by Buck1 min read13th Sep 202077 comments
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Here's a crazy idea. I haven't run it by any EAIF people yet.

I want to have a program to fund people to write book reviews and post them to the EA Forum or LessWrong. (This idea came out of a conversation with a bunch of people at a retreat; I can’t remember exactly whose idea it was.)

Basic structure:

  • Someone picks a book they want to review.
  • Optionally, they email me asking how on-topic I think the book is (to reduce the probability of not getting the prize later).
  • They write a review, and send it to me.
  • If it’s the kind of review I want, I give them $500 in return for them posting the review to EA Forum or LW with a “This post sponsored by the EAIF” banner at the top. (I’d also love to set up an impact purchase thing but that’s probably too complicated).
  • If I don’t want to give them the money, they can do whatever with the review.

What books are on topic: Anything of interest to people who want to have a massive altruistic impact on the world. More specifically:

  • Things directly related to traditional EA topics
  • Things about the world more generally. Eg macrohistory, how do governments work, The Doomsday Machine, history of science (eg Asimov’s “A Short History of Chemistry”)
  • I think that b
... (read more)

I worry sometimes that EAs aren’t sufficiently interested in learning facts about the world that aren’t directly related to EA stuff.

I share this concern, and I think a culture with more book reviews is a great way to achieve that (I've been happy to see all of Michael Aird's book summaries for that reason).

CEA briefly considered paying for book reviews (I was asked to write this review as a test of that idea). IIRC, the goal at the time was more about getting more engagement from people on the periphery of EA by creating EA-related content they'd find interesting for other reasons. But book reviews as a push toward levelling up more involved people // changing EA culture is a different angle, and one I like a lot.

One suggestion: I'd want the epistemic spot checks, or something similar, to be mandatory. Many interesting books fail the basic test of "is the author routinely saying true things?", and I think a good truth-oriented book review should check for that.

3MichaelA1y
I think that this may make sense / probably makes sense for receiving payment for book reviews. But I think I'd be opposed to discouraging people from just posting book summaries/reviews/notes in general unless they do this. This is because I think it's possible to create useful book notes posts in only ~30 mins of extra time on top of the time one spends reading the book and making Anki cards anyway (assuming someone is making Anki cards as they read, which I'd suggest they do). (That time includes writing key takeaways from memory or adapting them from rough notes, copying the cards into the editor and formatting them, etc.) Given that, I think it's worthwhile for me to make such posts. But even doubling that time might make it no longer worthwhile, given how stretched my time is. Me doing an epistemic spot check would also be useful for me anyway, but I don't think useful enough to justify the time, relative to focusing on my main projects whenever I'm at a computer, listening to books while I do chores etc., and churning out very quick notes posts when I finish. All that said, I think highlighting the idea of doing epistemic spot checks, and highlighting why it's useful, would be good. And Michael2019 and MichaelEarly2020 probably should've done such epistemic spot checks and included them in book notes posts (as at that point I knew less and my time was less stretched), as probably should various other people. And maybe I should still do it now for the books that are especially relevant to my main projects.
7Aaron Gertler1y
Yep, agreed. If someone is creating e.g. an EAIF-funded book review, I want it to feel very "solid", like I can really trust what they're saying and what the author is saying. But I also want Forum users to feel comfortable writing less time-intensive content (like your book notes). That's why we encourage epistemic statuses, have Shortform as an option, etc. (Though it helps if, even for a shorter set of notes, someone can add a note about their process. As an example: "Copying over the most interesting bits and my immediate impressions. I haven't fact-checked anything, looked for other perspectives, etc.")
2MichaelA1y
Yeah, I entirely agree, and your comment makes me realise that, although I make my process fairly obvious in my posts, I should probably in future add almost the exact sentences "I haven't fact-checked anything, looked for other perspectives, etc.", just to make that extra explicit. (I didn't interpret your comment as directed at my posts specifically - I'm just reporting a useful takeaway for me personally.)
3Vaidehi Agarwalla1y
I wonder if there's something in between these two points: * they could check the most important 1-3 claims the author makes. * they could include the kind of evidence and links for all claims that are made so readers can quickly check themselves

Yeah, I really like this. SSC currently already has a book-review contest running on SSC, and maybe LW and the EAF could do something similar? (Probably not a contest, but something that creates a bit of momentum behind the idea of doing this)

