SELF-RECOMMENDING!

SSC Meetups Everywhere Retrospective

Slate Star Codex has regular weekly-to-monthly meetups in a bunch of cities around the world. Earlier this autumn, we held a Meetups Everywhere event, hoping to promote and expand these groups. We collected information on existing meetups, got volunteers to create new meetups in cities that didn’t have them already, and posted times and dates prominently on the blog.

During late September and early October, I traveled around the US to attend as many meetups as I could. I hoped my presence would draw more people; I also wanted to learn more about meetups and the community and how best to guide them. Buck Shlegeris and a few other Bay Area effective altruists came along to meet people, talk to them about effective altruism, and potentially nudge them into the recruiting pipeline for EA organizations.

Lots of people asked me how my trip was. In a word: exhausting. I got to meet a lot of people for about three minutes each. There were a lot of really fascinating people with knowledge of a bewildering variety of subjects, but I didn’t get to pick their minds anywhere as thoroughly as I would have liked. I’m sorry if I talked to you for three minutes, you told me about some amazing project you were working on to clone neuroscientists or eradicate bees or convert atmospheric CO2 into vegan meat substitutes, and I mumbled something and walked away. You are all great and I wish I could have spent more time with you.

I finally got to put faces to many of the names I’ve interacted with through the years. For example, Bryan Caplan is exactly how you would expect, in every way. Also, in front of his office, he has a unique painting, which he apparently got by asking a Mexican street artist to paint an homage to Lord of the Rings. The artist had never heard of it before, but Bryan described it to him very enthusiastically, and the completely bonkers result is hanging in front of his office. This is probably a metaphor for something.

Philadelphia hosted their meetup in a beautiful room that looked like a Roman temple, and had miniature cheesesteaks for everybody. Chicago held theirs in a gym; appropriate, given this blog’s focus on BRUTE STRENGTH. Berkeley’s was in a group house with posters representing the Twelve Virtues Of Rationality hanging along the staircase. In Fairbanks, a person who had never read the blog showed up to get a story and an autograph for his brother who did. In New York, someone brought the best bread I have ever had, maybe the best bread anyone has ever had, I am so serious about this. In Boston, the organizers set up a prediction market to determine how many attendees they needed to plan for; they still ended up being off by a factor of two. This is also probably a metaphor for something. If only they had used more BRUTE STRENGTH!

Along the way, I got to see America. Most of it I saw from an airplane window, but I still saw it. In Portland, I ate from a makeshift food court formed by a bunch of really good food trucks congregating in the same empty lot; one of them just sold like a dozen different kinds of french fries. In Texas, I rode with an Uber driver whose day job is driving mechanical bulls to parties that need mechanical bulls, and who Ubers people around while he waits for the party to finish. In Washington DC, I tried to see the White House, only to be thwarted by the construction of a new security fence; they say that before you change the world you must change your own home, and it seems like our Wall-Builder-In-Chief takes this seriously. In Delaware, I stood on the spot where the Swedes first landed in America and declared it to be the colony of New Sweden; probably there are alternate timelines out there who could appreciate this more than I did. In New Jersey, I confirmed that the Pine Barrens are, in fact, really creepy.

People gave me things. You are all so nice, but you also seem to think I am about ten times more classy and fashionable than I really am. One person gave me a beautiful record of their audiobook – a real, honest-to-goodness vinyl record – as if I had any idea what to do with it. A reader in Philadelphia gave me a beautiful glossy magazine about Philadelphia culture, which I stared at intently for twenty minutes. Many people gave me beautifully-bound copies of my own work, which was so incredibly thoughtful that I feel bad that I will have to hide them in a closet so nobody sees them and thinks I am the kind of narcissist who makes beautifully-bound copies of my own work. The Charter Cities Institute people gave me a very nice Charter Cities Institute bag (although I assume that if I ever take it outside in Berkeley, someone will punch me and it will start a National Conversation). I am still really grateful to all of you.

But you already know how great you are. Let’s get to the statistics.

Mingyuan, the Official SSC Meetup Coordinator, sent out a survey to get information on the meetups we weren’t able to visit, and determined that we had somewhere between 81 and 111 meetups around the world. I’m sorry I can’t be more precise. 111 meetups were supposed to happen, 81 organizers reported back to Mingyuan that their meetups happened, and I’m not sure what happened to the other 30. Although most activity was concentrated in the Anglosphere, there were meetups as far away as Bangalore (9 people), Tel Aviv (25 people), Oslo (9 people), and Seoul (4 people). Medellin, Colombia reports a one person meetup; I am sorry it sounds like you did not have a good time. Montreal, Canada, reports a zero person meetup, which sounds very computer-sciency, kind of like a heap of zero grains of sand.

Here’s the histogram of attendance, binned by fives. About twenty meetups had 0-5 people, thirty had 5-10, and the remaining thirty had more than 10. The best-attended meetups were Boston (140), NYC (120), and Berkeley (105). Total meetup attendance around the world was almost 1500 people!

Did the event fulfill its goal of bringing more people to meetups? Many organizers had only a vague idea how many people usually attended their meetups, and many said their city didn’t have a usual meetup group at all. But as best I can tell, about 2.3x as many people attended the Meetups Everywhere meetup in a city compared to the average previous meetup. Breaking it down by tour status, meetups on my tour had much higher attendance (6.1x usual), but even meetups off my tour had somewhat higher attendance (1.6x usual).

Did the event succeed in bringing some people into meetup groups who might stay around later? I suggested meetup organizers bring a signup sheet that people could sign to get on a mailing list for future meetups. My data on this is sparse, because people took the survey question overly literally and wrote things like “I didn’t have a signup sheet, I just asked people for their emails” and then didn’t tell me how many people gave them. But for the 40 meetups where I have data, people on average got a population of new signers equal to 77% of their previous regular attendance; that is, a meetup group that usually had 100 people had 77 extra new people sign up for their mailing last. Breaking it down by tour status, meetups on my tour gained 170%, other meetups gained 58%.

This seems implausibly large; did one event nearly double the attendance of SSC meetup groups around the world? I don’t know how many people who signed up for the mailing list will really start attending regularly. But I will probably survey the organizers again next year, and they might be able to help me figure out how many people stayed around.

In total, 1,476 people attended SSC meetups, and 339 people added their name to mailing lists (the ratio here doesn’t match the previous numbers because most organizers didn’t have a mailing list or didn’t report mailing list data, and the ratios above only counted those who did).

So much for the numbers. What did I learn?

I don’t want to generalize too much – I deliberately went to the biggest meetups, and things that work for a group of 100 people might not apply to a group of 2 people. So take all of this with a grain of salt, but:

1. Tables and chairs kill big meetups. Some people tried to hold meetups at a restaurant or a park with picnic tables or something. Everyone would sit down at the table, talk to the 3-4 people in their immediate neighborhood, and that would be that. Eventually I figured out that I need to force everyone out of the picnic tables and into the rest of the park. This caused a phase shift from solid to gas, with people milling about, talking to everyone, finding the conversations that most interested them.

2. The welcomeness sentence is really important. In the meetup descriptions on the blog, I included a sentence like “Please feel free to come even if you feel awkward about it, even if you’re not ‘the typical SSC reader’, even if you’re worried people won’t like you, etc.” It sounds silly, but I had so many people come up to me saying the only reason they came was because of that sentence. It happened again and again and again. Anybody planning any kind of meetup about anything should strongly consider including a sentence like that (as long as it’s true). Maybe there are other simple hacks like this waiting to be discovered.

3. Group houses are important community nuclei. Obvious in retrospect, but it was pretty stark seeing the level of community in cities that did have rationalist group houses vs. the ones that didn’t, even if there were good meetup groups in both. This also came out in listening to some people mourn the loss of the main group house in their city and talk about all the great things they were no longer able to do.

