Aaron Bergman

1550 karmaJoined Nov 2017Working (0-5 years)Maryland, USA



I graduated from Georgetown University in December, 2021 with degrees in economics, mathematics and a philosophy minor. There, I founded and helped to lead Georgetown Effective Altruism. Over the last few years recent years, I've interned at the Department of the Interior, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Nonlinear, a newish longtermist EA org.

I'm now doing research thanks to an EA funds grant, trying to answer hard, important EA-relevant questions. My first big project (in addition to everything listed here) was helping to generate this team Red Teaming post.

Blog: aaronbergman.net

How others can help me

  • Suggest action-relevant, tractable research ideas for me to pursue
  • Give me honest, constructive feedback on any of my work
  • Introduce me to someone I might like to know :)
  • Convince me of a better marginal use of small-dollar donations than giving to the Fish Welfare Initiative, from the perspective of a suffering-focused hedonic utilitarian.
  • Offer me a job if you think I'd be a good fit
  • Send me recommended books, podcasts, or blog posts that there's like a >25% chance a pretty-online-and-into-EA-since 2017 person like me hasn't consumed
    • Rule of thumb standard maybe like "at least as good/interesting/useful as a random 80k podcast episode"

How I can help others

  • Open to research/writing collaboration :)
  • Would be excited to work on impactful data science/analysis/visualization projects
  • Can help with writing and/or editing
  • Discuss topics I might have some knowledge of
    • like: math, economics, philosophy (esp. philosophy of mind and ethics), psychopharmacology (hobby interest), helping to run a university EA group, data science, interning at government agencies


Topic Contributions

For others considering whether/where to donate: RP is my current best guess of "single best charity to donate to all things considered (on the margin - say up to $1M)."

FWIW I have a manifold market for this (which is just one source of evidence - not something I purely defer to. Also I bet in the market so grain of salt etc). 

Strongly, strongly, strongly agree. I was in the process of writing essentially this exact post, but am very glad someone else got to it first. The more I thought about it and researched, the more it seemed like convincingly making this case would probably be the most important thing I would ever have done. Kudos to you.

A few points to add

  1. Under standard EA "on the margin" reasoning, this shouldn't really matter, but I analyzed OP's grants data and found that human GCR has been consistently funded 6-7x more than animal welfare (here's my tweet thread this is from) Image
  2. @Laura Duffy's (for Rethink Priorities) recently published risk aversion analysis basically does a lot of the heavy lifting here (bolding mine):

Spending on corporate cage-free campaigns for egg-laying hens is robustly[8] cost-effective under nearly all reasonable types and levels of risk aversion considered here. 

  1. Using welfare ranges based roughly on Rethink Priorities’ results, spending on corporate cage-free campaigns averts over an order of magnitude more suffering than the most robust global health and development intervention, Against Malaria Foundation. This result holds for almost any level of risk aversion and under any model of risk aversion.

I also want to emphasize this part, because it's the kind of serious engagement with suffering that EA still fails to to do enough of 

I experienced "disabling"-level pain for a couple of hours, by choice and with the freedom to stop whenever I want. This was a horrible experience that made everything else seem to not matter at all.

A single laying hen experiences hundreds of hours of this level of pain during their lifespan, which lasts perhaps a year and a half - and there are as many laying hens alive at any one time as there are humans. How would I feel if every single human were experiencing hundreds of hours of disabling pain? 

A single broiler chicken experiences fifty hours of this level of pain during their lifespan, which lasts 4-6 weeks. There are 69 billion broilers slaughtered each year. That is so many hours of pain that if you divided those hours among humanity, each human would experience about 400 hours (2.5 weeks) of disabling pain every year. Can you imagine if instead of getting, say, your regular fortnight vacation from work or study, you experienced disabling-level pain for a whole 2.5 weeks? And if every human on the planet - me, you, my friends and family and colleagues and the people living in every single country - had that same experience every year? How hard would I work in order to avert suffering that urgent?

Every single one of those chickens are experiencing pain as awful and all-consuming as I did for tens or hundreds of hours, without choice or the freedom to stop. They are also experiencing often minutes of 'excruciating'-level pain, which is an intensity that I literally cannot imagine. Billions upon billions of animals. The numbers would be even more immense if you consider farmed fish, or farmed shrimp, or farmed insects, or wild animals.

If there were a political regime or law responsible for this level of pain - which indeed there is - how hard would I work to overturn it? Surely that would tower well above my other priorities (equality, democracy, freedom, self-expression, and so on), which seem trivial and even borderline ridiculous in comparison.

[On mobile; sorry for the formatting]

Given my quick read and especially the bit below, it seems like the title is at least a bit misleading.