4Peter Wildeford1y
This does seem like a good model to try.
7Chris Leong1y
I'd be interested in this. I've been posting book reviews of the books I read to Facebook - mostly for my own benefit. These have mostly been written quickly, but if there was a decent chance of getting $500 I could pick out the most relevant books and relisten to them and then rewrite them.
2MichaelA1y
I haven't read any of those reviews you've posted on FB, but I'd guess you should in any case post them to the Forum! Even if you don't have time for any further editing or polishing. I say this because: * This sort of thing often seems useful in general * People can just ignore them if they're not useful, or not relevant to them * See also [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/zPidF8Gq58z7nubYv/reasons-for-and-against-posting-on-the-ea-forum] Maybe there being a decent chance of you getting $500 for them and/or you relistening and rewriting would be even better - I'm just saying that this simple step of putting them on the Forum already seems net positive anyway. Could be as top-level posts or as shortforms, depending on the length, substantiveness, polish, etc.
5saulius1y
I would also ask these people to optionally write or improve a summary of the book in Wikipedia if it has an Wikipedia article (or should have one). In many cases, it's not only EAs who would do more good if they knew ideas in a given book, especially when it's on a subject like pandemics or global warming rather than topics relevant to non-altruistic work too like management or productivity. When you google a book, Wikipedia is often the first result and so these articles receive a quite lot of traffic (you can see here [https://stats.wikimedia.org/#/en.wikipedia.org/reading/total-page-views/normal%7Cbar%7CAll%7C~total] how much traffic a given article receives).
5jwpieters1y
Perhaps it would be worthwhile to focus on books like those in this [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/KNZLGbGevnjStgzHt/i-scraped-all-public-effective-altruists-goodreads-reading#Most_commonly_planned_to_read_books_that_have_not_been_read_by_anyone_yet] list of "most commonly planned to read books that have not been read by anyone yet"
5Peter Wildeford1y
I've thought about this before and I would also like to see this happen.
3MichaelA1y
Yeah, this seems good to me. I also just think in any case [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/zCJDF6iNSJHnJ6Aq6/a-ranked-list-of-all-ea-relevant-audio-books-i-ve-read#Suggestion__Make_Anki_cards__share_them_as_posts__and_share_key_updates] more people should post their notes, key takeaways, and (if they make them) Anki cards to the Forum, as either top-level posts or shortforms. I think this need only take ~30 mins of extra time on top of the time they spend reading or note-taking or whatever for their own benefit. (But doing what you propose would still add value by incentivising more effortful and even more useful versions of this.) Yeah, I think this is worth emphasising, since: * Those are things existing, non-EA summaries of the books are less likely to provide * Those are things that even another EA reading the same book might not think of * Coming up with key takeaways is an analytical exercise and will often draw on specific other knowledge, intuitions, experiences, etc. the reader has Also, readers of this shortform may find posts tagged effective altruism books [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/tag/effective-altruism-books] interesting.
3Kirsten1y
You can already pay for book reviews - what would make these different?
5Buck1y
That might achieve the "these might be directly useful goal" and "produce interesting content" goals, if the reviewers knew about how to summarize the books from an EA perspective, how to do epistemic spot checks, and so on, which they probably don't. It wouldn't achieve any of the other goals, though.
4Kirsten1y
I wonder if there are better ways to encourage and reward talented writers to look for outside ideas - although I agree book reviews are attractive in their simplicity!
2Kirsten1y
For example:https://jamesclear.com/book-summaries [https://jamesclear.com/book-summaries] https://fourminutebooks.com/book-summaries/ [https://fourminutebooks.com/book-summaries/] https://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/book-summaries/ [https://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/book-summaries/]
3Eli Rose1y
Quick take is this sounds like a pretty good bet, mostly for the indirect effects. You could do it with a 'contest' framing instead of a 'I pay you to produce book reviews' framing; idk whether that's meaningfully better.
2Max_Daniel1y
I don't think it's crazy at all. I think this sounds pretty good.

I’ve recently been thinking about medieval alchemy as a metaphor for longtermist EA.

I think there’s a sense in which it was an extremely reasonable choice to study alchemy. The basic hope of alchemy was that by fiddling around in various ways with substances you had, you’d be able to turn them into other things which had various helpful properties. It would be a really big deal if humans were able to do this.

And it seems a priori pretty reasonable to expect that humanity could get way better at manipulating substances, because there was an established history of people figuring out ways that you could do useful things by fiddling around with substances in weird ways, for example metallurgy or glassmaking, and we have lots of examples of materials having different and useful properties. If you had been particularly forward thinking, you might even have noted that it seems plausible that we’ll eventually be able to do the full range of manipulations of materials that life is able to do.