I was thinking of this last one because a lot of the meetups felt kind of superficial. Everyone shows up, talks about their favorite SSC post or what their job is or what kind of interesting thing they read recently, and then they go home. Lots of people seemed to enjoy that, I enjoyed it, but seeing the kind of really great rationalist communities in the Bay Area or Seattle gave me a sense that more is possible. I don’t know, maybe it’s not possible in cities with only 10 or 20 interested people; maybe only places like the Bay Area and Seattle have enough people, and everywhere it’s possible it’s already happening. But group houses seem to be a big part of it.

I was also struck by the number of female meetup organizers; the female:male ratio on the meetup organizer survey is almost twice that on the SSC survey in general. When there were cities that didn’t have regular meetup groups, and I asked for a volunteer to set one up, it was usually a woman who volunteered.

This suggests to me that we’re not just performing at some kind of theoretical maximum for the amount of people and interest in a given community; there’s a shortage of something (speculatively, social initiative) that (in this community) women are better than men at. I don’t know how to solve this (though integrating more with the EA community, which has more women, might help), but I think it’s an interesting problem.

And Buck has written his own retrospective of his EA work at the meetups here.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

118 Responses to SSC Meetups Everywhere Retrospective

  1. Solra Bizna says:

    The welcomeness sentence always makes me want to try to attend a given meetup. This time around, there was one in my area, so after reading and absorbing the Sentence I resolved to attend it… and then I ended up with an unfortunate scheduling conflict. Oh well.

  2. Erusian says:

    I’ve got experience with organizing. Some notes:
    Group housing tends to have issues with financing. The really well off people can afford their own place and often prefer the privacy. The not-so-well off people don’t have a lot of money. I suspect Portland and SF work because the rent is so astronomically high and commuting is difficult. This means you have more well off people willing to live in group housing. As an alternative for areas without these conditions, you might look at setting up coffee shops or coworking collectives or something. Or, of course, you could try and find a way to subsidize group housing.

    It’s very normal for women to take the lead in organizing social things in my experience. But the real thing you need to do is create space and authority. The same thing that makes people very interested in organizing social events (highly agreeable, kind, nice, socially oriented) makes them hesitant to take authority. I’m not talking about becoming Her Highness, Dictator of Philadephia. I mean literally they will think it’s presumptuous to organize a meetup. If you just ask them to do it, they’ll be thrilled to. Giving people a structure is very important.

    “Interesting” is a subjective term. Regions have industries and they rise or fall based on various factors. Like, the upper midwest is still a manufacturing hub that makes a lot of cars. It’s just that this isn’t as profitable these days. If you’re looking for a Silicon Valley-like atmosphere, you’re basically going to find it where there’s a lot of VC. You’re not likely to find people doing interesting neuroscience in Atlanta but you’re not likely to find many people creating innovations in textile mills in SF. Defining ‘interesting’ will probably be key to creating a sense of ‘SSC-ness’ in the culture.

  3. peterj says:

    a lot of the meetups felt kind of superficial. Everyone shows up, talks about their favorite SSC post or what their job is or what kind of interesting thing they read recently, and then they go home.

    How could a gathering of mostly strangers be otherwise? I find that most social gatherings tend to disappoint on an emotional or intellectual excitement level and I have oft pondered the issue of how to get beyond the superficial level for such events. If I’m lucky people may talk about the most recent book they read or their most recent travel experience. A lot of social gatherings otherwise devolve into gossip and discussions of diet, even among educated people. Good god I’m sick of dietary conversations – they plunge me into despair about the future of civilization.

    But I guess it’s unreasonable to strike up a conversation with strangers about Dostoevsky’s ideas on the fate of mankind in the absence of religion and that the best social discourse occurs one-on-one with like minded friends where we can build on shared knowledge from many hours of previous conversations, shared experiences, etc.

    • Rebecca Friedman says:

      But I guess it’s unreasonable to strike up a conversation with strangers about Dostoevsky’s ideas on the fate of mankind in the absence of religion

      I don’t know. You’d have to find the people at the meetup who’d actually read Dostoevsky, but that sounds like the kind of thing I might hear snippets of when I’m wandering around refilling the veggie tray.

      (I probably wouldn’t join in, because I haven’t read Dostoevsky. But I wouldn’t assume no one has/would be interested.)

    • JohnBuridan says:

      If you are discussing Dostoevsky, you *are* religious. Does one discuss Jesus’ ideas without discussing Jesus? It’s D O S T O E V S K Y; he’s basically Russia’s Saint Paul.

      To your actual point, my salty interlocutor. I too am fed up with discussions about people’s diets… that’s why I hosted an SSC Meetup! As we get to know each other better, we develop a mode of existence called friendship or community. It’s better than being strangers, I think.

      • Dacyn says:

        Dostoyevsky (and Jesus for that matter) has interesting things to say about ethics, guilt, forgiveness, etc. that even people who aren’t religious can appreciate (even if on average they will be less likely to agree with them)

    • D0TheMath says:

      Epistemic status: have never actually been put in the situation described, so it could be an idealization of how I’d want to react rather than how I’d actually react.

      If someone came up to me and asked if I wanted to talk about Dostoevsky’s ideas on the fate of mankind in the absence of religion, as long as they were articulate and talking out of passion rather than as a weird social signal that they’re nerdy, then I would absolutely love to have that conversation. Even if I’ve never read Dostoevsky (which I haven’t).

    • Callum G says:

      Perhaps we need some prompts

      Maybe an askhole.ioo sponsored event? Or like each meetup responds with their favourite TV series/movie/book?

    • HaraldN says:

      The stockholm SSC/rationality meetup group tries to solve this issue by having a well regarded article from the rationality community as a discussion seed each meetup. Generally we talk about this for a few minutes, everyone agrees that “yes, scott is a very wise person” but then the discussion moves onto some other topic tangentially related to the seed. No super deep conversations either way, but deeper than just talking about your job or whatever.

      • joshuabecker says:

        that’s a pretty common model. in fact, my entire college curriculum was based around that model: every single class was a discussion of an assigned reading, nothing more.

        one thing that helps is ensuring the readings are deep enough. chicago’s monthly typically has a organizing theme or topic, with several readings around that topic. then generally someone starts the discussion with a not-easy-to-answer question. (the “opening question”.) the question may even be unanswerable, but the journey is the destination.

        though, for the chicago SSC everywhere meetup, we just had a fun social event. but i definitely overheard people getting deep.

        • The southern Bay Area meetup we run never has any pre-programmed content. People just come and talk about whatever they want to talk about.

          As a potential participant, I think I would be less interested in coming to a meetup if I was told that everyone was supposed to read an article that would be discussed, or that there was a particular topic.

    • imoimo says:

      The key to the strangers -> community transition is, in my experience, frequency of the meetup. When my local SSC meetup changed from a once-a-week meetup to twice-a-week, the sense of community and size of the group both grew quickly. (This was pointed out to me by half a dozen people, so it’s not just my impression.) I think the frequency increase allows for greater continuity of conversation/relationship between people, plus allows people who can’t make one of the meetups to come to the other instead.

      Of course for this to work you need sufficient interested people so that the vast majority of meetups are 3+ people, preferably more. Fear of showing up to a 1 or 2 person meetup has been a self-fulfilling prophecy in the past. The more people trust the meetup will be big enough, the more likely it will be big enough.

      • johan_larson says:

        Twice a week is a lot. I’m trying to think of all the various clubs I’ve been a member of over the years, and nearly all of them have met once a week. The exceptions have been schools, often martial arts schools, but those were generally profit-making or expenses-covering businesses. Even churches these days struggle to get people out twice a week, which is why bible study these days is usually done before the service, rather than during the week.

        I think it might be better to aim for a) consistency, and b) critical mass. Actual organized activities, rather than just a chat session, might be useful too.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Organized activities like a group hike somewhere or a potluck would be cool

        • imoimo says:

          I agree consistency, critical mass, and activities are very helpful. But we have one weekly meetup for discussion and one for casual hanging out at restaurants, and that feels pretty optimal. Keeps the focus of the group, but emphasizes the friendship aspect. Of course many people come just once a week or a blue moon, but they can still benefit from the community atmosphere fostered by 2x/week members.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      My expectation out of an SSC meetup is to meet the sort of people who like reading and posting on SSC. This seems to be people with unusual characteristics (e.g. a gay person who supports Trump), but share a preference for talking about hot button issues without yelling. This is the baseline, and I’m never disappointed. (My only peeve is that it’s hard to get into the middle of DC. But it also means getting a pretty good crowd every time. Tradeoffs.)

