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A few weeks ago, Max Dalton stepped down as Executive Director of CEA. Recently, the EV US and UK boards approved my appointment as Interim Managing Director in his stead.

CEA accomplished a lot in 2022, and I’m honored to lead the team in this interim period.

My communication style is more lighthearted than Max’s was; my model is:

  1. People don’t read announcements, and will engage longer if it’s funny.
  2. It seems good to bring humor to the Forum, and generally make EA a more fun place to be.
  3. Also, I would rather just be myself on the Forum. Maybe I will regret this if a journalist quotes me out of context, but I’d rather do the thing that seems right to me than the thing which seems best for (a seeming definition of) PR.

But obviously some people have different opinions, and if you just want to skip to the serious bit you can go here.

For everyone else: the remainder of this post goes over some of our highlights from the past year, as well as some suggestions I have for the future.

Some CEA Highlights by Team

Events Team

The Events Team’s core metric is the number of connections made. More information about this can be found here.

This metric has shown substantial growth, approximately doubling from 2021-2022. The team is to be congratulated for their hard work and success:[1]

However, recent victories won by Shrimp Welfare Project and others have made clear that there is an important audience which is underserved by current EAGs:

 

I am therefore directing the events team to put EAG Bay Area 2024 actually in the San Francisco bay:

 

EAG Bay Area 2024 (artist’s rendition)

Online Team: EA Forum

Engagement with object-level posts (those not about the EA community) has approximately quintupled over the past two years:

 

Although weirdly engagement on posts about the EA community spiked in November and are only now going back down to normal levels:

 

This is baffling because we did not roll out any large features in mid-November. If you have any guesses about what might have occurred here, please let us know.

Groups Team

Our University Group Accelerator Program (UGAP) program has been growing rapidly:

And thousands of people have been through our virtual programs:

However, there is something important about meeting in person. Like many of you, I was disturbed to learn that CEA does not actually own a castle, despite the obvious community building benefits. I am therefore instructing Community Building Grants recipients that at least one third of grant expenditures must be castle-related. This relates to my AI safety strategy, which I hope to publish more about soon.

Executive Office

It’s a great mark for our transparency that almost all of the data[2] in this post can be found publicly. However, many stakeholders do not have access to that webpage.

I am therefore instructing the executive office team to create a dashboard which can be accessed throughout the multiverse via correlated decision-making.

Communications Team

Perhaps surprisingly, recent polling data from Rethink Priorities indicates that most people still don’t know what EA is, those that do are positive towards it as a brand, overall affect scores haven't noticeably changed post FTX collapse, and only a few percent of respondents mentioned FTX when asked about EA open-ended. It seems like these results hold both in the general US population and amongst students at “elite universities”.

Since EA is about blindly following quantitative results, and the quantitative results indicate that the financial fraud scandals don’t affect our public image,... Nope, not even going to joke about that one. (Fraud is, famously, bad.)

Serious Part

My role

In all seriousness: this is a cruxy time for EA and I am honored to lead CEA as we try to navigate it.

My position doesn't have a firm end date but will last until a new Executive Director of CEA starts. Our internal CEA prediction market currently estimates that this will be between 6 months and a year from now (depending on the framing).

I’m sure that people will have questions about the process of finding a long-term ED. The EV US and UK boards have appointed a search committee for this, and I will leave any further communication about this process to them.

Conclusion

Here’s a picture of me at my first EA conference in 2014:

I remember discussing animal welfare with people who said things like “The modern farmed animal welfare movement has existed for 40 years and hasn’t accomplished much. The March for the Animals was arguably the most popular animal rights demonstration in history, and it was in 1990. The movement for vegetarianism might be dying.”

Since then, meat alternatives have entered the mainstream, with Beyond and Impossible products being available at almost every chain restaurant. Chicken Watch lists over 3,000 corporate commitments for chicken welfare, and Metaculus currently predicts a 61% chance that the EU will ban all types of caged housing for egg laying hens in the next 18 months.

What’s more remarkable is that the random 23-year-olds in my small EA group directly contributed to this. There were only ~10 core members, but some of them have gone on to:

  • Work directly on corporate welfare campaigns at Mercy for Animals
  • Work on meat alternatives at Impossible and Rethink Priorities
  • Work for funders like OpenPhil and ACE

EA seems to have gathered an impressive set of talented, mostly young people who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and provided an alternative to traditional templates of doing good. The people in my EA group weren’t “thinking globally and acting locally” — they were engaging with global problems as though they could actually solve them, and, remarkably, they seem to be doing so.

I think CEA should have an executive director who can commit to being in the position for 4+ years, and I don’t currently feel like I could make that commitment. But I’m excited about the EA community, and honored to help support CEA until we can find that long-term ED.

  1. ^

     There being a global pandemic may also have helped

  2. ^

     The forum breakdown by community versus noncommunity still runs too slowly for it to be included in that dashboard

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I think people's tastes may vary but I appreciated the humour in this post, thanks :)

Thanks Habiba!

I appreciate the style and authenticity in this post. Would love to see more of this both from you and on the forum in general!

