Two Easy Ways to Help Each Other

by Jay_Shooster13th Apr 201713 comments



I think there are probably a lot of ways we can use our connections, credentials, and experience to help each other -- especially extremely promising EAs who are early in their careers -- in ways that don't require a lot of effort. Forgive me if this has already been discussed before.

Two ways that I think are particularly promising: speaking invitations and awards from fancy university clubs.

Speaking Invitations

While at NYU Law, I could have easily arranged for an event that allows every EA in NYC to speak for 10 minutes on a preferred topic. From that point forward, they could list as a speaking at a top tier law school on their CV, and they also gain speaking experience. If I left it up to the speakers to promote the event and decide on a date and time, the cost to me as the organizer would be virtually nothing, maybe 10 minutes to submit the room application and 20 minutes of responding to emails. Most of the time spent would be at the events themselves, getting to hang out with and learn from EAs, which I'd want to do anyway. I'm also not really putting my reputation on the line either.

Awards from Fancy University Clubs

This one I'm less sure about but I think is still promising. Couldn't the Harvard Effective Altruism Club, for example, give out a bunch "Harvard Effective Altruism Awards" every year, with pretty minimal effort? You could require references of two employees of from a list of EA orgs to screen people who weren't involved. This might require taking on a bit more reputational risk, but it seems like the reference requirement would mostly solve that problem. It would also be another nice way of highlighting different people in the community. There are so many outstanding people involved in EA that are not widely known within the community. And there are probably a lot of impressive and useful things that you don't know about people you thought you knew. 

Other things?

I bet there are other low cost ways of boosting community members credentials/experience/connections/knowledge  that we should do more of. I, for example, would be willing to have a Skype call to any animal-focused EA or anyone interested in law-- I could probably connect them with really useful people and advise them about career stuff-- but there might be a lot of people who are too bashful to come out and ask for that.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on these and other low cost ways of helping each other. 


12 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 8:04 PM
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[My views, not my employer's]

I appreciate the spirit in which this was written, and I think we should all be looking out for more ways to help each other, especially in ways that directly improve skills - e.g. through the advice and mentorship you generously offer.

However, some of this feels a little deceptive to me. If people see 'speaking at a top law school' as impressive, that's probably because they think that I was invited because I'm a great speaker/have expertise that lots of people in the law school value. If in fact I was invited just because I was involved in effective altruism, and I only gave a 10 minute talk, I might be giving someone a misleading impression of my talents. Similarly, people might think that receiving the award you describe would require a higher bar of achievement than the one you suggest.

I'm probably overreacting here - this is the sort of thing that people do on CVs all of the time, and so perhaps people automatically downgrade such claims on CVs. However, I think that it's valuable for our internal culture, and for the community's reputation, to hold ourselves to high standards, and I think this article would have been better if it had noted these issues. I'm not sure whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

"I think this article would have been better if it had noted these issues."

Yes, it would have! Very glad you raised them. This is part of what I had in mind when mentioning "reputational risk" but I'm glad you fleshed it out more fully.

That being said, I think there is a low cost way to reap the benefits I'm talking about with integrity. Perhaps we have different standards/expectations of what's misleading on a resume, and what kind of achievements should be required for certain accolades. Maybe a 20 min presentation that required a short application should be required before doing this. I don't know. But I find it hard to believe that we couldn't be much more generous with bestowing accolades to dedicated members of the community without engaging in deception.

Maybe I can try to restate this in a way that would seem less deceptive...

I genuinely believe that there are tons of deserving candidates for accolades and speaking engagements in our community. I think that we can do more to provide opportunities for these people at a very low cost. I hope to help organize an event like this in NYC. I probably wouldn't leave it open to just anyone to participate, but I would guess (from my experience with the NYC community) that few people would volunteer to speak who didn't have an interesting and informed perspective to share in a 15 minute presentation. Perhaps, I have an overly positive impression of the EA community though.

(ps. I think your response is a model of polite and constructive criticism. thanks for that!)

I agree it's possible to do these things without being misleading (e.g. give awards to those who deserve them, and put forward good speakers).

