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Manifest 2024 is a festival that we organized last weekend in Berkeley. By most accounts, it was a great success. On our feedback form, the average response to “would you recommend to a friend” was a 9.0/10. Reviewers said nice things like “one of the best weekends of my life” and “dinners and meetings and conversations with people building local cultures so achingly beautiful they feel almost like dreams” and “I’ve always found tribalism mysterious, but perhaps that was just because I hadn’t yet found my tribe.

Arnold Brooks running a session on Aristotle’s Metaphysics. More photos of Manifest here.

However, a recent post on The Guardian and review on the EA Forum highlight an uncomfortable fact: we invited a handful of controversial speakers to Manifest, whom these authors call out as “racist”. Why did we invite these folks?

First: our sessions and guests were mostly not controversial — despite what you may have heard

Here’s the schedule for Manifest on Saturday:

(The largest & most prominent talks are on the left. Full schedule here.)

And here’s the full list of the 57 speakers we featured on our website: Nate Silver, Luana Lopes Lara, Robin Hanson, Scott Alexander, Niraek Jain-sharma, Byrne Hobart, Aella, Dwarkesh Patel, Patrick McKenzie, Chris Best, Ben Mann, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Cate Hall, Paul Gu, John Phillips, Allison Duettmann, Dan Schwarz, Alex Gajewski, Katja Grace, Kelsey Piper, Steve Hsu, Agnes Callard, Joe Carlsmith, Daniel Reeves, Misha Glouberman, Ajeya Cotra, Clara Collier, Samo Burja, Stephen Grugett, James Grugett, Javier Prieto, Simone Collins, Malcolm Collins, Jay Baxter, Tracing Woodgrains, Razib Khan, Max Tabarrok, Brian Chau, Gene Smith, Gavriel Kleinwaks, Niko McCarty, Xander Balwit, Jeremiah Johnson, Ozzie Gooen, Danny Halawi, Regan Arntz-Gray, Sarah Constantin, Frank Lantz, Will Jarvis, Stuart Buck, Jonathan Anomaly, Evan Miyazono, Rob Miles, Richard Hanania, Nate Soares, Holly Elmore, Josh Morrison.

Judge for yourself; I hope this gives a flavor of what Manifest was actually like. Our sessions and guests spanned a wide range of topics: prediction markets and forecasting, of course; but also finance, technology, philosophy, AI, video games, politics, journalism and more. We deliberately invited a wide range of speakers with expertise outside of prediction markets; one of the goals of Manifest is to increase adoption of prediction markets via cross-pollination.

Okay, but there sure seemed to be a lot of controversial ones…

I was the one who invited the majority (~40/60) of Manifest’s special guests; if you want to get mad at someone, get mad at me, not Rachel or Saul or Lighthaven; certainly not the other guests and attendees of Manifest.

My criteria for inviting a speaker or special guest was roughly, “this person is notable, has something interesting to share, would enjoy Manifest, and many of our attendees would enjoy hearing from them”. Specifically:

  • Richard Hanania — I appreciate Hanania’s support of prediction markets, including partnering with Manifold to run a forecasting competition on serious geopolitical topics and writing to the CFTC in defense of Kalshi. (In response to backlash last year, I wrote a post on my decision to invite Hanania, specifically)
  • Simone and Malcolm Collins — I’ve enjoyed their Pragmatist’s Guide series, which goes deep into topics like dating, governance, and religion. I think the world would be better with more kids in it, and thus support pronatalism. I also find the two of them to be incredibly energetic and engaging speakers IRL.
  • Jonathan Anomaly — I attended a talk Dr. Anomaly gave about the state-of-the-art on polygenic embryonic screening. I was very impressed that something long-considered science fiction might be close to viable, and thought that other folks would also enjoy learning about this topic.
  • Brian Chau — I’ve followed Brian’s Substack since before he started Alliance for the Future. I’m quite uncertain whether AI Pause or e/acc is the right path forward for AI, and know folks on both sides. To get more clarity on the issue, I was specifically interested in setting up a debate between Brian and Holly Elmore, who runs PauseAI US (an organization which Manifund fiscally sponsors).
  • Stephen Hsu and Razib Khan were invited by my cofounder at Manifold, Stephen Grugett; I’m less familiar with their work, but have enjoyed our interactions to date.

I obviously do not endorse all viewpoints held by all of our invited guests. For example, I find some things that Hanania has written on Twitter to be quite distasteful, and would not have asked him to come if Twitter!Hanania was the only point of reference I had. But my read of his Substack, as well as our professional interactions, led me to believe that there was more to him than simply being a provocateur.

In general, I think it’s much more important that a particular speaker has something to add, than that they have no skeletons in their closet. I stand behind every one of the speakers we asked to come; they have taught me much, and I am grateful they chose to attend our event. For more on this philosophy, see Scott Alexander on “Rule thinkers in, not out” or Tracing Woodgrains on engaging with your opponents.

Bringing people together with prediction markets

It’s not entirely an accident that a prediction market festival would draw in disagreeable folks. A functioning prediction market requires people with opposite views on an issue to get together and agree to place a bet. Many prediction markets, such as PredictIt and Polymarket, feature more right-wing than left-wing participants. While I consider myself approximately libertarian/liberal, I think such right-leaning presence is great; better than the siloed echo chambers that other online platforms produce.

One of my hopes with the Manifest event was to bring together people with opposing views on issues. Online discourse is very polarizing nowadays; I enjoy hosting in person events because meeting in meatspace reminds everyone that their ideological opponents are also human. The AI Pause vs Accelerate debate between Holly Elmore and Brian Chau is one organized example of this; I expect there were many more chances for ideological conflict over the course of the weekend.

We do take attendee safety seriously, and retained two different community contacts and full-time security guards at the front entrance. We also had a short list of do-not-admits: folks who would not have been permitted access to Manifest because of past infractions in the rationality and EA communities. If any attendees were made to feel unsafe, we would have expelled the offenders from our event.

Anyways, controversy bad

At one point a couple months before the event, Rachel, Saul and I discussed the concern that we’d invited too many controversial folks to Manifest. Contrary to what you might believe at this point, I don’t enjoy controversy for its own sake; I think it usually distracts from actual important work. I especially wanted to avoid an evaporative cooling effect, where a disproportionate ratio of edgy folks convinces reasonable people not to come.

My plan was then to invite & highlight folks who could balance this out — I was specifically looking for people who were “warm, kind and gracious”. Some of our invited guests, including Katja Grace, Misha Glouberman, and Joe Carlsmith, do a good job of embodying these virtues; I think I could have have pushed farther in this direction. I’m also extremely grateful for our attendees who hosted casual fun events for each other like wrestling in the park, conflict improv, and Blood on the Clocktower — their actions spoke much, much louder than the words of two journalists who didn’t even bother to come.

Despite all this controversy, I’m very heartened that the anonymous reviewer still found our attendees to be “extremely friendly”, and that they’re interested in coming back next year. We haven’t even decided yet if there will be a Manifest 2025, but if so, I’m hoping that it retains a spirit of festivity, of fun, and of friendly intellectual disagreement.

Aside: Is Manifest an Effective Altruism event?

Mostly not, I think.

  • Manifest 2024 was jointly organized by Manifold Markets (a for-profit tech startup which runs a platform for prediction markets), and Manifund (a nonprofit philanthropy that makes grants and experiments with funding mechanisms).
  • The core organizing team — Rachel, Saul, and I — are proudly EA. For example, we’ve all taken the GWWC pledge, and volunteered, attended, or spoken at past EA Globals. Rachel and Saul organized for their respective university’s EA groups.
  • We’ve also invited many speakers who we respect for their work in EA areas, including Scott Alexander, Katja Grace, Ajeya Cotra and Joe Carlsmith; and expect that many EA folks would enjoy Manifest.
  • However, we do not market Manifest specifically as “an EA event” — that is, insofar as there is a main subject, the subject is prediction markets & forecasting. I would guess that about 15-25% of attendees self-identify as EA.
  • Manifest has not been sponsored by any EA funders; all funding to date has come from individual ticket sales or our corporate sponsorships. For what it’s worth, I do think the festival was quite good by EA lights, for the talks it produced, relationships it fostered and community it built.
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Isa
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(This comment is more of a general response to this post and others about Manifest than a response to what Austin has specifically said here)

I am a black person who attended Manifest, and I will say that I almost didn't attend because of Hanania, but decided to anyway because my interest in it outweighed my disagreements with his work.

I walked past a conversation he was having where he was asked why he thinks "minorities [black people] perform so poorly in so many domains," which did not feel great, but I also chatted to someone who runs a similar twitter as him and briefly told him my issues with it, which he was receptive to. I overall prefer cultures that give me space to have those sorts of conversations, but I do flinch a bit at the fact that my demographic is on the receiving end of so much of this. Many of the "edgy" people were super nice to me, I had fun conversations about other things with some of them, and their presence didn't take away from my overall experience. I felt fine after those interactions, but many people wouldn't. Perhaps they don’t “belong” at manifest, but that explanation isn’t very satisfying to me.

I think I'm much more tolerant of this sort of dynamic... (read more)

I very much appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. While I see a fair bit of personal value in engaging with eg Hanania, I agree that there's nothing dishonorable or shameful about not wanting to be in a place with the dynamic you describe. I agree that people who are skeptical towards speakers who have made edgy, offensive, or extreme statements should not be assumed to lack intellectual rigor or curiosity. I'm also glad to hear, and take it as a good sign, that many of the "edgy" people were nice to you and people were receptive when you raised the issues you saw at Manifest. Your comment touches on a lot of valuable points.

As for the path forward, I'm personally impressed by the call for "pluralist civility" in Folded Papers:

There is no universal safe space, nor should we try to make one. To do so would be to engage in a new version of the fallacy that made the old "rules of debate" so infuriating. "If you can't make your point in this safe space, then it must be hateful and wrong" is just as false as "If your viewpoint can't survive these debate rules, then it must be irrational."

The only way out is to allow multiple sets of rules. That way, truths that are unsayable in one

... (read more)
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drachma
Glad to see this perspective represented, everything I've read about this makes me think it'd have been a poor experience and the consistent arguments I see in favor of flavors of scientific racism in this community. It's one thing to have opinions, it's another to just ignore the amount of scholarship done on the topics folks like him spout off about, generally uninformed. It's most objectionable from a policy perspective, as I do not think folks like this need to be anywhere near policy making, nor should they be given platforms to influence malleable people on these topics without some kind of informed counterweight. The consistent commentary here seems to imply there is no black person who would fit this bill, but given the rampant diversity of black folks across the spectrum in other political and academic spaces, it's less that there aren't people, and more that this siloed community seems hostile that sort of participation.   
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TheAthenians

I'm a pro forecaster. I build forecasting tools. I use forecasting in a very relevant day job running an AI think tank. I would normally be very enthusiastic about Manifest. And I think Manifest would really want me there.

But I don't attend because of people there who have "edgy" opinions that might be "fun" for others but aren't fun for me. I don't want to come and help "balance out" someone who thinks that ~using they/them pronouns is worse than committing genocide~ (sorry this was a bad example as discussed in the comments so I'll stick with the pretty clear "has stated that black people are animals who need to be surveilled in mass to reduce crime"). I want to talk about forecasting.

It's your right to have your conference your way, and it's others right to attend and have fun. But I think Manifest seriously underrates how much they are losing out on here by being "edgy" and "fun", and I really don't want to be associated with it.

