Open Thread: July 2021

by Aaron Gertler1 min read1st Jul 202134 comments

13

Open thread
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If you're new to the EA Forum, consider using this thread to introduce yourself! 

You could talk about how you found effective altruism, what causes you work on and care about, or personal details that aren't EA-related at all. 

(You can also put this info into your Forum bio.)


If you have something to share that doesn't feel like a full post, add it here! 

(You can also create a Shortform post.)


Open threads are also a place to share good news, big or small. See this post for ideas.

34 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:46 PM
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Hi everyone,

Just wanted to introduce myself. I'm a musician and writer based in Boston. And I'm never not thinking about climate change. 

I found EA after looking up the word "longtermism" which peaked my interest after reading the Vox article "How to be a good ancestor." Never before has an "ism" so clicked with my own personal philosophy, and it felt like a relief to find a community that explores these ideas with such a clear-minded and logical approach.

Thank you all for caring.

Welcome! Glad you found us.

Hi,

maybe you find this overview of longtermism interesting if you have not already found it:

Intro to Longtermism | Fin Moorhouse

Hi Brendon :-) 

I'm also really curious about climate change and identifying neglected problems! (Ex: plant fewer trees, better monitor how much CO2 those trees absorb)

I'm kinda just a student though :D I'm from Toronto and I always found myself wondering HOW to act on my desire to impact neglected climate issues. Did you ever feel that way in your career? (I ask because most musicians/writers aren't extremely active with climate change, so you maybe were in a niche community too?)

Hi everyone,

I'm an academic researcher, and came across EA this year while reflecting on possible future research areas & career paths. I'm really enjoying combing through all these posts!

While exploring EA survey results (e.g. here) and similar community posts (e.g. here) I noticed contributors made solid attempts at transparency, but some links to source data or code are now invalid.

In the interests of EA transparency and posterity, it seems like there should be a single 'go-to' place to find and explore all the EA data (& code where relevant). I checked the Data (EA Community) tag but didn't find a guide. Perhaps I haven't gone deep enough yet, or perhaps there are GDPR barriers to this.

Anyone know if this - e.g. some master list of GitHub repositories or doi's - exists?

Please correct my newb mistake if this is not the right place to ask! Taking a shot here as I'm not yet confident enough with the rules to create a dedicated post.

Your instinct that there isn't a "go-to" place for all data is correct. Not sure about GDPR barriers, but it seems likely that a lot of things became unavailable (or were never available) because the people running those projects just got caught up in other things.

Fortunately, we have mechanisms for funding useful projects that no existing person maintains yet. If you're really interested in sorting through everything and making it available, that might be a good candidate for the EA Infrastructure Fund. And if you're busy with other things, you can even propose that they pay someone else to do this!

I agree. I was having some similar ideas. I'm particularly thinking about data surrounding effective giving choices and attitudes towards 'EA issues'.

Was thinking some tagging of EA-relevant data on kaggle.com, but the Github repo idea seems gret

Hi! My name is Henry Howard. I'm a doctor in Australia. I'm giving 50% of my income to charity all 2021 to normalise taking only what we need and Giving What We Can. You can find me at:

website: henryach.com/workathon

twitter: @henryachoward


I love the principle of doing altruism effectively but I am hesitant to align myself with the Effective Altruism movement.


I'm worried about the Effective Altruism movement's shifting focus to longtermism which I suspect is a "Pascal's mugging" by a utility monster (the monster being the theoretical quintillions of future humans) and which I worry is making the movement look unhinged, impractical and is limiting its appeal and impact.


I'm mostly vegan but I'm concerned about overemphasis on animal welfare. I feel that the Effective Altruism movement overvalues animal well-being vs human well-being. I also feel it ignores that improving human welfare is an avenue to improving animal welfare (people who are struggling don't have room to think about whether their chickens are free range).

Welcome! And well done to donate 50% — I only know a few people with ordinary jobs who've done this, and they're all among my favorite individuals. You're doing incredible good.

I feel that the Effective Altruism movement overvalues animal well-being vs human well-being.

The EA movement doesn't really have its own values, aside from a few baseline principles — it's a collection of individuals who agree on the principles but differ on many other things. If you were to ask something like "how valuable is saving a chicken from a year of constant suffering?", people in the movement would give you a vast range of answers.

If you think that a particular estimate you've seen from some EA-aligned organization is wrong, the EA Forum is a great place to make that argument!

 I also feel it ignores that improving human welfare is an avenue to improving animal welfare (people who are struggling don't have room to think about whether their chickens are free range).

