resolved Oct 7

Will the project "Better Debates" receive receive any funding from the Clearer Thinking Regranting program run by

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Below, you can find some selected quotes from the public copy of the application. The text beneath each heading was written by the applicant. Alternatively, you can click here to see the entire public portion of their application.

Why the applicant thinks we should fund this project

If you aren’t familiar with Kialo, please watch this 2-minute explainer video before reading on. The intention is to use this as an alternative to the [EA Forum] specifically for authors contributing to key debates with big implications  (e.g. randomista vs systemic change)

Collective rationality is the lifeblood of EA. Kialo facilitates it best. Below are some of EA’s biggest issues, and how Kialo can alleviate them.

  1. Important arguments on key debates are scattered about the internet.

    • Kialo groups all contributions to a given debate into a single easily navigable page.

  1. There is no efficient way of locating counterarguments of interest.

    • Kialo reveals all counterarguments with a single click.

  2. The attention posts receive depend on factors that have little to do with the convincingness of the arguments contained within.

    • Kialo ranks points solely by their user-rated convincingness; the best rise to prominence

  3. Bad points in otherwise good posts and good points in otherwise bad posts are given inappropriate levels of attention

    • Kialo breaks arguments into logically distinct pieces. Weak surroundings cannot drag down strong points, nor can strong surroundings drag up weak points. They rise or fall on their merits alone.

  4. EAs tend to write verbosely and use excessive jargon. It’s thus costly for readers to extract information.

    • Moderators work with authors to distil their writing to be clear, concise and situated appropriately within the debate’s logical structure

How much funding are they requesting?


What would they do with the amount specified?

  1. Recruit and train the project manager

  2. Recruit moderators who are experienced with Kialo to consult

  3. Narrow down our shortlist of theses and select one to use for an MVP

  4. Conduct the beta test, survey users, and thoroughly examine the results

  5. Iterate systematically until we’re happy with it

  6. If all goes to plan, take the debate public 

  7. Advertise it on Slack, Discord, the EA forum, and the EA Subreddit 

  8. Reach out to high-profile EAs to take part

  9. Use the Ten Conditions of Change Framework to systematically address barriers to increased user engagement

  10. Survey users and conduct a thorough analysis of our outcome measures

  11. If the results are promising, we’ll form a plan for how best to scale and start executing!

Here you can review the entire public portion of the application (which contains a lot more information about the applicant and their project):

Sep 20, 3:26pm:

Sep 20, 3:51pm:

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predicted YES

Not having any payout or top comments selected for this tournament after a month since it ended is very disappointing. Manifold should have the money in their account before these tournaments start and the top comments should have been announced simultaneously to the winners.

If you received $30,000 USD from this regranting program six weeks from now, what would your plan be for the six months following that? Please be really concrete about what you’re trying to get done.

We’d request an additional $20K from other funders e.g. the EA Infrastructure Fund. If successful, we’d execute the project. Otherwise, we’d return the money.

I appreciate the honesty here but at the same time I also find it a little disappointing to read this all or nothing view. 30k can go a long way and I don't immediately see great reasons why there wasn't an attempt to break this down.

The issue for me with this project is that it's so married to the particularly platform (Kialo). This makes it inflexible. If the project was more broadly creating a register of arguments and counterarguments in accessible formats for different readership, I'd be backing it. But as people pointed out on LW, there are other alternative platforms (e.g. debateart) that do the same(ish) and as folks both on LW have mentioned (and in fairness, the app acknowledges) adoption is tricky and so far adoption of Kialo hasn't been popular. If it hasn't worked in 5 years since those LW why would it now?

What would be a more effective proposal in this domain for me would be a pilot exercise like taking some of the longer sequences on LW/EA forum, some of the more technical AI discussions e.g. about timelines and different progress stages, some of the populat discussions around economic growth, RCT evaluations, and trying to distil (opposing) views to a wider readership. For further embedding/ longer pilot, I'm also thinking a lot of the intro fellowships, summer fellowships, rationalist workshops would be places to look. Some of my local EA meetings really delve into pro and cons and I can see having that more organized and easily reachable as a useful thing.

