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[Link] The Practical Argument for Free Will

1 entirelyuseless 04 March 2017 04:58PM

[Link] Alien Implant: Newcomb's Smoking Lesion

2 entirelyuseless 03 March 2017 04:51AM

[Link] Self medicating for Schizophrenia with - cigarettes ?

2 morganism 24 January 2017 12:08AM

Preference over preference

5 Elo 06 March 2016 12:51AM

Each individual person has a preference.  Some preferences are strong, others are weak.  For many preferences it's more complicated than that; they aren’t static, and we change our preferences all the time.  Some days we don't like certain foods, sometimes we may strongly dislike a certain song then another time we may not care so much. Our preferences can change in scope, as well as intensity.

Sometimes people can have preferences over other people's preferences.  

  • Example 1: I prefer to be surrounded by people who enjoy exercise, that way I will be motivated to exercise more.
  • Example 2: I prefer to be surrounded by people who don't care how they look, that way I look prettier than everyone else.
  • Example 3: I prefer when other people like my clothes.
  • Example 4: I prefer my partners to be polyamorous.
  • Example 5: I prefer people around me to not smoke.

The interesting thing about example 3; is that there are multiple ways to achieve that preference:

  1. Find out what clothes people like and acquire those clothes, then wear them regularly.
  2. Find people who already like the clothes that you have, then hang around those people regularly.
  3. Change the preference of the people around you so that they like your clothes.

Changing someone’s preference over clothing seems pretty harmless, and that way you get to wear clothes you like, they get to like the clothes you wear, and you get to be around people who like the clothes you wear without finding new people. The scary and maybe uncomfortable thing is that the other preferences can be also achieved through these means.

Example 4:

  1. Find out where poly people are, and hang out with them. (and ask to be their partners - etc)
  2. Find out which of the people you know are already poly and hang out with them  (and ask to be their partners - etc)
  3. Change the preferences of your existing partner/s. 

Example 1: 

  1. Find out where people who enjoy exercise hang out, and join them.
  2. Find out which of your friends already enjoy exercise and hang out with them.
  3. Change the preferences of those around you to also enjoy exercise.

Example 5:

  1. Find out where people don't smoke, hang out in those places.
  2. Figure out who already doesn't smoke and hang out with them.
  3. Encourage people you know to not smoke.

(I think that's enough examples)

Is it wrong?

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a preference. Having a preference over another person’s preference is also not inherently wrong.  Such is the nature of having a preference (usually a strong one by the time you are dictating it to your surroundings).  What really matters is what you do about it.

In this day and age; no one would be discouraged from figuring out where people are not smoking and being in those places instead of the smoking places.  In this day and age you wouldn't be criticised for finding out which of your friends don't smoke and only hanging out with them either - but maybe it makes some people uncomfortable to do it, or to feel that the reciprocal might happen if someone strongly didn't like their preferences.  In this day and age; encouraging those around you to not smoke can come across as an action with questionable motives.

So let's look at some of the motives:

  1. I prefer it when people don't smoke around me because then I don't get second hand smoke.
  2. I prefer it when my friends don't smoke because I don't like chemical dependency in my environment.
  3. I prefer it when my friends don't smoke so that we look better than that other group of people who do smoke.
  4. I prefer it when my friends don't smoke because I don't want them to get cancer and die (and not be around to be my friends any more).

Motive 1 seems very much about self-preservation.  We can't really fault an entity for trying to self-preserve.  

Motive 2 is a more broad example of self-preservation - the idea that having dependency in your environment might negatively impact you enough to warrant the need to maintain an environment without it - it's a stretch, but not an unreasonable self-preservation drive.  

Motive 3 appears to be a superficial drive to be better than other people.  We often don't like admitting that this is the reason we do things; but I don't mind it either.  If it were me; I'd get pretty tired of being motivated by *keeping up with the Joneses* type attitudes but some people care greatly about that.

Motive 4 seems like a potentially altruistic desire to protect your friends; but then it seems less so once you include the bracketed sub-motive.  

