I suspect that the biggest altruistic counterfactual impact I've had in my life was merely because I was in the right place at the right time: a moderately heavy cabinet/shelf thing was tipping over and about to fall on a little kid (I don't think it would have killed him. He probably would have had some broken bones, lots of bruising, and a concussion). I simply happened to be standing close enough to react.
It wasn't as a result of any special skillset I had developed, nor of any well thought-out theory of change; it was just happenstance. Realistically, ... (read more)
A very tiny, very informal announcement: if you want someone to review your resume and give you some feedback or advice, send me your resume and I'll help. If we have never met before, that is okay. I'm happy to help you, even if we are total strangers.
For the past few months I've been active with a community of Human Resources professionals and I've found it quite nice to help people improve their resumes. I think there are a lot of people in EA that are looking for a job as part of a path to greater impact, but many people feel somewhat awkward or ashamed to ask for help. There is also a lot of 'low-hanging fruit' for making a resume look better, from simply formatting changes that make a resume easier to understand to wordsmithing the phrasings.
To be clear: this is not a paid service, I'm not trying to drum up business for some kind of a side-hustle, and I'm not going to ask you to subscribe to a newsletter. I am just a person who is offering some free low-key help.
This is both a very kind and a very helpful thing to offer. This is something that can help people an awful lot in terms of their career.
A brief thought on 'operations' and how it is used in EA (a topic I find myself occasionally returning to).
It struck me that operations work and non-operations work (within the context of EA) maps very well onto the concept of staff and line functions. Line function are those that directly advances an organization's core work, while staff functions are those that do not. Staff functions have advisory and support functions; they help the line functions. Staff functions are generally things like accounting, finance, public relations/communication, legal, and HR. Line functions are generally things like sales, marketing, production, and distribution. The details will vary depending on the nature of the organization, but I find this to be a somewhat useful framework for bridging concepts between EA and the broader world.
It also helps illustrate how little information is conveyed if I tell someone I work in operations. Imagine 'translating' that into non-EA verbiage as I work in a staff function. Unless the person I am talking to already has a very good understanding of how my organization works, they won't know what I actually do.
I'm currently reading a lot of content to prepare for HR certification exams (from HRCI and SHRM), and in a section about staffing I came across this:
some disadvantages are associated with relying solely on promotion from within to fill positions of increasing responsibility:■ There is the danger that employees with little experience outside the organization will have a myopic view of the industry
Just the other day I had a conversation about the tendency of EA organizations to over-weight how "EA" a job candidate is, so it particularly stuck me to come across this today. We had joked about how a recent grad with no work experience would try figuring out how to do accounting from first principles (the unspoken alternative was to hire an accountant). So perhaps I would interpret the above quotation in the context of EA as "employees with little experience outside of EA are more likely to have a myopic view of the non-EA world." In a very simplistic sense, if we imagine EA as one large organization with many independent divisions/departments, a lot of the hiring (although certainly not all) is internal hiring.
And I'm wondering how much expertise, skill, or experience i... (read more)
I think that the worries about hiring non-EAs are slightly more subtly than this.Sure, they may be perfectly good at fulfilling the job description, but how does hiring someone with different values affect your organisational culture? It seems like in some cases it may be net-beneficial having someone around with a different perspective, but it can also have subtle costs in terms of weakening the team spirit.Then you get into the issue where if you have some roles you are fine hiring EAs for and some you want them to be value-aligned for, then you may have an employee who you would not want to receive certain promotions or be elevated into certain positions, which isn't the best position to be in.Not to mention, often a lot of time ends up being invested in skilling up an employee and if they are value-aligned then you don't necessarily lose all of this value when they leave.
A very minor thought.
TLDR: Try to be more friendly and supportive, and to display/demonstrate that in a way the other person can see.
Slightly longer musings: if you attend an EA conference (or some other event that involves you listening to a speaker), I suggest that you:
This is likely less relevant for people that are very experienced public speakers, but for people that are less comfortable and at ease speaking in front of a crowd it can be pretty disheartening to look out at an audience and see the majority of people looking at their phone and their laptops.
