeat - a new stack of lists every time.

Comment by katiehartman on CFAR website launched · 2012-07-07T03:43:36.384Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, daenerys! :)

Comment by katiehartman on CFAR website launched · 2012-07-03T19:50:40.702Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Here. :)

Comment by katiehartman on [Meetup] NYC Megameetup - Location and Potluck Info · 2012-06-24T11:25:16.272Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I took some photos, which can be viewed here.

Comment by katiehartman on [SEQ RERUN] Rational vs Scientific Ev-Psych · 2011-12-14T20:53:40.511Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't dispute Eugine's argument - I just thought it worthwhile to point out that the evidence itself is obviously confounded. If we consider the confound itself - the gender-based training - evidence of the hypothesis, we're stuck in a tricky chicken-and-egg situation. It wasn't a refutation of Eugine's comment, but I hardly think it's irrelevant.

Do the test with cooks of both genders; their experience of using fridges is unlikely to differ significantly in length.

Unless female cooks are more likely to become professionals as the result of early and consistent pressure (as opposed to other motivations) and more likely to do the grocery shopping/cooking at home, etc. You can try to control for gender conditioning, but it's pervasive enough to be a significant challenge.

Do another test with women raised in feminist families and compare to general population.

I'm not sure 'feminist household' is equatable to 'egalitarian household,' in practice - but even if it were, self-identifying as feminist is not the same thing as somehow overcoming all early gender conditioning.

Comment by katiehartman on [SEQ RERUN] Rational vs Scientific Ev-Psych · 2011-12-13T16:43:36.232Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Even if you assume that societies are more likely to structure their gender constructs around innate psychological traits than physical traits (or that the former would result from the latter), you've got a major confound when assessing the strength of the effect.

It's not difficult to show that biological sex predicts some features of perceptual/cognitive ability. It is difficult to show that people of a gender that is generally trained to work with refrigerators have, as an innate feature of their psychology, an effective strategy for searching fridges.

Comment by katiehartman on [SEQ RERUN] Rational vs Scientific Ev-Psych · 2011-12-13T03:35:38.837Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

One of the major challenges to evo-psych hypotheses about gender is never really tackled in the original comment thread: that women and men are conditioned differently in almost all current and historical societies, so it's almost impossible to differentiate effects of training from inborn psychological phenomena.

Basically: if you're the one who's always been expected to put the groceries away, do the cooking, and set the table, you've probably developed a pretty good strategy for getting the damn ketchup out of the fridge.

Of course, we could always argue that women are almost always socialized for these roles because they have an evolution-granted knack for them, but then we'll be tasked with finding a large enough (and representative enough) population that hasn't had any of that conditioning.

Comment by katiehartman on Life Extension versus Replacement · 2011-12-01T05:13:53.746Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It seems that you could use this to argue that nobody ever ought to be born unless we can ensure that they'll never die (assuming they stay dead, as people tend to do now).

Comment by katiehartman on Video: Skepticon talks · 2011-11-30T23:38:56.751Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could not agree more! I'm suggesting Luke to the new team - they're not particularly interested in the LW crowd, but I think I can probably tempt them by providing some of Luke's atheism-related writings/works.

Comment by katiehartman on Video: Skepticon talks · 2011-11-30T23:34:49.612Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, not at the moment. I've passed Skepticon off to next year's crew (just successfully moved out of the area and on to new things), but I'll suggest that they contact speakers about making the slides public.

Comment by katiehartman on [LINK] Scientists create mammalian H5N1 · 2011-11-26T22:24:33.412Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Bear in mind that even with the information on how to make this virus human transmitable available, it is probably rather difficult without the appropriate facilties to reproduce, so that rules out random lunatics, and realistically its simply not sensible for anyone else to do so.

I don't find this terribly comforting, given that I don't assume that everyone with an interest in biological warfare lacks the funding to create the appropriate facilities. What I do find comforting is the strong suspicion that neither the researchers nor the advisory board want to make "information on how to make this virus human transmitable" readily available.

I doubt that the intentions or security measures of the researchers are being given a fair shake when there's such a Hollywood-esque story to be written.

Comment by katiehartman on Video: Skepticon talks · 2011-11-26T19:03:39.276Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for coming!

Comment by katiehartman on Communicating rationality to the public: Julia Galef's "The Straw Vulcan" · 2011-11-26T15:37:56.449Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for the clarification. Thanks!

What about laws of physics, or evolution? While true (if technically vague) explanations for actions, they are not true cognitive reasons for actions.

"I don't want to die," for example, is obviously both an emotional preference and the result of the natural evolution of the brain. That the brain is an evolved organ isn't disputed here.

Comment by katiehartman on Communicating rationality to the public: Julia Galef's "The Straw Vulcan" · 2011-11-26T15:28:52.660Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Goals seem to be indeed significantly determined by emotions in humans. But this is not a defining property of something being a goal, and even in humans not a necessary way of implementing goals.

I don't think she implies that emotions are necessary for implementing a goal - that was the point of mentioning a rationality "filter," which can aid in accurately translating emotional desires into practical goals that best fulfill those desires, and then in translating practical goals into effective actions.

Can we trace the flow chart back to any entirely non-emotional desires/preferences? I suspect that it would quickly become a semantic issue surrounding the word "emotion."

