All of Ben_West's Comments + Replies

Product Managers: the EA Forum Needs You

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Product Managers: the EA Forum Needs You

Thanks! Lesswrong is currently experimenting with multidimensional voting; if you haven't already, I would suggest trying that out and giving them feedback.

Critiques of EA that I want to read

I believe this is just the confusing way that Google handles anonymous forms. It states the account you are currently using, but then has a parenthetical indicating that the information won't be shared.

1Aleks_K6d
It previously said: "Your name and profile picture will be shared" (or something like that), but this seems to be fixed now.
2Gavin7d
Think that changed after Aleks commented
Product Managers: the EA Forum Needs You

Thanks! All of our metrics are pretty well correlated with each other; you can see more information here.

Our primary metric is hours of engagement, which I didn't use for this post because the data doesn't stretch back as far. But the growth rate there is:

  • 2020 (estimated): 90%
  • 2021: 100.2%
  • 2022 (so far): 140%
  • Implied 3-year growth: 912%

More about how this is calculated and our historical data can be found here.

4Stefan_Schubert7d
Thanks!
Results of a survey of international development professors on EA

Thanks for sharing this! I hadn't really conceptualized the questions you asked as being "EA" – I had assumed that any sort of international development would need to benchmark on facts like the effectiveness of bed nets. Or at least international development professors would do better than the general public on this kind of thing; "international development is harder than you might think, even if people are pretty poor" seems like a very cold take in IDEV circles?

I guess my assumptions were wrong!

Ben_West's Shortform

Thanks for the push back! I agree that 80k cares more about the use of their listener's time than most podcasters, although this is a low bar.

80k is operating under a lot of constraints, and I'm honestly not sure if they are actually doing anything incorrectly here. Notably, the fancy people who they get on the podcast probably aren't willing to devote many hours to rephrasing things in the most concise way possible, which really constrains their options.

I do still feel like there is a missing mood though.

Ben_West's Shortform

Longform's missing mood

If your content is viewed by 100,000 people, making it more concise by one second saves an aggregate of one day across your audience. Respecting your audience means working hard to make your content shorter.

When the 80k podcast describes itself as "unusually in depth," I feel like there's a missing mood: maybe there's no way to communicate the ideas more concisely, but this is something we should be sad about, not a point of pride.[1]


  1. I'm unfairly picking on 80k, I'm not aware of any long-form content which has this mood that I cl

... (read more)
5Charles He12d
This is a thoughtful post and a really good sentiment IMO! As you touched on, I’m not sure 80k is a good negative example, to me it seems like a positive example of how to handle this? In addition to a tight intro, 80k has a great highlight section, that to me, looks like someone smart tried to solve this exact problem, balancing many considerations. This highlight section has good takeaways and is well organized with headers. I guess this is useful for 90% of people who only browse at the content for 1 minute.
If I'm 20% less productive, do I have 20% less expected impact?

Startup founder success is sometimes winner-take-all (Facebook valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, Myspace at ~$0).

If that's true in your market, then the question reduces to how likely that additional 20% is to make you better than your competitor. My guess is that you will be competing against people who are ~equally talented and working at 100%, so the final 20% of your work effort is relatively likely to push you into being more productive than them (meaning that ~100% of the value is lost by you cutting your work hours 20%).

I assume this is less true in academia.

1JanBrauner4d
I'd guess that quite often you'd either win anyway or lose anyway, and that the 20% don't make the difference. There are so many factors that matter for startup founder success (talent, hard-workingness, network, credentials, luck) that it would be surprising if the competition was often so close that a 20% reduction in working time changes things. Another way to put this: it seems likely that Facebook would still be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and Myspace ~$0, had the Facebook founders worked 20% less).
Who's hiring? (May-September 2022)

CEA Online (the team which runs this Forum, in addition to Virtual Programs and effectivealtruism.org) is hiring:

Hiring: How to do it better

Thanks for the thoughtful response!

