|The Monthly EA Newsletter – July 2016 Edition
We hope you’re enjoying your summer (or winter)!
Stop by the Bay Area a month from now to enjoy it even more – EA Global is on again!
Articles and Community Posts
Julia Wise shares some practical steps for self-care on her blog. Feel free to comment with additional tips.
“Six Mistakes You've Probably Been Making About Effective Altruism (The Last One Will Shock You)” is one of the comments below this summary article on mistakes in the EA community. Happy clicking!
Did you know that there are 300+ EA Facebook groups around the world? This list lists them all.
“Cellular agriculture – the production of animal products in cell cultures – has the potential to massively reduce suffering by replacing systems of animal exploitation.” This article outlines some scenarios for cellular agriculture.
AI safety research is getting traction: “Concrete Problems in AI Safety”, a collaboration among scientists from Google, Stanford and Berkeley, was co-authored by EAs Dario Amodei and Paul Christiano.
The EAGx organizers in Boston wrote up this comprehensive post on their experience, covering everything from start to finish. A great read for anyone organizing an event like that.
Updates from EA Organizations
80,000 Hours launched their significantly updated career guide, receiving over 100,000 views and 5,000 newsletter sign-ups in one week. They also made two great new hires.
Animal Charity Evaluators
ACE released two blog posts in preparation for their annual charity evaluations on the role of standout charities and 2016 updates to their evaluation process. They opened up the first call for proposals with $1 million in funding to support research that contributes to a better understanding of effective animal advocacy.
Foundational Research Institute
FRI released new publications on ethics and strategy, and translated its policy paper “Artificial Intelligence: Opportunities and Risks” into English.
Future of Humanity Institute
Several FHI researchers spent most of the month attending technical conferences, including ICML, CVPR and UAI, where they presented their research with Google DeepMind, including the paper “Safely Interruptible Agents”, which received significant media attention. FHI also hired two Research Fellows, Miles Brundage and Jan Leike, for the Strategic AI Research Centre (SAIRC).
Giving What We Can
Giving What We Can released a wide variety of research reports on areas including economic empowerment and climate change. This month they’re running their Talk to your friends campaign, bringing together the community’s top tips for talking about effective altruism. Join in!.
GiveWell published their mid-year update for their top charity recommendations, leaving their recommendations unchanged.
Global Priorities Project
GPP submitted a joint recommendation to the House of Commons for an AI transparency research fund and AI safety horizon scanning team, drawing together input from FHI, CSER, FLI and others in the broader community.
Machine Intelligence Research Institute
MIRI has announced major progress on two AI safety open problems: formalizing rationality in multi-agent settings and assigning probabilities to mathematical statements. Participants in MIRI’s Colloquium Series on Robust and Beneficial AI have also built a set of OpenAI Gym safety environments.
Open Philanthropy Project
Following its earlier case study on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Open Philanthropy Project published a case study on the founding and growth of the Center for Global Development. Both case studies are part of the Open Philanthropy Project's History of Philanthropy project.
Sentience Politics (Special Update)
Sentience Politics launched a ballot initiative for fundamental rights for primates in Basel, Switzerland. Their policy paper (available in English) calls for fundamental rights to life and physical and mental integrity for non-human primates. Achieving basic rights for the first non-human species could serve as a stepping stone towards extending rights to other species and ending factory farming. Switzerland's leading newspaper reported favorably (German only) on the initiative.
In addition, Sentience Politics published a policy paper on cultured meat and a blog article detailing their future plans. They also published all talk recordings from the Sentience Conference.
Students for High-Impact Charity
New meta-charity Students for High-Impact Charity (SHIC) has launched an Indiegogo campaign to get the funding they need to continue. SHIC is looking to establish 50+ secondary schools and university clubs worldwide at the start of the next semester and collect detailed information on the effectiveness of the program.