Still going no because this is a Kialo-centered project and if it hasn't been adopted in 5 years I think there's enough UX data to see this not being what EA users would use.

@RinaRazh I don't understand how people can compare Kialo and Debateart: they don't seem even remotely similar (in the referential context of "debate platforms"), although perhaps there's some feature of Debateart I'm just missing?

Kialo has had some adoption—a non-trivial amount compared to the graveyard of totally lifeless, hard-to-use platforms—but regardless I don't see why people should take non-EA adoption as a conversation-ending insight into whether it would be valuable in EA.

I really just do not understand why so many people look down on Kialo. (If you'd like to suggest a better alternative to forum comment threads, feel free to do so!)

predicted YES

So conflicted here. I desperately want this project to succeed, I stumbled across LessWrong in high school, absolutely abhorred the format and the suggested posts, and never returned. I deeply, deeply relate to the problem they're trying to solve.

Unfortunately I think this faces the same issue as the Adversarial Collaboration project, once a collective norm is established it can be exceedingly hard to change it, even to a better alternative. Here the norm is use of a specific forum, and if the EA forum is anything like Reddit or social media platforms, the network effects will be too difficult to overcome. Everyone posts there so that's the best place to get attention so everyone posts there (and so on), people's accounts develop their reputations and prestige, and the inaccessibility keeps randos (like me!) away and keeps "quality" high. I'm not involved in the forum, just guessing based on other platforms. But as much as I'd love to see this succeed, I don't think its a promising proposal, and sadly I can't think of any better alternative :(

predicted NO

Came across this 2017 post sharing Kialo on the Less Wrong forum which got a few comments there, but not too many:

Mostly seems a similarish take to the comments here.

predicted YES

@jbeshir Nice find!

Kialo is a great looking system and one of the easiest debate-mapping platforms to use for crowdsourcing purposes and general audiences. No denying that. However its shiny UX and popularity should not be conflated with usefulness (especially if positing itself as something that can improve the structure of discourse). I have been watching this space for years, and I see a few limitations about Kialo which may not have been considered, which non-experts in this space may miss, as well as inconsistencies with how it is presenting itself in this application. Please see a number of these below:

  • [Kialo argumentation is superficial] Re. the claim that "Kialo reveals all counterarguments with a single click." Sure, you can unpack trees of arguments and claims in Kialo and they are identified as pro/con, however there is no rigorous logical relationship between the pro/cons, they are just side by side and show a general orientation of being opposed to each other in relationship to the parent. This is one of the more superficial argument-mapping relationships that could be had. This makes Kialo easy for scaling an audience, but not great for actually diving into complex argumentation and truth-seeking.

  • [Kialo argumentation permits vagueness] Unlike curation projects which standardize language so that complex argumentation can be mapped (meaning that precise adversarial relationships between evidence and claims can be fleshed out as well as differentiating all of the tangential, but non adversarial claims in between), Kialo allows general natural language input which allows for vagueness. Again, this is great for casual use and scaling an audience, but not for rigorous truth seeking. For rigorous truth-seeking, complex, natural language statements should be deconstructed to their premises, so that arguments and evidence can be aggregated for and against each premise. Although in the application Kialo claims it "breaks arguments into logically distinct pieces" - it doesn't really do this in a useful way. It may allow users to break down blog posts into arguments (to input as comments), but it does not break down arguments into pieces. A user may break down their argument into claims, but Kialo does not do that, nor specifically require that, therefore it permits vagueness. And vagueness in discourse mapping generates more argumentation based on misunderstanding or partial dis/agreement than necessary.

  • [Kialo wasn't built for truth-seeking] If a user were to unpack every claim into premises, and map arguments for and against each premise being supported/refuted by evidence, then this expands a debate around every premise, in every argument, which requires more of a graphical map interface, and not a hierarchical tree-interface. Kialo was simply not designed for truth-seeking, just crowdsourcing vague arguments for general browsing. This has a value for those who may not otherwise encounter diversity of ideas, but I don't see this as being useful to a group like EA. Comprehensive mapping (a structure to accommodate comprehensive inquiry and truth seeking) is not a capability of Kialo, but is a capability in other systems already on the web. Speaking of other systems -

  • I am surprised that Kialo identified the EA Forum as the project most similar to itself in its application (per the question: "Of all the existing projects you’re aware of in the world, which is the most similar to yours, and why do you think yours represents an improvement (or is worth doing despite the existence of this other related project)?"). This seems like a misleading tactic since there are literally hundreds of debate and deliberation mapping platforms that are more similar in telos and format to Kialo than Kialo is likened to the EA Forum. Either Kialo is not paying attention to colleagues in the space, or it is attempting to appeal to the EA community by likening itself to them.

