The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread – April 2016

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Open thread
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The Monthly EA Newsletter – April 2016 Edition

EA Newsletter Logo
Hello hello,

What do Easter eggs, cheesy jokes and EA job posts have in common?

Nothing. But you can find two of these things in this newsletter. 

Enjoy!

Le team
 
Articles and Community Posts
 
Here’s a great post with four ideas that you probably already agree with. “Individually, they each might seem a bit trite or self-evident. But taken together, they have significant implications for how we think about doing good in the world.” If you also think that this makes for a great introductory article to EA, share it with a friend or two!

Ever tried to change some of your habits? Did you find it difficult? Have a look at this postfrom Charlie Bresler, Executive Director of The Life You Can Save. If this kind of thinking appeals to you, consider taking part in a CFAR workshop (we're big fans of them!).

80,000 Hours did a beast of a review of the research on income and happiness (“full reading time: 15 minutes”). Are you happy now?

If you’re interested in what Bill Gates thinks about artificial intelligence and whether he would pick up $40,000 he found on the sidewalk, check out this recent Reddit AMA.
Updates from EA Organizations
 
80,000 Hours

There’s a bunch of new 80k articles on cause areas you might have missed! Dive straight into these: global health problemsbiosecurityfactory farming, and prioritisation research. Thanks to them, you can also learn which skills make you most employable (then combine this knowledge with the job postings below please!).

Animal Charity Evaluators

ACE published several blog posts in March, including one on the impact of social media and another on comparing advocacy in different countries. They also announced a call for abstracts for the 2016 Symposium on Multidisciplinary Research in Effective Animal Advocacy in November at Princeton.

Charity Entrepreneurship

The Charity Entrepreneurship team continues to do large amounts of research work to find the best charities to found. You can see the first round of published intervention reportshere and their other updates here.

GiveWell

Read all about the documented progress GiveWell made throughout 2015. Well, there’s actually no undocumented progress GiveWell makes. That’s because they’re transparent. See how great that is? GiveWell also described why offering donors calls is likely to be an important part of their outreach in the future. Individuals can sign up for a conversation with GiveWell staff here.

Giving What We Can

Giving What We Can recently produced research reports on areas such as cancerclimate changerefugees and the best ways to improve education. The latter two were requested for a meeting with former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Giving What We Can now has 1700+ members pledging 10% of their income to effective charities.

Local Effective Altruism Network

LEAN have seeded over 50 new EA groups recently – see if there’s a new group near you.

Machine Intelligence Research Institute

MIRI is accepting applicants for its new Colloquium Series on Robust and Beneficial AI. This program, running the first three weeks of June, will feature hands-on workshops and presentations by Stuart Russell, Tom Dietterich, Bart Selman, and other leading AI researchers. In other news, MIRI has a new COO and new technical results on self-referential reasoning in bounded agents.

Open Philanthropy Project

The Open Philanthropy Project published a blog post discussing “hits-based giving”, i.e. its openness to supporting philanthropic work that may fail to accomplish its goals, so long as the overall expected value is high enough.

Sentience Politics

Sentience Politics has launched a $2,000 essay prize for the best strategies to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings. They are hosting a conference on cutting-edge, innovative strategies to reduce animal suffering on May 21-22 in Berlin. The registration closes on April 17 – reserve a spot now.

The Global Priorities Project

GPP continued its policy engagement in their focus areas of global catastrophic risk, research impact, and cause prioritisation. They presented their white paper on biotechnology risk management for a National Academies of the Sciences symposium. And they continued to advise on using research budgets as official development assistance and responded to the UK’s Stern consultation on research impact.

The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save is looking for people to build on early success running Giving Gamesin secular/humanist communities. Find a United Coalition of Reason or Secular Student Alliance group near you that you can reach out to about running a Giving Game – both organizations have endorsed the activity for their members! Send questions togivinggames@thelifeyoucansave.org.
Job Postings

Dreams do come true. You can now review career paths for 80k (as a freelancer (yeah!)).

Do you know what “type theory” and “machine self-reference” is or know people who know such things? If so, you should definitely spread the news that MIRI is seeking to hireresearch fellows in these areas.

MIRI has also just announced the details of this year’s Summer Fellows program. The sooner you apply, the better.

