Shortform Content [Beta]

Max_Daniel's Shortform

[On ]

  • (Most of the following doesn't apply in cases where someone is acting in bad faith and is determined to screw you over. And in fact I've seen the opposing failure mode of people assuming good faith for too long. But I don't think this is a case of bad faith.)
  • I've seen some EAs react pretty negatively or angrily to that piece. (Tbc, I've also seen different reactions.) Some have described the article as a &qu
... (read more)
ofer's Shortform

The 2020 annual letter of Bill and Melinda Gates is titled "Why we swing for the fences" and it seems to spotlight an approach that resembles OpenPhil's hits-based giving approach.

From the 2020 annual letter:

At its best, philanthropy takes risks that governments can’t and corporations won’t. Governments need to focus most of their resources on scaling proven solutions.


As always, Warren Buffett—a dear friend and longtime source of great advice—put it a little more colorfully. When he donated the bulk of his fortune to our foundation and joined us as

... (read more)
Misha_Yagudin's Shortform

The three subscales of the Light Triad Scale are conceptualized as follows:

Faith in Humanityㅡor the belief that, generally speaking, humans are good.

Sample item: I think people are mostly good.

Humanismㅡor the belief that humans across all backgrounds are deserving of respect and appreciation.

Sample Item: I enjoy listening to people from all walks of life.

Kantianismㅡor the belief that others should be treated as ends in and of themselves, and not as pawns in one’s own game.

Sample item: When I talk to people, I am rarely thinking ... (read more)

Khorton's Shortform

This is the first serious attempt I've seen at estimating deaths from climate change.

4dominicroser2dThanks a lot for this pointer! An odd observation: He cites someone who's done such stuff before -- John Nolt, a philosopher. He himself is professor of the psychology of music. I think the calculations of both of them are extremely useful (even if extremely speculative). But there's a big question here: what prevented *scientists* from offering such numbers? Are they too afraid of publishing guesstimates? Does it not occur to them that these numbers are utterly relevant for the debate?

That's a really good question! Maybe there just genuinely is too much uncertainty for any estimates, in their views.

I'd honestly even be interested in deaths currently attributable to climate change, but I'm sure even that is a hard problem.

Max_Daniel's Shortform

[Is longtermism bottlenecked by "great people"?]

Someone very influential in EA recently claimed in conversation with me that there are many tasks X such that (i) we currently don't have anyone in the EA community who can do X, (ii) the bottleneck for this isn't credentials or experience or knowledge but person-internal talent, and (iii) it would be very valuable (specifically from a longtermist point of view) if we could do X. And that therefore what we most need in EA are more "great people".

I find this extremely dubious. (In... (read more)

evelynciara's Shortform

A social constructivist perspective on long-term AI policy

I think the case for addressing the long-term consequences of AI systems holds even if AGI is unlikely to arise.

The future of AI development will be shaped by social, economic and political factors, and I'm not convinced that AGI will be desirable in the future or that AI is necessarily progressing toward AGI. However, (1) AI already has large positive and negative effects on society, and (2) I think it's very likely that society's AI capabilities will improve over time, amplifying these effects and creating new benefits and risks in the future.

Ramiro's Shortform

Does anyone know or have a serious opinion / analysis on the European campaign to tax meat? I read some news at Le Monde, but nothing EA-level seriousness. I mean, it seems a pretty good idea, but I saw no data on possible impact, probability of adoption, possible ways to contribute, or even possible side-effects?

(not the best comparison, but worth noting: in Brazil a surge in meat prices caused an inflation peak in december and corroded the governement's support - yeah, people can tolerate politicians meddling with criminals and fascism, as long as they can have barbecue)

brandonperez's Shortform

Please vote for Malaria Consortium.

Tab for a Cause is a browser extension that donates hearts to charity for every new tab opened while you surf the internet. It's totally free and legitimate.

In 2019, Tab for a Cause raised over $185,000 for nonprofits around the world, and over $50,000 of that was given to the 9 different charities chosen by Tabbers during our monthly Charity Spotlights.

They are holding a vote on reddit to see what charities will b... (read more)

1Nathan Young15dLink doesn't work for me.
edoarad's Shortform

MIT has a new master's program on Development Economics.

It is taught by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, the recent Nobel Laureates. Seems cool :)

Here's a review of several courses from the program. I'm currently studying the third course out of five, and then I want to apply for on-campus accelerated Master's at MIT. I'll be happy to answer questions about the program if you have them.

JP's Shortform

We've been experiencing intermittent outages recently. Multiple possible causes and fixes have not turned out to fix it, so we're still working on it. If you see an error saying:
"503 Service Unavailable: No healthy endpoints to handle the request. [...]"
Try refreshing, or waiting 30 seconds and then refreshing; they're very transient errors.
Our apologies for the disruption.

It appears we've fixed this.

evelynciara's Shortform

I think improving bus systems in the United States (and probably other countries) could be a plausible Cause X.

