[ Question ]

What posts you are planning on writing?


James Faville and I think that it would be valuable for people to get feedback on posts they are planning on writing, in particular in getting an idea of what others would be most excited to read.

We think this will accomplish a few things:

1. Encourage people to publish the posts

2. Help them prioritize between post ideas based on community feedback

3. Get directed to useful readings/resources

4. (For everyone) Get a sense of what the community is working on

Edit: If you'd like community feedback on a post, there is an EA Editing and Review facebook group.

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15 Answers

"Examples of good EA hiring practices":

A list of good things I've seen various EA orgs do in their hiring processes (in the process of applying to at least seven of them). Meant as inspiration for other organizations; I'd hope that it would get lots of additional material from commenters who have also applied for EA jobs.

"The EA Doldrums: Drifting for no good reason"

A piece exploring why it took me so long to go from "leader of moderately successful student group" to "actually applying for jobs in EA", and speculating that there may be a lot of other people who aren't aware of how qualified they actually are for direct work (with reference to at least one more anecdotal example of someone who was in the "doldrums" for a while). Includes thoughts on what kinds of prompting might actually get people in these positions to take EA jobs seriously.

(in no particular order)

1. The application of social movement theory to EA group building

a. The tensions between a member-organising movement (grassroots) and a centrally organised (top down) movement (early draft)

b. historical case studies of movement building to learn from (brainstorming - environmental movement)

2. Ideas to improve the presence of EA in developing countries and non-EA Hubs (editing stage)

3. Climate Change and EA

a. A research agenda for EA and climate change (early draft)

b. How to make room for climate change research in the EA movement (editing stage)

4. Career Change Resources in the EA Community Research project (research stage)

"Health and happiness: some open research topics"

This has been 90% complete for >6 months but finishing it has never seemed the top priority. The draft summary is below, and I can share the drafts with interested people, e.g. those looking for a thesis topic.


While studying health economics and working on the 2019 Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report, I accumulated a list of research gaps within these fields. Most are related to the use of subjective wellbeing (SWB) as the measure of utility in the evaluation of health interventions and the quantification of the burden of disease, but many are relevant to cause prioritisation more generally.

This series of posts outlines some of these topics, and discusses ways they could be tackled. Some of them could potentially be addressed by non-profits, but the majority are probably a better fit for academia. In particular, many would be suitable for undergraduate or master's theses in health economics, public health, psychology and maybe straight economics – and some could easily fill up an entire PhD, or even constitute a new research programme.

The topics are divided into three broad themes, each of which receives its own post.

Part 1: Theory

The first part focuses on three fundamental issues that must be addressed before the quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) and the disability-adjusted life-year (DALY) can be derived from SWB measures, which would effectively create a wellbeing-adjusted life-year (WELBY).

Topic 1: Reweighting the QALY and DALY using SWB

Topic 2: Anchoring SWB measures to the QALY/DALY scale

Topic 3: Valuing states 'worse than dead’

Part 2: Application

Assuming the technical and theoretical hurdles can be overcome, this section considers four potential applications of a WELBY-style metric.

Topic 4: Re-estimating the global burden of disease based on SWB

Topic 5: Re-estimating disease control priorities based on SWB

Topic 6: Estimating SWB-based cost-effectiveness thresholds

Topic 7: Comparing human and animal wellbeing

Parts 1 and 2 include a brief assessment of each topic in terms of importance, tractability and neglectedness. I'm pretty sceptical of the ITN framework, especially as applied to solutions rather than problems, and I haven't tried to give numerical scores to each criterion, but I found it useful for highlighting caveats. Overall, I'm fairly confident that these topics are neglected, but I'm not making any great claims about their tractability, importance or overall priority relative to other areas of global health/development, let alone compared to issues in other cause areas. It would take much more time than I have at the moment to make that kind of judgement.

Part 3: Challenges

The final section highlights some additional questions that require answering before the case for a wellbeing approach can be considered proven. These are not discussed in as much detail and no ITN assessment is provided (the Roman numerals reinforce their distinction from the main topics addressed in Parts 1 and 2).

(i) Don’t QALYs and DALYs have to be derived from preferences?

(ii) In any case, shouldn’t we focus on improving preference-based methods?

(iii) Should the priority be reforming the QALY rather than the DALY?

(iv) Are answers to SWB questions really interpersonally comparable?

(v) Which SWB self-report measure is best?

(vi) Whose wellbeing is actually measured by self-reported SWB scales?

(vii) Whose wellbeing should be measured?

(viii) How feasible is it to obtain the required data?

(ix) Are more objective measures of SWB viable yet?

Part 3 also concludes the series by considering the general pros and cons of working on outcome metrics.

