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Kaleem
1mo61
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EZ#2

After doing a LOT of reading of Fiqh, and speaking to islamic scholars, it seems that (for the purposes of EA- so ignoring most of the permitted uses of zakat, like freeing slaves, promoting the faith etc), anything other than an org which directs zakat to poor muslims would be religiously dubious and unlikely to be strictly zakat compliant.

This is a pretty big disappointment for me: I went into this research with an expectation that there would be some reputable, sizeable minority of opinions which would support using zakat for things like the public health of a largely but not solely Muslim population, which would at least enable us to try and promote a small number of e.g. GiveWell recommended charities.

I think that this means a couple of things:

  1. thinking about "To Whom?": in terms of interventions, direct cash transfers to the poorest people (which are truly what zakat is meant to be used for) is likely going to be the most cost-effective way to deploy zakat. The most widely appealing way to do this would either be to start a new org which is basically "GiveDirectly to Muslims only", or to get GD to run a dedicated zakat compliant program (like the one they ran in Yemen

... (read more)

Seems to me that the obvious solution here is:

  • GiveDirectly receives some zakat funds and some unrestricted funds
  • Zakat funds are used to pay for payments to Muslims
  • Unrestricted funds are used to pay for overhead and payments to non Muslims.

How do you decide who is Muslim? Probably easiest is a population average, e.g., in Yemen 99.99% are Muslim (according to GD); or you could conduct surveys of targeted populations. Worst case you ask recipients after the fact.

Incidentally this is also the approach used by IRUSA.

Another similar example is when USAID funded GiveDirectly. They are prohibited from spending on alcohol, so GD estimated how much went to alcohol and other donors paid for that portion.