I suspect society adapts to ensure 'no free positive signals' (something like a social equivalent of conservation of energy). Imagine that you did put forward a lousy speaker (not that you were advocating doing this). If it's easy to put on events like this in such a way that nobody involved suffers a reputation hit (e.g. nobody attends and the organisation putting on the event couldn't care less that you put forward a bad speaker), then I bet the line 'gave a talk at a law school' won't actually be that useful on a CV. Or it will quickly become devalued by people who read CVs as they cotton on to what's going on.

While at any point in time there are some misleading signals you can grab that haven't yet been devalued, it's probably more efficient (and more enduring) to gain real skills and translate them into credible signals.

But your post is most charitably read as saying 'giving good speakers opportunities to perform', and 'reward people who have done virtuous things'.

I'm optimistic about this and think it's potentially a good idea.

EA is potentially unusual (unique?) in having a network of smart people distributed across good universities with the goodwill to help each other. I think EA is sufficiently new and lacking lots of professionals - compared to say, law - that there's probably low hanging fruit to research and talk about. I mean, Oxford has the Prioritisation Project and that's largely undergrads. I don't mean that to demean them; quite the opposite, I think they're doing valuable work and it indicates how much there is to be done which can also be done credibly.

FWIW, I think 'awards from EA clubs' will look strange to non-EA employers who won't understand it, and not obviously meaningful/credible to EA employers. But I'm prepared to be proved wrong and would like to see the idea fleshed out more.

I also think having EAs do research and gives talk to each other is valuable even if it doesn't go on anyone's CV.

I genuinely believe that there are tons of deserving candidates for accolades and speaking engagements in our community.

That's probably true, but I don't think it follows that the suggested strategy is unproblematic.

I guess the most plausible argument against your suggested strategy rests on the premise that there are tons of deserving candidates outside of our community as well, and that we have no reason to believe that EAs are, at present, on average under-credited. If that is right, then the aggregate effect of us systematically choosing EAs over non-EAs could, at least theoretically, be that EAs on average got more credit for their efforts than non-EAs.

I don't know how strong this effect would be, but I do think that this counter-argument should be addressed.

Agreed. And if I'm organizing speakers for an EA event I'd like to know whether a person's past speaking arrangements reflect any kind of merit.

In general, if you're considering takign some arguably seedy action that carries collective risks, and you see that everyone else has been avoiding the action, you should guess that you've underestimated the magnitude of these risks. It's called the Unilateralist's Curse.

In this case, the reputational risks that you've incurred seem to make this a pretty unhelpful post.

The standard way to ward off the unilateralist's curse is to consult others who bear the risk but who hold different views and assumptions in order to help you to make a less biased assessment.

For this post and in general, people should consult others before writing potentially risky posts.

I not sure I understand your point but I think you're being a bit harsh. I would have thought floating this on the EA forum as a potential suggestion (rather than a fait accompli) is exactly consulting others to see if it's a good idea. If the EA forum weren't (as far as I can tell) just filled with EAs, I'd agree.

Also, I think it's unhelpful in turn to tell other people they're effectively stupid for floating ideas as that 1. discourages people from sharing their views, which restricts debate only to the bold and 2. makes people feel unwelcome.

If the EA forum weren't (as far as I can tell) just filled with EAs, I'd agree.

I don't think we should necessarily be worried that, say, some journalist is reading this forum (which is what I take your comment to mean), so much that we should be worried that posts like this could potentially turn off people that are currently EAs or are considering becoming more involved in EA. Speaking personally, the suggestions floated in this post seemed a little dishonest to me.

You could argue that this particular post was net helpful (though I would disagree). The point I'm making, though, is that in general, people should consult others before posting things that can cause reputational damage on the public internet and that our social convention for such will need to be strong enough to counteract the unilateralist's curse.

We should definitely consider creating some awards for the EA community. Not only do they look good on your CV, but they also encourage people. However, they need to be limited in order to a) maintain value, b) maintain integrity/cred.

Speaking at an EA Global event is one such thing. EA Global: San Francisco is designed to have lots of workshops and small presentations by people from the EA community, so please let us know if there's something you'd like to present there.