Because others here are unlikely to do so, I feel like I ought to explicitly defend Hanania's presence on the merits. I don't find it "fun" that he's "edgy." I go out of my way, personally, to avoid being edgy. While I tread into heated territory at times, I have always made it my goal to do so respectfully, thoughtfully, and with consideration for others' values. No, it's not edginess or fun that makes me think he belongs there. He unquestionably belongs at a prediction market conference because he has been a passionate defender of prediction markets in the public sphere and because he writes to his predominantly right-leaning audience in ways that consistently emphasize and criticize the ways they depart from reality.

Let me be clear: I emphatically do not defend all parts of his approach and worldview. He often engages in a deliberately provocative way and says insensitive or offensive things about race, trans issues, and other hot-button topics on the right. But I feel the same about many people who you would have no problem seeing attend Manifest, and he brings specific unusual and worthwhile things to the table.

My first real interaction with Hanania, as I recall, came when he ... (read more)

I appreciate the main point you're making: that you’re someone we would value having at Manifest, and including people like Hanania causes you to not come.

However, I think there’s a miscommunication going on: as far as I can tell, not Austin, nor any of us organizers, nor any of the people defending Manifest’s choice of speakers nor those defending the speakers themselves, thinks that Manifest is “fun” because it’s “edgy”. I’ve noticed you tie these things together in a few comments in a way that feels to me like a straw man, like you think that we think it's "fun" to be "edgy", when we in fact do not.

The “fun” thing, which Austin is rightly proud of, refers to the festival part: Manifest hosts mostly serious talks during the day, but there is also e.g. a dance class, wrestling, karaoke, s’mores, etc. That all feels very wholesome and essential to what makes Manifest an exceptional event.

The “edgy” thing — attendees being purposefully inflammatory, using slurs, making others feel unwelcome, etc. — is totally unrelated. Not wholesome. Not a thing to be proud of. Not a thing we aspire to.

I think we could choose to kill the festival part of Manifest, and run a professional forecasting... (read more)

I want you to be able to come and just talk about forecasting too! I think people who wanted to do this (eg Ozzie Gooen by his self-report) were able to do this. Manifest is a big tent; if people want to just talk about forecasting, or AI, or board games, or polygenic screening, I want them to have that space.

It sounds like "serious forecasting conference" is a product that you and some others would be excited about. I hope that somebody runs one! But this wasn't ever the explicit goal of Manifest, which I'd describe as being closer to "fun forecasting-adjacent festival" -- I use "festival" instead of "conference" to denote that Manifest's aims are much more similar to a music festival or an anime convention, rather than an academic conference.

This reads to me like: "If you're bothered by the racism/sexism/etc, you're just not high-decoupling enough to just come and have a fun time... if you're bothered you're just un-fun, that's because you are too serious and you want to stifle free discourse... just let the racists be racists, and you can do your own thing too nearby".

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hnykda
I am glad you are interacting here and giving your honest opinions, thanks for that, I found some of your comments helpful, even though I don't agree or resonate with some of them. However, note that I find this interpretation as a pretty uncharitable reading. I see a big distinction between "I want to create a space where people can talk about different and not so controversial stuff" (I believe that "polygenic screening is not racism" is a useful and important distinction) vs. telling people "you are bad and unfun for not being fine with racist talking about racism and sexism next to you". I have seen this for a second time from you when replying to Austin (e.g. here), and I think it's worse for the discussion discourse. Take what you want from it, of course.
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Peter Wildeford
That’s fair - you’re right to make this distinction where I failed and I’m sorry. I think I have a good point but I got heated in describing it and strayed further from charitableness than I should. I regret that.

Hi Peter,

I don't want to come and help "balance out" someone who thinks that using they/them pronouns is worse than committing genocide.

Does anyone really think this, or are you just using hyperbole?

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Nathan Young
Edit: This thread is now kind of confusing because Peter shared this article too, but more forcefully and on closer reading it is more thoughtful than the title suggests, leading to Peter's comment being downvoted. Most of the discussion is under peter's comment and my comment here is basically irrelevant. This feels like an unfairly harsh comeback but: https://www.richardhanania.com/p/why-do-i-hate-pronouns-more-than  (If I recall correctly, @Austin said Hanania had changed his opinion slightly on trans people since talking to some at manifest last year - manifest probably has a large trans overrepresentation - and this is good, I want a way back for Hanania. LIkewise I have seen less overt racism from him in the last year, but I'm not yet at the state where I want him as a lauded speaker. He could at least write an article saying he's changed his mind on this and the racist tweet about Jordan Neely) Edit: While this is what Peter was referring to, on closer reading, I think it's kind of inaccurate to say that Hanania is really endorsing his title. Therefore my original comment was not the level of accuracy I aspire to. Sorry.
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Peter Wildeford
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Ebenezer Dukakis
What's your source for that? Is the original quote the same as the one I wrote about in this comment?

I reached out to Hanania and this is what he said:

"“These people” as in criminals and those who are apologists for crimes. A coalition of bad people who together destroy cities. Yes, I know how it looks. The Penny arrest made me emotional, and so it was an unthinking tweet in the moment."

He also says it's quoted in the Blocked and Reported podcast episode, but it's behind a paywall and I can't for the life of me get Substack to accept my card, so I can't doublecheck. Would appreciate if anybody figured out how to do that and could verify. 

I think generally though it's easy to misunderstand people, and if people respond to clarify, you should believe what they say they meant to say, not your interpretation of what they said. 

While I don't follow Hanania or (the social media platform formerly known as) Twitter closely, it seems to me that this kind of ambiguity is strategic. He wants to expand what is acceptable to say publicly, and one way of doing this is to say things which can be read both in a currently-acceptable and a currently-unacceptable way. If challenged on any specific one you just give the acceptable interpretation and apologize for the misunderstanding, but this doesn't do much to diminish the window-pushing effect.

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TheAthenians

It's pretty interesting that Hanania just happens to frequently make these kinds of accidents, right?

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TheAthenians
I'm surprised. You just found out that one of the worst things you thought he said was wrong.  Are you not going to update and maybe think that maybe he's not the villain you originally thought?  I know you're usually quite good at updating based on new evidence. It's hard to convey over text, but I genuinely recommend taking a step back from this and reflecting on your views.  I've seen in one other thread as well you realizing that what you'd heard about Hanania was wrong, so that's twice in one day. Consider that maybe the other things were also not as bad as you originally thought. 

I don't think you have remotely conclusively proved that this tweet wasn't racist.

Edit: I don't think TheAthenians should have to conclusively prove a tweet isn't racist. I think I more wished to say "I am pretty confident and you have done little to move that" since this discussion has started several other non-aligned people have reached out to say that they too didn't read the tweet as racist. I am now less confident. 

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TheAthenians
The claim is that the tweet said he called all black people animals.  It's a separate but overlapping claim about whether the tweet was racist.  For the first claim, shouldn't it update you massively that he said he was talking about specific other people, that totally make sense in the context?  What do you think is more likely:  1. Person who consistently criticizes crime apologists, criticizes crime apologists 2. Person says he dislikes crime apologists, but secretly hates all black people and is lying Assuming people don't mean what they say and that your interpretation of their internal state is more accurate than their explanation of it seems pretty suboptimal to me.  I think our community would be better off if they updated based on misunderstandings, rather than insisting that people have hidden bad intentions and are liars about their own lived experience. 
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Nathan Young
We have already followed the rest of this line of argument here https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/34pz6ni3muwPnenLS/why-so-many-racists-at-manifest?commentId=gj53zXi5k4SEdh3Rh Again, I'm willing to change my mind, but it would actually involve some behaviour change on his part, which so far I haven't seen.
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TheAthenians
Neither were accidents? It was just people misinterpreting what he was saying or interpreting things uncharitably.  People interpret people uncharitably all the time on the internet, especially if you ever mention race. 

Can you ask him to reply to his tweet with that clarification? I don't think that is the common sense understanding of the tweet, which is very racist. Until he publicly clarifies, I'm pretty happy to continue my common sense understanding of that tweet.

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TheAthenians
He publicly clarified on the Blocked and Reported podcast. I got his permission to publicly share the quote I shared with you. He's already been asked a million times to clarify on Twitter, so I doubt he'll listen to me. 
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Nathan Young
Yeah but why not. The least he could do is delete it.  If he is only doing cheap actions and not costly ones.. maybe he in fact does mean the thing it looks like he means.  Or maybe he really likes annoying people. But I don't like annoying edgy "maybe I'm being racist maybe not" either.  Edit: I do get why he doesn't delete things in general. I feel that way too. But if I said anything that unclear I'd delete it.

I don't know why he didn't delete it. I don't think it's particularly important to his main causes and points. If I were him, I'd totally delete it. 

My guess is that he feels pretty constantly attacked and he probably has a set of principles/rules he follows for when to delete stuff, and it's not "delete it if a lot of people are mad at me online", since people on the left and the right are often quite mad at him online. 

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TheAthenians
FWIW, I immediately assumed he was talking about woke activists (and apparently he was talking about crime apologists, a subset of woke activists).  The context makes total sense to me. A person he thinks was just preventing crime is being sent to prison for life. He'd obviously be talking about the people who did that to the person  I have no opinion on the particular event. I'd never heard of it till just yesterday and I don't want to go down that rabbit hole. Just purveying how Hanania likely saw the situation.  I've also read a lot of Hanania's stuff, so it's even more clear to me than to somebody who hasn't. He's an anti-speciesist who equally angers the right and the left. It'd be pretty surprising to me if he hated black people. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he felt a lot of anger towards woke activists. 
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TheAthenians

And here’s the full list of the 57 speakers we featured on our website

That's not right: You listed these people as special guests — many of them didn't do a talk. Importantly, Hanania didn't. (According to the schedule.)

I just noticed this. And it makes me feel like "if someone rudely seeks out controversy, don't list them as a special guest" is such a big improvement over the status quo.

  • Hanania was already not a speaker. (And Nathan Young suggests that last year, this was partly a conscious decision rather than him not just feeling like he wanted to give a talk.)
  • If you just had open ticket sales and allowed Hanania to buy a ticket (or not) just like everyone else, then I think that would be a lot better in the eyes of most people who don't like that Hanania is listed as a special guest (including me). My guess would be that it's a common conference policy to "Have open ticket sales, and only refuse people if you think they might actively break-norms-and-harm-people during the events (not based on their views on twitter)". (Though I could be off-base here — I haven't actually read many conferences' policies.)
  • I think people who are concerned about preserving the "open expression of
... (read more)

It's just a symbolic gesture of "we think this person is cool, and we think that you should choose whether to go to our event partly based on whether you also think this person is cool".

My guess is that "special guest" status meant more than that. Special guests likely received a free ticket, worth $500.

It's also possible that special guests might have gotten travel or lodging subsidies in one form or another (e.g. free lodging at Lightcone). This is a guess, I don't know how common it is in general for billed guests at conferences to fund their own lodging and travel fully, but it seems possible. 

If that's the case, it strengthens your point. It's very reasonable to not pay for someone who is rude and unnecessarily seeks out controversy to attend your conference. 