4
Brad West
1mo
EDIT- see my response to Kaleem for a clearer version of what I say here One issue with this is it puts GD in a bind with its unrestricted funds if GD wants to be net nondiscriminatory in its payments. There would be a quantity, X, of Muslim-earmarked funds, such that the entirety of the unrestricted funds going to non-Muslims would have the net effect of the entire pool (earmarked and unrestricted) being disbursed indiscriminately based on need. However, if the earmarked funds are lower than X, then, if GD wants to avoid be net discriminatory against Muslims, then some of the unrestricted funds would benefit Muslims. But this creates a problem for Zakat funders, because their funding the earmarked pool could indirectly benefit non-Muslims if this frees up more of the unrestricted fund to non-Muslims.
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Kaleem
1mo
Hi Brad. Thanks for engaging with this quick take. I've read your comment multiple times and am struggling to understand what it means. I would appreciate if you could try and re-explain the second and third paragraphs of your comment for me.
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Brad West
1mo
Hi Kaleem, Sorry, I wrote my previous response quickly. My response regarded Ian’s proposal that GiveDirectly solve the problem by using Zakat funds to solely benefit Muslims and then using unrestricted funds to benefit non-Muslims (and operating expenses). The problem from the Zakat-funder's perspective is whether or not GiveDirectly would use those earmarked funds to “fung” with its unrestricted funds to benefit non-Muslims.  Let’s assume GiveDirectly has a goal of maximizing welfare with its money transfers. So, without a separate fund earmarked for Muslims, let’s say that there would be funding for a million ideal recipients (determined strictly by need, feasibility of conveying funds, and other strictly utilitarian factors), two hundred thousand of those happening to be Muslims and eight hundred thousand of those happening to be non-Muslims. Let’s modify the hypothetical to say that some of this funding for one hundred thousand of those million ideal recipients is earmarked for Muslims. GiveDirectly could dutifully deploy this funding for these hundred thousand Muslims. With its unrestricted funds for the remaining nine hundred thousand, GiveDirectly can achieve the same disbursement result by transferring to the 100,000 remaining Muslims in its ideal set and transferring to the 800,000 remaining non-Muslims.  From this hypothetical, if I donate an earmarked amount to benefit one thousand Muslims, GiveDirectly can shift its unrestricted fund to benefit 1,000 less Muslims and then it can benefit the next 1,000 people that would most benefit, regardless of religion. Because money is fungible, GiveDirectly can use the earmarked funds to benefit those Muslims it would have helped with unrestricted funds (because some of the ideal recipients on utilitarian grounds will happen to be Muslims) and this will free up other funds to do whatever GiveDirectly finds to be most marginally beneficial (including benefiting non-Muslims). Thus, even giving to a fund earmarke
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Jason
1mo
If a religious donor needs influence over the allocation of other donors' monies in order to make their donation consistent with their religious obligations, that donor really needs to find a religion-specific charity.[1] (From Kaleem's comment in response to this one, it doesn't sound like most zakat donors would be in that camp.) I'd personally characterize a charity that didn't update based on the existence of zakat-restricted funds as using my (non-zakat) donations in a discriminatory manner, contrary to my own religious and ethical beliefs. So for instance, if 10% of the funds are restricted, and the charity would have distributed to 200,000 Muslims and 800,000 non-Muslims absent the existence of restricted funds, the 200K/800K split needs to be maintained for me to continue giving to that charity.[2] If the balance shifted to maintain the counterfactual impact of the zakat donors, this means that the identity of some recipients funded with non-zakat funds has changed (and we already established in the hypo that giving to the 800,000th non-Muslim would do more good than giving to the 200,001th Muslim on the list). Thus, I don't think it would be possible for the same organization to satisfy both donors who wanted the counterfactual benefit from their restricted donations  to accrue to their religious group and donors like me. I also suspect that my beliefs are fairly common among would-be donors, but can't cite anything for my hunch. Accommodating religious beliefs can be a tricky subject to be sure.    1. ^ There's an exception in at least some cases: if the other donors specifically and knowingly consent to that influence. 2. ^ If 30% of the funds were restricted, a 300K/700K split would be acceptable. In that universe, it is clear that all the non-restricted funds would be going to the beneficiaries for whom it would do the most good without respect to religion.
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Brad West
1mo
I agree with your perspective expressed in the second perspective and further agree that a non-updating charity would be discriminatory and contrary to my values as well. Not sure I agree with your characterization in the first paragraph. If the spirit of the rule regarding Zakat is that Muslims predominantly benefit, it seems reasonable to question whether an action whose value does not predominantly benefit Muslims (due to the reactions of other actors) is in line with that spirit. If the counterfactual of the world in which you have donated is one in which there are 80% less funds to non-Muslims and 20% less funds to Muslims, I can see why one might say your donation might not be Zakat.  *Note I know very little about Islamic law, etc.
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Jason
1mo
I didn't intend for the first paragraph to state a personal opinion on zakat or Islamic law (which I am totally unqualified to offer). It's meant to be more of an up-front conclusion for the rest of the post.  Because there's no way to satisfy people who want the counterfactual benefit to flow predominately to their co-religionists and to satisfy people like me, people in the former camp should give to organizations that are openly designed and advertised to meet their religious needs. If someone like me gives money to the (hypothetical) Society for Effective, Zakat-Compliant Direct Cash Transfers to Muslims in Poverty, I can't much complain of surprise that my money was used in a way inconsistent with my non-discrimination values.
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Brad West
1mo