I have two drafts saved with only a few links or a couple of paragraphs written:

1. How do we respond to criticism of EA on the forum?

Several commentators on the forum have recently casually expressed theories of how effective altruists respond to criticism of EA on the forum. Some have expressed skepticism of the idea that EAs can respond positively to criticism of EA. I aim to look at several notable comments and posts on the forum over at least the past several months to see how criticism is practically received on the forum.

My tentative theory, without having properly researched this, is that EAs are generally too eager to read and upvote any nicely written criticism by an intelligent person that sounds non-threatening enough. Criticism of this sort, while often praised, is often not deeply engaged with. On the rare occasion that criticism seems threatening enough to EA, there's deeper engagement with the actual arguments, rather than responses mostly trying to signal-boosting the criticism. There's also one instance of a threatening criticism on a particularly political topic that attracted significantly lower quality comments in my opinion.

The posts I've casually collected so far are:

Benjamin Hoffman's Drowning Children are Rare

Jeff Kaufman's There's Lots More To Do

beth's Three Biases That Made Me Believe in AI Risk

Fods12' Effective Altruism is an Ideology, not (just) a Question

EAs for Inclusion's Making discussions in EA groups inclusive

Jessica Taylor's The AI Timelines Scam (maybe?)

Jessica Taylor's The Act of Charity

Benjamin Hoffman's Effective Altruism is Self-recommending

Alexander Guzey's William MacAskill misrepresents much of the evidence underlying his key arguments in "Doing Good Better"

Chris Smith's The Optimizer's Curse & Wrong-Way Reductions

Milan Griffes' Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area (maybe?)

2. Will I be accepted in EA if I'm not prodigiously successful professionally?

The EA community contains a tremendous amount of extremely talented and accomplished people. I worry that unless I also achieve a lot of professional success, other EAs won't particularly respect me, like me, or particularly want to interact with me. While some of this is definitely related to my own issues about social acceptance, I think there's a decent chance that many other people also feel this way. My aim is to explore my feelings and what about EA makes me feel this way, and encourage others to express how they feel about their place in the community as well. At a meta-level, I hope to at least explore how a different, more feelings focused article might fit in this forum. I don't want to give any specific solutions, imply that this is a problem of any particular magnitude, or even imply that this is necessarily a problem on net for EA.

A sequence on moral anti-realism and its implications

I published the first post "What is moral realism?" last year and have about five half-finished drafts stored somewhere, but then I got sidetracked massively. Tentative titles were:

1. What is moral realism? [published]

2. Against irreducible normativity

3. Is there a wager for moral realism?

4. Metaethical fanaticism (dialogue about the strange implications of an infinite "moral realism wager")

5. [Untitled – something about "People aren't born consequentialists; people live their lives in different modes; vocations are not just discovered but also chosen"]

6. Introspection-based moral realism

7. Why I'm a moral anti-realist (sequence summary)

8. Anti-realism is not nihilistic

9. Anti-realism: What changes?

  • Less bullet biting?
  • Treating peer disagreements about values differently
  • Moral uncertainty vs. moral underdetermination

I might find some time later this year to finish more of the posts, but I'm not sure I still want to do the entire sequence. I considered just skipping to posts 7. - 9. because that used to be my original plan, but then the project somehow took on a much larger scale. I'd be curious to what degree there's interest on the following topics:

(a) What are the arguments against (various angles of) moral realism?

(b) What is it that people are even doing when they do moral philosophy?

(c) What do anti-realists think they're doing; why do they care?

(d) Implications for moral reasoning if anti-realism is correct

I included links to my working drafts to help understand the projects better, but please keep in mind that they contain statements that I will change my mind on after further research or contemplation. Also, they are not very tidy.

Year-by-year analysis of corporate campaigns (~50% done, draft)

This is basically an appendix to my cost-effectiveness estimate of corporate cage-free and broiler campaigns. Will contain graphs that will show how many animals were affected by campaigns each year, how cost-effectiveness has changed, and why we shouldn’t overreact to the analysis.

Numbers of animals slaughtered (~40% done, draft)

A collection of estimates of how many animals are kept in captivity for various purposes. E.g., meat, fur, wool, experiments, zoos, fish stocking, silk, etc.

Numbers of wild animals affected by humans in various ways (~30% done, draft)

Another collection of estimates. E.g. how many wild fish we catch, how many animals are killed by domestic cats, how many birds die after colliding with man-made objects, etc.