Herein lies the problem.  If a preference looks like it is designed to improve someone else's life like "others shouldn't smoke" (remember that "looks like to me" is equivalent to "I believe it looks like..."), and we believe that having a preference over their preference would improve their life - should we enforce that preference?  Do we have a right or even a burden to encourage those around us to quit smoking? To take up exercise?  To become poly?  To like us (or our clothes)?

The idea of preference over preference is a big one.  What if my preference is that people eat my birthday cake? and Bob’s preference is that he sticks to his diet today?  Who should win?  It’s My Birthday. On Bob’s birthday he doesn’t have to eat cake, but on My Birthday he does.  Or does he?  

The truth is neither way is the best way.  Sometimes hypothetical bob should eat the birthday cake and sometimes hypothetical birthday-kid should respect other people’s dietary choices.  What we really have control over is our own preference for ourselves.  My only advice it to tread delicately when having preferences over other people’s preferences.

If we think we know better (and we might but also might not) and are trying to uphold a preference over a preference (p/p), then what happens?

Either we are right, we are wrong, or something else happens.  And depends on whether the other party conformed or not (or did something else).  Then what happens when things resolve.


  1. A is smoking
  2. B says not to because it's bad for you
  3. A doesn't stop
  4. It turns out to be bad for you
  5. A gets sick

B was right, tried to push a p/p and lost.  (either by not pushing hard enough or by A being stubborn). Did the p/p serve any good here?  Should it have happened?  What if an alternative 5 exists; “A keeps smoking, never gets sick and lives to 90”.  Then was the p/p useful?

  1. A is monogamous 
  2. B says to be poly
  3. A does 
  4. It goes badly 
  5. A is hurt

B was wrong, tried to push a p/p and won.  But was wrong and shouldn't have pushed it? Or maybe A shouldn't have conformed.

This can be represented in a table:


B prefers to maintain P/P

B does not maintain P/P

A is susceptible to pressure

A gives in

A does not change (because there is no pressure)

A is not susceptible

A does not change (stubborn)

A does not change (because there is no pressure)

And a second table of results:

change was negative (or caused a negative result)

change was positive (or caused a positive result)

A is susceptible

A loses.

A wins!

A is not susceptible

A wins!

A loses.

Assuming also that if A loses; B takes a hit as well.  Ideally we want everyone to win all the time. But just showing these things in a table is not enough.  We should be assigning estimated probability to these choices as well.

For example (my made up numbers of whether I think smoking will lead to a bad result):


98% smoking causes problems

2% smoking does not cause problems.

If we edit the earlier table:


B prefers to maintain P/P

B does not maintain P/P

A is susceptible to pressure

A gives in (2% estimate that the change was pointless)

A does not change (because there is no pressure) (98% estimate that this is a bad outcome)

A is not susceptible to pressure

A does not change (stubborn) (98% estimate that this is a bad outcome)

A does not change (because there is no pressure) (98% estimate that this is a bad outcome)

To a rationalist; seeing your p/p table with estimates should help to understand whether they should take you up on fulfilling your preference or not.  Assuming of course that rationalists never lie; and can accurately estimate the confidence of their beliefs.

If you meet someone with a 98% belief they should be able to produce evidence that will also reasonably convince you of similar ideas and encourage you to update your beliefs.  So maybe in the smoking case A should be listening to B; or checking the evidence very seriously.

What should you do when you hold a strong p/p that will be to your benefit at the same time as being to someone else’s detriment.  (and part 2: what if you are unsure of the benefit or detriment)


B want's A to try a new street drug "splice".  B says it's lots of fun and encourages A to do it.  B is unsure of the risks; but sure of the benefits (lots of fun).  Should B encourage A? (what more do we need to know to make that sort of judgement call?)

B has a sexual interest that is specific, and A’s are indifferent B could easily encourage A to "try out this".  should B?

B has an old crappy car that B doesn’t like very much.  B prefers to make friends with shady A’s who will steal the car.  then B can claim on insurance that it was stolen. and get a nicer care with the payout.  Should B?