Yep, I see that you're saying it's unreasonable for Zakat donors to expect their donations not to  influence other funders such that their donations counterfactually predominantly benefit Muslims. I suppose I am just a bit surprised (and, if Kaleem is correct, gladdened) that such donations that may not have the the counterfactual effect of predominantly benefiting Muslims would still qualify as Zakat. 
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Kaleem
1mo
thanks for this - I think I get it now. I think the points relating to the effects on zakat-donors and non-zakat donors are good ones, especially since I hadn't considered the effect on non-zakat donors a huge amount up until now. With regards to Zakat donors: I don't think the majority of muslim donors would find this argument a reason not to donate. The thing they care most about is whether or not the entire amount of zakat they donate is reaching the hands of zakat-eligible recipients. There is a large amount of scholarship around the philosophy of zakat, and group/societal upliftment is the primary non-spiritual goal. So I don't think the idea that there are spillover effects which benefit non-muslims would be an issue for most donors, since there is a general expectation that people who are not eligible recipients (e.g. Muslims who aren't poor) will experience positive effects too. With regards to maximization-oriented non-zakat donors: I'm not sure about this. I think in the scenario where GD somehow ignore the (hopefully massive) new restricted pool of funds, then yeah maybe this means that donating to GD stops being an extremely cost-effective thing to do. But I think the group of people who care very much about this either 1) don't donate to GD already, since we seem to have many much more cost-effective options available and 2) would be fine with that because it'd be a result of an influx of donations which are contingent on the new program and are counterfactually significant when thinking about "all the money given to effective causes". But ... It seems unlikely that GD would react that way to this type of influx in restricted funding? Given that the realistic way which this would happen would be that GD set up a new muslim country-specific program (e.g in Bangladesh or Afghanistan), I'd expect unrestricted funds to be used in the same way they're currently being used with respects to the various programs they already run? Maybe I'm still missing some
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Brad West
1mo
I think that Givedirectly, where it has free hands, will try to direct cash to where it can do the most good. If many of the world's poorest are being served by the Zakat program, this will probably affect choices to some extent at a macro or micro level. For instance, perhaps counterfactually to the Zakat-funded Bangladeshi program, such a program would have been funded with unrestricted funds (such unrestricted funds then being able to go elsewhere). But I have no special insight into Givedirectly, just the general observation that if you earmark funds for anything that would otherwise be covered by unrestricted funds, that simply frees up those funds for the org's marginal priorities. Re Zakat-donors: if they have no issue with their donations functionally benefiting non-Muslims too, that's great. I too would rather it all go under Givedirectly given its strengths.
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Kaleem
1mo
Thanks Ian. I agree with the three bullet points - using unrestricted or dedicated non-zakat donations to cover operating costs is likely the best way to do this. Additionally: 1. Determining who is Muslim is a non-trivial and probably impossible thing to do, which is why I would probably just punt that to whichever external orgs we approach to get the program zakat- certified. They're likely just going to do what they did when they zakat certified GD's Yemen program, which is to look at the national or regional demographic data, as you suggested. This also prevents GD from having to ask recipients if they're muslim or not, which I think would be a bad look for them and probably not be good for their overall trustworthiness amongst donors and non-muslim potential receipts in the future. 2. You can't do the after-the-fact or USAID alcohol approach because zakat has to be paid directly to muslim recipients - it's not got anything to do with whether or not the money is used to pay for halaal/haraam things.
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Jason
1mo
Thanks for doing this research! To get all of this out on the record (e.g., for future people interested in the topic), I was wondering if you had found anything out about the following questions: 1. Is funding the cash-transfer component of conditional cash transfers to Muslims permissible (e.g., New Incentives)?  2. Is funding the provision of non-cash goods to Muslims permissible (e.g., bednets)? 3. Is funding a portion of a cash-transfer program permissible under a statistical theory -- e.g., if 70% of the target beneficiary population is Muslim, and other donors have earmarked funds for non-Muslims, is it permissible to give zakat to meet (e.g.) 60% of the costs of all transfers under the theory that the rest are being paid from non-zakat funds? Of course, I know there is no single authoritative interpreter who can answer these questions for all Muslims. I also know that issues may arise insofar as paying administrative expenses.
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Kaleem
1mo
Hi - good questions, and things I've been trying hard to find out. 1. I think most scholars would say this is dubious but maybe acceptable depending on what the context is. I've come across mixed reactions when I've explained NI's model 2. Its unideal and pretty uncommon - the vast majority of zakat is cash, and in rare cases its emergency supplies like food, water, and medical supplies in disaster regions. 3. I haven't asked this question specifically to anybody (because I hadn't really considered it as an option) but my intuition from all the other discussions about recipient eligibility would lead me to think that this would generally not be certified as zakat-compliant by a mainstream org.
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Lorenzo Buonanno
1mo
You might be interested in this post about the 2023 GD zakat program, and the comments there: Offer an option to Muslim donors; grow effective giving
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Ian Turner
1mo
I think this is the Yemen program mentioned in the original post?
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Lorenzo Buonanno
1mo
It is! I wanted to link to it and the previous discussion, as I saw some similar points made and some linked resources/groups might be useful (e.g. https://muslimimpactlab.org/ and this Effective Zakat Facebook group)
Kaleem
3mo48
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EZ#1