It seems unlikely on its face that spending money on human welfare will do much for animals, relative to the incredible efficiency of e.g. cage-free campaigns. I don't think animal advocates ignore these side effects (I think almost everyone would agree that there's a link between economic prosperity and moral circle expansion). But I do think that they'd judge the side effects as very minor in the grand scheme of things. 

If you think the side effects aren't minor... sounds like another potential Forum post!

Note that there's been some conversation about the direct opposite idea — that wealthier people eat more animal products, which means that improving human welfare might lead to additional animal suffering (meat consumption has skyrocketed around the world in recent decades).

I haven't seen people actually use this as a reason not to support human-focused charities — again, this "side effect" is very small — but I think it illustrates how difficult and complicated these questions can be.

Very impressed by your website :-) What did you use to make it? What is the 'artistic motivation' behind creating a mostly realistic investment firm website?

As you say, I personally don't like labels too much. But that doesn't mean you can't learn here :-) Wish you the best with your growth! 

Thanks! It's mainly Bootstrap on top of some free website templates. I'm interested by how design and marketing can influence people into thinking something has authority, weight, believability.

Thank you for writing this: I'm interested by how design and marketing can influence people into thinking something has authority, weight, believability. 

I am also interested in this, but it was not quite that clear in my mind until I read your phrasing of it. 

Beyond this, I think the mapping between the (structure & content of a question) and (the answers to the question that people give) is very interesting. Studying this idea could be useful if one wants to know how survey questions can be optimized to reduce the disparity between subjective evaluations of a behavior or action and the answerer's actual behavior. Or it could be useful if one wants to know which question phrasings or sequence of questions can most accurately evaluate how depressed or fulfilled a person is, across their mood distribution and across general human mood distributions.  

That's a really cool interest :D What have you done so far to measure how design and marketing can influence people into thinking something has authority?

Hey, I learned about effective altruism from Singer's Ted Talk, and also reading MacAskill's book.

I'm primarily focused on animal ethics, as I think it's an issue that's often forgotten about. I also have concerns with climate change, but for me it's secondary to animal issues (either way focusing on animal issues helps with climate change, which is why I believe it to be more important).

That being said, I also make a point in discussing the importance of individual action, and how an unwillingness to accept responsibility is the cause of so many of our issues.

Anyway, I'm working on a YouTube channel that talks a lot about science and altruism.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC92ONewFYpktQa9Nj7erTgQ

I'm working on my next video which directly discusses effective altruism, hope to have it out soon.

I like your quick cuts and funny style :D I watched the video about how individuals have personal responsibility for climate change. 

What is the inspiration behind your style? How do you have such clean audio? :O

Thanks! I think so far that's my best video.

I don't really have any inspiration, I'm just kinda going along with it. I use a Blue Raspberry Microphone and clean it up in Audacity.

Hey y'all :)

I'm focused on learning about the different causes of death and how to get rid of them: Viva Immortality!

I used to do IT, but am pivoting to found an organization dedicated to achieving human immortality.

I'm from Houston, Texas and still virtually organize the Houston Rationalists group (https://www.lesswrong.com/groups/pwitck4YZQsnXYp9q) even though I've since moved to Norfolk, Virginia. (if you're in the area [Norfolk], contact me and I'll organize a meetup here; https://www.lesswrong.com/groups/pLEbtx3BbdaLMXZKi)

Right now I'm job hunting and am aiming to relocate to Seattle, Washington. 

I volunteer at the  EA Hub(https://eahub.org/) and listen to the 80,000 hours podcast (https://80000hours.org/podcast/), but otherwise haven't spent nearly as much time in the EA world compared to the LessWrong / ACX world. I'm looking forward to changing that and deep diving the ideas here and having good discussions / conversations.

I've read Peter Singer's Practical Ethics (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29378.Practical_Ethics) and the 80,000 Hours' Book (https://80000hours.org/book/). Any recommendations on what I should check out next, especially here on the forum?

 

I also write over at LessWrong; https://www.lesswrong.com/users/willa

Cheers,  

Willa

 

(I tried to activate the markdown editor but that didn't seem to work, so I removed markdown formatting for this post, which is why all the links are messy)

Hello, Willa! I've activated the Markdown Editor for you — not sure why it wasn't working. (I'm the lead moderator/admin here.)

There's a lot of stuff on the Forum. Perhaps the best way to start out is to browse the top posts of all time and read whatever looks interesting. I don't love all the posts on that list, but they're a reasonable sample of the topics that get a lot of interest here.