The Life You Can Save
Ethics Philosopher Peter Singer, founder of The Life You Can Save, turns 70 this month. If his work in philosophical ethics, notably effective altruism and animal rights, has touched you, consider a message and/or donation in his honor at special landing pages created for this occasion.
Only 4 weeks to go until EA Global 2016 – the largest gathering of effective altruists in history with 1,000+ attendees and 50+ speakers, including the co-founder of Skype, advisors in the White House and the Director of J-Pal. It looks set to sell out far in advance, so apply today to reserve a spot.
While we’re at it, there’s also going to be an EA Global research meeting for postgraduate students and early-stage academics. The call for abstracts closes on July 10.
What is Effective Altruism?
New to EA? Curious to learn more? Have a look at the EA FAQ site and the EA Handbook . Feel free to join the main EA Facebook group as well.
In short though: EA is a growing social movement founded on the desire to make the world as good a place as it can be, the use of evidence and reason to find out how to do so, and the audacity to actually try.
Go forth and do the most good!
Let us know how you liked this edition and how we can improve further. Thanks a lot to everyone who has submitted feedback so far – it's been really useful!
See you again on August 4!
Georgie, Michał, Pascal and Sören
– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team
|A community project of the Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity in England and Wales, Registered Charity Number 1149828 Centre for Effective Altruism, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street, Oxford OX1 1PT, UK
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I'm worried about politics. I'm worried that Effective Altruists will waste resources, alienate moderates, and make enemies by participating in partisan politics.
When I've seen EAs write against Trump, the writings have been superficial and lacking in empathy. The most extreme even suggest campaigning against Trump as effective altruism - as more impactful than anything GiveWell or anyone else has recommended.
The claim that one political candidate is comparable to existential risks is extraordinary, and should require extraordinary evidence as well. That such significant but poorly argued claims are being made by people at the forefront of EA is worrying. Such claims can be very harmful; they may redirect donations to highly uncertain and inefficient causes, they create political enemies, and they alienate apolitical altruists. (Admittedly, partisan politics can also result in new allies.)
My hope, and suggestion would be to avoid any and all political claims, unless you have already done extensive research, and have enough evidence to convince even some people on the "other side". The lack of argument and evidence in current discourse is simply worrying proof of political bias.
Have you seen an organization affiliated with effective altruism officially posting, e.g., on its own blog, statements to the effect that supporting one or another candidate is effective altruism comparable to x-risk mitigation? Robert Wiblin posted to the 'Effective Altruism' Facebook group a while ago what the community at large thought of 80,000 Hours making a blog post disavowing Donald Trump for his comments and policy proposals which are anti-humanitarian and anti-cosmopolitan, and thus antithetical to effective altruism, with an estimate of the expected value of opposing him through, e.g., a vote in a swing state, funding political organizations for the Democratic candidate and/or against Trump, etc.
Lots of us gave feedback, and a lot of it was negative on the proposal. Mr. Wiblin and 80,000 Hours opted not to make the blog post. Since then, I haven't seen or heard of any EA-affiliated organization making political claims.
Individuals associated with effective altruism might make claims to that effect, but I expect it'd be assumed they're speaking for themselves and not for the whole community, or at least that their estimate that campaigning against one or another political candidate is one of the most effective things a person can do to be their personal opinion alone. Of course, someone of higher profile might be mistaken as speaking for the movement. I remember on Facebook Will MacAskill once stated he thought, from the perspective of effective altruism, voting against the incumbents in the last UK federal election was a very high-impact action to take. Personally, I didn't like how he associated effective altruism with partisan politics, especially in a way most of the rest of us wouldn't be able to. Of course, we can't stop anyone in the EA movement from making those sorts of claims.
I don't think it will be many of us. I think calling for people to police their own speech in this regard may not work, and it will be up to the rest of us to collectively disavow political statements, if we see fit, and make clear to everyone the claimant doesn't in fact speak on behalf of the effective altruism movement.
