All of Aaron Gertler's Comments + Replies

Concerns about AMF from GiveWell reading - Part 1

Malaria rates in Benin, DRC, Ghana, Mali & Sierra Leone increased as net coverage increased, which is more evidence that the malaria data being used is not great. 

I appreciate your sharing what you find as you dig through the data. But I'd also recommend sharing links for statements like this (or at least instructions for finding the same information you found). This makes it much easier for other people to dig along with you.

Elsewhere, I have read that AMF requires its distribution partners to collect monthly malaria case rate data from all healt

... (read more)
Propose and vote on potential EA Wiki entries

Seems like a good idea!

If we have three criticism tags covering "causes", "organizations", and "community", then having a general "criticism of EA" tag doesn't seem to make sense. The best alternative seems like "criticism of EA philosophy".

If I don't hear objections from Pablo/Michael, I'll make that change in a week or so and re-tag relevant posts.

2MichaelA1dSo the plan is to have 4 tags, covering community, causes, organizations, and philosophy? Is so, that sounds good to me, I think. If the idea was to have just three (without philosophy), I'd have said it feels like there's something missing, e.g. for criticism of the ITN framework or ~impartial welfarism or the way EA uses expected value reasoning or whatever.
How to use the Forum

Upvotes (and downvotes) are anonymous.

3Mathieu Putz1dThanks, it's probably better that way!
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

I assume this is just a general comment, but so I can be sure — did you mean to make a point about the current rules of the contest?

Notes on "Managing to Change the World"

Great review!

Green's blog, "Ask a Manager", is really well-written. Many of the questions are a bit narrow, or "funny but rare", but I still find the blog a good way to immerse myself in the mind of someone who thinks clearly about hard problems in the workplace.

Introducing Training for Good (TFG)

Several of CEA's new hires over the past couple of years have been people older than 30 with no prior EA experience, who in at least some cases were responding to materials that were "broad" enough to include them in the discussion. This doesn't necessarily mean that we should be investing a lot of effort into reaching experienced people, but they do apply for first-time EA jobs!

Two examples of impressive older people switching into EA work (no comment on how much impact they've had in their roles):

  • Open Philanthropy's Beth Jones (led ops for Hillary Clinto
... (read more)
How impactful is free and open source software development?

This should probably be a post! I'd love to share it in the Forum Digest and elsewhere — I can technically do this even when it's a comment, but I'd love to see it get a title, some tags,  its own full comment section, etc.

2Jackson Wagner6dMaybe it should be an adversarial collaboration between me and somebody like Erich who knows a little more about programming! But sure; I will try to get a draft together and post it soon.
Ben_Snodin's Shortform

The lobbying pressure seems more important than the common knowledge.

EA orgs already spend a lot of time identifying and sharing important and simple ideas — I wouldn't call them "uncontroversial", but few ideas are. (See "building more houses makes housing cheaper", which is a lot more controversial than I'd have expected before I started to follow that "debate".)

I do think it would be worth spending a few hours trying to come up with examples of ideas that would be good to spread + calculating very rough BOTECs for them. For example, what's the value of ... (read more)

Ben_Snodin's Shortform

For a billion dollars, you can buy hundreds of millions of eyeballs.

As an extreme example, a 30-second Super Bowl advertisement costs just under $6 million and reaches almost 100 million people. And that can't be anywhere near the upper limit of efficiency (I'd guess those ads are wildly overpriced given the additional status/prestige they confer).

4Oliver Sourbut5dIt depends what media type you're talking about (audio, video, display, ...) - $6m/100m is $60CPM ('cost per mille'), which is certainly above the odds for similar 'premium video' advertising, but only by maybe 2-5x. For other media like audio and display the CPMs can be quite a bit lower, and if you're just looking to reach 'someone, somewhere' you can get a bargain via programmatic advertising. I happen to work for a major demand-side platform in real-time ad buying and I've been wondering if there might be a way to efficiently do good this way. The pricing can be quite nuanced. Haven't done any analysis at this point.
Is it crunch time yet? If so, who can help?

Of course, some organizations and people that do a lot of work on this problem would say that it is, in fact, crunch time. If someone decides to explore the area, "it's crunch time" is a hypothesis they should consider. I just don't think it should be their default assumption, or your default pitch.

