All of BenMillwood's Comments + Replies

Cultured meat predictions were overly optimistic

While I think it's useful to have concrete records like this, I would caution against drawing conclusions about the cultured meat community specifically unless we draw a comparison with other fields and find that forecast accuracy is better anywhere else. I'd expect that overoptimistic forecasts are just very common when people evaluate their own work in any field.

The motivated reasoning critique of effective altruism

Another two examples off the top of my head:

Three charitable recommendations for COVID-19 in India

GiveIndia says donations from India or the US are tax-deductible.

Milaap says they have tax benefits to donations but I couldn't find a more specific statement so I guess it's just in India?

Anyone know a way to donate with tax deduction from other jurisdictions? If 0.75x - 2x is accurate, it seems like for some donors that could make the difference.

(Siobhan's comment elsewhere here suggests that Canadian donors might want to talk to RCForward about this).

1Tejas Subramaniam4moHi! So the Swasti Oxygen for All fundraiser does not offer a tax deduction for the United States (I asked them recently). Swasth’s Oxygen for India fundraiser offers tax deductions for donations from the United States for donations above $1,000 (the details are specified in the link). We are happy to check about other countries!
1manyag4moHello! Unfortunately I don't think they have a list for all the countries where they're tax exempt, but if you have a specific country in mind, I can try and check for you!
AMA: Toby Ord @ EA Global: Reconnect

You've previously spoken about the need to reach "existential security" -- in order to believe the future is long and large, we need to believe that existential risk per year will eventually drop very close to zero. What are the best reasons for believing this can happen, and how convincing do they seem to you? Do you think that working on existential risk reduction or longtermist ideas would still be worthwhile for someone who believed existential security was very unlikely?

5Denise_Melchin6mo+1, very interested in this. I didn't find the reasons in the Precipice that compelling/not detailed enough, so I'd be curious for more.
Why EA groups should not use “Effective Altruism” in their name.

It seems plausible that reasonable people might disagree on whether student groups on the whole would benefit from being more or less conforming to the EA consensus on things. One person's "value drift" might be another person's "conceptual innovation / development".

On balance I think I find it more likely that an EA group would be co-opted in the way you describe than an EA group would feel limited from doing  something effective because they were worried it was too "off-brand", but it seems worth mentioning the latter as a possibility.

Why EA groups should not use “Effective Altruism” in their name.

I think this post doesn't explicitly recognize a (to me) important upside of doing this, which applies to doing all things that other people aren't doing: potential information value.

This post exists because people tried something different and were thoughtful about the results, and now potentially many other people in similar situations can benefit from the knowledge of how it went. On the other hand, if you try it and it's bad, you can write a post about what difficulties you encountered so that other people can anticipate and avoid them better.

By contrast, naming your group Effective Altruism Erasmus wouldn't have led to any new insights about group naming.

Deference for Bayesians

Bluntly I think a prior of 98% is extremely unreasonable. I think that someone who had thoroughly studied the theory, all credible counterarguments against it, had long discussions about it with experts who disagreed, etc. could reasonably come to a belief that strong. An amateur who has undertaken a simplistic study of the basic elements of the situation can't IMO reasonably conclude that all the rest of that thought and debate would have a <2% chance of changing their mind.

Even in an extremely empirically grounded and verifiable theory like physics, f... (read more)

4Halstead7moThis is maybe getting too bogged down in the object-level. The general point is that if you have a confident prior, you are not going to update on uncertain observational evidence very much. My argument in the main post is that ignoring your prior entirely is clearly not correct and that is driving a lot of the mistaken opinions I outline. Tangentially, I stand by my position on the object-level - I actually think that 98% is too low! For any randomly selected good I can think of, I would expect a price floor to reduce demand for it in >99% of cases. Common sense aside... The only theoretical reason this might not be true is if the market for labour is monopsonistic. That is just obviously not the case. There is also evidence from the immigration literature which suggests that native wages are barely affected by a massive influx of low skilled labour, which implies a near horizontal demand curve. There is also the point that if you are slightly Keynesian you think that involuntary employment is caused by the failure of wages to adjust downward; legally forbidding them from doing this must cause unemployment.
Population Size/Growth & Reproductive Choice: Highly effective, synergetic & neglected

I agree with Halstead that this post seems to ignore the upsides of creating more humans. If you, like me, subscribe to a totalist population ethics, then each additional person who enjoys life, lives richly, loves, expresses themselves creatively, etc. -- all of these things make for a better world. (That said, I think that improving the lives of existing people is currently a better way to achieve that than creating more -- but I wouldn't say that creating more is wrong).

