The Effective Altruism Newsletter – 14 Dec. 2015 Edition

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Hi everyone,

We hope you’re all happy with the progress EA has made this year! Whatever festive treats you’re looking forward to this month, they’re well deserved.

We have loved keeping you updated with this newsletter and starting in January we’ll be sending it out monthly rather than every two weeks. That way, we hope to create newsletters that contain even more of the best EA content out there. (It’ll also give us a bit more time between editions to act on feedback and improve things.)

Each edition will be sent out on the first Thursday of the month. You’ll receive the January 2016 edition on Jan. 7.

See you then!

The Team
Articles and Community Posts
It’s the holiday season, which means many effective altruists are doing Christmas fundraisers to raise money for top charities and spread the word about them. If you’re interested in asking for donations rather than Christmas presents, click this link.

Speaking of giving, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have announced a huge donation, as you probably have heard. Here, Will MacAskill debunks 5 pieces of criticism that emerged in response.

Ben Todd from 80k released a major research piece arguing that the EA community is more talent-constrained than funding-constrained.

We mentioned this last time but it’s worth repeating: GiveWell recently updated their charity recommendations, just in time for your year-end giving. The Against Malaria Foundation keeps the top spot.
Updates from EA Organizations and Projects


As we highlighted in a special email last week, the 2015 Effective Altruism Survey was released. The results help us understand where we stand on many levels. It only takes a few minutes, so fill it out straight away! The holiday shopping season is also a good time to remind you of Shop for Charity, an affiliate store which lets you do your Amazon shopping while sending a 5% commission to SCI via Charity Science at no additional cost.

80,000 Hours

80k has released an interview about an exciting new organization they helped join the EA community, Founders Pledge. They also launched their winter fundraising round: There’s only £48,000 out of £220,000 remaining, email if you’d like to donate.

Animal Charity Evaluators

Two weeks ago, ACE announced their 2015 charity recommendations. The top charities (Animal EqualityMercy for Animals, and The Humane League) remained the same as last year. ACE exceeded their goal of raising $50K during their matching campaign, which ended on December 8. In total, $61,844 was raised.

Centre for Effective Altruism

CEA has launched their winter fundraising round. So did Effective Altruism Outreach which is part of CEA.

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk 

new center studying artificial intelligence will be established at the University of Cambridge, an effort where CSER was substantially involved in.

Charity Science

Charity Science’s peer-to-peer Christmas fundraisers are in full swing – join now to raise money for effective charities and start conversations about them with your friends and family. For your own gifts to people, they’ve also launched charity gift cards, which let the recipient choose which of three GiveWell charities to direct money to.

Future of Humanity Institute

FHI director Nick Bostrom is one of Foreign Policy’s 100 “Global Thinkers” of 2015.


GiveWell staff members published where they plan to make their personal donations in 2015. GiveWell also discussed on their blog how to encourage friends and family to give to AMF for the holidays.

Giving What We Can

Giving What We Can is holding an online pledging event over December. If you haven’t joined GWWC yet, now is the ideal time to do so! 1,400 members are waiting for you. If you’d like to help out with the event, check out this group. Giving What We Can is alsofundraising for their 2016 budget. So far, they have £193,000 of £495,000 pledged.

Machine Intelligence Research Institute

MIRI is running its annual winter fundraiser through the end of December.

Raising for Effective Giving

REG is aiming to raise funds for several additional full-time staff to expand its activities into daily fantasy sports, professional gaming and finance.

The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save has released their list of recommended charities for 2016, featuring the latest addition of the One Acre Fund. They also have a new 1-minute video, “What Will Your Impact Be.”
Job Postings

Want to work in artificial intelligence research? Check out 80,000 Hours’ new career review, then express interest in entering the field here and 80k will see if they can help you find a position.

Speaking of which, check out the new positions at the Future of Humanity Institute.

The Global Priorities Project is also looking for research interns for next summer.
Go forth and do the most good!

Do tell us how you liked the newsletter and how we can improve further.

See you again on Jan. 7! 

