I think EA Global should be open access. No admissions process. Whoever wants to go can.
I'm very grateful for the work that everyone does to put together EA Global. I know this would add much more work for them. I know it is easy for me, a person who doesn't do the work now and won't have to do the extra work, to say extra work should be done to make it bigger.
But 1,500 people attended last EAG. Compare this to the 10,000 people at the last American Psychiatric Association conference, or the 13,000 at NeurIPS. EAG isn't small because we haven't discovered large-conference-holding technology. It's small as a design choice. When I talk to people involved, they say they want to project an exclusive atmosphere, or make sure that promising people can find and network with each other.
I think this is a bad tradeoff.
...because it makes people upset
This comment (seen on Kerry Vaughan's Twitter) hit me hard:
A friend describes volunteering at EA Global for several years. Then one year they were told that not only was their help not needed, but they weren't impressive enough to be allowed admission at all. Then later something went wrong and the organizers begged them to come and help after all. I am not sure that they became less committed to EA because of the experience, but based on the look of delight in their eyes when they described rejecting the organizers' plea, it wouldn't surprise me if they did.
Not everyone rejected from EAG feels vengeful. Some people feel miserable. This year I came across the Very Serious Guide To Surviving EAG FOMO:
Part of me worries that, despite its name, it may not really be Very Serious...
...but you can learn a lot about what people are thinking by what they joke about, and I think a lot of EAs are sad because they can't go to EAG.
...because you can't identify promising people.
In early 2020 Kelsey Piper and I gave a talk to an EA student group. Most of the people there were young overachievers who had their entire lives planned out, people working on optimizing which research labs they would intern at in which order throughout their early 20s. They expected us to have useful tips on how to do this.
Meanwhile, in my early 20s, I was making $20,000/year as an intro-level English teacher at a Japanese conglomerate that went bankrupt six months after I joined. In her early 20s, Kelsey was taking leave from college for mental health reasons and babysitting her friends' kid for room and board. If either of us had been in the student group, we would have been the least promising of the lot. And here we were, being asked to advise! I mumbled something about optionality or something, but the real lesson I took away from this is that I don't trust anyone to identify promising people reliably.
...because people will refuse to apply out of scrupulosity.
I do this.
I'm not a very good conference attendee. Faced with the challenge of getting up early on a Saturday to go to San Francisco, I drag my feet and show up an hour late. After a few talks and meetings, I'm exhausted and go home early. I'm unlikely to change my career based on anything anyone says at EA Global, and I don't have any special wisdom that would convince other people to change theirs.
So when I consider applying to EAG, I ask myself whether it's worth taking up a slot that would otherwise go to some bright-eyed college student who has been dreaming of going to EAG for years and is going to consider it the highlight of their life. Then I realize I can't justify bumping that college student, and don't apply.
I used to think I was the only person who felt this way. But a few weeks ago, I brought it up in a group of five people, and two of them said they had also stopped applying to EAG, for similar reasons. I would judge both of them to be very bright and dedicated people, exactly the sort who I think the conference leadership are trying to catch.
In retrospect, "EAs are very scrupulous and sensitive to replaceability arguments" is a predictable failure mode. I think there could be hundreds of people in this category, including some of the people who would benefit most from attending.
...because of Goodhart's Law
If you only accept the most promising people, then you'll only get the people who most legibly conform to your current model of what's promising. But EA is forever searching for "Cause X" and for paradigm-shifting ideas. If you only let people whose work fits the current paradigm to sit at the table, you're guaranteed not to get these.
At the 2017 EAG, I attended some kind of reception dinner with wine or cocktails or something. Seated across the table from me was a man who wasn't drinking and who seemed angry about the whole thing. He turned out to be a recovering alcoholic turned anti-alcohol activist. He knew nobody was going to pass Prohibition II or anything; he just wanted to lessen social pressure to drink and prevent alcohol from being the default option - ie no cocktail hours. He was able to rattle off some pretty impressive studies about the number of QALYs alcohol was costing and why he thought that reducing social expectations of drinking would be an effective intervention. I didn't end up convinced that this beat out bednets or long-termism, but his argument has stuck with me years later and influenced the way I approach social events.
This guy was a working-class recovering alcoholic who didn't fit the "promising mathematically gifted youngster" model - but that is the single conversation I think about most from that weekend, and ever since then I've taken ideas about "class diversity" and "diversity of ideas" much more seriously.
(even though the last thing we need is for one more category of food/drink to get banned from EA conferences)
...because man does not live by networking alone
In the Facebook threads discussing this topic, supporters of the current process have pushed back: EA Global is a networking event. It should be optimized for making the networking go smoothly, which means keeping out the people who don't want to network or don't have anything to network about. People who feel bad about not being invited are making some sort of category error. Just because you don't have much to network about doesn't make you a bad person!
On the other hand, the conference is called "EA Global" and is universally billed as the place where EAs meet one another, learn more about the movement, and have a good time together. Everyone getting urged not to worry because it's just about networking has to spend the weekend watching all their friends say stuff like this:
Some people want to go to EA Global to network. Some people want to learn more about EA and see whether it's right for them. Some people want to update themselves on the state of the movement and learn about the latest ideas and causes. Some people want to throw themselves into the whirlwind and see if serendipity makes anything interesting happen. Some people want to see their friends and party.
All of these people are valid. Even the last group, the people who just want to see friends and party, are valid. EA spends I-don't-even-know-how-many millions of dollars on community-building each year. And here are people who really want to participate in a great EA event, one that could change their lives and re-energize them, basically the community trying to build itself. And we're telling them no?