The world of Zakat is really infuriating/frustrating. There is almost NO accountability/transparency demonstrated by orgs which collect and distribute zakat - they don't seem to feel any obligation to show what they do with what they collect. Correspondingly, nearly every Muslim I've spoken to about zakat/effective zakat has expressed that their number 1 gripe with zakat is the strong suspicion that it's being pocketed or corruptly used by these collection orgs.

Given this, it seems like there's a really big niche in the market to be exploited by an EA-aligned zakat org. My feeling at the moment is that the org should focus on, and emphasise, its ability to be highly accountable and transparent about how it stores and distributes the zakat it collects.

The trick here is finding ways to distribute zakat to eligible recipients in cost-effective ways. Currently, possibly only two of the several dozen 'most effective' charities we endorse as a community would be likely zakat-compliant (New Incentives, and Give Directly), and even then, only one or two of GiveDirectly's programs would qualify.

This is pretty disappointing, because it means that the EA community would probably have to spend quite a lot of money either identifying new highly effective charities which are zakat-compliant, or start new highly-effective zakat complaint orgs from scratch.

Not sure if you know, but GiveDirectly did have a zakat fund last year https://fundraisers.givedirectly.org/campaigns/yemenzakat

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Kaleem
3mo
Yep, thanks !
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Rebecca
3mo
I’m not sure how I feel about this as a pathway, given the requirement that zakat donations only go to other people within the religion. On the one hand, it sounds like any charity that is constrained in this way in terms of recipients but had non-Muslim employees/contractors, would have to be subsidised by non-zakat donations (based on the GiveDirectly post linked in another comment). It also means endorsing a rather narrow moral circle, whereas potentially it might be more impactful to expend resources trying expand that circle than to optimise within it. Otoh, it does cover a whole quarter of humanity, and so potentially a lot of low hanging fruit can be gained without correspondingly slowing moral circle expansion.

I don't think helping people who feel an obligation to give zakat do so in the most effective way possible would constitute "endorsing" the awarding of strong preference to members of one's religion as recipients of charity. It merely recognizes that the donor has already made this precommitment, and we want their donation to be as effective as possible given that precommitment.

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Mo Putera
2mo
Given that annual zakat donations are $550 - $600 billion a year, even steering 1% of that to funding opportunities 0.1x as cost-effective as the 1,000x bar would lead to impact comparable to Open Philanthropy's entire GHD funding, so starting a new zakat-compliant effective giving org (e.g. inspired by these orgs) seems straightforwardly good to do?
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Kaleem
2mo
Yeah on the face of it, this simple case is extremely appealing. As you do more work looking at the specifics, it becomes more evident that there are a number of pretty significant hurdles
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Yarrow Bouchard
3mo
What are the criteria for zakat compliance?
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Larks
3mo
Some previous discussion here. 
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Kaleem
1mo
Yarrow, there is a MASSIVE amount of writing on this topic - there is quite a lot of agreement but also (like many things in Islam) large points of disagreement. I think for the purposes of EA/effective giving, in the simplest form: 1. Zakat is a wealth-tax levied against Muslims above a certain wealth level and given to a small prescribed group of eligible recipients. Strictly, zakat has to be in the form of the transfer of ownership of cash or commodities. 2. In the theology there are 8 permissible groups, only one of which I think we'd be able to target for EA purposes - the (Muslim) poor and needy. So any program we'd try and get to be zakat-certified would be checked that the recipients are muslim and are poor and a couple of other things. They'd also want to make sure that the funds are disbursed within one lunar year of collection. 3. Zakat has to be held in a non-interest-barring account, and shouldn't be intermingled with non-Zakat funds. Zakat also can't be used to cover transaction or operational fees. Let me know if you have any other more specific points of enquiry?
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Vaidehi Agarwalla
3mo
I'd love to know more about what the people you've spoken to have said - e.g. what kinds of accountability or transparency are they looking for?

FAW#2.

An interesting potentially high-impact intervention: banning dog meat production/trade in Indonesia.

I was surprised to find out that Indonesia produces/consumes ~1M dogs per year, given that it's ~89% Muslim, and dogs are absolutely not permissible to consume in Islam. For context, very quick googling and estimating leads me to believe that the number of dogs killed per year in Indonesia is ~half the number of cows consumed in Indonesia per year (nowhere near the ~700M chickens per year though).

I'd assume it'd be WAY easier to help push through a dog meat ban in Indonesia than it would be to get people to eat less chicken or beef? I know there are already quite a few orgs working for dog meat bans across all of Asia, and (at least one) working in some capacity towards a ban in Indonesia (which OP has mad a small grant to, but I don't think it was specifically for this issue). This could be a very cost effective opportunity in terms of $/animal saved, given that I assume there'd be quite a lot of domestic and international support.

If dog meat is banned, they might just switch to chicken meat, which might be worse for animal welfare. Or beef, which would be better.

I've been doing judging for the African EA forum post competition, and its been really irritating/sad to see how uncharitable (and keen to be harsh) more experienced EAs have been towards the posts of first-time posters or people who write in a non-rationalist way. Come on people....

If you think a post is bad or could easily be improved, just point out how. Don't strong downvote and deride the author?

Could you give examples of the harshness and derision?

 I checked out the post Nick linked to below and while the karma was middling, the one top level comment is quite supportive. I spot checked a few other posts and what I found was mostly extremely supportive, with occasional substantive criticism- e.g. here

When I looked for the negative karma posts I found this one on Malaria, which had one top level comment I'd call constructive criticism and one sharp criticism (which was at -1 karma when I looked).  This post on fraud within GiveDirectly got pushback on issues of fact, but nothing rude or personal.

