12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:59 AM
New Comment

Project Proposal - The Altruist

Rough notes on an idea for a potentially large, high-impact project: launching an EA-focused, online long-form newspaper

"News, articles, and interviews on doing the most good"

 

 

What?

Concept: a news agency providing journalistic coverage of EA topics and organisations. 

In the style of ...The Atlantic; Vox; the Economist; the New Yorker; Current Affairs.

 

Types of articles this could include:

  • Interviews with B-Tier figures - I think the public face of EA is limited around a small number of A-Tier individuals (e.g. Will McAskill; Toby Ord; Peter Singer; Holden Karnofsky). Interviewing people directing highly-impactful work and organisations could increase the number of public figureheads for the community and generate interest in a wider range of organisations.
    • Interviewees could include figures within EA (e.g. Joey Savoie and Karolina Sarek (Charity Entrepreneurship); Michael Plant (Happier Lives Institute); Marcus Davis and Peter Wildeford (Rethink Priorities).
    • Interviewees could also include figures from high-impact organisations not directly tied to the EA community working on priority causes (e.g. Armond Cohen - Clean Air Task Force; Rob Mather - AMF). This could help to better publicise these organisations, potentially increasing donations and support for them.
  • Community member profiles - interviews discussing the story and motivations of a wide range of people in the community, highlighting its diversity of perspectives, motivations, and backgrounds. (e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/nov/09/i-give-away-half-to-three-quarters-of-my-income-every-year)
  • Narrative-driven cause profiles - articles that aim to explain key concepts within EA (e.g. longtermism) in a particularly engaging and relatable way (e.g. rooted in the stories of a few individuals or told from a perspective looking back on today from the future)
  • Success stories - highlight and celebrate progress made on key issues, either by EA organisations or more generally (e.g. positive government policy changes)
  • Guest posts from the Forum - with permission from authors, present the best few recent articles posted to the Forum in a more engaging, readable manner (e.g. with professional copyediting; with (more) pictures and diagrams)

 

Why? 

  • This would improve public perceptions of EA and key ideas while helping to mitigate future reputation risks.
  • Journalistic articles (e.g. interviews, story-based write-ups of key issues) provide a more accessible and appealing way of initially engaging with the ideas of effective altruism than currently exists.
    • Articles from The Altruist could provide a more engaging tool for community members to share the concept of EA with others. On a rough basis, I think attractive, long-form articles would be more engaging (a more familiar style; less content-dense; greater curation; a greater focus on readability) to a novice audience than the Forum or the effectivealtruism.org website.
  • This could provide valuable publicity and an increase in donations to organisations within EA that currently struggle for coverage (e.g. some of the charities more recently incubated by Charity Entrpreneurship)
  • If produced to a sufficient level of quality, these articles could be picked up by other news organisations and published elsewhere. Feasibly, this could increase the coverage of EA in other places as articles are published by certain news organisations that would not have commissioned the article from scratch.

How? 

  • CEA could provide seed funding for the organisation, assembling a small, well-qualified team to produce and curate the coverage.
  • Funding could be provided publicly or privately depending on whether explicit links between The Altruist and CEA would be beneficial or detrimental to either/ both organisation(s).
  • A pilot version could be produced with a skeleton website hosting an initial 5-10 high-quality articles, plus a digital magazine containing these articles advertised on the Forum and distributed via an email sign-up.
  • With sufficient popularity, The Altruist could feasibly later become fully independent and financially self-sustaining, either through advertising or subscriptions.

I would love to read this. What a great idea. Pursue it!!

Thank you! I'm thinking now that I may try to launch a trial version of this next month!

I got this sense, but I could be wrong--

Does it need to start big to get big? Could you start small-- just you, just one or a few articles perhaps? I.e. https://sive.rs/infinity

e.g. https://dynomight.net/ started pretty recently and is well-known now

It could start small for sure! A cheap, maybe solo trial version would make good sense. I think the larger concept of the project benefits from scale though, to add credibility for interviewing people and a size of readership/ projection that could usefully compete for attention with current news sources on EA topics.

Effective Self Help - Rough Concept

 

A rough explanation of the pilot project I am leading thanks to funding from the EA Infrastructure Fund.

 

Aim

To find the most effective ways in which people can improve their wellbeing, and to then share this information as simply and practically as possible. 

 

How will this be done?

  1. We will study and compile initial evidence for a wide range of: (1) potentially promising self-help interventions and (2) particularly valuable areas of wellbeing to focus on.
  2. From this long list, we will select the most promising interventions/ areas of wellbeing and undertake extended research into their effectiveness, based on an adapted framework of expected value and cost-effectiveness.
  3. A series of articles will then be published on the EA Forum to share the findings and recommend specific practices/ interventions.
  4. These articles can then be posted elsewhere and form the basis of a website that would in time provide a trusted, comprehensive, and effective guide to improving one’s wellbeing - for both community members and the wider public.

 

How is this valuable?

  1. Effective self-help advice has the potential to be highly cost-effective given the large audience published guidance could reach and the lack of costs involved in the project outside of researcher salary.
  2. Assuming that most people in the EA community are doing highly-impactful work (or will likely do so in future), a small increase in the wellbeing of EA community members should produce a tangible and valuable increase in the quality of highly important work.

