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If you're not an expert in a field that has inforisks and are unsure whether your question could be hazardous or not, where do you go?  

Perhaps I am being too security minded, but I feel like typing questions into a search engine or chatbot or publicly posting does not always seem like a good idea. When I monitor my own thoughts, I am impressed by how seriously weird but potentially plausible some of them seem. My rational mind isn't really sure what to do with them so they just remain buzzing about my brain and I'm not sure that's a good use of brainspace.  

This is assuredly not a mental health concern, but it is a real quandary and I wish I knew what to do about it. I have no idea whether or not my questions/ thoughts are absurd, really dumb or whether some might be legitimate or even potentially useful in relation to threats that the community is concerned about. That feels bad and I wonder if others are experiencing anything like this.

I would really appreciate advice. If others have similar concerns, please pipe in. If this is a problem that is getting in the way of working on important problems, that would be good to know and could potentially be turned into an opportunity.




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Hi more better,

Yeah, I can relate, these sorts of situations can be tough.

I work on the biosecurity & pandemic preparedness team at Open Philanthropy. In the realm of biosecurity at least, I'm happy to be a resource for helping troubleshoot these sorts of issues, including both general questions and more specific concerns. The best way to contact me, anonymously or non-anonymously, is through this short form.

Importantly, if you're reaching out, please do not include potentially sensitive details of info hazards in form submissions – if necessary, we can arrange more secure means of follow-up communication, anonymous or otherwise (e.g., a phone call).

Seconding this: talking through the idea with someone experienced in the field who is sensitive about infohazards is a good approach. Much better than writing up your concern, and especially writing it up publicly.

(The main downside is that this doesn't scale very well, but at this stage in the field I think that's not a problem we have yet?)

Thank you, @cwbakerlee and @Jeff Kaufman . I appreciate this.

Hi more better -- interesting question. 

Just to clarify -- are you mostly concerned about asking questions that could get you as an individual in trouble with authorities, security services, social media watchdogs, etc? 

Or are you mostly concerned about raising questions on public forums (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, EA Forum, LessWrong) that would draw more public attention to certain ideas that could constitute infohazards?

Or, mostly concerned about asking questions through search engines (e.g. Google, Bing) or Large Language Models (e.g. Chat GPT) that would lead search algorithms or AI systems to become more aware of certain infohazards?

All three are legit concerns, I think, but they might entail very different answers....

Thanks for the response.  I'm mainly concerned with #2 and #3

Geoffrey Miller
more better -- thanks for the clarification. I have no idea about how to handle number 3 (reducing search engine/LLM awareness of infohazards).  For number 2 (being cautious about raising awareness of infohazards on public forums), I guess one strategy would be to ask very vague questions at first to test the waters, and see if anybody replies with a caution that you might be edging into infohazard territory. And then if nobody with more expertise raises an alarm, gradually escalate the specificity of one's questions, narrowing the focus one step at a time, until eventually you either get a satisfactory answer, or credible experts call for caution about raising the topic. Really, EA and related communities need some specific, consensual 'safeword' that cautions other people that they're edging into infohazard territory. I'm open to any suggestions about that. Trouble is, a lot of topics are treated as toxic infohazards that really aren't (e.g. behavior genetics, intelligence research, evolutionary psychology, sex research, etc). Most of these take the form of 'here's a behavioral sciences theory or finding that is probably true, but that the general public shouldn't learn about, because they don't have the political or emotional maturity to handle it'.  So we'd need a couple of different safewords -- one that refers to specific technical knowledge that could actually increase true existential risks (e.g. software for autonomous assassination drones, for genetically engineering more lethal pandemics, for enriching uranium, etc), versus one that refers to more general knowledge that (allegedly) could lead people to updating their social/political views in directions that some might consider unacceptable.
more better
Thanks, I appreciate these insights and these are good ideas. 
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