B wants A to pay for the two of them to go on a carnival ride.  the cost is simple (several dollars) the benefit is not.  Should B pressure A?  (what more do we need to know in order to answer that question?)

A always crosses the street dangerously because they are often running late.  B believes that A should be more safe - walk a distance to the nearest crossing before crossing the road; B knows that this will make A late.  Should B pressure A? (will more information help us answer?)

It was suggested that the Veil of ignorance might help to create a rule in this situation.  However the bounds of this situation dictate that you know which party you are; and that you have a preference over a preference.  So the Veil of ignorance does not so much apply to give us insight.  


  1. It is possible to be a selfish entity, hold p/p and encourage others to fulfil your preference
  2. it is also possible to be a non-influential entity, and never push a preference over others.  
  3. it is possible to be a stubborn entity and never conform to someone else’s p/p.  
  4. It is also possible to be a conforming entity and always conform.  


It is also possible to be a mix of these 4 in different situations and/or different preferences.

Partial Solution

Know your preferences, know your p/p’s and think very carefully about pushing your p/p’s, hiding your p/p’s; changing your preferences to conform, or being needlessly stubborn about your preferences.  (warning: this is hard; don’t think it’s easy just because it fits into one sentence)

Knowing what your strong preferences are; knowing which of your preferences are potentially not beneficial for others and understanding whether you have a tendency to push your p/p on other people will possibly help you to be more careful when handling p/p and avoid manipulating people (to their detriment).  In addition to this; knowing what culture you come from and what culture others come from will help to know how weak p/p might be misinterpreted as strong p/p (see "ask culture", "guess culture" and "tell culture"). (some cultures aim to please when asked, and ask little of each other; some cultures are stubborn, vocal and demanding.  In the middle of the two cultures is the crazy-confused zone.  Of course these are the obvious cases.  Sometimes cultural taboo will come up around some topics and not others; i.e. dinner etiquette might be something you never ask about - because it would be bad etiquette; but expressing a strong preference over what you want to drink is expected)

In conclusion there are no rules to be drawn around p/p other than - Try to understand it; and how it can go wrong and be careful.

Meta: 4.5 hours to write, 30mins to take feedback and edit.  Thanks to the slack for being patient while I asked tricky example questions.

My Table of contents - contains links to the other things I have written.

Further comments adjustments and suggestions welcome.

The Art of Lawfare and Litigation strategy

-4 [deleted] 17 December 2015 02:34PM

Bertrand Russell, well aware there were health risks of smoking, defended his addiction in a videotaped interview. See if you can spot his fallacy! 

Today on SBS (radio channel in Australia) I heard reporters breaking the news that Nature article reports that Cancer is largely due to choices. I was shocked by what appeared to be gross violations of cultural norms around the blaming of victims. I wanted to investigate further since science reporting is notoriously inaccurate.

The BBC reports:

Earlier this year, researchers sparked a debate after suggesting two-thirds of cancer types were down to luck rather than factors such as smoking.

The new study, in the journal Nature, used four approaches to conclude only 10-30% of cancers were down to the way the body naturally functions or "luck".

"They can't smoke and say it's bad luck if they have cancer."

-Dr Yusuf Hannun, the director of Stony Brook


The BBC article is roughly concordant with the SBS report. 

I've had a fairly simple relationship with cigarettes. I've smoked others' cigarettes a few times, while drinking. I bought my first cigarette to try soon after I turned of age and discarded the rest of the packet. One of my favourite memories is trying a vanilla flavoured cigar. I still feel tempted to it again whenever I smell a nice scent, or think about that moment. Though now, I regularly reject offers to go to local venues and smoke hookah. Even after my first cigarette, I felt the tug of nicotine and tobacco. Though, I'm unusually sensitive to eve the mildest addictive substances, so that doesn't suprise me in respective. What does suprise me, is that society is starting to take a ubiquitous but increasingly undeniable health issue seriously despite deep entanglement with long standing way of doing things, political ideologues, individual addictions and addiction-driven political behaviour and shareholder's pockets.

