Recent Discussion

I’ve been a vegetarian (nearly vegan) for 6 years.

As veteran vegetarians (vetereginarians?) know, vitamin B12 isn’t really found in plants, and so people who don’t eat animals are often deficient in this important nutrient.

I’m not exactly sure how this information eluded me for all this time, but I only found out about the whole B12 thing a few months ago…

An EA friend of mine gently told me “Aaron, I’m really glad you’re a vegetarian, but that means you gotta take B12 supplements.”

He told this to me out of a good natured desire to help me. He knew something about health and wellbeing that I didn’t know, and he told me about B12 because he likes me and wants what’s best for me.

We do this for our friends...

3deluks9172hI am not sure Effective Altruism has been a net hedonic positive for me. In fact, I think it has not been. Recently in order to save money to donate more, I chose to live in very cheap housing in California. This resulted in many serious problems. Looking back arguably the biggest problem was the noise. If you cram a bunch of people into a house it's going to be noisy. This very badly affected my mental health. There were other issues as well. My wife and I could have afforded a much more expensive place. That would have been money very well spent. I was really quite miserable. During the 2017 crypto bull run, I held a decent amount of ETH. Pretty close to the top I gave away since I felt like I had hit a huge windfall. Of course, ETH crashed to around 87 from a high of 1400. So I ended up not as rich as I thought. It didn't help that I handled the bear market poorly. Maybe it was good that I donated the ETH instead of selling it for far less. But maybe I would have handled the bear market better had I kept more ETH or cashed some out for myself. In the end, things went fine for me. But the decision to donate so much at the top really haunted me for years. Of course, I did not donate 10%. A 10% donation threshold would mean donating 10% of the ETH I cashed out (potentially 0 dollars). Until you sell you don't have any taxable income. I have again donated all the crypto I cashed out. But this time I have donated a much smaller percentage of my bankroll. I am also quite terrified of the singularity. It has not been easy for me to deal with the 'singularity is near' arguments I hear in the rationality and EA communities. Of course, I think my involvement with EA has been positive for the world. In addition to donations, I gave some money to some poorer friends. They certainly appreciated it. But effective altruism has not been an easy road.

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I think it's valuable to get anecdata on downsides so people have clearer expectations going in.

1Miranda_Zhang2hI like this framing a lot - not seeing EA (or any kind of moral imperative) as a sacrifice but something that can be additive/fulfilling is crucial, I think. However, I want to add a cautionary note against only focusing on the positives of spreading/joining the EA community. I don't think you intended to suggest that at all, but in my experience EA can exacerbate perfectionist tendencies in a way that is deleterious to mental health, and being aware of that might be important in ensuring that spreading EA leads to fulfillment. I think this can be mitigated by emphasizing the social aspect and encouraging people to view EA as a community instead of purely a framework/standard. Fortunately your point lends itself well to this, since spreading word of EA to one's friends is inherently social!

David Pearce is a philosopher and writer best known for his 1995 manifesto The Hedonistic Imperative and the associated ideas about abolishing suffering for all sentient life using biotechnology and other technologies.

Pearce argues that it is "technically feasible" and ethically rational to abolish suffering on the planet by replacing Darwinian suffering-based motivational systems with minds animated by "information-sensitive gradients of intelligent bliss" (as opposed to indiscriminate maxed-out bliss). He stresses that this "abolitionist project" is compatible with a diverse set of values and "intentional objects" (i.e. what one is happy "about").

In 1998 together with Nick Bostrom, Pearce co-founded the World Transhumanist Association, today known as Humanity+.

Pearce is the director of bioethics of Invincible Wellbeing and is on the advisory board of the Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering.

Note on history of this post: I wrote a draft of this post last  (2020) summer when I was both more obsessed with covid-19 related questions and interested in exploring my fit for research into philosophy/macrostrategy, and this post has strong echoes of both. Since then I’ve decided that there’s greater comparative advantage and personal fit for me in empirical cause prioritization, at least in the short term. I ended up deciding I should publish it anyway, and have done <15 minutes of editing between August 2020 and today.

There are two important caveats:

  • Timeliness: Because the covid-y example originated last (2020) summer, it likely already looks dated. In addition, I did not bother to look at the recent (post Aug 2020) literature on peer disagreement or related issues
...