So I think that alchemists deserve a lot of points for spotting a really big and important consideration about the future. (I actually have no idea if any alchemists were thinking about it this way; th... (read more)

3MaxRa2y
Huh, interesting thoughts, have you looked into the actual motivations behind it more? I'd've guessed that there was little "big if true" thinking in alchemy and mostly hopes for wealth and power. Another thought, I suppose alchemy was more technical than something like magical potion brewing and in that way attracted other kinds of people, making it more proto-scientific? Another similar comparison might be sincere altruistic missionaries that work on finding the "true" interpretation of the bible/koran/..., sharing their progress in understanding it and working on convincing others to save them. Regarding pushing chemnistry being easier than longtermism, I'd have guessed the big reasons why pushing scientific fields is easier are the possibility of repeating experiments and profitability of the knowledge. Are there really longtermists who find it plausible we can only work on x-risk stuff around the hinge? Even patient longtermists seem to want to save resources and I suppose invest in other capacity building. Ah, or do you mean "it's only possible to *directly* work on x-risk stuff", vs. indirectly? It just seemed odd to suggest that everything longtermists have done so far has not affected the probability of eventual x-risk, in the very least it has set in motion the longtermism movement earlier and shaping the culture and thinking style and so forth via institutions like FHI.

Edited to add: I think that I phrased this post misleadingly; I meant to complain mostly about low quality criticism of EA rather than eg criticism of comments. Sorry to be so unclear. I suspect most commenters misunderstood me.

I think that EAs, especially on the EA Forum, are too welcoming to low quality criticism [EDIT: of EA]. I feel like an easy way to get lots of upvotes is to make lots of vague critical comments about how EA isn’t intellectually rigorous enough, or inclusive enough, or whatever. This makes me feel less enthusiastic about engaging with the EA Forum, because it makes me feel like everything I’m saying is being read by a jeering crowd who just want excuses to call me a moron.

I’m not sure how to have a forum where people will listen to criticism open mindedly which doesn’t lead to this bias towards low quality criticism.

1. At an object level, I don't think I've noticed the dynamic particularly strongly on the EA Forum (as opposed to eg. social media). I feel like people are generally pretty positive about each other/the EA project (and if anything are less negative than is perhaps warranted sometimes?). There are occasionally low-quality critical posts (that to some degree reads to me as status plays) that pop up, but they usually get downvoted fairly quickly.

2. At a meta level, I'm not sure how to get around the problem of having a low bar for criticism in general. I think as an individual it's fairly hard to get good feedback without also being accepting of bad feedback, and likely something similar is true of groups as well?

I feel like an easy way to get lots of upvotes is to make lots of vague critical comments about how EA isn’t intellectually rigorous enough, or inclusive enough, or whatever. This makes me feel less enthusiastic about engaging with the EA Forum, because it makes me feel like everything I’m saying is being read by a jeering crowd who just want excuses to call me a moron.

Could you unpack this a bit? Is it the originating poster who makes you feel that there's a jeering crowd, or the people up-voting the OP which makes you feel the jeers?

As counterbalance...

Writing, and sharing your writing, is how you often come to know your own thoughts. I often recognise the kernel of truth someone is getting at before they've articulated it well, both in written posts and verbally. I'd rather encourage someone for getting at something even if it was lacking, and then guide them to do better. I'd especially prefer to do this given I personally know that it's difficult to make time to perfect a post whilst doing a job and other commitments.

This is even more the case when it's on a topic that hasn't been explored much, such as biases in thin... (read more)

I have felt this way as well. I have been a bit unhappy with how many upvotes in my view low quality critiques of mine have gotten (and think I may have fallen prey to a poor incentive structure there). Over the last couple of months I have tried harder to avoid that by having a mental checklist before I post anything but not sure whether I am succeeding. At least I have gotten fewer wildly upvoted comments!

8Thomas Kwa2y
I've upvoted some low quality criticism of EA. Some of this is due to emotional biases or whatever, but a reason I still endorse is that I haven't read strong responses to some obvious criticism. Example: I currently believe that an important reason EA is slightly uninclusive and moderately undiverse is because EA community-building was targeted at people with a lot of power as a necessary strategic move. Rich people, top university students, etc. It feels like it's worked, but I haven't seen a good writeup of the effects of this. I think the same low-quality criticisms keep popping up because there's no quick rebuttal. I wish there were a post of "fallacies about problems with EA" that one could quickly link to.
7agent182y
can you show one actual example of what exactly you mean?

I thought this post was really bad, basically for the reasons described by Rohin in his comment. I think it's pretty sad that that post has positive karma.

I actually strong upvoted that post, because I wanted to see more engagement with the topic, decision-making under deep uncertainty, since that's a major point in my skepticism of strong longtermism. I just reduced my vote to a regular upvote. It's worth noting that Rohin's comment had more karma than the post itself (even before I reduced my vote).

I pretty much agree with your OP. Regarding that post in particular, I am uncertain about whether it's a good or bad post. It's bad in the sense that its author doesn't seem to have a great grasp of longtermism, and the post basically doesn't move the conversation forward at all. It's good in the sense that it's engaging with an important question, and the author clearly put some effort into it. I don't know how to balance these considerations.

