Transcript


Nathan Young  0:04  

I am honored to introduce our panelists. We've got a great panel for you here for EAs in media. First up is an actor. His acting career spans the last three decades and ranges from TV where he was on 3rd Rock from the Sun to art auctions, such as Mysterious Skin and Brick to multiplex movies such as Inception, 500 Days of Summer, and Snowden. He made his feature screenwriting and directorial debut with Don Jon, which was nominated for Best for Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards. He also founded and directs HitRecord, an online community of over half a million artists emphasizing collaboration over self-promotion. HitRecord has evolved into a community source production company, publishing books, putting out records producing videos for brands from LG to the ACLU, and winning an Emmy for its variety show HitRecord on TV, please welcome again Joseph Gordon-Levitt.


 

Next up is Julia Galef. Julia is a writer and speaker focused on improving human judgment, especially about high-stakes questions. She has a background in statistics and social science, worked as a case writer for Harvard Business School, and then as a freelance journalist in New York. She has been the host of the Rationally Speaking Podcast since 2010, co-founded the Center for Applied Rationality in 2012, and is currently working for the Open Philanthropy Project on an investigation of expert disagreements. Please welcome Julia Galef.


 

AJ Jacobs is next. He is an author, journalist, and human guinea pig. He is the author of four New York Times bestsellers including the Year of Living Biblically, The Know-It-All, and Drop Dead Healthy. He wrote a feature about Effective Altruism for Esquire magazine where he is a contributing editor. The article followed his attempt to figure out where to donate his writer's fee. He is a contributor to NPR's weekend edition. He has given three TED talks that have appeared on TED's main page and have more than 3 million total views. His book, The Year of Living Biblically is being turned into a TV show by CBS and will air in the fall. His new book, It's All Relative will be released in November, and it chronicles his attempt to unite the entire world in a single-family tree. Please welcome AJ Jacobs. And finally, to moderate this great panel, please welcome back Will MacAskill.


 

Will MacAskill  2:45  

Cool, okay, thank you all for coming to this panel. And a reminder that on the Bizzabo app, you can start submitting questions. You know, we'll have a conversation for 20 or 25 minutes, but then afterward, we were looking forward to seeing questions from all of you. So to begin with, let's just if each of you maybe, AJ, Julia, and Joe, talk a little bit about your background and your current relationship to effective altruism. Yeah, go for it. 


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  3:22  

Yes. Mine's working. Yeah, awesome. So my name is Joe. I just said an embarrassingly listened to my bio be read right in front of me that a poorly executed entrants. But I work in show business. And I first found out about EA because a friend invited my wife and me to the conference last year and was really just completely taken with it. You know, I hate to stereotype, Hollywood, but I think it's pretty true that it's emotionally driven and there's lots of good intentions and lots of people that are trying to do good with whatever leverage Hollywood gives you. But oftentimes those attempts to do good are very, very emotionally motivated by what makes the best story. And coming and learning about these concepts of not following what makes the best story but what can actually probably be shown to be doing the most good, I found incredibly compelling and noble and worth talking about some more. So happy to be here. 


 

Will MacAskill  4:37  

Okay, AJ, tell us a little bit about yourself. 


 

AJ Jacobs  4:38  

 I am a writer and a journalist. And as Nathan said a human guinea pig. So I like to take on a project and immerse myself in it for a year or two and then write about it. For instance, I wrote a book about living by all the rules of the Bible as literally as possible. So I had the 10 commandments. I followed those I had a beard down to here, I stone adulterers, but I use pebbles so that I didn't get arrested. And I tithe because they do say 10% in the Bible. I gave to orphans and widows as the Bible instructed, which I don't know if GiveWell approves of, but seemed okay. And I got involved because I wrote an article for Esquire last year, where I took my writer's fee, a couple of $1,000. And I wanted to figure out what I could do with that money to produce the most good in the world. And guess what I found is GiveWell. So I gave it to GiveWell, and to, to Will, and to Peter Singer. I sort of split it up a little. But I fell in love with the idea of effective altruism. And hopefully, there were a couple of converts from the article, but maybe not.