Though the truth claim of the article isn't that suprising. The dangers of smoking are publicised everywhere. Emphasis mine:

13 die every day in Victoria as a result of smoking.

Tobacco use (which includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes, snuff, chewing tobacco) is the leading preventable cause of death and illness in our country. It causes more deaths annually than those killed by AIDS, alcohol, automobile accidents, murders, suicides, drugs and fires combined.

So I decided to learn more about the relationship between society and big tobacco, and government and big tobacco to see what other people interested in influencing public policy and public health can learn (effective altruism policy analytics, take note!) about policy tractability in suprising places.

Here's what might make for tractable public policy for public health interventions

Proof of concept

Governments are great at successfully suing the shit out of tobacco. And, big tobacco takes it like a champ:

It started with United State's states experimenting with suing big tobacco. Eventually only a couple of states hadn't done it. Big Tobacco and all those attorney generals gathered and arranged huge ass settlement that resulted in the disestablishment of several shill research institutes supporting big tobacco and big payouts to sponsor anti-smoking advocacy groups (which seem politically unethical, but consequentially good, but I suppose that's a different story). However, what's important to note here is the experimentation within US states culminating with the legitimacy of normative lawfare. It's called 'Diffusion theory' and is described here.

Wait wait wait. I know what you're thinking, non-US LessWrongers - another US centric analysis that isn't too transportable. No. I'm not American in any sense, it's just that the US seems to be a point of diffusion. What's happening regarding marajuana in the US now seems to mirror this in some sense, but it's ironically pro-smoking. That illustrates the cause-neutrality of this phenomenon.

That settlement wasn't the end of the lawfare:

On August 17, 2006, a U.S. district judge issued a landmark opinion in the government's case against Big Tobacco, finding that tobacco companies had violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded consumers by lying about the health risks of smoking.

In a 1,653 page ruling, the judge stated that the tobacco industry had deceived the American public by concealing the addictive nature of nicotine plus had targeted youth in order to get them hooked on cigarettes for life. (Appeals are still pending). 

Victims who ask for help

I also stumbled upon some smokers attitudes to smoking and their, well, seemingly vexacious attitudes to big tobacco when looking up lawsuits and big tobacco. Here's a copy of the comments section on one website. It's really heartbreaking. It's a small sample size but just note their education too - suggesting a socio-economic effect. Note, this comments were posted publicly and are blatant cries for help. This suggests political will at a grassroots level that is yet under-catered for by services and/or political action. That's a powerful thing, perhaps - visible need in public forums addressed to those that are in the relevant space. Note that they commented on a class action website.



Note some of the language:


"I feel like I'm being tortured"

You don't see that kind of language used in any effective altruism branded publications.


Somewhat famous documents exposing the tobacco industries internal motivations and dodginess seem to be quoted everywhere in websites documenting and justifyications of lawfare against the tobacco industry. Public health and personal dangers of smoking don't seem to have been the big catalyst, but rather a villainous enemy. I'm reminded of how the Stop the boats campaign which villainised people smugglers instead of speaking of the potential to save lives of refugees who fall overboard shitty vessals. I think to Open Borders campaigners associated with GiveWell's Open Philanthropy Project, the perception of the project as just about the most intractable policy prospect around (I'd say a moratorium on AI research is up there), but at the same time, non identification of a villain in the picture. That's not entirely unsuprising. I recall the hate I received when I suggested that people should consider prostituting themselves for effective altruism, or soliciting donations from the porn industry where donors struggle to donate since many, particularly relgious charities refuge to accept their donations. Likewise, it's hard to get rid of encultured perceptions of what's good and what's bad, rather then enumerating ('or checking, as Eleizer writes in the sequence) the consequences.

Relative merit

This is something Effective Altruist is doing.

William Savedoff and Albert Alwang recently identified taxes on tobacco as, “the single most cost-effective way to save lives in developing countries” (2015, p.1).


