Bob Jacobs

Organizer @ EA Ghent
1213 karmaJoined Dec 2019Gent, België



I'm a student of moral science at the university of Ghent, where I also started an EA group.         

If you're interested in philosophy and mechanism design, consider checking out my blog.                  

I also co-started Effectief Geven (Belgian effective giving org), am a volunteer researcher at SatisfIA (AI-safety org) and a volunteer writer at GAIA (Animal welfare org)

How others can help me

If you offer me a job I'll probably drop out of university for it.

How I can help others

philosophical research, sociological research, graphic design, mechanism design, translation, literature reviews, forecasting (top 20 on metaculus).

Send me a request and I'll probably do it for free.


Invertebrate Welfare
The Ethics Of Giving
Moral Economics
Consequentialist Cluelessness
The Meta Trap
AI Forecasting Infrastructure
High Time For Drug Policy Reform


Topic contributions

I made two visual guides that could be used to improve online discussions. These could be dropped into any conversation to (hopefully) make the discussion more productive.

The first is an update on Grahams hierarchy of disagreement

I improved the lay-out of the old image and added a top layer for steelmanning. You can find my reasoning here and a link to the pdf-file of the image here.

The second is a hierarchy of evidence:

I added a bottom layer for personal opinion. You can find the full image and pdf-file here.

Lastly I wanted to share the Toulmin method of argumentation, which is an excellent guide for a general pragmatic approach to arguments

removing important parts of one's body

I mean it's not an important body part, you can live perfectly well with only one kidney, which is why I'm giving it away. If by some cruel twist of fate I do end up needing another kidney, I'll be on the top of the recipient list thanks to my donation.

I think you might be influenced a lot by your feelings

Of course I am, empathy is a feeling after all. I don't see why this is a reason to not do it.

wait a few years after you have graduated and you have a comfortable, stable income

I will not do the procedure during the school year, and will take as long as I need to recover afterwards. I'd prefer to do it sooner rather than later, since earlier interventions are almost always better than later interventions due to the higher amount of knock on effects (e.g. if I convince someone to be vegan now it's better than years in the future, since I'm saving the animals in the intervening years). Also I study ethics, so a "comfortable stable income" is probably not happening anyways :)

  • I don't think we can just equate 15 QALY's to 15 DALY's, these are different metrics. I tried to find a converter online but it looks like there is no consensus on how to do that.
  • Additional benefits of making someone an EA include: doing part-time/volunteer work (e.g. currently everyone at effectief geven is a volunteer), and them making other people EAs (spreading the generated expected QALY's further).
  • Same things could be said for veganism, which is less likely with a one time donation since people don't make that part of their identity. But the cost-effectiveness is a good point. Maybe many small donations over time could achieve those same things while being more cost-effective? But then again the funding landscape might change. I'll think a bit more about this.
  • I think the recipient is much more likely than that to sign the pledge, since the average person who has heard of EA associates it with SBF-types while this person is a direct life-changing beneficiary.
  • I also noticed you didn't add the 'costly signal factor' to your analysis. I think we EAs tend to fall for the McNamara trap of basing our decisions only on quantitative observations and ignoring the rest. A lot of the factors I'm pointing at, spreading the idea of EA, making it easier to win people over, making people change their identity/attitudes, don't have numbers attached to them but are nonetheless very impactful.

I already give everything, except what's required for the bare living necessities, away. The analysis is warranted seeing as the cost-effectiveness is so high (see other comment) and analyzing which intervention is higher impact is just a general ethical/EA practice, even when we aren't talking about ~15 QALYs

EDIT: This is not as impressive as it seems at first glance. I'm a student so I only buy cheap things anyways (which means I get a modest-proposal-esque thought every time e.g. This 30 dollar jacket costs as much as curing one person of blindness). We'll see how I behave if I ever get some large amount of money.

Hi Vasco,

I already do work for an animal welfare organization. I looked at the study and it's not about Belgian hospitals, so it doesn't really apply to me. Some of the listed costs aren't present (I don't have a wage so no wage loss), those that are present are mostly paid for by the state (travel, accommodation, medical...) and those that aren't are paid for by my parents (housework). The only one that applies is "Small cash payments for grocery items (eg, tissue paper)" which is negligible, so the expected DALY per dollar is extremely high.

In Belgium you can leave a message to the person you're donating to, so I had planned to leave a message about veganism and effective altruism. I think this will be a very powerful reason to change behavior, seeing as it comes from their altruistic donor.

Also, donating will help with persuading people to be more altruistic in general. In psychology you have this concept of a costly signal, which causes people to take your (related) ideas much more seriously.

You raise some minor objections but I think the biggest problem with charter cities (apart from the lack of empirical evidence of their effectiveness[1]) is the free-rider problem. Society uses taxes to invest in common goods such as education, healthcare, research... If rich people use these common goods to generate their wealth, but then once it's time to start paying their taxes, opt to create a tax haven charter city instead, we will have an underinvestment in these public goods and we'll get a race to the bottom. For an eventual endpoint of this race you can look at the old company towns, or worse, slave plantations.