...because you can have your cake and eat it too.
There ought to be places for elites to hang out with other elites. There ought to be ways for the most promising people to network with each other. I just don't think these have to be all of EA Global.
For example, what if the conference itself was easy to attend, but the networking app was exclusive? People who wanted to network could apply, the 1500 most promising could get access to the app, and they could network with each other, same as they do now. Everyone else could just go to the talks or network among themselves.
Or what if EA Global was easy to attend, but there were other conferences - the Special AI Conference, the Special Global Health Conference - that were more selective? Maybe this would even be more useful, since the Global Health people probably don't gain much from interacting with the AI people, and vice versa.
Some people on Facebook worried that they wanted to offer travel reimbursement to attendees, but couldn't afford to scale things up and give 10,000 travel reimbursement packages. So why not have 10,000 attendees, and they can apply for 1,500 travel reimbursement packages which organizers give based on a combination of need and talent? Why not make ordinary attendees pay a little extra, and subsidize even more travel reimbursements?
I don't know, there are probably other factors I don't know about. Still, it would surprise me if, all things being considered, the EA movement would be worse off by giving thousands of extra really dedicated people the chance to attend their main conference each year.
At the closing ceremony of EA Global 2017, Will MacAskill urged attendees to "keep EA weird"
I don't know if we are living up to that. Some of the people who get accepted are plenty weird. Still, I can't help thinking we are failing to fully execute that vision.
Hi Scott — I work for CEA as the lead on EA Global and wanted to jump in here.
Really appreciate the post — having a larger, more open EA event is something we’ve thought about for a while and are still considering.
I think there are real trade-offs here. An event that’s more appealing to some people is more off-putting to others, and we’re trying to get the best balance we can. We’ve tried different things over the years, which can lead to some confusion (since people remember messaging from years ago) but also gives us some data about what worked well and badly when we’ve tried more open or more exclusive events.
... (read more)
- We’ve asked people’s opinion on this. When we’ve polled our advisors including leaders from various EA organizations, they’ve favored more selective events. In our most recent feedback surveys, we’ve asked attendees whether they think we should have more attendees. For SF 2022, 34% said we should increase the number, 53% said it should stay the same, and 14% said it should be lower. Obviously there’s selection bias here since these are the people who got in, though.
- To your “...because people will refuse to apply out of scrupulosity” point — I want to clarify tha
FWIW I generally agree with Eli's reply here. I think maybe EAG should 2x or 3x in size, but I'd lobby for it to not be fully open.
Thanks for commenting, Eli.
I'm a bit confused by one of your points here. You say: "I want to clarify that this isn’t how our admissions process works, and neither you nor anyone else we accept would be bumping anyone out of a spot". OK, cool.
However, when I received my acceptance email to EAG it included the words "If you find that you can’t make it to the event after all, please let us know so that we can give your spot to another applicant."
That sure sounds like a request that you make when you have a limited number of spots and accepting one person means bumping another.
To be clear, I think it's completely reasonable to have a set number of places - logistics are a thing, and planning an event for an unknown number of people is extremely challenging. I'm just surprised by your statement that it doesn't work that way.
I also want to make a side note that I strongly believe that making EA fun is important. The movement asks people to give away huge amounts of money, reorient their whole careers, and dedicate themselves to changing the world. Those are big asks! It's very easy for people to just not do them!
It's hard to get people to voluntarily do even small, easy things when they feel unappreciated or excluded. I agree that making EAs happy is not and should not be a terminal value but it absolutely should be an instrumental value.
Hi Nathan, thanks for flagging this. What's going on here is just that our comms/email templates were old, confusing, and out of date — I've now amended our acceptance email to remove the implication of capacity limits. It is helpful for people to let us know if they aren't coming (for example, so that we can get accurate numbers for catering), but it's not the case that people would be bumping each other in this way (for now at least — it's possible that we get a weirdly large number of strong applications for a future EAG and have to turn away people due to capacity limits, I just don't expect this to be the case any time soon).
I've also provided more context about capacity in my response to Jeff's comment on this thread.
This is an EAG DC email from 5 days ago. The term "release" suggests to me that someone else can now use it.
I think this is probably new wording, but I think it still implies the thing you were trying to avoid.
Thanks for your response. I agree that the goal should be trying to hold the conference in a way that's best for the world and for EA's goals. If I were to frame my argument more formally, it would be something like - suppose that you reject 1000 people per year (I have no idea if this is close to the right number). 5% get either angry or discouraged and drop out of EA. Another 5% leave EA on their own for unrelated reasons, but would have stayed if they had gone to the conference because of some good experience they had there. So my totally made up Fermi estimate is that we lose 100 people from EA each time we run a closed conference. Are the benefits of the closed conference great enough to compensate for that?
I'm not sure, because I still don't understand what those benefits are. I mentioned in the post that I'd be in favor of continuing to have a high admissions bar for the networking app (or maybe just sorting networkers by promise level). You write that:... (read more)
Hi Scott — it’s hard to talk about these things publicly, but yes a big concern of opening up the conference is that attendees’ time won’t end up spent on the most valuable conversations they could be having. I also worry that a two-tiered app system would cause more tension and hurt feelings than it would prevent. A lot of conversations aren’t scheduled through the app but happen serendipitously throughout the event. (Of the things you mentioned, I’m not particularly worried about attendees disrupting talks.)
We’ve thought a fair bit about the “how costly is rejection” question, and think there’s a real but relatively small discouragement effect where rejected applicants are less likely to re-apply to our events (or engage with EA in general). In an internal report we wrote recently about this, we felt more concerned about whether rejection makes it less likely for people to apply in the first place (but we think we can reduce this with clearer comms about the admissions bar).