But I only spot checked and could easily have missed something, and it seems important to get this right, so I'd love to hear what specifically you're reacting to. 

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NickLaing
6mo
Thanks Elizabeth - I think the commenting is OK, its the silent downvoting without cause and explanation that is discouraging. I think substantive criticism is great - that criticism you cited was indeed myself and led to a good discussion, although in retrospect I think it might have been better for me to be a bit less harsh. From Kareem " If you think a post is bad or could easily be improved, just point out how. Don't strong downvote and deride the author?".  I might be missing objectionable content in these articles below, but all of them were downvoted by multiple people I think unnecessarily. - The best example might be the givedirectly post. They raise an important issue of a high profile EA organisation losing almost a million dollars to fraud in Congo, then outline a bunch of ways givedirectly could improve without being harsh on Givedirectly at all really. This issue had not yet been discussed  on the forum. And even though this post was in my area of interest I think I never even saw the post and had the opportunity to comment because it was -10 Karma. I don't see what in the post warrants karma downvoting. - Again here, a reasonable post about autonomous weapons with a number of downvotes - I thought this post had interesting personal reflections and made some insightful points about the benefits of Expats in EA Nairobi, and yet again it has had a number of downvotes and negligible net karma. Why? "Expatriates bridge the gap between local and global viewpoints, ensuring that programs meet both Nairobi's unique needs and the larger EA movement." - On the malaria post, I agree the post has much room for improvement, but I can't see anything objectionable there which warrants downvoting. And this unnecessarily harsh comment  "Blatant submission of ChatGPT's output." is probably true, but could have been phrased better and more kindly. - Our post you point out does now (only after commenting here) does have middling Karma of 36 which is encouraging f

I think silent downvoting is pretty integral to this forum working as it should. I don't think everyone should have to give reasons why they don't like something - that would be exhausting.

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Jason
6mo
I could see an argument for reasons-giving, at least from a checklist, on strong downvotes. Strong downvotes should be uncommon, so the extra few seconds to select a reason shouldn't lead to exhaustion.
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JWS
6mo
At the risk of being downvoted (!) I think I want to push back a bit here (not to say I fully disagree though). Yes, silent downvoting is important to the Forum, but that doesn't mean that there can't be downsides. I think this problem is especially pertinent with top-level posts, since downvotes can't distinguish between "this is bad content/this breaks forum norms" and "this is something I disagree with". I don't think it's fair to say that everyone who downvotes (or upvotes) a post is required to give a comment explaining why (perhaps there's more of a case if someone up or down votes strongly). But it's a bit of a collective action problem, where it'd probably be good if at least someone explained why but no individual voter is obligated to. Another case where silent downvoting might be more problematic is where a comment/post is longer than usual, or dealing with more complex topics, or covering different ideas in one go. If a good faith post/comment like this that gets downvoted, I think the Forum would be served a bit better if there was more discussion about why that perhaps it does usually. That is a subjective viewpoint of mine though.

To clarify- I was asking specifically about derision, not just downvotes. I put those in fairly separate categories, although I'm open to arguments I shouldn't. 

Derision is very rarely the correct choice, especially aimed at well meaning new authors. But I don't think that's true of downvoting- by default it means you wish you hadn't read something and expect that opinion to be shared. Low karma feels bad but is not inherently malicious the way derision is.

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NickLaing
6mo
Nice one Elizabeth When Kareem said "Don't strong downvote and deride the author?" I interpreted that Kareem was considering the downvoting as the derisive action here, which is why I listed those examples, but I could be wrong. As a writer I would rather a comment that explained why the post was bad, than just silent downvoting, but I understand Nathan's point about the effort required to do that. In general I think the bar for downvoting should be high, and I think some of these posts didn't warrant downvoting, but obviously that's subjective and most people here seen to disagree which is fair enough. Also I think more slack should be given authors on their first couple of posts, especially if the content isn't downright objectionable (which I don't think any of these posts are). One of our aims here is to nurture more people into the EA fold, and if someones first or second post is just badly written a bit of grace could be nice, or make the effort to comment and share what the problems are with the post. The potential lost EV for silently downvoting someone's first post into obscurit could be fairly high, if it results in them ceasing EA engagement. I like your reason here for downvoting a post, and think it would be a great rule of thumb to go by. Thinking of both your own reaction and others potential reaction could raise the bar for downvoting a bit. "wish you hadn't read something and expect that opinion to be shared"

I don't think it's fair or accurate to describe downvoting as derisive. I think it's pretty important people get to not value content very much without it being an expression of contempt towards the author. 