I agree that post is low-quality in some sense (which is why I didn't upvote it), but my impression is that its central flaw is being misinformed, in a way that's fairly easy to identify. I'm more worried about criticism where it's not even clear how much I agree with the criticism or where it's socially costly to argue against the criticism because of the way it has been framed.

It also looks like the post got a fair number of downvotes, and that its karma is way lower than for other posts by the same author or on similar topics. So it actually seems to me the karma system is working well in that case.

(Possibly there is an issue where "has a fair number of downvotes" on the EA FOrum corresponds to "has zero karma" in fora with different voting norms/rules, and so the former here appearing too positive if one is more used to fora with the latter norm. Conversely I used to be confused why posts on the Alignment Forum that seemed great to me had more votes than karma score.)

8Denise_Melchin2y
That's what I thought as well. The top critical comment also has more karma than the top level post, which I have always considered to be functionally equivalent to a top level post being below par.
3Max_Daniel2y
I agree with this as stated, though I'm not sure how much overlap there is between the things we consider low-quality criticism. (I can think of at least one example where I was mildly annoyed that something got a lot of upvotes, but it seems awkward to point to publicly.) I'm not so worried about becoming the target of low-quality criticism myself. I'm actually more worried about low-quality criticism crowding out higher-quality criticism. I can definitely think of instances where I wanted to say X but then was like "oh no, if I say X then people will lump this together with some other person saying nearby thing Y in a bad way, so I either need to be extra careful and explain that I'm not saying Y or shouldn't say X after all". I'm overall not super worried because I think the opposite failure mode, i.e. appearing too unwelcoming of criticism, is worse.
2MichaelStJules2y
I've proposed [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/q8xRnuZEnkp9Kq7QJ/official-ea-forum-feedback-survey?commentId=5KiqLtkZDwArscB5n] before that voting shouldn't be anonymous, and that (strong) downvotes should require explanation (either your own comment or a link to someone else's). Maybe strong upvotes should, too? Of course, this is perhaps a bad sign about the EA community as a whole, and fixing forum incentives might hide the issue. How much of this do you think is due to the tone or framing of the criticism rather than just its content (accurate or not)?
I've proposed before that voting shouldn't be anonymous, and that (strong) downvotes should  require explanation (either your own comment or a link to someone else's). Maybe strong upvotes should, too?

It seems this could lead to a lot of comments and very rapid ascending through the meta hierarchy! What if I want to strong downvote your strong downvote explanation?

4MichaelStJules2y
I don't really expect this to happen much, and I'd expect strong downvotes to decay quickly down a thread (which is my impression of what happens now when people do explain voluntarily), unless people are actually just being uncivil. I also don't see why this would be a particularly bad thing. I'd rather people hash out their differences properly and come to a mutual understanding than essentially just call each other's comments very stupid without explanation.
2Lukas_Gloor2y
I thought the same thing recently.

I think it's bad when people who've been around EA for less than a year sign the GWWC pledge. I care a lot about this.

I would prefer groups to strongly discourage new people from signing it.

I can imagine boycotting groups that encouraged signing the GWWC pledge (though I'd probably first want to post about why I feel so strongly about this, and warn them that I was going to do so).

I regret taking the pledge, and the fact that the EA community didn't discourage me from taking it is by far my biggest complaint about how the EA movement has treated me. (EDIT: TBC, I don't think anyone senior in the movement actively encouraged we to do it, but I am annoyed at them for not actively discouraging it.)

(writing this short post now because I don't have time to write the full post right now)

...I don't have time to write the full post right now

I'm eager to read the full post, or any expansion on what makes you think that groups should actively discourage newbies from take the Pledge.

9jwpieters1y
I'm also eager to read it. This would affect the activities of quite a few groups (mine included). I can't currently think of any good reasons why the pledge should be controversial.

Hi Buck,

I’m very sorry to hear that you regret taking The Pledge and feel that the EA community in 2014 should have actively discouraged you from taking it in the first place.

If you believe it’s better for you and the world that you unpledge then you should feel free to do so. I also strongly endorse this statement from the 2017 post that KevinO quoted:

“The spirit of the Pledge is not to stop you from doing more good, and is not to lead you to ruin. If you find that it’s doing either of these things, you should probably break the Pledge.”

I would very much appreciate hearing further details about why you feel as strongly as you do about actively discouraging other people from taking The Pledge and the way this is done circa 2021.