 

Will MacAskill  6:04  

Okay, thanks. Julia, can you also talk about a bit about your background relationship with EA?


 

Julia Galef  6:11  

Sure. Yeah. I originally thought I was going to go into academia, into social science research. And then I ended up deciding, you know, I quit grad school, I'd been an Economics program. And I told my parents, I think what I really want to do with my life is just spend as much time as I can, talking to really smart and thoughtful people about the most important issues. And my parents were like that, do you get paid for that? And the honest answer was, "I have no idea, I'll find out." So I dropped out of grad school, I became a freelance journalist, I did a bunch of blogging, I started a podcast called Rationally Speaking. And I was sort of writing about and speaking about EA or EA-adjacent things kind of before EA was a thing like, I don't know, I wrote a post about trying to estimate the number of lives per calorie for different animal products and reached this sort of counterintuitive, or many people counterintuitive conclusion that eggs are actually worse in terms of costing animal life than beef is. So as I was posting stuff like that, for like Scientific Americans blog and talking about it on my podcast, and then about five years or so ago, I moved out here and co-founded a nonprofit called the Center for Applied Rationality, of which there are several representatives here leading sessions. So I encourage you to go to them. And then right now I'm doing a number of things I'm still doing the podcasts, I'm working on a book, won't be up for a while. And I'm also working with a foundation called the Open Philanthropy project, where my role is basically hosting conversations, bringing together people from tech and finance in the media, along with EA, and academia, and experts on really important questions like AI potential risks from AI, or criminal justice reform or land-use reform. And sort of getting the experts to better understand each other's models and getting the people outside of that field in tech, or the media or finance, to really understand the experts' models and sort of have heard the best arguments on both sides of these important topics. So I'm basically doing what I set out to do, which actually, to everyone's surprise, including my own.


 

Will MacAskill  8:43  

Thank you. And so yeah, a lot of people in this audience are really interested in promoting the ideas of effective altruism more widely. And I know that each of you in very different ways, have some interest in doing that whether you're doing it now or potentially in the future. What do you think of some of our real challenges with respect to trying to communicate the core ideas of EA more widely? Joe, do you want to start? 


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  9:08  

Sure. Well, I think this might be obvious, but the truth is that to me, it seems a lot of the principles of what EA is are very much at odds with how the media works. Because media and that's especially you know, television, but also newer media online, is not a platform that's conducive to reasoned thinking and really analyzing something and picking it apart and understanding it. It's much more about creating, just getting attention, getting eyeballs, and making things addictive. And so I don't have a solution to this, but it's maybe worth at least identifying the problem. It seems to me that what I really like about EA is completely across purposes with everything I know about how the media works. So, I don't know, I'd be interested to start brainstorming how do you then deal with that? You know, do you, I guess, come to conclusions through more reasoned thinking and then present those conclusions in the media unreasonably, more emotionally? I don't know. Is that sort of hypocritical? Is that going against the principles of EA? I do sort of think that if you really want to get any kind of message out in front of a wide audience, and not just preach to the choir, but like, get out there and into what you might call mainstream culture, you can't too reasonable.


 

AJ Jacobs  11:00  

Okay, yeah. Will, you and I actually talked about this, because I agree with Joe, that the media does not represent reality. As you said, most news is fake news. So we talked about this idea of the reality times, which would be a news site, which accurately reflected reality. So every day, the front page would be, instead of, you know, two people killed by a shark attack, the 2500 people died of malaria yesterday, or 48,000 died of heart disease. And it doesn't all have to be bad news. So like, when they had the London fire, with 70 people dying, you could print an article that 10s of 1000s of lives have been saved over the last decades because home fires are way down. And then you could put the shark attack on like the 50th page. And so I would love to actually start that. I don't know if I have much time to do it. But if anyone wants to do it, I'm happy to, pro bono, be the adviser.