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RobertM
(I'm generally not a fan of this much meta, but I consider the fact that this was strong downvoted by someone to be egregious.  Most of the comment is reasonable speculation that turned out to be right, and the last sentence is a totally normal opinion to have, which might justify a disagree vote at worst.)
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Austin
Indeed, I spoke loosely and the sentence would have been more accurate if I had replaced "57 speakers" with "57 special guests", for which I apologize. I don't consider this to be a major distinction, however, and have used these terms fairly interchangeably throughout event planning. It's a quirk of how we run Manifest, where there are many blurry boundaries. Most, but not all of our "special guests" presented a session[1]. Not all of the sessions were presented by special guests: Manifest allowed any attendee to book a room to run a talk/session/workshop/event of their choice (though, we the organizers did arrange many of the largest sessions ourselves.) Most special guests did not receive housing or travel assistance; I think we provided this to 10-15 of them. Not all of our special guests even received complimentary tickets: some, such as Eliezer, Katja, Nate and Sarah, paid for their tickets before we reached out to them; we're very grateful for this! And we also issued complimentary tickets to many folks, without listing them as special guests. What is true about all our special guests is that we chose them for being notable people, who we imagined our attendees would like to meet. They were listed on our website and received a differently-colored badge. They were also all offered a spot at a special (off campus) dinner on Saturday night, in addition to those who bought supporter tickets. 1. ^ Off the top of my head, these special guests did not give talks: Eliezer Yudkowsky, Katja Grace, Joe Carlsmith, Clara Collier, Max Tabarrok, Sarah Constantin, Rob Miles, Richard Hanania, Nate Soares
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Fermi–Dirac Distribution
Was Hanania among that group?
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Austin
He was not.
Linch
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A meta- norm I'd like commentators[1] to have is to Be Kind, When Possible. Some subpoints that might be helpful for enacting what I believe to be the relevant norms:

  • Try to understand/genuinely grapple with the awareness that you are talking to/about actual humans on the other side, not convenient abstractions/ideological punching bags. 
    • For example, most saliently to me, the Manifest organizers aren't an amorphous blob of bureaucratic institutions. 
      • They are ~3 specific people, all of whom are fairly young, new to organizing large events, and under a lot of stress as it is.
      • Rachel in particular played a (the?) central role in organizing, despite being 7(?) months pregnant. Organizing a new, major multiday event under such conditions is stressful enough as it is, and I'm sure the Manifest team in general, and Rachel in particular, was hoping they can relax a bit at the end. 
      • It seems bad enough that a hit piece in the Guardian is written about them, but it's worse when "their" community wants to pile on, etc. 
    • I'm not saying that you shouldn't criticize people. Criticism can be extremely valuable! But there are constructive, human, ways to criticize, and then th
... (read more)

Thanks Linch. I appreciate the chance to step back here. So I want to apologize to @Austin and @Rachel Weinberg and @Saul Munn if I stressed them out with my comments. (Tagging means they'll see it, right?)

I want to be very clear that while I disagree with some of the choices made, I have absolutely no ill will towards them or any other Manifest organizer, I very much want Manifold and Manifest to succeed, and I very much respect their rights to have their conference the way they want. If I see any of them I will be very warm and friendly and there's really no need from me to talk about this further if they don't want to. I hope we can be friends and engage productively in other areas - even if I don't attend Manifest or trade on Manifold, I'd be happy to interact with them in other ways that don't involve Hanania.

While I dislike Hanania's ideas greatly, and I still think inviting Hanania was a mistake, and I still will not attend events or participate in places where Hanania is given a platform... I don't want to practice guilt by association for those who do not hold Hanania's detestable ideas. Just because someone interacted with him does not make them also bad people. I apologize for not being clear about this from the beginning and I regret that I may have lead people to think otherwise.

There's a lot of good stuff here, but I think there's another side to "[c]onsider the virtue of silence." There is the belief/norm, quite common in the broader world, that qui tacet consentire videtur (often translated to "silence means consent" but apparently more literally to ~ "he who is silent is taken to agree"). Whether or not one thinks that should be a norm, it is a matter of social reality at this point in time. 

I wish we had a magic button we could press that would contain any effects from the Manifest organizers' decisions to Manifest itself, preventing any reputational or other adverse effects from falling on anyone else. To me, it is the need to mitigate those third-party adverse effects that makes silence problematic here. After all, all of us have much better things to do with our lives than gripe about other people's choices that don't impose adverse effects onto other people (or other moral patients).

Fwiw I think that posts and comments on the EA Forum do a lot to create an association. If there wasn't any coverage of Hanania attending Manifest on the forum, I think something like 10x+ fewer EAs would know about the Hanania stuff, and it would be less likely to be picked up by journalists (a bit less relevant as it was already covered by the Guardian). It seems like there's a nearby world where less than 1% of weekly active forum users know that an EAish organisation at a commercial venue run by EAish people invited Hanania to attend an event - which I personally don't think creates much association between EA and Hanania (unlike the current coverage).

Of course, some people here might think that EA should be grappling with racism outside of this incident, in which case opportunities like this are helpful for creating discourse. But insofar as people think that Manifest's actions were ok-ish, it's mostly sad that they are associated with EA and make EA look bad, meaning they personally don't want to attend Manifest; I think debating the topic on the forum is pretty counterproductive. My impression is that the majority of people in the comments are in the latter camp.

If you think that it's important that Manifest knows why you personally aren't attending, emailing them seems like a very reasonable action to me (but of course, this doesn't achieve the goal of letting people who don't organise the event know why you aren't attending).

My recollection is that the recent major scandals/controversies were kickstarted by outsiders as well: FTX, Bostrom, Time and other news articles, etc. I don't think any of those needed help from the Forum for the relevant associations to form. The impetus for the Nonlinear situation was of  inside origin, but (1) I don't think many on the outside cared about it, and (2) the motivation to post seemed to be protecting community members from perceived harm, not reputational injury. 

In any event, this option potentially works only for someone's initial decision to post at all. Once something is posted, simply ignoring it looks like tacit consent to what Manifest did. Theoretically, everyone could simply respond with: "This isn't an EA event, and scientific racism is not an EA cause area" and move on. The odds of that happening are . . . ~0. Once people (including any of the organizers) start defending the decision to invite on the Forum, or people start defending scientific racism itself, it is way too late to put the genie back in the bottle. Criticism is the only viable way to mitigate reputational damage at that point.

But insofar as people think that Manifest's actions we

... (read more)

some people here might think that EA should be grappling with racism outside of this incident, in which case opportunities like this are helpful for creating discourse

I think sort of the opposite. Even though I commented elsewhere that I think there's a strong racist/eugenicist element in EA, I think Manifest has little to do with EA and could probably be ignored here if it weren't for the guardian article.

But the problem is that once it came to be discussed here, the discussion itself proved much more damning to EA than that not-really-EA event was in the first place. This isn't the first time that has happened. I guess it's better to know than not to know, but it's really weird to need this outside trigger for it.

Good points! It seems good to take a break or at least move to the meta level.

I think one emotion that is probably quite common in discussions about what norms should be (at least in my own experience) is clinging. Quoting from Joe Carlsmith's post on it:

Clinging, as I think about it, is a certain mental flavor or cluster of related flavors. It feels contracted, tight, clenched, and narrow. It has a kind of hardness, a “not OK-ness,” and a (sometimes subtle) kind of desperation. It sees scarcity. It grabs. It sees threat. It pushes away. It carries seeds of resentments and complaints. [...]

Often, in my experience, clinging seems to hijack attention and agency. It makes it harder to think, weigh considerations, and respond. You are more likely to flail, or stumble around, or to “find yourself” doing something rather than choosing to do it. And you’re more likely, as well, to become pre-occupied by certain decisions — especially if both options involve things you’re clinging in relation to — or events. Indeed, clinging sometimes seems like it treats certain outcomes as “infinitely bad,” or at least bad enough that avoiding them is something like a hard constraint. This can cause cons

... (read more)
7
Guy Raveh
I disagree with much of this, but I edited my very-downvoted comment to make clear that it wasn't about the Manifest team, whom I know basically nothing about.
7
Linch
(I didn't think your comment was primarily referring to them fwiw)

I wasn't at Manifest, though I was at LessOnline beforehand. I strongly oppose attempts to police the attendee lists that conference organizers decide on. I think this type of policing makes it much harder to have a truth-seeking community. I've also updated over the last few years that having a truth-seeking community is more important than I previously thought - basically because the power dynamics around AI will become very complicated and messy, in a way that requires more skill to navigate successfully than the EA community has. Therefore our comparative advantage will need to be truth-seeking.

Why does enforcing deplatforming make truth-seeking so much harder? I think there are (at least) three important effects.

First is the one described in Scott's essay on Kolmogorov complicity. Selecting for people willing to always obey social taboos also selects hard against genuinely novel thinkers. But we don't need to take every idea a person has in board in order to get some value from them - we should rule thinkers in, not out.

Secondly, a point I made in this tweet: taboo topics tend to end up expanding, for structural reasons (you can easily appeal to taboos to win arguments). So ov... (read more)

I've also updated over the last few years that having a truth-seeking community is more important than I previously thought - basically because the power dynamics around AI will become very complicated and messy, in a way that requires more skill to navigate successfully than the EA community has. Therefore our comparative advantage will need to be truth-seeking.

I'm actually not sure about this logic. Can you expand on why EA having insufficient skill to "navigate power dynamics around AI" implies "our comparative advantage will need to be truth-seeking"?

One problem I see is that "comparative advantage" is not straightforwardly applicable here, because the relevant trade or cooperation (needed for the concept to make sense) may not exist. For example, imagine that EA's truth-seeking orientation causes it to discover and announce one or more politically inconvenient truths (e.g. there are highly upvoted posts about these topics on EAF), which in turn causes other less truth-seeking communities to shun EA and refuse to pay attention to its ideas and arguments. In this scenario, if EA also doesn't have much power to directly influence the development of AI (as you seem to suggest),... (read more)

The main alternative to truth-seeking is influence-seeking. EA has had some success at influence-seeking, but as AI becomes the locus of increasingly intense power struggles, retaining that influence will become more difficult, and it will tend to accrue to those who are most skilled at power struggles.

I agree that extreme truth-seeking can be counterproductive. But in most worlds I don't think that EA's impact comes from arguing for highly controversial ideas; and I'm not advocating for extreme truth-seeking like, say, hosting public debates on the most controversial topics we can think of. Rather, I think its impact will come from advocating for not-super-controversial ideas, but it will be able to generate them in part because it avoided the effects I listed in my comment above.

The main alternative to truth-seeking is influence-seeking. EA has had some success at influence-seeking, but as AI becomes the locus of increasingly intense power struggles, retaining that influence will become more difficult, and it will tend to accrue to those who are most skilled at power struggles.

Thanks for the clarification. Why doesn't this imply that EA should get better at power struggles (e.g. by putting more resources into learning/practicing/analyzing corporate politics, PR, lobbying, protests, and the like)? I feel like maybe you're adopting the framing of "comparative advantage" too much in a situation where the idea doesn't work well (because the situation is too adversarial / not cooperative enough). It seems a bit like a country, after suffering a military defeat, saying "We're better scholars than we are soldiers. Let's pursue our comparative advantage and reallocate our defense budget into our universities."

Rather, I think its impact will come from advocating for not-super-controversial ideas, but it will be able to generate them in part because it avoided the effects I listed in my comment above.

This part seems reasonable.

Why doesn't this imply that EA should get better at power struggles (e.g. by putting more resources into learning/practicing/analyzing corporate politics, PR, lobbying, protests, and the like)?