  • [Kialo is inherently not designed to improve the rigor of thought in depth, only breadth] Again, Kialo is a great catalogue for browsing a diverse set of high-level ideas, but the node structure that contains each claim/argument in their mapping hierarchy is very superficial. They rely on embedded hyperlinks for evidence, which is a very superficial way of linking knowledge and should not be acceptable as a way of improving discourse. With hyperlinks, there is no way to identify the relevant bit of evidence in the media artifact, and also there is no way to argue against the validity/relevance of the evidence in their architecture. Their system would not, therefore, be a marginal improvement to the blog format for discourse, wherein at least you are not confined to short comments as inputs (like with Kialo). There is hardly a use in partially deconstructing discourse into arguments without fully deconstructing the reasoning in order to identify logical fallacies, biases, errata, etc. Does the EA Forum need a hierarchical 'listical' of its ideas? I don't think so. Even if so, a user would get better visualization of that data in a color-coded outline format.

  • [They're choosing the wrong advisors] In their application, Kialo identifies a championship debater as one of their advisors. This shows a fundamental misalignment with the use-case they are claiming to support. Debate is both a sport, and a tool. A champion debater is not the right person to advise on a project that's supposedly using debate as a tool for truth-seeking. They come from the world of "debate" as a sport. Instead, Kialo should have epistemologists/scientists/philosophers on board for a truth-seeking project. However, if they did get such advisors on board, I would bet M$ that they would quickly be advised that the structure of their system is too superficial for the task of truth-seeking in any rigorous sense, and they would have to rewrite a lot of their code, redesign their user story pipeline, and update a lot of their priors about the reliability of their users.

  • In sum - Kialo is great for general public audience. It is a starting place, kind of like Wikipedia. I can't imagine $50k could afford all of the redesign that would have to occur for Kialo to make a marginal improvement to the kinds of discourse and deliberation that the EA community would want to engage in. I.e. Kialo mentioned it would host debates like: "Could AIs have consciousness? Does AIs being conscious make them more deserving of legal protection?" The architecture of Kialo can not accommodate the complexity of that debate in a sincerely meaningfully way (though of course it could just launch the topic tomorrow very easily). Anyway, even although Kialo upranks arguments based on their "user-rated convincingness" (which, depending on some goals, this would actually be a kind of anti-rational design), it does not accommodate the rigorous process of deconstructing those arguments to assess its strength/cogency/soundness/validity in all directions of the premises relationship to counter-arguments and relationships to their argument conclusions. It is not a place for serious discourse, and since their platform is already built - I don't see why they need $50k to start the topic on their platform and then post it around a few platforms to get EA users. It does not seem like an effective use of funds for either the discrete project nor contributing to improving the discourse capabilities of large groups.

Anyway - sorry to say all this. I have respect for Kialo for what it is, but felt I needed to plainly state what it isn't from my POV.

TLDR “Guy who writes three-page bullet points, and 300-word sentences does not like platform aimed at clear/concise arguments”

Over to the more serious commentators to more eloquently examine whether it is material that the Kialo proposal is vastly easier to understand than the arguments made against it 🤔

@Gigacasting Had 7 points to make. Nice hyperbole and ad hominen. Sorry you have a tough time reading.

Just because the claims in Kialo's application are easy to understand, it doesn't mean they're true - and sometimes it requires extensive explanation and nuance to debunk something.

Let's try again:

  • Debates on Kialo are superficially structured by design.

  • Contrary to the application, Kialo doesn't "[break] arguments into logically distinct pieces" in a logically meaningful way.

  • Kialo doesn't have features that improve knowledge infrastructure, it perpetuates bad knowledge-linking standards, and it confines certain inputs unnecessarily.