Moreover, I think this post misses the instrumental value of people, too. To underst... (read more)

3RafaelF7moIt is indeed a very tricky question. Of course, there is a chance that each newly born child becomes a climate researcher, politician, social worker etc. - but what are the odds? And do they outweigh, as you mentioned, all the "bad" (for lack of a better work that encompasses suffering and future issues) points? My personal view on this, as I mentioned in my reply to Larks is that, until a certain point (namely the point where there is neither conflict about scarce resources within human society nor intense suffering caused by human society to other sentient beings) each additional individual probably has a net-positive happiness/suffering balance sheet. Once the population has reached a certain size, however, this may tip. Total carbon emissions are a direct function of (number of emitters) * (emission levels). Total factory farmed animal suffering is a direct function of (number of consumers) * (amount of factory-farmed meat consumed). The average consumer nowadays consumes more than 40 kg of meat p.a. - that means that several sentient beings spent almost all their lives in intense suffering because of one average consumer. Is that a net-positive balance sheet? Either way, my main point is about voluntary pregnancy avoidance and not about forced population reduction through whatever coercive means. If providing access to family planning counselling, women's education and empowerment means, and to contraceptives is so cheap - and at the same time links free choice with significant net-positive effects on several EA-aligned cause areas - what reasons would support not helping close that unmet need?
Population Size/Growth & Reproductive Choice: Highly effective, synergetic & neglected

The only place where births per woman are not close to 2 is sub-saharan Africa. Thus, the only place where family planning could reduce emissions is sub-saharan Africa, which is currently a tiny fraction of emissions.

This is not literally true: family planning can reduce emissions in the developed world if the desired births per woman is even lower than the actual births per woman. But I don't dispute the substance of the argument: it seems relatively difficult to claim that there's a big unmet need for contraceptives elsewhere, and that should determine what estimates we use for emissions.

At least in the US women have been having fewer children than they want for many decades:

As a result, the gap between the number of children that women say they want to have (2.7) and the number of children they will probably actually have (1.8) has risen to the highest level in 40 years.

Deference for Bayesians

I buy two of your examples: in the case of masks, it seems clear now that the experts were wrong before, and in "First doses first", you present some new evidence that the priors were right.

On nutrition and lockdowns, you haven't convinced me that the point of view you're defending isn't the one that deference would arrive at anyway: it seems to me like the expert consensus is that lockdowns work and most nutritional fads are ignorable.

On minimum wage and alcohol during pregnancy, you've presented a conflict between evidence and priors, but I don't feel li... (read more)

1Matthew Tromp7moI think economics is especially prone to this kind of "It's more complicated than that" issue. The idea that firms will reduce employment in response to higher minimum wage places a great deal of faith in the efficiency of markets. There are plenty of ways that an increased cost of labor wouldn't lead to lower demand: there might be resistance to firing employees because of social pressures; institutions may simply remain stuck in thinking that a certain number of people are necessary to do all the work that needs to be done, and be resistant to changing those attitudes. Consider the phenomenon of "bullshit jobs". If you've ever worked in an office, in the public or private sector, you've probably noticed that a huge number of employees seem to do little of substance. Even as someone who worked a minimum wage job in a department store, many of my co-workers seemed to do little if anything of use, and yet no effort was made to ensure that everyone was being productive. If anything, I would argue that the idea that markets are, by default, perfectly efficient (or close to perfectly efficient) goes against the lived experience of me and the people I know, and my prior is to disbelieve arguments predicated on it, unless there is some specific evidence or particularly good reason to think that the market would be very efficient in a specific case (such as securities trading, where there are a huge number of smart, well-qualified people working very hard to exploit any inefficiencies to make absurd amounts of money)
2Halstead7moHello, my argument was that there are certain groups of experts you can ignore or put less weight on because they have the wrong epistemology. I agree that the median expert might have got some of these cases right. (I'm not sure that's true in the case of nutrition however) The point in all these cases re priors is that one should have a very strong prior, which will not be shifted much by flawed empirical research. One should have a strong prior that the efficacy of the vaccine won't drop off massively for the over 65s even before this is studied. One can see the priors vs evidence case for the minimum wage more formally using Bayes theorem. Suppose my prior that minimum wages reduce demand for labour is 98%, which is reasonable. I then learn that one observational study has found that they have no effect on demand for labour. Given the flaws in empirical research, let's say there is a 30% chance of a study finding no effect conditional on there being an effect. Given this, we might put a symmetrical probability on a study finding no effect conditional on there being no effect - a 70% chance of a null result if minimum wages in fact have no effect. Then my posterior is = (.3*.98)/(.3*98+.7*.02) = 95.5% So I am still very sure that minimum wages have no effect even if there is one study showing the contrary. FWIW, my reading of the evidence is that most studies do find an effect on demand for labour, so after assimilating it all, one would probably end up where one's prior was. This is why the value of information of research into the minimum wage is so low. On drinking in pregnancy, I don't think this is driven by people's view of acceptable risk, but rather by a myopic empiricist view of the world. Oster's book is the go-to for data-driven parents and she claims that small amounts of alcohol has no effect, not that it has a small effect but is worth the risk. (Incidentally, the latter claim is also clearly false - it obviously isn't worth the risk.) On your
Where I Am Donating in 2016