It is true that people can get rejected from EAGx’s, but the bar is lower — and often people get rejected from EAGx’s because some of these events are for specific regions (such as for EAs based in India). It’s correct that there is currently no open admission conference.
For what it's worth, I still don't feel like I understand CEA's model of how having extra people present hurts the most prestigious attendees.
If you are (say) a plant-based meat expert, you are already surrounded by many AI researchers, epidemiologists, developmental economists, biosecurity analyists, community-builders, PR people, journalists, anti-factory-farm-activists, et cetera. You are probably going to have to plan your conversations pretty deliberately to stick to people within your same field, or who you are likely to have interesting things to say to. If the conference were twice as big, or three times, and filled with eg people who weren't quite sure yet what they wanted to do with their careers, would that be the difference between that expert having a high chance of productive serendipitious conversations vs. not?
I also don't get this. I can;t help thinking about the Inner Ring essay by C.S. Lewis. I hope that's not what's happening.
I'm not sure I agree with Scott that EAG should be open access, but since you mention this as a concern, I thought I'd mention that, yep, I haven't bothered applying to EAG for several years. The discussion around EAG the last few years made it seem incredibly obvious that I wouldn't be wanted anyway, so I didn't even bother weighing the pros and cons of trying to attend. Now that I actually think about it, I'm not at all sure that I should have been so convinced I couldn't get in. I attended EAG in 2018 as a volunteer because I was told that the organizers couldn't find anyone more qualified to run a discussion group about EA and religion, and I still have my 2018 EAG name tag that labels me a "Speaker". In terms of more recent involvement, I won a second prize in the recent EA forum writing contest, I'm theoretically a mod for the EA Corner discord server, and I've been working on putting together an essay about the most effective ways of pr... (read more)
This doesn't seem right to me? For example:
In setting the bar I expect you consider, among other things, the desired conference size. For example, if you got a lot of "this conference felt too big" feedback, you'd probably respond by raising the bar for the next one.
If someone applies late, I would expect whether you're able to make room for the would depend on whether you have capacity.
In setting the bar, desired conference size is not really a factor in our decision making, though perhaps it should be (and it possibly will be if the events get much larger) — we mostly just think about what type of applicants would be a good fit for the event. We seem to receive more feedback about the types of attendees that come (or don't come) rather than feedback about the raw size of the conference, and so we mostly action on the former. If we started receiving lots of "this conference felt too big" feedback, then yes we would possibly action on that, but that hasn't really happened yet and I don't expect it to in the near future.
For EAG SF 2022, it looked like we might hit capacity limits for the venue, but we actually never needed to turn people away because of capacity. For the next few EAGs we've selected venues that can expand to be much larger than our expected needs (e.g., for our next bay area conference, a venue that could fit at least 2500 people if we really needed), so I'm not expecting us to need to think about capacity limits in this way in the near future.
To clarify, I'm referring to the EA Global conferences only. EAGx admissions and processes are handled differently between events, and different organizers may have different requirements or setups (such as perhaps actually needing to reject people for capacity reasons).
This directly contradicts this December 2019 EA Forum post about EAG admissions, which has the following as a reply to "Why not make [EAG] larger?" (emphasis mine):
Thanks a lot for taking the time to elaborate!
Two points of feedback on how EA Global is currently presented a little bit more like an event for the EA community:
This is the headline description from https://www.eaglobal.org :
I think from this description I personally interpret more Scott's caricature than EAG being intended as a high bar networking event:
... (read more)
- "for the effective altruism community" -> makes it sound like it's a community event, which I'd expect to be inclusive
- "community members who already have a solid understanding" -> does not sound particu
Thanks for the thoughts here — a lot of what's going on is just that our website is pretty out of date, and we're in the process of refreshing/updating it currently. We're also going to make some slight edits to our front page ~now to make things a bit clearer.
Thanks, Max! I agree that's confusing.
As Eli said, we are planning to revamp our website.
In the meantime, I've edited the homepage to be more accurate / to match the information on our FAQ page and admissions page to say:
"EA Global is designed for people who have a solid understanding of the main concepts of effective altruism, and who are making decisions and taking significant actions based on them.
EA Global conferences are not the only events for people interested in effective altruism! EAGx conferences are locally-organized conferences designed primarily for people:
See our FAQ page for more information."
The edits should show up shortly if they haven't already.
In my experience on hiring committees, this is actually quite difficult to do. I think in practice it is much more common to operate with two clear bars: one above which everyone gets hired and one below which nobody gets hired. The ones in the middle get a bunch of situational criteria applied to them and it's pretty impossible to keep "we're feeling tight on space" out of the equation there.
Whether or not the admissions process actually is capacity constrained and has replacement effects, most people will assume it does because:
The vast majority of other admissions processes are capacity-constrained.
Past and current messaging says so.
Here is a quote from the admissions FAQ https://www.eaglobal.org/admissions/: "The most common reason for rejecting someone is that we have limited space and think other applicants would get more out of the conference. We don’t have any particular concerns about applicants we reject for this reason, but simply need to save the space for attendees who might be a better fit for the event."
A) Does this represent a change from previous years? Previous comms have gestured at a desire to get a certain mixture of credentials, including beginners. This is also consistent with private comms and my personal experience.
B) Its pretty surprising that Austin, a current founder of a startup that received 1M in EA related funding from FTX regrants, would be below that bar!
Maybe you are saying that there is a bar above which you will get in, but below which you may or may not get in.
