Recent Discussion

For this weekend's EA Global Student Summit I wrote a short talk about jargon that's popular in the EA community. It covers:

  • When it's good to use
  • When it's best to avoid
  • Alternatives to common jargon terms
  • Words I think we should mostly stop using
  • Why people bicker about this, and a tiny piece of philosophy of language.

Folks liked it on social media and jargon has been a regular topic here on the EA Forum, so I thought I'd share.

Open commenting is enabled on the Google Slides so you can respond to specific points!


Slide 13

As one data point, I had to google what Stranger in a Strange Land refers to, and don't know what connotations the comment above yours [1] refers to. I always assumed 'grok' was just a generic synonym for '(deeply) understand', and didn't even particularly associate it with the EA community. (Maybe it's relevant here that I'm not a native speaker.)

 

[1] Replacing the jargon term 'grandparent' ;)

3willbradshaw3hAnd the way it's used in tech is almost totally lacking the mystical angle from Stranger in a Strange Land anyway. Also Stranger in a Strange Land is a profoundly weird and ideosyncratic book and there's not really any reason to evoke it in most EA contexts. (That said I do think "deeply understand" doesn't quite do the job.)
1Cameron_Meyer_Shorb3hI feel the same way, even though I'm relatively strongly opposed to EA jargon, and even though I don't know the specific connotations from Stranger in a Strange Land. Here's the compromise I've settled on: "to grok" -> "to grok, to really deeply understand." That is, I'll use the jargon and immediately follow it with the translation. It's inelegant, and I've only used it in conversation so far. Not sure I'd be comfortable with so many redundant words in text. But I like that this compromise: * Conveys as much of the point as possible to someone unfamiliar with the term "grok." * Adds the marginal value of "grok" for anyone who is familiar with the term. * Maybe even adds some of the marginal value of "grok" for someone unfamiliar with the term. The fact that I'm using a foreign word to describes this idea suggests that it's a different/harder-to-capture idea than simply "really deeply understand." So from context, you could conclude that "grok" means "like really deeply understand, but in a different or harder-to-capture way," which is most of what I mean by "grok" anyway.

Disclaimer: This is an interim report and the views expressed here do not represent  "house views" of our employer Founders Pledge

Introduction

Global health and development is still arguably the most popular EA cause. For example, payouts from the Global Health and Development EA Fund comprise 45 percent of the total amount of money granted from EA Funds. Almost all of this spending supports so-called “randomista”-type development: direct interventions that have strong experimental evidence of effectiveness. This allocation is justified by the claim that these interventions are the most co... (Read more)

Good post. I have been following worm wars, the case against randomistas, etc. At the risk of being blunt(and as someone with personal ties to randomista), I think it seems pretty certain that growth in almost any form is not what EAs should be focusing on in terms of actual research. So I disagree with the claim that the method of growth is a high impact space to evaluate especially when we haven’t settled whether growth in general is high or positive impact. 

The long term effects (and by this I don’t mean if people will be happy ten years after grow... (read more)

Confidence: Likely

A donor-advised fund (DAF) is an investment account that allows donors to take a tax deduction now and give the money to charity later. When you put money into a DAF, you can deduct it just as you would deduct charitable contributions. Then you can direct the DAF on how to invest the money, and choose to donate it whenever you want.

If you want to invest to give later, DAFs have some clear advantages, plus some limitations. Is it better to use a DAF, or to keep your money in an ordinary (taxable) investment account?