Georgie, Michał, Pascal and Sören

– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team

The Effective Altruism Newsletter is a joint project between the Centre for Effective Altruism, theEffective Altruism Hub and .impact





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A suggestion for Giving What We Can: on their pledge drive page](, the majority of the screen is taken up by a pop-down talking about their fundraising drive, so designed so that it's unclear it's a pop-down and not obvious how to dismiss it. Not only does that make it hard to read the pledge drive page, but it's really confusing for people referred there about their pledge drive - are they asking for pledges, for donations, or what? It just looks like too much of a trivial inconvenience in the way of people reading their request for pledges. I would recommend that the pop-down be disabled at least on that page.

What general EA meta activities do you all think do most good, and how do they compare to each other? Which ones should we as a movement be encouraging and if appropriate funding people to undertake?

Mass media articles about effective charity and the availability of GiveWell recommendations.

Seeding and supporting local groups, like GWWC has been focusing on.

Niche fundraising, like REG did for poker players.

I would agree with Stens1991 about mass media articles and generally broad outreach.

I think we should be looking more into innovative ways to support doing good, for example like this.

I think we should be rewarding more charity entrepreneurship and experimentation of all sorts.

Should people downvote (or upvote) posts or comments purely because they disagree with them? I've heard people argue that they shouldn't, and the text that appears when you other over the upvote/downvote icons suggests as much.

This was recently discussed here, especially here within that. There have been some other discussions of this over the history of the forum which someone might dig up should they have the time and inclination. :)

Two slightly different issues.

1) I agree people shouldn't downvote simply because of disagreements, as hopefully many disputatious posts are useful. I'd imagine peoples patterns of upvotes and downvotes will follow their particular commitments, but I'd prefer this trend resisted rather than embraced.

2) I don't think rules like 'downvoting requires comment' is a good idea. People may have enough time to click on a thumbs-down, but not to write a comment as to why the post/comment wasn't helpful. It is a small community, so we don't have that many votes anyway, and I think getting a greater number is more valuable to allow filtering (which so far there isn't really enough voting to do) than having greater feedback for each adverse vote. There's also second order worries that about second order effects: I doubt all authors will resist the temptation to argue against the reasoning for a downvote when offered, some reasons for downvote may offend, and anonymity has benefits as well a costs (e.g. you don't think a friends post of yours is any good.)

I agree. (And, separately, I upvoted because I thought this was a useful comment.)

However, I'd be interested in hearing weaker variants of norms like 'downvoting requires comment', as the status quo seems to me to involve a little too much downvoting alongside too little useful critical engagement with the content of downvoted posts or comments.

I agree the ideal would include downvoting and helpful feedback. My suspicion is any intervention to raise the threshold of downvoting higher (including milder norms) will primarily just reduce the amount of voting, rather than increase the amount of helpful feedback, and I think vote volume is more important than improved negative feedback.

I think this post was inspired by a couple of others that were downvoted heavily, mostly provided without comment. I was one of the downvoters, and the reasons for my downvoting were ably articulated by other critical comments on the thread - I upvoted those. Were there a norm where I had to write my own comment, I simply wouldn't have bothered, and I imagine any norms which made downvoting any more onerous than clicking the thumbs down button would have also meant I wouldn't have bothered. I think the information provided by readers that were mildly turned off but not motivated enough to explain why is useful information both to the authors, but more importantly to prospective readers themselves.

I'm not an expert on how online communities work, as well as what works and what doesn't in terms of 'peer review' mechanisms like voting. Do many places put a differential threshold of critical versus positive votes like this?

I support this, except I do think that the upvoting and downvoting system, though noisy, is already quite useful.

I've also had guidance from the founder of a successful StackExchange forum that it's often useful to keep meta-discussion separate from actual discussion, so that people can more easily appreciate the content they're looking for, so we should look for cases where we can easily move infrastructure and culture discussions offsite to our Github page.

(cross-posted from FB)

I worry about the problems of downvoting as new people enter the EA forum who are used to downvoting on venues like Reddit or LW, which have much more harsh approaches to downvoting. I'm concerned about setting up good structures for how we are going forward, considering that the EA movement is growing quickly. I'd like to consider a system of focusing on upvoting rather than downvoting - that way, we still get the signal about good posts, but don't have the downsides of downvoting.

I think downvoting as disagreement is terrible.

First, promoting content based on majority agreement is a great way to build an echo chamber. We should promote content which is high-quality (well written, well argumented, thought-provoking, contains novel insights, provides a balanced perspective etc.). Hearing repetitions of what you already believe just amplifies your confirmation bias. I want to learn something new.