I think lack of clarity and mixed signals around this stuff might contribute unnecessarily to hurt feelings.
A) Yes we had different admissions standards a few years ago. I agree that’s confusing and I think we could have done better communication around the admissions standards. I think our FAQ page and admissions page are the most up-to-date resources.
B) I can't comment in too much depth on other people's admissions, but I'll note that Austin was accepted into SF and DC 22 after updating his application.
It’s currently the case that there’s a particular bar for which we’ll admit people, though it’s not an exact science and we make each judgement call on its own — but regardless, capacity limits will not be a reason people get rejected (at least for the next few EAGs). I'm not entirely sure what you mean here, but it's not the case that there's a separate bar for which we'll sometimes let people in depending on capacity. Apologies for any confusion caused here!
I can see why people are confused by this situation. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to give more detail publicly — it's our policy to not discuss the specifics of people's applications with other people besides them.
We do want people who aren't sure if they'll get in, including students, to apply! But we suggest they should also consider applying to their nearest EAGx and not only to EAG.
We don't plan to tell people a recipe for getting accepted beyond the overall info we share with everyone about the event and the application process, and info about getting more involved in events like EAGx and local groups for people who have been away from the community for a while or who aren't yet that involved.
In some cases, the things that would need to change aren't realistic to change. In other cases, telling people essentially what we want to hear would largely defeat the purpose of those aspects of the application.
We know people are concerned and confused sometimes about EAG rejections. Sometimes there are genuine uncertainties. In our experience, in many of the cases where people have been upset, there were clear reasons to reject them that we cannot share based on background or behavior, and we would recommend keeping that hypothesis in mind.
[I run the EAGx conference series]
- I think there are significant benefits to local coordination
- It's very expensive to fly everyone from around the world to one location
- I think attending 1-2 conferences a year is probably the right amount (I'm aiming to eventually have 1 conference per region per year, with lots of overlap with other regions)
EAGxVirtual does kind of solve the problem Scott is bringing up, and I'm very excited about it.
Just flagging that in my view the goal to have just 1 EAGx per region, and make the EAGx regionally focused, with taking very few people from outside the region, is really bad, in my view. Reasons for this are in the effects on network topology, and subsequently on the core/periphery dynamic.
I find the argument about the cost of "flying everyone from around the world to one location" particularly puzzling, because this is not what happens by default: even if you don't try to push events to being regional at all, they naturally are, just because people will choose the event which is more conveniently located closer to them. So it's not like everyone flying everywhere all the time (which may be the experience of the events team, but not of typical participants).
EAGx events are primarily for people in that region, but not exclusively. We do invite some speakers and contributors from outside the region and some others.
Sorry, could you spell these out? I don't know what you mean.
Yes, that's what I expect too, though we do see lots of people apply for conferences very far away from them.
Sorry, I think "flying everyone from around the world to one location" was a bit of a strawman. I expect they'll mostly look like EAGxPrague did this year, which had a strong continental European swing but wasn't exclusively for continental Europeans.
There is an EAGx Virtual. This EAGx happens online.
I hope they are friendly for the less western timezones as well!
I think EA currently is much more likely to fail to achieve most of its goals by ending up with a culture that is ill-suited for its aims, being unable to change direction when new information comes in, and generally fail due to the problems of large communities and other forms of organization (like, as you mentioned, the community behind NeurIPS, which is currently on track to be an unstoppable behemoth racing towards human extinction that I so desperately wish was trying to be smaller and better coordinated).
I think EA Global admissions is one of the few places where we can apply steering on how EA is growing and what kind of culture we are developing, and giving this up seems like a cost, without particularly strong commensurate benefits.
On a more personal level, I do want to be clear that I am glad about having a bigger EA Global this year, but I would probably also just stop attending an open-invite EA Global since I don't expect it would really share my culture or be selected for people I would really want to be around. I think this year's EA Global came pretty close to exhausting my ability to be thrown into a large group of people with a quite different culture ... (read more)
I wonder if this is overstated.
I feel like we have a number of other strong channels, including:
Yeah, I agree these are all candidates, though I think these are all actually somewhat downstream of general movement growth:
... (read more)
- Funding has been getting a lot less centralized and in-general funding is a lot more flush, at least in the longtermist space, so I think this has been serving much less as a thing that meaningfully steers the culture
- Frank discussion on the EA Forum I do think is quite important, though I also think that outside of a few people like Nuno we see very little actual critique of projects, and I think a lot of the people who tend to have written critical things have stopped in the last few years (Larks is stopping his AI Alignment review, I am no longer writing long LTFF writeups, and broadly I have a feeling that there is a lot more mincing of words on the forum than a few years ago), so while I do think this is quite important, I also think it's becoming a weaker force
- Leadership has also been growing and I think leadership is now actually distributed enough and large enough that I feel like this isn't really doing a ton in terms of shaping culture and changing community growth. I feel far from getting to consensus with people at 80k on how they are thinkin
[epistemic status: idle uninformed speculation]
I basically agree with this comment, which makes me like the idea of an open EAG. Closed EAG is theoretically good for shaping culture by selecting good participants, but CEA faces a knowledge problem for which people are "good culture fits", and it moves towards promoting some weird homogenization thing. I have some inchoate instinct that a more decentralized network of smaller walled gardens can preserve and signal good parts of culture, while avoiding frustrating "CEA as kingmaker" dynamics, and allowing an open EAG to introduce novelty into the system.
I'm kind of surprised by this - if EAG was open, what sort of people do you think would come, and in what way would they not share your culture?