GiveWell is advertising for a number of positions, for instance in operations, outreach and research.

Apply to work at Evidence Action in Washington as a Cost-Benefit Modeller (cool!).

GiveDirectly is recruiting for both a VP Partnerships and a VP Marketing, among other positions.

If you’re a scientist, you probably don’t want to miss out on this offer by CSER – they are looking for a Postdoctoral Research Associate.

.impact is seeking a full-time or part-time employee in Vancouver, focusing on the local effective altruism network. For internships, apply by April 13th, and for full-time positions, apply by April 20th. For more details, see here

They have also created an analytics fellowship program for volunteer projects – apply here.

The Effective Altruism Foundation is looking for a operations manager in Berlin.

Raising for Effective Giving (REG) is currently seeking a Director of Growth.

Sentience Politics is hiring! They are looking for an Outreach Coordinator, a Political Campaign Manager and a Director of Content to join them full-time or part-time at their office in Berlin.

And do check out other offers through this community-nurtured site, and join this job postings Facebook group.
Other Announcements

The Future of Humanity Institute is hosting an essay competition on food system shock with a £2000 prize.  The subject matter of the essay should address the question, “How could we feed everyone in the event that we experience a global crises in which there is a sudden reduction in agriculture?” The closing date for applications is April 15. Details are here.  

LEAN is running a global fundraiser for Deworm the World. “Living on Less” challenges participants to get sponsored to live on $2.50 a day for 3 days (though participants can adjust the number of days and the amount). To register your interest in participating, sign up here or email livingonless@eahub.org
 
Timeless Classics

It’s time for everyone to finally Get Along With People Who Are Totally Wrong, using these six actions.
 
Go forth and do the most good!

Let us know how you liked this edition and how we can improve further.

See you on May 5!

Georgie, Michał, Pascal and Sören
– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team

The Effective Altruism Newsletter is a joint project between the Centre for Effective Altruism, theEffective Altruism Hub and .impact
 
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21 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:19 AM
New Comment
[-][anonymous]6y 3

Is there a guide for promoting EA or local EA hubs in non English-speaking countries?

Hey - I'm replying from .impact's Local Effective Altruism Network project (http://dotimpact.im/focusprojects/lean/). There isn't a guide that I know of yet, though I think it'd be a good idea to create one.

There's some non-English language websites listed on the Hub (https://eahub.org/links#non-english-languages) and some inter-group calls to look out for (https://www.facebook.com/groups/localea/events/) - you might like to suggest a call for a specific language.

We'd always encourage local groups/individuals to translate materials if they have the time and energy, though it can be a big ask.

What would you expect to be different for non English-speaking countries? And if there are such differences, which is quite probable, won't differences of a similar kind exist in turn between non English-speaking countries?

I am also unaware of any comprehensive guide for promoting EA, although there are guides on aspects of what can be considered promoting EA, like on establishing chapters and giving talks, of course.

If you are looking for specific advice, I suggest you talk to EA organizations like .impact or EA Outreach.

[-][anonymous]6y 0

What would you expect to be different for non English-speaking countries?

The main difference is there are a lot of EA texts available in english, and EA and GiveWell have been mentioned in media in English a lot. Same is not true for Russian. Also GiveWell is very American-centrous, it compares everything to US based charities and in other ways assumes that the reader is living in the US.

.impact or EA Outreach

Thanks, I'll take a look at them.

I have a variety of articles in mind to write on a variety of global catastrophic risks, such as on nuclear risks, AI risks, and environmental risks. I was thinking of posting them to the EA Forum. However, they'd mostly exclusively be about global risks in particular, assume rudimentary background knowledge about them, and would likely only be of interest to people concerned about global risks, not to all EAs in general. Would you thus consider these appropriate content for the EA Forum, or too niche/narrow content, and better served on another forum?

There are lots of posts that only focus on one of the four main areas of EA and assume some background knowledge (like what AMF is), so I think your proposal is fine.

(I'm assuming this open thread is for random EA questions. Yes?)

A non-EA friend said to me today, that she believes/fears that EA is a small echo chambery group, and so its conclusions are not to be trusted? (And was also concerned that the conclusions of GiveWell are not peer reviewed).