One advantage of downvoting over commenting is that it's less work. Another is that it doesn't draw attention to the exact thing you think isn't a good use of people's attention. That's a bigger issue when the post is harmfully wrong rather than just poorly written, but it matters even then. Attention is precious. 

I agree that low karma can feel really bad and drive away new writers who would have become valuable contributors. I'm not sure what to do about it. Blocking downvotes on new posts incentivizes creating a new account whenever you want to say something controversial.

OTOH, we may not need something that heavy weight. Right now the new author symbol isn't prominent, isn't visible at all on many screens, and includes longtime posters who just never accrued much karma.  Maybe making the new user symbol more prominent and asking for a norm of leniency would go pretty far. 

I have a second concern, that if someone is never going to do well on the forum it's... (read more)

Thanks Elizabeth, that's excellent

I think your arguments are strong and I've changed my mind to some extent. I agree with most of your arguments, even though it makes me a bit uncomfortable

I'll try and articulate why -  if these two arguments of yours really hold...

"I have a second concern, that if someone is never going to do well on the forum it's kinder to let them know earlier. But some time to acclimate seems reasonable. 

It seems useful to talk about why I think it's important that downvoting be an option, and not inherently a social attack, so let me do that. Attention is a precious resource, karma is a tool to manage attention, and downvoting is an important part of karma management. There are plenty of people who are wonderful in many aspects of their lives, who do lots of good, and write posts that people don't find useful.  No one is good at everything. Forum karma is supposed to reflect the quality of the post alone, not be a judgment on their overall character or even necessarily the quality of their ideas. "

then realistically we are going to exclude most of the global south, because they simply may not write well enough right now by forum norms/standards... (read more)

I appreciate this a lot.

I feel strongly that letting people bounce off the forum needs to be an option (and that being on the EAF should be one option among many for people- I think we do everyone a disservice by seeing EA as the be all and end all of impacful work and community). But  I also agree that the loss is really sad, potentially anti-impact, and worth trying to fix. Maybe there are ways to onboard people such that it's a good experience for them and they become good.

Off the top of my head:

  • have the contest focus on comments or quick takes rather than full posts. People are kinder to those, and it hurts less when they are mean because you put less of yourself into the work. I think the contest probably did participants a disservice but encouraging them to jump straight into big posts.
  • use an interview format or co-author
  • offer intensive editing services
  • spin-off forum. Perhaps in a different language, although if you're trying to include multiple countries it probably is more efficient to use a colonial language rather than a local one. 
  • Have everyone on the same forum website but with mild partitions by language. Not siloed, but filtered by default. As a bonus, this would stop my feed from being flooded with translated articles. 
  • Onboarding guides for how to write to the forum. I think these technically exist already but don't reflect actual voting patterns 
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NickLaing
6mo
Nice one again. I like the quick takes idea, extensive editing idea and the co authoring idea. This competition did actually cover a number of your suggestions, including offering free coaching for those who wanted it, and also encouraged co-written articles. I'm not sure the language suggestions are so important. English is the dominant language of education for the majority of African countries, including I think almost all the origin countries for those entering the contest. With all this discussion about negative aspects I don't want to make our like it's all doom and gloom. A couple of first time posters, for example Natkillu with her amazing reflections on longtermists from an African perspective were both insightful and very well received.
3
Rebecca
6mo
I’d imagine it’s fairly straightforward to use ChatGPT to make a post more seamless for people on the forum to read (by which I mean to include following EA/rat linguistic norms)

I think Vee's posts read to me as very ChatGPT spambot as I have downvoted them in the past for the same issue. A key problem I have with the GiveDirectly post that would make me downvote it if I read it is that it doesn't actually explain anything the linked post doesn't say and if anything just takes the premise/title of the GiveDirectly post that GiveDirectly lost 900,000 and then doesn't do anything to analyse the trade offs of any of their "fixes". Moreover, both the linked post and commenters talk about the trade offs that are reasoned through and weighed up but Vee just doubles down. I don't think I would add anything to their criticisms and so I would just downvote and move on. 