      Meanwhile, I try to bring a conversation starter, and that’s typically a combination of good food, and one of my board games. Seems to work. The DC meetup even has spinoff activities as a result: gaming events, museum events, and short hikes.

  4. cassander says:

    Medellin, Colombia reports a one person meetup; I am sorry it sounds like you did not have a good time.

    To be fair, it sounds like he only has himself to blame…

  5. WillG says:

    Does anyone have access to the Berkeley/Bay Area meetup mailing list and feel like adding me to it? I’ve just moved to SF from the UK and was sad not to be able to make the meet, but I’d definitely be keen to go if its a recurring thing!

    • Plumber says:

      Try here.

      I’ve been (briefly, I have an early bedtime) to one Berkeley, and one San Francisco meetup, the folks skew young but nice, with Berkeley having a few more grey hairs mixed among the youngsters.

      @DavidFriedman also host a meetup in San Jose that sounds worthwhile (it is about a 50 minute to 4 hours drive from San Francisco to San Jose depending on traffic and exact locations).

      I’m exclusively with family weekends and holidays, but I work in San Francisco and live near Berkeley and may sometimes meet Monday to Friday and you may contact me at HOJ[dot]plumber[at]gmail[dot]com, if you want.

  6. Simulated Knave says:

    I realize this is a weird thing to complain about, but…Montreal is the eighth largest city in North America. It is noticeably bigger than a lot of other places you mentioned whose locations are not clarified with their respective country or state. It is also extremely close to the American border, and I’ve seen it mentioned in American media.

    Canada’s not some weird exotic land beyond the ken of civilization. Not even the French bits. If people don’t know where Montreal is but know where Fairbanks is, that’s a failure on their part.

    Yes, this is petty, but I notice it in other venues and media, and it annoys me there too.

    • Protagoras says:

      I don’t know. I’ve been to Montreal, and “weird exotic land beyond the ken of civilization” sounds only mildly exaggerated to me.

    • Plumber says:

      “…Canada’s not some weird exotic land beyond the ken of civilization…”

      I “visited” Canada in the late ’80’s, but I have my doubts, first because I didn’t walk to and see the Great Ice Wall at the border, instead I took “Air Canada” where I was forced to be intoxicated by a hat wearing stewardess (with a French-ish accent!) by her asking me “Do you want a drink?” thus rendering me easily fooled, and Ottawa looked like a film set, suspiciously so!
      Montreal on the other hand looked just like an American city, but French speaking to fool ya!
      But the most damning indicator is that saw no moose!
      Mexico had pinatas (so does Los Angeles, but Mexico had more!), but a “Canada” without moose?
      I remain unconvinced that this “Canada” actually exists, there may well just be a few cities planted near the “border” as an elaborate ruse!

      I do admit that there’s slightly more evidence for “Canada” than for “North Dakota” and “Finland”, but only barely.

  7. svalbardcaretaker says:

    >In New York, someone brought the best bread I have ever had, maybe the best bread anyone has ever had, I am so serious about this.

    Can the person responsible for the Platonic Bread please step forward and share its secrets with us?

  8. JohnBuridan says:

    I must say that hosting a Meetup is a good experience. If you are considering stepping forward, I strongly encourage you. It’s a great way to build community.

    I recommend hosting people for a luncheon if possible and sending personal invites to each person encouraging them to come. Invite people who haven’t read SSC too, people who aren’t “the typical reader” but you think would contribute well to discussion.

  9. EMP says:

    There is always a concern of mine that meetups of otherwise roughly extraversion balanced groups select highly against introverted people. Being a highly introverted person myself, it discourages me from going to these sorts of things. Meetups are inherently an extroverted activity and thus attract extroverts. The higher proportion of extroverts that attend these events can unintentionally scare off or alienate the few introverts that show up. When I think of SSC, I think of a bunch of nerds typing up paragraphs of argumentation over mundane things. Stereotypically that would fall more on the introverted side, so maybe my concerns are exaggerated. Still… I am not so sure.

    The idea underlying all of this though, is that there is a fundamental incompatibility between people on two extremes of a personality spectrum. Perhaps this is wrong, but anecdotally I find it to be true.

    • JohnBuridan says:

      Scott is a huge introvert, not known for being talkative, maybe he can comment on this idea from his own perspective. And Scott pointed out in his article that keeping a fluid environment is a big help to ensure people find the conversation that’s right for them.

      From my perspective, I think it is a matter of adopting a Finnish attitude towards conversation.
      1) Don’t worry about so-called awkward silences.
      2) Speak when you have something to say, but don’t feel compelled to speak.
      3) Direct questions to people who aren’t the conversation monopolist.

    • Some people come to our meetup who appear to be very introverted. One at a recent meetup came, left for a while, came back again. I eventually managed a fairly brief conversation with her. Probably less interesting if you are an introvert, but it is possible to just stand around without saying anything.

  10. syrrim says:

    there’s a shortage of something (speculatively, social initiative) that (in this community) women are better than men at

    Your taking as given that men are equally interested in attending meetups as women (interest being distinct from initiative)

    • Dacyn says:

      I think he was just assuming that being interested in attending is a prerequisite for being interested in organizing. It’s well-known that more men than women are interested in SSC.

      • Aapje says:

        That seems like a poor assumption. People-oriented people, which women are more often, seem to enjoy people-aspects of systems-oriented events, even if they don’t actually enjoy the system-oriented aspects that much.

        • Dacyn says:

          Of course, but wouldn’t they be equally happy with the people-aspects of other events? We are talking about someone who, out of all the things they could have chose to organize, chose an SSC meetup. Doesn’t that suggest they are at least somewhat interested in SSC topics?

          (because it took a while to remind myself of what is going on in this thread, and because there may be some ambiguity, I will write down my model of syrrim’s model of how SSC meetups work for future reference: there are two traits, meetup interest and social initiative, which respectively determine the likelihood that someone will attend or organize an SSC meetup. Men have more meetup interest but crucially, men and women are more balanced on social initiative, thus contradicting Scott’s claim that women have more of it. This would explain the observed evidence that organizers are SSC-disproportionately more women. But my claim was that likelihood to organize depends not just on social initiative but also on likelihood to be involved in SSC in general, which skews male and so requires initiative to skew female to compensate.)

          • Aapje says:

            Lots of people are moderately interested in lots of stuff. Let’s say that you have various desires, where I = interest in the topic and S = social initiative, where if I + S > threshold T, people will want to organize and if I > T, people will want to attend.

            Many people have lots of interest, but hate organizing things. These people can sometimes be convinced to organize, but primarily if they believe that the event won’t happen otherwise. Their S is a negative number, just having I results in higher utility than also having S.

            Some people have low/moderate I and high S. These people are more likely to attend if they get to organize.

            It gets even more complicated when one recognizes that many women have a male partner or male family that they want to spend time with, even if they don’t share their interests. Let’s denote this desire with H, for hanging out. Then these women may attend an event if I + H > T and organize if I + S + H > T.

            A further complication is that organizing things often takes away from the ability to enjoy the event itself. So people with high I are probably less likely to want to organize, because doing so costs them more in I than they gain by getting S.

            If we assume that for SSC events:
            – thing-oriented people have higher I
            – people-oriented people have higher S + H
            – the gendered nerd disparity means that thing-oriented men are more likely to have a relatively people-oriented female partner or family than vice versa

            Note that the above is relative. A woman who is seen as extremely nerdy by society can still be people-oriented compared to SSC readers.

            These assumptions can easily lead to a large gender difference between organizers and attendees (and further assumptions, like that meeting up is more people-oriented than commenting here, to a large difference between attendees and SSC commenters), depending on the size of the differences and how strong the inverse relationship between I and S is.