Of course this is all a spectrum, but I don't believe this implication in part because I expect that impact is often heavy-tailed. You do something really well first and foremost by finding the people who naturally inclined towards being some of the best in the world at it. If a community that was really good at power struggles tried to get much better at truth-seeking, it would probably still not do a great job at pushing the intellectual frontier, because it wouldn't be playing to its strengths (and meanwhile it would trade off a lot of its power-seeking ability). I think the converse is true for EA.

9
Radical Empath Ismam
I mean, why not? Less-wrong "rationality" isn't foundational to EA, it's not even the accepted school of criticial thinking. For example, I personally come from the "scientific skepticism" tradition (think Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Steven Novella, James Randi, etc...), and in my opinion, since EA is simply scientific skepticism applied to charity, scientific skepticism is the much more natural basis for criticial thinking in the EA movement than LW.

What prominent left wing thinkers exhibited anti semitism recently?

The Labour Party comes to mind - though I have not verified the claims myself and idk if this is what Richard had in mind.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitism_in_the_British_Labour_Party#2021–present

5
David Mathers
To put Garrison's comment a bit more bluntly, I challenge you to name 1 left-winger who might feasibly be invited to speak at Manifold and has said anything about Jews as a group comparable to Hanania saying "these people are animals" about Black people*. That's not a dogwhistle, or a remark that reflects stereotypes, or applies double-standards, or cheering for one side in a violent conflict because you think their the aggressors it's just explicit open racism. *(The claim made below that Hanania really meant woke people not Black people, strains credulity. He was talking about not just the lawyer who prosecuted a man for violence towards a black man who was harrassing people on the subway, but also the . The full quote was "these people are animals, whether harassing people in the subway or walking around in suits". There is no reason to think the harasser was woke or shared any other characteristic with the lawyer except being Black. And your prior on "man who was a neo-Nazi for years, and never apologised till he got caught actually meant the racist reading when he said something that sounded racist" should be high.)

One person I was thinking about when I wrote the post was Medhi Hassan. According to Wikipedia:

During a sermon delivered in 2009, quoting a verse of the Quran, Hasan used the terms "cattle" and "people of no intelligence" to describe non-believers. In another sermon, he used the term "animals" to describe non-Muslims.

Medhi has spoken several times at the Oxford Union and also in a recent public debate on antisemitism, so clearly he's not beyond the pale for many.

I personally also think that the "from the river to the sea" chant is pretty analogous to, say, white nationalist slogans. It does seem to have a complicated history, but in the wake of the October 7 attacks its association with Hamas should I think put it beyond the pale. Nevertheless, it has been defended by Rashida Tlaib. In general I am in favor of people being able to make arguments like hers, but I suspect that if Hanania were to make an argument for why a white nationalist slogan should be interpreted positively, it would be counted as a strong point against him.

I expect that either Hassan or Tlaib, were they interested in prediction markets, would have been treated in a similar way as Hanania by the Manifest organiz... (read more)

2
David Mathers
Hassan: Those comments were indeed egregious, but they were not about Jews specifically. Indeed much more recently (although still a while ago) Hassan has harshly criticised antisemitism in the British Muslim community. I can't link on my phone but google "the sorry truth is that the virus of antisemitism has infected the British Muslim community". I grant that this was comparably egregious to what Hanania said (I do think it is slightly less bad to attack literally everyone outside your small community than to target a vulnerable minority, but I wouldn't rest much on that.*) If Hassan had said that more recently or I was convinced he still thought that, then I would agree he should not be invited to Manifest. But it's not actually an example of prejudice against Jews specifically except to the extent that Jews are also not Muslim. Tlaib: Well I wouldn't use that phrase, and I'm inclined to say using it is antisemitic yes, because at the very least it creates an ambiguity about whether you mean it in the genocidal way. Having said that, given that there is a very clear non-genocidal reading, I do not think it is a clear example of hate speech in quite the same sense as Hanania's animals remark. I'd also say that my strength of feeling against Hanania is influenced by the fact that he was an out and out white nationalist for years, and that he remains hostile to the civil rights act that ended Jim Crow and democratised the South.. If you can show me that Tlaib is or was a Hamas supporter, then yes, I'd say her saying "from the river to the sea" is at least as bad as Hanania's animals comment. (Worse inherently, since that would make it a call for violence and genocide/ethnic cleansing. But I do think Palestinians are subject to forces that make resisting bigotry harder vis-a-vis Israelis, than it is for white Americans to resist white nationalism.) *For example, I think the NYT should have fired Sarah Jeong even though her racist comments were "only" about whites,

If Hassan had said that more recently or I was convinced he still thought that, then I would agree he should not be invited to Manifest.

My claim is that the Manifest organizers should have the right to invite him even if he'd said that more recently. But appreciate you giving your perspective, since I did ask for that (just clarifying the "agree" part).

Having said that, given that there is a very clear non-genocidal reading, I do not think it is a clear example of hate speech in quite the same sense as Hanania's animals remark

I have some object-level views about the relative badness but my main claim is more that this isn't a productive type of analysis for a community to end up doing, partly because it's so inherently subjective, so I support drawing lines that help us not need to do this analysis (like "organizers are allowed to invite you either way").

Most Israeli Jews would call the phrase "From the river to the see" antisemitic. Myself being relatively on the far left in that group, and having spoken a lot with Palestinians online before the war, I'd argue that it's antisemitic/calls for ethnic cleansing of Jews around 50% of the time. I would not prosecute or boycott someone based on it alone.

Edit: but most Israelis might choose not to come to a conference that would platform such a person, I guess. I think this is a different situation from the current real controversy, but make of it what you will.

For what it's worth, I'm 75% confident that Hanania didn't mean black people with the "animals" comment.

I think it's generally bad form to not take people at their word about the meaning of their statements, though I'm also very sympathetic to the possibility of provocateurs exploiting charity to get away with dogwhistles (and I think Hanania deserves more suspicion of this than most), so I feel mixed about you using it as an example here.

"Didn't mean" is fuzzy in this sort of case. I'd put "he expected a good number of readers would interpret the referent of 'animals' to be 'black people' and was positive on that interpretation ending up in their minds" at more likely than not.

I’d bet against that but not confident

I think many people are tricking themselves into being more intellectually charitable to Hanania than warranted.

I know relatively little about Hanania other than stuff that has been brought to my attention through EA drama and some basic “know thy enemy” reading I did on my own initiative. I feel pretty comfortable in my current judgment that his statements on race are not entitled charitable readings in cases of ambiguity.

Hanania by his own admission was deeply involved in some of the most vilely racist corners of the internet. He knows what sorts of messages appeal to and mobilize those people, and how such racists would read his messages. He “know[s] how it looks” not just to left-wing people but to racists.

More recently, he has admitted that he harbors irrational animus (mostly anti-LGBT stuff from what I know) that seems like a much better explanation for his policy positions rather than any attempt at beneficence from egalitarian first principles. If you just read his recent policy stances on racial issues, they are shot through with an underlying contempt, lack of empathy, and broad-strokes painting that are all consistent with what I think can fairly be called a racist disp... (read more)

-7
TheAthenians
3
Arthropod
Could you elaborate on why you’re so quick to associate racism with truthseekingness? You’re at least the third person to do so in this discussion and I think this demands an explanation. What’s the relationship between the two? Have you investigated racist assertions and concluded they are truthful? You could say that lack of censorship, even of false ideas, is important for truth seeking in a community. But I don’t think you’d agree with a policy to allow everyone to say what they think is true without social consequences. Suppose a community of people are fixated on the intelligence of your children specifically, and they think that your children are genetically dumb. They post about this often on Twitter/X, and endorse eugenic policies to prevent future people from being like your children in particular. How would you feel about one of those people being a top billed guest to a conference? Would you approve of it because it demonstrates a strong commitment to truthseekingness?

Could you elaborate on why you’re so quick to associate racism with truthseekingness? You’re at least the third person to do so in this discussion and I think this demands an explanation. What’s the relationship between the two? Have you investigated racist assertions and concluded they are truthful?

Here's where I see this association coming from. People vary in many ways, some directly visible (height, facial structure, speed, melanin) and some less so (compassion, facility with mathematics, creativity, musicality). Most directly visible ones clearly have a genetic component: you can see the differences between populations, cross-group adoptees are visibly much more similar to their birth parents than their adoptive parents, etc. With the non-visible variation it's harder to tell how much is genetic, but evidence from situations like twins raised apart tells us that some is.

Getting closer to the edge, it's likely that there are population-level genetic differences on non-visible traits: different populations have been under different selection pressures in ways that impacted visible traits, and it would be surprising if these pressures didn't impact non-visible traits. One c... (read more)

6
NickLaing
I love this comment, it really helped me think about this. To explore a little more, I had a small issue with this sentiment. "Since by my values and temperament I would need to talk about what I found, whichever direction it was, and I don't see much value in learning these answers, however, I'm not going to look into this. A general commitment to seeking truth doesn't obligate one to investigate every possible question. I think a lot of people reason this way about low-payoff controversial areas and avoid them." I completely agree with this as a guiding principle, and think it should probably usually be the default option for most people. "A general commitment to seeking truth doesn't obligate one to investigate every possible question."  I think however that sticking to talking about every truth we find may not be a good idea, and I would bet you probably don't actually talk about every uncomfortable finding you have com accross. "Since by my values and temperament I would need to talk about what I found, whichever direction it was" I get the general principle of talking about what we discover along the rather than staying quiet,  but I think there can be exceptions. If we do stumble across meaningful uncomfortable outcomes in either through our own research or on the internet or whatever, I think the best option might be to avoid talking about the issue at all. I'm not sure we ever "need" to talk about a research finding. I agree with this statement "they have two main options: delude themselves into thinking reality is otherwise or accept reality and with it the implications." but think that in some cases we can accept reality and still choose not to talk about it, oreven  think about it very much, especially if talking about it is unlikely to lead to any helpful outcome. I think the world in general is extremely unfair and there are quite a number of "unfortunate" and awkward truths even outside the realm of genetics, some of which might best to avoid t
9
Jeff Kaufman
You're right that I don't have to talk about everything that I find. To take an uncontroversial example, if in my day job I find an easy way to make a bioweapon, I'm not going to blog how to do that. But if you're not going to talk about it if you conclude X, are you also not going to talk about it if you conclude not-X? If not then you're making it much harder for other people to figure out what is true (more).
4
Manuel Del Río Rodríguez
I feel one is always allowed not to speak about what they don't want to, but that if one does decide to speak about something, they should never make a statement they know is a lie. This is sad, because depending on the issue and how it relates to your career and other stuff, you might not be able to just keep quiet, and besides, your silence is going to be interpreted uncharitably. People who have shown to consistently value and practice truth-saying should be allowed some sort of leeway, like 'I will only answer n randomly chosen questions today (n also randomized) and you are not entitled to press further on anything I don't answer'.
2
NickLaing
I 100 percent agree with that, which is where the wisdom comes in to choose not speak about many things.
1
RobertJMoore
>If we do stumble across meaningful uncomfortable outcomes in either through our own research or on the internet or whatever, I think the best option might be to avoid talking about the issue at all. You can't ignore reality this selectively and expect reasonable outcomes. If I have two health problems, but I'm only allowed to treat one because the other is socially unacceptable, the other will get worse and worse. To be clear- I think there's little value in discussing the whole genetic thing. But I think most people outraged by it are ignoring why it comes up. If you want to avoid talking about the issue, then you have to move that removal up a level. So we refuse to consider that there are racial differences in genetics- okay, then you need to move that up a level and racial differences in anything are unacceptable topics. No more concern about statistical differences in, say, homeownership, graduation rates, or crime rates. To make certain causes verboten means the symptoms cannot be properly addressed either. I believe this kind of absolute and strict colorblindness would be an improvement for society. But I suspect that most of the people complaining about Hanania would not agree.  For what it's worth, I find Hanania an irritating troll and I don't get the appeal to the Manifest crowd, except in the most cynical manner that he's a right-winger who mostly shits on other right-wingers. A sort of guilty indulgence, like a comedian who makes jokes mostly about people you already don't like.
4
ZachWeems
oThis isn't directly responsive to your comment but- I've gone to that particular edge of the map and poked around a bit. I think people who avoid looking into the question for the above reason typically sound like they expect that there plausibly be dragons. This is a PSA that I saw no dragons, so the reader should consider the dragons less plausible. There certainly are differences in individual intelligence due to genetics. And at the species level, genes are what cause humans to be smarter than, say, turtles. It's also true that there's no law of reality that prevents unfortunate things like one group of sapients being noticeably smarter than another due to genetics. However, I'm pretty sure that this is not a world where that happened with continent-scale populations of homo sapiens[1]. I think it's more likely that the standard evidence presented in favor instead indicates psychiatrists' difficulty in accounting for all non-genetic factors. I don't mean to argue for spending time reading about this. The argument against checking every question still applies, and I don't expect to update anyone's expectations of what they'd find by a huge amount. But my impression is people sound like their expectations are rather gloomy[2]. I'd like to stake some of my credibility to nudge those expectations towards "probably fine". 1. ^ I feel like I ought to give a brief and partial explanation of why: Human evolutionary history shows an enormous "hunger" for higher intelligence. Mutations that increase intelligence with only a moderate cost would tend to rapidly spread across populations, even relatively isolated ones, much like lactose tolerance is doing. It would be strange this pressure dropped off in some locations after human populations diverged. It's possible that there were differing environmental pressures that pushed different tradeoffs over aspects of intelligence. Eg, perhaps at very high altitudes it's more favorable to consider distant da