3
NickLaing
6mo
Thanks those are good points. I think I might agree that chat GPT "spamminess" might be a fair enough reason to downvote, even though I wouldn't downvote on that alone myself. I'm not sure we should ever downvote unless we have read things thoroughly though.
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zchuang
6mo
To be clear I didn't downvote it because I didn't read it. I skimmed it and looked for the objectionable parts to steelman what I imagine the downvoter would have downvoted it for. I think the most egregious part of it is not understanding that there are costs to methods of zero fraud (literally means war torn areas get 0 aid and the risk tolerance is too high) and Vee just staunchly reiterates the claim we need to have 0 fraud. 
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NickLaing
6mo
Fair enough and i agree. I'm not saying the post isn't flawed or that I agree with all of it, just that we can be kinder engaging in these situations

I've had a half-finished draft post about how effective altruists shouldn't be so hostile to newcomers to EA from outside the English-speaking world (e.g., primarily the United States and Commonwealth countries). In addition to English not being a first language, especially for younger people or students who don't have as much experience, there are the problems of mastering the technical language for a particular field, as well as the jargon unique to EA. That can be hard for even many native English speakers.

LessWrong and the rationality community are distinct from EA, and even AI safety has grown much bigger than the rationality community. There shouldn't be any default expectation posters on the EA Forum will conform to the communication style of rationalists. If rationalists expect that because they consider their communication norms superior, the least they should do is make more effort to educate or others how to get up to speed, like with style guides, etc.  Some rationalists have done that, though rationalists at large aren't entitled to expect others will do all the work by themselves without help to write just like they do.

4
NickLaing
6mo
This is very true. In general I was disappointed to see the lack off commenting and engagement on the posts. On a personal basis I was especially disappointed after my close Ugandan colleague and I wrote a post which I think was fairly well written, raised a decent point and had a practical solution, yet received very little attention outside of a few connections we already had.
5
Chris Leong
6mo
What's the post?
3
NickLaing
6mo
Thanks Chris - here it is!  https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/GpAngpFmn3HFrBLnt/health-aim-a-mapping-tool-helping-health-providers-reach
4
Yanni Kyriacos
6mo
I wonder if there is something that could be automated on the platform that nudges people to be nicer? Being nice seems underrated still

I just noticed this on LW @Kaleem which I quite like

4
NickLaing
6mo
Love this! I think I saw from the community team that there might be a trial of this coming?
-32
AlanGreenspan
6mo

I started research into farmed animal welfare in Muslim countries and I think this is a useful way to share little updates along the way, and also to track any ideas I come up with so I can refer back to them when I need to compile my findings. Because I'm also working on a grant looking into effective Zakat, and I think I'll end up doing the same thing for that, I'm going to be numbering farmed animal welfare quick takes with FAW# and Effective Zakat quick takes with EZ#.

so.

FAW#1.

Before starting with this project, I was operating under the assumption that there is a huge amount of good to be done in getting muslims to reduce/cease their consumption of meat. I still think that is the case. However, the reason I though this was to do with animal welfare - I thought that the conditions of farmed animals are so bad, and there are plenty of mentions of the importance of the kind treatment of animals throughout the islamic literature (including in the texts pertaining to Halaal slaughter) that there is a clear argument to be made that factory farmed meat should be rejected by muslims.

I have come to realise that there is a MUCH stronger argument against the consumption of meat for muslims, which is that many (if not most) slaughter techniques employed in the industrialised abattoirs are probably not halal compliant.

I'm no longer able to do this/trying to do this

 

 

I'm thinking about organising a couple of talks for Non-EAG-attending students in the Boston area, either the week before or week after EAG. I'm hoping we'd be able to get ~250 students from Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, BU, BC (and all the other unis). I have event planning experience and would be willing to put significant time into making these good.

If you're comming to Boston and have a talk or message you'd be excited to communicate to a bunch of students (likely ranging from no-EA experience to EAG-attendee level experience) please message me !

Looking for non-fiction book recommendations: what've you enjoyed reading recently ?

5
Stephen Clare
3mo
I loved Chris Miller's Chip War. If you're looking for something less directly related to things like AI, I like Siddhartha Mukerjee's books (The Emperor of all Maladies, The Gene), Charles C. Mann's The Wizard and the Prophet, and Andrew Roberts' Napoleon the Great
2
Kaleem
3mo
I’d held off on Chip Wars because I had assumed it’d be too surface level for the average EA who listens to 80k and follows AI progress (e.g. me) but your endorsement definitely has me reconsidering that Thanks !
7
Kaleem
3mo
Finished reading it: I enjoyed it a lot, thanks !
2
Lizka
3mo
+1 to The Emperor of all Maladies
4
Joseph Lemien
3mo
Here are some of the non-fiction books I've enjoyed most this year: * The Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende * The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, by Nina Munk * I Hate the Ivy League: Riffs and Rants on Elite Education, by Malcolm Gladwell (from what I can tell it is several podcast episodes compiled into an audiobook, but it was good) * What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, by Jonathan Balcombe * Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley, by Emily Chang * Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth, by Stuart Ritchie (I think that this one is particularly appropriate for EAs, considering how we are trying to figure out what actually works) * How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question, by Michael Schur (the most lighthearted and playful moral philosophy book I've ever encountered)
2
Kaleem
3mo
Thank you :)
2
Erich_Grunewald
3mo
Some non-fiction books I enjoyed this year were James Gleick's The Information (a sprawling book about information theory, communication, and much else), Wealth and Power by Orville Schell & John Delury (about the intellectual history of modern China), Fawn M. Brodie's No Man Knows My History (about Joseph Smith and the early days of the LDS Church, or Mormonism), and David Stove's The Plato Cult (polemics against Popper, Nozick, idealism, and more). Some of these are obviously rather narrow, and you probably would not enjoy them if you are not at all interested in the subject matters.
2
Kaleem
3mo
Thanks ! :)
1
Per Black
3mo
I'd strongly recommend Nudge, Thinking Fast and Slow, and Noise. They all fall in the same realm for me of being full of both fun psychology and practical applications. 