Last year we collaborated with group leaders and CEA groups team to write a new guide to promoting GWWC within local and university groups (comment using this link). In that guide we tried to be pretty clear about the things to be careful of such as proposing that younger adults be encouraged to consider taking a trial pledge first if that is more appropriate for them (while also respecting their agency as adults) – there are many more people taking this opt... (read more)

I'd be pretty interested in you writing this up. I think it could cause some mild changes in the way I treat my salary.

From "Clarifying the Giving What We Can pledge" in 2017 (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/drJP6FPQaMt66LFGj/clarifying-the-giving-what-we-can-pledge#How_permanent_is_the_Pledge__)

"""
How permanent is the Pledge? 

The Pledge is a promise, or oath, to be made seriously and with every expectation of keeping it. But if someone finds that they can no longer keep the Pledge (for instance due to serious unforeseen circumstances), then they can simply contact us, discuss the matter if need be, and cease to be a member. They can of course rejoin later if they renew their commitment.

Some of us find the analogy of marriage a helpful one: you make a promise with firm intent, you make life plans based on it, you structure things so that it’s difficult to back out of, and you commit your future self to doing something even if you don’t feel like it at the time. But at the same time, there’s a chance that things will change so drastically that you will break this tie.

Breaking the Pledge is not something to be done for reasons of convenience, or simply because you think your life would be better if you had more money. But we believe there are two kinds of situations where it’s acceptab... (read more)

4KevinO1y
For what it's worth, I think it makes sense to stop pledging if that would allow you to do more good.

I regret taking the pledge

I feel like you should be able to "unpledge" in that case, and further I don't think you should feel shame or face stigma for this. There's a few reasons I think this:

  • You're working for an EA org. If you think your org is ~as effective as where you'd donate, it doesn't make sense for them to pay you money that you then donate (unless if you felt there was some psychological benefit to this, but clearly you feel the reverse)
  • The community has a LOT of money now. I'm not sure what your salary is, but I'd guess it's lower than optimal given community resources, so you donating money to the community pot is probably the reverse of what I'd want.
  • I don't want the community to be making people feel psychologically worse, and insofar as it is, I want an easy out for them. Therefore, I want people in your situation in general to unpledge and not feel shame or face stigma. My guess is that if you did so, you'd be sending a signal to others that doing so is acceptable. 
  • You signed the pledge under a set of assumptions which appear to no longer hold (eg., about how you'd feel about the pledge years out, how much money the community would have, etc)
  • I'm generally pro
... (read more)

Here is the relevant version of the pledge, from December 2014:

I recognise that I can use part of my income to do a significant amount of good in the developing world. Since I can live well enough on a smaller income, I pledge that for the rest of my life or until the day I retire, I shall give at least ten percent of what I earn to whichever organisations can most effectively use it to help people in developing countries, now and in the years to come. I make this pledge freely, openly, and sincerely.

A large part of the point of the pledge is to bind your future self in case your future self is less altruistic. If you allow people to break it based on how they feel, that would dramatically undermine the purpose of the pledge. It might well be the case that the pledge is bad because it contains implicit empirical premises that might cease to hold - indeed I argued this at the time! - but that doesn't change the fact that someone did in fact make this commitment. If people want to make a weak statement of intent they are always able to do this - they can just say "yeah I will probably donate for as long as I feel like it". But the pledge is significantly different from this, and atte... (read more)

I strongly agree that local groups should encourage people to give for a couple years before taking the GWWC Pledge, and that the Pledge isn't right for everyone (I've been donating 10% since childhood and have never taken the pledge).

When it comes to the 'Further Giving' Pledge, I think it wouldn't be unreasonable to encourage people to get some kind of pre-Pledge counselling or take a pre-Pledge class, to be absolutely certain people have thought through the implications of the commitment they are making .

8edwardhaigh1y
I remember there being some sort of text saying you should try a 1% donation for a few years first to check you're happy making the pledge. Perhaps this issue has been resolved since you joined?

When I was 19, I moved to San Francisco to do a coding bootcamp. I got a bunch better at Ruby programming and also learned a bunch of web technologies (SQL, Rails, JavaScript, etc).

It was a great experience for me, for a bunch of reasons.