Quote: “To be clear: this document is not a detailed vindication of any particular class of philanthropic interventions. For example, although we think that contractualism supports a sunnier view of helping the global poor than funding x-risk projects, contractualism does not, for all our argument implies, entail that many EA-funded global poverty interventions are morally preferable to all other options (some of which are probably high-risk, high-reward longshots).”

I think a reasonable person would conclude from the title “If Contractualism, Then AMF” essentially the opposite of this more nuanced clarification.

Perhaps it’s reasonable to infer that “Then AMF” really means “then the cluster of beliefs that leads GiveWell to strongly recommend AMF are indeed true (even if ex post it turns out that deworming or something was better)” but even this doesn’t seem to be what you are arguing (given the quote above).

LessWrong has a new feature/type of post called "Dialogues". I'm pretty excited to use it, and hope that if it seems usable, reader friendly, and generally good the EA Forum will eventually adopt it as well.

I'm interested in supporting this financially (that sounds like something a rich person would say so I should clarify this would not be a ton of money lol) and possibly in other ways as well (e.g., helping set up a website)

At least some chance of a less terrible death later, no? I'm really not sure what the distribution of causes of death looks like for different types of wild animal hosts

New fish data with estimated individuals killed per country/year/species  (super unreliable, read below if you're gonna use!) 

That^ is too big for Google Sheets, so here's the same thing just without a breakdown by country that you should be able to open easily if you want to take a look.

Basically the UN data generally used for tracking/analyzing the amount of fish and other marine life captured/farmed and killed only tracks the total weight captured for a given country-year-species (or group of species). 

I had chatGPT-4 provide estimated lower and upper bounds on the average weight of individual members of given species/groups, thereby allowing me to guesstimate individual numbers of fish+ from the UN live weight data. I only did this for species/groups of which >5000 metric tons have been harvested since 1961, which covers about 99.9% of the total mass.

Happy to describe anything in more detail if it would actually be of use!

Good point, and I'll throw out The Humane League as one specific recipient of money. 

Farmed animal welfare is politically controversial in a way that GiveWell is not. This is potentially bad:

Is OpenPhil's current support of farmed animal welfare politically controversial? I don't get that sense but, if so, among who?

Maybe people who don't care about farmed animals are correct

Sure but same goes for literally everything, including eg AMF being net positive. Happy to discuss object level though.

Farmed animal advocacy is so cost-effective because, if successful, it forces other people (meat consumers? meat producers?) to bear the costs of treating animals better. I'm less comfortable spending other people's money to make the world better than spending my own money to make the world better

Interesting point and yeah I think this is valid. At some margin I think this would become an important consideration (e.g., advocating some policy that made being non-vegan super expensive) but at the current margin it seems like these costs are just extremely small relative to the suffering reduction they induce.

Increased advocacy for farm animals might just cause increased advocacy for farms, just burning money rather than improving the world

Farm lobby is strong. I agree this has to be accounted for but trust OpenPhil, ACE, and e.g. The Humane League to account for this when deciding what to do and who to fund. Empirically, it seems to be the case that e.g. cage free advocacy has worked and laws like California's prop 12 have passed and been upheld.

It's hard to be as confident in political interventions - humans and groups of humans are much less predictable than e.g. malaria

First, at one level I agree but then would point to all the non-political animal welfare interventions like cage free advocacy without bans and Shrimp Welfare Project paying for farms to install stunners. At another I just disagree that e.g. AMF has high-confidence certain impact on the world. All the analyses explicitly don't even try to account for 3rd+ order effects (not sure about 2nd) which is plausibly where a ton of impact lies.

- Farmed animal welfare sometimes seems overly-connected with dubious left-wing politics (e.g. https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/5iCsbrSqLyrfP55ry/concerns-with-ace-s-recent-behavior-1)

I've definitely seen first hand how much of especially veganism/vegan advocacy per se is very lefty and, more importantly, less clear eyed and epistemically rigorous than EA in general and certainly meta level EA orgs. IMO the appropriate response here is to be a countervailing force in the sense of technocratic rigor (not conservatism), not to "leave those people be".

I’ve argued this largely on Twitter, but it seems pretty clear to me that no marginal dollars at all, at least up to say $1B, should in fact be going to the GiveWell portfolio (or similar charities for that matter). I don’t think it’s obvious what the alternative should be, but do think that (virtually) no well informed person trying to allocate a marginal dollar most ethically would conclude that GiveWell is the best option.

I feel like this/adjacent debates often gets framed as “normal poverty stuff vs weird longtermist stuff” but a lot of my confidence in the above comes from farmed animal welfare strictly dominating GiveWell in terms of any plausibly relevant criteria save for maybe PR. And then there’s an important and interesting debate to be had over farmed animals vs GCR vs everything else.