Importance: Improving bus service would:

  • Increase economic output in cities
  • Dramatically improve quality of life for low-income residents
  • Reduce cities' carbon footprint, air pollution, and traffic congestion

Neglectedness: City buses probably don't get much attention because most people don't think very highly of them, and focus much more on novel transportation technologies like electric vehicles.

Tractability: According to Higashide, ... (read more)

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)
1evelynciara13dI like Kaufman's second, third, and fourth ideas: * Allow the driver to start while someone is still at the front paying. (The driver should use judgment if they're allowed to do this, because the passenger at the front might lose their balance when the bus starts. Wheelchairs might be especially vulnerable to rolling back.) * Allow buses to drive 25mph on the shoulder of the highway in traffic jams where the main lanes are averaging below 10mph. * Higher speed limits for buses. Lets say 15mph over. (I'm not so sure about this: speed limits exist in part to protect pedestrians. Buses still cause fewer pedestrian and cyclist deaths than cars, though.) But these should be considered only after we've exhausted the space of improvements to bus service that don't sacrifice safety. For example, we should build more bus-only lanes first.
2Khorton13dWait, do buses some place not start moving until... everyone's sitting down? Does that mean there's enough seats for everyone?

I don't have statistics, but my best guess is that if you sample random points across all public buses running in America, in over 3/4 of the time, less than half of the seats are filled.

This is extremely unlike my experiences in Asia (in China or Singapore).

aarongertler's Shortform

Brief note on usernames:

Epistemic status: Kidding around, but also serious

If you want to create an account without using your name, I recommend choosing a distinctive username that people can easily refer to, rather than some variant on "anonymous_user".

Among usernames with 50+ karma on the Forum, we have:

  • AnonymousEAForumAccount
  • anonymous_ea
  • anonymousthrowaway
  • anonymoose

I'm pretty sure I've seen at least one comment back-and-forth between two accounts with this kind of name. It's a bit much :-P

Showing 3 of 5 replies (Click to show all)
8Linch14dI think this makes it clear that people are deliberately being anonymous rather than carrying over old internet habits. Also I think there's a possibility of information leakage if someone tries to be too cutesy with their pseudonyms. Eg, fluttershy_forever might lead someone to look for similar names in the My Little Pony forums, say, where the user might be more willing to "out" themselves than if they were writing a critical piece on the EA forum. This is even more true for narrower interests. My Dominion username is a Kafka+Murakami reference, for example. There's also a possibility of doxing in the other direction, where eg, someone may not want their EA Forum opinions to be associated with bad fanfiction they wrote when they were 16.

You could write that the username is deliberately anonymous in your Forum bio.

2Aaron Gertler13dThe deliberate anonymity point is a good one. The ideal would be a distinct anonymous username the person doesn't use elsewhere, but this particular issue isn't very important in any case.
aarongertler's Shortform

Another brief note on usernames:

Epistemic status: Moderately confident that this is mildly valuable

It's totally fine to use a pseudonym on the Forum. 

However, if you chose a pseudonym for a reason other than "I actively want to not be identifiable" (e.g. "I copied over my Reddit username without giving it too much thought"), I recommend using your real name on the Forum.

If you want to change your name, just PM or email me ( with your current username and the one you'd like to use.

Reasons to do this:

  • Real nam
... (read more)
Nathan Young's Shortform

Does anyone know people working on reforming the academic publishing process?

Coronavirus has caused journalists to look for scientific sources. There are no journal articles because of the lag time. So they have gone to preprint servers like bioRxiv (pronounced bio-archive). These servers are not peer reviewed so some articles are of low quality. So people have gone to twitter asking for experts to review the papers.

This is effectively a new academic publishing paradigm. If there were support fo... (read more)

HaukeHillebrandt has recommended supporting Prof Chris Chambers to do this:

Linch's Shortform

cross-posted from Facebook.

Reading Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith's new book has made me somewhat more skeptical about Open Borders (from a high prior belief in its value).

Before reading the book, I was already aware of the core arguments (eg, Michael Huemer's right to immigrate, basic cosmopolitanism, some vague economic stuff about doubling GDP).

I was hoping the book will have more arguments, or stronger versions of the arguments I'm familiar with.

It mostly did not.

The book did convince me that the prima facie case for open borders was ... (read more)

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)
1Linch16dI think there was substantial ambiguity in my original phrasing, thanks for catching that! I think there are at least four ways to interpret the statement. 1. Interpreting it literally: I am physically capable (without much difficulty) of imagining situations that are bad to a degree worse than doubling GDP is good. 2. Caplan gives some argument for doubling of GDP that seems persuasive, and claims this is enough to override a conservatism prior, but I'm not confident that the argument is true/robust, and I think it's reasonable to believe that there are possible bad consequences that are bad enough that even if I give >50% probability (or >80%), this is not automatically enough to override a conservatism prior, at least not without thinking about it a lot more. 3. Assume by construction that world GDP will double in the short term. I still think there's a significant chance that the world will be worse off. 4. Assume by construction that world GDP will double, and stay 2x baseline until the end of time. I still think there's a significant chance that the world will be worse off. __ To be clear, when writing the phrasing, I meant it in terms of #2. I strongly endorse #1 and tentatively endorse #3, but I agree that if you interpreted what I meant as #4, what I said was a really strong claim and I need to back it up more carefully.
2Aaron Gertler16dMakes sense, thanks! The use of "doubling GDP is so massive that..." made me think that you were taking that as given in this example, but worrying that bad things could result from GDP-doubling that justified conservatism. That was certainly only one of a few possible interpretations; I jumped too easily to conclusions.

