I've been thinking about different cause areas recently, especially AI Safety, and one question that pops up is "What level of impact can the average worker have on a scientific field?" (I.e, someone who expects to have 50th percentile productivity in <field> among all the people currently working on it, if they were to specialise in this field.)"
Does EA have a model for this? I am imagining a simplified model could consist of:
- Effect on the field from adding more people. If you take a field with 1,000 people in it and double it, you probably won't get double the impact as you previously had, since you now have more communication required and a lot of the best research is already being worked on by the first 1,000. I'd expect the increased impact to be somewhere between 1 and 2 times the start. (Is this true? Sometimes specialisation actually makes N people more than N times as productive! My intuition tells me this only happens in small groups, but I could be wrong)
- Effect on the field from an average worker. Some people are far more productive than others, and contribute 10-100x (higher?) more to the field. That said, the average worker in these fields still has a contribution to make. If you take the entire field's number of workers as N, the mean impact is 1/N of the entire field, but the median impact is lower than this - so the average worker would contribute (median / mean) / N of the total scientific research.
So, you could then combine these two things - your impact on joining a scientific field as an average performer would be the marginal difference in impact from N to N+1 people, multiplied by the average worker's contribution (median/mean).
My intuition tells me AI Safety is small enough, and the problem major enough, that it's going to be worth going into anyway if I think I can be a middling performer in the area - but it would definitely be nice to have some numbers to check!