  • I got a bunch better at programming and web development.
    • It was a great learning environment for me. We spent basically all day pair programming, which makes it really easy to stay motivated and engaged. And we had homework and readings in the evenings and weekends. I was living in the office at the time, with a bunch of the other students, and it was super easy for me to spend most of my waking hours programming and learning about web development. I think that it was very healthy for me to practice working really long hours in a supportive environment.
    • The basic way the course worked is that every day you’d be given a project with step-by-step instructions, and you’d try to implement the instructions with your partner. I think it was really healthy for me to repeatedly practice the skill of reading the description of a project, then reading the step-by-step breakdown, and then figuring out how to code everything.
    • Because we pair programmed ever
... (read more)
5Aaron Gertler1y
See my comment here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Soutcw6ccs8xxyD7v/buck-s-shortform?commentId=6KPrgdc4vYmkT73w3] , which applies to this Shortform as well; I think it would be a strong top-level post, and I'd be interested to see how other users felt about tech bootcamps they attended.
2Jack R1y
This seems like really good advice, thanks for writing this! Also, I'm compiling a list of CS/ML bootcamps here [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1pBBo28bCNVlKvmrzbSkkl2pQKDf_els-98i-S0Gdu6A/edit?usp=sharing ] (anyone should feel free to add items).
6billzito1y
Some chance it's outdated, but my advice as of 2017 was for people to do one of the top bootcamps as ranked by coursereport: https://www.coursereport.com/ [https://www.coursereport.com/).] I think most bootcamps that aren't a top bootcamp are a much worse experience based on a good amount of anecdotal evidence and some job placement data. I did Hack Reactor in 2016 (as of 2016, App Academy, Hack Reactor, and Full Stack Academy were the best ranked bootcamps, but I think a decent amount has changed since then).
2Jack R1y
Good to know--thanks Bill!
1billzito1y
Of course :)

Doing lots of good vs getting really rich

Here in the EA community, we’re trying to do lots of good. Recently I’ve been thinking about the similarities and differences between a community focused on doing lots of good and a community focused on getting really rich.

I think this is interesting for a few reasons:

  • I found it clarifying to articulate the main differences between how we should behave and how the wealth-seeking community should behave.
  • I think that EAs make mistakes that you can notice by thinking about how the wealth-seeking community would behave, and then thinking about whether there’s a good reason for us behaving differently.

—— Here are some things that I think the wealth-seeking community would do.

  • There are some types of people who should try to get rich by following some obvious career path that’s a good fit for them. For example, if you’re a not-particularly-entrepreneurial person who won math competitions in high school, it seems pretty plausible that you should work as a quant trader. If you think you’d succeed at being a really high-powered lawyer, maybe you should do that.
  • But a lot of people should probably try to become entrepreneurs. In college, they s
... (read more)

Thanks, this is an interesting analogy. 

If too few EAs go into more bespoke roles, then one reason could be risk-aversion. Rightly or wrongly, they may view those paths as more insecure and risky (for them personally; though I expect personal and altruistic risk correlate to a fair degree). If so, then one possibility is that EA funders and institutions/orgs should try to make them less risky or otherwise more appealing (there may already be some such projects).

In recent years, EA has put less emphasis on self-sacrifice, arguing that we can't expect people to live on very little. There may be a parallel to risk - that we can't expect people to take on more risk than they're comfortable with, but instead must make the risky paths more appealing.

4JP Addison1y
I like this chain of reasoning. I’m trying to think of concrete examples, and it seems a bit hard to come up with clear ones, but I think this might just be a function of the bespoke-ness.
6Aaron Gertler1y
I'm commenting on a few Shortforms I think should be top-level posts so that more people see them, they can be tagged, etc. This is one of the clearest cases I've seen; I think the comparison is really interesting, and a lot of people who are promising EA candidates will have "become really rich" as a viable option, such that they'd benefit especially from thinking about this comparisons themselves. Anyway, would you consider making this a top-level post? I don't think the text would need to be edited all — it could be as-is, plus a link to the Shortform comments.
6Ben Pace1y
Something I imagined while reading this was being part of a strangely massive (~1000 person) extended family whose goal was to increase the net wealth of the family. I think it would be natural to join one of the family businesses, it would be natural to make your own startup, and also it would be somewhat natural to provide services for the family that aren't directly about making the money yourself. Helping make connections, find housing, etc.
3capybaralet1y
Reminds me of The House of Saud (although I'm not saying they have this goal, or any shared goal): "The family in total is estimated to comprise some 15,000 members; however, the majority of power, influence and wealth is possessed by a group of about 2,000 of them. Some estimates of the royal family's wealth measure their net worth at $1.4 trillion" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Saud
2Ben_West1y
Thanks for writing this up. At the risk of asking obvious question, I'm interested in why you think entrepreneurship is valuable in EA. One explanation for why entrepreneurship has high financial returns is information asymmetry/adverse selection: it's hard to tell if someone is a good CEO apart from "does their business do well", so they are forced to have their compensation tied closely to business outcomes (instead of something like "does their manager think they are doing a good job"), which have high variance; as a result of this variance and people being risk-averse, expected returns need to be high in order to compensate these entrepreneurs. It's not obvious to me that this information asymmetry exists in EA. E.g. I expect "Buck thinks X is a good group leader" correlates better with "X is a good group leader" than "Buck thinks X will be a successful startup" correlates with "X is a successful startup". It seems like there might be a "market failure" in EA where people can reasonably be known to be doing good work, but are not compensated appropriately for their work, unless they do some weird bespoke thing.