Comment by katiehartman on Video: Skepticon talks · 2011-11-26T14:03:03.063Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Expect the next batch on Monday, including the panel on death (lovingly dubbed the atheist death panel by the moderator, Jesse Galef) featuring Eliezer Yudkowsky, Greta Christina, Julia Galef, and James Croft!

It's possible that they'll be up sooner, but as far as I understand it, our videographer (Rob Lehr) is taking a well-deserved break.

Comment by katiehartman on Communicating rationality to the public: Julia Galef's "The Straw Vulcan" · 2011-11-25T23:39:51.648Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Kudos to Julia for not only introducing a solid take on the relationship between reasoning and emotion, but also for doing so in a way that had the audience eating out of her hand. Of all the Skepticon talks that dealt with rationality, I think this was received the most enthusiastically.

She handled the impromptu voice-over brilliantly, too! I nearly strangled the sound guy.

Comment by katiehartman on How did you come to find LessWrong? · 2011-11-25T18:17:05.769Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I met Jesse Galef last year, and we became fast friends - at which point he practically begged me to read Methods of Rationality and LW. Good on you, Jesse!

This year I was the organizer for Skepticon, a conference that has traditionally concerned itself with the atheist movement. Eliezer, Julia Galef, Richard Carrier, and Spencer Greenberg were kind enough to come speak on topics more pertinent to the rationalist community (Bayes' theorem saw lots of love, and LW was plugged in several of the presentations!). Attendance was just over 1,100, and many of the attendees I spoke with were overjoyed to see more than just the "yes, there are probably no gods" spiel. I overheard one of them tell Eliezer that she felt like his talk had revealed a "next step" in her personal growth as a freethinker.

The whole experience has left me with the suspicion that the atheist community might not be as tapped for rationalism as it could be - and that just might be one of the better places to go looking. Lately, there's been a huge upsurge in atheist/secular activism at the college level, and as far as I know, these groups aren't being particularly targeted.

Comment by katiehartman on Rhetoric for the Good · 2011-10-27T16:20:56.483Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

First, you've got to sound like you're chatting with your reader, like you're giving them an unfiltered stream-of-consciousness access to your ideas as you think them. Second, on no account should you actually do that.

Eliezer is one of the masters at this; his essays are littered with phrases like "y'know" and "pretty much", but they're way too tight to be hastily published first drafts (or maybe I'm wrong and Eliezer is one of the few people in the world who can do this; chances are you're not). You've got to put a lot of work into making something look that spontaneous.

This is also important to keep in mind when writing fictional dialogue - the reader has to perceive the conversation as authentic, forgetting that people don't actually tend to speak in a manner that would be at all interesting to read. Basically, you have to borrow the tone of a real conversation by keeping only about 5-10% of the interjections and filler, and using them only when it helps keep a statement believable.

Comment by katiehartman on The Need for Universal Experience Classes · 2011-10-19T19:24:29.864Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to know of a science - any science, social or otherwise - that can be optimally useful without utilizing mathematical analysis.

Comment by katiehartman on The Need for Universal Experience Classes · 2011-10-19T18:15:53.958Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think the problem here is that people can’t understand what is really important. Calculus, mechanical physics, chemistry, microiology, etc. are interesting to learn, perhaps. ... People don’t use them in daily life unless they are professionals. Why not learn things that we think about every day instead of those that will frankly be useless to most?

It is precisely this kind of thinking, fostered by a pretty low-par early education in math and physics, that led me to believe that knowledge in these areas is virtually useless to just about everyone. And so I passed my one and only college math course in my first semester, filled in my hard science requirements with courses like Environmental Geology, and moved on.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong. Where isn't math useful? I'll refrain from preaching to the choir and instead just ask "Why?" Why do you feel the need to disparage these fields in order to make a point about the usefulness of music theory?

Comment by katiehartman on Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge · 2011-10-18T18:58:15.117Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Many of the examples in the table (especially "values," "bias," and "error") aren't the result of a knowledge gap, but of a simple definitional dispute.

It's not clear to me which is the case, actually. It would be difficult to dispute the assertion that the average layman is almost always primed to read "positive" as "good" rather than "present" or "upward," but that doesn't indicate whether or not he's actually aware of those alternate uses. Maybe he's never been exposed to scientific literature - that wouldn't exactly be shocking.

I wish I could access the original paper the table was published in. Alas!

Comment by katiehartman on [link] SMBC on utilitarianism and vegatarianism. · 2011-10-18T18:30:31.193Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure how valid your point is in practice. Being enthusiastic about hunting does not necessarily indicate a willingness to face the consequences of one's actions, nor does it indicate any particular attitude toward factory farming. It may just indicate a lack of visceral discomfort when encountering animal suffering.

It is plausible that some/many/most hunters simply enjoy pursuing and eating prey, and that the comparative advantages to overall utility make little or no difference to them. In this case, I wouldn't say that the utility advantage says anything positive about the individual's character, but I certainly do think it's fortunate that self-serving behaviors can occasionally lead to greater overall utility.

(Note: I'm sure there are hunters who subsist on hunted meats because they find mainstream meat production ethically appalling. I just doubt that they're representative of all hunters.)