          • Dacyn says:

            @Aapje:
            I agree that your model makes sense. My impression is that syrrim disagrees with your model, since he disagrees with Scott’s quote which seems to agree with your model. I think I may have done a bad job of describing what was wrong with what syrrim was saying but I guess it doesn’t matter at this point.

  11. Dino says:

    I was hoping to go to the one in the Boston area, but chickened out due to parking concerns (biking/taking the T would not have worked – maybe next time). Then I heard about the 140 people and wondered how they could all fit in that space, and if that is just too many. What it was like?

  12. Logan says:

    “seeing the kind of really great rationalist communities in the Bay Area or Seattle gave me a sense that more is possible. ”

    Can you give more detail about the “more” that is possible? I attend a meetup group that is pretty expansive/intricate, though we have no group houses. It’s not clear, though, what we should be striving for to get more out of the community. What is the alternative to superficiality? What is happening at the group houses, so we can either try to replicate it with the resources available or else become more motivated to create group houses?

    • caryatis says:

      Seconding this. I can see how group houses would help people find housing, but i’d like to know more of the benefits beyond this. (Also, let’s not confuse benefits of group houses with benefits of polyamory; the sort of close, trusting “i’ll care for your kid full time” relationships i’ve read about in some group houses are less likely to happen when the roommates aren’t having sex.)

    • Sortale says:

      in my meetup group, I am a nurse and was able to help out another member when they had trouble understanding the healthcare system in the country. Another member helps me understand how voltage work.

      we all have comparative advantages. By din of exposure, we may come to learn how to use our comparative advantages to help others.

      I mean the member that I help, I didn’t even know that they were having a problem understanding the healthcare system until they brought it up in conversation. And while I didn’t hide my ignorance of the law of physic, explaining voltage isn’t something that usually comes up in conversation.

      By the by, our meet up have a system where members pledge to improve themselves in various ways [completely voluntary of course] and use the social pressure to conform/commit to help people stick to their plans.

      Going further, I am anticipating being able to form a more cohesive group. Say, if we have a food chain manager, maybe they can give us discount in exchange for concession [ e.g. buying certain things in certain amounts at certain times]. or being tester for developing products [e.g. lighting furniture to fight against seasonal affective disorder, or Co2 skimmer to reduce room Co2 at night] the possibility is endless.

    • HowardHolmes says:

      What is the alternative to superficiality?

      Silence

    • mingyuan says:

      I’ve lived in a Bay Area group house for more than two years and was previously house manager for twelve months. I initially moved here because it turns out I just like hanging out with rationalists more than I like hanging out with most other types of people – in particular, I value the conversational norms (tell culture can be *amazing* for preempting housemate conflict) and the fact that the people generally value the same things I do, understand what I’m talking about most of the time, and are always willing to help me improve in various ways.

      For me, the “more” that’s possible is the genuine sense of community we’ve built here. Most of the rationalist houses (there are more than 40, by my last count) know where the others are; we can go to parties at each others’ places, borrow tools or books or a cup of sugar from one another, move to another house if we’re looking for a change, run into friends at the grocery store, that kind of thing. I’m in my 20s and most of the people I went to school with are always complaining about the atomization of modern society and how isolated they feel. With the Berkeley rationalist community, I don’t experience any of that. After two years, my housemates are like a family to me. That’s the alternative to superficiality. (And for the record, none of my housemates date each other.)

      • You are describing what I think of as a non-geographical village.

        Humans want to matter. If your reference group is 300 million Americans, unless you are quite extraordinary, you don’t matter. If your reference group is the village you live in, and you live a decent hard working life, by the time you get old people know who you are, think well of you.

        Geographic villages work less well for this purpose in a world with modern population densities and communication and transportation technologies. The solution is non-geographical villages. Your job. The people who share your hobbies. Your church.

        The point first struck me forty or fifty years ago, when I spent a few days in the L.A. area interacting with fellow libertarians—who knew each other. It occurred to me that I had been spending my time in a village, thinly spread over a region some fifty miles across.

  13. Chevalier Mal Fet says:

    I wanted to make the Seoul meetup to find other Korean SSC fans, but couldn’t manage to swing the bus ride up from Gwangju.

    Shame, too, I could have singlehandedly increased attendance by 25%!

  14. JacobT says:

    Just to share my experience
    I went to a meetup for the first time, it turned out that it was a re-branded regular Less wrong meetup and I felt very out of place. Most of the meetup was a mini lecture and a word game between a few people with everyone else sitting and watching. I didn’t have enough time to meet almost anyone and am not planning on returning. My suggestion would be that for an introductory meetup to allow almost the entire time for conversations and socializing.

  15. did one event nearly double the attendance of SSC meetup groups around the world?

    You are using the ratio of new names on the email list to average attendees. The mailing list for our meetup has about 80 names. The typical meetup has twenty to thirty people attending. If we got 20 new names for the mailing list, the list would increase by only 25%, which would seem to be the relevant figure.

  16. shakeddown says:

    Does anyone have a picture of Bryan Caplan’s painting?

  17. b_jonas says:

    Very well, since you’re practically asking for that reply. The actual project goals were: clone bees, eradicate atmospheric CO2, and turn neuroscientists into vegan meat substitutes. (At least Tailsteak expressed the opinion of ethics that if you made products from a human body and the human was a consenting adult, then that would count as vegan, while other animals can’t give consent.)

    > But as best I can tell, about 2.3x as many people attended the Meetups Everywhere meetup in a city compared to the average previous meetup.

    Well of course. They’re advertised better. All the meetup times were right on the SSC blog, so I could immediately see two meetups that I’d miss because I fixed my vacation schedule earlier. (I’m not complaining. My vacation was great, and it was worth to fix the schedule in advance so I can buy accomodation cheaper.) I haven’t registered to Facebook yet so I don’t see the meetups announced in the private Facebook group, and I haven’t manage to figured out how to use the LessWrong meetup website either.

  18. alwhite says:

    I’ve participated in 3 years of meetups everywhere. I organized the first year and had 1 person show up. A woman organized the 2nd year and we had 11 people show up and a core group formed. The 3rd year was organized by a man again and we had 5 show up with 4 being the core group and 1 new person. I can’t say anything different was done for announcement except name of person organizing.

    • Aapje says:

      A female organizer might be more inviting, making it seem like less of a sausage fest?

    • maintain says:

      I suspect there were probably things done subtly differently.

      If you have bad social skills, you won’t even notice the subtle differences, even though they make a big impact.

      It’s similar how to people complain that Chad can go up to women and do nothing special, and they love him, but if I do the exact same thing, women think I’m a creep. You did not do the exact same thing. You have body odor and a neckbeard, and you went up to some women, stared at the ground and mumbled something incomprehensible.

      Anyway, the obvious solution is to test this: Get the woman who organized your year 2 meetup to organize next year, and then have her send out the invitation under a male name.

  19. Frederic Mari says:

    Just discovered the story about BRUTE STRENGTH and it’s my new 3rd favorite blog post here (1st is the Archipelago and 2nd is the review of Albion’s Seed. Previous 3rd top spot was occupied by Meditations on Moloch).

    I just have one comment (beyond validating how great the Pills story was) – I’m not super okay with integrating/confusing EA and rationality. My rationality says that, in the face of climate change, helping more people esp. in poor countries (i.e. EA maximising the bang for the buck, Bill Gates-style), is counter-productive.

    The only rational EA thing to do right now is 1- R&D/infrastructure deployment to tackle climate change if you have the scientific chops. 2- fund said R&D/infrastructure deployments efforts if you have the money and/or 3- campaign for public funding for said R&D efforts/infrastructure deployments efforts if you have neither 1 or 2.

    Though, my best guess is still that we will chance desperate geoengineering attempts at reversing climate change once Americans and Europeans and Chinese look like they might die en masse because of it and won’t do anything meaningful about it beforehand. So maybe feel free to save starving children in Africa, it’ll all be a wash in the end.

    • Wouldn’t a first step be research to determine whether the net effects of climate change are good or bad? Everyone discussing it assumes they are bad, many that they are bad and catastrophic, but since there are both positive and negative consequences, both large and uncertain, the sign of the sum is not actually known.