Tobacco control programs often pursue many of these aims at once. However, raising taxes appears to be particularly cost-effective — e.g., raising taxes costs $3 - $70 per DALY avoided(Savedoff and Alwang, p.5; Ranson et al. 2002, p.311) — so I will focus solely on taxes. I will also focus only on low and middle income countries (LMICs) because that is where the problem is worst and where taxes can do the most good most cost-effectively.


But current trends need not continue. We can prevent deaths from tobacco use. Tobacco taxation is a well-tested and effective means of decreasing the prevalence of smoking—it gets people to stop and prevents others from starting. The reason is that smokers are responsive to price increases,provided that the real price goes up enough


Even if these numbers are off by a factor of 2 or 3, tobacco taxation appears to be on par with the most effective interventions identified by GiveWell and Giving What We Can. For example, GiveWell estimates that AMF can prevent a death for $3340 by providing bed nets to prevent malaria and estimates the cost of schistosomiasis deworming at $29 - $71 per DALY.


There are a few reasons to balk at recommending tobacco tax advocacy to those aiming to do the most good with their donations, time, and careers.


  • Tobacco taxes may not be a tractable issue
  • Tobacco taxes may be a “crowded” cause area
  • Unanswered questions about the empirical basis of cost-effectiveness estimates
  • There may not be a charity to donate to
Smoking is very harmful and very common.  Globally, 21% of people over 15 smoke (WHO GHO)




Attributing public responsibility AND incentivising independently private interest in a cause

The Single Best Health Policy in the World: Tobacco Taxes

The single most cost-effective way to save lives in developing countries is in the hands of developing countries themselves: raising tobacco taxes. In fact, raising tobacco taxes is better than cost-effective. It saves lives while increasing revenues and saving poor households money when their members quit smoking.



Tobacco lawsuits can be hard to win but if you have been injured because of tobacco or smoking or secondary smoke exposure, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.

  If you have lung cancer and are now, or were formerly, a smoker or used tobacco products, you may have a claim under the product liability laws. You should contact an experienced product liability attorney or a tobacco lawsuit attorney as soon as possible because a statute of limitations could apply. 


There's a whole bunch of legal literature like this: http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/clqv86&div=45&id=&page=

that I don't have the background to search for and interpret. So, if I'm missing important things, perhaps it's attributable to that. Point them out please.

So that's my analysis: plausible modifiable variables that influence the tractability of the public health policy initiative: 

(1) Attributing public responsibility AND incentivising independently private interest in a cause

(2) Relative merit

(3) Villains

(4) Victims that ask for help

(5) Low scale proof of concept

Remember, lawfare isn't just the domain of governments. Here's an example of non-government lawfare for public health. They are just better resourced, often, than individuals. They need groups to advocate on their behalf. Perhaps that's a direction the Open Philanthropy Project could take. 

I want to finish by soliciting an answer on the following question that is posed to smokers in a recurring survey by a tobacco control body:

Do you support or oppose the government suing tobacco companies to recover health care costs caused by tobacco use?

Now, there may be some 'reverse causation' at play here for why Tobacco Control has been so politically effect. BECAUSE it's such a good cause, it's a low hanging fruit that's already being picked. 

What's the case for or against this?

The case for it's cause selection: Tobacco control

Importance: high

tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in both the world (see: http://www.who.int/nmh/publications/fact_sheet_tobacco_en.pdf) and Australia (see: http://www.cancer.org.au/policy-and-advocacy/position-statements/smoking-and-tobacco-control/)

‘Tobacco smoking causes 20% of cancer deaths in Australia, making it the highest individual cancer risk factor. Smoking is a known cause of 16 different cancer types and is the main cause of Australia’s deadliest cancer, lung cancer. Smoking is responsible for 88% of lung cancer deaths in men and 75% of lung cancer cases in women in Australia.’

Tractable: high

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was the first public health treaty ever negotiate.