Surveys about veg*ism in the U.S. (not started)

I previously examined surveys about veganism and vegetarianism in the U.S. here. Results were conflicting. Now I want to conduct my own surveys to try to figure out what’s happening. This SSC post provides a hypothesis about why 2-6% of people claim to be vegetarians in surveys but then >60% of them report eating meat on at least one of two days for which they were asked to fill a dietary recall survey. I want to test it by seeing how many people will claim that they eat a breatharian diet (eat no solids at all). I think that ~3% of people will claim that they do it because they answer questions without reading, or purposefully answer incorrectly, or misunderstand the question. This would explain why surveys that simply ask people “Are you a vegan?” find such unreasonably high percentages. I also want to test other survey designs in a similar way and then make a better survey on the subject.

Trends of vegetarianism and veganism in the UK (not started)

Similar to what I wrote for the U.S. (link) but for the UK. I want to see if there will be similar patterns.

"List of public donation logs":

A list of people who have made their donations public. Meant as inspiration for people who might consider doing the same, or information for people who want more perspective on causes they might consider supporting.

I'm going to list my answers separately for easier upvoting/commentary.

"Effective Altruism 2050: The Grand Story", which explores how people might think about EA in the future, and especially how "credit" might be allocated for whatever we've accomplished.

The thesis of the piece is that most of our current concerns about which kinds of work are high-status or not may fade away over time, to be replaced by a general sense that everyone who did EA-adjacent things was part of the same "story", trying to do their best under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

1. "Survey of arguments for focusing on suffering reduction"
-I'm particularly interested in arguments from and for the nonexistence of positive mental states.

2."The case for studying abroad at Oxford"
-Argue, based on personal experience, that students across the world who are interested in EA should seriously consider studying abroad at Oxford and provide advice on how to make the most of that experience.

3."The case for recruiting for AI safety research in Brazil"
-Lay out the reasons for thinking Brazil is a low hanging fruit for recruiting in AI safety research

PSA: the EA Editing and Review facebook group is intended for this use-case. It has 650 members; feedback on posted drafts is generally good.

Here's some stuff which I may consider writing when I have more time. The posts are currently too low on the priorities list to work on, but if anyone thinks one of these is especially interesting or valuable, I might prioritize it higher, or work on it a little when I need a break from my current main project. For the most part I'm unlikely to prioritize writing in the near future though because I suspect my opinions are going to rapidly change on a lot of these topics soon (or my view on their usefulness / importance / relevance).

1) Where Does EA take root? The characteristics of geographic regions which have unusually high numbers of effective altruists, with a eye towards guessing which areas might be fertile places to attempt more growth. (Priority 4/10, mostly because I mostly already have the data due to working on another thing, but I'm not sure to which growth is a priority)

2) Systemic Change - What does it mean in concrete terms? How would you accomplish it within an EA framework? How might you begin attempting to quantify your impact? Zooming out from the impact analysis side of things a bit to look at the power structures creating the current conditions, and understanding the "replaceabilty" issues for people who work within the system. (priority 3/10, may move up the priorities list later because I anticipate having more data and relevant experience becoming available soon, but I'm ).

3) A (as far as I know novel) thought experiment meant to complicate utilitarianism, which has produced some very divergent responses when I pose it conversation so far. The intention is to call into question what exactly it is that we suppose ought to be maximized. (priority 3/10)

4) How to turn philosophical intuitions about "happiness", "suffering", "preference", 'hedons" and other subjective phenomenological experiences into something which can be understood within a science/math framework, at least for the purposes of making moral decisions. (priority 3/10)

5) Applying information in posts (3) and (4) to make practical decisions about some moral "edge cases". Edge cases include things like: non-human life, computer algorithms, babies and fetuses, coma, dementia, severe brain damage and congenital abnormalities. (priority 3/10)

6) How are human moral and epistemic foundations formed? If you understand the "No Universally Compelling Arguments" set of concepts, this post is basically helping people apply that principle in practical terms referencing real human minds and cultures, integrating various cultural anthropology and post modernist works. (priority 2/10)

"How targeted should donation recommendations be" (sorta)

I've noticed that Givewell targets specific programs (e.g. their recommendation), ACE targets whole organisations, and among far future charities you just kinda get promising-sounding cause areas.

I'm interested in what kind of differences between cause areas lead to this, and also whether anything can be done to make more fine-grained evaluations more desirable in practice.

"My EA Origin Story":

An attempt to answer the question "why did I become part of the EA movement" in excruciating detail. Would examine every factor I can think of, from the circumstances of my birth to movies I liked as a teenager to the specific set of classes I took in my freshman year of college.

The goal: Get other people to think about what really got them into EA -- not just what happened right before the transition, but all the factors that led to their being ready to accept the ideas. I'd hope to see other people write similar stories (maybe in less detail) after reading mine.

An AMA. I honestly don't think I'm a particularly good person to write one, but I think it would be good to have more on here.

I think if you're in an EA job I'd love to see an AMA from you.