According to the assumptions made in this essay:

  • If I want to
... (Read more)
2Jonas Vollmer8hThanks, very helpful. If we set this up well, we might get $100 million in investments, and the value added would be ~1% excess certainty equivalent rate, i.e., a certainty equivalent of $1 million per year. If setting up such a DAF takes a year of labor, maintaining it takes 0.25 FTE, and labor has an opportunity cost of $3 million per year, it would take 3/(1-3*0.25) = 12 years to break even (with a plausible range from two years to 'never'). Over a period of ten years, it would return around 10/(1+10*0.25) = $3 million per person-year (with a plausible range from $500k to $5 million). That seems pretty good, but perhaps slightly less valuable than other things EA Funds could be doing. I'd be keen to hear if you think this seems like a reasonable overall takeaway.
2MichaelDickens3hThis seems really high. You could hire an experienced investment manager for a lot less than that. But the general structure of your analysis seems sound. Another consideration is that you can probably reduce correlation to other altruists' investments (I wrote about this a bit here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/g4oGNGwAoDwyMAJSB/how-much-leverage-should-altruists-use#Donors_can_decrease_correlation] , and I'm currently writing something more detailed). Uncorrelated investments have much higher marginal utility of returns, at least until they become popular enough that they represent a significant percentage of the altruistic portfolio. And leveraging uncorrelated investments looks particularly promising. So you could get more than a 1% excess certainty equivalent return that way.

Thanks, I look forward to your analysis of uncorrelated investments! In particular, I'll be keen to see to what degree they rely on the same assumptions as value/momentum strategies, or if there are opportunities that are independent of that.

1Nathan Young3hHas rethink priorities ever thought of doing a survey of non-EAs? Perhaps paying for a poll? I'd be interested in questions like "What do you think of Effective Altruism? What do you think of Effective Altruists?" Only asking questions of those who are currently here is survivorship bias. Likewise we could try and find people who left and ask why.

We are definitely planning on doing this kind of research, likely sometime in 2021.

1Nathan Young10hThe UK police does. It seems to me if you wanted to avoid a huge scandal you'd want to empower and incentivise an organisation to find small ones.

How much do non-nuclear countries exert control over nuclear weapons? How would the US-Soviet arms race have been different if, say, African countries were all as rich as the US, and could lobby against reckless accumulation of nuclear weapons?

Given the plausibility of longtermism, many effective altruists are interested in identifying tractable ways to shape the very long-term future for the better. One neglected and potentially tractable way to vastly improve the value of the long-term future is by identifying future-beneficial political and economic institutions and policies and acting to increase the probability of their implementation at various levels of political organization. Will MacAskill recently advocated age-weighted voting as one such strategy for better-aligning the interests of governments with the interests of futur... (Read more)

Hey, thanks for writing this. There are some age/time-related reforms that you have mentioned: Longer Election Cycles, Legislative Youth Quotas, Age Limits on Electorate, Age-weighted Voting, Enfranchisement of the Young, and Guardianship Voting for the Very Young.

These reforms would only promote "short longtermism" (i.e. next 50-100 years) while what we actually care about is "cosmic longtermism" (i.e. next ~1 billion years). What are your thoughts on this?

In this post, I introduce an ongoing research project with the aim of bringing effective giving to a wider range of altruists. The strategy combines 1) donation bundling (splitting between your favorite and an effective charity), 2) asymmetrical matching (offering higher matching rates for allocating more to an effective charity), 3) a form of donor coordination (to provide the matching). After conducting a series of experiments, we will test our strategy in the real-world using our new website GivingMultiplier.org. This project is a collaboration with Prof Joshua Greene and is supported by an... (Read more)

Really enjoyed how intuitive the website is! Particularly how the matching is super clear at the end. Very excited to see the results as well. Thank you for all your work.

8alexrjl7hThis is a great idea and I'm excited to see the results!
5shaybenmoshe11hI just wanted to say that I really like your idea, and at least at the intuitive level it sounds like it could work. Looking forward to the assessment of real-world usage! Also, the website itself looks great, and very easy to use.

I have an interest in exploring neglected and "strange" opportunities for growth in developing settings. This one is the most recent one occupying my mind, I would appreciate a comment about which one of the "possible interventions" seems more interesting / impactful.

Background

Access to Mobile Money might have direct implications in poverty reduction. Because most of the developing world is not banked, mobile money is reaching many households as the first opportunity to obtain all the benefits of traditional finance, with almost no entry level costs. So whatever benefits a household gets from ... (Read more)

Why was this comment downvoted? 