Based on private information, the balance of healthcare costs against tax revenues according to health advocates compared to treasury estimates in Australia may have been relevant to Australia’s leadership in tobacco regulation. That submission may or may not be adequate in complexity (ie. taking into account reduced lifespans impact on reduced pension payouts for instance). There is a good article about the behavioural economics of tobacco regulation here (http://baselinescenario.com/2011/03/22/incentives-dont-work/)

Room for advocacy: low

There are many hundreds of consumer support and advocacy groups, and cancer charities across Australia.

Room for employment: low?

Room for consulting: high


The rigour of analysis and achievements themselves in the Cancer Council of Australia annual review is underwhelming, as is the Cancer Council of Victoria’s annual report. There is a better organised body of evidence relating to their impact on their Wiki pages about effective interventions and policy priorities. At a glance, there appears to be room for more quantitative, methodologically rigorous and independent evaluation. I will be looking at GiveWell to see what I recommendations can be translated. I will keep records of my findings to formulate draft guidelines for advising organisations in the Cancer Councils’ positions which I estimate by vague memory of GiveWell’s claims are in the majority in the philanthropic space.

What's Wrong with Evidential Decision Theory?

16 aaronde 23 August 2012 12:09AM

With all the exotic decision theories floating around here, it doesn't seem like anyone has tried to defend boring old evidential decision theory since AlexMennen last year.  So I thought I'd take a crack at it.  I might come off a bit more confident than I am, since I'm defending a minority position (I'll leave it to others to bring up objections).  But right now, I really do think that naive EDT, the simplest decision theory, is also the best decision theory.  

Everyone agrees that Smoker's lesion is a bad counterexample to EDT, since it turns out that smoking actually does cause cancer.  But people seem to think that this is just an unfortunate choice of thought experiment, and that the reasoning is sound if we accept its premise.  I'm not so convinced.  I think that this "bad example" provides a pretty big clue as to what's wrong with the objections to EDT.  (After all, does anyone think it would have been irrational to quit smoking, based only on the correlation between smoking and cancer, before randomized controlled trials were conducted?)  I'll explain what I mean with the simplest version of this thought experiment I could come up with.

Suppose that I'm a farmer, hoping it will rain today, to water my crops.  I know that the probability of it having rained today, given that my lawn is wet, is higher than otherwise.  And I know that my lawn will be wet, if I turn my sprinklers on.  Of course, though it waters my lawn, running my sprinklers does nothing for my crops out in the field.  Making the ground wet doesn't cause rain; it's the other way around.  But if I'm an EDT agent, I know nothing of causation, and base my decisions only on conditional probability.  According to the standard criticism of EDT, I stupidly turn my sprinklers on, as if that would make it rain.

Here is where I think the criticism of EDT fails: how do I know, in the first place, that the ground being wet doesn't cause it to rain?  One obvious answer is that I've tried it, and observed that the probability of it raining on a given day, given that I turned my sprinklers on, isn't any higher than the prior probability.  But if I know that, then, as an evidential decision theorist, I have no reason to turn the sprinklers on.  However, if all I know about the world I inhabit are the two facts: (1) the probability of rain is higher, given that the ground is wet, and (2) The probability of the ground being wet is higher, given that I turn the sprinklers on - then turning the sprinklers on really is the rational thing to do, if I want it to rain.  

This is more clear written symbolically.  If O is the desired Outcome (rain), E is the Evidence (wet ground), and A is the Action (turning on sprinklers), then we have:

  • P(O|E) > P(O), and
  • P(E|A) > P(E)

(In this case, A implies E, meaning P(E|A) = 1)

It's still possible that P(O|A) = P(O).  Or even that P(O|A) < P(O).  (For example, the prior probability of rolling a 4 with a fair die is 1/6.  Whereas the probability of rolling a 4, given that you rolled an even number, is 1/3.  So P(4|even) > P(4).  And you'll definitely roll an even number if you roll a 2, since 2 is even.  So P(even|2) > P(even).  But the probabilty of rolling a 4, given that you roll a 2, is zero, since 4 isn't 2.  So P(4|2) < P(4) even though P(4|even) > P(4) and P(even|2) > P(even).)  But in this problem, I don't know P(O|A) directly.  The best I can do is guess that, since A implies E, therefore P(O|A) = P(O|E) > P(O).  So I do A, to make O more likely.  But if I happened to know that P(O|A) = P(O), then I'd have no reason to do A.