 

Will MacAskill  12:16  

The idea as well is that the front page basically wouldn't change the day on day. 


 

AJ Jacobs  12:19  

That's true, yes, exactly. 


 

Will MacAskill  12:21  

Because news is like yep, again, 5000 children died a minute. Same as yesterday.


 

AJ Jacobs  12:28  

Down in the corner on the bottom right corner, you could change every day, but yeah, the main one would be [the same].


 

Will MacAskill  12:33  

Yeah, [inaduble] well, the other thing I love about this idea is representing it as, alien invaders have like tiny little helicopters flying into our homes and poisoning our children. What can we do about it? 1000s are dead. And then it's revealed as this malaria mosquitoes. Like, how you would cover this if it was an alien invasion?


 

AJ Jacobs  13:00  

Right. That's taking us the slow crisis. Yes, turning it and like get a reporter on the scene. Oh, my God.


 

Will MacAskill  13:07  

So their solution is okay, normal media is completely at odds with EA, maybe we just have to create our own. Julia, what are your thoughts on this?


 

Julia Galef  13:17  

I share Joe's pessimism. I was just thinking about this Saturday morning breakfast cereal comic about this problem in science journalism, where the first panel is a reporter talking to a scientist and the scientist is like, we had really successful results in our early cancer trials, we were able to, like reduce the spread of this cancer by this percent in this species. And then the next panel is the headline, Scientists Cure Cancer. And then the panel off the bat is the scientist coming back to the reporter and saying, like, kind of annoyed now like, "No, no, we didn't cure cancer. We just, we'd like moved faster towards a future solution to cancer." And then the next panel is another headline thing, Scientists Invent Time Travel. Sorry, turn it louder? I don't know how to do that. So I'll just speak louder. Um, so yeah, it's a huge problem. And I think, a common failure mode for EAs when talking about these topics is that you know, EAs tend to be really, really like nerdy and intellectual. And we want to gravitate towards the most intellectually interesting things to talk about in interviews, or in the material we put out there. And the problem is that what's intellectually interesting to you is sort of weird or confusing or alienating to most people. And so you kind of have to be willing to talk about the stuff that to you is super boring and trivial, and just are


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  14:56  

Or obvious.


 

Julia Galef  14:57  

Or obvious. Exactly. And just trust like, you know, maybe you can't even quite remember, but the first time you encountered the idea that whoa, a lot of ways that people try to do good actually don't work. And there are other things that are sort of demonstrably 100 times more effective. And wouldn't it be better to do the effective things than the ineffective things? Maybe that sounds obvious if it's the background of your life for years, but people hearing it for the first time, that's like, that's a really cool insight that they haven't thought about before. But to you, it's boring. So you have to kind of be willing to bore yourself, when talking to the media or putting stuff out there and just remind yourself as being intellectually interesting. Oh, and also being able to signal my capacity for nuance and sophistication, which I think a lot of us like to do in a conversation is that's not what this is for. This is for getting a message out there, which is hard.


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  15:49  

Another thing I found, which what you're saying reminds me of, as far as boring yourself when talking to the media, I spend a fair amount of my life having to promote something that I've done and talking to media, and what you find is you you have to be repetitive. And it's really boring for yourself because you're just saying the same thing over and over and over again. And the natural instinct is, of course, to say new things to all the different people. But that's really not as effective. What's really the most effective thing is to find the two or three points that you want to make, and pretty much repeat those over and over and over and over and over again. And it's not as fun. But that's if you want to communicate something out to a lot of people. That's kind of how you have to do it. In my experience.