I was at EAGxNYC recently, and I found it a little disheartening at how many people in the audience were paying attention to their phones and laptops instead of paying attention to the speaker. I am guilty of doing this in at least one talk that I didn't find interesting, and I am moderately ashamed of my behavior. I know that I wouldn't want someone to do that to me if I was speaking in front of a crowd. One speaker mentioned to me later that they appreciated my n... (read more)
I'm skimming through an academic paper that I'd roughly describe as cross-cultural psychology about morality, and the stark difference between what kinds of behaviors Americans and China view as immoral was surprising to me.
The American list has so much of what I could consider as causing harm to others, or malicious. The Chinese list has a lot of what I would consider as rude, crass, or ill-mannered. The differences here remind me of how I have occasionally pushed against the simplifying idea of words having easy equivalents between English and Chinese.
There are, of course, issues with taking this too seriously: issues like spitting, cutting in line, or urinating publicly are much more salient issues in Chinese society than in American society. I'm also guessing that news stories about murders and thefts are more commonly seen in American media than in China's domestic media. But overall I found it interesting, and a nice nudge/reminder against the simplifying idea that "we are all the same."
Dranseika, V., Berniūnas, R., & Silius, V. (2018). Immorality and bu daode, unculturedness and bu wenming. Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science, 2, 71-84.
Note that th
I'm very pleased to see that my writing on the EA Forum is now referenced in a job posting from Charity Entrepreneurship to explain to candidates what operations management is, described as "a great overview of Operations Management as a field." This gives me some warm fuzzy feelings.
I'm been thinking about small and informal ways to build empathy. I don't have big or complex thoughts on this (and thus I'm sharing rough ideas as a quick take rather than as a full post). This is a tentative and haphazard musing/exploration, rather than a rigorous argument.
Every now and I then I see (or hear) people involved in EA refer to Moloch, as if this is a specific force that should be actively resisted and acted against. Genuine question: are people just using the term "Moloch" to refer to incentives  that nudge us to do bad things? Is there any reason why we should say "Moloch" instead of "incentives," or is this merely a sort of in-group shibboleth? Am I being naïve or otherwise missing something here?
Presumably, Scott Alexander's 2014 Meditations on Moloch essay has been very widely read among EAs.
As well as the other influences on our motives from things external to ourselves, such as the culture and society that we grew up in, or how we earn respect and admiration from peers.
I wish that people wouldn't use "rat" as shorthand for "rationalist."
For people who aren't already aware of the lingo/jargon it makes things a bit harder to read and understand. Unlike terms like "moral patienthood" or "mesa-optimizers" or "expected value," a person can't just search Google to easily find out what is meant by a "rat org" or a "rat house." This is a rough idea, but I'll put it out there: the minimum a community needs to do in order to be welcoming to newcomers is to allow newcomers to figure out what you are saying.
Of course, I don't expect that reality will change to meet my desires, and even writing my thoughts here makes me feel a little silly, like a linguistic prescriptivist tell people to avoid dangling participles.
Try searching Google for what is rat in effective altruism and see how far down you have to go before you find something explaining that rat means rationalist. If you didn't know it already and a writer didn't make it clear from context that "rat" means "rationalist", it would be really hard to figure out what "rat" means.
I want to provide an alternative to Ben West's post about the benefits of being rejected. This isn't related to CEA's online team specifically, but is just my general thoughts from my own experience doing hiring over the years.
While I agree that "the people grading applications will probably not remember people whose applications they reject," two scenarios come to mind for job applicants that I remember:
Anyone can call themselves a part of the EA movement.
I sort of don't agree with this idea, and I'm trying to figure out why. It is so different from a formal membership (like being a part of a professional association like PMI), in which you have a list of members and maybe a card or payment.