      It would be a pity to engage in massive efforts to prevent it, only to discover that it was, on net, making us better off.

      There was a discussion here recently on how to raise birth rates. I’m not sure how many people considered the fact that, fifty years ago, the need to reduce birth rates had about the same status in public discussions that the need to reduce climate change has now.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        I’m not going to pretend I know all demographic conversations taking place right now but people advocating for higher birth rates are (IME) economists concerned about retirement funding/active-to-passive ratios and they’re actually wrong. We have enough money to support old people, it’s all about prioritization and redistribution issues.

        As to the idea that climate change may be beneficial – maybe in some limited spots (say, Canada get a warmer, more hospitable climate?) but that cannot possibly compensate for most of Africa, the ME, Southern Europe and big chunks of Asia become seriously inhospitable.

        Furthermore, we’ve seen climate change in action before. One data point isn’t much (and, to be complete, historians don’t all agree with that thesis) but changes in weather patterns in the 17th caused about 1/3 to 1/2 of humanity dying off. I don’t think you could call rolling the dice and see if we get a better outcome this time around a rational attitude.

        https://www.amazon.com/Global-Crisis-Climate-Catastrophe-Seventeenth/dp/0300153236

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          Taking care of people isn’t just about money, it’s also about having the people to do it.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Yes and no. If the jobs pay well enough, people will take them. Right now, some jobs may go unfulfilled b/c people don’t see them as prestigious/worthwhile/earning enough.

            And it’s worth pointing out that, in a capitalistic, materialistic society like ours, salary very much correlates with self-worth and prestige.

            If trash collectors were paid like capital market traders, you can be sure everyone would admire trash collectors for their importance to society – saving us from diseases spreading, beautifying our urban environment etc etc etc. We’d find reasons to glorify them.

            Admiration and thus interest follow the money…

          • LesHapablap says:

            I don’t think salary has as much of an effect as you think. More likely is that high-status people will follow the money (over long periods of time) and bring prestige to a formerly low-status career.

            Or at least it is heavily confounded. People can use their salary to signal higher status, and it obviously works for some people, so in that sense money leads to status leads to more prestige for the career.

            I wish I could think of some examples either way of jobs that changed in prestige. Computer programmer maybe? Joining the military?

          • Frederic Mari says:

            @LesHapablap : Joining the military, yes.

            But also teachers, bank branch managers, (commercial) plane pilots etc. All formely important jobs, with high status in the community that fell by the way side as their relative earning power declined…

            I would have said computer programing went through a cycle. IIRC, it used to be done by a fair % of women as it rose from stenography/secretarial tasks, quickly attracted lots of men as the salaries rose and now the fact that computer nerds are not as rare as they once were means it’s on the wane… unless you’re good (AFAIK – but there must be a reason – beyond the obvious cultural issues and control/proximity – why companies are still willing to pay guys a small fortune in Calif. rather than recruit Ukrainians and Indians exclusively).

          • The Nybbler says:

            I would have said computer programing went through a cycle. IIRC, it used to be done by a fair % of women as it rose from stenography/secretarial tasks, quickly attracted lots of men as the salaries rose and now the fact that computer nerds are not as rare as they once were means it’s on the wane…

            This is one of the narratives, but I have found precious little data to support it. The field was certainly female dominated in the early days (in WWII when many of the men were elsewhere), but it did not really come out of stenographical or secretarial tasks. The women were recruited from human computers, and the work was rather more on the mechanical side than programming is now.

            By 1960 programming (well, “computer specialist” was the job category then; it wasn’t broken out) was already almost 70% male, and by 1970 80% male. Percent female climbed to 35% in 1990… and dropped off first quickly, then steadily, until 2009. Compensation did not start rising above those for an ordinary professional job until the dot-com bubble (and even then, that was mostly equity that was mostly worthless), and then again after the 2008 recession (during which time percent women has remained roughly steady).

            Salaries, so far as I know, aren’t on the wane. The bottom got cut off the field (for Americans) when outsourcing and H-1B workers become popular, but that was largely following the dot-com bust.

            Prestige is on the wane, but there was really only any prestige for the top of the profession for a rather short period. Nobody likes to grant nerds status.

        • As to the idea that climate change may be beneficial – maybe in some limited spots (say, Canada get a warmer, more hospitable climate?) but that cannot possibly compensate for most of Africa, the ME, Southern Europe and big chunks of Asia become seriously inhospitable.

          Are you talking about results over the next century or so, or over many centuries? The IPCC projection for the end of the century is for warming of a few degrees C, and I don’t see how that could make all of those areas “seriously inhospitable.” For a simple test, add three degrees C to the current average temperature of a location, find another location currently at that temperature, and see if people are living there.

          That actually overestimates the problem, because greenhouse warming is greater in cold places and times than in hot, due to the interaction with water vapor, also a greenhouse gas. So three degrees warming means something like two degrees in the summer and four in the winter, two in Africa and four in Siberia—actual numbers invented, but pattern based on both what has happened and the relevant physics.

          Further, the IPCC projection in question is for the high emissions scenario, which assumes emissions going up in proportion to economic growth, ignoring both progress in the technology of renewables, mainly solar, and depletion of sources of fossil fuel.

          And, finally, the IPCC so far has a record of consistently overestimating warming.

          So far as good effects, increasing the habitable area of the globe by extending it towards the poles is one sizable one—my very rough estimate is that the gain of land through that is two to three orders of magnitude greater than the loss through sea level rise.

          A second good effect is milder winters. Everyone talks about increased deaths through hotter summers, which is one of the bad effects. But an old Lancet article calculated global death rates through cold to be nearly twenty times as large as through heat—and greenhouse warming is greater in winter than in summer.

          A third good effect is increased crop yields. The effect of CO2 fertilization is well established by experiment. For most crops — the main exceptions are maize and sugar cane, for which the effect is smaller — doubling CO2 increases yields by about 30% and reduces water requirements. That’s a huge effect, and unlike all of the supposed negative effects on the food supply, well established rather than conjectural.

          Did you know these things? If not, your conclusion might still be correct, but your basis for it is inadequate.

          Given lots of good and bad effects, it’s pretty easy to reach the conclusion one wants or expects by selectively emphasizing the bad (or the good) and not looking for the ones in the other direction.

          • broblawsky says:

            It seems like a dangerous gamble to assume that the net results will be positive.

          • Also a dangerous gamble to assume that the results will be negative and enormous, and impose very large costs in trying to stop it.

            Instead of assuming either, one ought to try to estimate as best one can, which isn’t very well, unfortunately. But uncertainty is an argument for delay, since over time our information will improve.

            William Nordhaus, in a piece attacking an oped that had argued that climate change was not an emergency requiring immediate action, gave his own estimate of the cost of waiting fifty years to do anything, relative to taking the optimal actions immediately. It was $4.1 trillion. His comment was that “wars have been started over smaller sums.”

            $4.1 trillion spread out over the globe and a century, represents an average cost of about one twentieth of one percent of world GNP.

            Details and links here.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            I don’t have the depth of scientific knowledge required to counter your arguments point by point.

            And I know the Guardian may not be the most objective source out there but : https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/18/climate-crisis-heat-is-on-global-heating-four-degrees-2100-change-way-we-live

            I’m not interested in a world where the South of France is semi-desertic or Sahara-like. It’s not technically “uninhabitable” but it’s close enough as to make no difference as far as I’m concerned.

          • I don’t have the depth of scientific knowledge required to counter your arguments point by point.

            Absent that, how do you decide whom to believe? Your answer so far is that a source you know is not very reliable has a horror story. If I can find an equally unreliable source with a horror story in the other direction, one where preventing warming results in the end of the current interglacial and half a mile of ice over the present locations of Chicago and London—not at all likely, but we do know that such things happened in the recent past (geologically speaking—less than a million years ago), unlike the horror story you cite—will you conclude that we should have crash program to put as much CO2 into the air as possible?