The asymmetry that @Ben Millwood points to below is important, but it goes further. Imagine a hundred well-intentioned people look into whether there are dragons. They look in different places, make different errors, and there are a lot of things that could be confused for dragons or things dragons could be confused for, so this is a noisy process. Unless the evidence is overwhelming in one direction or another, some will come to believe that there are dragons, while others will believe that there are not.

While humanity is not perfect at uncovering the truth in confusing situations, our approach that best approaches the truth is for people to report back what they've found, and have open discussion of the evidence. Perhaps some evidence A finds is very convincing to them, but then B shows how they've been misinterpreting it. Except this doesn't work on taboo topics:

  • Many sensible people have (what I interpret as) @NickLaing's perspective, and people with that perspective will only participate in the public evidence reconciliation process if they failed to find dragons. I don't know, for example, whether this is your perspective.
    • You wrote essentially the opposite ("Those who perceive
... (read more)
1
ZachWeems
This is a bit discourteous here. I am not claiming that A is convincing to me in isolation. I am claiming that after a hundred similarly smart people fit different evidence together, there's so much model uncertainty that I'm conservatively downgrading A from "overwhelmingly obvious" to "pretty sure". I am claiming that if we could somehow make a prediction market that would resolve on the actual truth of the matter, I might bet only half my savings on A, just in case I missed something drastic. You're free to dismiss this as overconfidence of course. But this isn't amateur hour, I understand the implications of what I'm saying and intend my words to be meaningful. I think this largely depends on whether a given forum is anonymous or not. In an alternate universe where the dragon scenario was true, I think I'd end up arguing for it anonymously at some point, though likely not on this forum.  I was not particularly tracking my named-ness as a point of evidence, except insofar as it could be used to determine my engagement with EA & rationality and make updates about my epistemics & good faith. Sure. I understand it's epistemically rude to take debate pot-shots when an opposing team would be so disadvantaged, and there's a reason to ignore one-sided information. There's no obligation to update or engage if this comes across as adversarial. But I really am approaching this as cooperatively communicating information. I found I had nonzero stress about the perceived possibility of dragons here, and I expect others do as well. I think a principled refusal to look does have nonzero reputational harm. There will be situations where that's the best we can manage, but there's also such a thing as a p(dragon) low enough that it's no longer a good strategy. If it is the case that there are obviously no dragons somewhere, it'd be a good idea for a high-trust group to have a way to call "all clear". So this is my best shot. Hey, anyone reading this? I know this is unilater
6
Ben Millwood
Thanks. There's an asymmetry, though, where you can either find out that what everyone already thinks is true (which feels like a bit of a waste of time), or you can find out something deeply uncomfortable. Even if you think the former is where most of the probability is, it's still not a very appealing prospect. (I'm not sure what the rhetorical import of this or what conclusions we should draw from it, just felt like explaining why a lot of people find investigating distasteful even if they think it won't change their mind.)
1
ZachWeems
Agreed. I think I wasn't entirely clear; the recommendation was that if my claim sounded rational people should update their probability, not that people should change their asymmetric question policy. Edited a bit to make it more clear.

My view on this is that, unless there is some really strong argument against HBD type views that is not regularly being made by the people arguing that HBD type people are evil, we have in this case a dubious but plausible proposition (HBD) where the strength of the social consensus against it has gotten way, way stronger than the evidence against it.

People who are good at noticing holes in arguments are going to notice that the common arguments saying that HBD style ideas are obviously and completely false have lots of holes in them. Some of these people will then have a period where they think HBD is probably true before (possibly) they notice the holes that also exist in the arguments for HBD.

In this context it is pretty likely that 'being good at noticing holes in arguments that your social group strongly endorses' is going to associate with a tendency to 'racism'.

 

I also have a dislike for excluding people who have racist style views simply on that basis, with no further discussion needed, because it effectively is setting the prior for racism being true to 0 before we've actually looked at the data.

Make the argument on the merits for why they are bad scholars making prov... (read more)

Make the argument on the merits for why they are bad scholars making provably false arguments, like we do with creationists, anti-vaxxers, and 9-11 truthers, or let them talk

This feels like a description of how you want reality to be rather than how it actually is. Prominent creationists, anti-vaxxers or 9-11 truthers generally don't find scientists, engineers or political scientists queuing up to debate them or intellectuals queuing up to hear them out either and not because the strength of the evidence favours them. More to the point: if a conference on an apparently unrelated subject like prediction markets announces a lineup with an unusually large number of creationists, anti-vaxxers or 9-11 truthers the discussion will definitely be around why those people were selected and whether they should have been rather than rehashing old arguments about whether they have a point.

Likewise, if Manifest chose for some reason to stack their attendee list with people who were unusually outspokenly 'woke' or raving Stalinists[!] and the feedback was that they didn't deserve a speaking slot on the basis of their social media obnoxiousness or their presence attracted the wrong sort of people,... (read more)

There are reasons why you might want to exclude HDBers that don't depend on any particular HDB view being false. And there are reasons why you might object to including some of the people at Manifest even if you don't think HDBers should be automatically excluded.

On the first point: The truth value of "most people who are into HDB are racist in the "dislike and are biased against Black people," sense and many are fascists or support gross human rights violations" is independent of the truth-value of HDB. Certainly Bryan Caplan, who no one would consider a dogmatic leftist seems to think something like this (at least the human rights bit): see the blog post by him Nathan Young's posted in another thread. The reports of slurs at the conference are evidence in favour of "invite HDB speakers, get bigots in the audience", as is the presence of Yarvin (a genuine fascist's) followers. (Even if Yarvin himself wasn't there.) It's not low integrity to prioritise not attracting slur-chucking bigots and fascists over having speakers with a particular viewpoint even IF we assume that viewpoint includes some true and controversial claims. It is plausible that many obnoxious ideological groupings... (read more)

1
Habryka
(Not engaging with your central point, instead locally engaging with a bunch of sub-claims you make) To be clear, I haven't heard of actually anyone citing any slurs (and don't really know what you are referring to hear). I definitely did not hear any. Maybe someone mentioned this somewhere in the two comment threads numbering over 500+ comments. The closest I can find is this section of the "My experiences [...]" post, which says:  But that doesn't really sound like slurs in the usual sense, or at least a stretch of the word (I use the words "based" and "retarded" occasionally. "fag" feels weirder to me, though I still wouldn't describe it as a slur (and I am also not sure whether the author actually heard that term).  Hanania seems to deny this in a public podcast and multiple people who have dug into this a good amount disagree with you on this. I think it's bad form to cite it as a undisputed fact despite that. I think you are engaging in speculation about the type of person who attended here, or are engaging in the noncentral fallacy. My guess is there were some people at the event who liked some things about Yarvin. I am highly doubtful that your statements about "The Yarvinites" has much predictive power about what those people do or believe.

"fag" feels weirder to me, though I still wouldn't describe it as a slur

Wait what? I can't think of many words that would be more central examples of slurs than that.

I am gay. At this point it’s a term of endearment. If someone called me a fag in an unfriendly way I’d just be a bit baffled. Of course, this is just me.

1
RobertJMoore
It's a famously "reclaimed" slur: Dan Savage used it positively for decades. But there is some dispute- in particular, it seems that many older gay men still have a strongly negative view of it, whereas younger crowds seem generally more accepting. As a Millennial, but not really in "the community," I still find it off-putting when it's used positively.  I've heard that there's some queer vs gay tension as well that people that ID as queer are turning "fag" back into a slur, but I have no clue to what extent this is an actual phenomenon instead of outrage-bait.

Yes, I agree it's used not-that-rarely within the gay community. This is very similar to the n-word situation, and I don't think is very material to whether it's a slur or not.

If a gay person called me a fag, I'd update that they were more edgy than me. If a straight person called me a fag, I'd update that they were a bigot (and/or very socially inept and in need of a talking to).

-28
Habryka

I have privately been told by someone I know who attended that they also heard slurs. (They didn't say what other than "not the n-word".) I'm not going to name them, because they have already said not to cite them on the forum about another thing they told me they was so my guess is they do not want to be dragged into the controversy on this.

I'd also say that I remember how certain neoreactionaries (not all of them) used to talk on SSC-these people of course eventually got banned. If that was a crowd attracted-which the Yarvin after party suggests it was-I am extremely unsurprised that people whose comments on SSC used to include things like rants about how "white gimmedats" and "white sluts" were teaming up with Black people to demand ruinous government spending, will also use racial slurs when they are not on a forum that will mod that out.

What is meant to be the non-central fallacy in this context? Are you just saying you doubt they are political supporters of Yarvin's ideas?

(and I am also not sure whether the author actually heard that term)

I can't confidently recall it was "fag" or "faggot" at this point anymore, but the term was definitely used.

I'm choosing to interpret this as you wondering if I used that collection of words as a representation of the kind of soft opens some of the attendees engaged in instead of real examples (as opposed to suggesting that I was lying), but "fag", "retarded", "based", and "cuck" were all used quite a bit.