Is it crunch time yet? If so, who can help?

One way to collect some "answers" to this is to observe the behavior of organizations that do a lot of work on this problem. For example:

  • Open Philanthropy still makes grants in several different longtermist areas
  • 80,000 Hours lists biorisk as a priority on the same "level" as AI alignment
  • FLI is using their massive Vitalik Buterin donation to fund PhD and postdoctoral fellowships, which seems to imply that "drop everything" doesn't imply e.g. "drop out of school" or "start thinking exclusively about alignment even if it tanks your grades"

Biorisk needs people... (read more)

6Aaron Gertler6dOf course, some organizations and people that do a lot of work on this problem would say that it is, in fact, crunch time. If someone decides to explore the area, "it's crunch time" is a hypothesis they should consider. I just don't think it should be their default assumption, or your default pitch.
Emrik's Shortform

This is a feature we've been considering for a while! Thanks for sharing the idea and getting some upvotes as additional evidence.

I can't promise this will show up at any particular time, but it is a matter of active discussion, for the reasons you outlined and to give people a third option alongside publishing something on their own account and publishing on a second, pseudonymous account.

The Cost of Rejection

I think feedback on job applications is far too rare given its value, for reasons others have stated and the additional reason "everyone I've ever talked to about this has complained about how hard it is to get feedback".

Here's how I handled feedback for the one hiring process I've run at CEA:

  • Anyone I rejected in the first round got an offer from me to provide feedback on their application. Looking back, I see that I didn't make this offer to second-round candidates; this seems really dumb, and I'm not sure why I didn't, though I think I did share some ver
... (read more)
6Jack Lewars6dThis exactly chimes with my experience. I've been hiring for 10 years now, and the range in application volume has been 10-200 for a position. In particular, I've been using an opt-in for feedback for years and my experience has also been that this is requested by a very low volume of people (I'd actually guess at 5% for early rejections, rising to 75% if they did an interview, at which point most people seem to want feedback). For what it's worth, I think this is a moral issue as well - we have a duty to the community to try to give useful feedback when we can; and to treat people with kindness. I try to take it in good faith when people say "I'm too busy to give feedback" but I feel that this is often not literally true; and in the rare cases where it is (maybe someone running one of the big 'legacy' EA organisations and getting hundreds of applicants per position), the solutions in other comments are viable.
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

Anyone can submit — we don't care about age, nationality, or any other category that immediately comes to mind.

Let me know if there's something specific you're concerned about.

Any EAs in Derby/ Derbyshire, UK?

I recommend using EA Hub's group list to find groups near you, since those are the most likely way to find individuals in your area. Looks like there are groups in Manchester and Sheffield!

Should I have my full name as my username?

You can ask me if you want it changed.

In general, I like people using their real names — it makes the Forum feel more warm and community-ish. I think risks like doxxing seem far more likely than they are because incidents of doxxing get a lot of news coverage relative to their likelihood. In addition, what we discuss here mostly isn't very interesting to the outside world.

But in the end, of course, it's totally up to you! Everyone has their own personal standards around privacy, and the Forum is open to everyone.

(On a separate note, I imagine that the decision looks different for "John Smith" vs. "Aaron Gertler" — some names are much harder to Google than others.)

2jackmalde16dI'm not worried about doxxing, I'm worried about people I know googling me, coming across this and then thinking it's all a bit weird. For example I'm a single guy open to dating non-EAs who may not have an interest in philosophy or animal welfare or may find thinking about millions of years in the future just plain stupid. At some point they may google me and wonder to themselves if they're dating a bit of a weirdo!
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

We've now added a form you can use to submit your work privately, and updated the post to mention it. 

Let me know if you see anything we should change about the form, and thanks for the suggestion!

1WSCFriedman18dThank you! I've bookmarked it.
Robin Hanson's Grabby Aliens model explained - part 1

Congratulations on hitting a new peak view count for the reborn version of the channel!

1Writer19dThanks :) It is going strong! Now views are coming in from YouTube recommending the video.
Clarifying the Petrov Day Exercise

Epistemic status: I'm still pretty confused about this whole thing, and wasn't involved in ideation. (Though I helped when asked by choosing whom to email, editing the LW email , and making a post.)