            Absent scientific knowledge, what you need to develop is the ability to judge sources of information on internal evidence. Which articles, people, news stories read as if they are trying to convince you–signaled by, among other things, not mentioning arguments against their position, or using scary rhetoric?

            A simple example is the Nordhaus piece I discussed, and linked to in the blog post that I linked to above. “4.1 trillion dollars, wars have been started over less” sounds convincing, until you spend ten minutes looking up global GNP and doing arithmetic.

            What he is arguing about is whether it is urgent to act now or if we have time to wait. The number he gives for the cost of waiting fifty years sounds scary, but amounts to an average cost of a small fraction of one percent of world GNP. The obvious conclusion is that he is telling the truth about his calculations, but trying to tell it in a way that fits the conclusion he wants instead of the conclusion that follows from his work.

            For another example, consider that one of the most cited numbers in the argument, the 97% of scientist agree one, comes from someone who has provably lied in print about his own work. “Provably” doesn’t require any scientific knowledge at all, just careful reading of one article of which he is the lead author, plus one claim about the first article in a later article, also coauthored by him. For details see this.

            Learning to read critically won’t guarantee that you get the right answer, but it will at least give you some protection against being convinced by true believers out to convince you.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            David – I appreciate the need for balanced and intelligent reading. I just grabbed the first horror story that had a fair number of links to more scientific articles.

            Do you doubt that I could produce scientific articles as scary as this one? Climate change is one of the most researched issue of our times, like the effect of smoking once was. And, sure, late in the day, despite all the evidence and scientific warnings, you still had people pretending that smoking wasn’t all that bad and health nuts were just scaremongerers….

            I would furthermore add that, if someone has a financial interest in supporting climate skepticism, it is the oil/fossil fuel lobby. Yet, despite their best efforts, the scientific community, whether 97% or something else, is pretty unanimous in its conclusions. And, iirc, a fair chunk of the dissent is over details rather than the central thesis.

            In short, while I haven’t spent significant chunk of times poring over the various ins and outs of the climate change science, I’m :

            1- willing to trust the scientific consensus
            2- willing to trust my senses that tells me summers are getting hotter and hotter, in line with the long term temperature graphs you’ll have seen.
            3- willing to trust weather reports pointing out extreme weather is now more common and more severe than it used to be, with, iirc, islands in NYC bay going underwater.

          • 2- willing to trust my senses that tells me summers are getting hotter and hotter, in line with the long term temperature graphs you’ll have seen.

            You don’t say how old you are. You might want to check on how much temperatures have risen over the time period covered by your memory–say age 12 to present. Unless you are somewhere unusual, or in a place warming much more rapidly than usual, it’s unlikely to be as much as one degree F. You can find the global data, courtesy of NASA, here.

            If so, that particular piece of evidence that you offer is a case of your mind inventing facts to fit the theory. Unless you really believe that you can distinguish, through decades of memory, a change in average temperature that small.

            As it happens, I agree that temperatures have trended up since about 1911, although very slowly in human terms. What I disagree with, for reasons I have suggested, is the claim that the change can be expected to have large net negative effects.

            You mention the “scientific consensus.” The famous 97% figure was for the claim that humans are one of the causes of warming–not even that they are the main cause. The fact that people, including Obama, convert that into “people cause warming and warming has terrible effects,” is again evidence of the ability of the mind to convert what the evidence says into what they expect to hear.

            Have you read the IPCC reports? Surely, if there is a consensus of catastrophic effects, you could find it there. But although the rhetoric is put in ways that sometimes give that effect, the actual content is not. I have an old blog post on the subject.

            One of my favorite bits from the IPCC report:

            Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.

            Contrast that to the visions of catastrophe.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            @david :

            You don’t say how old you are. You might want to check on how much temperatures have risen over the time period covered by your memory–say age 12 to present. Unless you are somewhere unusual, or in a place warming much more rapidly than usual, it’s unlikely to be as much as one degree F.

            OK, I don’t think we’re likely to convince each others but I’m 45 and one more source may, who knows, help you believe I’m not nuts.

            https://www.lefigaro.fr/sciences/2018/08/06/01008-20180806ARTFIG00205-comment-les-temperatures-ont-evolue-en-france-ville-par-ville-depuis-20-ans.php

            Pick “Embrun” as the city of choice (South East corner of France, in the Alps). It’s pretty close to my parents’ city.

            Temperatures in July have been rising from a below 25C (22-23?) in summer in 1996 to nearly 30C (27-28?) in 2018.

            NB: I’m not entirely sure how they get those averages. I suspect they are daily averages b/c in summer, during the day, Southern Alps will happily climb above 32-33C (when, in my teenagehood, they use to stick just below or around 30C).

            Parisian summers also feel significantly worse now than a decade ago, though pollution may be a confounding factor i.e. I will be buying portable AC for my family while I hadn’t felt the need a decade ago (and Parisian real estate isn’t designed for handling AC units).

            Similarly, I’ve lived in Kuwait for a little while now (5 years). Summer temperatures have always been unlivable (above 50C) but it seems they’re creeping higher, above 55C – though it’s hard to know for sure, as there are conspiracy theories around measurements since the government is supposed to declare a day off if temperatures exceed a certain level (and Kuwaitis don’t want to give days off to their Pakistanis and Egyptians and Filipinos expats – or so the conspiracy goes).

            One thing that has clearly change in 5 years is that the rainy seasons have tended to get worse – with downpours more frequent and severe.

            Maybe it all means nothing, just weather variations or it’s all acceptable to you. I don’t like it and I want my 1980s temperatures back.

          • @Frederic Mari:

            Fair enough, but in looking at a single figure for a single pair of years in one place in a particular month, you have to allow for cherry picking, deliberate or accidental–finding the numbers that most fit what you are arguing.

            Looking at the NASA global numbers, I note that 1996 was anomalously cold–more than a tenth of a degree C below either 1995 or 1997. 2016 and 2017 were more than a tenth of a degree above 2015 and 2018. And that’s with global averaging. So the pair of years that Figaro chose exaggerate the pattern of global warming by about .3°C.

            You are 45. If we assume that your memory of temperatures runs back to age 12, that’s 1986. According to NASA, temperature from 1986 to 2018 has risen by .64°C, or just over one degree F—a little higher than I thought, but still tiny in terms of human observation.

            If the warming you have observed is much more than that, then what you are observing is not global warming, it’s some local climate phenomenon.

            I followed your link, wasn’t able to figure out how to find the particular ville, perhaps because my French isn’t good enough. But if you look at the maps with colored dots, you will notice that local changes over the twenty years, by month, vary from +3° to -3° C. That’s a very noisy signal from which to draw conclusions even about France, let alone the world.

            If you had picked February instead of July, anywhere in France, you would have concluded that the world was cooling.

        • LesHapablap says:

          If trash collectors were paid like capital market traders, you can be sure everyone would admire trash collectors for their importance to society – saving us from diseases spreading, beautifying our urban environment etc etc etc. We’d find reasons to glorify them.

          Admiration and thus interest follow the money…

          I think if trash collectors were suddenly highly paid, some high status people would start doing trash collecting and the job status would increase. Or they wouldn’t and the status wouldn’t change: like when you hear of subway workers or lollipop holders making 150k+ per year and they certainly don’t get any prestige.

          Admirable people and thus interest mostly follow money.

      • EGI says:

        While I agree with you that warming will have positive consequences at least in the long term the problem is the quick change. If crop yields in the mid west go down it does not help you that Siberia becomes fertile in 20 years. Even if it becomes fertile now, since there are no farmers there.

        • That would be a problem if the changes were quick. What we are talking about, based on the IPCC projections (high emissions scenario), is turning the average temperature of Minnesota to that of Iowa over about a century.

          So far as humans are concerned, all of the changes are very slow–warming of, so far, about a degree C per century, possibly increasing to two or three per century. Sea level rise of a bit over an inch a decade.

          The one place your point might be correct is with regard to other species, most obviously trees, which can’t shift their range very fast.