I don't know if this meets all the details, but it seems like it might get there: Singapore restaurant will be the first ever to serve lab-grown chicken (for $23)

BenMillwood's Shortform

Hmm, I was going to mention mission hedging as the flipside of this, but then noticed the first reference I found was written by you :P

For other interested readers, mission hedging is where you do the opposite of this and invest in the thing you're trying to prevent -- invest in tobacco companies as an anti-smoking campaigner, invest in coal industry as a climate change campaigner, etc. The idea being that if those industries start doing really well for whatever reason, your investment will rise, giving you extra money to fund your countermeasures.

I'm sure... (read more)

2HaukeHillebrandt1yI think these strategies can actually be combined: A patient philanthropist sets up their endowment according to mission hedging principles. For instance, someone wanting to hedge against AI risks could invest in (leveraged) AI FAANG+ ETF ( https://c5f7b13c-075d-4d98-a100-59dd831bd417.filesusr.com/ugd/c95fca_c71a831d5c7643a7b28a7ba7367a3ab3.pdf [https://c5f7b13c-075d-4d98-a100-59dd831bd417.filesusr.com/ugd/c95fca_c71a831d5c7643a7b28a7ba7367a3ab3.pdf] ), then when AI seems more capable and risky and the market is up, they sell and buy shorts, then donate the appreciated assets to fund advocacy to regulate AI. I think this might work better for bigger donors. Like this got me thinking: https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/10/20/21523492/future-forward-super-pac-dustin-moskovitz-silicon-valley [https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/10/20/21523492/future-forward-super-pac-dustin-moskovitz-silicon-valley] “We can push the odds of victory up significantly—from 23% to 35-55%—by blitzing the airwaves in the final two weeks.” https://www.predictit.org/markets/detail/6788/Which-party-will-win-the-US-Senate-election-in-Texas-in-2020 [https://www.predictit.org/markets/detail/6788/Which-party-will-win-the-US-Senate-election-in-Texas-in-2020]
BenMillwood's Shortform

I don't buy your counterargument exactly. The market is broadly efficient with respect to public information. If you have private information (e.g. that you plan to mount a lobbying campaign in the near future; or private information about your own effectiveness at lobbying) then you have a material advantage, so I think it's possible to make money this way. (Trading based on private information is sometimes illegal, but sometimes not, depending on what the information is and why you have it, and which jurisdiction you're in. Trading based on a belief that... (read more)

2HaukeHillebrandt1yAgreed, but I don't think there's a big market inefficiency here with risk-adjusted above market rate returns. Of course, if you do research to create private information then there should be a return to that research. True, but I've heard that in the US, normally, if I lobby in the U.S. for an outcome and I short the stock about which I am lobbying, I have not violated any law unless I am a fiduciary or agent of the company in question. Also see https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/04/24/its-perfectly-fine-for-herbalife-short-sellers-to-lobby-the-government/#95b274610256 [https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2014/04/24/its-perfectly-fine-for-herbalife-short-sellers-to-lobby-the-government/#95b274610256] I really like this, but... This seems to be why people have a knee jerk reaction against it.
Objections to Value-Alignment between Effective Altruists

Here are a couple of interpretations of value alignment:

  • A pretty tame interpretation of "value-aligned" is "also wants to do good using reason and evidence". In this sense, distinguishing between value-aligned and non-aligned hires is basically distinguishing between people who are motivated by the cause and people who are motivated by the salary or the prestige or similar. It seems relatively uncontroversial that you'd want to care about this kind of alignment, and I don't think it reduces our capacity for dissent: indeed peo
... (read more)
I think your claim is not that "all value-alignment is bad" but rather "when EAs talk about value-alignment, they're talking about something much more specific and constraining than this tame interpretation".

To attempt an answer on behalf of the author. The author says "an increasingly narrow definition of value-alignment" and I think the idea is that seeking "value-alignment" has got narrower and narrower over term and further from the goal of wanting to do good.

In my time in EA value alignment has, among some... (read more)

BenMillwood's Shortform

Though betting money is a useful way to make epistemics concrete, sometimes it introduces considerations that tease apart the bet from the outcome and probabilities you actually wanted to discuss. Here's some circumstances when it can be a lot more difficult to get the outcomes you want from a bet:

  • When the value of money changes depending on the different outcomes,
  • When the likelihood of people being able or willing to pay out on bets changes under the different outcomes.