 

Will MacAskill  16:43  

Yeah. And so something that's related to this question of challenges and that being opposed is, you know, we talk about the media, but that's a variety of different things. So social media -- Twitter, and Facebook -- podcasts, articles, books, movies, documentaries. Which of these do you think are kind of more amenable? You know, you've got experience with all of them, between the three of you? Which do you think are the most amenable for EA? And what things should we maybe stay away from? You know, I made a joke in the Boston conference about imagine if Sir Francis Bacon had been trying to promote the scientific method on Twitter. And then he just gets all these messages calling him a cock in response. You know, probably wouldn't go down that well. I know that Julia's more for Twitter.


 

Julia Galef  17:29  

I'm very much for Twitter. One of the things I love about Twitter is there's a whole community of social scientists and statisticians and scientists who have conversations on Twitter, and they're actually debating with each other about the right threshold for the P-value and discussing the latest scientific results. Really cool. So yeah, I'm bullish on Twitter.


 

Will MacAskill  17:51  

Okay. And what do you think, AJ and Joe about other media as well?


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  17:55  

Well, yeah, I mean, I think it's a fascinating topic, as far as you how useful is Twitter. Twitter being an example. And Twitter being a good one, because it's probably the most extreme example of having to be super short attention span. I use Twitter a lot. But I don't so much engage in conversations on Twitter. What I try to do is use Twitter to get people off of Twitter. And onto like, a community that you know, I started a sort of an artist community called HitRecord. And so Twitter's really effective at sort of attracting people who might be interested in what we're doing and bringing them over to us. So maybe that's a strategy to consider for EA because I could see how trying to discuss the stuff that would get discussed on this stage would be really difficult in 140 character tweets. But a quick sort of hook to get them to come off of Twitter and enter into whatever other online activity you want them to engage in. That's maybe another way to use Twitter.


 

AJ Jacobs  19:04  

Yeah. And, and my feeling is use everything possible. Just don't discriminate however you get your message out. But I think some forms of getting the message out are more effective. And, for instance, stories -- I actually think it's very unfortunate that humans love stories instead of statistics. It would be nice if we all found statistics as emotionally appealing, but we don't. So, you and I talked about this before, like really focusing in on one, like doing a story where you follow someone who got $1,000 from Give Directly and how it changed their life. And you can put that out in whatever form you want article video, and then say, this happens millions of times a day. So donate to this cause, as opposed to just saying, you know, there are a billion people who live in poverty, therefore you should donate just focusing in on the one person.


 

Julia Galef  20:07  

Stories are good. I think another thing you can do even on, you know, Twitter or social media where people are not going to read a long nuanced article is creating images that people will share and convey a message really well. So one person on Twitter who I think does this excellently and his message is actually pretty aligned with the EA is Max Roser, who does Our World in Data. And he shares these charts and graphs showing how dramatically the rate of people living in extreme poverty has declined over the years or showing how infant mortality has gone down are showing a map of the world and the incidence of malaria and you know, 1990 versus today, and they're just very compelling, and they tell a story in an instant. They don't go as viral as Trump memes, but among sort of thoughtful, intellectually curious people, I think they care a lot.


 

Will MacAskill  21:07  

And so one question from the audience, which I think is good, despite on this topic is about what about the idea of an EA comedy show, like a sketch show? Because I actually think there's so many good examples of EA thinking through comedy because it has that tension between like, there's this argument there, but it's also transgressing a taboo often. So one example of this is David Mitchell, a British comedian had a sketch called Not Enough Drownings, which was about how in this very large area of the UK, no one drowned. And he was saying, that's very bad allocation of resources if we're putting so many resources into, you know, getting one drowning down to zero, then, like, think of what that money could have done.


 

Julia Galef  21:55  

Like, if people never drowned in pools, then you're not swimming enough.


 

Will MacAskill  22:00  

Okay. Yeah, actually, kind of similar idea. I mean, do you think there's actually potential there?


