alex lawsen (previously alexrjl)

@ 80,000 hours
3255 karmaJoined Nov 2018


I work on the 1-on-1 team at 80,000 hours talking to people about their careers; the opinions I've shared here (and will share in the future) are my own.


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(I'm straight up guessing, and would be keen for an answer from someone familiar with this kind of study)

This also confused me. Skimming the study, I think they're calculating efficacy from something like how long it takes people to get malaria after the booster, which makes sense because you can get it more than once. Simplifying a lot (and still guessing), I think this means that if e.g. on average people get malaria once a week, and you reduce it to once every 10 weeks, you could say this has a 90% efficacy, even though if you looked at how many people in each group got it across a year, it would just be 'everyone' in both groups.

This graph seems to back this up:

This is a useful consideration to point out, thanks. I push back a bit below on some specifics, but this effect is definitely one I'd want to include if I do end up carving out time to add a bunch more factors to the model.

I don't think having skipped the neglectedness considerations you mention is enough to call the specific example you quote misleading though, as it's very far from the only thing I skipped, and many of the other things point the other way. Some other things that were skipped:

  • Work after AGI likely isn't worth 0, especially with e.g. Metaculus definitions.

  • While in the community building examples you're talking about, shifting work later doesn't change the quality of that work, this is not true wrt PhDs (doing a PhD looks more like truncating the most junior n years of work than shifting all years of work n years later).

  • Work that happens just before AGI can be done with a much better picture of what AGI will look like, which pushes against the neglectedness effect.

  • Work from research leads may actually increase in effectiveness as the field grows, if the growth is mostly coming from junior people who need direction and/or mentorship, as has historically been the case.

And then there's something about changing your mind, but it's unclear to me which direction this shifts things:

  • it's easier to drop out of a PhD than it is to drop into one, if e.g. your timelines suddenly shorten.
  • If your timelines shorten because AGI arrives, though, it's too late to switch, while big updates towards timelines being longer are things you can act on, pushing towards acting as if timelines are short.

Most podcast apps let you subscribe to an RSS feed, and an RSS feed of the audio is available on the site

I'm a little confused about what "too little demand" means in the second paragraph. Both of the below seem like they might be the thing you are claiming:

  • There is not yet enough demand for a business only serving EA orgs to be self sustaining.
  • EA orgs are making a mistake by not wanting to pay for these things even though they would be worth paying for.

I'd separately be curious to see more detail on why your guess at the optimal structure for the provision of the kind of services you are interested in is "EA-specific provider". I'm not confident that it's not, but my low confidence guess would be that "EA orgs" are not similar enough that "context on how to with with EA orgs" becomes a hugely important factor.

I think "different timelines don't change the EV of different options very much" plus "personal fit considerations can change the EV of a PhD by a ton" does end up resulting in an argument for the PhD decision not depending much on timelines. I think that you're mostly disagreeing with the first claim, but I'm not entirely sure.

In terms of your point about optimal allocation, my guess is that we disagree to some extent about how much the optimal allocation has changed, but that the much more important disagreement is about whether some kind of centrally planned 'first decide what fraction of the community should be doing what' approach is a sensible way of allocating talent, where my take is that it usually isn't.

I have a vague sense of this talent allocation question having been discussed a bunch, but don't have write-up that immediately comes to mind that I want to point to. I might write something about this at some point, but I'm afraid it's unlikely to be soon. I realise that I haven't argued for my talent allocation claim at all, which might be frustrating, but it seemed better to highlight the disagreement at all than ignore it, given that I didn't have the time to explain in detail.

(I'm excited to think more about the rest of the ideas in this post and might have further comments when I do)

Commenting briefly to endorse the description of my course as an MVP. I'd love for someone to make a better produced version, and am happy for people to use any ideas from it that they think would be useful in producing the better version

[context: I'm one of the advisors, and manage some of the others, but am describing my individual attitude below]

FWIW I don't think the balance you indicated is that tricky, and think that conceiving of what I'm doing when I speak to people as 'charismatic persuasion' would be a big mistake for me to make. I try to:


  • Say things I think are true, and explain why I think them (both the internal logic and external evidence if it exists) and how confident I am.

  • Ask people questions in a way which helps them clarify what they think is true, and which things they are more or less sure of.

  • Make tradeoffs (e.g. between a location preference and a desire for a particular job) explicit to people who I think might be missing that they need to make one, but usually not then suggesting which tradeoff to make, but instead that they go and think about it/talk to other people affected by it.

  • Encourage people to think through things for themselves, usually suggesting resources which will help them do that/give a useful perspective as well as just saying 'this seems worth you taking time to think about'.

  • To the extent that I'm paying attention to how other people perceive me[1],  I'm usually trying to work out how to stop people deferring to me when they shouldn't without running into the "confidence all the way up" issue.
  1. ^

    in a work context, that is. I'm unfortunately usually pretty anxious about, and therefore paying a bunch of attention to, whether people are angry/upset with me, though this is getting better, and easy to mostly 'switch off' on calls because the person in front of me takes my full attention. 

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