Like as an example: this year I didn't get into EAG when I first applied, and then I reapplied when I got an internship at an EA org, and got in. This is understandable - I didn't have very strong 'legible' signals of EA engagement apart from the internship, arguably. But also, like, my culture/who I am as a person clearly didn't change much between the two applications! So I guess my expectation for who would come if it were open are:
-people who are engaged in their local EA communities and 'into' EA but haven't shown legible enough signs of 'promise' to get accepted under the status quo
-people like the person screenshotted in the post, who have changed their career on EA principles, who maybe wouldn't get much out of networking, but who are excited to talk to others who share their values
Not opinionating on the general point, but:
IIRC, Kelsey was in fact the president of the Stanford EA student group, and I do not think she would've been voted "least likely to succeed" by the other members.
Quite. I was in that Stanford EA group, I thought Kelsey was obviously very promising and I think the rest of us did too, including when she was taking a leave of absence.
A bit of a tangent though these comments strike me as indicative that EA is a very small community in many ways.
Yeah it's very small, especially for people working professionally in subfields.
Also early Stanford EA had a very good hit rate, like I think there were <10 regular members, and that group included Claire, Kelsey, Caroline and Michael.
And Buck Shlegeris and Nate Thomas and Eitan Fischer and Adam Scherlis (though Buck didn't attend Stanford and just hung out with us because he liked us). I wish I knew how to replicate whatever we were smoking back then. I've tried a couple times but it's a hard act to follow.
Fwiw, I gave Scott permission to mention the above; I think by some metrics of promisingness as an EA I was obviously a promising EA even when I was also failing out of college, and in particular my skillset is public communications which means people could directly evaluate my EAmpromisingness via my blog posts even when by legible societal metrics of success I was a bit of a mess.
I generally directionally agree with Eli Nathan and Habryka's responses. I also weak-downvoted this post (though felt borderline about that), for two reasons.
(1) I would have preferred a post that tried harder to even-handedly discuss and weigh up upsides and downsides, whereas this mostly highlighted upsides of expansion, and (2) I think it's generally easier to publicly call for increased inclusivity than to publicly defend greater selectivity (the former will generally structurally have more advocates and defenders). In that context I feel worse about (1) and wish Scott had handled that asymmetry better.
But I wouldn't have downvoted if this had been written by someone new to the community, I hold Scott to a higher standard and I'm pretty uncertain about the right policy with respect to voting differently in response to the same content on that basis.
I had a pretty painful experience where I was in a pretty promising position in my career, already pretty involved in EA, and seeking direct work opportunities as a software developer and entrepreneur. I was rejected from EAG twice in a row while my partner, a newbie who just wanted to attend for fun (which I support!!!) was admitted both times. I definitely felt resentful and jealous in ways that I would say I coped with successfully but wow did it feel like the whole thing was lame and unnecessary.
I felt rejected from EA at large and yeah I do think my life plans have adjusted in response. I know there were many such cases! In the height of my involvement I was a very devoted EA, really believed in giving as much as I could bear (time etc included).
This level of devotion juxtaposed with being turned away from even hanging out with people, it's quite a shock. I think the high devotion version of my life would be quite fulfilling and beautiful, and I got into EA seeking a community for that, but never found it. EAG admissions is a pretty central example of this mismatch to me.
I’m really sorry to hear this. It is concerning to hear that being rejected from EAG made you feel like you were “turned away from even hanging out with people.” This is not our intention, and I’d be happy to chat with you about other resources and opportunities for in-person meetings with other EAs.
We also get things wrong sometimes so I’m sad to hear you feel like our decision impacted your trajectory away from a highly devoted version of your life. The EAG admissions process is not intended to evaluate you as a person, it is for determining whether you would be a fit for a particular event. It seems possible that you applied at a time when we were experimenting with a policy that prioritized people who were not yet highly engaged but were in a position to become highly engaged (I’m guessing this because you say your “newbie” partner got in). Our admissions process has changed over time and currently we consider things like engagement with EA, epistemics, and ability to gain things from the event or provide mentorship to others (for example, if people are currently making a decision and have a plan to use conversations at the conference to influence them).
As an exampl... (read more)
Damn, that really sucks. :| Thanks for sharing.
Adding my three related cents:
That comment hit me hard too.
In general, it hurts to make people feel bad and if I was optimizing the event for making myself/EAs feel good it would look different.
I had an hour long call with the person who made that post and was able to connect them with resources and explain the admissions process and considerations that go into it in a way that seemed to help. I think we could do a better job of explaining these things publicly and I think we should do that.
We should at least try this once and see what happens
We haven’t tried a fully open event, but our 2016 was closer to open than our more recent events and came with various drawbacks.
Hm, from an organiser perspective (I'm organising EAGxBerlin), even just trying this once seems costly.
- Organising a conference with 10,000 people takes a huge amount of work and funding. Would you trade in five 1000p conferences to have one 10,000p conference?
- If this event fails, up to 10,000 people will have had a bad experience and even if just 10% of the people get upset that's 1000 people upset with EA.
(there are obviously a lot more costs and more benefits which I currently lack time to write up, I just wanted to point out that it may be more costly than you'd think to try out such a large conference)
I think EAGxVirtual 2020 came close to this - about 1400 attendees, a decent chunk had only recently heard about EA
+100 on this. I think the screening processes for these conferences overweight legible in-groupy accomplishments like organizing an EA group in your local town/college, and underweights regular impressive people like startup founders who are EA-curious -- and this is really really bad for movement diversity.
Yes, I might be salty because I was rejected from both EAG London and Future Forum this year...