You seem to be wise and thoughtful, but I don't understand the premise of this question or this belief:

One explanation for why entrepreneurship has high financial returns is information asymmetry/adverse selection: it's hard to tell if someone is a good CEO apart from "does their business do well", so they are forced to have their compensation tied closely to business outcomes (instead of something like "does their manager think they are doing a good job"), which have high variance; as a result of this variance and people being risk-averse, expected returns need to be high in order to compensate these entrepreneurs.

It's not obvious to me that this information asymmetry exists in EA. E.g. I expect "Buck thinks X is a good group leader" correlates better with "X is a good group leader" than "Buck thinks X will be a successful startup" correlates with "X is a successful startup".

But the reasoning [that existing orgs are often poor at rewarding/supporting/fostering new (extraordinary) leadership] seems to apply:

For example, GiveWell was a scrappy, somewhat polemical startup, and the work done there ultimately succeeded and created Open Phil and to a large degree, the present EA movemen... (read more)

3Ben_West1y
Thanks! "EA organizations are bad" is a reasonable answer. (In contrast, "for-profit organizations are bad" doesn't seem like reasonable answer for why for-profit entrepreneurship exists, as adverse selection isn't something better organizations can reasonably get around. It seems important to distinguish these, because it tells us how much effort EA organizations should put into supporting entrepreneur-type positions.)
2Jamie_Harris1y
Maybe there's some lesson to be learned. And I do think that EAs should often aspire to be more entrepreneurial. But maybe the main lesson is for the people trying to get really rich, not the other way round. I imagine both communities have their biases. I imagine that lots of people try entrepreneurial schemes for similar reasons to why lots of people buy lottery tickets. And Id guess that this often has to do with scope neglect, excessive self confidence / sense of exceptionalism, and/or desperation.

I know a lot of people through a shared interest in truth-seeking and epistemics. I also know a lot of people through a shared interest in trying to do good in the world.

I think I would have naively expected that the people who care less about the world would be better at having good epistemics. For example, people who care a lot about particular causes might end up getting really mindkilled by politics, or might end up strongly affiliated with groups that have false beliefs as part of their tribal identity.

But I don’t think that this prediction is true: I think that I see a weak positive correlation between how altruistic people are and how good their epistemics seem.

----

I think the main reason for this is that striving for accurate beliefs is unpleasant and unrewarding. In particular, having accurate beliefs involves doing things like trying actively to step outside the current frame you’re using, and looking for ways you might be wrong, and maintaining constant vigilance against disagreeing with people because they’re annoying and stupid.

Altruists often seem to me to do better than people who instrumentally value epistemics; I think this is because valuing epistemics terminally ... (read more)

3EdoArad2y
I tried searching the literature a bit, as I'm sure that there are studies on the relation between rationality and altruistic behavior. The most relevant paper I found (from about 20 minutes of search and reading) is The cognitive basis of social behavior (2015) [The cognitive basis of social behavior]. It seems to agree with your hypothesis. From the abstract: Also relevant is This Review (2016) by Rand [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797616654455?casa_token=HsJV25cFr2EAAAAA%3A1Hl1Y8q7waIsYao5Cv9wVer6wlEFmhS0zvaHXFqX8q_SIBJqXxRLnTloF7OAbKdl2xHYeuMZqzWI1Q] : And This Paper (2016) on Belief in Altruism and Rationality [http://cess.nyu.edu/schotter/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/%E2%80%9CSelfishness-Altruism-and-Rationality-A-Theory-of-Social-Choice%E2%80%9D.pdf] claims that Where belief in altruism is a measure of how much people believe that other people are acting out of care or compassion to others as opposed to self-interest. Note: I think that this might be a delicate subject in EA and it might be useful to be more careful about alienating people. I definitely agree that better epistemics is very important to the EA community and to doing good generally and that the ties to the rationalist community probably played (and plays) a very important role, and in fact I think that it is sometimes useful to think of EA as rationality applied to altruism. However, many amazing altruistic people have a totally different view on what would be good epistemics (nevermind the question of "are they right?"), and many people already involved in the EA community seem to have a negative view of (at least some aspects of) the rationality community, both of which call for a more kind and appreciative conversation. In this shortform post, the most obvious point where I think that this becomes a problem is the example This is supposed to be an example of a case where people are not behaving rationally since that would stop them from having fun. You could have us

[This is an excerpt from a longer post I'm writing]

Suppose someone’s utility function is

U = f(C) + D

Where U is what they’re optimizing, C is their personal consumption, f is their selfish welfare as a function of consumption (log is a classic choice for f), and D is their amount of donations.

