Early Alpha Version of the Probably Good Website

by omernevo, sella1 min read1st Mar 202119 comments

113

Org UpdateCareer ChoiceCommunity
Frontpage

TL;DR

  • We have launched a preliminary (alpha) website for Probably Good.
  • The long-term goal of this effort is to provide EA-aligned career advice in a way that’s engaging, relevant and useful to people with a diverse range of views, backgrounds and circumstances. For more details see our original announcement.
  • As can be clearly seen in the site - this is an early version, which we are sharing here mainly to receive feedback, which you can give here in the comments or through the website's feedback page.
  • Any feedback - including on content, style, prioritization or typos - would be greatly appreciated.

Details

Three months ago, we announced Probably Good - a new career guidance organization aimed at filling existing gaps in career advice in the EA community, and providing tools and advice relevant to a wide range of empirical, epistemic and moral views. It was heartening to see the support, offers to help, requests for advice, and significant amount of feedback we received - much of which we have already incorporated into our plans and content.

Today we’re excited to announce we have launched a first version of our website on ProbablyGood.org.

This first version is what could be called a minimal viable product (and, really, this version is not even viable yet) - it’s the most minimal version we could produce that we believe helps us test whether this direction can provide value. As should be pretty clear from the site itself - it is not yet comprehensive or even fully fleshed out. We are sharing it here mainly for feedback. We hope (and believe) this preliminary version can help clarify what we hope to offer, allow members of the community to provide us with more specific and meaningful feedback, and allow us to start testing out different strategies and directions. 

However, the site already showcases some of the content we’ve been working on for the last few months. This includes the beginning of our general career guide, a profile on Nonprofit Entrepreneurship, and a profile on Development Economics.

We’re particularly interested in feedback about the content included and whether it’s useful, what additional content you’d most be interested in, and any other considerations you think are important for the goal of significantly and positively influencing people’s career trajectories. That being said, we’d appreciate feedback you have on any topic. Note that you can leave feedback here as a comment, or send it directly to us through the website.

We’re really excited to share this with you and truly appreciate your support and help in making this project a success!

Omer and Sella.

113

18 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:08 AM
New Comment

I'd love an easy form for submitting EA jobs. 

Currently my best workflow is to log into facebook and create a post on "EA Job Postings". I wish there were a google form. 

Thanks for your work. Love the MVP approach.

In the ideal case, this form would submit to the bottom of an (air)table which can be upvoted. You could send out the top ones, but I could also sort by whatever I'm interested in. 

Happy to do this for you, FYI, other than the upvoting part, which is non-trivial. 

Also, this is why I think the job board should be a subset of the EA wiki which is being made. There should be a  focus on making it really easy to contribute to, take specific feeds from, rank and search.

 As I comment here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/X6SyxmhYEo4SofyAL/?commentId=Aht2k8iDatobQz2am

The website looks amazing! I love the clear and concise writing, with a ton of leads to further material (and especially I think it's awesome that you point out to career profile from AAC and 80k in almost the same breath as PG-original content). It's also great that it's very clear what it is that you are offering as an organization and on the website. Well done, and looking forward!

I enjoyed the article on development economics. As a failed academic development economist and current private-sector economist, I wish I had read this before I started a PhD. The article has a lot of useful info, and nothing in it seems blatantly inaccurate. I have some additional thoughts, especially on being an academic development economist who does very “micro” work assessing interventions. I don’t have experience with other flavors of development economics.

Soft skills: This work requires local knowledge (as the article mentions), management skills, sometimes language skills, and willingness to spend a lot of time traveling (as the article mentions) and on the phone. A lot of the development economists I’ve met have been “people people” and good managers in addition to being good at technical work. They need to hire and supervise people to do rote tasks in foreign countries, such as taking surveys; hire both local and foreign research assistants; collaborate with charities, governments, and NGOs; and do all of the teaching, presenting, and reviewing that most academics do. Even if you are from a developing country, it’s a challenge to organize projects that are in a different country from where you are studying or working. Researchers tend to have multiple projects going on at once, often in different countries. If you want to do this kind of work, I strongly recommend working for an organization like J-PAL or IPA that will give you hands-on experience.

