Quick thoughts on turning percentages back into people
Occasionally, I experiment with different ways to grok probabilities and statistics for myself, starting from the basics. It also involves paying attention to my emotions, and imagining how different explanations would work for different students. (I'm often a mentor/workshop presenter for college students). If your brain is like mine or you like seeing how other people's brains work, this may be of interest.
One trick that has worked well for me is turning %s back into people
Example: I think my Project X can solve a problem for more people than it's currently doing. I have a survey (N=1200) which says I'm currently solving a problem for 1% of the people impacted by Issue X. I think I can definitely make that number go up. Also, I really want that number to go up; 1% seems so paltry.
I might start with:Ok, how likely do I think it is that 1% could go up to 5%, 10%, 20%?
But I think this is the wrong question to start with for me. I want to inform my intuitions about what is likely or probable, but this all feels super hypothetical. I know I'm going to want to say 20%, because I have a bunch of ideas and 20% is still low! The %s here feel too fuzzy to ground me in reality.
Alternative: Turn 1% of 1200 back into 12 people
This is 12 people who say they are positively impacted by Project X.
This helps me remember that no one is a statistic. (A post which may have inspired this idea to begin with). So, yay, 12 people!
But going from 1% to 5% still sounds unambitious and unsatisfying. I like ambitious, tenacious, hopeful goals when it comes to people getting the solutions they're looking for. That's the whole point of the project, after all. Sometimes, I can physically feel the stress over this tension. I want this number to be 100%! I want the problem solved-solved, not kinda-solved.
At this point, maybe I could remind myself or a student that "shoulding at the universe" is a recipe for frustration. I love that concept, and sometimes it works. But often, that's just another way of shoulding at myself. The fact remains that I don't want to be less ambitious about solving problems that I know are real problems for real people.
I try the percents-to-people technique again:
Now this feels different. It's humbling. But it piques my curiosity again instead of my frustration: how would we attempt that? Could we?
To return to percentages, here's one more example. Percentages can also feel daunting instead of unambitious:
That may still be daunting. But it may be easier to make estimates or compare my intuitions about different action plans this way.
If you (or your students) are like me, this is a useful approach. It gets me into the headspace of imagining creative possibilities to solve problem X, while still grounding myself within some concrete parameters rather than losing myself to shoulding.
Webinar tomorrow: exploring solutions journalism [for EA writers]:
If EA journalists and writers are planning to cover EA topics, I think a solutions journalism angle will usually be the most natural fit.
The Solutions Journalism Network "train[s] and connect[s] journalists to cover what’s missing in today’s news: how people are responding to problems."
The Solutions Journalism Network is having a webinar tomorrow: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Qcbxqd-uRvyvy1OnvVaIPg
"Can be character-driven, but focuses in-depth on a response to a problem and how the response works in meaningful detail
This is still a less common media angle. The quality of coverage will clearly still vary a lot depending on one's research, editorial input, etc, but this is a better fit than many other media angles one could take to cover topics of interest to you in EA.
More info on this type of journalism: https://www.solutionsjournalism.org/
Should reducing partisanship be a higher priority cause area (for me)?
I think political polarization in the US produces a whole heap of really bad societal/policy outcomes and makes otherwise good policy outcomes ~impossible. It has always seemed relatively important to me, because when things go wrong in the US, they often have global consequences. I haven't put that many of my actual resources here though because it's a draining cause to work on and didn't feel that tractable. I also suspected myself of motivated reasoning: I get deep joy from inter-group cooperation and am very distressed by inter-group conflict.
Then I read things like the thread below and feel like not paying more attention to this is foolish, like I've gone too far in the other direction and underweighted the importance of this barrier to global coordination. I imagine others have written about similar questions and I would be interested in more thoughts.