2
Habryka
Yep, that's how I interpreted it, especially given that the other two seemed to me quite different (again, "based" really has no connotation with a slur to me and is just like a weird word that people on the Internet use, if anything it's a compliment).
7
Jason
Not that Wikipedia is authoritative for anything, but it describes one of those words as "a term, usually considered a slur, used to refer to gay men." I would personally characterize the r-word as a slur if referring to an individual with an intellectual disability (and at least as in poor taste otherwise). I'm over 40 so do not understand "based." Of course, one can disagree with these opinions, but it would not be unreasonable for David to have characterized some of these words as slurs.
-6
TheAthenians
4
Lukas_Gloor
I agree with this diagnosis of the situation. At the same time, I feel like it's the wrong approach to make it a scientific proposition whether racism is right or not. It should never be right, no matter the science. (I know this is just talking semantics, but I think it adds a bunch of moral clarity to frame it in this way, that science can never turn out to support racism.) As I said here, the problem I see with the HBD crowd is that they think their opinions on the science justifies certain other things or that it's a very important topic.

The scientific proposition is "are there racial genetic differences related to intelligence" right, not "is racism [morally] right"? 

I find it odd how much such things seem to be conflated; if I learned that Jews have an IQ an average of 5 points lower than non-Jews, I would... still think the Holocaust and violence towards and harassment of Jews was abhorrent and horrible? I don't think I'd update much/at all towards thinking it was less horrible. Or if you could visually identify people whose mothers had drank alcohol during pregnancy, and they were statistically a big less intelligent (as I understand them to be), enslaving them, genociding them, or subjecting them to Jim Crow style laws would seem approximately as bad as it seems to do to some group that's slightly more intelligent on average.

2
Lukas_Gloor
Well said. I meant to say the exact same thing, but seem to have struggled at communicating. I want to point out that my comment above was specifically reacting to the following line and phrasing in timunderwood's parent comment: My point (and yours) is that this quoted passage would be clearer if it said "genetic group differences" instead of "racism."

(The above comment makes no reference to racism, and seems to be arguing from general principles. You can object to the general principles, which Richard I think communicated pretty cogently and which presumably apply to opinions associated with racism, but I don't really understand your comment about the author "associating racism with truthseekingness" since the author does not mention racism. 

In as much as Richard is advocating for tolerating controversial beliefs, like some stuff associated with racism, it's because of the general principles he outlines in his comment. But if that's what you mean by "associate racism with truthseeking" it seems appropriate to engage with the details of his comment, instead of just asking him to re-explain himself.)

This is a top-level comment on a post titled “Why so many “racists” at Manifest?”. That’s the topic of discussion, and the commenter seems to think that truth-seekingness is related to this topic. That’s what I’m challenging.

The Kolmogorov complicity essay presents numerous instances where individuals held accurate beliefs that their governments deemed heretical. The truthfulness of these beliefs is crucial to the argument. Certainly the essay would come across differently if the heretical beliefs were things like “the sky is green” or “this specific couple’s children are genetically dumb” (when they’re not). Therefore, I fail to understand how this essay pertains to our current discussion unless the contentious racist beliefs are also truthful, which the commenter has not substantiated.

6
Habryka
Thanks! This feels like a more substantive response that seems potentially productive to engage with. Your previous comment felt to me like it was more just kind of ignoring the details of Richard's comment.
2
richard_ngo
I broadly endorse Jeff's comment above. To put it another way, though: I think many (but not all) of the arguments from the Kolmogorov complicity essay apply whether the statements which are taboo to question are true or false. As per the quote at the top of the essay: That is: good scientists will try to break a wide range of conventional wisdom. When the conventional wisdom is true, then they will fail. But the process of trying to break the conventional wisdom may well get them in trouble either way, e.g. because people assume they're pushing an agenda rather than "just asking questions".

For what it is worth, a core argument I made was that many attendees at these events said clearly racist and bigoted things, far beyond milquetoast "there might be group IQ differences". I am also disturbed by people jumping to the truth-seeking defence.

What were the clearly racist of bigoted things? 

> My plan was then to invite & highlight folks who could balance this out  

I think this is basically a misconception of how the social dynamics at play work. People aren't worried about the relative number of "racists", they're worried about the absolute number. The primary concern is not that they will exposed to racism at the conference itself, but rather that attending a conference together will be taken as a signal of support for the racists, saying that they are welcome in the community.

To pick Hanania as an example, since he has the most clearly documented history of racist statements, I have peers who would absolutely see me choosing to attend the same conference as him as a sign that I don't think he's too bad. And if I know that expectation and chose to go anyway, there would be additional merit to that reading.

To an extent, the more that Manifest is focused on discussions of prediction, the more leeway there is to invite controversial speakers. You can say make a case for ignoring views that are not relevant to the topic at hand. But as Saul says in his other post "although manifest is nominally about prediction markets, it's also about all the ideas that folks who like prediction markets are also into — betting, philosophy, mechanism design, writing, etc". In other words, it's about forming a broader intellectual community. And people are obviously going to be uncomfortable identifying with an intellectual community that includes people that they, and the broader world, consider to be racist.
 

And even if it were possible to "balance out", the examples given don't exactly fill me with confidence this was given serious consideration. Someone known primarily[1] for being an angry culture warrior like Hanania isn't "balanced out" by the presence of "gracious" longtermists who are unlikely to have written anything racist,[2] he'd "balanced out" by getting a culture warrior from the other side, whether in open debate or purely speaking about markets but making it clear the organizers definitely weren't endorsing a particular side...

  1. ^

    The Guardian may not always capture the nuance, but there's a difference between inviting someone known primarily for his controversial views who incidentally also favours prediction markets and inviting, say, notable prediction market proponent Robin Hanson who incidentally also said questionable things in the past

  2. ^

    Indeed if I wanted to organize a conference with the explicit purpose of covertly promoting fringe views to a largely unrelated audience (which I don't think was actually the case here FWIW), this is exactly how I'd stack the speakers for faux balance: a few people on my side to insinuate the fringe views and a bunch of harml

... (read more)

I agree. I think we have to understand that "balancing out" Hanania plays into his game. He's an intentional provocateur - he says edgy things for attention.

And then he uses that attention to build a platform.

And his explicit intention with that platform is to overturn the US Civil Rights Act.

I don't want to play any part in enabling that and that's what "balancing out" does.

Yeah I dislike being part of something that rewards Hanania for the worst of his behaviour, which on balance I would guess Manifest currently does.

The Guardian may not always capture the nuance, but there's a difference between inviting someone known primarily for his controversial views who incidentally also favours prediction markets and inviting, say, notable prediction market proponent Robin Hanson who incidentally also said questionable things in the past

Well put. 

It's been a long time since AP Chemistry, but to deploy an imperfect metaphor: Adding water to a strong acid merely makes the solution somewhat less acidic; it does not make it balanced in pH.

Mm, what you're describing sounds consistent, but do you think that your peers are right to have that expectation? Like, is society a better place if we enforce a norm that attending a conference constitutes support for the others in attendance?

In general, I'm much less concerned about the optics of the event "how does Manifest look", and much more concerned about the concrete question, "how did it feel to attend Manifest"? For this reason, the Guardian article didn't bother me very much, but the attendee's report on Manifest did prompt some soul-searching among our team and led me to write this post.

We don't get to decide what society's norms are, though. To be clear, nor do members of the ideological left with their demands for an ideological purity culture.

Looking at ~the middle 75% of society, [1]I think it's clear that (metaphorically) breaking bread with a group of people has some social meaning. "Support" is too strong, but it does convey a sense of toleration, non-condemnation, and minimum acceptability of the group's views. I can't speak to non-Western cultures, but my understanding is this view is of long standing in places like classical Greece and Rome.

If one is interested in cross-pollination with diverse sectors of society, I submit that failing to reckon with commonly-accepted cultural norms like the breaking-bread norm would be an excellent way to ensure that one remains in a limited bubble.

  1. ^

    I'm in the US, so this does have a US flavor. But I don't have any reason to think things are different in Western Europe. I'd defer to those with more relevant knowledge and experience to discuss other cultures.

Maybe I'm naive, but I think we do get to decide society's norms! We do so in explicit discussions like this one, for example. Or hypothetically if a friend asks "why did you go to that event with all the racists", you could let them know of your disapproval of the stances of some of the invited guests, while also highlighting that you attended because of specific talks or events or other friends you were excited for.

We collectively (the members of the society) get to decide society's norms. But it's also true that U.S. citizens collectively get to decide who the President is, and look where that gets tens of millions of people each election cycle. People individually or in small groups ordinarily have only a slight influence on society's norms., and I think what you're suggesting is sufficiently far afield from current norms for small movements to make a material difference.

Of course, it's possible for social norms to shift considerably. But it takes a lot of both time and concentrated effort. The end objective would presumably be a mass social movement engaged in advocacy for that interpretation of free speech and free association. I don't see that kind of theory of change being worked toward, so I don't see any reason to believe isolated, less systematic attempts to change norms will have much overall effect.

1
Jason
On the merits, I think I'm more open to informal societal pressure as a manner of social control (as opposed to censorship by governments or big corporations). I think it's good that people incur serious social costs from attending (e.g.) neo-Nazi or KKK events. For some particularly dangerous ideas, social pressure is a fairly modest way of mitigating that harm without giving any entity a concentrated and/or too-strong censorship power. Moreover, I think failing to socially stigmatize certain types of speech sends a problematic message to groups who are the target of the particularly problematic speech. If one reaches that conclusion, then we have a line-drawing exercise about whether any given event is problematic enough to justify a social sanction on attendees.  If we decide that attendance at some events should be stigmatized, then that raises the question about what to do about mixed events (with significant objectionable and significant non-objectionable content.) My view is that we would stigmatize attendance at such events. Doing so would likely cause events to unmix quickly, so we wouldn't lose the social value of content we didn't want to stigmatize. And I think any other answer gives plausible deniability to people seeking to avoid the social pressure that we had decided was warranted. 

I think my peers would factually right, at least directionally, in that attending with someone who has controversial views is evidence of favoring those views. 

As for whether society is a better place if we enforce the norm, I think there's a couple relevant considerations. The first is the degree of abhorrence. To pull Godwin's Law, I think that knowingly attending a conference with literal neo-Nazis should be seen as support for their views. The second is the degree of focus. Where it should be fine to attend an academic conference with subject matter experts talking about their work, choosing to attend a "fun forecasting-adjacent festival" where attendees are encouraged to pal around with each other is more deserving of judgment. 

I would also like to clarify, when I talk about peer judgments, I'm not making a point about how Manifest looks to those people. I'm making a point about how it would feel for them to attend. While I understand there are tradeoffs involved and you can't make the event welcoming to arbitrary potential attendees, I would say by the time you've lost Peter Wildeford you've gone too far.  I would also throw my hat in the ring as someone who works on prediction science and would be hesitant to attend the next Manifest if it had a similar invitee list.

7
Jason
(separate comment for separate thought to allow agree/disagree voting) How much weight would you give to the following question: "how did it feel for some people to feel unwelcome at Manifest, and not attend, because of the controversial attendees -- either due to reputational risk issues or discomfort at sharing space with those attendees?"

The obvious reason to not put too much weight on positive survey results from attendees: the selection effect.

There are surely people (e.g. Peter Wildeford, as he mentioned) who would have contributed to and benefited from Manifest but don't attend because of past and present speaker choices. As others have mentioned, being maximally inclusive will end up excluding people who (justifiably!) don't want to share space with racists. By including people like Hanania, you're making an implicit vote that you'd rather have people with racist views than people who wouldn't attend because of those people. Not a trade I would make. 

