The selfish reason to write something for Ada Lovelace Day

Last Oc­to­ber there was a dis­cus­sion post on Ada Lovelace Day, and it met with some­thing of a luke­warm re­cep­tion. Fair enough. There are le­gi­t­i­mate crit­i­cisms of this par­tic­u­lar blo­go­sphere event, and peo­ple are wel­come to sub­scribe to those crit­i­cisms, or not, as they see fit. Per­son­ally, I’m quite fond of Ada Lovelace Day, in no small part be­cause I get a chance to write about one of my nerdy in­ter­ests in a pub­lic place with a rea­son­able ex­pec­ta­tion that a lay au­di­ence will at­tempt to en­gage with it. This year, the oc­ca­sion falls on Oc­to­ber 15th, and as a re­sult I’m cur­rently draft­ing a short piece on Es­ther Du­flo, a de­vel­op­ment economist re­spon­si­ble for pi­o­neer­ing ran­domised con­trol­led tri­als of policy in­ter­ven­tions in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. She’s rather pro­lific, has a shelf full of aca­demic awards, and is a hot tip for a No­bel Me­mo­rial Prize over the next few years or so.

So I was think­ing about this: I get to talk about the im­por­tance of ran­domised con­trol­led tri­als in policy-mak­ing; I get to talk about ev­i­dence-based philan­thropy; I get to wrap it up with a don’t-put-mus­tard-on-the-cat clos­ing mes­sage of how it’s not enough to just care about an is­sue, you have to be in­formed on it as well, (and by the way, there’s this thing called “effec­tive al­tru­ism” you might want to look up); and I can ex­pect a rea­son­able num­ber of read­ers to ac­tu­ally en­gage with it, be­cause it’s os­ten­si­bly writ­ten about the work of an in­ter­est­ing woman on Ada Lovelace Day.

You can prob­a­bly see where I’m go­ing with this by now.

Whether or not you think it’s valuable to pub­li­cise the work of women in STEM, it is an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to sneak as­sorted pro-ra­tio­nal­ity memes un­der the radar to an au­di­ence that wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily en­gage with them oth­er­wise. Less Wrong has a lot of elo­quent peo­ple with knowl­edge across a wide as­sort­ment of differ­ent do­mains. I’m cu­ri­ous as to what we could come up with if we made a con­certed effort to do this.

For that mat­ter (and Harry Pot­ter fan­fic aside), it’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion as to what other pop­u­lar in­ter­net phe­nom­ena can be co-opted for this pur­pose.