A productivity tip (kind of).

I procrastinate A LOT. I don't feel bad about it, because I make sure to have a number of important/impactful things going at all times so that when I'm about to procrastinate away from my actual job, I end up doing something useful rather than wasting time or engaging in guilt-ridden leisure.

-4
Evan_Gaensbauer
1y
Downvoted. If you're procrastinating to do EA work, you should be bold enough to encourage your peers to do more of the same.
2
Kaleem
1y
I think you're assuming my actual job isn't also EA work? Otherwise I don't understand what you're saying
3
Evan_Gaensbauer
1y
Yeah, I was assuming your regular job wasn't related to EA and that was one of the less thoughtful comments, so I'm sorry and please pardon my mistake.

I'm looking for a couple of grant-makers to read a draft of a post I'm writing about grant making. Its v short (3 pages). Please DM me if interested

Does anyone have any leads on cost-effectiveness in the climate change space? I think the last SoGive article on this is Sanjay's from 2020 - is there anything newer/better than that post? 

There's an effective environmentalism group focusing on that. Founder's Pledge Climate Fund is another salient point.

Perhaps they should post more here.

4
Lukas Trötzmüller
2y
A new report from Founders Pledge just came out - although it's just an overview article and doesn't go into much depth. https://founderspledge.com/stories/changing-landscape

I'm going to be reading Bill Gates' "How to prevent the next pandemic" in the next 5 days, would anyone else be interested in reading it and working on a "shared thoughts"/collective review/takeaways type post for the forum? Book reviews are cool, but I was thinking about doing something slightly different where a bunch of people write something much shorter and give a bullet pointed list of pros, cons, and main takeaways from the book. Thoughts?

7
Kaleem
2y
Update: I read the book and didn't think it had much information that was particularly insightful or novel. As a public health professional, it was very boring, but I'd be happy for as many people to read it and take it seriously as possible because the information is sensible and likely to be unharmful and helpful in the case of future pandemics. As an EA working on GCBRs, it was very underwhelming and failed to mention many of the things that biosecurity people in the EA space seem to think are vitally important, like next-gen PPE, the NAO, the BWC etc.
3
EdoArad
2y
I think this is a great idea! Not for me at this time, but I'd be interested in reading such a post. Also, if you could use some inspiration for the format, I've done a collaborative note-taking group with a random person on the internet on the book "How to Take Smart Notes": https://roamresearch.com/#/app/roamexample4muli/page/u1M-bz2nZ  We basically agreed to read 1 chapter a week (not always successfully) and write main notes from it, while reading and responding to each other. It was fun and gave us plenty of room to engage with it more deeply. (In the end we had a zoom call for the first time, which was pretty cool). Roam is definitely not needed, and gdoc would work as well, but it was a nice meta gimmick ;)

We're thinking of naming an office "Focal Point" - let me know what you think ! 

I'm working on building a community building-centric EA outreach office in Harvard square, and we still don't have a great name for the office (e.g. Constellation, Lightcone, Trajan House). 

Please Suggest some names that you think would be great (maybe with some explanation) and you might get to name a long-lasting piece of EA community infrastructure ! 

1
niplav
2y
The ones that come to my mind are Momentum, Gravity well, Embedding and Pulsar. But you might want to contact naming what we can for further suggestions (maybe you could even get "Constellation" or "Lightcone" and they get another name!)

I'm working with some EAs who're working on starting an org to work on furthering EA-aligned public-health policy in the MINA region. They're trying to make contacts with people who've done similar work (in other parts of the world). Please message me if you are/know someone who I can connect them with