My anecdotal experience with GMA tests is that hiring processes already use proxies for GMA (education, standardized test scores, work experience, etc.) so the marginal benefit of doing a bona fide GMA test is relatively low.

It would be cool to have a better sense of when these tests are useful though, and an easy way to implement them in those circumstances.

Money vs Talent: Putting numbers on the tradeoff?

Just wanted to nudge that I would find this write up very valuable. Even if the ranges are very wide, I often want to reference some sort of monetary estimate of the value of labor, and having a post like this to reference would be quite useful.

Hiring: How to do it better

Thanks for writing this! I've personally struggled to apply academic research to my hiring, and now roughly find myself in the position of who "Stubborn Reliance" is criticizing, i.e. I am aware of academic research but believe it doesn't apply to me (at least not in any useful way). I would be interested to hear more motivation/explanation about why hiring managers should take these results seriously. 

Two small examples of why I think the literature is hard to apply:

GMA Tests
If you take hiring literature seriously, my impression is that the thing you... (read more)

Thanks, to me this comment is a large update away from the value of structured interviews. 

As someone else who casually reads literature on hiring assessment, I am also confused/not convinced by OP's dismissals re: GMA tests.

3Joseph Lemien1mo
TLDR: I agree with you. It is complicated and ambiguous and I wish it was more clear-cut. Regarding GMA Tests, my loosely held opinion at the moment is that I think there is a big difference between 1) GMA being a valid predictor, and 2) having a practical way to use GMA in a hiring process. All the journal articles seem to point toward #1, but what I really want is #2. I suppose we could simply require that all applicants do a test from Wonderlic/GMAT/SAT, but I'm wary of the legal risks and the biases, two topics about which I lack the knowledge to give any confident recommendations. That is roughly why my advice is "only use these if you have really done your research to make sure it works in your situation." I'm still exploring the area, and haven't yet found anything that gives me confidence, but I'm assuming there has to be solutions that exist other than "just pay Wonderlic to do it." I strongly agree with you. I'll echo a previous idea I wrote about: the gap between this is valid and here are the details of how to implement this seem fairly large. If I was a researcher I assume I'd have mentors and more senior researchers that I could bounce ideas off of, or who could point me in the right direction, but learning about these topics as an individual without that kind of structure is strange: I mostly just search on Google Scholar and use forums to ask more experienced people.
1Joseph Lemien1mo
Regarding structured versus unstructured interviews, I was just introduced to the 2016 update yesterday and I skimmed through it. I, too, was very surprised to see that there was so little difference. While I want to be wary of over-updating from a single paper, I do want to read the Rethinking the validity of interviews for employment decision making [https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=Oh%2C+Postlethwaite%2C+%26+Schmidt%2C+2013&btnG=] paper so that I can look at the details. Thanks for sharing this info.
You should join an EA organization with too many employees

On the sanity check: Reddit makes about four cents in revenue per user per month. It doesn't seem crazy to me that the average user gets two dollars of value per month, but a lot of this would depend on things like how many of their users are diehard versus casual users.

2Linch1mo
Ah yeah that seems pretty reasonable, sure.
You should join an EA organization with too many employees

We are looking to hire, thanks! I put a link to our open positions at the bottom of the post.

You should join an EA organization with too many employees

My model was:

  • It's kind of unclear what a marginal unit is for a software company like Reddit, but let's just say it's one user of their software
  • Profit maximizing firms produce until marginal cost = marginal benefit
  • Marginal benefit is 50 times higher
  • Therefore firms will accept 50 times higher marginal cost
  • Let's suppose that the percentage of this additional marginal cost which goes to labor remains unchanged, resulting in 50 times more employees per user

30 seconds of thought can identify a bunch of problems with this model, but I think the underlying insigh... (read more)

1Jack R1mo
Thanks! Is it correct that this assumes that the marginal cost of supporting a user doesn’t change depending on the firm’s scale? It seems like some amount of the 50x difference between EAF and reddit could be explained by the EAF having fewer benefits of scale since it is a smaller forum (though should this be counter balanced by it being a higher quality forum?) Continuing the discussion since I am pretty curious how significant the 50x is, in case there is a powerful predictive model here
Some potential lessons from Carrick’s Congressional bid

Furthermore, I'm not sure the information value alone was worth the millions spent on this campaign by the EA community. The 'lessons learned' listed in this forum post seem obvious.