But I also think the bar for me introducing friends to EA-curious is higher, because there isn't a cool thing I can invite them into. Anime conventions such as Anime Expo or Crunchyroll Expo are the opposite of this - everyone is welcome, bring your friends, have a good time -- and it works out quite well for keeping people interested in the subject.
I like the idea of an EA expo as a different thing!
I think anime/gaming expos/conventions might be a good example actually - in those events, the density of high quality people is less important than just "open for anyone who's interested to come". Like, organizers will try to have speakers and guests lined up who are established/legit, but 98% of the people visiting are just fans of anime who want to talk to other fans.
Notably, it's not where industry experts converge to do productive work on creating things, or do 1:1s; but they sure do take advantage of cons and expos to market their new work to audiences. By analogy, a much larger EA Expo would have the advantage of promoting the newest ideas to a wider subset of the movement.
Plus, you get really cool emergent dynamics when the audience size is 10x'd. For example, if there are a 1-2 people in 1000 who enjoy creating EA art, at 10000 people you can have 10-20 of them get together and meetup and talk to each other
Super seconded! I have had a couple of EA-curious friends (who would be a great fit for EA, very passionate and smart and dedicated to positively impacting the world) ask if I would recommend attending a conference, and had to awkwardly explain that although I loved my experience at EAG, they would probably not get in. I was able to recommend EAGx as a more accessible alternative, but the American EAGx conferences are pretty student-oriented, still have illegible admissions criteria, and wouldn't necessarily present the benefits of EAG as efficiently to post-grads. There NEEDS to be an accessible event I can invite people to. ETA: I think it's fine to have events with different levels of accessibility, it's just frustrating that the current combo doesn't really provide a good entry point/thing to invite people to. Making admissions criteria more legible, especially for EAGx, could help address this.
I quite like the idea of an EAG: Open, but presumably as a complement, rather than replacement, to the current networking-focused EAGlobal.
One thing that seems missing from the EA ecosystem is a single place where there are talks which convey new information to lots of interested, relevant people in one go, and those ideas can be discussed.
This used to happen at EAGlobal, but it doesn't anymore because (for understandable reasons) the event is very networking focused, so talks basically got canned. I find it odd there's now so little public discussion at the EA community's flagship event. (The only major communication that happens is at the opening and closing ceremonies, and is (always?) done by Will. Will is great, but it would be great to have a diversity of messages and messengers.)
There is more content at EAGxs, but then only a fraction of people see those. I've realised I'm basically touring the world giving more-or-less the same talk so most people hear it once. In some ways, this is quite fun, but it's also pretty inefficient. I'd prefer to give that talk once and then be able to move onto other topics.
The EA forum currently serves as the central place for discussion, but it's not that widely used and stuff tends to disappear from view pretty fast. It certainly doesn't do the same thing as TED-style big talks do for communicating important ideas.
I think the people responsible for EA Global admissions (including Amy Labenz, Eli Nathan, and others) have added a bunch of value to me over the years by making it more likely that a conversation or meeting with somebody at EA Global who I don’t already know will end up being productive. Making admissions decisions at EAG (and being the public face of an exclusive admissions policy) sounds like a really thankless job and I know a bunch of the people involved end up having to make decisions that make them pretty sad because they think it’s best for the world. I mostly just wanted to express some appreciation for them and to mention that I’ve benefitted from it since it feels uncomfortable to say out loud so is probably under expressed.
One positive effect of selective admissions that I don’t often see discussed is that it makes me more likely to take meetings with folks I don’t already know. I’d guess that this increases the accessibility of EA leaders to a bunch of folks in the community.
Fwiw, I’ve sometimes gotten overambitious with the number of meetings I take at EAG and ended up socially exhausted enough to be noticeably less productive for several days afterwards. This is a big enough cost that I’ve skipped some years. So, I think in the past I’ve probably been on the margin where if the people at EAG had not been selected for being folks I could be helpful to, I’d have been less likely to go.
The Future Forum had a much worse version of this, eg: shifting language in their web pitch, missed self-set application review deadlines by 4-6 weeks, and then denying an unknown, suspected large, % of otherwise impressive applicants in relevant fields. I mention this here because, due to Future Forum’s proximity in date to EAG SF, the uncertainty around FF acceptance led me to delay travel arrangements, cancel pre-EAG meetings, and nearly cancel the trip to SF entirely.
Another impact was that two high-achieving colleagues on the cusp of joining EA came to believe that FF used its nomination form like a multi-level marketing ploy to “tell us who you know” and had no intention of sincerely evaluating most applications. I don’t share this view but wanted to share a case study of how tone shifts / missed comms deadlines during event applications can lead to the worst possible thing being assumed.
Author of “ How to Survive EAG: San Francisco FOMO,” here. In fairness to EAG organizers, I want to clarify that I did not apply for EAG SF this year. While I was bummed not to go, I was on a digital sabbatical during the application period, so I do not put any sort of blame on EAG organizers, as they had nothing to do with why I didn’t attend. I applied to two past EAGs and was accepted to both. While I support the general sentiment that it is a bummer to miss out on EAG, the post truly was written all in good fun, and I did actually have a great time putting that post together.
As I mentioned on one of those Facebook threads: At least don't bill the event as a global conference for EA people and then tell people no you can't come. Call it maybe the EA Professionals Networking Event or something, which (a) makes it clear this is for networking and not the kind of academic conference people might be used to, and (b) implies this might be exclusive. But if you bill it as a global conference, then make it be like a global conference. And at the very least make it very clear that it's exclusive! Personally I didn't notice any mention of exclusivity at all in any EA Global posts or advertising until I heard about people actually getting rejected and feeling bad about that.