    • aristides says:

      I agree that EA and rationality are very separate, there are plenty selfish rationalists for one thing. However, EA is a wide movement, and those that are fighting climate change can fit right in, as long as they strive to find effective solutions. 80000 hours ranks Climate change as the 9th most important cause, with error bars and personal fit considerations that completely justify someone making that their main cause. A lot of EA activists would disagree with your decision to prioritize climate change, but they would be glad to discuss climate change, and how to address it effectively.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        Fair enough but, if I try and fight climate change and they try and fight to add more people on the planet, I can’t help but feel we’re working at cross purposes.

        EDIT : The list given doesn’t seem to have much to do with “helping children in poor countries” so maybe there isn’t much of a cross purpose. I was mostly going off of Scott’s approving description of Bill Gates’ efforts with immunization where it’s recognized his foundation saved around 10-12M children….

        I’m all for making the lives of the already-living better but I also think we need to carefully wait until technological progress advances enough before increasing the load the Earth has to bear…

        • aristides says:

          EA marketing on the surface stresses helping children in poor countries for at least three reasons. First, it’s one of the most funding constrained causes, so someone can contribute without changing career plans, and good for new members. Second, it’s a much more photogenic cause than things like AI alignment, which makes average people dismiss you as a terminator nerd. Third, it’s the easiest test case to teach the principal of effectiveness. If someone is currently buying AIDS medication for poor Africans, it’s easy to take the money, and calculate that bed nets save more lives. And that’s not even counting the fact that Bill Gates is a good poster child for the cause, and that’s his chosen intervention, even if Gates ties to EA is weak.

          EA tries to have a second level of subtle advertisements designed to appeal to people with high technical or policy skills, and nudge them to talent restrained causes, like climate change, but because it’s subtle advertisements, they miss some people like you, that has only seen their major advertisements to the public, and Scott’s advertisements. Scott has also been more interested in the MIRI AI side of EA than the Climate Change side, so it’s not surprising you do not think of EA when talking about climate change.

        • You are not bothered by the fact that the people who offered that argument fifty years ago, with great confidence, made predictions which turned to be consistently wrong?

          How do you go about figuring how much of a “load the Earth can bear?”

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Which prediction turned out to be consistently wrong? I’m not following here.

            As to the “load the Earth can bear”, it’s obviously not a precise number and an evolving one, depending on our tech level as well as how we choose to split resources.

            For example, iirc, Scott Alexander or a commentator on this blog pointed to the father of Green Revolution (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug) as the greatest unsung hero for saving humanity from itself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution#Effects_on_food_security

            The impact of such tech is complex but it seems pretty clear it allowed us to increase our pop. by billions without too much obvious damage (so far).

            However, some people have pointed to soil erosion as an unintended consequence that will make such high yielding agro-tech unsustainable in the longer term and we were looking at severe food insecurity unless something else (hydroponics? lab grown meat? whatever) takes over and saved our asses again.

            If you dismiss The Guardian out of hand for its left leaning biases, may I introduce you to GMO, a hedge fund-like wealth manager? https://www.gmo.com/americas/research-library/the-race-of-our-lives-revisited/

            So – yeah – I read somewhere that, if everyone was going to live like Americans (on average), the Earth could only take 4 billions people. We’re 7 and counting…

            NB: That BBC article is even more pessimistic. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33133712

            Conclusion : No hard number that can be proven beyond questioning but “let’s wait till we get better data” seems a sure-fire way to end up in a situation where we can’t reverse any of the damage sustained. I honestly trust the scientists on the subject and think it’s irrational not to play it safe.

          • Which prediction turned out to be consistently wrong? I’m not following here.

            The main prediction was that continued population growth in poor countries would result in their people becoming much worse off. The extreme version was Ehrlich’s much hyped claim that there would be unstoppable mass famines in the 1970’s, with hundreds of millions of people dying. Most of the movement didn’t give that large or immediate predictions, but took that one seriously and offered less extreme versions.

            Since that time, the rate of extreme poverty in the world has dropped sharply, to something like a third what it was then, and calorie consumption in poor countries has trended consistently up.

            Another and much hyped version was the book Limits to Growth, which used computer modeling to predict terrible things happening, along one of several paths, by now. It claimed to be economic modeling, but I didn’t know any economists then who took it seriously, since it depended on models without the feedback that real market systems generate.

            Simple example … . In their model, if food got more expensive, farmers produced more, in the process exhausting the soil so that food output later crashed. But if food is more expensive and expected to stay expensive, farmers have an incentive not only to produce now but to do things to keep future production up. In fact, food had been expensive in Japan for a long time, due to restrictions on imports, and output had continued to remain high.

            it allowed us to increase our pop. by billions without too much obvious damage (so far).

            Does “not obvious damage” mean “arguments claiming that terrible things will eventually happen”? Judged by the material conditions of human beings at present, we are better off than at any time in the historical past.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Right. So we did escape a Malthusian trap once thanks to the Green Revolution. And you can add Oil Peak, avoided b/c of LNG and frakking too. I’m not saying we can’t get lucky once more (and generally I’m a tech optimist) but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it…

            Limits to Growth, I would dismiss out of hands if no economists endorsed the work. We got a terrible track record as far as short to medium term predictions go but we can make sure someone doesn’t forget about, say, catch up growth or demographic transitions…

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Does “not obvious damage” mean “arguments claiming that terrible things will eventually happen”?

            ? Quite the reverse. It means no terrible things have happen so far but the future remains unknown and open to interpretations.

            I think the fact that soils are being eroded is not in question per se but the consequences of that aren’t set in stone.

            It could mean widespread food shortages are just around the corner. OR that hydroponics and algae nutrition and vat grown meat will save the day.

            I make no prediction on that per se, just a general notion that we shouldn’t run constantly near the edge of our ability to sustain human life.

            We’ve covered the environmental reasons why but I would also add an economic one. (some) Labour shortages are helpful to sustain wage growth (or keep it in line with productivity growth) and wage growth is good for overall economic growth.

          • Limits to Growth, I would dismiss out of hands if no economists endorsed the work.

            I am not claiming that no economists endorsed it–I didn’t know all economists. Just that none I knew did.

            And, in my view, any person who endorsed the model (as opposed to the conclusions, which could be true for other reasons), wasn’t an economist, whatever his job title.

            I think the fact that soils are being eroded is not in question per se but the consequences of that aren’t set in stone.

            You are aware that predictions of imminent food shortages due to soil erosion go back more than a century? Yields have been increasing throughout that period, and continue to increase.

            I asked:

            Does “not obvious damage” mean “arguments claiming that terrible things will eventually happen”?

            You replied

            ? Quite the reverse. It means no terrible things have happen so far but the future remains unknown and open to interpretations.

            I think you are agreeing with my interpretation. “not obvious damage” suggests that there is damage but it isn’t obvious. But the actual content of your claim isn’t that there is any evidence that the predicted problems occurred, only that one can never know that they will not occur at some time in the future.

            but I would also add an economic one. (some) Labour shortages are helpful to sustain wage growth (or keep it in line with productivity growth) and wage growth is good for overall economic growth.

            This sounds as though your model is one in which there is a fixed number of jobs to be done, so if the labor force is greater than that, there is unemployment. If so it is odd that both the population of the U.S. and the number of jobs just happened, by pure chance, to have increased by about two orders of magnitude over the past two hundred and fifty years, while the mismatch rarely reached ten percent.

            You might consider that population consists of both workers and consumers–mostly the same people–so that increasing population results in both more people and more jobs.

      • peterj says:

        I often wonder why eliminating nuclear weapons isn’t at the top of everybody’s list of improve-the-world priorities. Seems like the human suffering from the use of just one weapon trumps all the other concerns, and an all out war, with multiple weapons is an outright human existential threat. No other issue comes close to reaching this status. Yet not only is this issue not at the top of the list, it rarely even gets discussed politically, in op-ed pages, in EA circles or otherwise.

        • johan_larson says:

          It would be bad to get rid of all our nuclear weapons while our enemies (or rivals, even) retained some. And it if we agreed to eliminate them, it would be really difficult to verify that the other side kept their bargain. The temptation would be really strong to keep a few, just in case, on both sides.