1MarcSerna11hThese are my most important takes: 1) Informed, low cost advocacy to improve Mobile Money services for the poor and extreme poor might be impactful. This is something my organisation can explore in Cameroon. 2)Most people who don't have an account, in environments where Mobile Money is available, don't need it or don´t feel they need it. Could it be because they are in fact too poor for it? If this is the case it could be a useful indicator for targeting in cash transfer and humanitarian programs. 3) Lastly, supporting agents to become agents might be the most promising, I got the same feedback from a fellow development worker. However, I was thinking of a traditional development project, we map out places, find poor people, help them set up Mobile Money booths and give them capital to start, while Brian's reply seems to be about a profit-making venture acting as a sort of middle men facilitating the process. Which approach is more interesting?

Four years ago on 18 November 2016 I posted a piece called President Trump as a Global Catastrophic Risk in which I argued:

“Because of his character, his stated policies, and uncertainty about what he will do as President, Trump likely increases the risk of a global catastrophe. He likely increases two general risks, or drivers of risk: increased international tension and a rise of authoritarianism. He also likely increases four specific risks: climate change, nuclear war, pandemics and risks from emerging technologies.”

Four long years later, in this post I review some of the claims in that pi... (Read more)

Thanks Pablo, yes its my view too that Trump was miscalibrated and showed poor decision-making on Ebola and COVID-19, because of his populism and disregard for science and international cooperation.

1HaydnBelfield4hThanks Stefan, yes this is my view too: "default view would be that it says little about global trends in levels of authoritarianism". I simply gave a few illustrative examples to underline the wider statistical point, and highlight a few causal mechanisms (e.g. demonstration effect, Bannon's transnational campaigning).
3HaydnBelfield4hHi Dale, Thanks for reading and responding. I certainly tried to review the ways Trump had been better than the worst case scenario: e.g. on nuclear use or bioweapons. Let me respond to a few points you raised (though I think we might continue to disagree!) Authoritarianism and pandemic response - I'll comment on Pablo and Stefan's comments. However just on social progress, my point was just 'one of the reasons authoritarianism around the world is bad is it limits social progress' - I didn't make a prediction about how social progress would fare under Trump. Nuclear use and bioweapons - as I say in the post, there haven't been bioweapons development (that we know of) or nuclear use. However, I don't think its accurate to say this is a 'worry that didn't happen'. My point throughout this post and the last one was that Trump will/has raised risk. An increase from a 10% to a 20% chance is a big deal if what we're talking about is a catastrophe, and that an event did not occur does not show that this risk did not increase. On nuclear proliferation, you said "I am not aware of any of these countries acquiring any nuclear weapons, or even making significant progress", but as I said in this post, North Korea has advanced their nuclear capabilities and Iran resumed uranium enrichment after Trump pulled out of the Iran Deal. Thanks again, Haydn

I also posted this challenge on LessWrong; but you might not want to click over there if you want to avoid spoilers/anchoring/etc.

How can we sustainably engender good in the world? Sometimes it helps to take an outside view, rather than being anchored in the specifics of your situation. One thought experiment I use for this is: what could I do with a time machine? To avoid crazy time-travel shenanigans (which are probably optimal if you really have a time machine), pretend your time machine is single-use-only. You can take a one-way trip to any time-period (possibly with some friends) and try ... (Read more)

Late Edit: This post received way more attention than I expected. For important context, please see David Moss's first comment, especially his helpful visualization. "One thing worth bearing in mind is that these are very small proportions of the responses overall..." I am ultimately talking about small groups of people within the total number of survey respondents, and although I think my claims are true, I believe they are trivially so; I created this post largely for fun and practice, not for making important claims.