Cool idea! Some thoughts I have:

  • A different thing you could do, instead of trading models, is compromise by assuming that there's a 50% chance that your model is right and a 50% chance that your peer's model is right. Then you can do utility calculations under this uncertainty. Note that this would have the same effect as the one you desire in your motivating example: Alice would scrub surfaces and Bob would wear a mask.
    • This would however make utility calculations twice as difficult as compared just using your own model, since you'd need to compute the exp
... (read more)

Normative uncertainty is uncertainty about how to act given lack of certainty in any one normative theory, as well as the study of how one ought to act given this uncertainty.

Types of uncertainty

At the most basic level, uncertainty can be either descriptive or normative. Normative uncertainty can itself be either theoretical or practical. Within theoretical uncertainty, a further subdivision can be made between epistemological uncertainty and decision-theoretic uncertainty. And practical uncertainty can be subdivided into moral uncertainty and prudential uncertainty, while theoretical uncertainty can be subdivided into epistemological uncertainty and decision-theoretic uncertainty.

  • Uncertainty
    • Descriptive
    • Normative
      • Theoretical
        • Epistemological
        • Decision-theoretic
      • Practical
        • Moral
        • Prudential

Some of these terms are not used consistently in the literature. In particular, what the taxonomy above calls 'practical uncertainty' is referred to as 'normative uncertainty' by some authors (MacAskill & Ord 2020: 328), and as 'moral uncertainty' by other (and sometimes even the same) authors (MacAskill, Bykvist & Ord 2020: 2-3; cf. Bykvist 2017: 6-7; Podgorski 2020: 43).

Bibliography

Bykvist, Krister (2017) Moral uncertainty, Philosophy Compass, vol. 12, pp. 1–8.

MacAskill, William, Krister Bykvist & Toby Ord (2020) Moral uncertainty, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

MacAskill, William & Toby Ord (2020) Why maximize expected choice-worthiness?, Noûs, vol. 54, pp. 327–353.

Podgorski, Abelard (2020) Normative uncertainty and the dependence problem, Mind, vol. 129, pp. 43–70.

Under what circumstances is it potentially cost-effective to move money within low-impact causes?

This is preliminary and most likely somehow wrong.  I'd love for someone to have a look at my math and tell me if (how?) I'm on the absolute wrong track here.

Start from the assumption that there is some amount of charitable funding that is resolutely non-cause-neutral. It is dedicated to some cause area Y and cannot be budged. I'll assume for these purposes that DALYs saved per dollar is distributed log-normally within Cause Y:

I want t... (read more)

This article is also posted on my blog.

Update 2021-05-09: Upon checking data more carefully, I have revised the chances of becoming a professor in math.

The joke

A friend sent me an article titled Is Science a Pyramid Scheme? posted on viXra, an e-print archive. The abstract is as follows --

A grievance expressed by some PhD students and Postdocs is that science works like a pyramid scheme: Young scientists are encouraged to invest into building scientific careers although the chances at remaining in science are extremely slim. ... The super-prolific authors at the top of the pyramid ... are usually heads of large institutes with many subgroups and large numbers of PhD students, while the bottom of the pyramid is populated by PhD students and Postdocs ... A new index, the Ponzi factor, is proposed to quantify

...

15% does not sounds too bad.

15% seems to me like very bad odds for a multi-year training program, especially given it doesn't count people who start a PhD program and then drop out.

2Max_Daniel4hInteresting, thank you for sharing. Do you have a take on how accurate the national average estimates are? In particular, I'd be interested in whether they were determined using a different methodology, and so perhaps one that will be biased toward "underreporting". Where as at first glance your methodology might seem to be biased toward "overreporting" (though idk to what extent you may have "corrected" for non-reponse bias, which would be one source of "overreporting").
1newptcai5hOh, I am going to start advise undergrads on career choices soon. Many of them will want to go to graduate schools. So I would like to give them some cautions. Please let me know when your article comes out. Good luck with publishing it!