A few good people who were genuinely concerned about me mentioned to me privately that if I don't take the Red Button exercise, there could be social consequences, or it might even lead to me missing out on job opportunities in the EA Community.

I'll second Ruby in taking some blame for the overly serious/sanctimonious tone of the email, which I made some edits t... (read more)

Should We Have More Expansive Laws as an Alternative to Cancel Culture?

Yes. I didn't even read the "we" in the initial post as referring to EA, because this doesn't seem at all like something EA would be involved in, because the issue is small-scale (compared to "hundreds of thousands of people die each year" or "we are at risk of extinction"), and extremely non-neglected (huge amounts of funding and cultural capital on all "sides" of the issue). As you note, the current state of the issue seems to be "asinine and distracting".

I read "we" as "people in the broader culture", and the Forum as a place to ask a question about generic problem-solving (which is fine — over the years, people have asked questions about a variety of cause areas that aren't connected to EA).

Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021

Some of the LessWrong and Forum moderators are away at a conference, so we won't be publishing a retrospective right away, but we do expect to publish one eventually. Stay tuned!

Preventing low back pain with exercise

Are you aware of any organizations trying to combat lower back pain by encouraging exercise in the developing world? This post seems like half personal advice, half the implication that this might be a solid cause area for global health, and I'm wondering whether anyone is doing anything in the latter space.

Also, anyone who found this post interesting might also want to read this post on lower back pain.

4Ryan Kidd21dRegarding Magnus' post, which you linked, I partly wrote this article as a response. The evidence base for preventing low back pain with exercise seems much greater than that for adjusting posture, stretching and using ergonomic furniture, which his post also recommends. I wanted to emphasise the importance of exercise as the primary intervention.
4Ryan Kidd21dRegarding global health, the Happier Lives Institute produced a report on pain in 2020 that identified low back pain as a focus area, but missed my references [3-5]. In particular, my reference [4] seems to supersede their reference (Steffens et al., 2017) and my reference [3] seems broader and more recent than their reference (NICE, 2016). I think their recommendations might reasonably update with respect to these references. []
Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021

You can tag me with a quick DM for now — totally fine if you just literally send the URL of a comment and nothing else, if you want to optimize for speed/ease.

Tagging users to ping them is a much-discussed feature internally, with an uncertain future.

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

Thanks for this note, Stewart.

I've edited the text to clarify that full-text works should only be published if the author has given explicit permission, either directly or by using a Creative Commons license.

The full-text suggestion was because there are lots of EA-themed works published in places like Reddit where the author's goal was clearly to show the story to as many people as possible. But you're right that it's not good to assume people will reliably repost only those stories that no one would mind having shared here. Thanks for the push to fix this.

As for WSC Friedman's note requesting an option for private submission, I expect to have an update very soon.

Emrik's Shortform

My experience as a non-PhD who dropped out of EA things for two years before returning is that I felt welcome and accepted when I started showing up in EA spaces again. And now that I've been at CEA for three years, I still spend a lot of my time talking to and helping out people who are just getting started and don't have any great credentials or accomplishments; I hope that I'm not putting pressure on them when I do this.

That said, every person's experience is unique, and some people have certainly felt this kind of pressure, whether self-imposed as a re... (read more)

2Emrik1moAnd to respond to your question about what I meant by "menial labour". I was being poetic. I just mean that I feel like EA places a lot of focus on the very most high-status jobs, and I've heard friends despairing for having to "settle" for anything less. I sense that this type of writing might not be the norm for EA shortform, but I wasn't sure.

Nono, I'm not trying to point to a problem of EAs trying to make others feel unwelcome or dumb. I think EA is extremely kind, and almost universally tries hard to make people feel welcome. I'm just pointing to the existence of an unusually strong intellectual pressure, perhaps combined with lots of focus on world-saving heroes and talk about "what should talented people do?"