Comparison to other subfields in economics, and collaboration: The ProbablyGood article says that development economics may be a good path for someone who is interested in economics, but wants to work in a more collaborative way. I don’t quite agree with this framing. Most academic economics research is collaborative, and increasingly so; it’s not “writing papers alone in offices their whole career.” But in development, you work with more people and at greater geographic distances. That was a main reason that, while I’ve contributed to a few development economics projects, becoming a PI was not for me. I found the prospect of supervising field employees in a far-away country really stressful.

Longtermism: I don’t think we know whether improving global health and development now will have a big effect on the long-term future. Development economists are the perfect people to answer that question! If someone receives a gift of $1000, what are the long-term effects of that? Does it help them escape a poverty trap, send their kids to a better school, and lead to more innovation and political stability? Does it increase or decrease fertility? Or does the effect disappear within a year? What about macroeconomic interventions and large-scale policy changes, like austerity or increasing funding to schools? There’s been work on all of these questions, but I love to see a lot more.

Thanks for this detailed feedback, I’m happy to hear you think the article would be useful to people in situations you’ve been in. All three of the points you raised seem reasonable - some touch on nuances that I already have down in my full notes but were dropped for brevity, while others are things we hadn’t heard yet from the people we interviewed (including those acknowledged in the article, and several others who preferred to remain anonymous). Based on consultation with others I’ll look into incorporating some of these nuances, though I apologize in advance that not all nuances will be incorporated.

This seems like really excellent feedback for them!

I have a query about your final point, where I think I agree with the PG framing. In general, I think when people talk about the long-term future they are including consideration of timescales much longer than the few decades most of the examples you mentioned, of the order of hundreds of years, or even longer. This is one reason reducing existential risk is so popular (because while affecting the shape of the future seems both extremely uncertain and fairly dependent on world view, making sure that there is a future at all seems good from many perspectives, though not all). Am I correct in my intepretation that you were talking about "long term" mostly in the <100 year sense?

What does PG stand for? I did intend this feedback to be very positive. :)

I am claiming that causing economic improvements today could affect the future in 200+ years. The economic history literature provides many examples of events a few hundred years ago that cause surprisingly long-term, large, and diffuse effects today. That includes effects on governance, culture, and other aspects of "institutions"; improving these could plausibly reduce existential risk. I see this historical research as a proof of concept that very long-term effects might be possible, and I would love to see more economic historians and development economists trying to figure out whether modern changes have such long-term effects, and how.

Here's some reading suggestions; if you want to look into this yourself, good keywords are "economics" plus one of "persistence," "institutions," or "path dependence". Full disclosure, I have not looked into this stuff since 2013.

  • Papers in the vein of "long-ago economic events had a big effect on the present":

    • "The Colonial Origins of Economic Development", Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson (2001), has been cited 14k . The authors argue that the way countries were colonized in the early 1800's had a large effect on per capita income today, because the colonists set up varying political institutions, such as property rights rules, which were highly persistent and affected economic development. Their book Why Nations Fail draws on this paper and others to argue that good economic conditions and good "institutions" tend to reinforce each other, and so do bad ones. (By "institutions", they mean "the rules of the game", such as democracy or property rights.)

    • A blog post with a good discussion: "Last weekend I attended a conference at Brown University on 'Deep-Rooted Factors in Economic Development'. [....] Nearly all of the papers gave evidence that economic shocks or initial differences in economic outcomes dissipate very, very slowly, if at all." The same blog has the series The Skeptic's Guide to Institutions, a readable overview of the institutions literature, although (in the author's words) "unfair, deliberately."