Insofar as they were trying to make Manifest a conference for exploring interesting ideas, I would argue for including Hanania as one of the most effective critics of conservatism, ie. see this article where he tells conservatives to stop believing misinformation/running scams.

Insofar as the focus was on growing the prediction market community, I think it is important to conduct outreach both to the left and to the right. And Hanania is one of the figures on the right who can draw the smarter conservatives to a conference like this.

9
David Mathers
Bear in mind the Johnson bills Hanania is criticising in the opening sentence of that article include the bills that finally allowed Black Americans to be able to vote in the US and outlawed racial discrimination. Can you really not see why a former secret white nationalist at the very least edging close to "bans on explicit discrimination against Black people and letting Black people vote causes crime and is therefore bad" might disgust a lot of people? Bear in mind that none of this legislation was about crime. Some of it was facially race neutral anti-poverty stuff. But the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just outlaws explicit discrimination against people on the basis of their race or gender, and creates some bureaucracy to enforce this. (Look it up if you don't believe me.)
9
River
  You might think this from reading the text, but that is not how it has been interpreted. Title VII has also been interpreted to address disparate impacts, which are not explicit discrimination. (it also outlaws discrimination on religion and national origin in most sections, and only outlaws sex discrimination in Title VII, not in any other part of the act.)
2
David Mathers
It's got nothing to do with crime is my main point.
1
Chris Leong
Sorry, this isn’t a very strong argument. I could write a law that bans some kind of discrimination and also mandates the clubbing of baby seals. And whenever anyone criticises the latter element, I could self-righteously proclaim, “How can you criticise this bill, surely you’re against discrimination?”

Sorry, this isn't a very strong analogy.

Hanania doesn't criticise anything specific about the bills directly or offer a clear thesis for why they led to a rise in crime. There's no analogy to clubbing seals here. The strong implication imo is that giving more freedom to black people itself led to bad things happening because black people (according to Hanania) have a bad culture. Which is a different and much more offensive (to many) thesis.

(I agree that this is then used as a segue to a pretty insightful and biting critique of conservatives, which is the main point of the article. And I can see the pragmatic value of his argumentative approach for reaching racist conservatives. But I don't think that does much to defend against a charge of racism here.)

6
David Mathers
I am not maintaining it is impossible for anyone to criticise any law that includes an anti-discrimination portion. If, say, Jason Brennan criticised anti-discrimination law on the grounds that it generated inefficient bureaucracy that did more harm than good, I wouldn't be offended.What I am claiming is that people are rightfully suspicious when someone with Hanania's overall track record makes the particular criticism of it he did.

I don't like to post a whole blog here, but I think probably it's better here than as a separate post which will possibly reignite the discussion. 

I think Bryan Caplan's comment on race and IQ is just a really good take on these issues. It acknowledges his views and then why people reasonably might not like him for those views and then an admonishment for bad apples to do better. https://www.econlib.org/archives/2017/04/iq_with_conscie.html 

Here it is in full. 

Bryan says:

I’m an IQ realist, all the way.  IQ tests aren’t perfect, but they’re an excellent proxy for what ordinary language calls “intelligence.”  A massive body of research confirms that IQ predicts not just educational success, but career success.  Contrary to critics, IQ tests are not culturally biased; they fairly measure genuine group differences in intelligence. 

Yet I’ve got to admit: My fellow IQ realists are, on average, a scary bunch.  People who vocally defend the power of IQ are vastly more likely than normal people to advocate extreme human rights violations.  I’ve heard IQ realists advocate a One-Child Policy for people with low IQs.  I’ve heard IQ realists adv... (read more)

As a right-wing person sympathetic to many EA ideals, I'm surprised when I read these posts about how we need to exclude these people to make attendees comfortable. In fact, excluding these people - who I find incredibly smart, reasonable, and valuable - would make me (and I'm sure many of my friends on the Right) extremely uncomfortable. 

4
Peter Wildeford
Which ideas are it that you find valuable that you think we're proposing be excluded?

To be clear - the exact problem is that you are proposing excluding specific speakers (Hanania, Hsu, Hanson, the Collinses, etc) - who I find valuable to various degrees, not ideas. If Manifest issued a notice that it was not a venue to discuss IQ or heritability, that seems much more reasonable than excluding these thinkers. 

(Why do Hanson and Hanania need to be speakers? They are the foremost advocates of prediction markets on the Right. Their support would be incredibly important in building a cross-party coalition). 

I don't think Hanania is exactly well-positioned to build support on the right; he constantly talks about how much contempt he has for conservatives.

I understand how it may be weird given how much he trolls them, but he is among the most influential writers on the Right.

4
TheAthenians
I second that. He does a pretty good job of making all sides angry.
5
Jason
This raises an interesting point -- I think the objectionability of a speaker depends on part on the context of the broader event. For example, Hanania at an event with a bunch of prediction market/forecasting folks and without anyone linked to white nationalism, eugenics, etc. has a meaningfully different feel than Hanania with the lineup that was actually there. (I'm not expressing an opinion about whether I would find any particular speaker lineup to cross the line or not, only that I don't think evaluating speakers individually without any context is the right mode of analysis.) There is a difference, though, between "excluding" people who happen to buy a ticket and choosing not to recruit them, elevate them to the status of special guest, and use their attendance to advertise the event. Manifest did not, e.g., exclude holders of various problematic views by failing to recruit any of them or promote them to featured status. To justify this inaction, organizers did not need to first issue a notice that discussion of topics related to those problematic views at Manifest. 
4
Peter Wildeford
To be clear I think I would personally only aim to exclude Hanania, Chau, and Yarvin.

Yarvin didn't attend. 

Also, my sense for Chau is that one of the top reasons he was invited was because he was up for doing a debate with Holly. I personally think one should extend something like "diplomatic immunity" to people from opposing communities if they are participating in a kind of diplomatic role. Facilitating any kind of high-bandwidth negotation between e/acc people and AI-x-risk concerned people seems quite valuable to me, and I e.g. think Manifest should probably invite Sam Altman to debate others on safety if he is up for it for similar reasons, despite me finding him otherwise quite despicable.

(I don't have a strong take on Hanania. It seems pretty plausible to me based on things other people have said that he should be excluded, but I have learned to take things like that with a grain of salt without checking myself)

Just for the record, I actually invited Brian a few days before he launched AFTF; I proposed a debate afterwards. I would have enjoyed listening to his explanation of the e/acc position even outside a debate context; I think his past background as being solidly EA, eg organizing his university's EA group, means that he has a unique perspective on this. (And he did end up giving a separate talk, which was very on theme for Manifest - "The Economics of Envy".) So from my perspective it was less of a case of "diplomatic immunity" and more me genuinely wanting to hear from him.

Props for saying this when you didn't have to. 

5
David Mathers
I know that I, as a random nobody do not get to police who is EA, but I find myself really quite upset that we are attracting people who say the sort of stuff Chau is recorded saying here. Maybe that is an irrational reaction, and I should celebrate our ability to get people involved in doing good stuff even if they have bad views, which after all is the point. (On balance I think that is wrong, but I'm not being flat out sarcastic when I say it.) But I find these sort of attitudes straightforwardly bigoted. https://www.transformernews.ai/p/alliance-for-the-future-director
-4
Nathan Young
Yeah though this seems more of an EA problem than a manifest one right? Like this kind of seems unrelated to the problem in hand?
4
jimrandomh
I was under the impression that the original intent with Hanania at Manifest 2023 was a similar sort of diplomatic-relations thing: he was going to debate Destiny, but that debate was cancelled because of political pressure.
4
Chris Leong
Damn. I would have loved to have seen that debate happen.

That people keep insinuating that Yarvin attended speaks to the issues with this whole discussion

6
Nathan Young
I would take that deal if it were the difference between you coming and not. 

This is a bit self-indulgent of me, but I'm going to quote myself from the comments of the other post, because I think it's relevant here too:

One aspect of the framing here that annoyed me, both in the OP and in some of the comments: the problem is not controversial beliefs, it is exclusionary beliefs. Here are some controversial beliefs that I think would pose absolutely no problem at this event or any other:

  • The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
  • Virus gain-of-function research creates more risk than it prevents.
  • Nuclear energy is a necessary part of the transition away from fossil fuels.

The problem with racism and transphobia is not that people disagree about them! The problem is that these beliefs, in their content on the object level, hurt people and exclude people from the discussion.

Let's avoid using "controversial" as a euphemism for "toxic and exclusionary". Let's celebrate the debate and discussion of all controversies that threaten no-one and exclude no-one. Suggesting any of that is at stake is totally unnecessary.

(To the extent you want to upvote / downvote this sentiment, maybe go do that on the original comment and not this one, unless that feels... (read more)

It seems to me like the people with exclusionary beliefs here are the ones demanding that people be excluded, not the racists.

5
Ben Millwood
Can you expand a little more on "not the racists"? Why not both? I'm happy to concede that thinking some people should be excluded is an exclusionary belief. If this comes down to excluding one set of people or the other, I feel much better about excluding people based on their beliefs and actions than I do about excluding people based on their genetics or other immutable characteristics.

I agree, but I don't think anyone involved here has advocated for excluding people from Manifest or ~anything else based on "genetics or other immutable characteristics"?

It just seems Orwellian to describe "person A doesn't want to associate with person B because of person B's beliefs" as "person B has exclusionary beliefs". Person A may or may not be justified, but obviously they are the one being exclusionary.

5
TheAthenians
Nobody's excluding people based on their genetics or immutable characteristics I was assigned to female at birth and I happily go to conferences where there are people who have discussed the IQ differences between women and men. People are deciding to not go to a place because somebody said something they disagreed about about their group. That is people deciding not to attend an event based on beliefs, not genetics.

Agreed. There is a major difference between thinking someone should be deplatformed just because they have opposing views (e.g., pause AI vs. accelerationist, libertarian vs. communist) and thinking someone should be deplatformed because they promote discriminatory views.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being controversial or outside of the Overton window. Many important ideas were once controversial, and many still are. But it is wrong to actively promote views that are racist, transphobic or sexist and to platform those who do. Not because these views are controversial, but because they go against creating a safe and welcoming environment for all. 

That being said, I am not familiar with most of the speakers being discussed here, so I can't say whether the organizers made the right call or not with them. And I understand not every case is clear cut. But with Richard Hanania they clearly made a bad call in my opinion. 

4
Austin
I agree that hurting people and excluding people is bad. As I wrote in the post, we take attendee safety seriously; if an attendee was acting to hurt another attendee, eg by making fun of a trans person for their choice of gender identity, we would not have sanctioned that at Manifest. We also try to make it clear that Manifest itself is inclusionary, open to anyone to attend, unlike conferences which aim for prestige such as EA Global. I don't think that our attendees were toxic or exclusionary at Manifest; eg looking through the feedback form, we see few to no complaints of this sort. To the degree people use swear words as alluded to in the EA Forum post, it's the first I'm hearing about it; I imagine they're accurately representing what they encountered, but I think it may not paint a very accurate picture to those who were not in attendance.

I think people who would be hurt would be quite hesitant to contact community health personnel at the event, since the event organisers were the ones who invited the controversial guests, and a hurt person could be afraid that whoever they'd contact might hold bigoted views themselves (I feel bad for having to say this out loud. Rest assured I am not accusing you or anyone else in the organiser team of anything here, Austin). 