Has anyone tried to propose quantitative guidelines for qualifying to be an EA outside of donating 10% of your income? This would ideally address the other ways of being an EA: direct paid work, volunteering, influencing others, and enabling EAs (or a combination thereof).
10% of your income for a 40H workweek is about 4 hours, or ~6 if you include tax.
Yes, I think four hours would be reasonable. To Larks, I think if you exclude grooming and eating, you could argue there would be roughly around 40 hours beyond working, so four hours would be 10% of that.
I think it would be useful to spell out what qualifies. Obviously actual volunteering for effective organization would qualify. But I think spending time trying to convert your friends would qualify. And I also think that advising an effective altruist how to invest better would qualify if a significant amount of the extra earnings went to effective organizations. I think that contributing to EA fora would qualify. But maybe if one is just lurking, then they would be an aspiring EA because they are just learning?
And maybe we could use this to quantify the overall level of effort towards EA. For instance, if you donate 50% of your money and 50% of your free time, you would be a 100% (full time?) EA. Is it a problem that this could go over 100%? Anyone interested in writing a post on this?
Does anyone have any ideas about how to perhaps quantify whether you've made a "significant" career change? Not that that necessarily means you couldn't donate 10%. Hours spent volunteering would be interesting.
I do have difficulty with this "significant" definition. For instance, if someone was already working in an effective career, then they would not qualify. But I guess as long as you could argue they were the best person for the job, they would have some counterfactual impact. Also, effective careers tend to be paid below-market wage, so the worker should get credit for that. These things together could easily equal 10% of the wage, which would then qualify (because we want to give the donor much of the credit for the salary itself).
Symmetry suggests 10% of something else, but even 10% of non-working, non-sleeping hours seems very high (7 hours a week).
Over what time frame are you intending to donate?
I can be flexible, I'm in no rush. I estimate I'll be donating to these charities for some time.
Looking for some input on a potential project.
LEAN is considering doing a push of charity gift cards. These are gift cards which the recipient may donate to one of three effective charities from GiveWell's rankings.
The hope is that EAs will buy these cards for non-EA friends of theirs to engender discussion and, of course, cause them to consider donating to similar charities with their own money in the future.
Before we decide to do a publicising campaign, though, we wanted some feedback on how likely you think this will be to succeed. Would this reach a significant number of new people? Would if motivate significant future donations? Share your thoughts!
See also these Guesstimates (and feel free to create your own):
I'm not sure in what context they could be given. Unsolicited is weird. In the context of an expected gift (like a wedding), it would make you seem oblivious or even rude. I think Giving Games work better for this purpose because it's a social event.
These seem more likely to be effective as gifts to EAs, rather than from them.
I think these would be great to give to a slightly EA aligned friend but it might feel awkward to buy for someone with little knowledge of or interest in EA for a birthday etc because it wouldn't necessarily be something you could claim they wanted.
If Trump's campaign lost a dollar, Clinton's campaign lost a dollar, and a charity got two dollars, would anyone be worse off?
I have drafted a proposal for a nonprofit based on this idea. I'm looking for two kinds of help: 1) people who would like to take the idea and run with it, and 2) feedback regarding the feasibility of this idea or how it might be improved.
My draft is in the subcomments, and includes a description of the plan as well as a list of questions and concerns. I lack both the skills and the health to move this idea forward, and I would welcome any of you who can.
How exactly would the money flow? I don't know how much of what I described is actually legal. Maybe it would be necessary to give the money to a candidate's super PAC instead of to the campaign. Maybe there's other issues I don't know about. Is there a lawyer, accountant, or other knowledgeable person in the community who could propose a legal means of handling the finances?
What kind of a team would it take to implement this? There would obviously need to be someone to make the website and there should presumably be someone in charge of publicizing it, but what would be required beyond this?
Where else should I send this proposal in hopes of finding people who will implement it?
How important would it be for the organization to be bipartisan? That is to say, how important is it for there to be both Democrats and Republicans running Altruistic Partisanship?
Would it be possible for the fraction of a donation that goes to charity to be tax deductible?
