Effective altruism and Asperger syndrome

The content on this page is originally from Issa Rice’s answer to What makes so many aspies attracted to effective altruism?

I’m not sure it’s the case that there are a lot of people with Asperger syndrome in effective altruism (EA); this would be the case in any movement of sufficient size. I think the burden of proof is on the person asking the question to provide evidence for what they are seeing. Having interacted with the EA community for over a year, I don’t get this impression, though I haven’t actually gone out and surveyed how many people with Asperger syndrome are associated with EA. I would also note that “Asperger syndrome” gets slapped onto movements on occasion without evidence. Libertarianism and in particular the open borders movement has had this happen; see Asperger’s syndrome at Open Borders: The Case for more. As Evan at Open Borders: The Case writes (in Autism Can’t Explain Away Open Borders Arguments), “the project of associating political positions [or social movements!] with mental disorders is probably not a wise undertaking in the first place”.

To the extent that people with Asperger syndrome seem over-represented in EA, I offer several reasons. Note that I have a low level of confidence in these explanations, which are more akin to rationalizations (which might still be useful to verbalize). One is that people involved with the tech industry are over-represented in EA (see What happened to all the non-programmers?), and if we grant that people involved in tech are more likely to have Asperger syndrome (see for instance Peter Thiel on the Future of Innovation — Conversations with Tyler), then it might seem like many people with Asperger syndrome are also in EA.

Another related idea is that both people with Asperger syndrome and those in effective altruism compartmentalize less relative to the general population. Effective altruism is well-known for preferring quantitative measures of effectiveness as well as explicit verbal reasoning of actions (so they might be more likely to change their beliefs when faced with new evidence). This is also a stereotype of people with Asperger syndrome (who are thought to be bad at nonverbal communication, are thought to be savants who are good at quantitative subjects, and so on).