As an example, I saw someone claim that the US was facing civil war. Someone else ... (read more)

5HaukeHillebrandt1yAlso see: https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/08/can-short-apocalypse.html [https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/08/can-short-apocalypse.html]
Ramiro's Shortform

I don't think this is a big concern. When people say "timing the market" they mean acting before the market does. But donating countercyclically means acting after the market does, which is obviously much easier :)

Slate Star Codex, EA, and self-reflection

While I think it's important to understand what Scott means when Scott says eugenics, I think:

a. I'm not certain clarifying that you mean "liberal eugenics" will actually pacify the critics, depending on why they think eugenics is wrong,

b. if there's really two kinds of thing called "eugenics", and one of them has a long history of being practiced by horrible, racist people coercively to further their horrible, racist views, and the other one is just fine, I think Scott is reckless in using the word here. I've never ... (read more)

My response to (b): the word is probably beyond rehabilitation now, but I also think that people ought to be able to have discussions about bioethics without having to clarify their terms every ten seconds. I actually think it is unreasonable of someone to skim someone’s post on something, see a word that looks objectionable, and cast aspersions over their whole worldview as a result.

Reminds me of when I saw a recipe which called for palm sugar. The comments were full of people who were outraged at the inclusion of such an exploitative, unsustainable ingre

... (read more)
I'm Linch Zhang, an amateur COVID-19 forecaster and generalist EA. AMA

I'm very motivated to make accurate decisions about when it will be safe for me to see the people I love again. I'm in Hong Kong and they're in the UK, though I'm sure readers will prefer generalizable stuff. Do you have any recommendations about how I can accurately make this judgement, and who or what I should follow to keep it up to date?

2Linch1yFor your second question, within our community, Owain Evans [https://twitter.com/OwainEvans_UK] seems to have good thoughts on the UK. alexrj (on this forum) and Vidur Kapur [https://twitter.com/vidur_kapur] are based in the UK and they both do forecasting pretty actively, so they presumably have reasonable thoughts/internal models about different covid-19 related issues for the UK. To know more, you probably want to follow UK-based domain experts too. I don't know who are the best epidemiologists to follow in the UK, though you can probably figure this out pretty quickly from who Owain/Alex/Vidur listen to. For your first question, I have neither a really good generalizable model or object-level insights to convey at this moment, sorry. I'll update you if something comes up!
I'm Linch Zhang, an amateur COVID-19 forecaster and generalist EA. AMA

Do you think people who are bad at forecasting or related skills (e.g. calibration) should try to become mediocre at it? (Do you think people who are mediocre should try to become decent but not great? etc.)

I'm Linch Zhang, an amateur COVID-19 forecaster and generalist EA. AMA

As someone with some fuzzy reasons to believe in their own judgement, but little explicit evidence of whether I would be good at forecasting or not, what advice do you have for figuring out if I would be good at it, and how much do you think it's worth focusing on?

How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration
No one is going to run a prison for free--there has to be some exchange of money (even in public prisons, you must pay the employees). Whether that exchange is moral or not, depends on whether it is facilitated by a system that has good consequences.

In the predominant popular consciousness, this is not sufficient for the exchange to be moral. Buying a slave and treating them well is not moral, even if they end up with a happier life than they otherwise would have had. Personally, I'm consequentialist, so in some sense I agree with you, but even the... (read more)

1FCCC1yNo, this consequence was one of my intentions. It was not an afterthought. Not every goal needs to be stated, they can be implied. ...by the convict's own free will. And just because that's the only thing being measured, doesn't mean I'm disregarding everything else. Societal contribution and a person's value are different things: A person who lives separately from society has value. But I don't know how to construct a system that incorporates that value. This is a misunderstanding of the policy. Crimes that occur within prison must be paid for, so the prisons want to protect their inmates. This is a good point. Maybe they should be put in a public prison.
How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration

As my other comment promised, here's a couple of criticisms of your model on its own terms:

  • "If the best two prisons are equally capable, the profit is zero. I.e. criterion 3 is satisfied." I don't see why we should assume the best two prisons are equally capable? Relatedly, if the profit really is zero, I don't see why any prison would want to participate. But perhaps this is what your remark about zero economic profit is meant to address. I didn't understand that; perhaps you can elaborate.
  • Predicting the total present value o
... (read more)
1FCCC1yThat's correct. Profit=Revenue−Costs. The profit that most people think about is the accounting profit. Accounting profit ignores opportunity costs, which is what you give up by doing what you're doing (bear with me a moment). Economic profit, on the other hand, includes these opportunity costs in the calculation. For example, let's say Tom Cruise quits acting and decides to bake cakes for a living. Even if his cake shop earns him $1M in accounting profit, he's giving up all the money he could earn acting instead. So his economic profit is actually negative. I think you could actually just fix this in the model and still reach the same conclusion (though you'd need extra assumptions to make it work). I really just wanted to introduce my idea for the prison system, rather than make an airtight argument to justify it. ... It is very difficult, but that's exactly what the financial markets do. Yep. If someone is great at running prisons, you want them to do so, regardless of how good they are at predicting the future. Ideally, you would have a system that allows any good expert to thrive, even if they know little about anything outside of their expertise. But companies deal with this all the time. When they're developing a new product, they have to predict which research ventures will be fruitful and which won't be. They have to predict how well products will sell. They have to predict product breakage rates. They have to predict what advertising will work the best. All these things are hard, which is why companies fail. But they are replaced by ones who better succeed at solving all the issues. ... Well, yeah. That's why I say to not measure those things. Only measure the big things. The reason why I mention that later in my post, rather than including it in the core argument, is because you need to "smooth things out" with simplifying assumptions to make logical arguments work. You could actually use my proposal as a secondary, opt-in public education system
How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration

My instinctive emotional reaction to this post is that it worries me, because it feels a bit like "purchasing a person", or purchasing their membership in civil society. I think that a common reaction to this kind of idea would be that it contributes to, or at least continues, the commodification and dehumanization of prison inmates, the reduction of people to their financial worth / bottom line (indeed, parts of your analysis explicitly ignore non-monetary aspects of people's interactions with society and the state; as far as I can tell, al... (read more)

5FCCC1yNo one is going to run a prison for free--there has to be some money exchanged (even in public prisons, you must pay the employees). Whether that exchange is moral or not, depends on whether it is facilitated by a system that has good consequences. I think a worthy goal is maximizing the societal contribution of any given set of inmates without restricting their freedom after release. This goal is achieved by the system I proposed (a claim supported by my argument in the post). Under this system, I think prisons will treat their inmates far better than they currently do: allowing inmates to get raped probably doesn't help maximize societal contribution. "Commodification" and "dehumanization" don't mean anything unless you can point to their concrete effects. If I've missed some avoidable concrete effect, I will concede it as a good criticism. Not every desirable thing needs to be explicitly stated in the goal of the system: Good consequences can be implied. As I mentioned, inmates will probably be treated much better under my system. Another good implicit consequence of satisfying stated goal, is that prisons will only pursue a rehabilitative measure if and if it is in the interests of society (again, you wouldn't want to prevent the theft of a candy bar for a million dollars). I account for the nonmonetary aspects of the crimes. But yes, the rest is ignored. If this ignored amount correlates with the measured factors, this is not really an issue.
How to Fix Private Prisons and Immigration

As an offtopic aside, I'm never sure how to vote on comments like this. I'm glad the comment was made and want to encourage people to make comments like this in future. But, having served its purpose, it's not useful for future readers, so I don't want to sort it to the top of the conversation.

Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths?

The number of possible pairs of people in a room of n people is about n^2/2, not n factorial. 10^2 is many orders of magnitude smaller than 10! :)

(I think you are making the mistake of multiplying together the contacts from each individual, rather than adding them together)

2Linch1ylol I thought that 10! was a surprise, rather than a factorial...
The Labour leadership election: a high leverage, time-limited opportunity for impact (*1 week left to register for a vote*)

I strongly agree with both this specific sentiment and the general attitude that generates sentiments like this.

However, I think it's worth pointing out that you don't have to agree with the Labour Party's current positions, or think that it's doing a good job, to be a good (honest) member. I think as long as you sincerely wish the party to perform well in elections or have more influence, even if you hope to achieve that by nudging its policy platform or general strategy in a different direction from the current one, then I wouldn't think you were being e

... (read more)
The Labour leadership election: a high leverage, time-limited opportunity for impact (*1 week left to register for a vote*)

I actually thought the "of course I'd rather you'd stay a member" part was odd, since nowhere in the post up to that point had you said anything to indicate that you supported Labour yourself. The post doesn't say anything about whether Labour itself is good or bad, or whether that should factor into your decision to join it at all, but in this comment it sounds like those are crucial questions for whether this step is right or not.

[Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form.

Yeah I think you have to view this exercise as optimizing for one end of the correctness-originality spectrum. Most of what is submitted is going to be uncomfortable admitting in public because it's just plain wrong, so if this exercise is to have any value at all, it's in sifting through all the nonsense, some of it pretty rotten, in the hope of finding one or two actually interesting things in there.

I think there are more than "one or two" interesting things there.

Movement Collapse Scenarios

GiveWell used to solicit external feedback a fair bit years ago, but (as I understand it) stopped doing so because it found that it generally wasn't useful. Their blog post External evaluation of our research goes some way to explaining why. I could imagine a lot of their points apply to CEA too.