My response was that while you can't eliminate echo chamber possibilities, EAs are very self-reflective and consider critiques carefully, and that GiveWell is very transparent, and makes recommendations based on scientific evidence from universities and other organisations. I also said that the goals and methodology of EA make a lot of sense to me.

I don't think I did justice to EA there, and I can't say that my response was very convincing to her. The conversation made me very uneasy - partially because I always feel a bit upset by friends criticising what I hold dear. Perhaps she thinks I have joined a cult. Perhaps I have joined a cult!

I would welcome any comments on how you feel about the smallness and reliability of EA, and whether anyone has some different ways of thinking about it.

(I'm assuming this open thread is for random EA questions. Yes?)

Yes, all posts of the EA newsletter to the Forum also double as open threads.

A non-EA friend said to me today, that she believes/fears that EA is a small echo chambery group, and so its conclusions are not to be trusted? (And was also concerned that the conclusions of GiveWell are not peer reviewed).

It depends how wide you want to cast a net in defining 'effective altruism'. Effective altruism is now a social movement of several thousand people. This isn't simply based on how the public Facebook group, arguably the most front-facing presence for EA anywhere, has ~10k members. While there are many community members who are students, or aren't necessarily donating tons of money right now, or working for an effective organization full-time, by attendance to EA conferences and membership in local EA clubs and chapters worldwide, there are at least a few thousand people who take EA very seriously.

Effective altruism is largely divided among four cause areas: poverty alleviation (in practice, primarily evidence-based global health interventions, and cash-transfers); animal advocacy (in practice, mostly focused on factory farming, with a wide spread of positions from mere animal welfare reform to full-out animal liberation); existential risk mitigation (largely focused on potential future risks from artificial/machine superintelligence); and metacharity (fundraising or raising awareness of effective altruism or its composite causes). From years of personal experience, I can attest there is much informal criticism within and between causes, by a variety of advocates within EA, of different approaches and styles of evaluation within EA.

However, most of this isn't front-facing, and, from the outside, it more or less appears effective altruism is somewhat monolithic. For the record, it seems the community consensus that, other things being equal, Givewell's research is considered top-notch. Within a focus on poverty alleviation itself, there isn't much deviation by other organizations or camps from Givewell's recommendations.

  • One of the first EA organizations was Giving What We Can (GWWC), which, among its other roles, acts as a charity evaluator. It uses a different methodology than Givewell, but largely reaches the same conclusions in its charity recommendations.

  • AidGrade is another charity evaluator which is often associated with effective altruism, and evaluates charities on similar empirical principles to GWWC and Givewell. How they differ is that AidGrade uses statistical meta-analyses, based on its own inclinations, and at the behest of philanthropists with an evidence-based approach, in a way more similar to more in-depth analyses reminiscent of fields like health or development economics. AidGrade works by providing data on various interventions on international aid, but eschews making specific recommendations and prefers to let consumers of their meta-analyses reach their own conclusions.

Much of Givewell's work is focused on determining which organizations are the most competent and efficient at delivering a given intervention. These interventions are usually determined beforehand, by academic researchers, as being the most cost-effective and some of the best ways to increase quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), or some other metric of well-being. Examples include:

While there are criticisms of effective altruism as a narrow and new phenomenon in philanthropy and doing good in general. However, the foundations for all of Givewell's recommended charities, and the interventions they pursue, all have a basis in peer review.

Thanks Evan, that was a very thorough and helpful reply. I am now better equipped to answer that question, and feel less uneasy too.

I love this email! Impressively comprehensive.

When is EA Global, particularly in the UK?

EAGx Oxford is planned for autum I heard. There'll be only one EAG, in the Bay area the first weekend of August. Not sure if the date is set in stone yet.

What's the distinction between EAGx and EAG? I saw an EAGx is happening in Boston and had not heard of it.

I assume it's like TED and TEDx where TED is the main event and then there are events run independently by organisers in different locales.

Yeah, that's right, there are currently 9 on the website (http://eaglobal.org/all-eagx-events), though I'm pretty sure there are several more that are being planned.

EAGxBoston and EAGxBerkeley are happening very soon (April 30), while the others are significantly later.

Hi folks! Today, April 25th, is World Malaria Day

This is not directly about effective altruism per se, but I wrote a short article encouraging folks to donate $2.50 for World Malaria Day: Just One Net, an event organized by the nice folks at Giving What We Can.