Here is my current perspective, which I'm not sure that I fully endorse: on the 'ladder' or being an EA (or of any other informal identity) you don't have to be on the very top rung to be considered part of the group. You probably don't even have to be on the top handful of rungs. Is halfway up the ladder enough? I'm not sure. But I do think that you need to be higher than the bottom rung or two. You can't just read Doing Good Better and claim to be an EA without any additional action. Maybe you aren't able to change your career due to family and life circumstances. Maybe you don't earn very much money, and thus aren't donating. I think I could still consider you an EA if you read a lot of the content and are somehow engaged/active. But there has to be something. You can't just take one step up the ladder, then claim the identity and wander off.
My brain tends to jump to analogies, so I'll use t... (read more)
In a recent post on the EA forum (Why I Spoke to TIME Magazine, and My Experience as a Female AI Researcher in Silicon Valley), I couldn't help but notice that a comments from famous and/or well-known people got lots more upvotes than comments by less well-known people, even though the content of the comments was largely similar.
I'm wondering to what extent this serves as one small data point in support of the "too much hero worship/celebrity idolization in EA" hypothesis, and (if so) to what extent we should do something about it. I feel kind of conflicted, because in a very real sense reputation can be a result of hard work over time, and it seems unreasonable to say that people shouldn't benefit from that. But it also seems antithetical to the pursuit of truth, philosophy, and doing good to weigh to the messenger so heavily over the message.
I'm mulling this over, but it is a complex and interconnected enough issue that I doubt I will create any novel ideas with some casual thought.
Perhaps just changing the upvote buttons to something more like this content creates nurtures a discussion space that lines up with the principles of EA? I'm not confident that would change muc... (read more)
I'm not convinced by this example; in addition to expressing the view, Toby's message is a speech act that serves to ostracize behaviour in a way that messages from random people do not. Since his comment achieves something the others do not it makes sense for people to treat it differently. This is similar to the way people get more excited when a judge agrees with them that they were wronged than when a random person does; it is not just because of the prestige of the judge, but because of the consequences of that agreement.
If we interpret an up-vote as "I want to see more of this kind of thing", is it so surprising that people want to see more such supportive statements from high-status people?
I would feel more worried if we had examples of e.g. the same argument being made by different people and the higher-status person getting rewarded more. Even then - perhaps we do really want to see more of high-status people reasoning well in public.
Generally, insofar as karma is a lever for rewarding behaviour, we probably care more about the behaviour of high-status people and so we should expect to see them getting more karma when they behave well, and also losing more when they behave badly (which I think we do!). Of course, if we want karma to be something other than an expression of what people want to see more of then it's more problematic.
This is in relation to the Keep EA high-trust idea, but it seemed tangential enough and butterfly idea-ish that it didn't make sense to share this as a comment on that post.
Rough thoughts: focus a bit less on people and a bit more on systems. Some failures are 'bad actors,' but my rough impression is that far more often bad things happen because either:
It very much reminds me of "Good engineering eliminates users being able to do the wrong thing as much as possible. . . . You don't design a feature that invites misuse and then use instructions to try to prevent that misuse." I've also just learned about the hierarchy of hazard controls, which seems like a nice framework for thinking about 'bad things.'
I think it is great to be able to trust people, but I also want institutions designed in such a way that it is okay if someone is in the 70th percentile of trustworthiness rather than the 95th percentile of trustworthiness.
Low confidence guess: small failures often occur not because people are malicious or selfish, but because they aren't aware of better ways to do t... (read more)
I'm reading Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys' Club of Silicon Valley, and this paragraph stuck in my head. I'm wondering about EA and "mission alignment" and similar things.