Similarly, while this system disincentivizes creating common goods, it also incentivizes destroying certain common goods. For example, we already have great difficulty getting existing countries to act on climate change. Imagine that rich people could just create a new city without any laws against pollution/greenhouse gases; you'd get another race to the bottom. You can construct a similar scenario for any type of negative externality.

Of course this is only what would happened were they able to be freely created. In reality they will probably never even get to the stage where they can do much of anything, including damage, because even starting one is fraught with political problems. (For more information, see the linked rethink priorities report).

  1. ^

I found this topic first from a short snippet in The Week, then from the news article

Remove the dot at the end, otherwise it's a dead link.

It is important to note that behavior is always in relation to an environment, so we can't say that some behavior is 70% caused by genetics, the most we can say is that something is 70% caused by genetics in this specific environment. This is easy to check with a thought experiment, lets take these people whose "willingness to stick with veg*n diets, regardless of their stated reasons, are 70-80% inborn" lock them in a vegetarian Hindu monastery and you'll obviously see the rate of vegetarian diets skyrocket. So when you write "Vegetarianism is mostly genetic, claim Wesseldijk et al." Wesseldijk herself would say:

Yet, as Dr. Wesseldijk reminded me in an email, high heritabilities do not imply that biology is destiny. According to surveys by the Vegetarian Resource Group, the percentage of Americans who are vegetarian or vegan jumped six-fold between 1994 and 2022—from 1% to 6%. This impressive change in patterns of meat-eating was due to shifts in cultural attitudes, not changes in our DNA.

And to tie it in to the Hindu monastery (from the same article):

It is important, however, to keep in mind that estimates of heritability only apply to the populations that the subjects in the studies represent. Most of the individual differences in meat-eating among the Dutch are rooted in genes, yet culture is almost entirely responsible for the fact that per capita meat consumption is 20 times higher in the Netherlands than it is in India.

Or as Dr. Wesseldijk has also phrased it:

An environment can completely counteract something that is highly heritable, and the same goes with vegetarianism

Incredible work!

Your previous research/intervention in Kenya showed that UBI can have a positive impact, not only on the recipient villages, but also on nearby villages.

In this study the welfare of those in nearby villages seems to not be the focus. Although you did look at nearby markets which had a somewhat disappointing conclusion:

We do not reject the null that consumer prices in nearby markets were unchanged, both for agricultural and non-agricultural products, though to be fair these estimates are not precise enough to rule out meaningful appreciation (or depreciation) given the design and scale of the experiment.

I would personally be very interested to see you try to track/quantify the welfare impact on nearby villages in the future, since those spillover effects can create a big bump in the expected DALY's per dollar.

The Belgian senate votes to add animal welfare to the constitution.

It's been a journey. I work for GAIA, a Belgian animal advocacy group that for years has tried to get animal welfare added to the constitution. Today we were present as a supermajority of the senate came out in favor of our proposed constitutional amendment. The relevant section reads:

In exercising their respective powers, the Federal State, the Communities and the Regions strive to protect and care for animals as sentient beings.

It's a very good day for Belgian animals but I do want to note that:

  1. This does not mean an effective shutdown of the meat industry, merely that all future pro-animal welfare laws and lawsuits will have an easier time.  And,
  2. It still needs to pass the Chamber of Representatives.

If there's interest I will make a full post about it if once it passes the Chamber.

EDIT: Translated the linked article on our site into English.

Thank you!

Yes, I agree distributions are better than single numbers. I think part of the problem for podcasts/conversations is that it's easier to quickly say a number than a probability distribution, though that excuse works slightly less well for the written medium.

I didn't base it off an existing method. While @Jobst tells me I have good "math instincts" that has yet to translate itself into actually being good at math, so this mostly comes from me reading the philosophical literature and trying to come up with solutions to some of the proposed problems. Maybe something similar already exists in math, though Jobst and some people he talked to didn't know of it and they're professional mathematicians.

As for casual users, I would urge them to take 'agnosticism' (or at least large ranges) seriously. Sometimes we really do not know something and the EA culture of urging people to put a number on something can give us a false sense of confidence that we understand it. Especially in scenarios of interactions between agents where mind games can cause estimations to behave irregularly. I mentioned how this can go wrong with a prediction market, but a version of that can happen with any group project. Regular human beings do on occasion foreact e.g. If we know we like each-other, and I think you'll expect me to do something on a special day, the chance that I will do it is higher than if I didn't think so.
All of this doesn't even mention a problem with Bayesianism I wasn't able to solve, the absent-minded driver problem. Once we add fallible memories to foreaction the math goes well beyond me.

I don't know what "P(doom)" means. Even beyond the whole problem of modeling billions of interacting irrational agents some of whom will change their behavior based on what I predict, I just don't think the question is clear. Like, if I do something that decreases the chance of a sharp global welfare regression, increases the chance of an s-risk, and has no effect on x-risk, what happens to P(doom)? Are we all talking about the same thing? Shouldn't this at the very least be two variables, one for probability and one for how "doom-y" it is? Wouldn't that variable be different depending on your normative framework? What about inequality-aversion, if there is one super duper über happy utility monster and all other life is wiped out, is that a 'doom' scenario? What about time discounting, does the heat death of the universe mean that P(doom) is 1? I don't know, P(doom) confuses me.

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