Thanks Irena! And I also would like to see more of this style from others on the forum :)

Hi Ben, will the EV boards announce who are on the search committee?

The search committee is Claire Zabel, Max Dalton and me. We've recently been appointed, so we're still figuring out our plans and how to communicate about them.

Thanks for that Michelle.

[comment deleted]6mo10

I appreciate you taking this on at a difficult time. 

However, fwiw given the fact that EA is in existential danger, is implicated in one of the largest frauds in history, is in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal involving leading figures in EA, and morale is at an all-time low, I don't think now is the right time for the head of CEA to make loads of gags and memes. This might have been a permissible move when all this wasn't happening (I still think  not) but it is definitely not now. 

[anonymous]6mo7858

Strong disagree.

the fact that EA is in existential danger

Seems kinda strong given this paragraph from Ben: "Perhaps surprisingly, recent polling data from Rethink Priorities indicates that most people still don’t know what EA is, those that do are positive towards it as a brand, overall affect scores haven't noticeably changed post FTX collapse, and only a few percent of respondents mentioned FTX when asked about EA open-ended. It seems like these results hold both in the general US population and amongst students at “elite universities”."

EA...is implicated in one of the largest frauds in history

Seems kinda strong given that it was one EA and two(?) other EAs who went along with it.

is in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal involving leading figures in EA

Seems kinda strong given that I can only think of one leading figure and I'm not even sure I'd call him that.

morale is at an all-time low

Right?? Many of us have been depressed for months, but that's just not a sustainable reaction. EA has reached a size and level of visibility now that is sure to keep it continuously embroiled in various controversies and scandals from now on. We can't just mourn and hang our heads in shame for the rest of our lives.

Obviously official public statements should not make light of fraud or sexual harassment. And it is unfortunate that the main channel EA leaders have for communicating with the rest of the community is a public gold mine for critics and journalists.

But it felt like such a relief to me to see a community leader dare to make a few jokes about other things. I feel like it's giving me some permission to stop despairing, accept that to some extent this is the new normal, and start letting myself do things for fun every now and then. Even dark humour is a valid coping mechanism in many situations, but more broadly I've been wondering recently, "When will EAs be allowed to smile again?" I also wonder how much of the reason CEA needs a new Executive Director in the first place is due to how determined this community has been to keep morale down in recent months.

[Editing for tone:] And if it's optics you're worried about, I don't think summarising EA's current challenges in such an exaggerated way is helping either. (I've seen this kind of mistake a lot recently, e.g. EAs publicly attacking CEA with words like, "I can't believe how you thought buying a castle that the Queen lived in would not be bad for optics??" and then dismissing people who point out that it's not a castle and the Queen didn't live there for being pedantic.)

EA has reached a size and level of visibility now that is sure to keep it continuously embroiled in various controversies and scandals from now on. We can't just mourn and hang our heads in shame for the rest of our lives.

One animal welfare advocate told me something like "You EA's are such babies. There are entire organizations devoted to making animal advocacy look bad, sending "undercover investigators" into organizations to destroy trust, filing frivolous claims and lawsuits to waste time, placing stories in the media which paint us in the worst light possible, etc. Yet EA has a couple of bad months in the press and you all want to give up?"

I found that a helpful reframe.

I really like this frame. I feel like EAs are somewhat too quick to roll over and accept attacks from dishonest bad actors who hate us for whatever unrelated reason.

Yeah I noticed a huge difference between EAs and my politically active right wing friends, for whom disingenuous media articles calling you racist are just an occupational hazard. I think especially a lot of younger EA straight out of college are used to affiliating with moral-language coded condemnation and find being the recipient, or adjacent to the recipient, very disorientating. 

Put it this way, I don't think this post will settle the nerves of the charity commission, who are currently investigating EV. It makes the organisation seem unserious, and the timing seems to me preposterously ill-chosen for reasons that are too obvious to state.

A lot of leading EAs have mentioned being anxious about even mentioning EA too much at the moment

'EA implicated in one of largest frauds ever'. This just seems to me clearly true in the sense that SBF was one of the first and most prominent EAs and he used EA ideas to justify his fraud, was motivated to set up the fraudulent organisations by EA ideas, and one of the organisations involved in the fraud was initially set up, staffed, and funded by EAs.

Ok, including 'at least one' leading figure then. Two if you count jacy Reese. I don't know whether some of those rationalist people count.

CEA needs a new Executive Director not because of the desire to keep morale low in recent months but rather because the last one quit due to having mental health problems from having to deal with the fallout from one of the biggest frauds of all time by one of the most famous EAs in the world and the collapse of the largest EA foundation, the burnout and resignation of multiple leading EAs and an ensuing avalanche of negative media attention. Succession memes are one way to respond to this but not the best way.

I think if your mood or morale is low, there are better ways to cheer yourself up than to look out for memes on the EA Forum

Thanks for the feedback John! If your threat model is "the UK Charity Commission is more likely to censure EV UK because I (someone who doesn't work for EV UK[1]) made a post on a small forum with memes" then I don’t think you are modeling them well, for what that’s worth.

