Aaron Gertler

I'm a full-time content writer at CEA. I started Yale's student EA group, and I've also volunteered for CFAR and MIRI. I spend a few hours a month advising a small, un-Googleable private foundation that makes EA-adjacent donations.

Before joining CEA, I was a tutor, a freelance writer, a tech support agent, and a music journalist. I blog, and keep a public list of my donations, at aarongertler.net.

Aaron Gertler's Comments

Biggest Biosecurity Threat? Antibiotic Resistance

Thanks for adding links!

Is the school-based work you're doing something you hope will become California policy at some point? If so, is it based on similar policy that was successful elsewhere?

Shoot Your Shot

Don't worry about "preaching to converts" in your Splash class; I very much doubt many of your students will have any familiarity with EA beyond a passing mention somewhere.

Discussing effective tactics for promoting EA would take a long time. If you want to learn about some things other folks have done, check out the EA Hub's list of resources or the top community posts on the Forum (not everything at that link will be about promotion, but if you skip around you'll find some relevant articles).

With cause prioritization (and other topics), you'll probably be fine as long as you avoid negativity. My framing is never "don't work on X"; instead, it's (to paraphrase): "what are you hoping to get by working on X? Does it seem to be working? What led you to working on X rather than other things in the same general area?" My overall message is "everyone sees the world a little differently, but for any way you see the world, there will be some strategies for helping that are likely to work out better than others. Cause prioritization is about figuring out the best thing you can be doing, according to your values."

Prioritization isn't exclusive to EA: Other entities do it all the time based on their own values (e.g. environmental agencies trying to weigh policies by how they affect the lives of citizens, but not necessarily people in other countries). EA just has fewer limits on the sorts of ideas it considers, and on which beings we care about helping.

(This is a very rough perspective, and belongs to me rather than my employer, but the point of "work with people's values, don't tell them to value other things" stands.)

Chloramphenicol as intervention in heart attacks

On the "20 QALY per application" figure, I have some questions:

  • What fraction of heart attack patients, if saved in this way, will not have another lethal heart attack within the next few years? 
  • What fraction of such patients are already very old and suffering from other health problems? 
  • To what extent might a nonlethal heart attack still lead to vulnerability and muscle weakness later on, making someone more susceptible to death?

I wouldn't be surprised if the true number were more like 2 QALY/application rather than 20 (still not a bad thing to try at that point if you think the other numbers fit; just wanted to call out this particular issue).

Chloramphenicol as intervention in heart attacks

I wish that the post had been more clear about this. It could still be promising to put together a human trial, of course, but success is far from certain.

Shoot Your Shot

Having taught a couple of Splash classes, and having read through SHIC's suspension post (which discusses their struggles in doing impactful work with pre-college students), I wouldn't expect the class to lead to much impact. However, it sounds like an opportunity to practice discussing EA in front of a forgiving audience, and might inspire a couple of students down the line; good luck!

While effective altruism (just like every social movement ever) has critics, it's a relatively safe thing to advocate for; almost every mainstream article/video/etc. published about it nowadays is positive, and in my experience, people almost always think it's a good idea when I present it as "trying to do things that will really help people, rather than ignoring their needs in favor of what we think will help". 

You might be interested in CEA's list of common objections to EA and how we respond to them. It's a bit out-of-date, but I still hear all these objections on Twitter, so I imagine you could hear them as well.

How much will local/university groups benefit from targeted EA content creation?

Meta-comment: I hope that as the Forum becomes more popular, it becomes an easy way for group organizers and other people who run events to ask questions like this (and be directed to EA Hub/other resources). The movement as a whole can save a lot of effort if we get used to thinking: "There's a good chance someone did/tried this; I'll ask a Forum question to see if anyone can help me avoid reinventing the wheel."

(Of course, Facebook groups are also great for this; I just want someone's first instinct in cases where this much time is at stake to be "huh, let's see who's done this before", whichever online communities they are a part of.)

Looking for Research Participants

Are you open to conducting remote interviews? If so, I'd be interested: contact me at aaron@effectivealtruism.org.

Biggest Biosecurity Threat? Antibiotic Resistance

Welcome to the Forum! Thanks for asking an interesting question.

I'm not aware of any EA funding going toward antibiotic resistance, though it was the subject of an Open Philanthropy shallow cause writeup (and there may be funding I don't know about). 

Also, I'd recommend you include links to the papers you are citing to make it easier for people to follow your argument (you can highlight text in the Forum's editor to get a "link" button that lets you add a URL).

Finally, while I don't know much about this topic in particular, "1 in 2 Americans don't know how to use antibiotics appropriately" plus "1 in 2 cases of resistance come about as the result of antibiotic misuse" doesn't seem to necessarily imply that education is the best way to respond to AR issues. 

For example, we could change the way doctors prescribe antibiotics to make misuse less likely without changing the way we educate patients (see this example from the UK's Behavioural Insights team). We may also wind up focusing on resistance that comes from sources other than misuse, if there are effective solutions in those areas. Sometimes, the most effective way to work on a problem doesn't involve tackling its biggest sub-problem.

Illegible impact is still impact

This is a really good post! I often have difficulty trying to estimate my own illegible impact or that of other people. Here are some thoughts on the situation in general:

  1. People should take more time to thank others who have helped them would increase the amount of legible impact in the movement. I was startled to hear someone attribute their taking a job to me more than a year after the fact; this led me to update appropriately on the value of a prior project, and other projects of that type.
  2. It would be cool if people developed a habit of asking other people about impact they think they'd had. I'd love to see EA foster a culture where Bob can ask Alice "did our conversation last month have any detectable impact on you?", and Alice can answer truthfully without hurting Bob's feelings. (80,000 Hours and CFAR both seem to do a good job of hunting for evidence of illegible impact, though I'm concerned about the incentive fundraising organizations have to interpret this evidence in a way that overestimates their impact.)
  3. Small actions matter!
    1. I really appreciate people who take the time to vote on the Forum; very few posts get more than 50 votes, and many excellent posts only get a dozen or so. The more people vote, the better our sorting algorithm performs, and the more knowledge we (CEA) have about the types of content people find valuable. We have lots of other ways of trying to understand the Forum, of course, but data is data!
    2. Likewise, I'm really happy whenever I see someone provide useful information about EA to another person on Twitter or Reddit, whether that's "you might find this concept interesting" or "this claim you made about EA doesn't seem right, here's the best source I could find". If EA-affiliated people are reliably kind and helpful in various corners of the internet, this seems likely to contribute both to movement growth and to a stronger reputation for EA among people who prefer kind, helpful communities (these are often very good people to recruit).
How do you feel about the main EA facebook group?

You may be missing a lot of good comments on YouTube videos (at least, if you watch entertaining content that gets a lot of upvotes). Now that comments are filtered by a sort of "magic algorithm" (which I assume is similar to the Forum's -- recency and upvotes), top comments on positive/entertaining videos are regularly very funny and occasionally provide interesting background context.

That said, I can't speak to intellectual content, and I'm sure that "controversial content" comments are still terrible, because they lead to more upvoting of negative content that one side or the other wants to support.

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