My interpretation of the “Global” part in EAG is ‘from around the world’, not ‘everyone is invited’. E.g. for EAGxAustralia it seems like you’re much more likely to get accepted if you’re based in Australia or the Asia Pacific, because it’s about building the community there. But EA Global is about connecting people across these different communities, and doesn’t prioritise admissions based on geographical closeness.
Honestly I’m super confused why people perceive ‘EA Global’ as an inclusive-sounding name. Especially in contrast to ‘EAGx’, which evokes the TEDx vs TED contrast, where TEDxes have a much lower bar, are scrappier and more community based.
Big fan of your blog. Some quick counterpoints/counterarguments (that are not meant to be decisive):
Re: ...because it makes people upset.
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- As others noted, the point of EA(G) is to have the maximum impact on moral patients overall, not to be welcoming to individual EAs or make EAs happy. I think it's not impossible that aiming for community happiness is a better proxy goal than aiming for impact directly (e.g.) , but I think it'd be quite surprising at least to me and should be explicitly argued for more.
- More to the point, I'm not convinced that having open EAGs will actually make people happier. To some degree, I read the exclusivity as part of an important signal for people to complain/be upset about, and that as long as we have rejections for reasons other than commitment, people will be similarly upset. I expect with open EAGs, the goalposts will move and people will instead be upset about:
- Getting rejected from directly important things like grants or jobs
- Networking "tiers" within EAG
- More illegible signals of status
- probably even EAF karma, downvotes, other social media stuff etc
- I think it genuinely makes sense to be upset about these things. And it's unfortunate and I do th
You raise many good points, but I would like to respond to (not necessarily contradict) this sentiment. Of course you are right, those are the goals of the EA community. But by calling this whole thing a community, we cannot help but create certain implicit expectations. Namely, that I will not only be treated simply as a means to an end. That means only being assessed and valued by how promising I am, how much my counterfactual impact could be, or how much I could help an EA org. That's just being treated as an employee, which is fine for most people, as long as the employer does not call the whole enterprise a community.
Rather, it vaguely seems to me that people expect communities to reward and value their engaged members, and consider the wellbeing of the members to be important by itself (and not so the members can be e.g. more productive).
I am not saying this fostering of the community should happen in every EA context, or even at EA globals (maybe a more local context w... (read more)
Add my voice to the others who'd support an EACon with open registration (maybe with particular persona-non-grata being excluded, I would not support an event that made a big deal about 'excluding nobody' or some such). Get some of the people who run successful science-fiction conventions, pick a relatively accessible and cheap location (Las Vegas, maybe?), have panels, invite merchants to bring by EA-relevant or just weird merchandise.
I actually agree that it would be good to try running an EAG:Open that is >3x bigger, with marketing, big-name speakers and an open invite list. But organising it would probably be >3x as much work, and <3x as valuable, so I don't think it's right to nag CEA into running it, nor should it replace current EAGs.
A few quick thoughts:
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- I always appreciate well-meaning discussion and thought this brought up some good points. That said, I overall don't really agree with it.
- It's a lot of work to organize an event for many people. In the last year, total global attendance at EAGs (between all of them) seems to have grown by around an order of magnitude or so; from maybe ~500 ~3 years ago, to maybe ~6k this year? My impression is that it's been correspondingly tricky to scale the CEA team in charge of this growth. I imagine specific proposals to "Open EAGs" would look like some combination of charging a fair bit more for them and/or allowing 10k+ people at each event. This doesn't at all seem trivial. Maybe it would be easy to do a very minimalist/mediocre version of a huge event, but I imagine if that were done, people would find a lot of reasons to complain.
- My personal proposal is that eventually, it would be nice (assuming there are people available to do it) to try out essentially an "EA Open", with 5k-15k people. If this works, then rename "EA Open" to "EA Global", and then continue having a smaller "EA Global event", but now named something more like, "Super boring detailed EA summit." This
I'm not sure what my general take is on this, I think it's quite plausible that keeping it exclusive is net good, maybe more likely good than not. But I want to add one anecdote of my own which pushes the other way.
Over the last two years, while I was a student, I made two career choices in part (though not only) to gain EA credibility:
Both of these were fun, but I think it's unlikely that they were good for my career or impact in ways other than gaining EA credibility. I think one non-trivial reason EA credibility was important to me was that I wanted to keep being admitted to things like EAG (maybe more than I admitted to myself in my explicit reasoning at the time).
Having said that, I think EA credibility has also been important to my career in other ways, notably to receive grants, so it's not clear that this was bad on net.
It might also be that these were unnecessary or ineffective ways of gaining EA credibility --- I don't know what the admissions team cares about. Regardless, I think it's an update that this is part of what led me to make choices that I otherwise might not have made (though quite plausibly I would have made them anyway).
I am sceptical about this, I think understanding the formula of EAG and EAGx helps contextualise and solve most of the issues in the post.
There's currently 8 EAGx in the next 7 months, and probably many more in the pipework. EAGx events are designed to have a more inclusive bar to entry. It should be noted, that they not exactly small events. We are aiming for 1000 people in EAGxNordics in April next year. EAGx are also, notoriously, "weirder".
With that in mind, I am not sure how less events, which are less targeted, but bigger would be an advantage. But I have to admit, the quickest way to resolve this would be to try and run an event for 10,000 people, and collect feedback
[EDIT: Eli from CEA has clarified that places are not currently a limitation for accepting people into EAG]
I agree it's a problem that 1) promising people and 2) established professionals in EA are not attending EAG because there aren't enough places.