It's a little bit rushed and will probably not have unique insights or sufficiently detailed explanations for dedicated EAs. Nonetheless, I am hoping that folks who like the article/concept will be willing to share it with friends/families/acquaintances to help spark the conversation on effective giving.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linch-zhang/one-of-the-most-prolific_b_9770536.html

Thanks for mentioning the FHI food contest! A few clarifications: the top prize is $2000, but the total prizes are closer to 2000 pounds. Also, the deadline has been extended to April 30.

There have been multiple spam accounts posting spam emails in the comments of different posts on the EA Forum, for several weeks now. While there isn't a button on any of these comments themselves to report them, I've found that if the parent who received a reply from a spam account views the comment in their EA Forum account 'inbox', there is a 'report' button on the bottom of the comment next to it. For example, user 'michaltrzesimiech' could go to his inbox, and report this comment.

I don't know the frequency with which reported comments are dealt with. I don't know why there isn't a report button on the permalinks or threads of comments. I suspect the original design decision was so that reporting function wouldn't be abused by just any user on the site browsing the comments, and would work only at the private behest of an OP. If this is the case, I condone this decision, as almost all real comments made on the Forum have been in good faith, and the fact spam accounts are posting here is really weird and unforeseen.

Disclosure: I am not an admin or webmaster for the EA Forum, but I am in occasional contact with those who are.

I have a couple questions about donating stock to charity in the U.S. Particularly I'm wondering about the case where someone has cash available to make a donation, but they want to instead donate an equivalent amount of appreciated stock and invest the cash in the same stock. This would decrease the cost basis of their stock, reducing the amount of tax owed when selling shares of the stock in the future.

  1. When is the best time to invest the cash: as you receive the money, right before you donate, or after any restricted period after you donate (some funds impose a waiting period to buy back the stock if you have recently sold shares)?
  2. If the stock only has a small long-term capital gain, is there any advantage to donating cash this year and waiting to donate stock until the gain has increased?

I don't know much about taxes -- can you explain why this would help? I might want to do it myself :)

Currently though, it seems like you would pay the same amount of taxes in either case. Let's take a small example -- suppose you invested $75 two years ago, which is now worth $100. And let's suppose it would be $125 in another two years, at which point you would sell it all.

Now currently you have to decide whether to donate $100 in cash, or to sell the $100 of stock and reinvest the $100 of cash into the stock. (I've heard of some law that prohibits you from re-buying the exact same stock, to avoid gaming the tax laws, but let's ignore that for now -- in any case, you could buy a different but similar stock.)

If you donate the $100 in cash, then:

  • You get a deduction of $100 on your taxes this year because of your donation
  • When you sell the $125 in two years, you realize a long-term gain of $50, which you pay taxes on

If you sell the $100 of stocks and reinvest the $100 in cash, then:

  • You get a deduction of $100 on your taxes this year because of your donation
  • You realize a long-term gain of $25 this year, which you pay taxes on
  • When you sell the $125 in two years, you realize a long-term gain of $25, which you pay taxes on

In both cases, you get a deduction of $100 this year, and you pay long-term capital gains taxes on $50 (albeit at different times). So unless you expect that your tax rate will be a lot higher in two years, it doesn't seem like this is really helping.

In fact, since you sold and re-bought your stocks, you've reset the buy date, and now it's possible that any gains you make will be short-term capital gains (if you sell the stock within a year), which would then be taxed at a higher rate.

If you donate the stock directly to a charity without selling it first, you don't pay taxes on long-term gains. In your example, if you donate $100 of stocks and reinvest the $100 in cash, then you don't pay taxes on the $25 capital gain. When you sell the $125 in two years, you pay taxes on a long-term capital gain of $25, compared to the gain of $50 if you donated the $100 in cash instead.

Here's an article that describes this in more detail: http://www.fivecentnickel.com/2010/04/30/reset-your-investment-cost-basis-with-charitable-donations/ It also mentions the wash sale rule, which might be the law that you were thinking of. That rule only applies if you sell assets at a loss, so it wouldn't come into play here.

You're right that you could end up paying more in taxes if you sold the stocks less than a year after reinvesting. Another caveat is that you can only deduct donations of stock up to 30% of adjusted gross income, unlike 50% for cash donations.