I’d be super keen to hear from anyone who disagrees from an affirmative “no really, AMF etc is more deserving than every other org I know about” perspective, as I don’t think I’ve encountered anyone who’s argued this.

According to Kevin Esvelt on the recent 80,000k podcast (excellent btw, mostly on biosecurity), eliminating the New World New World screwworm could be an important farmed animal welfare (infects livestock), global health (infects humans), development (hurts economies), science/innovation intervention, and most notably quasi-longtermist wild animal suffering intervention. 

More, if you think there’s a non-trivial chance of human disempowerment, societal collapse, or human extinction in the next 10 years, this would be important to do ASAP because we may not be able to later.

From the episode:

Kevin Esvelt: 


But from an animal wellbeing perspective, in addition to the human development, the typical lifetime of an insect species is several million years. So 106 years times 109 hosts per year means an expected 1015 mammals and birds devoured alive by flesh-eating maggots. For comparison, if we continue factory farming for another 100 years, that would be 1013 broiler hens and pigs. So unless it’s 100 times worse to be a factory-farmed broiler hen than it is to be devoured alive by flesh-eating maggots, then when you integrate over the future, it is more important for animal wellbeing that we eradicate the New World screwworm from the wild than it is that we end factory farming tomorrow.

Dropping a longer quote with more context in this footnote.[1] A quick Google Images search makes this all the more visceral, but be warned that it's kinda graphic.

I would really love to see someone (maybe me) do a deeper dive into this and write up a proper Forum post. 

  1. ^

    Kevin Esvelt: So the fourth one might actually be the easiest to get going: the New World screwworm, which has the amazing scientific name of Cochliomyia hominivorax: “the man devourer.” But it doesn’t primarily eat humans; it feeds indiscriminately on warm-blooded things, so mammals and birds. It’s a botfly that lays its eggs in open wounds, anything as small as a tick bite. And it’s called the screwworm because the larvae are screw-shaped and they drill their way into living flesh, devouring it. And as they do, they cultivate bacteria that attract new gravid females that lay more eggs and continue the cycle.

    So you have this macabre dance of parasitisation that results in the animal being devoured alive by flesh-eating maggots. And we know that it’s horrendously painful, because people get affected by this, and the standard of treatment is you give them morphine immediately so that surgeons can cut the things out — because it’s just that painful; it’s unbelievably agonising. And by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, there’s about a billion hosts of this every year — so a billion animals are devoured alive by flesh-eating maggots every single year.

    We even know that we can eradicate this species from at least many ecosystems and not see any effects, because it used to be present in North America too, and we wiped it out using nuclear technology, oddly enough. Some clever folks noticed if you irradiate the larvae, then they grow up sterile. And if you release enough of them, then the wild ones will mate with a sterile one, and they only mate once, so you can suppress the population to the point of not being there anymore.

    So we did this first up through Florida and then across the West, and then down through Texas to the Mexican border. The US Department of Agriculture then inked a deal with the Mexican government to eradicate them from Mexico because the southern border was shorter and therefore cheaper. And then they just went country by country down Central America to Panama. The southern border of Panama is the shortest, so American taxpayer dollars today contribute to the creation and maintenance of a living wall of sterile screwworm flies released in southern Panama that prevents the South American screwworm from reinvading North America — 10 million released every week.

    Luisa Rodriguez: Wow.

    Kevin Esvelt: But there’s too many of them in South America to wipe out by that means. And so the way forward is obviously gene drive. If the Mercosur countries agree that they want to get rid of the New World screwworm, they can start with something like a daisy drive locally — and Uruguay is working on this — then they can wipe it out from their country. Uruguay loses about 0.1% of their total country’s GDP to the screwworm because they’re so dependent on animal exports. I mean, Uruguay and beef is… To those listeners who eat beef, I’m going to start fights here, but it’s better than beef from Argentina, even. But anyway, they’re all very concerned about their beef, and screwworm is horrific.

    It also, of course, preferentially hurts poor farmers who struggle to afford the veterinary treatments for their animals. And of course, they hate to see it, because here you’re watching these animals that you’re caring for literally get devoured by flesh-eating maggots, and it’s agonisingly painful.

    But from an animal wellbeing perspective, in addition to the human development, the typical lifetime of an insect species is several million years. So 106 years times 109 hosts per year means an expected 1015 mammals and birds devoured alive by flesh-eating maggots. For comparison, if we continue factory farming for another 100 years, that would be 1013 broiler hens and pigs. So unless it’s 100 times worse to be a factory-farmed broiler hen than it is to be devoured alive by flesh-eating maggots, then when you integrate over the future, it is more important for animal wellbeing that we eradicate the New World screwworm from the wild than it is that we end factory farming tomorrow.

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