          Also, a world in which all the major powers have nuclear weapons seems to be a world without large-scale war by the major powers. There are still some fights, of course, but they tend to be on a smaller scale, sometimes with the majors aiding one side of the other. It’s hard to be sure, of course, but maybe with nuclear weapons we have finally found the weapons that make war too terrible to bear. We might piously scrub the world clean of every last nuclear weapon, only to find ourselves fighting another world-spanning conflict like WWI or WWII, except this time with satellites and smart-bombs and ethnically targeted plagues. And that’s a big risk to take.

          • peterj says:

            De-nuclearization treaties would need provisions for on-site compliance inspections.

            As far as large scale warfare, demographics has made it too costly. Low fertility rates in most countries mean there are barely enough young people to care for the aged population let alone fight a large scale war. To what end would anybody invade the US, for example?
            And even if nukes do reduce the threat of large scale wars, the risk of having a maniacal leader detonate one or more seems too high?

            Working towards eliminating nuclear weapons and drastically reducing US defense spending seem like top priority rationalist goals to me.

          • John Schilling says:

            As far as large scale warfare, demographics has made it too costly. Low fertility rates in most countries mean there are barely enough young people to care for the aged population let alone fight a large scale war. To what end would anybody invade the US, for example?

            To take slaves they can force to clean the bedpans of their own aged population, obviously.

          • Working towards eliminating nuclear weapons and drastically reducing US defense spending seem like top priority rationalist goals to me.

            That might be true, but those are cases where the policy attracts some people and repels others, since people honestly disagree about whether those are very good or very bad things to do.

            If you find that hard to believe, consider that some people, myself included, would consider abolishing drug regulation, for both recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, and offering vouchers for the full per pupil cost of the public schools to anyone willing to make other arrangement for education, as very high priority rationalist goals.

            If those seem like bad ideas to you, consider that that’s the reaction quite a lot of people would have to yours—perhaps not the people you mostly interact with.

            In forming a movement for effective altruism, there is much to be said for finding goals that many people will think good and very few people think bad, so that we can put energy into cooperating instead of fighting. Saving children’s lives isn’t a universal good, but there are not many people willing to say they are against it.

        • sharper13 says:

          So far the use of nuclear weapons has killed a couple of hundred thousand people.

          That’s a lot, but in terms of war deaths, that matches a month of trench warfare.

          I use that comparison because to most people, both probably seem about as unlikely as the other.

          Modern weapons have the potential to cause massive amounts of damage, but I suspect most people think more in terms of bad things which have happened before as being more likely than bad things which have never happened before. Probably something similar going on with catastrophic asteroid impact risks.

        • Frederic Mari says:

          There’s a couple of ways to think about this.

          First, do you think MAD work or do you think we got insanely lucky to survive the Cold War? https://progressive.org/magazine/ban-the-bomb-helfand/ and https://edition.cnn.com/2018/11/17/opinions/sheer-luck-has-helped-us-avoid-nuclear-war-so-far-helfand/index.html . Another unsung hero who saved humanity from itself : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Petrov

          But, even if the USA, China, India, Pakistan and Russia accepted to de-nuclearised, how do you deal with N.Korea? They certainly aren’t willing to be cajoled (as opposed to the Iranians, say) into abandoning their nukes… And, if they have them, then…

      • HowardHolmes says:

        there are plenty selfish rationalists for one thing

        And some aren’t?

  20. Rm says:

    I attended a SSC meetup recently. It was completely weird, organisation-wise, but it worked brilliantly.

    I am from Kyiv (Ukraine), an organiser, and I’d known for a while there were SSC readers in Kharkiv who would like to meet us. They have an established thing, every Saturday, but they don’t advertise it. (To keep it cosy? At least, way cosier than what we have, it seems.) Only we kept chewing over where, when, who should go etc., so one day we just decided to meet halfway. In Myrgorod. Nobody of us had been to Myrgorod before, or knew where people go to talk there, or… actually, anything about it beyond “they have a statue of Gogol at the station” and ticket prices. But it was more-or-less halfway, and we knew Gogol, if not each other.

    So on that day, we boarded trains – my heading almost East, their heading almost West – for a two hours ride. (It would be far simpler if I just went over to Kharkiv, but I kept hoping other people from Kyiv would join. No luck, everybody was busy that day.) Their train came a few minutes before mine, so they met me, and then it was just magic.

    We got a taxi “somewhere to talk”, which, apparently, means exactly one restaurant in town. It was too noisy in every sense, but we had a table to ourselves, and every twenty minutes we got up and went out to smoke (or not). Poor waiters. We talked about everything, and these people needed no moderator. It was unbelievable for me. They were grown-ups, not just SSC-this or LW-that. We only had four hours.

    And now I’m back and have tons of work and no idea how to build what they have built.

  21. eyeballfrog says:

    I tried to organize a meetup in iowa city twice, but it seems to have not worked out. Both only had one other attendee, and not the same person each time, and neither seemed interested in continuing. I had hoped a college town would have more ssc readers (the Madison meetups had a lot of people and they’re not that much larger of a city). Ah well, maybe I’ll try again next year when we get a new group of students.

  22. PlatoReject says:

    Sharing my own experience with the rationalist community, I attended three or four meetups for a brief period of time (not one of the ones you visited on your tour, but I won’t be more specific than that), and I quickly grew dissatisfied by how everyone you show up, attempt to talk for five minutes about some post or Scott’s or Eliezer’s and then immediately get bogged down talking about some minutae of computer science or working in tech that meant nothing to me as someone with no interest in neither. Everyone was nice and inclusive to me, but their interests and experience were so hyper-focused that I felt no desire to hang around.

  23. Steve Sailer says:

    “I was also struck by the number of female meetup organizers; the female:male ratio on the meetup organizer survey is almost twice that on the SSC survey in general.”

    Kenneth Clarke’s “Civilisation” has part of a chapter on how much women contributed to the Enlightenment in France by hosting salons.

  24. Betty Cook says:

    For a description of one style of meetup…

    My household (the other three people in it are David, Rebecca and Bill Friedman) has been hosting meetups in the South Bay at a bit under once a month for two and a half years now, at our fairly large house. We usually get 20-30 people, though we had around 40 the time Scott announced he was coming. What happens is conversation and food; three of us are cooks, so we offer a fair amount of food, and the fourth greets people as they come in. We make no particular effort to guide the conversation, but Bill is a history enthusiast and will start a conversation on whatever bit of interesting history he has recently been reading about if people come in and don’t know what to talk about. At any given time we usually have four or five separate conversations going, with people drifting around or standing by the food. David keeps a mailing list of people who have asked to be told about the next one (we have no regular schedule, since it depends on when we are free) and at this point I think the list is about 80 people. The people range in age from retired to small kids, and are maybe 4:1 male to female; the typical attendee is young male techie, but not everyone fits that pattern. A lot of the people come back repeatedly, but there are new people, I think, every time.

  25. rbwabd says:

    i attended the Boston one. Was surprised by # of people that showed up, but feel better now as it seemed to have been the largest meetup anywhere. Proximity of MIT helped. That Berkeley is third suggests we could probably have gotten a decently sized group together at any large engineering oriented school.

  26. Folamh3 says:

    I attended a Dublin meetup and enjoyed it very much, it seems to be becoming a recurring thing.

    The beautifully-bound copies of your own work you mentioned – were these copies of Unsong?

  27. mitja says:

    Montreal, Canada, reports a zero person meetup, which sounds very computer-sciency, kind of like a heap of zero grains of sand.

    My wife and I actually tried attending. We arrived at a shady-looking building, and rang the intercom. After some time we got an unintelligible answer, then nothing. Admittedly I don’t comprend french very well, but Liza does, and she couldn’t figure it out. After two more iterations of the same, we took our leave.

    • SmileyVirus says:

      I registered for the Montreal event on Facebook, and the organizer messaged me a few days before the event to tell me it had been cancelled. This is probably why you couldn’t get in, and also why they had zero attendees.

Leave a Reply