Fanaticism can be described as the position that it's morally better to reject "a certainty of a moderately good outcome, such as one additional life saved" in favour of "a lottery which probably gives a worse outcome, but has a tiny probability of some vastly better outcome (perhaps trillions of additional blissful lives created)" (Wilkinson, 2021)(Wilkinson, 2020). Some have argued that fanaticism should be rejected and that this might undermine the case for certain philosophical positions, such as longtermism.

See also the concept of "Pascal'"Pascal's mugging" (LessWrong 2020).

LessWrong (2020) Pascal’s mugging, LessWrong Wiki, August 3 (updated 23 September 2020).

Wilkinson, Hayden (2020) In defence of fanaticism, GPI Working Paper No. 4-2020 (updated January 2021).

Animal Charity Evaluators. 2016. Impact calculator.
An interactive app that calculates the impact of leafleting and online ads on animal welfare, given various assumptions.

Bollard, Lewis. 2016.Lewis (2016) Initial grants to support corporate cage-free reforms., Open Philanthropy, March 31.
A report estimating the cost-effectiveness of corporate cage-free reforms.

MacAskill, W.William & Meissner, D. 2020.Darius Meissner (2020) Cause Prioritization:Acting on utilitarianism, Utilitarianism.

Norwood, F. Bailey & Jayson L. Lusk (2011) Compassion, by the Pound: The Economics of Farm Animal Welfare. In Introduction to Utilitarianism.

Norwood, Bailey & Jayson Lusk. 2011. Compassion, by the pound: the economics of farm animal welfare., New York: Oxford University Press.
An attempt to apply economic principles to illuminate various moral and practical issues surounding farm animals.

Open Philanthropy Project. 2013. (2013) [[https://www.openphilanthropy.org/research/cause-reports/treatment-animals-industrial-agriculture][Treatment of animals in industrial agriculture.agriculture]], /Open Philanthropy/, September.
An overview of possible interventions to address the harms associated to factory farming.

Open Philanthropy Project. 2015.(2015) Animal product alternatives., Open Philanthropy, December.
An investigation of animal product alternatives as a possible intervention for reducing animal suffering.

Reese, Jacy. 2016.Jacy (2016) Why animals matter for effective altruism., Effective Altruism Forum, August 22.
An essay making the case for animal welfare as a top focus area of the effective altruism community.

Whittlestone, Jess (2017) Cause Profile: Animal Welfarewelfare, Centre for Effective Altruism., November 16.

This post doesn’t necessarily represent the views of my employers.

There are many people who have the skills and desire to do EA-aligned research, or who could develop such skills via some experience, mentorship, or similar.[1]

There are many potentially high-priority open research questions that have been identified.

And there are many funders who would be happy to pay for high-quality research on such questions.

Sounds like everything must be lining up perfectly, right?

In my view,[2] the answer is fairly clearly “No”, and getting closer to a “Yes” could be very valuable. The three ingredients mentioned above do regularly combine to give us new, high-quality research and researchers, but:

  • This is happening slower than we’d like
    • At any given time, we still have a lot of each ingredient left over
  • This is requiring more
...

I’m not fully satisfied with the label I’m currently using for this topic/effort and this sequence. Here are some alternatives that I considered or that other people suggested:

  • Scaling the EA research pipeline
  • Scalably training and making use of research talent
  • Unlocking EA-aligned research and researchers (more, better, and more efficiently)
  • Scaling the EA research engine
  • Amplifying EA-aligned researchers
  • Revving up the EA research engine
  • Priming the pump of EA research
  • Engineering the EA research ecosystem

(That's in roughly descending order of how much I like them. And of course I currently prefer the label I'm actually using at the moment.)

I am compiling a list of post-COVID pandemic preparedness (PP) initiatives, especially big ones. I'm interested in government/intergovernmental and philanthropic investments, or planned investments. I am casting a wide net, please err on the side of adding something in the comments.

Ultimately, I'm interested in the extent to which the proposed work is likely to reduce GCBRs. 

The things I have come across so far:

National governments

US

  • $10 B allocation for PP in the American Rescue Plan (= Coronavirus bill)
  • $30 B allocation for PP in the American Jobs Plan (= Infrastructure bill)

UK

Inter-governmental organisations

WHO and Germany

Treaty against pandemics

...