Second, downvoting creates a strong negative incentive against posting. Silencing people you disagree with is also a great way to build an echo chamber.

Third, downvoting based on disagreement creates a battle atmosphere. Instead of a platform for rational, well-meaning debate we risk turning into a scuffle between factions with different ideologies.

All in all I think the rules for downvoting posts should be slightly more lax than for downvoting comments. Downvoting a low-quality post is acceptable (but be very cautious before deciding something you disagree with is "low-quality"). Downvoting a comment is only acceptable when the comment is not in good faith (spam, trolling, flaming etc.). I think this is essential to maintain a healthy amicable atmosphere.

I'm curious as a descriptive matter whether people have been downvoting due to disagreement or something else. Why, for example, do so many fundraising announcements get downvotes? I'm not certain we need a must-comment policy, but the mere fact that I don't know what a downvote means certainly impacts its signalling value.

Speaking solely for myself, I've down voted fundraising announcements when I felt people were asking for money inappropriately, without a good, straightforward case for why I shouldn't give to AMF instead (to take the example I currently give to). I try not to down vote solely because I disagree with someone.

My personal take is that we are all in this movement together, and we should give each other feedback about why we downvote, not simply downvote. Otherwise, how will we improve?

But by the same token everybody in this movement has competing priorities and calls on their time. Their feedback might be helpful to you, but why should they be obliged to give it as the price of participating?

Yes, it's definitely a matter of striking the right balance. Well chosen downvotes have value, and losing some of them would be a cost.

Bernadette, I hear you, and that's a good point.

However, without verbal feedback there is a danger of negative dynamics around popularity and politics. For example, I can imagine someone who values winning as opposed to finding the truth creating what are known as "sock puppet" accounts and doing multiple downvoting - or even upvoting.

This is a problem that plagues many forums with an upvote/downvote system, such as Reddit and LessWrong, and we can't be sure it is not already happening here. If we create structures to prevent it, wouldn't we be better off?

I don't think 'we can't know it's not a problem' is a helpful guide to deciding if something needs action. Have you seen any evidence of voting being used by cartels or sock puppets? As you say, it's just as possible for up-votes to be done for nefarious reasons (though I have serious doubts as to whether that's the case) - but requiring comments for up-voting would also be onerous and reduce people's interactions on the forum.

I think the suggested policy would make the forum worse by raising the bar to participation. Greg has explained the problems with it quite articulately above, so I won't recapitulate his comment.

I haven't seen evidence of this, but just because there isn't evidence doesn't mean it's not there :-) I have experience on other forums of this being the case. I also have worries about what would happen as new people enter the EA forum who are used to downvoting on venues like Reddit or LW, which have much more harsh approaches to downvoting. I'm concerned about setting up good structures for how we are going forward, considering that the EA movement is growing quickly. I'd like to consider a system of focusing on upvoting rather than downvoting - that way, we still get the signal about good posts, but don't have the downsides of downvoting.

PS: I also started a Facebook discussion for those who engage more there:

GiveWell staff members published where they plan to make their personal donations in 2015.

Many put their money where GW's mouth is and give to AMF, notably.

I'm going to be in SF/Berkeley from the Dec 26th to Jan 4. If anybody knows of any interesting meetups/events/groups/friendly people worth meeting/checking out, I would be hyper interested. Thanks.

I think this post is incredibly powerful, and a strong reminder for why we must fight on.

"I’ve talked a lot about my bad luck. I have a ’tragic backstory’ tag, after all. I was born in the third world, in a place with incredibly low incomes which fail to be mirrored in particularly low cost of living. As such, people make do with malnutrition, lack of medication, and ever present mosquitoes. There’s just no other way. You live cheap or die – living free was never an option.

I also happen to be transgender. If living in squalor wasn’t enough, try living in squalor while surrounded by hatred. I am queer in a place where politicians talk about the importance of getting rid of people like me, due to the threat we pose to “public morals”. Where, as a member of my school’s debate team, I was forced to argue for why people like me should be barred entry to the country. The head of the team wanted to know why I found the topic upsetting. Of course, I didn’t tell him. I didn’t want to be expelled.

However, despite all that and more, I have a lot of good luck[...] I don’t deserve my luck. I don’t deserve the bad that’s happened to me, but I don’t deserve the good either..."

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