Of course, "P(O|A) = P(O)" is basically what we mean, when we say that the ground being wet doesn't cause it to rain.  We know that making the ground wet (by means other than rain) doesn't make rain any more likely, either because we've observed this directly, or because we can infer it from our model of the world built up from countless observations.  The reason that EDT seems to give the wrong answer to this problem is because we know extra facts about the world, that we haven't stipulated in the problem.  But EDT gives the correct answer to the problem as stated.  It does the best it can do (the best anyone could do) with limited information.

This is the lesson we should take from Smoker's lesion.  Yes, from the perspective of people 60 years ago, it's possible that smoking doesn't cause cancer, and rather a third factor predisposes people to both smoking and cancer.  But it's also possible that there's a third factor which does the opposite: making people smoke and protecting them from cancer - but smokers are still more likely to get cancer, because smoking is so bad that it outweighs this protective effect.  In the absense of evidence one way or the other, the prudent choice is to not smoke.

But if we accept the premise of Smoker's lesion: that smokers are more likely to get cancer, only because people genetically predisposed to like smoking are also genetically predisposed to develop cancer - then EDT still gives us the right answer.  Just as with the Sprinkler problem above, we know that P(O|E) > P(O), and P(E|A) > P(E), where O is the desired outcome of avoiding cancer, E is the evidence of not smoking, and A is the action of deciding to not smoke for the purpose of avoiding cancer.  But we also just happen to know, by hypothesis, that P(O|A) = P(O).  Recognizing A and E as distinct is key, because one of the implications of the premise is that people who stop smoking, despite enjoying smoking, fair just as badly as life-long smokers.  So the reason that you choose to not smoke matters.  If you choose to not smoke, because you can't stand tobacco, it's good news.  But if you choose to not smoke to avoid cancer, it's neutral news.  The bottom line is that you, as an evidential decision theorist, should not take cancer into account when deciding whether or not to smoke, because the good news that you decided to not smoke, would be cancelled out by the fact that you did it to avoid cancer.

If this is starting to sound like the tickle defense, rest assured that there is no way to use this kind of reasoning to justify defecting on the Prisoner's dilemma or two-boxing on Newcomb's problem.  The reason is that, if you're playing against a copy of yourself in Prisoner's dilemma, it doesn't matter why you decide to do what you do.  Because, whatever your reasons are, your duplicate will do the same thing for the same reasons.  Similarly, you only need to know that the predictor is accurate in Newcomb's problem, in order for one-boxing to be good news.  The predictor might have blind spots that you could exploit, in order to get all the money.  But unless you know about those exceptions, your best bet is to one-box.  It's only in special cases that your motivation for making a decision can cancel out the auspiciousness of the decision.

The other objection to EDT is that it's temporally inconsistent.  But I don't see why that can't be handled with precommitments, because EDT isn't irreparably broken like CDT is.  A CDT agent will one-box on Newcomb's problem, only if it has a chance to precommit before the predictor makes its prediction (which could be before the agent is even created).  But an EDT agent one-boxes automatically, and pays in Counterfactual Mugging as long as it has a chance to precommit before it finds out whether the coin came up heads.  One of the first things we should expect a self-modifying EDT agent to do, is to make a blanket precommitment for all such problems.  That is, it self-modifies in such a way that the modification itself is "good news", regardless of whether the decisions it's precommitting to will be good or bad news when they are carried out.  This self-modification might be equivalent to designing something like an updateless decision theory agent.  The upshot, if you're a self-modifying AI designer, is that your AI can do this by itself, along with its other recursive self-improvements.

Ultimately, I think that causation is just a convenient short-hand that we use.  In practice, we infer causal relations by observing conditional probabilities.  Then we use those causal relations to inform our decisions.  It's a great heuristic, but we shouldn't lose sight of what we're actually trying to do, which is to choose the option such that the probability of a good outcome is highest.