Suppose that they have diminishing utility wrt (“with respect to”) consumption (that is, df(C)/dC is strictly monotonically decreasing). Their marginal utility wrt donations is a constant, and their marginal utility wrt consumption is a decreasing function. There has to be some level of consumption where they are indifferent between donating a marginal dollar and consuming it. Below this level of consumption, they’ll prefer consuming dollars to donating them, and so they will always consume them. And above it, they’ll prefer donating dollars to consuming them, and so will always donate them. And this is why the GWWC pledge asks you to input the C such that dF(C)/d(C) is 1, and you pledge to donate everything above it and nothing below it.

This is clearly not what happens. Why? I can think of a few reasons.

  • The above is what you get if the selfish and altruistic parts of you “negotiate” once, befo
... (read more)
3Stefan_Schubert1y
The GWWC pledge is akin to a flat tax, as opposed to a progressive tax - which gives you a higher tax rate when you earn more. I agree that there are some arguments in favour of "progressive donations". One consideration is that extremely high "donation rates" - e.g. donating 100% of your income above a certain amount - may affect incentives to earn more adversely, depending on your motivations. But in a progressive donation rate system with a more moderate maximum donation rate that would probably not be as much of a problem.
2Linch1y
Wait the standard GWWC pledge is a 10% of your income, presumably based on cultural norms like tithing which in themselves might reflect an implicit understanding that (if we assume log utility) a constant fraction of consumption is equally costly to any individual, so made for coordination rather than single-player reasons.
2Buck1y
Yeah but this pledge is kind of weird for an altruist to actually follow, instead of donating more above the 10%. (Unless you think that almost everyone believes that most of the reason for them to do the GWWC pledge is to enforce the norm, and this causes them to donate 10%, which is more than they'd otherwise donate.)
2Linch1y
I thought you were making an empirical claim with the quoted sentence, not a normative claim.
2Buck1y
Ah, fair.

[epistemic status: I'm like 80% sure I'm right here. Will probably post as a main post if no-one points out big holes in this argument, and people seem to think I phrased my points comprehensibly. Feel free to leave comments on the google doc here if that's easier.]

I think a lot of EAs are pretty confused about Shapley values and what they can do for you. In particular Shapley values are basically irrelevant to problems related to coordination between a bunch of people who all have the same values. I want to talk about why. 

So Shapley values are a solution to the following problem. You have a bunch of people who can work on a project together, and the project is going to end up making some total amount of profit, and you have to decide how to split the profit between the people who worked on the project. This is just a negotiation problem. 

One of the classic examples here is: you have a factory owner and a bunch of people who work in the factory. No money is made by this factory unless there's both a factory there and people who can work in the factory, and some total amount of profit is made by selling all the things that came out of the factory. But how should the profi... (read more)

2NunoSempere1y
This seems correct -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This misses some considerations around cost-efficiency/prioritization. If you look at your distorted "Buck values", you come away that Buck is super cost-effective; responsible for a large fraction of the optimal plan using just one salary. If we didn't have a mechanistic understanding of why that was, trying to get more Buck would become an EA cause area. In contrast, if credit was allocated according to Shapley values, we could look at the groups whose Shapley value is the highest, and try to see if they can be scaled. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The section about "purely local" Shapley values might be pointing to something, but I don't quite know what it is, because the example is just Shapley values but missing a term? I don't know. You also say "by symmetry...", and then break that symmetry by saying that one of the parts would have been able to create $6,000 in value and the other $0. Needs a crisper example. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Re: coordination between people who have different values using SVs, I have some stuff here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/3NYDwGvDbhwenpDHb/shapley-values-ii-philantropic-coordination-theory-and-other#Philantropic_Coordination_Theory_] , but looking back the writting seems too corny. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Lastly, to some extent, Shapley values are a reaction to people calculating their impact as their counterfactual impact. This leads to double/triple counting impact for some organizations/opportunities, but not others, which makes comparison between them more tricky. Shapley values solve that by allocating impact such that it sums to the total impact & other nice properties. Then someone like OpenPhilanthropy or some EA fund can come and see

Redwood Research is looking for people to help us find flaws in our injury-detecting model. We'll pay $30/hour for this, for up to 2 hours; after that, if you’ve found interesting stuff, we’ll pay you for more of this work at the same rate. I expect our demand for this to last for maybe a month (though we'll probably need more in future).

If you’re interested, please email adam@rdwrs.com so he can add you to a Slack or Discord channel with other people who are working on this. This might be a fun task for people who like being creative, being tricky, and fi... (read more)

2Nathan Young1y
If you tweet about this I'll tag it with @effective_jobs.