That was not my intent, and it was not the way I parsed Caplan's argument.

evelynciara's Shortform

Joan Gass (2019) recommends four areas of international development to focus on:

  • New modalities to foster economic productivity
  • New modalities or ways to develop state capabilities
  • Global catastrophic risks, particularly pandemic preparedness
  • Meta EA research on cause prioritization within global development

Improving state capabilities, or governments' ability to render public services, seems especially promising for public-interest technologists interested in development (ICT4D). For example, the Zenysis platform helps developing-world governments make d... (read more)

Ramiro's Shortform

Shouldn't we have more EA editors in Philpapers categories?

Philpapers is this huge index/community of academic philosophers and texts. It's a good place to start researching a topic. Part of the work is done by voluntary editors and assistants, who assume the responsibility of categorizing and including relevant bibliography; in exchange, they are constantly in touch with the corresponding subject. Some EAs are responsible for their corresponding fields; however, I noticed that some relevant EA-related categories currently have no editor (e.g.: Impact of Artificial Intelligence). I wonder: wouldn't it be useful if EAs assumed these positions?

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)
1Ramiro21dI'm thinking on both: adequately categorizing papers may have an indirect impact on how other scholars select their bibliographical references; and the volunteer editors themselves may acquire (or anticipate its acquisition - I suppose that, if a paper is really good, you'll likely end up finding it anyway) knowledge of their corresponding domains. Of course, perhaps the answer is "it's already hard enough to catch up with the posts on such-and-such subjects in the EA and rationalist community, and read the standard literature, and do original work, etc. - and you still want me to work as a quasi-librarian for free?"
3Aaron Gertler19dThis suggestion is worth posting in other places. You could consider emailing places like Forethought or FHI that have a lot of philosophers, or posting in FB groups like "EA Fundamental Research []" or "EA Volunteering []".

Too bad I don't have a Facebook account anymore... I'd appreciate if someone else (whou found it useful, of course) could raise this subject in those groups.

(man, do I miss the memes!)

Or I could just post it as a Question in this forum, to get more visibility.


Misha_Yagudin's Shortform

Karma of EA Survey Series as of today:

29 EA Survey 2019 Series: Geographic Distribution of EAs
43 EA Survey 2019 Series: Careers and Skills
74 EA Survey 2019 Series: Cause Prioritization
64 EA Survey 2019 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics

38 EA Survey 2018 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics
15 EA Survey 2018 Series: Distribution & Analysis Methodology
50 EA Survey 2018 Series: How do people get involved in EA?
30 EA Survey 2018 Series: Subscribers and Identifiers
82 EA Survey 2018 Series: Donation Data
68 EA Survey 2018 Seri... (read more)

evelynciara's Shortform

We're probably surveilling poor and vulnerable people in developing and developed countries too much in the name of aiding them, and we should give stronger consideration to the privacy rights of aid recipients. Personal data about these people collected for benign purposes can be weaponized against them by malicious actors, and surveillance itself can deter people from accessing vital services.

"Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism" by Mark Latonero

Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks makes a similar argument regarding aid recipients in developed countries.

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)
2evelynciara20dThank you for sharing this! I took a class on surveillance and privacy last semester, so I already have basic knowledge about this subject. I agree that it's important to reject false tradeoffs. Personally, my contribution to this area would be in formulating a theory of privacy that can be used to assess surveillance schemes in this context.

Shafi Goldwasser at Berkeley is currently working on some definitions of privacy and their applicability for law. See this paper or this talk. In a talk she gave last month she talked about how to formalize some aspects of law related to cryptographic concepts to formalize "the right to be forgotten". The recording is not up yet, but in the meantime I paste below my (dirty/partial) notes from the talk. I feel somewhat silly for not realizing the possible connection there earlier, so thanks for the opportunity to discover connections hidden in pla... (read more)

3Aaron Gertler20dInteresting op-ed! I wonder to what extent these issues are present in work being done by EA-endorsed global health charities; my impression is that almost all of their work happens outside of the conflict zones where some of these privacy concerns are especially potent. It also seems like these charities are very interested in reaching high levels of usage/local acceptance, and would be unlikely to adopt policies that deter recipients unless fraud concerns were very strong. But I don't know all the Top Charities well enough to be confident of their policies in this area. This would be a question worth asking on one of GiveWell's occasional Open Threads []. And if you ask it on Rob Mather's AMA [] , you'll learn how AMF thinks about these things (given Rob's response times, possibly within a day).
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