Has anyone heard of someone trying this before? I have conducted several Google searches and browsed Charity Navigator and have found no mention of anything like it. However, if someone attempted to implement this but was (for instance) stymied by an insurmountable legal issue it could be very difficult to find.
What should be the procedure for determining which charities are acceptable? My inclination is to have a standard that any charity which a substantial number of people want to donate to should be acceptable so long as not many people think it would be harmful for that charity to receive money. Thus, I think most environmentalist groups and any organization that deals with guns or abortion (regardless of their stance) should be ineligible for donations via Altruistic Partisanship. There are many different ways of doing this though.
What would be the effect of this on nonpolitical donations that aren't made through Altruistic Partisanship? Suppose someone donates $200 a year to to charity and $50 (in presidential election years) to the Democratic candidate. It seems plausible that this person would make the $50 donation through Altruistic Partisanship, subconsciously think of it as fulfilling his “giving quota”, and then forgo the $200 donation for the year. While I doubt this would be especially common, it's the most plausible reason I've thought of so far for why Altruistic Partisanship might end up having a negative impact.
How should this be advertised? This would be relatively easy if the sole effect of Altruistic Partisanship was to redirect money from politics to charity, but the existence of this service could encourage people to make political donations they wouldn't make otherwise. My first thought was to have ads saying things such as “Which would you prefer? Donating $20 to Trump, or sending $20 of Crooked Hillary's money to charity?” The problem is that this also functions as a fundraising ad for Trump. In addition to possible legal issues, if advertising is done like this then the counterfactual political impact of a donation could be muted. A donation for Trump would encourage Altruistic Partisanship to advertise in order to get donations from Clinton supporters, and if this happened then the basic promise to Trump donors (that a $100 donation for Trump would cause Clinton's campaign to have $100 less) would be broken. Even if the advertisement itself wasn't partisan there could still be issues; an ad placed on a liberal website would lead to more donations for Clinton than for Trump and bring the same concerns with counterfactual political impact.
How could this be generalized to work in elections with more than two candidates?
What would the effects of this be on politics? I expect them to be very minor unless this were to become extremely popular (with more than 10% of all political donations running through this). It could make fund-raising slightly more important for candidates since the marginal value of a campaign dollar increases when you have less money to begin with (due to some of it going to charity). It could also reduce the political will to make political reforms that could lead to a multiparty system such as instant runoff voting; Altruistic Partisanship is far less workable in an election with more than two major candidates.
What should it be called? “Altruistic Partisanship” is just a placeholder.
This would make people feel better about their donations than they would otherwise. When people read Givewell's recommendations and decides to donate to AMF instead of the local homeless shelter they don't always feel pure joy at the knowledge that their donation is doing more good; they may also feel slightly bad about not helping the local homeless. With Altruistic Partisanship, people would feel good about helping charity in addition to feeling good about helping their candidate. Thus, Altruistic Partisanship could elicit donations from people who aren't even remotely interested in effective altruism.
There are disadvantages to using Altruistic Partisanship as opposed to donating directly to a candidate. There would presumably be extra fees associated with moving the money around, or at least overhead associated with operating Altruistic Partisanship. There would be a delay in getting money to a candidate to provide time for the other candidate to raise a similar amount. Also, the assumption that depriving a campaign of $100 is just as good as donating $100 to your preferred candidate would not hold if your candidate has raised far less money than the opponent (or perhaps has lower name recognition, etc.). Finally, some donors may prefer to do whatever feels the most like supporting their candidate with little regard for the consequences, and donating directly to their candidate would probably be more appealing to them.
Politicians, even ones who are personally uninterested in philanthropy, would be incentivized to support Altruistic Partisanship. They could find it useful as a fundraising pitch; people who are on the fence about whether to donate to a candidate may be pushed over the edge by the prospect of simultaneously helping charities at no additional cost. Moreover, soliciting donations through Altruistic Partisanship could improve a politician's image since it signals that he or she is a caring person.