The post author doesn't say anything about having a special connection to the campaign. I assume the "value of information" argument is that campaign staff/insiders gained knowledge they couldn't have gotten otherwise, and I'm not sure this post would shed much light on that argument either way. 

As a relatively trivial example of learning not available from a Google search: the campaign presumably learned things like how many people would show up to make calls, how much money they could raise, etc.

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

Can you clarify why you think it's "borderline illegal"? I assume you are referring to GDPR, but I'm not aware of any reason why the normal "legitimate interest" legal basis wouldn't apply to group organizers.

1Arepo2mo
Maybe I'm just wrong. I only have a lay understanding of GDPR, but my impression was that keeping any data that people had shared with you without their knowledge was getting into sketchy territory.
EA Tours of Service

Hmm,  I think the question of whether employees should have objective requirements is somewhat orthogonal from the question of whether they should have a tour of service. For example, many salespeople have sales quotas, despite not being on a tour of service.

That being said: the alternative to having objective requirements is something like "you must fulfill the whims of your manager" and it's not obvious to me that this is actually better for job security.

EA Tours of Service

Thanks for the question! The differences in my mind are:
 

  1. A Schelling point for when the employment relationship might end
  2. Clear discussion of the benefits the employee will receive even after leaving the employer

E.g. I've never had an employer pitch me something like "work for us for two years, after which you will be much more hirable by our competitor because of the portfolio you developed here." (Even though this is the strategy many employees have in practice.)

Transcripts of interviews with AI researchers

Thanks for doing this! The interviews are really interesting to read; the CEO example seems like something which perhaps should gain more prominence as a way to introduce AI-knowledgeable audiences to risks about alignment.

EA Tours of Service

Thanks Charlie! If I understand your concern correctly, this is a misunderstanding of the approach. To quote the post

Note that the Tour of Service (both in the original version and CEA’s) is an informal and non-legally binding agreement. The legal structure of employment is unchanged... Like any other unusual hiring practice, people sometimes get confused. A decent fraction of our candidates think that a tour of service means that we are only hiring them for a limited-term engagement, and they worry about their job security. I’ve iterated on various ways

... (read more)
2Linch2mo
To be honest, I'm still a bit confused about how this works. Is it correct to me that if the employee does not fulfill the Service Objectives, this will be practically (though not legally as the US usually has at-will employment) be seen as grounds for termination? If so, then to me it does feel like less job security than most jobs in-practice have, though maybe a) legally this is not true, and b) normatively the standard advice is that orgs should be more willing to fire than they in practice have.
9Charlie Dougherty2mo
Hi Ben, Thanks for the clarification! I am sorry i misunderstood your position. If I reflect on how I think I misunderstood the idea myself, I think its because I see a full time job as a type of relationship. Typically in a relationship there are not goals to meet or timeframes; I have never told a girlfriend, "I expect to feel Z way in 6 months so lets come back in 4 months and see if we are on track." Thats a dramatic comparison, but the dynamic is still a little skewed between me and the other person in the relationship in this situation. If I was friends with someone and they told me, "I like you, and I think we could be even better friends in 2 years if you do X,Y, Z, so lets come back to this in 1 year and see where you stand. Dont worry, this wont necessarily affect our friendship, its just something I could expect from you", then I would struggle to see how failing at improving our relationship in this particular way would not negatively effect our relationship regardless of what you say. To try to explain it another way, in the example above we are tying goals to the relationship, not setting goals "within" the relationship. The relationship becomes dependent on the goals. This if of course also very normal in work, your job is very dependent on your performance, but I think framing it in this way can just have a strong interpersonal effect that I would struggle to wrap my head around. It is important for people to feel that they are good enough as they are, not just good enough as their last piece of work. Saying that, I think goals are great and I love ambitious multiyear goals to keep people aligned and motivated. I think having a project as the primary framework for looking at the employment relationship can make the relationship more angsty than it needs to be. Of course all of the nuances here could just be a language problem, and we are all working in the same spirit :) In fact, when you first said tours of service I thought of the management
Using TikTok to indoctrinate the masses to EA