I think you're coming at this from a point of view of "more feedback is always better", forgetting that making feedback useful can be laborious: figuring out which parts of a piece of feedback are accurate and actionable can be at least as hard ... (read more)

4John_Maxwell2yUpvoted for relevant evidence. However, I don't think you're representing that blog post accurately. You write that Givewell "stopped [soliciting external feedback] because it found that it generally wasn't useful", but at the top of the blog post, it says Givewell stopped because "The challenges of external evaluation are significant" and "The level of in-depth scrutiny of our work has increased greatly". Later it says "We continue to believe that it is important to ensure that our work is subjected to in-depth scrutiny." I also don't think we can generalize from Givewell to CEA easily. Compare the number of EAs who carefully read Givewell's reports (not that many?) with the number of EAs who are familiar with various aspects of CEA's work (lots). Since CEA's work is the EA community, which should expect a lot of relevant local knowledge to reside in the EA community--knowledge which CEA could try & gather in a proactive way. Check out the "Improvements in informal evaluation" section for some of the things Givewell is experimenting with in terms of critical feedback. When I read this section, I get the impression of an organization which is eager to gather critical feedback and experiment with different means for doing so. It doesn't seem like CEA is trying as many things here as Givewell is--despite the fact that I expect external feedback would be more useful for it. I would say just the opposite. If you're hearing multiple copies of a particular narrative, especially from a range of different individuals, that's evidence you should trust it. If you're worried about feedback not being actionable, you could tell people that if they offer concrete suggestions, that will increase their chance of winning the prize.
BenMillwood's Shortform

Lead with the punchline when writing to inform

The convention in a lot of public writing is to mirror the style of writing for profit, optimized for attention. In a co-operative environment, you instead want to optimize to convey your point quickly, to only the people who benefit from hearing it. We should identify ways in which these goals conflict; the most valuable pieces might look different from what we think of when we think of successful writing.

  • Consider who doesn't benefit from your article, and if you can help them filter themselves out.
  • Conside
... (read more)
5JP Addison2yAgree that there's a different incentive for cooperative writing than for clickbait-y news in particular. And I agree with your recommendations. That said, I think many community writers may undervalue making their content more goddamn readable. Scott Alexander is a verbose and often spends paragraphs getting to the start of his point, but I end up with a better understanding of what he's saying by virtue of being fully interested. All in all though, I'd recommend people try to write like Paul Graham more than either Scott Alexander or an internal memo. He is in general more concise than Scott and more interesting than a memo. He has several essays about how he writes. Writing, Briefly [http://www.paulgraham.com/writing44.html] — Laundry list of tips Write like you talk [http://www.paulgraham.com/talk.html] The Age of the Essay [http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html] — History of the essays we write in school versus the essays that are useful A Version 1.0 [http://www.paulgraham.com/laundry.html] — "The Age of the Essay" in rough draft form with color coding for if it was kept
Ask Me Anything!

Why would the whole community read it? You'd set out in the initial post, as Will has done, why people might or might not be interested in what you have to say, and only people who passed that bar would spend any real time on it. I don't think the bar should be that high.

Movement Collapse Scenarios

This is a question I consider crucial in evaluating the work of organizations, so it's sort of embarrassing I've never really tried to apply it to the community as a whole. Thanks for bringing that to light.

I think one thing uniting all your collapse scenarios is that they're gradual. I wonder how much damage could be done to EA by a relatively sudden catastrophe, or perhaps a short-ish series of catastrophes. A collapse in community trust could be a big deal: say there was a fraud or embezzlement scandal at CEA, OPP, or GiveWell. I'm n... (read more)

Hi Ben!

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “high-level institutions having a pattern of low-key misbehavior”—are you talking about things like dishonesty and poor treatment of community members, or about endorsing ideas that violate most ethical frameworks?

The list of scenarios I originally brainstormed for this post did include some sudden catastrophes, but I ultimately decided to focus on these four. Here are the sudden ones anyway, in short form:

Economic recession: see this post. I think a recession could pose a real risk to the movement’s survival,... (read more)

Open Thread #45

Recent EA thinking on this is probably mostly:

Both are claiming to have done a lot of research, but I don't think either Founders' Pledge or Let's Fund have a GiveWell-like track record a... (read more)

I've read both of the reports Ben listed and think their recommendations have both strengths and weaknesses. I'm currently very uncertain about the best options for donating toward reducing CO2.

Your friend's chosen charity seems to do sensible things to reduce CO2 in a transparent way on a reasonable small budget. Seeing as our community is still very uncertain about what's 'optimal' in this space, I wouldn't push EA recommendations too hard.

EA Survey 2018 Series: Do EA Survey Takers Keep Their GWWC Pledge?

I don't think that "going silent" or failing to report donations is indication that people are not meeting the pledge. Nowadays I don't pay GWWC as an organisation much / any attention, but I'm still donating 10% a year (and then some).

To be honest I haven't read closely enough to understand where you do and don't account for "quiet pledge-keepers" in your analysis, but I at least think stuff like this is just plain wrong:

total number of people ceasing reporting donations (and very likely ceasing keeping the pledge)

In this analysis, I'm looking specifically at people who do report donations that are distinctly and clearly inconsistent with pledge keeping. "Quiet pledge-keepers" who do not report any data would not be included in this analysis because they would not be reporting data to the EA Survey. So the phenomena I report here cannot be mere instances of quiet pledge-keeping.