There is a small but relevant chance that the majority of political contributions would eventually go through Altruistic Partisanship, even if most donors aren't actually interested in helping charities. Here's an example of how it might happen. One candidate decides to establish Altruistic Partisanship as the primary means of making a donation to his campaign, either because he wants charities to have more money or because he wants favorable media coverage. His opponent declines to follow suit and is criticized for being more interested in her campaign's coffers than in helping people. Other politicians conclude from this that using Altruistic Partisanship is politically advantageous and decide to do so in future campaigns. If enough of them do so then the use of Altruistic Partisanship will become a political norm, and every time a politician sends an email asking for money it will double as a fundraiser for charity. (There could be an API, or perhaps human coordinators, to make it easy for campaigns to solicit donations via Altruistic Partisanship.)
I think Altruistic Partisanship's core values should include doing the most good possible, maintaining political neutrality, and having the counterfactual political impact of a donation through Altruistic Partisanship be as close as possible to that of donating directly to a candidate. That is to say, donating through Altruistic Partisanship should be as politically effective as donating directly to a candidate.
Not just any charity could be chosen since some would be objectionable. If a Republican were to divert money from Clinton's campaign to Planned Parenthood, he might not consider it to be an improvement and would greatly prefer to have donated directly to Trump's campaign instead. I think the best approach would be to have a list of acceptable charities with Givewell's recommended charities conveniently located at the top.
For the sake of transparency, each donor should receive an email telling them where their money went and where the donations marked for the opposing candidate were redirected due to their donation. The effects of a single donation could be determined by multiplying the effects of all donations associated with the same candidate by the amount of the one donation and dividing by the total amounts of all donations for that that candidate.
A. Basic proposal
Over two billion dollars were spent on the 2012 US presidential election. About half this total was spent to make Obama win and Mitt Romney lose; most of the other half was spent to make Romney win and Obama lose. In aggregate this was incredibly wasteful, and there should be a better way of influencing an election than throwing money into a zero-sum game. Instead of funding opposing advertisements, campaign money should support programs that everyone considers to be beneficial; that is to say, it should go to charity.
It should be possible to make a nonprofit that would implement this, and here's how it could work. The nonprofit, which I shall give the placeholder name of Altruistic Partisanship, would run a website on which people could make donations. For each donation, the donor would specify a political candidate (or party) she wishes to support as well as an apolitical charity. Altruistic Partisanship would hold onto the money until the end of the current month, at which point the total amount of money raised for each candidate would be tallied up. The candidate who has raised the most money this way will receive a donation equal to the amount of money that candidate has raised in excess of what the opposing candidate has raised. The remaining money (equal to twice as much as was associated with the less-preferred candidate) would go to the charities specified by the donors.
Here's how it could work. Suppose that Clinton raises $1,000,000 through Altruistic Partisanship and Trump raises $800,000. For each Clinton donor, 1/5 of what they donated would go to the Clinton campaign and 4/5 would go the charity or charities they specified. For each Trump donor, all of what they donated would go to their preferred charity. Clinton's campaign would receive $200,000, Trump's would receive nothing, and $1,600,000 would go to charity.
As for the marginal effects of a donation, suppose someone were to have donated $100 through Altruistic Partisanship and specified Hillary Clinton as her preferred candidate and AMF as her preferred charity. If Clinton raised more through Altruistic Partisanship, the marginal effect of this donation is that Clinton's campaign would have an additional $100 (just as if she donated directly to the Clinton campaign). If Trump had raised more, the marginal effects of this donation would be a $100 reduction in Trump's campaign funds, AMF receiving $100, and the (apolitical) charities preferred by Trump's supporters receiving $100.
It feels like telling two rival universities to cut their football programs and donate the savings to AMF. "Everyone wins!"
Anyway, two billion dollars isn't that much in the scheme of things. I remember reading somewhere that Americans spend more money on Halloween candy than politics.