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  22:07  

It depends on who you want to watch it. And that's actually, I think, in all seriousness, an important thing to think about anytime you're talking about communicating on media, because on the one hand, preaching to the choir, it's thought of as not a good thing to do. But on the other hand, I mean, you were just talking Will, in your opening talk about, you know, the strength of a community. And a community's continual bond often comes from that kind of preaching to the choir of like, let's have you know, whatever it is a weekly comedy show, where we all get to laugh together about the things that we agree about, I don't think that's necessarily bad. I would guess you're not going to reach across the aisle, so to speak, and like, pull people who wouldn't otherwise agree with you to laugh at those kinds of things. But there could really be benefit to the people who are already on board laughing together.


 

AJ Jacobs  23:12  

And I think actually, it could be pretty effective. Like what we were just talking about, trying to cover a slow-motion disaster, like a fast crisis, where we talk about these killer missiles that are attacking 1000s of kids, if you do a video series on a bunch of different real crises, and do it in the style of, you know, CNN, I think that could be very funny. And, and that would get the message across not just for the people who already believe it, but be like, oh, yeah, that's true. Like, why are we focusing on a car crash when there are 1000s dying?


 

Julia Galef  23:58  

Maybe a good example of what you're talking about comes from Monty Python. There was this running thing they did and now for something completely different are the what's it called? Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was the "Parrots News Network", where they presented world news like, you know, an ocean liner crash, so there was a hurricane. And then they would always say no parrots were injured. I don't know how many people made this connection. But for me, the connection was like, you know, in the US when we cover news in the world, the main emphasis is always like we're Americans, like how did this impact us as Americans, but it like looks silly when it's a parrot but you know.


 

Will MacAskill  24:42  

Okay, so changing tack a little bit. So, Joe, you mentioned Well, one solution is maybe you get, do all the research, you come to certain conclusions, and then you just storify them. And I've heard at least from people I respect that -- but I don't know this is true --but at least they've set it to be true that Deep Impact and Armageddon had a really big impact on US policy with respect to near-earth asteroids, where they dramatically increase the amount of spending monitoring near-earth asteroids. So, you know, these two asteroid movies seem to have a great impact in terms of existential risk mitigation. And other people, [talking to Joe] you've told me a bit about Participant Media, which are, for example, the film Contagion where it was a socially motivated film to try and get people wanting a bit more about mass pandemics. Do you think we could do more of this? Do you think it's potentially impactful? How would we know? Could we do the same for AI?


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  25:41  

I mean I'd be really curious to know how true that really is if those two Hollywood movies really had that influence and I would love to hear that they did because that would make me feel much more important for doing the work that I do. But, um, yeah, you mentioned Participant Media. So they're a company that their whole mandate is that they make movies that are supposed to have a positive social impact. And they've done movies that are very commercially successful, but they're also backed by someone who made this money. You know, Jeff Skoll, who made a lot of money because he was the first president of eBay. And he makes Participant Media happen. Now, some of their movies do well. But I don't know that in a purely market-driven production company you'd be able to do movies like that. But maybe, you know, combined with the sorts of philanthropic efforts that you're talking about, you could. I would also just tend to think that I think that stories can maybe have more impact when they're positive rather than negative like warnings. I find often like a warning in a movie or something might have the effect of trivializing the thing you're warning about just as much as really getting people concerned. Whereas showing just something positive, like for example,  a simple, very middle of the road, mainstream sitcom like Will & Grace -- it's the first sitcom to have a main character who was gay -- I think that probably did have an impact on marriage equality laws coming into effect some 10 years later. I don't know how you would measure that.


 

Will MacAskill  27:48  

So apparently, the film Babe resulted in a very significant drop in demand for bacon.


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  27:54  

So that's interesting. Yeah, see, nicely. Pigs.


 

AJ Jacobs  28:01  

And Nemo, my kids told me, Nemo resulted in people buying a lot of clownfish. I don't know if that's good. But I think I love Joe's point about the positive, because I do find, you can definitely guilt people, that's pretty easy. If he could do a thought experiment that you're basically murdering people by having a frappuccino every morning instead of giving it to charity. And I do believe that's true.