Note to EA Forum users: Please pardon the introductory content; this post i... (Read more)

Hmm, do you maybe mean "based on a real effect" when you say significant? Because we already now that 10 of the 55 tests came out significant, so I don't understand why we would want to calculate the probability of these results being significant. I was calculating the probability of seeing the 10 significant differences that we saw, assuming all the differences we observed are not based on real effects but on random variation, or basically 

p(observing differences in the comparisons that are so high that they the t-test with a 5% threshold says 'signi... (read more)

Animal Charity Evaluators is currently running a donation drive for ACE Movement Grants, a fund that aims to support making the movement as a whole more effective. An anonymous donor is matching all donations up to $300k through Nov 9. (This is a non-illusory match per ACE’s marketing policy.)

ACE’s Movement Grants fund exists because the resilience of our credence in which interventions are most effective in animal advocacy is relatively low. While we still believe that our Recommended Charity Fund is likely to be the most effective way to help animals, when the resilience of that belief is lo... (Read more)

I figured I'd write this to articulate a concern, or really more of a vague suspicion, that makes me nervous whenever I read anything about Wild Animal Suffering. This is going to seem like I'm being really uncharitable, but I'll say it anyway in case other people feel similarly.

Whenever anyone talks about how we should look into this, because wild animals suffer a lot, I have this nagging feeling that they're going to do rigorous research for a few decades, then conclude that the majority of animals on Earth would be better off dead. At this point they'll presumably recommend that we start pu... (Read more)

7Max_Daniel18hSome of Oscar Horta's papers also mostly predate EA discourse on wild animals, e.g. his 2010 Debunking the idyllic view of natural processes [https://revistas.usc.gal/index.php/telos/article/download/284/250]. And even earlier, in 2003, there was Tyler Cowen's Policing nature [https://philpapers.org/rec/COWPN]. Matheny and Chan's (2005) [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10806-005-1805-x] attempted rebuttal of the 'logic of the larder' objection to veg*ism also is based on impacts on wild animals, though if I remember correctly they're mostly using an unexamined premise that their lives are usually worth living in an argument about human diets rather than discussing wild animal welfare in any detail. There probably are other classics I don't remember off the top of my head. I'm sure Brian Tomasik or one of the orgs working on wild animal welfare has a bibliography somewhere.

Pablo Stafforini has a great bibliography of articles on wild animal welfare that includes some earlier work coming from outside the EA space.

24abrahamrowe20hOne thing that is easy to forget is that we are already dramatically intervening in natural ecosystems without paying attention to the impact on animals. E.g. any city, road, mine, etc. is a pretty massive intervention. Or just using any conventionally grown foods probably impacts tons of insects via pesticides. Or contributing to climate change. At a minimum, ensuring those things are done in a way that is kinder way for animals seems like a minimal goal that anyone could be on board with (assuming it is an effective use of charitable money, etc.). I do also think that most things like you describe are already broadly done without animal welfare in mind. For example, we could probably come up with less harmful deer population management strategies than hunting, and we've already attempted to wipe out species (e.g. screwworms, probably mosquitos at some point in the future).

1- The Vegan Value Asymmetry

[this post argues that due to the titular vegan value asymmetry, buying plant-based food is a morally negative act which leads to animal suffering (in expectation). This is not, however, a counter-argument to the moral correctness of being vegan]

Regardless of our individual values, it is quite normal to think of a moral act as a good one, and an immoral act as a bad one. By good I mean that it is better than morally neutral, and by bad I mean it is worse. [1]

However, there are many places where this binary comes apart. One is when we are acting on vegan principles. ... (Read more)

But in order to have net positive lives, we need to do something more than follow consumer-choice based principles.

I agree. Veganism is (for most vegans, I believe) mostly about reducing the harm you inflict on the world. It's clear you can't ever get to 0. Even if your life is net positive, somewhere along the way you always harm somebody or some being. And while veganism itself certainly has this asymmetry you refer to, it seems a lot of vegans take steps beyond that in the more positive direction, such as

  • being effective altruists and in that way trying
... (read more)
2AaronBoddy1dHow bad is it to exploit bees? I agree that taking action to improve the welfare of farmed bees is positive. But with other farmed animals such as chickens/pigs/cows, a significant goal to aim for is to ultimately bring fewer of those animals into existence in order to reduce overall suffering. But is that also the case for bee farming? Or do we instead want to increase the number of bees we farm because we need to increase commercial pollination services for a greater good? And if so, even if we weren't to intervene in bee welfare in any way, would we still be aiming to increase the number of farmed bees from a consequentialist point of view? Is it possible to calculate the net utility (positive or negative) from bringing one suffering bee into existence?