The solution is not to make EAG open access. This is antithetical to keeping EA weird.
The solution is to plan bigger EAGs, and keep the selectiveness criteria the same (or even up the selectiveness). And being ok with not filling the planned quota - empty seats are much better than disgrunted people left out.
But then of course there is the question of what's keeping EAG organizers from making them twice the size. They will have a better insight here!
I clicked through to the source. I feel this person. They made a significant commitment because they wanted to help others, and they followed through on it.
This is the type of person I would love to meet. But not at EAG, because I do not want to go to EAG. I don't fit there, and there are other events (e.g. EAGx or online events) that fit me better.
Hi Scott, I truly appreciated your post on "Open EA Global" and am inclined to agree on most fronts. This is a month old, EAG DC has passed, and so I'll strive to focus on what's new or unique versus what has already been said:
I'm new to the EA community and have not been to EAG. In fact, I applied to EAGx Berlin this month and was told to apply to a local conference, then I applied to EAG DC and was told to apply to an EAGx. (No EAGx will be posted in my region until likely Boston in the spring; although I can look forward to the virtual conference coming... (read more)
I disagreed when at the start of this post on the grounds that I strongly prefer smaller events, but updated towards agreeing fairly strongly, subject to the logistical issues Scott mentions at the start.
Why not be creative and have a virtual parallel EA global event? There's lots of opportunity to be creative there.
For example it could be as simple as specified times for people to hop on the EA Gather dot town. There are also a lot of opportunities to match people creatively with pre-survey work and such.
Thanks for the suggestion. We did do a parallel virtual event before and decided against doing it again because virtual underperformed the in-person event and split our attention. We were considering running our own separate virtual event this year, but instead, we are supporting EAGx Virtual next month.
Why not make ordinary attendees pay a little extra, and subsidize even more travel reimbursements?
I think more tweaking might be needed in terms of reimbursements. I'm based in an area that has a large EA student hub. Most EAs are very connected and most of the people I interact with go to each single EAxWherever and apply for reimbursements. They've told me it's not that hard to get money for expenses based on the prestige of the university and the fact that they're students. It seems a partial motivation is also travel and time off. It sounds to me that people who don't live near such hubs and are less connected to other people and resources will benefit more.
Just want to clarify that we typically provide travel grants for those who need them, and don’t select based on which university they attend or whether they’re studying. If someone is accepted to an EAG and asks for it, they'll get a travel grant no questions asked (as long as they ask for a reasonable amount). Tickets to students are generally provided for free by default though (but again, which university they attend is not taken into account).
Tl;dr: Big conferences can be really good: warm, friendly, easy to navigate, etc. Although they might not look like the current EAG. In fact the big conference I used to go to was possibly better than EAGs at some aspects of this!
Without opining on the general for/against I wanted to raise that a point that might be a crux for some people considering this is that I expect most people have not been to or lack a strong sense in their mind of it would look like to have a well-run community-focused 2000+ person conference which had a nice culture, tha... (read more)
I like 55% agree and it's updating me to think about what spots I'm taking by attending. I am slightly worried about a) the logistics of organising a massive open conference, and b) potentially getting less value aligned / EA involved people and it negatively impacting the community.
As one of the EAGxBerkeley organisers, we're trying to figure out how to do outreach to those early level EAs and those that are very EA aligned without knowing what EA - two groups I think would get the most benefit out of an EAGx. Do you (I mean this in a general sense ... (read more)
For some events it might make sense to draw applicants by lottery, if capacity is an issue. True, this is, in one sense a clear departure from optimization. However, I this people will be a lot less upset if they know they were rejected by a die roll rather than by someone who looked into their soul and decided they were not worthy of being among us.
This could be refined a bit with some transparent rules like “everyone working full time at an EA org or who has spoke at a previous meeting is guaranteed admission to at least one event per year.” I think people would also be less insulted by rigid rules than by what feels like personal discretion.
One thing that bothers me the most is our rejection process seems pretty opaque?
We're a community that prides itself on transparency, assuming no info hazards, because of how instrumentally helpful said transparency can be.
I explained to an excited young bright-eyed philanthropically-minded newcomer to EA this week why he likely got rejected to EAG DC. He doesn't really know the EA-basics so I explained that EAG rejects EA newcomers so attendees can avoid having the "what is EA" converasation for the millionth time. I then encouraged him that I'll help mak... (read more)
I find it odd that this post totally ignores the existence of EAGx, but I haven't been to a non-x EAG yet so there's not much I can authoritatively comment on further.
Although it's a bit tangential to the main point of the post, I'd be interested to hear what interventions the anti-alcohol activist proposed to help "[reduce] social expectations of drinking".
Is there anywhere I can read more about such proposals?
I want to state my strong agreement with these ideas. It isn't hard to come up with dozens of examples of people who didn't seem particularly impressive and then went on to be much more impressive than any reasonable observer would have expected.
I would also be surprised if EAs (a community of people who think about scope insensitivity, moral cluelessness, and similar ideas that I roughly categorize as "intellectual humili... (read more)
Sorry if tangential or I am missing an obvious cultural reference, but this statement keeps bugging me:
What is the support for holding this belief? The only cultural reference that comes to my mind is Hitler being rejected from Art school (i.e. not being invited to a prestigious thing). However, the thought that the counterfactual impact of such a rejection is the holocaust is more an internet meme than a rational thought that should be turned into a belief about the world.
I agree so much with this post. Thank you for saying this!!!