As for the point "total number of people ceasing reporting donations (and very likely ceasing keeping the pledge)" which refers to GWWC analysis that may refer to quiet pledge-keeping, it is

... (read more)
Amazon Smile

I couldn't find The Clear Fund when I looked just now. Would be interested in someone confirming that it's still there.

1AviNorowitz2yThey can now be found as "GiveWell" in San Francisco, CA. I think they changed their legal name at some point.
A general framework for evaluating aging research. Part 1: reasoning with Longevity Escape Velocity

If you want to look up the maths elsewhere, it may be helpful to know that a constant, independent chance of death (or survival) per year is modelled by a negative binomial distribution.

1Emanuele_Ascani2yYes, looking back at this, I should have just said that on average, if someone dies with a probability of 1/1000, then he will live 999 years and die in the 1000th. And then I should have linked him the "Expectation" section of the Wikipedia page of the negative binomial distribution.
Evidence Action is shutting down No Lean Season

Sounds like the fact there was already substantial doubt over whether the program worked was a key part of the decision to shut it down. That suggests that if the same kind of scandal had affected a current top charity, they would have worked harder to continue the project.

There's Lots More To Do

I actually think even justifying yourself only to yourself, being accountable only to yourself, is probably still too low a standard. No-one is an island, so we all have a responsibility to the communities we interact with, and it is to some extent up to those communities, not the individuals in isolation, what that means. If Ben Hoffman wants to have a relationship with EAs (individually or collectively), it's necessary to meet the standards of those individuals or the community as a whole about what's acceptable.

4Holly_Elmore2yKinda. More like "nobody can make you act in accordance with your own true values-- you just have to want to." To fully explain my position would require a lot of unpacking. But, in brief, no-- how could people be required to live in accordance with their own values? Other people might try to enforce value-aligned living, but they can't read your mind or fully control you-- hardly makes it a "requirement." If what you're getting at is that people **should** live according to their values, then, sure, maybe (not sure I would make this a rule on utilitarian grounds because a lot of people's values or attempts to live up to their values would be harmful). Suffice to say that, if Ben does not want to give money, he does not have to explain himself to us. The natural consequence of that may be losing respect from EAs he knows, like his former colleagues at GiveWell. He may be motivated to come up with spurious justifications for his actions so that it isn't apparent to others that either his values have changed or he's failing to live up to them. I would like to create conditions where Ben can be honest with himself. That way he either realizes that he still believes it's best to give even though the effects or giving are more abstract or he faces up to the fact that his values have changed in an unpopular way but is able to stay in alignment with them. (This is all assuming that his post did not represent his true rejection, which it very well might have.)
There's Lots More To Do

When you say "you don't need to justify your actions to EAs", then I have sympathy with that, because EAs aren't special, we're no particular authority and don't have internal consensus anyway. But you seem to be also arguing "you don't need to justify your actions to yourself / at all". I'm not confident that's what you're saying, but if it is I think you're setting too low a standard. If people aren't required to live in accordance with even their own values, what's the point in having values?

4BenMillwood2yI actually think even justifying yourself only to yourself, being accountable only to yourself, is probably still too low a standard. No-one is an island, so we all have a responsibility to the communities we interact with, and it is to some extent up to those communities, not the individuals in isolation, what that means. If Ben Hoffman wants to have a relationship with EAs (individually or collectively), it's necessary to meet the standards of those individuals or the community as a whole about what's acceptable.
Could the crowdfunder to prosecute Boris Johnson be a high impact donation opportunity?

It's odd to call Boris an opponent of the government. He's a sitting MP - he's part of the state. To me this seems to be more about the courts being able to hold Parliament accountable.

Stories and altruism

I like the idea here a great deal, but I expect there's going to be a lot of variation in what creates what effect in whom. I wonder if there's better ways to come up with aggregate recommendations, so we can find out what seems to be consistent in its EA appeal, vs. what's idiosyncratic

2robm_73@hotmail.com2yHi Ben, sorry for the double-reply. It just occurred to me that I could make a survey in something like SurveyMonkey and link to it in the post, then periodically update the rankings in here if a decent number of people have voted. Any thoughts?
1robm_73@hotmail.com2yHi Ben, thanks for your comment. I love your idea of aggregate recommendations and would be very interested in doing a version where that kind of functionality is possible. Off the top of my head, I can only think of posting each item in the list as an individual comment in here so people can upvote their favourites. I'm sure there must be a less clunky way to do this, though. Can I check if you have any ideas, please?
Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil?

There's an unanswered question here of why Good Ventures makes grants that OpenPhil doesn't recommend, given that GV believes in the OpenPhil approach broadly. But I guess I don't find it that surprising that they do so. People like to do more than one thing?