Anyone who might hear such discourse will understandably be discouraged from seeking recourse.

I'm afraid that there really were quite a few toxic people present, and I have to say that I am a bit surprised to see you say otherwise.

I haven't seen the feedback form answers, and as far as I can recall didn't highlight these issues when I filled it, but I am also surprised that there were few to no complaints. Is this assessment based on a quick skim, or is it a result of more thorough processing?

For your next event, I encourage you to adopt an anonymous community health contact person contact form, where people can air out their grievances with much less anxiety.

Thanks -- I think an anonymous contact person might make sense. Would you have contacted such a person during the course of your attendance at Manifest?

Here's our feedback form categories for what people said was the best and worst about Manifest. People really liked the conversations, other people, and speakers that were there; and generally disliked the overcrowding, lack of bathrooms, and difficulty of meeting new folks.

For worst things, here's the full list of what people said was worst in the categories of "people", "edgy people", and "gender ratio/demographics", along with their NPS score ("would you recommend Manifest to a friend with similar interests?"). There were 15 responses in these categories, out of 234 feedback form respondants (at an event with ~600 total attendees)

A couple of these responses did make me feel like we missed the mark -- especially 11 and 14. On one hand, I want to keep in mind that with a 600 person event, it's near impossible to satisfy everyone, and trying to do so often invokes other tradeoffs; on the other, knowing that even a couple attendees felt this way makes me incredibly sad, and I want to provide a better experience in the future. I'm gla... (read more)

Thanks for taking the time to make a thorough reply.

Would you have contacted such a person during the course of your attendance at Manifest?

I probably would have. Some of the edgy takes were far beyond the pale, and I haven't really experienced such things in an in-person context. Having an anonymous form would increase a sense of trust if it is otherwise lacking.

I do suspect that you would be able to get a lot more data on this by asking about experiencing bigotry directly. I do get that it is probably too late for that now, and doing an extra survey for the attendees on this would be costly and would likely make this whole situation more stressful for everyone, but it is an option that can be taken.

It is very human to fail to mention something like this on a feedback form, especially if a typical experience with bigotry for this event is something like hanging out with an edgelord for an hour on day 2 and continuing with the rest of the conference perhaps slightly avoiding them (I'm only guessing this is what a typical experience would look like, since we don't really have too much data to go on with when it comes to people who experienced bigotry at the events).

My opinions about Manifest are obvious from my linked article, but I think it's worth explicitly reiterating that you as organizers of the conference have my full confidence and support for how you handled decisions around invitations, organization, and hosting. Part of this is self-interested, I confess: I was a bit of an odd duck at the conference, invited by @Saul Munn despite my lack of particular focus on prediction markets in what struck me as part of an extraordinarily successful decision to prioritize "interesting to the conference organizers and potential attendees" over "safe". I loved Manifest, loved the chance to present on an off-the-wall topic there, and have never been to a conference where so many sessions felt like must-attends.

I don't think Manifest did anything to signal edginess, nor do I think its presenters leaned into edginess. Some have controversial views, but I attended many of the sessions under scrutiny and saw nobody who aimed to be edgy for edginess's sake. Razib gave a fascinating speculative presentation on where the future of biology might go, Jonathan Anomaly's talk on polygenic screening was compelling and timely, and the Collinses are always grac... (read more)

So I have time for some of the arguments made here, but I worry that I could be frog-in-a-pot-boiled into accepting anything. It feels like there should be some things that one should say that are worthy of cancellation or very high costs. 

Eg when Hanania tweets, without apology: "Daniel Penny getting charged. These people are animals, whether they’re harassing people in subways or walking around in suits." 

I really like our taboo around racism. That people just don't say things like that. And so it feels to me likely that breaking the taboo should be $10,000 - $1,000,000 expensive. 

I don't like many orange lines, I like a few very clear red ones. Don't insult people with reference to their sex, sexuality or race. Don't dehumanise people or groups of people. If Hanania had just not said a few things he has said, I wouldn't have much problem, but he doesn't just tiptoe up to my red lines, he steps over them. 

And at that point I feel obliged to kick up a stink, otherwise we really do end up in the world where Manifest is full of edgy racists, who actually do think that some races are morally worse and should be deported or whatever. And that's a conference I don't really want to go to.

This is my sort of steelman of my procancellation position. i don't think it applies to almost anyone but Hanania and there is a way back even for him, but I think if it doesn't apply here, I'm not sure I would actually hold the view, which I do. 

I respect that and agree that those comments cross a line that should not be crossed. I'm sympathetic to the value of red lines and taboos, and I regularly put active effort into defending the sentiment that racism is bad and should be condemned (though I am extremely cautious about tabooing people as a whole based on specific bad sentiments).

It's more complicated for me here because as mentioned above, I find Hanania's commentary on other topics unusually valuable and think I have had valuable, worthwhile interactions with him such that I am glad for opportunities to do so.

More than that, I am conscious that many who most eagerly pursue the taboo, including the writers of the Guardian article and people like David Gerard who provided background for it openly despise you, me, and others in these spheres, and given taboo-crafting power would craft a set of norms emphatically disagreeable to me. I think parts of the EA community have themselves shown some susceptibility to similar impulses, throwing people like Nick Bostrom under the bus to do so. That post in particular actively made me more wary of EA spaces and left me wondering who else would be skewered.

The individual who wrote ... (read more)

Oh yeah, no I agree with that. I have lost at least one EA friend partly because I wasn't willing enough to condemn Hanania (despite saying that he said racist stuff and I didn't want him to speak and pushing for discussion that lead to him being removed as a speaker). People pretty get annoyed at me for what I consider to be milquetoast takes or for trying to reach consensus on difficult discussion[1], I have received an angry screed for criticism of an EA leader. I don't think EA is particularly safe for me[2]. My instincts here aren't that this is good. 

But I claim that there are lines that shouldn't be crossed and if that empowers people I don't like, in the short term, so be it. It's what I think. 

 I think there is a line that Hanania can cross and (until he uncrosses it, with some cost) I will push for large costs to be imposed on him. For me, he has crossed that line and I am pretty confused how much value he should create before I say it's more than the harm but I don't think he's done enough so far. 

  1. ^

    I imagine they would characterise it differently.

  2. ^

    Though this is part of the issue, we're all scared and so fragile. I imagine that some minority EAs feels

... (read more)
5
RobertJMoore
Do you really like our taboo around racism, or do you like our socially-popular taboo around a narrowly-defined subset of racism (likewise, sex, sexuality, and other class traits)? I'm no fan of Hanania but I think most people make these broad statements about taboos that they don't really mean in practice. For certain cultural reasons, those come up less here than the Hanania type despite being right at the "cultural borders," which could be an interesting anthropological study of its own.

BTW I want to add -- to all those who champion Hanania because they think free speech should mean that anyone should be able to be platformed without criticism or condemnation, Hanania is no ally to those principles:

Here's Hanania:

I don’t feel particularly oppressed by leftists. They give me a lot more free speech than I would give them if the tables were turned. If I owned Twitter, I wouldn’t let feminists, trans activists, or socialists post. Why should I? They’re wrong about everything and bad for society. Twitter [pre-Musk] is a company that is overwhelmingly liberal, and I’m actually impressed they let me get away with the things I’ve been saying for this long.

(Source)

Has anyone said he should be platformed without criticism? The point of contention seems to be that many people think he shouldn't have been a speaker at all and that everyone who interacts with him is tainted. That is not a subtle difference.

As HL Mencken famously said, “The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

If principles only apply to the people that uphold them, then they're not principles: they're just another word for tribalism. Lovely conflict theory you've got there.

-40
Guy Raveh

Great comment and overview of the event, which I very much enjoyed. 

Was anyone there who had ever uttered a previous phrase or sentence with which I might disgree, even firmly so? Almost certainly.  

I mean, Eliezer was there, and he has suggested that human infants might be susceptible to killing up to 18 months (https://x.com/antoniogm/status/1632162012229693440), which I regard as unbelievably monstrous. 

But even if someone said something monstrous, I'm still willing to hear them out, to attend a conference with them, and to attempt to persuade them otherwise (if it comes up). And who knows, maybe some belief of mine might turn out to seem monstrous to other people. I should hope they'd try to engage with me. 

Trying to cancel folks because they spoke at an event but another speaker said a bad thing 15 years ago---that's an absurd level of guilt by association. 

Trying to cancel folks because they spoke at an event but another speaker said a bad thing 15 years ago---that's an absurd level of guilt by association. 

This is a very uncharitable, bordering on dishonest, interpretation of the critics of this event.

 Like, even  if you're talking about the guardian article, which definitely has an anti-EA stance, I would describe their main "cancellation" (not a fan of how this word is used) targets as Lightcone and manifest. The charge is that lightcone hosted a conference filled with racist speakers at the lighthaven campus, and that manifest invited said speakers to the conference. 

I don't see them cancelling, say, nate silver, who fills your description of "spoke at the event but another speaker said a bad thing 15 years ago". 

Also, "said a bad thing 15 years ago" is an absurd twisting of the accusations. Hanania said some really, really racist things under a pseudonym up to 2012 (12 years ago, not 15) that he apologises for, but even the OP admits that he still says "distasteful" things today on twitter, and I personally think he's still pretty racist. And most of the other controversial speakers have never apologised... (read more)

Hanania has said racist things last year

For context, Daniel Penny (white) killed Jordan Neely, a homeless black man, who had been shouting at penny on the subway. Hanania is generally supportive of harsher measures against crime and this tweet (and Hanania's history) make it likely to me that he is describing black people as animals, rather than Penny, who wasn't harassing someone in the subway or to my knowledge wearing a suit and who Hanania probably supports. This is a gross thing to say[1]. And if Hanania wanted to clarify it, he could, but hasn't.

In Hanania's defence, he hasn't said anything this racist more recently. But that's a low bar.

  1. ^

    There is some kind of clarification here that we are all animals and that being an animal isn't bad, but Hanania isn't doing some "all people are animals and that's good" bit, he's probably being very racist.

9
Buck
I'd bet that he didn't mean black people here.
8
Stuart Buck
Ah, that is a fair point! 
6
TheAthenians
He wasn't referring to black people. I reached out to Hanania and this is what he said: "“These people” as in criminals and those who are apologists for crimes. A coalition of bad people who together destroy cities. Yes, I know how it looks. The Penny arrest made me emotional, and so it was an unthinking tweet in the moment." He also says it's quoted in the Blocked and Reported podcast episode, but it's behind a paywall and I can't for the life of me get Substack to accept my card, so I can't doublecheck. Would appreciate if anybody figured out how to do that and could verify.  I think generally though it's easy to misunderstand people, and if people respond to clarify, you should believe what they say they meant to say, not your interpretation of what they said.  I recommend editing your comment to update it based on new information.  Signal boosting incorrect and damaging information about somebody is bad for discourse. 
9
Jason
And there's a real difference between -- for example -- inviting someone to talk about AI safety and inviting someone to talk about their belief that human infants might be susceptible to killing up to 18 months.  To me, whether to deplatform someone due to unrelated speech or conduct that is sufficiently objectionable is a much more difficult question than whether to allow them to present said objectionable views at one's conference (or views that are adjacent to said views).

The main debate here is whether people who ever  aid controversial things should be allowed to attend an event at all, and/or to give a talk about unrelated issues.