Bob Jacobs

Organizer @ EA Ghent
1404 karmaJoined Gent, 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

*A million pounds if we round down, not to mention it could've been much more if it was invested.
The venue is not the biggest cost of those EAG events, since you also need to pay for things like travel grants, catering, equipment... This also doesn't establish that buying it is better than renting. Not that it matters, the only thing listed on the Wytham Abbey website is a grand total of eleven workshops.
Even if you don't want to give the money to animals or the developing world, and even if you don't want to invest the money to have more to give later, and even if you don't want to invest it into community building in poor countries but rather in rich countries, then this money still could've been spent better.

Inside Wytham Abbey, the £15 Million Castle Effective Altruism Must Sell [Bloomberg]

From the article:

Effective Ventures has since come to a settlement with the FTX estate and paid back the $26.8 million given to it by FTX Foundation. [...] It’s amid such turmoil that Wytham Abbey is being listed on the open market for £15 million [...]

Adjusted for inflation, the purchase price of the house two years ago now equals £16.2 million. [...] The listing comes as homes on the UK’s once-hot country market are taking longer to sell, forcing some owners to offer discounts.

I still think the intangible reputational damage is worse, but a loss of a million pounds (that could've been spent on malaria bed nets) would be nothing to sneeze at either.

(archive link)

But how is public ownership of firms compatible with ownership of firms being exchanged on markets?

Because governments can trade. E.g., if the governments of the Netherlands and Germany are looking to sell some firms they own, and the governments of Belgium and Luxembourg are giving competing offers to buy those firms, we have a market without the firms being privately owned.

Good post.

Economics is completely bankrupt as a science

His thesis still irritates me. Lukeprog claims philosophers are doing shoddy work, and he can e.g. solve meta-ethics all by himself. He starts writing his meta-ethics sequence and it has just the basic intro stuff, but nonetheless since he claimed he could solve it, it gets promoted to one of the few curated sequences on Less Wrong. And then he just...stops, he never gets even close to solving meta-ethics and it remains in the Less Wrong curated sequences. It's been 6 years since the last post Lukeprog, where is the solution to meta-ethics?

My early intellectual influences were rationalists or free-market leaning economists, such as Scott Alexander and Robin Hanson. When I take a sincere look at the evidence today and try my very hardest to discern what is actually true from false, I conclude they mostly are getting things right.

I think the difference with star-craft is that with altruistic interventions there is less of a blatant self interest to believe a certain thing, which means it's easier to shift over time. I started out also reading Scott Alexander etc (and still do) but over time also added academic texts and my beliefs shifted to the left, even though I don't have a strong self interested reason to believe in either of them. If academia was also split into equal factions like the star-craft community we would have to be more worried that interventions from each faction would cancel each other out (like your pro-charter city anti-charter city example), instead we see that academia mostly converges on leftwing ideas, even across different countries, different demographics and different generations. If everyone switches to one 'concession' intervention the smaller group (in this case the rightwing) benefits more.

Maybe instead we can match people up, so the large general group has an equal number of people donating to 'concession' interventions as there are in the non-general group, who all give to 'concession'. If there is a lot of convergence there is little concession, if academia is almost perfectly split there's almost only concessions.

The real problem is that people like you, me, and academics (researchers) are not really the people with the power to decide which interventions get money. That's mostly decided by non-researchers who spend their lives focussing on accruing political or economic capital, rather than knowledge about altruistic interventions. We can make cooperation mechanisms to match our donations all we want, but a random billionaire can just decide to donate billions of dollars, more money than we will ever see, to the museum next to his house. It may be wise to do this kind of monetary coordination at the federal level aka taxes and subsidies.

To minimize the chance of statistical noise or incorrect inference polluting our conclusions, we create experiments with randomly chosen intervention and control groups, so we are sure the intervention is causally connected to the outcome.

The problem with RCT's is that they are expensive and measure narrow, direct, continuous effects, while they're unpractical for broad, indirect, or discontinuous effects. Which means those interventions privilege the status-quo. I don't see why we should limit ourselves to only randomized controlled trials. Case-control studies are cheaper and can be done by individual researchers or small teams. The fact that they have less statistical power is irrelevant when we have literally zero studies about so many things. The same thing can be said for cohort studies. If we find an intervention with orders of magnitude more impact than others through a cohort study, I'm not going to wait for an RCT (If that would even happen because in practice not everything is measurable with RCTs) before I start donating.

How do you have capital markets without private capital?

If the capital is not privately owned (private property) but rather socially owned, for example public property (owned by a state entity), collective property (owned by a collective),  cooperative property (owned by a co-op), etc...

Hi Vasco,

Thanks for notifying me, it's probably because the EA forum switched editors (and maybe also compression algorithm) a while back. I remember struggling with adding images to the forum in the beginning, and now it's easy.

I looked at some old posts and it seems like those that used .png and .jpg still displayed them, so people don't need to check up on their old posts. I looked at older comments and both .jpg and .png still work from three years back. I also found an .png in a comment from five years back. Hopefully this helps the devs with debugging, and maybe people should check on their .jpg comments from four years ago or older (mine were jpegs). I reuploaded them and they were visible in another browser, so I think it should be good now.

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.

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