I think ambition is good, but I think we can find ways of encouraging ambition while also mitigating at least some of the debilitating intelligence-dysphoria many in our community suffe... (read more)

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

Thanks for the link! Sharing it one week into a six-week contest leaves me plenty of time :-)

Why AI alignment could be hard with modern deep learning

I specifically removed the notice when I cross-posted this for Ajeya, since starting a post by Ajeya with the words "guest post by Ajeya Cotra" seemed odd. I've now added a notice back in.

Open Thread: September 2021

For some context, here’s a sample of what I’ve been working on recently for the Forum, outside of the creative writing contest:

  • Working to set up five new AMAs (uncertain how many will end up coming together) with serious thinkers
  • Presenting to the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative on the topic of “taking your summer research project and posting it on the Forum”, then helping lots of individual researchers (~10 so far) prepare to do so
  • Helping Holden Karnofsky crosspost his Cold Takes content to the Forum so that it’s available as soon as he publishes the
... (read more)
Open Thread: September 2021

Thanks for voicing these concerns! You've articulated a not-uncommon point of view on how the Forum ought to be used, and one that we try to incorporate into our work alongside many other points of view.

I've heard some people express a desire for the Forum to look more like a peer-reviewed journal. I've heard even more express concerns in the opposite direction — that the site feels like it has a very high bar for engagement, and any content other than serious research seems suitable only for Facebook (many of those people are trying to use Facebook less o... (read more)

3RogerAckroyd1moI thought the Clickhole post was both funny, and a good illustration of how cause prioritization can be perceived by many people.
6Aaron Gertler1moFor some context, here’s a sample of what I’ve been working on recently for the Forum, outside of the creative writing contest: * Working to set up five new AMAs (uncertain how many will end up coming together) with serious thinkers * Presenting to the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative on the topic of “taking your summer research project and posting it on the Forum”, then helping lots of individual researchers (~10 so far) prepare to do so * Helping Holden Karnofsky crosspost his Cold Takes content to the Forum so that it’s available as soon as he publishes the blog versions * Continuing to help other people with content they submit for feedback [] (steady stream of 1-2 people per week) * Continuing to refine the Forum’s version of the EA Handbook [] (and serving as a facilitator for three live Virtual Program cohorts to get more input on how people experience the “official” version of this material, which has helped me improve the Forum version) * Creating a PR FAQ [] for a new metrics feature that should inspire more sharing of “serious work” by its authors, hopefully drawing more attention to it * Adding a lot more recent Forum content to CEA’s social media feeds, so that the best material (almost always serious work) reaches more readers. We’d been on a social media hiatus until ~two months ago, but engagement since we returned has been great! While the creative writing contest is very visible, the vast majority of my time (as the main person trying to solicit more content for the Forum) goes towards helping people with serious work, and promoting said work. I realize this may not speak to your point about u
Does the Forum Prize lead people to write more posts?

Your 'prize posts' also curate good content and that is valuable for forum readers, I think

I think this was a relatively valuable part of the Prize as well. However, the weekly Forum Digest now gets about 700 opens/week, which is well over the total number of views the average Forum Prize post received. If people want to track good content, the Digest is a good way to do that. (It's much less selective than the Prize, but still seems like a superior form of curation overall, given how many good posts didn't receive prizes.) 

However, the Mailchimp arch... (read more)

Does the Forum Prize lead people to write more posts?

It ignores the potential impact of the Forum Prize on other people's writing. How many people have been inspired to write something either because of the existence of the prize itself or because of some piece of writing that they learned about because of the prize? I would bet it's not zero.

I'd also bet that it's not zero, but my experience interviewing dozens of users and surveying hundreds more suggests that the number is not very high. (I focus my interviews on people we'd especially like to see submit more content, so the Prize being relatively unimpor... (read more)

EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

If you spent $10,000 on prizes for people who did useful things in the community building / EA messaging space, and that happened to be attached to a post, it seems extremely obvious that this is okay. See, for example, EA Funds sharing information about how to apply for grants.

What is your favorite EA meme?

My favorite is elegant, emotionally weighty, and intensely relatable:

(Original post.)

6Writer1moI know how to turn this into a cool story. I'm going to try. If I end up giving up, I will post the idea as a reply to this comment.
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: $22,000 in prizes for good stories

I don't think it's because I "suggested" it. I think it's almost certainly the prize money + the fact that I heavily promoted the contest through all of CEA's channels, because CEA is running and funding it. I also shared it with many individual writers I admire, the rational fiction subreddit, etc. 