  • Kialo would accept the arguments as vague as those ones above ^ on their platform, which has limited use if you actually care about what's true.

  • Kialo seems to lack self-awareness (it thinks the next most similar platform is EA Forum itself and it wants someone who is an expert on debate-as-a-sport to oversee what would be a truth-seeking project [wrong expertise for the deployment of debate as a tool]).

  • In sum, this doesn't seem like a good use of money.

predicted NO

@SagaciousAims ...doesn't seen like a good use of money since the platform is already built and they could launch the proposed topics right now if they wanted to.

predicted YES

@SagaciousAims You should be clear this application is NOT from Kialo, that is just the proposed forum and the applicants are open to alternative applications, as you can see here

predicted YES

@SagaciousAims you should probably read the application before tearing into any individual piece of it.

@ “sagacious dude”

I’m sorry you got cut from debate and someone at Kialo told you to learn to distill your arguments—but showing up an anon account with a pretentious name and rambling against one project is just weird.

Learn to write!

@BTE I think this gets into the distinction between "do I think these applicants could have a project worth money they could find" and "should this specific grant be approved".

This grant application is written to be about Kialo, unmodified, with money used for content generation, and the answers to the questions about reasons for failing to achieve goals, mechanism for positive outcomes, and the pitch for the software under why this should be funded, are based around that.

I think the applicants could get together a grant application that did some interesting stuff in the domain that I'd assign higher odds of being approved, they're definitely very focused on it, but it'd take a lot of change from the one being looked at here.

predicted NO

@BTE Hey thanks for improving my understanding. I read the substance of the project and missed that the drumbeat of "Kialo" "Kialo" "Kialo" was from people wanting to deploy it (I skipped the personal details of the application). Apropos that I made a sly comment about reading to the Gigaguy, hah! I'll eat humble pie. Anyway, what a sweet compliment to Kialo, in that case. However, I am not sure it massively changes my arguments about the inappropriateness of that platform and some of the comments about judgement, though they need to be redirected. My apologies for my errata in that instance!

predicted NO

@Gigacasting lol I made this account because someone told me that feedback was welcome on this contest, and I have a lot of background knowledge on Kialo and debate mapping in general - soo this is the project I am commenting on.

Why you so angy?

So much ad hominem - learn to argue (just throwing it back at you for funsies).

or be like @BTE (thanks again for correcting that error)

Is this top quartile? Clearly not.

Is it better than all the “research/lobbying” projects asking for 10x the funds to reach 1/1000th people? Definitely.

Whether or not this guy has any good arguments—it’s nice to see he’s learning to speak succinctly!

predicted NO

@Gigacasting Oh rly? Why you think so? How you know it true? XD

Re. "Is it better than all the “research/lobbying” projects asking for 10x the funds to reach 1/1000th people? Definitely."

This text exchange between you and I is evidence that user-inputted argumentation and evidence is not really a constructive and substantive exchange, lol (< there's my hyperbole - which is tame, oh-so tame, but also marginally true, at least marginally true).

@SagaciousAims LMAO!! This made my day! I couldn't agree more @Gigacasting should definitely be more like me!!

predicted NO

@BTE I think I must be missing some context, but making someone's day is the least I can do for being a jerk earlier :D

I hope y'all have a good day.

predicted YES

@SagaciousAims Thanks for the detailed feedback! I think there's three categories of counter-arguments, which I'll respond to in turn:

<Debates on Kialo are still suboptimal>

I view this as analogous to getting people off heroin. It doesn't make sense to get them to quit cold turkey, better to get them trying methadone first. I'm dubious whether we could get enough EAs to learn the other more complex, less intuitive, and more labour-intensive platforms without first seeing the benefit that a more structured discourse can bring. I view this as the first stepping stone on across the river. It isn't the ultimate solution, but rather, an important first step on the way to it.

<Users have the freedom to be non-constructive (bad links/vague claims)>

This is why we don't simply want to create a debate on Kialo and let it moderate itself. We want to have trial runs, and really think through what are the rules and norms that optimise for an engaging discussion, and then execute on moderating for them.