Thanks for sharing this! A couple quick thoughts:
 

  1. One thing which I liked about Singer's original "famine, affluence, and morality" is that it included direct appeals for people to help. You start your first video off by saying that you are trying to get people to care about the developing world, which is great, but I think it would be cool if you did even more to signal "this is not an edgelord thought experiment but something which should actually change your behavior." One concrete thing is to include a donation button in the video (I think you hav
... (read more)
Using TikTok to indoctrinate the masses to EA

Several of the videos are tagged #effectivealtruism and the first video is currently the second highest video on the tag.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! I've added this to our backlog.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! I've added this to our backlog.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! I've added creating a feature like this to our backlog.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! I've added this to our backlog.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! I've added this to our backlog.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! This is on our roadmap.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! This is on our roadmap.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! I've added this to our backlog.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Thanks for the suggestion! Could you post it here?

EA Tours of Service

Nope, it was written by me. I tried to explain that bit with footnote 2 – let me know if you have suggested wording changes to make it more clear!

4Khorton2mo
No, this makes sense thanks - I think I don't have a clear enough sense of CEA's structure so I got confused
Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

This is a great counterexample/clarification, thanks!

I might do a future post about how important it is to hire value aligned people; I agree that this is a slightly different question.

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

I think you are saying something like: "outsourcing is a managerial task, therefore bottlenecks on outsourcing are by definition bottlenecked on management."

I think this is true, but I don't think it's the most helpful way of phrasing it. E.g. many biology labs can't outsource their research (or even have it be replicated by labs which are almost identical) because their work relies on a bunch of tiny things like "you should incubate the cells at 30°C except if you notice some of them starting to turn a little yellowish increase the heat to 32°C but then a... (read more)

1Harrison Durland2mo
I suppose "management complexity/demand" might indeed be a bit too narrow, but either way it just feels like you're basically trying to define "core competency-ness" as "difficulty of outsourcing this task [whether for management demand or other reasons]," in which case I think it would make more sense to just replace "core competency-ness" with "difficulty of outsourcing this task." My worry is that trying to define "core competency-ness" that way feels a bit unintuitive, and could end up leading to accidental equivocation/motte-and-baileys if someone who isn't familiar with management theory/jargon interprets "core competency" as important functions X, Y, and Z, but you only mean it to refer to X and Y, reasoning that "Z is some really core part of our operation that we are competent at, but it can be outsourced, therefore it's not a core competency."
Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

Yeah, you can definitely get into something like the old joke about two economists who find a $20 bill on the ground: your activities must be core competencies, because if they weren't you would already have outsourced them.

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

FWIW I didn't interpret it is hostile, though I did change the title to make it more clear that I'm not suggesting CEA change

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

Hmmm, no, I think the ability to outsource well is not itself easily outsourceable. E.g. if you have some method of identifying whether an outsourced factory will produce high-quality products, I guess you could train an outsourced team to do that identification, but that doesn't seem remarkably easier than hiring staff and training them on your identification methods.

1Harrison Durland2mo
I think there may be some confusion over the semantics of “core competency”—I wasn’t trying to say you could outsource the outsourcing, I was just saying “a company’s biggest strength can be that it is effective at outsourcing”—but I feel like that confusion further reinforces my main point, in the first paragraph: it seems to me like “management complexity/demand” would be a better Y-axis label than “core competency-ness”?
Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

In general I do have a preference for hiring people involved in EA. Among other things, these people are easier to vet (as you remark).

