Next week for The 80,000 Hours Podcast I'm interviewing Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) on the topic of what the effective altruism community gets wrong/right about nuclear weapons & security.
What should I ask him?
Note he said this in a recent episode of his show:
By the way we have a second problem that arises which I think the book 'Wizards of Armageddon' helps explain: this is why our field can't get any money.
Because it's extremely hard to explain to people who are not already deep in this field how these deterrence concepts work because they don't get it.
I mean, if you look at any of the work that the EA community does on nuclear risk... It's as misguided as the Strategic Air Command's original, you know, approach to nuclear weapons.
And you would need an entire RAND-size outreach effort... I mean some people have tried to do this. If you look at Peter Scoblic — who I think is fundamentally a member of that community — he wrote a really nice piece responding to some of the not-great effective altruism assessments of nuclear risk in Ukraine.
So I don't want to criticise the entire community.
But I experienced this at a cocktail party. Once I start talking about nuclear weapons and deterrence if they don't do this stuff full time the popular ideas they have about it...
Well first off they might be super bored.
But if they're willing to listen the popular ideas they have about it are so misguided that it becomes impossible to make enough progress in a reasonable time. And that's death when you're asking someone to write you a big cheque. That's much harder than "Hi I want to buy some mosquito nets to reduce malaria deaths".
That's really straightforward. But this... this is really complex.
I think something that is not at all obvious from the outside is that in my estimate, at any given time, there is usually <2 FTE EA researchers who are thinking seriously about nuclear risk strategy from a longtermist angle (not counting advocacy, very junior trainee SERI/CERI researchers, people trying to get into policy position, scattershot work by grantmakers opportunistically evaluating nuclear grants, neartermist work, etc).