    • "The Long Term Effects of Africa's Slave Trades", Nunn 2008. He says "I find a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance" and that relationship is causal. In a later paper, he explores trust as a mechanism, saying "most of the impact of the slave trade is through factors that are internal to the individual, such as cultural norms, beliefs, and values."

    • "The Persistent Effects of Peru's Mining Mita", Dell (2010) shows that a forced labor system in Peru from 1573 to 1812 lowered present-day household consumption by 25% and increased childhood stunting by 6%. She also attributes the persistence to institutions.

  • It sounds promising for people working on economic development that past events can have huge effects on the long-term future, but there are some caveats...

    • Economic history projects do not typically have the randomized controlled trials, high-quality data, or huge data sets used in other branches of economics, making the "persistence" literature less credible. "Colonial Origins" has been controversial on empirical grounds

    • Even if these papers are right that really bad things in the past had persistent effects, that doesn't imply that doing good things things today will have persistent effects. "Critical junctures" may be in the past, an idea that Acemoglu et. al. (2008) touch on.

    • We should not expect a lot of persistence if there is an an overall trend towards convergence, where poorer countries tend to grow faster.

    • At the country level, poverty just doesn't seem to be very persistent. See "Do Poverty Traps Exist?".

My personal view is that if we improve present-day global health and development, we probably won't change the far future much, but there's a decent chance we would. There is empirical proof-of-concept backing for "persistence" and theoretical justification in the form of models of multiple equilibria and self-reinforcing cycles. I'd love to see more development economists and economic historians studying the conditions needed for persistence.

Thanks so much, I'll check these links out!

(I had abbreviated "Probably Good" to PG)

This seems like a great initiative. Congratulations for setting it up! Like a couple of other commenters, I like the fact you linked to 80k and AAC on the career profile page.

That is a great initiative! I'm a graduate student focusing on international relations, and it's not obvious what I should be doing next to maximise my impact. I'll make sure to look it up and contact you once I've gotten a few things out of the way. 

The website isn't working for me, screenshot below:

Thanks for letting us know!

If that's alright, I'll send you an email with some questions to figure out what the problem is...

Seems to be working now!

Nice work! I really like it as a start. 

Some quick thoughts. The findings, rating criteria and method used here might be useful to consider. I don't strongly endorse it because academic findings and process don't always  apply/work in the real world. Also it is long out of date at this point.

On a personal level, I wonder if you need an elegant way to explain the relationship with 80k and avoid confusion? 

Also, depending on the audience and your aims, it might be good to get some testimonials and indicators of credibility and social proof etc on the  landing page. Also maybe it is worth adding more images and engaging graphics within the long blocks of text or some interactive elements that people will catch attention and prompt sharing?

Hi Peter, thanks for these suggestions!

I hadn’t seen the doc you linked to before, and is indeed a good starting point. We’re actively working on our internal M&E strategy at the moment, so this is particularly useful to us right now.

I agree with the other suggestions, and those are already planned. Their full implementation might take a while, but I expect us to have some updates related to this soon. 

I agree that social proof through testimonials or having more faces around the site (apart from the advisory board and team page) and other indicators of credibility would probably help! I wonder if it might help too if you more clearly put that this is a project of Effective Altruism Israel (or endorsed by them)? 

Hi Brian, thanks for the feedback. While we do hope to add other indicators of credibility, we don’t plan on featuring Effective Altruism Israel specifically in the website. Though both Omer and I are heavily involved in EA Israel, and though it seems likely that Probably Good would not exist had EA Israel not existed, it is a separate org and effort from EA Israel. It is “supported by EA Israel” in the sense that I think members of EA Israel are supportive of the project (and I hope members of many other communities are too), but it is not “supported by EA Israel” in the sense that we receive any funding or resources from the group. I mention this mainly because our mission and intended audience are global, and connecting the website or organization with EA Israel may lead to confusion or discourage those who are not from Israel from engaging with us.