4Milan_Griffes2yMakes sense. I'm particularly curious about the psychedelic research grants, because it seems like those both could be neatly housed under Open Phil's "Other Scientific Research" portfolio [https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus-area/scientific-research/other-scientific-research-areas] .
Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil?

Have you attempted to contact GV or OpenPhil directly about this?

2Milan_Griffes2yI asked about it on Open Phil's most recent open thread [https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/october-2018-open-thread].

Any forum post absorbs hours of time and attention from the community, so I support there being a norm of getting questions answered by emailing the group that probably knows the answer, where doing so is possible.

Political culture at the edges of Effective Altruism

I think this is only true with a very narrow conception of what the "EA things that we are doing" are. I think EA is correct about the importance of cause prioritization, cause neutrality, paying attention to outcomes, and the general virtues of explicit modelling and being strategic about how you try to improve the world.

That's all I believe constitutes "EA things" in your usage. Funding bednets, or policy reform, or AI risk research, are all contingent on a combination of those core EA ideas that we take for granted with a series... (read more)

8kbog2yYes, and these things are explicitly under attack from political actors. When EAs are not the experts, EAs pay attention to the relevant experts. This is not about whether we should be "open to feedback and input". This is about whether politicized stances are harmful or helpful. All the examples in the OP are cases where I am or was, in at least a minimal theoretical sense, "open to feedback and input", but quickly realized that other people were wrong and destructive. And other EAs have also quickly realized that they were being wrong and destructive.
Does EA need an underpinning philosophy? Could sentientism be that philosophy?

Downvotes aren't primarily to help the person being downvoted. They help other readers, which after all there are many more of than writers. Creating an expectation that they should all be explained increases the burden on the downvoter significantly, making them less likely to be used and therefore less useful.

Apology

Just to remark on the "criminal law" point – I think it's appropriate to apply a different, and laxer, standard here than we do for criminal law, because:

  • the penalties are not criminal penalties, and in particular do not deprive anyone of anything they have a right to, like their property or freedom – CEA are free to exclude anyone from EAG who in their best judgement would make it a worse event to attend,
  • we don't have access to the kinds of evidence or evidence-gathering resources that criminal courts do, so realistically it's pre
... (read more)
2Halstead2y.
Apology
And this is a clear case in which I would have first-person authority on whether I did anything wrong.

I think this is the main point of disagreement here. Generally when you make sexual or romantic advances on someone and those advances make them uncomfortable, you're often not aware of the effect that you're having (and they may not feel safe telling you), so you're not the authority on whether you did something wrong.

Which is not to say that you're guilty because they accused you! It's possible to behave perfectly reasonably and ... (read more)

9Halstead2yI agree that the could be the case once in a person's life for a single mild misdemeanour. But the reference class here is actions sufficient to make numerous individuals complain to the overall organisation leading a movement you are a part of, as well as additional evidence of people complaining to your university about you earlier in your life. I don't think the vast majority of people would fail to know what they had done wrong in these cases.
Apology

If I heard that a lot of people were feeling uncomfortable following interactions with me, I think it's likely that I would apologize and back off before understanding why they felt that way, and perhaps without even understanding what behaviour was at issue.

I'd trust someone else's judgement comparably with or more than my own, particularly when there were multiple other someones, because I'm aware of many cases where people were oblivious to the harm their own behaviour was causing (and indeed, I don't always know how other peopl... (read more)

9Halstead2yI am not disputing the claim that numerous complaints over the course of my life about my behaviour would be strong evidence that I have behaved badly. I have been defending this throughout this whole thread. The outside view is strong evidence, of course. The question is whether I would know the details of these complaints if I were told of this outside view evidence. The answer for the vast majority of neurotypical people is 'yes'. I would be able to recall specific cases in which I stepped over the line and I would know how I erred.
Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments?

This is a relatively minor issue, perhaps, but the graph you show from the EggTrack report seems to have its "n=" numbers wrong. Looking at the report itself, the graph has the same values as (and immediately follows) another one which only includes the reported-against commitments, so I'm betting they just copied the numbers from that one accidentally.

(I haven't yet tried to contact CIWF about this and probably won't get around to it, but I'll update this post if I do)

3saulius3yYes, I initially noticed that as well but forgot to do anything about it. I already have a contact with the person responsible for EggTrack reports, so will tell her. Although it might be too late for them to fix it. Thank you for pointing this out!
EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday

What was the largest amount that any individual got matched on GT? Given that this year there were only 15 seconds of matching funds, can one person get through enough forms in time to give a lot?

5Jeff_Kaufman3yI got the whole $20k: https://www.jefftk.com/p/facebook-donation-match
6AviNorowitz3yA number of people got $20k matched out of $20k donations. This required 8 donations of $2500 each.
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