<Expert advisor is wrong; need philosopher rather than debater>

I thought this too until I read a little deeper into competitive debate. These people are phenomenal at concisely and engagingly breaking down arguments into their purest essence and understanding their logical structure. I think that they strike a good balance between knowing how to write well, how to persuade, and how to reason well.

I think one thing you're perhaps overlooking is that we're trying to build up a new organisation from scratch very quickly, on a tiny budget, and require people who are both skilled at doing that and sufficiently knowledgeable about EA - technical knowledge in constructive argumentation doesn't suffice.

I think, paired with a project manager with a good track record of inspiring collective truth-seeking, we do in fact have the capabilities required to make this project a success.

predicted YES

@Gigacasting unfathomably based

predicted NO

@JohnSalter Hello John, I appreciate the time you spent to further articulate your ideas and appreciate your interest in this space in general! It's really great that you care about formalizing debate. I have not been convinced by your arguments, however, and here is why:

<Re. overlooking the starting of a new organization on a small budget>

I know of an organization in this debate space that has run on less than $50k per year and they have accomplished more than this project is proposed to - and they had to build their own tools. Not that anyone should have to be that scrappy. I just definitely did not over look that fact, rest assured. Also, it doesn't cost very much to ask a few EA friends to use a debate that you set up on Kialo and immediately see how they like it.

<Debates on Kialo are still suboptimal>

In response to your comments about incrementally improving the space (getting people off heroin), I think this incremental step is wholly unnecessary and will ultimately be a waste of the community's time. I have seen at least one project that: processes the data that people have already generated, in the natural language that they generate them (and standardizes that language), deriving them from the platforms where they're already expressing them. Essentially, crowdsourcing projects are inefficient in some dimensions as compared to curation projects - they just look more efficient superficially. With a team of curators and a few tools - I imagine someone could create a Kialo-like representation of the AI consciousness debate in 20hrs from the EA community. I would bet M$ on that. Add a comment feature + moderation and there you go. Now, will EAs care about this knowledge artifact? If you care about baby steps here, maybe shop around those existing platforms to see if anyone finds the output useful, or if it will just be more complex blogging into the void.

<Users have the freedom to be non-constructive (bad links/vague claims)>

All of the other issues I brought up about the features of Kialo itself still stand (i.e. can't handle complex logical structures, perpetuates bad knowledge linking norms, etc.). No matter what you do it is the inherent architecture of Kialo itself that will perpetuate some of these issues. Vague claims may be amended, but this will be hard to accomplish because you will have to teach EAs a new standard. Totally achievable, but everything else will still not be a serious improvement to structured thought IMO - only superficially so. You could create a machine learning model that standardizes this language - that may be worth a few hundred bucks to train.

<Expert advisor is wrong; need philosopher rather than debater>

Breaking down "arguments into their purest essence" sounds like a rhetorical strategy - which is used in debate sports. Deconstructing arguments into all of their implied premises as base logical units is something that would be more useful if you care about truth-seeking. As you said, they are striking a balance between reasoning well, persuading, and how to write well - it doesn't sound to me like these strategies are optimized for truth-seeking, which is a much more rigorous logical process than simplifying language itself. I would concede that your team knows more about debate sports than I do, but I do not accept that therefore you are correct that this is the best choice of advisement. I have taught a class on the logical deconstruction of language for truth-seeking purposes. Distilling language is a part of it, but there are more steps involved.

Anyway, John - you seem really sincere and I can't help but really appreciate how much you care! I am 100% on board for structuring discourse more formally and making structured discourse more accessible. I am probably a rare ally to you in that regard. I don't think many people seem to understand how much of an imperative it is to have collective, structured discourse in order for human reasoning to evolve (whether wholly computed by AI or not) - even if informally things already operate that way (scientific literature, etc.). Good luck to you! And let me know if you have further refutation to my thoughts above ^

predicted YES

@SagaciousAims Might you be so kind as to link to some of the projects you've referenced? They sound really interesting.

predicted YES

@SagaciousAims Gigabro is our resident troll. We (or at least I) enjoy arguing with him and he is a good sport when he is wrong. I guess he can be a bit aggressive, but I am convinced he is just trying to bait people into betting against him because he is really good at making money on here.

Anyway, love your comments! Keep them coming!

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