I really like how you're using your shortform to ask these small, well-formed, interesting questions!

(I don't have anything useful to say here, I just wanted to give this my 👍.)

Is it possible to calculate the net utility (positive or negative) from bringing one suffering bee into existence?

I doubt it, but if so it would make a great unit of measurement.

Hi all, I'm sorry if this isn't the right place to post. Please redirect me if there's somewhere else this should go.

I'm posting on behalf of my friend, who is an aspiring AI researcher in his early 20's, and is looking to live with likeminded individuals. He currently lives in Southern California, but is open to relocating (preferably USA, especially California).

Please message jeffreypythonclass+ea@gmail.com if you're interested!

Want to advocate for effective giving but don’t know how?

This giving season from December 1 (Giving Tuesday) through to January 1 (New Years Day) we will be running an Effective Giving Advocacy Challenge.

Sign up and we’ll send a small action you can take each day to make a difference this giving season!

If you have suggestions for actions people can take to advocate for effective giving please email them to us at community@givingwhatwecan.org or share them here in the comments.

Wave is a startup building mobile money—a way for people in developing countries to access financial services like savings and money transfer if they can't afford, or live too far away from, traditional banks. Lincoln is co-founder and head of product; Ben is an early engineer and CTO. We've both been part of the EA community since ~2011 (in fact, we met through NYC EA), and work on Wave for EA reasons.

We'll plan to do a big batch of answers on Friday, October 30th, in the afternoon (Eastern time), and will come back for more over the weekend / as long as the thread stays pinned.

About Wave

Wave... (Read more)

If you enjoy the 80,000 Hours Podcast, and want to find more EA content to listen to while on-the-go or at the gym, check out EARadio.

EARadio consists of talks on topics relevant to effective altruists, taken from events like Effective Altruism Global. Much of the content is from recorded online videos, packaged for easy listening on the go!

EARadio was created by Chris Calabro and Patrick Brinich-Langlois. If you have suggestions for materials to add, you can get in contact with them here.

EARadio was originally a .impact project.

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/6mpViG9EbQnKDiMnnoSWFU?si=... (Read more)

Oh, awesome! Thanks for [re]posting.

I'm basically the kind of person you describe: hadn't heard of the project, have been wanting to get through EAG lectures but haven't made the time,  like to listen to podcasts while exercising doing housework etc.

This will be a great addition to my feed :)

 

3vaidehi_agarwalla20hThanks for sharing, I wasn't aware of this! Looks really great :)
4EdoArad1dThanks for sharing it again! There is a lot of great content there :)

Before we had kids, Jeff and I fostered a couple of cats. One had feline AIDS and was very skinny. Despite our frugal grocery budget of the time, I put olive oil on her food, determined to get her healthier. I knew that stray cats were not a top global priority, and that this wasn’t even the best way of helping stray cats, but it was what I wanted to do.

. . . . .

The bike path near where I live has a lot of broken glass on the ground nearby. My family likes to go barefoot in the summer, and a lot of people walk their dogs there. Last summer I started bringing a container when we went out and cl

... (Read more)

Although I agree with the message that fuzzy-feely  altruism can benefit your own well-being and motivation to do high impact altruism, I cringed a bit at the title. Please consider feeding only sterilised stray cats. Thanks ^^'

Otherwise, by feeding a fertile stray cat you contribute to creation of more starving, diseased cats. So even for the fuzzy feely altruism it is important to not just see what you want to see (the one moment of a pleased stray cat you interacted with), but assess relevant (future) consequences to not cause more suffering. ... (read more)

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