The natural book recommendation would be Toby Ord's The Precipice if you haven't read it yet; I've liked the bits I've read, and reviews from outside of EA have been solid.

I've never interacted with the Less Wrong community :D Any tips on ways to be engaged there?

Hi there!
I'm a student from Toronto, Canada and I'm really excited about identifying and solving neglected issues! So far in my journey, I've been researching issues at the intersection of business and the environment. For example, asking entrepreneurs HOW they do what they do on my podcast. Or researching the root causes of different barriers to carbon capture technology.

Still, I don't really know what to commit to in the long run. I'm thinking that I might take a gap year next year just to try out different careers. That's how I found EA's work - and it seemed like exactly my community of people focusing more on HOW to do something than just doing something :D 

I hope to learn anything actionable from more people here :-)

Madhav

Welcome Madhav, it's great to have you on the Forum!

Altruists,

Self-introduction: I am a computational chemist at a company called Schrodinger. For the past couple of years, I have worked on approximating quantum mechanics using machine learning (models like "ANI-2X") with applications in drug design and materials science.

In terms of EA cause areas, I am interested primarily in human welfare over the medium term.

Since it's my field, I am interested in organizations that try to improve the workings of science: reproducibility, low-prestige research, long shots, and valiant failures.

James

If you are interested in carbon offsetting but not sure about it’s effectiveness, check out this podcast https://www.climateone.org/audio/clearing-air-carbon-offsets

Just because I'm excited this is being discussed here...this Kate Aronoff article might be good further reading.

Just watched the documentary Seaspiracy https://www.seaspiracy.org/. I knew a trillions of acquatic animals are killed each year. But seeing the impact of the fishing industry on screen is really shocking.

I'm also facing this problem.

Thank you for the recommendation. What is, in your opinion, the best way for a voter to make the government address climate change effectively?  Since I became a Canadian citizen I voted for the Green Party, but recently I started having doubts. The party seems to be in disarray; also, I am concerned that its strong anti-nuclear position is counterproductive. 

The traditional advice here is that one call or email to your local representative is worth far more than a vote, such that you get much more value for your time by communicating in that way.

You can also try to find organizations that have a record of successfully advocating for good policy and try to support them as a donor or volunteer.

Unfortunately, there's not much (if any) existing EA writing on Canadian policy (just the US and EU), so you'll have to do your own research. But you might still learn something from the approach of organizations like Founders Pledge, who have done some good writing on climate policy. (See the Research Reports on this page.)

If you find any Canadian policy organizations that seem especially strong, consider writing about them on the Forum! There are plenty of other Canadians in the movement who might appreciate it (and people from other countries — we're open to supporting charities anywhere in the world).

*****

Also, if your perception of the Green Party is that they are more focused on a consistent message than on actually reducing climate change (which an anti-nuclear position implies), that's a reasonable thing to believe. Most political parties work that way.

A good book (maybe a little outdated by now, still beautifully written) on impact-driven climate policy is Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. Also, it's free to read online!

I think areas that might lead to higher impact might be areas where Canada is uniquely strong in climate solutions :-) Instead of advocating for a general party, maybe you might consider volunteering with or donating to a specific government-based climate solution yourself?

  • For example, could you find government institutes focused on protecting Canada's especially large tundra forests. Did you know that the Canadian Boreal Forest is the second largest forest on Earth?
  • As another example, Canada has the third-largest freshwater reserves in the world. But eutrophication, industrial intensification, and (as I suprisingly learned) even wildfires can affect water quality. I'm sure there are government institutes out there that work on protecting water quality!
  • One last example: Canada is a world leader in carbon capture technology. This is a relatively neglected green technology that the IPCC acknowledges will be needed at much greater levels in the future. And the Alberta government is one of the most active developers of this technology in the world. With some digging, you could identify which politicians are most supportive of funding experimental technologies like this and see how you can support them!

Anyways, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the general premise! Does it make sense for you to support specific government initiatives that are helpful instead of hoping to vote in the green party in general?

Thank you! I will think of what to write to my MP.

On a semi-related note, Peter Singer appeared on the podcast of a Canadian MP, which I thought was pretty cool.

Hi, I would recommend you read Citizen's Guide to Climate Success by Mark Jaccard. The author is a Canadian economists who has advised many regional and national governments. Since he's Canadian, the book also talks about his experience with Canadian politicians. Here's a review I wrote -- https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/gtNxRnjLtZrqfskb7/book-recommendation-the-citizen-s-guide-to-climate-success You can just read the 1st and the last chapters if the book is too long for you.

Thank you for the recommendation! I will read Jaccard's book.