 

Will MacAskill  28:33  

That's the EA message you want in the media


 

AJ Jacobs  28:37  

But it's a little off-putting. So I prefer your imagery in your book where you said, you know, everyone can be a hero. Everyone can be Oskar Schindler. Everyone can rush into a burning house, just by contributing to the right. So that I find more appealing, at least to me, I don't know what the evidence shows. 


 

Will MacAskill  28:56  

So I think yeah, the world of Hollywood is something that probably like I certainly know, basically nothing about. And I think that will be true for many in this audience. You know, we often think about what communities are potentially receptive to these kinds of ideas. Do you think that we should be trying to do outreach among the kind of people in Hollywood trying to get people you said there's a lot of good intentions? Should we try and, you know, steer them in this in a more EA direction if we can or not?


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  29:29  

I would actually say yes. And I know I sort of started out by being sounding pessimistic. But I do think that and especially now, frankly, like, since the new president, there's probably more appetite in Hollywood for not just for activism, and but there is that but also for particularly, you know, more thoughtful, more rational thinking activism more rationally thoughtful activism. And yeah, I think that there probably would be receptivity there.


 

Will MacAskill  30:11  

Okay, great news. And so, yeah, what would you think then about, again, a couple of people have been asking in the audience, like, there are lots of different facets to kind of EA, what if we are going into kind of more mass media and trying to convey this message, what are the two or three things that we should be trying to distill EA down to? Because certainly, in my experience with dealing with the media, they just want to simplify everything differently, make it more controversial as well, what's the small number of messages that you think are kind of most core to the message?


 

AJ Jacobs  30:51  

Well, I mean, I was thinking on the way over about the different parts of EA, and I broke it down into three. And that was to give to the right cause, like AI or global poverty, to give to the right charity within that cause that's most effective. And also to give more money in general, just up the percentage you give. And I actually think to give more is the is really the easiest because the others you have to think about for a little, but like, the fact that everyone should give more money, that's pretty basic, pretty. So I don't know, those to me are the three keys to get across.


 

Julia Galef  31:41  

Here's something I've been thinking about recently in terms of EA messaging. So the original model, or like, a sort of default model of communication about EA is you should be giving more money to important EA causes. And then I think people know, advocates noticed that there was often a lot of pushback where people felt like, "Oh, you're telling me I can't have my latte in the morning," or "I'm a murderer." And they started modifying the message into this like two bucket model where like, look, in this bucket, you're spending money on yourself, on luxuries, you can have your latte, you can take vacations, but then like when you do give to charity, without the other bucket and EA, like our thesis is that there's like much better ways to get to charity than you know, a lot of people are currently doing. I think that there that the right model is actually a three-bucket model, which is maybe going against your simplify everything message. But so it seems to me now that what we want to say is like, okay, yeah, you have your first bucket, that's like the stuff you do for yourself, that's fine. Your second bucket is charitable giving or sort of giving, that you're doing an altruistic week for stuff that you just personally care about, like, you know, your local community center, you're like local arts organization, maybe the college you went to, if you care about that, or an animal shelter, and that's fine. That's you giving stuff that matters to you. And then the third bucket is helping the world. And that third bucket is what EA is really about. The third bucket is where EA can create a dramatic improvement in the effectiveness of people's giving both by helping them pick effective charities or nonprofits or charities but also think about which causes are gonna have the greatest impact which causes are important and neglected and tractable, etc. And I think my current intuition, I could be wrong about this is that separating those second and third buckets reduces that that like reflexive reaction that people have, where they have to defend why, you know, giving to their college is actually the most effective thing for the world. And they sort of tie themselves in knots because they feel like, you know, they're their own giving us the challenge and maybe will disagree with me. But my guess is that separating those buckets, makes the message like it reduces the barriers of the message.


