AllisonSmith

AllisonSmith's Comments

More info on EA Global admissions

I appreciate how thoughtful the admissions team seems to be about creating a useful experience for attendees!

With this explanation (maybe moreso than in previous years when the average applicant was less involved in EA), it sounds like there are some large categories of people where your message is "We'd like you to apply, but you probably won't get in, and we know that's discouraging you from applying." That seems like a tough spot to put applicants in, particularly given that individual EAs can be very self-critical and might be inclined to forgo applying if they imagine you might mistakenly decide they're a better applicant than someone else in the same loose category.

One question I have related to this is about what steps you've considered or taken (other than this post!) towards encouraging applications from people who might be discouraged about their likelihood of getting in. For example, have you adjusted the way you promote the conference in general? Do you suggest that colleges, organizations, or local groups try to encourage every member who would like to attend EAG to apply, or conversely that they try to coordinate so that not too many people from their group apply? Have you made changes to the application itself to make it easier to fill out or more clear about the range of people you want to see apply? Other things?

I'm also curious whether you have considered more strongly theming some EAG or EAGx events in order to provide a clearer signal about who would get the most benefit out of a particular conference and perhaps provide more focused environments for attendees. (Any type of theme, whether focusing on some range of cause areas, some stage of attendee careers, some common concern like research implementation...) Or if you have tried themes in the past, have they had any of that type of effect, or were people still looking for an experience that felt like it covered a broad spectrum of EA topics and concerns?

Is pain just a signal to enlist altruists?

To me this is interesting evidence suggesting that one purpose of pain in humans is to be visible (attracting help). It doesn't go very far to suggest that this is pain's only purpose, which I think is what would be needed for me to hypothesize that solitary animals feel little or no pain.

I'm currently in school for physical therapy assisting; as you might imagine, pain is a big topic for us! The standard hypothesis we've been taught is that pain is most typically experienced as a signal to the person experiencing it that something needs to be done. (This is the model where the pain you feel on burning your hand is what causes you to take it off the hot stove—or more accurately, what causes you not to put your hand right back on the stove, because you've probably had a reflex reaction that removed your hand from the hot stove before the signal reached your conscious awareness.) It's easy to see how in humans "something needs to be done" can include a much broader range of behaviors than simply moving away from something unpleasant, avoiding immediate weight-bearing on a sprained ankle, etc. But the pain is already useful even if the reaction to it is smaller. If you've sprained your ankle, it's a good idea to be a bit more sedentary than usual the next day even if you never cry and try hard not to limp. It seems to me like a lot of animals that we think of as showing less pain may show it in subtle behavioral ways that would not be noticeable to their typical predators. (These may also be harder to observe in situations that don't allow for normal behavior, such as a laboratory.)

But you're right that pain is very complicated, and it doesn't always correspond to tissue damage, especially in the case of chronic pain. It may be that some situations in which humans feel pain have evolved specifically in tandem with our complex social behavior. I would just be very wary of extending that to acute pain in general, which does seem to be strongly associated with tissue damage in humans in a broad variety of cases—and for which there is often a direct physical response the pain seems adapted to provoke.

Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments?

It's interesting to me how different reporting rates are in CIWF's EggTrack projects in the US vs in Europe. Do you have any insight as to what might be leading to that difference?

Should effective altruism have a norm against donating to employers?

ACE and GiveWell have both written blog posts about where staff donate in the past. It's been a mix of recommended charities, the employer organization, and other charities. On skimming, it looks to me like GiveWell staff, at least in 2015, more closely followed the recommendations of their employer than ACE staff.

(Links go to 2015 staff donation posts.)

Effective Altruists really love EA: Evidence from EA Global

I think welcoming/unwelcoming is one of those things that most people initially assess almost immediately upon contact with a community. Yes, people who stay in the community will update their perceptions over time, but I have definitely been to enough meetups, dances, and general social gatherings to have a sense after one interaction with a community of whether I feel welcome and to have noticed that this affects my probability of returning. It even affects my probability of returning if I go with a friend, or know a subset of people there; being welcomed by one or a few people is not necessarily enough if the community as a whole doesn't feel welcoming, even if those people are deeply connected in the community and think I will want to return.

I also think that what it means for long-time community members to feel like a group is welcoming is pretty unclear, because they themselves actually do not need to be made welcome there. I would be much more interested in thinking about whether EA is welcoming based on how welcoming newcomers (say, people who have participated in local or online EA groups at least once, but for no longer than a year) think it is, what proportion of newcomers return or bring friends, etc.

The 2014 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis

When ACE and HRC talked to statisticians and survey researchers as part of developing our Survey Guidelines for animal charities beginning to evaluate their own work, they consistently said that demographic questions should go at the end of the survey because they have high non-response rates and some people don't proceed past questions they aren't answering. So while it's intuitively surprising that people don't answer these simple questions, it's not obviously different from what (at least some) experts would expect. I don't know, however, whether 20% is an especially high non-response rate even taking that into account.

Animal Charity Evaluators is hiring

This is a very rough estimate, because we almost never put entire days into this kind of work, and because the boundaries between it and other work we do aren't clear - I'm not sure what things to count, in some cases. But I would guess on the order of 10 person-days last year, and hoping to slightly increase the amount of time we spend on it in the future. We don't have total control over how much time we spend on this, because other people need to also be interested in working with us.

Animal Charity Evaluators is hiring

ACE does not have immediate plans of running more original studies; while more research of that type is definitely needed, we're currently focusing our efforts in that direction on encouraging other people to do it. Academic researchers and animal advocacy groups which perform the intervention under consideration as part of their usual activities seem to be better placed do do this type of study than ACE is, especially if both groups can work together. With more research staff, there's a possibility that we would again take on this kind of work, but it's not our first priority for what a new researcher would do.

We would expect a new researcher at least initially to do most of their work on the kinds of things I've been spending most of my time on, which are more reading/interviewing/writing based. There are more details available from the links above, and the specifics would depend on the candidate and their skills and interests, but working on our charity and intervention evaluations would probably be a major part of the job.

Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I am not a member of GWWC, and the primary reason for this is that humans are not the only "others" I care about, so the restriction to considering only what will do the most good for humans in the developing world is not one I am willing to make. I would consider joining GWWC if the pledge were changed. This might or might not have an effect on the amount I donated or where I donated it. If GWWC requires members to disclose where and how much they donate, sharing that information would be a difference in my donation behavior.

I personally think first of GiveWell when I think of "global poverty EA org" and of GWWC when I think of "pledge to donate money EA org". I don't know how representative of others that view is, particularly given that it's not especially reflective of reality. (GiveWell spends a lot of time on their Open Philanthropy Project, which is certainly not fully focused on global poverty.) So while a change in the pledge wouldn't change GWWC's brand much in my eyes, it seems like a valid concern, though one I'd expect GWWC staff and current members to have a better handle on than I do.