 

As a (very rough and likely flawed) back of the envelope calculation of the project’s value:

  • A (mean) average post on the EA Forum receives 250 views (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ogkS8MyqtYzx6Zxev/the-ten-most-viewed-posts-of-2020 [in comments])
  • During the pilot of this project, we expect to produce 6-10 articles. Taking the middle there, we can say the pilot project’s total views will be 2000 (8 x 250).
  • If 5% of those viewers make a sustained change based on the article, we have 100 community members who have concretely benefitted.
  • Let’s then say the wellbeing gains from changes made based on the articles produce a knock-on 2% productivity increase.
  • Applied to a year in which two-thirds of the 100 community members worked full-time (which I believe is in line with the last EA Survey’s figures), this produces (67 x 200 = 13,400; 13,400 x 0.02 = 268 hours of added work [6.7 FT week’s of work]).

 

  • These figures don’t account for a range of additional benefits that seem plausible results of improving wellbeing in the community:
    • (e.g.) Reduced sick days; reduced community dropout from poor mental health; higher-quality research and improved networking/ collaboration from happier workplace dynamics.
    • I also expect the total audience to end up significantly larger than just people who read the Forum. I intend to post this information on other sites (e.g. LessWrong), as well as build a dedicated site for it, and then there's also the likelihood of people spreading the ideas through word-of-mouth/ their own blogs, social media, etc.

 

Why self-help?

  1. Other promising interventions already exist or are in development for improving access to and the quality of external mental health support (loosely classified as anything that requires a professional to administer it [e.g. therapy]).
  2. This project is based on the premise that current self-help literature is often anecdotal, lacking in thoroughness when assessing existing literature/ evidence, and narrative-driven rather than aimed at best providing practical guidance.
  3. Self-help advice within the EA community tends to avoid these pitfalls but is often only a partial exploration of a topic (which is entirely reasonable given most articles on the Forum are written for free).

 

Summary

On this basis, a funded research project following EA/ rational norms of collecting and presenting evidence could produce self-help guidance that is significantly more useful than is what is currently available. 

By providing the EA community with better advice, this project aims to produce a meaningful increase in community wellbeing.

This is very exciting! Great to see the EA Infrastructure Fund is funding work in this space. I've been working on a similar venture called Better (your project is most analogous to our research division). Feel free to reach out if you'd like to hear about my experiences or discuss collaboration!

It would be interesting to see which areas of life/well-being you will evaluate. We have a breakdown on our website! And also your prioritization method. We've created one which we're calling ABCD—audience, (net) benefits, certainty, and difficulty—which involves estimating and then multiplying the factors together. Loosely resembles the ITN and RICE frameworks.

A 2% well-being improvement seems pretty conservative, perhaps intentionally. Lynette reported adding 16.4 extra hours per month (a 10% increase assuming 160 hours worked per month), although I believe this was through self-reporting and not time tracking, and may not include survivorship bias and other adjustments. Still, I'd hope things like lighting  adjustments are pretty high impact.

Thanks for reaching out! Better looks a very interesting project with a lot of scope for impact. I'll message you to discuss experiences/ collaboration possibilities more.

I'm currently building a long list of interventions and wellbeing areas that seem particularly promising so what exactly I'll evaluate is still somewhat up in the air. The same goes for an evaluation method - I expect I'll use some adaptation of an expected value calculation, possibly combined with a weighted factor model - but I need to do more work on this before settling on a method.

As for the estimates, I agree that hopefully they are pretty conservative and that's definitely intentional. Quality evidence on many of these things can be hard to come by so I think it's best to shoot low. Also worth noting that I don't think wellbeing improvements = productivity improvements so while I've estimated a 2% productivity increase, I'd expect the wellbeing increase to be higher (maybe closer to 5% - and 5% is a lot once you start spreading the information!).

Lighting adjustments are definitely on the long list of promising areas and is a recommendation I have high hopes for.
 

@josh-jacobson is also working on something similar.

Thanks Hauke! Yep, at https://derisked.org/.

There's also James Norris at https://www.upgradable.org/.

Thanks to you both for the pointers!

EA groups should focus more on demonstrating value to new students

Aritcle idea posted here so I might be more likely to write it up properly in future. In the spirit of the best being the enemy of the good.

My relatively uninformed opinions on why some uni groups might be struggling to grow, or not growing as large/ fast as they could be...

  1. I think the current standard uni group programs can be off-putting to a significant proportion of potential participants
  • Intro fellowships and book clubs require work/ commitment on the part of the participant (application and weekly readings for the fellowship; weekly book chapters for the book club) with little demonstration of why that will be valuable for the student.
    • I think there's an over-reliance on an implicit assumption that people's curiosity about EA and desire to do good will be sufficiently motivating.
  • I don't think this is the optimum way of encouraging people to get involved as potentially good people are put off by the commitment necessary to get involved.
  • EA groups are competing for students' time with more general socialising, other societies, work commitments, coursework, adjusting to living in a new place, etc. A better value pitch is needed to incentivise people to choose EA involvement over other things that often offer more explicit benefits.

2. I think there's good ways in which EA groups can (better) market their value to new students

  • EA offers valuable career guidance for students (80k; 1:1 coaching; EA Forum articles) that new students could find useful once they're familiar with EA
  • EA offers lots of volunteering/ internship/ funding opportunities for students looking to build work experience to get involved in high-impact work
  • EA groups could put a greater emphasis on social/ other events that don't require work in advance (e.g. are just an opportunity to meet other people interested in improving the world effectively)
  • EA groups could teach the skills/ methods that underpin the EA and Rationality communities and are valuable framing for engaging with other work/ general life decisions (e.g. expected value; cost-effectiveness analyses; BOTECs; etc.)

The current model is plausibly a particularly large obstacle to poorer students. If you are already studying for a degree and working significant hours to cover bills, your time becomes precious enough that you need more than an interest in a topic to follow through with commitment. A fellowship may sound cool but it is also time-intensive with no clear benefit in comparison to your job that allows you to live a vaguely normal student life. Demonstrate value first.