 

Will MacAskill  34:13  

I mean, that's certainly how I convey things when I talk to families. Yeah, I actually have more buckets than you.


 

Julia Galef  34:21  

I'm guilty of having three.


 

Will MacAskill  34:23  

Well, let's not go into too much. Even within the second bucket, there are different reasons like one is reciprocity, like to your alma mater, another is like some, you know, part of your identity, maybe you give to an LBGT rights group because it's just kind of defining kind of who you are. The third is like, well, I have a personal connection. So even within that, like giving for things you like, there are various buckets, as well. And yeah, you can often you know, buy those things, they will be cheaply. So like 5% of your spending goes in that 95% on helping the world but that is hard once you've got like six buckets that's in between. Joe, did you have anything to say that?


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  35:06  

Well, sure, I guess I would focus. Well, and maybe just for the sake of variety, focus less on giving money. Because I think generally, especially if we're talking about communicating via the media, and some stranger who doesn't know anything about EA, just hearing about it, if you start out by this is going to be about how you should give money to something. I think you're probably going to just turn a lot of people off right away. One of the things that I find the most appealing and I wonder how, if there's a way to like distill it down, is just thinking rationally. And I think there is, again, I was sort of touching on this a second ago, there is a real appetite nowadays, for that, in light of what's going on in Washington, in light of, I think a lot of people are sort of sick of the kind of meme culture and sort of the echo chamber effect. People talk about that a lot. And maybe if you could sort of just present the antidote to all that stuff is rational thinking. And that's sort of a soundbite version of it. But you know, rather than just adhering to, you know, one side or the other, how do you know what news is fake news, etc. There actually is a way to parse some of this stuff. And it started in the Scientific Revolution 500 years ago, and it's the pinnacle of humanity. And like, this is what EA is about. It's thinking, thinking rationally about, you know, what you're going to do with your life and your job, or what you're going to do with your money, et cetera, et cetera. But what we're really here to promote is, let's, let's think.


 

Will MacAskill  36:54  

Yeah, I really hope we are according to that.


 

Julia Galef  36:57  

My innermost thoughts come out of Joe Gordon-Levitt.


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  37:03  

I just took that from one of your YouTube videos.


 

AJ Jacobs  37:07  

When I was writing my article on effective altruism, I tried and struggled with how to get across in like, an elevator pitch, what it is, and I don't know if I hit on the right metaphors, but one that resonated with some people was Moneyball for saving the world, like safer. And another one was like, if, if Mother Teresa and Spock had a baby, that would be effective altruism, although I know some people think --


 

Will MacAskill  37:42  

Well, Julia is gonna object she has a whole talk on The Straw Vulcan. 


 

AJ Jacobs  37:46  

And Mother Teresa. Yeah.


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  37:54  

Moneyball is a really good example, though. I hadn't thought of that. But that's exactly what that movie is about. Yeah. I don't know if you guys have seen that movie. But it's really that's a really great movie for that.


 

Will MacAskill  38:04  

Okay, so I think the final question, then again, coming from the audience is just what, like, single or a couple of bits of the kind of most actionable advice would you have both for individuals in the room who are, you know, engaging in the media or trying to spread these messages, whether general EA or specific cause areas? And second for the sorts of organizations like the Center for Effective Altruism, and GiveWell, Open Philanthropy? If you give them one piece of advice, what would that be? And we can go, AJ, you can start.


 

AJ Jacobs  38:33  

I can start. Oh, I guess one thing I find effective, again, is not stressing the negative and the guilt but stressing the positive. And also the idea that everyone, you know, the media is very splintered, of course, but there are some things that go across the aisle, like self-help, for instance. Everyone wants to feel good. So stressing the idea that you can get that warm glow, there's all this science about how giving and helping the world makes you feel better. So maybe trying to focus on that, focus on how this can help you, the reader as opposed to just helping their world.