I also just really want to use the Forum to communicate with EAs authentically. I'm not so naïve that I am going to ignore the possibility that some journalist or government agency takes my words out of context, but I really really do not want to be optimizing for that scenario at the expense of everything else.

(My sense is that people feeling like they can only share things on the Forum which pass some sort of PR filter has made it harder for us to actually solve the problems you list. But that's perhaps a bigger discussion.)


 

  1. ^

    I don’t blame a casual observer for mixing up EV US and EV UK, but the charity commission is not a casual observer. More info on our structure can be found here.

I don’t blame a casual observer for mixing up EV US and EV UK, but the charity commission is not a casual observer. More info on our structure can be found here.

FWIW the org chart does not make it clear (to me, admittedly a casual-ish observer) that you do not in fact report to the board of EV UK.

Yes actually this is quite strange to me. How does accountability work here?

  • The CEA UK staff are managed by the CEO of CEA, who is legally part of EV US.
  • Responsibility for the CEA UK staff ultimately falls on the UK Trustees.
  • However, the UK Trustees have no ability to exercise oversight over the CEO, because he is in the US.

It also seems to me that the structure is that Ben reports to Howie (EV UK CEO) and Zach (EV US CEO) who report to their respective boards. And the charity commission would be likely to care about what Ben does because he's running CEA, one of the largest EVF projects?

Yeah, in retrospect I regret including that parenthetical. The important piece was that the Charity Commission doesn't care about memes; me being a UK employee or not isn't that important, and distracted from the more important bit.

Two if you count Jacy Reese

How are we in the "midst of a sexual harassment scandal" involving Jacy? There was something in 2019 but has there been anything more recent?

Yep fair enough

I think if your mood or morale is low, there are better ways to cheer yourself up than to look out for memes on the EA Forum

Especially because there is already a group for that.

enormous strong disagree...it is now the exact time for some lightheartedness...humor toward oneself is a sign of humility and people that can do it usually have a strong empathy ability...now is a time for EA to be humble and seek a new vision for it's path forward. Have you ever been to a funeral so full of pain and grief, and a lighthearted word at the right time is tremendously healing and life giving. Outsider in particular will appreciate it. 

I don't have a problem with jokes but they should be a complement to content in cases like this, not a substitute. 

[anonymous]6mo74

Do you think they're a complement or substitute in this case?

Happy to see this, and of course, best of luck as interim director.

Obvious reminder to play things safe and value your mental health and organization longevity. Seems like CEA has a long history of some difficult times, so staying on the safe side seems good right now. 

Thanks! I appreciate that.

smk
6mo3127

I can’t think of anyone better suited to lead this transition than Ben. Really excited about this. And welcome the change of tone!

I really appreciate that, thanks smk!

[anonymous]6mo150

recent polling data from Rethink Priorities indicates that most people still don’t know what EA is, those that do are positive towards it as a brand, overall affect scores haven't noticeably changed post FTX collapse, and only a few percent of respondents mentioned FTX when asked about EA open-ended. It seems like these results hold both in the general US population and amongst students at “elite universities”.

...Were you joking about this bit too?

If there was a poll, I'd love to read more about it - can anyone share more details? 

(I will defer to RP about sharing more details but want to confirm that it's not a joke.) 

Hi - just wanted to weigh in from Rethink Priorities that these are real results that we gave Ben permission to share. We will be following up with details as soon as we are able, but we're still getting relevant permissions on some stuff!

Congrats Ben, and count me in as another voice in favor of this type of humor on the Forum!

Wonderful Ben! I have been in your exact position before over a struggling organization at the heart of a movement similar to EA - and your post is exactly what is needed. One of the oldest wisdoms known is that humor is the best medicine. EA is full of amazing people, and a few missteps have happened. If a the desire to good in the world sometimes gets a little mixed up with personal ego ambitions, so what? We are all human. The key is to learn and not repeat the mistakes. I'm pretty sure that will be the result. I have tremendous confidence in all the leaders of EA and feel sure they will make wise moves soon. 

It's not quite time to say the crisis is finished, there's still some decisions to be made, some leaders who might relinquich responsibilities. But soon after that it will be time for EA to move on and get out of this difficult time and carry on with being effective at altruism -- probably the most important thing humans can do. 

It's my belief EA needs more art and humanities people at every level, this kind of post and attitude is exactly the thing to make those people feel comfortable and welcome. 

Thanks Jeffrey!

And not only was it highly appropriate it was very funny, I LOL’d more than once. Anybody working with you is very lucky.

I’ve spent my life in very serious pursuits, where passion and morals and ethics are very much in your face all the time and I’ve found the only sustainable way to survive in that environment is with humor and I've seen that widely practiced by many such leaders.

Thanks for the post!
 

Is this total connections at EAGs per year, or is this connections per EAG? 

eg in 2020 there was 1 virtual EAG, followed by one virtual and one in-person EAG in 2021, and 2 EAGs in 2022.

The former. We wrote a bit more about connections from our events here, if you're interested.

The low number of human-shrimp connections may be due to the attendance dip in 2020. Shrimp have understandably a difficult relationship with dips.

This is the kind of comment strong upvotes are for.

Hahahah, awesome!