Which brings me to a point the PayPal Mafia member Keith Rabois raised early in this book: he told me that it’s important to hire people who agree with your “first principles”—for example, whether to focus on growth or profitability and, more broadly, the company’s mission and how to pursue it. I’d agree. If your mission is to encourage people to share more online, you shouldn’t hire some
(caution: grammatical pedantry, and ridiculously low-stakes musings. possibly the most mundane and unexciting critique of EA org ever)
The name of Founders Pledge should actually be Founders' Pledge, right? It is possessive, and the pledge belongs to multiple founders. If I remember my childhood lessons, apostrophes come after the s for plural things:
A new thought: maybe I've been understanding it wrong. I've always thought of the "pledge" in Founders Pledge as a... (read more)
Decoding the Gurus is a podcast in which an anthropologist and a psychologist critique popular guru-like figures (Jordan Peterson, Nassim N. Taleb, Brené Brown, Imbram X. Kendi, Sam Harris, etc.). I've listened to two or three previous episodes, and my general impression is that the hosts are too rambly/joking/jovial, and that the interpretations are harsh but fair. I find the description of their episode on Nassim N. Taleb to be fairly representative:
Taleb is a smart guy and quite fun to read and listen to. But he's also an infinite singularity of arrogance and hyperbole. Matt and Chris can't help but notice how convenient this pose is, when confronted with difficult-to-handle rebuttals.Taleb is a fun mixed bag of solid and dubious claims. But it's worth thinking about the degree to which those solid ideas were already well... solid. Many seem to have been known for decades even by all the 'morons, frauds and assholes' that Taleb hates.To what degree does Taleb's reputation rest on hyperbole and intuitive-sounding hot-takes?
Taleb is a smart guy and quite fun to read and listen to. But he's also an infinite singularity of arrogance and hyperbole. Matt and Chris can't help but notice how convenient this pose is, when confronted with difficult-to-handle rebuttals.
Taleb is a fun mixed bag of solid and dubious claims. But it's worth thinking about the degree to which those solid ideas were already well... solid. Many seem to have been known for decades even by all the 'morons, frauds and assholes' that Taleb hates.
To what degree does Taleb's reputation rest on hyperbole and intuitive-sounding hot-takes?
A few weeks ago they released an episode about Eliezer Yudkowksy titled Eliezer Yudkowksy: AI is going to kill us all. I'm only partway through listening to it... (read more)
Random musing from reading a reddit comment:
Some jobs are proactive: you have to be the one doing the calls and you have to make the work yourself and no matter how much you do you're always expected to carry on making more, you're never finished. Some jobs are reactive: The work comes in, you do it, then you wait for more work and repeat.
Proactive roles are things like business development, writing, marketing, research, many types of sales. You can always do more, and there isn't really an end point unless you want to impose an arbitrary end point: I'll s... (read more)
I didn't learn about Stanislav Petrov until I saw announcements about Petrov Day a few years ago on the EA Forum. My initial thought was "what is so special about Stanislav Petrov? Why not celebrate Vasily Arkhipov?"
I had known about Vasily Arkhipovfor years, but the reality is that I don't think one of them is more worthy of respect or idolization than the other. My point here is more about something like founder effects, path dependency, and cultural norms. You see, at some point someone in EA (I'm guessing) arbitrarily decided that Stanislav Petrov was ... (read more)
I've been reading about performance management, and a section of the textbook I'm reading focuses on The Nature of the Performance Distribution. It reminded me a little of Max Daniel's and Ben Todd's How much does performance differ between people?, so I thought I'd share it here for anyone who is interested.
The focus is less on true outputs and more on evaluated performance within an organization. It is a fairly short and light introduction, but I've put the content here if you are interested.
A theme that jumps out at me is situational specificity, as it ... (read more)
I was recently reminded about BookMooch, and read a short interview with the creator, John Buckman.
I think that the interface looks a bit dated, but it works well: you send people books you have that you don't want, and other people send you books that you want but you don't have. I used to use BookMooch a lot from around 2006 to 2010, but when I moved outside of the USA in 2010 I stopped using it. One thing I like is that it feels very organic and non-corporate: it doesn't cost a monthly membership, there are no fees for sending and receiving books,&nb... (read more)
I just finished reading Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth. I think the book is worth reading for anyone interested in truth and the figuring out what is real, but I especially liked the aspiration Mertonian norms, a concept I had never encountered before, and which served as a theme throughout the book.