 

Julia Galef  39:24  

Oh, well, I talked earlier about this failure mode of wanting to jump right to the really intellectually-interesting-to-you topics. And that's a mistake. I personally have made many, many times. Another mistake that I've made many times that I suspect other EAs have or Will make is -- so I would write these blog posts or give these interviews. And I would think to myself, "Oh, I don't want people to misunderstand me and think I'm saying X. So let me add a line in there." That's like, just to be clear, I'm not saying X. And then the comment section was full of people saying how can you say X. And, you know, the lesson is just kind of to Joe's point earlier, you have to say something again and again. And you have to say it loudly and in a way that's sort of salient to people that sticks. And you know, I think you also have to kind of, not just claim that you're not saying X, but sort of act and speak in a way that someone who didn't believe X would act and speak in. That's kind of an abstract thing.


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  40:38  

"I am not a crook" is a classic example. Richard Nixon said I am not a crook, everyone thought he was a crook. 


 

AJ Jacobs  40:44  

Or saying, I am the most humble man in the world. 


 

Julia Galef  40:49  

I mean, I was thinking of things where it's reasonable. Okay, I'll just give you an example. If you're like criticizing a government program an intervention that was, you know, ineffective, for example. A lot of people are gonna read that and kind of assume like, Oh, they're a libertarian, they just like think the government should be small. And maybe that's not what you think, and not the impression you want to leave people with. But because people who tend to criticize government programs also statistically tend to dislike big government, then they're going to draw that assumption. So you kind of have to try to predict what assumptions or inferences people will make about you and your values based on what you literally said, and then sort of go farther than you think you need to go to erase that assumption. Because people, people reading my blog post, they're not reading it that closely, they may not even see your parse, that line that I put in there to try to protect myself. And they also have these priors that you really have to overcome, strong priors about what someone like you believe. And I think this is something that EA struggles with, that we kind of, in some ways, we kind of pattern match to like the current villain in the media, which is like neolibertarian tech bro, who wants to, like remake the world in his own image and isn't going to bother with, traditional institutions like democracy. And this is, like I see crazy, like, absurd critiques of people fitting that has been fit into or who themselves fit that stereotype. Like there was an article criticizing Mark Zuckerberg for spending money on cancer research. And the journalist was like, this is terrible. Because if you save old people, then the world will be overpopulated. And I was like, first of all, that's kind of a horrid thing to say, but also where were you all these years, but NIH and NSF were funding cancer research. It's only now that a tech bro is funding cancer research, that it's a bad thing. And I see the same thing with EA where, you know, because we're analytical, a lot of us are like software engineers or in finance, we tend to sort of have a similar like, with cleverness, we can do better than the existing wisdom, or the existing institutions. And that's shared by the, like tech pro archetype. Anyway, so there's some pattern matching happening there. And I think you have to kind of go out of your way to overcome that prior.


 

Will MacAskill  43:14  

Okay, Joe?


 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt  43:15  

Yeah, I guess, one piece of advice that just always think about if you're going to communicate via especially mass media of any kind is, know your audience know who you're speaking to. And especially, I think, in the case of EA, there are maybe two categories to think about. There are the folks who are already into thinking rationally and kind of into the kind of mindset that you talk about the scientific mindset that you mentioned in your opening talk. And if that's who you're talking to, great, then you can use, you know, that kind of rational argument. But if you're not talking to someone like that, if you're talking to a probably what would be a larger audience, I think you probably have to accept that that kind of rational argument isn't going to work. And you have to tell stories. You have to tell emotionally-based, you know, human interest stories, and those aren't necessarily bad. I happen to love those. I spend my life telling them but I think there are probably ways that you can tell stories that are pertinent to what EA is about. But you have to do it that way or else. No, no. Those folks won't listen.


 

Will MacAskill  44:33  

Oh, okay. Well, yeah, let us all thank our panelists here. This was a really fun and interesting talk.


 

Thank you.

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