When I hire contractors who are not EA's (including those in developing countries), it's usually because we need a specific skill set and can't easily find EA's with that skill set.

The breakdown you list at the bottom of your comment seems approximately similar to how I think about how easy work is to outsource.

1brb2432mo
Ok, that makes sense. Then, just encourage people to be flexibly hirable? This can be minor but I was also making this comment for an event feedback: is there some staff that should be considered external to the community, such as 'dead-end' professions who are not interested in self-development, such as cloakroom staff? As in, you would not make a community member to specialize in carrying coats (or some other brainless, especially manual, work, unless it involves skilled emotional work)? (This is not to say that e. g. cloakroom person cannot be active in EA, if they are e. g. working part-time and reading about EA-related topics.) But, this is an argument for a preference for hiring non-EA involved people (or working with companies that contract staff). I am actually realizing that if it is possible, even persons who carry coats may be able to entertain one on 'hmm I know this brand, they are sourcing environmentally and socially sustainable materials, but it looks funny' etc.
Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

Good question; it seems pretty similar to feature development.

  • Can be outsourced: "make this button hidden on mobile."
  • Hard to outsource: "investigate reports of sporadic data loss."

I think the reason the second one is hard to outsource is general problem.

(E.g. how you would verify that the outsourced firm investigated it correctly? Verifying that they actually fixed this hard to debug issue is often almost as complicated as just fixing it yourself. So you basically have to trust that the firm did it correctly, and getting an engineer who you trust to fix these problems is basically what it means to hire and onboard an engineer.)

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

Yeah I think that's right. "Having drivers in every major city in the world" is a core competency.

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

I would have said "network effect" (though I don't know much about either of them). This seems analogous to the claim that one of Walmart's core competencies is purchasing power.

2Linch2mo
Hmm doesn't network effect entail that people in the network (here, drivers and arguably customers) are your core competency? Or am I missing something?
Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

An example is something like "having a CEO who is considered a prestigious thought leader in their field." The day-to-day operations of the business aren't really impacted by this, but it's also not something you can really outsource.

(That being said, maybe it would have been a lot simpler and almost as correct to just leave this axis off, like you suggest.)

4Peter Wildeford2mo
Ah ok that makes sense
Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

This is a really interesting post, and I had not seen it before. Thanks for sharing!

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

Perhaps a dumb question, but do companies tend to have an accurate picture of what their core competencies are?

This is an interesting question! The world is certainly full of stories of outsourcing gone awry, which is some evidence that companies don't always have an accurate picture. But I don't know rigorous statistics on this.

Just following the example from the post: did CEA ever try to outsource some product-related tasks? Are there any circumstances in which it would it make sense for you to do so even if it's a core competency?

Yep, for example we hav... (read more)

Why CEA Online doesn’t outsource more work to non-EA freelancers

Yeah, this is what footnote 2 was trying to explain.

I was considering marking that quadrant some third color to indicate that you should just not do those things, but thought that would overcomplicate the message of "only outsource the bottom right quadrant". Peter's comment that this is confusing is helpful feedback that maybe that was the wrong call – thanks! 

5Peter Wildeford2mo
What's an example of something that is a core competency yet operationally unimportant (the top-left grid)? I'm starting to think the entire operational importance axis isn't needed.
Is it still hard to get a job in EA? Insights from CEA’s recruitment data

Is the first number a typo? Shouldn't it be ~54

Fixed, thanks!

I think the summary of this post should be updated to say something like "CEA is more competitive but in the same ballpark as industry"

I agree we hire a smaller percent of total applicants, but we hire a substantially greater percent of applicants who get to the people ops interview stage.

I think the latter number is probably the more interesting one because the former is affected a bunch by e.g. if your job posting gets put onto a random job board which gives you a ton of low-quality applicants.... (read more)

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