I'm the CTO of Wave. We build financial infrastructure for unbanked people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Personal site (incl various non-EA-related essays):

Email: ben dot s dot kuhn at the most common email address suffix

Topic Contributions


The biggest risk of free-spending EA is not optics or motivated cognition, but grift

Sorry that was confusing! I was attempting to distinguish:

  1. Direct epistemic problems: money causes well-intentioned people to have motivated cognition etc. (the downside flagged by the "optics and epistemics" post)
  2. Indirect epistemic problems as a result of the system's info processing being blocked by not-well-intentioned people

I will try to think of a better title!

The biggest risk of free-spending EA is not optics or motivated cognition, but grift

Since someone just commented privately to me with this confusion, I will state for the record that this commenter seems likely to be impersonating Matt Yglesias, who already has an EA Forum account with the username "Matthew Yglesias." (EDIT: apparently it actually is the same Matt with a different account!)

(Object-level response: I endorse Larks' reply.)

EA and Global Poverty. Let's Gather Evidence

Please note that the Twitter thread linked in the first paragraph starts with a highly factually inaccurate claim. In reality, at EAGxBoston this year there were five talks on global health, six on animal welfare, and four talks and one panel on AI (alignment plus policy). Methodology: I collected these numbers by filtering the official conference app agenda by topic and event type.

I think it's unfortunate that the original tweet got a lot of retweets / quote-tweets and Jeff hasn't made a correction. (There is a reply saying "I should add, friend is not 100% sure about the number of talks by subject at EAGx Boston," but that's not an actual correction, and it was posted as a separate comment so it's buried under the "show more replies" button.)

This is not an argument for or against Jeff's broader point, just an attempt to combat the spread of specific false claims.

Making large donation decisions as a person focused on direct work

This must be somewhat true but FWIW, I think it's probably less true than most outsiders would expect—I don't spend very much personal time on in-country stuff (because I have coworkers who are local to those countries who will do a much better job than I could) and so end up having pretty limited (and random/biased) context on what's going on!

A critique of effective altruism

IIRC a lot of people liked this post at the time, but I don't think the critiques stood up well. Looking back 7 years later, I think the critique that Jacob Steinhardt wrote in response (which is not on the EA forum for some reason?) did a much better job of identifying more real and persistent problems:

  • Over-focus on “tried and true” and “default” options, which may both reduce actual impact and decrease exploration of new potentially high-value opportunities.
  • Over-confident claims coupled with insufficient background research.
  • Over-reliance on a small set of tools for assessing opportunities, which lead many to underestimate the value of things such as “flow-through” effects.

I'm glad I wrote this because it played a part in inspiring Jacob to write up his better version, and I think it was a useful exercise for me and an interesting historical artifact from the early days of EA, but I don't think the ideas in it ultimately mattered that much.

The Cost of Rejection

Interesting. It sounds like you're saying that there are many EAs investing tons of time in doing things that are mostly only useful for getting particular roles at 1-2 orgs. I didn't realize that.

In addition to the feedback thing, this seems like a generally very bad dynamic—for instance, in your example, regardless of whether she gets feedback, Sally has now more or less wasted years of graduate schooling.

Early career EA's should consider joining fast-growing startups in emerging technologies

Top and (sustainably) fast-growing (over a long period of time) are roughly synonymous, but fast-growing is the upstream thing that causes it to be a good learning experience.

Note that billzito didn't specify, but the important number here is userbase or revenue growth, not headcount growth; the former causes the latter, but not vice versa, and rapid headcount growth without corresponding userbase growth is very bad.

People definitely can see rapidly increasing responsibility in less-fast-growing startups, but it's more likely to be because they're over-hiring rather than because they actually need that many people, in which case:

  • You'll be working on less important problems that are more likely to be "fake" or busywork
  • There will be less of a forcing function for you to be very good at your job (because it will be less company-threatening if you aren't)
  • There will be less of a forcing function for you to prioritize correctly (again because nothing super bad will happen if you work on the wrong thing)
  • You're more likely to experience a lot of politics and internal misalignment in the org

(I'm not saying these applied to you specifically, just that they're generally more common at companies that are growing less quickly. Of course, they also happen at some fast-growing companies that grow headcount too quickly!)

The Cost of Rejection

It sounds like you interpreted me as saying that rejecting resumes without feedback doesn't make people sad. I'm not saying that—I agree that it makes people sad (although on a per-person basis it does make people much less sad than rejecting them without feedback during later stages, which is what those points were in support of—having accidentally rejected people without feedback at many different steps, I'm speaking from experience here).

However, my main point is that providing feedback on resume applications is much more costly to the organization, not that it's less beneficial to the recipients. For example, someone might feel like they didn't get a fair chance either way, but if they get concrete feedback they're much more likely to argue with the org about it.

I'm not saying this means that most people don't deserve feedback or something—just that when an org gets 100+ applicants for every position, they're statistically going to have to deal with lots people who are in the 95th-plus percentile of "acting in ways that consume lots of time/attention when rejected," and that can disincentivize them from engaging more than they have to.

The Cost of Rejection

Note that at least for Rethink Priorities, a human[1] reads through all applications; nobody is rejected just because of their resume. 

I'm a bit confused about the phrasing here because it seems to imply that "Alice's application is read by a human" and "if Alice is rejected it's not just because of her resume" are equivalent, but many resume screen processes (including eg Wave's) involve humans reading all resumes and then rejecting people (just) because of them.

The Cost of Rejection

I'm unfamiliar with EA orgs' interview processes, so I'm not sure whether you're talking about lack of feedback when someone fails an interview, or when someone's application is rejected before doing any interviews. It's really important to differentiate these because because providing feedback on someone's initial application is a massively harder problem:

  • There are many more applicants (Wave rejects over 50% of applications without speaking to them and this is based on a relatively loose filter)
  • Candidates haven't interacted with a human yet, so are more likely to be upset or have an overall bad experience with the org; this is also exacerbated by having to make the feedback generic due to scale
  • The relative cost of rejecting with vs. without feedback is higher (rejecting without feedback takes seconds, rejecting with feedback takes minutes = ~10x longer)
  • Candidates are more likely to feel that the rejection didn't give them a fair chance (because they feel that they'd do a better job than their resume suggests) and dispute the decision; reducing the risk of this (by communicating more effectively + empathetically) requires an even larger time investment per rejection

I feel pretty strongly that if people go through actual interviews they deserve feedback, because it's a relatively low additional time cost at that point. At the resume screen step, I think the trade-off is less obvious.

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