Thus, many more people have seen this than see most Forum posts. It's not "bias", just sheer numbers. (Other people are welcome to promote their own posts in lots of places — in fact, we encourage it!)

1Nathan Young1moYeah I think your behaviour here is fine. But imagine I spent $10,000 advertising a post I wrote. Would that be okay? The question interested me.
[Creative writing contest] Blue bird and black bird

Quick notice that Dario isn't the author of the piece — your response indicated that you might have thought they were. Sorry if I misinterpreted your reply!

1WSCFriedman1moAaargh I completely did! facepalm Sorry about that.
EA Forum Creative Writing Contest: Submission thread for work first published elsewhere

It's totally fine to submit anything you'd like; very little harm done if it doesn't seem like a great fit for the contest, just a few minutes of a judge's time later. (And we do pay our judges for their time.)

Fergus McCormack's Shortform

In answer to your question, I think that it's generally better to create a top-level post than a Shortform post, as long as you're comfortable doing so. Shortform serves a useful purpose, but top-level posts have a better chance of getting useful engagement.

I think this would make sense as a top-level post, and would encourage you to try sharing it in that context!

My thoughts on the checklist compilation idea: It's hard to make a given intellectual resource very popular, but if you can pull off this one, I think it could be really useful. Many EA orgs have... (read more)

Linch's Shortform

This is another example of a Shortform that could be an excellent top-level post (especially as it's on-theme with the motivated reasoning post that was just published). I'd love to  see see this spend a week on the front page and perhaps convince some readers to try doing some red-teaming for themselves. Would you consider creating a post?

Buck's Shortform

See my comment here, which applies to this Shortform as well; I think it would be a strong top-level post, and I'd be interested to see how other users felt about tech bootcamps they attended.

Buck's Shortform

I'm commenting on a few Shortforms I think should be top-level posts so that more people see them, they can be tagged, etc. This is one of the clearest cases I've seen; I think the comparison is really interesting, and a lot of people who are promising EA candidates will have "become really rich" as a viable option, such that they'd benefit especially from thinking about this comparisons themselves.

Anyway, would you consider making this a top-level post? I don't think the text would need to be edited all — it could be as-is, plus a link to the Shortform comments.

Ben Garfinkel's Shortform

Would you consider making this into a top-level post? The discussion here is really interesting and could use more attention, and a top-level post helps to deliver that (this also means the post can be tagged for greater searchability).

I think the top-level post could be exactly the text here, plus a link to the Shortform version so people can see those comments. Though I'd also be interested to see the updated version of the original post which takes comments into account (if you felt like doing that).

Linch's Shortform

I've previously shared this post on CEA's social media and (I think) in an edition of the Forum Digest. I think it's really good, and I'd love to see it be a top-level post so that more people end up seeing it, it can be tagged, etc. 

Would you be interested in creating a full post for it? (I don't think you'd have to make any changes — this still deserves to be read widely as-is.)

Clickhole's take on cause prioritization

Wow, big news! I've made the necessary correction and changed the title.

Fairtrade and its criticism

I can't find where the author actually  supports their claim that food shortages were "non-existent", so it's hard to know how to respond.

I'm not even close to an expert here, but my impression (from Wikipedia and other light reading) is that most scholars credit the Green Revolution with preventing famines that would likely have happened otherwise, as well as increasing food security more generally — rather than ending a bunch of ongoing famines.

See Our World in Data for many statistics related to global malnutrition and its consequences. Things have... (read more)

Avoiding Groupthink in Intro Fellowships (and Diversifying Longtermism)

The EA Handbook follows a similar path to the introductory program syllabus. If you have specific suggestions for readings on S-risk (or anything else!), I'm always happy to hear them. I see the Handbook as a work in progress, and make small adjustments quite often.

5seanrson1moHi Aaron, thanks for your reply. I’ve listed some suggestions in one of the hyperlinks above, but I’ll put it here too: [] I have not put much time into this, so I’d love to hear your thoughts on the proposed changes.
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