I'll quote directly from the book to explain, but I'll alter the formatting a bit to make it easier to read:
In 1942, Merton set out four scientific values, now known as the ‘Mertonian Norms’. None of them
I remember being very confused by the idea of an unconference. I didn't understand what it was and why it had a special name distinct from a conference. Once I learned that it was a conference in which the talks/discussions were planned by participants, I was a little bit less confused, but I still didn't understand why it had a special name. To me, that was simply a conference. The conferences and conventions I had been to had involved participants putting on workshops. It was only when I realized that many conferences lack participative elements that I r... (read more)
This is a random musings of cultural norms, mainstream culture, and how/where we choose to spend our time and attention.
Barring the period when I was roughly 16-20 and interested in classic rock, I've never really been invested in music culture. By 'music culture' I mean things like knowing the names of the most popular bands of the time, knowing the difference between [subgenre A] and [subgenre A] off the top of my head, caring about the lives of famous musicians, etc. Celebrity culture in general is something I've never gotten into, but avoiding ... (read more)
I guess shortform is now quick takes. I feel a small amount of negative reaction, but my best guess its that this reaction is nothing more than a general human "change is bad" feeling.
Is quick takes a better name for this function that shortform? I'm not sure. I'm leaning toward yes.
I wonder if this will have an effect to nudge people to not write longer posts using the quick takes function.
I vaguely remember reading something about buying property with a longtermism perspective, but I can't remember the justification against doing it. This is basically using people's inclination to choose immediate rewards over rewards that come later in the future. The scenario was (very roughly) something like this:
You want to buy a house, and I offer to help you buy it. I will pay for 75% of the house, you will pay for 25% of the house. You get to own/use the house for 50 years, and starting in year 51 ownership transfers to me. You get a huge discount to
This is just for my own purposes. I want to save this info somewhere so I don't lose it. This has practically nothing to do with effective altruism, and should be viewed as my own personal blog post/ramblings.
I read the blog post What Trait Affects Income the Most?, written by Blair Fix, a few years ago, I really enjoyed seeing some data on it. At some point later I wanted to find it and I couldn't find it, and today I stumbled upon it again. The very short and simplistic summary is that hierarchy (a fuzzy concept that I understand to be roughly "cla... (read more)
I'm grappling with an idea of how to schedule tasks/projects, how to prioritize, and how to set deadlines. I'm looking for advice, recommending readings, thoughts, etc.
The core question here is "how should we schedule and prioritize tasks whose result becomes gradually less valuable over time?" The rest of this post is just exploring that idea, explaining context, and sharing examples.
Here is a simple model of the world: many tasks that we do at work (or maybe also in other parts of life?) fall into either sharp decrease to zero or sharp reduction in value... (read more)
I've been reading a few academic papers on my "to-read" list, and The Crisis of Confidence in Research Findings in Psychology: Is Lack of Replication the Real Problem? Or Is It Something Else? has a section that made me think about epistemics, knowledge, and how we try to make the world a better place. I'll include the exact quote below, but my rough summary of it would be that multiple studies found no relationship between the presence or absence of highway shoulders and accidents/deaths, and thus they weren't built. Unfortunately, none of the studies had... (read more)
Would anyone find it interesting/useful for me to share a forum post about hiring, recruiting, and general personnel selection? I have some experience running hiring for small companies, and I have been recently reading a lot of academic papers from the Journal of Personnel Psychology regarding the research of most effective hiring practices. I'm thinking of creating a sequence about hiring, or maybe about HR and managing people more broadly.
What? Isn't it all evidence-based? Who would take actions without evidence? Well, often people make decisions based on an idea they got from a pop-business book (I am guilty of this), off of gut feelings (I am guilty of this), or off of what worked in a different context (I am definitely guilty of this).
Rank-and-yank (I've also heard it called forced distribution and forced ranking, and Wikipedia describes it as vitality curve) is an easy example to pick on, but we could easily look at some other management practice in hiring, mark... (read more)