All of bwildi's Comments + Replies

What is meta Effective Altruism?

I am a little confused about the purpose of this post, because surely meta-EA is just EA? I feel like the major innovation of EA is the idea that altruists can and should compare the value of different interventions (which you appear to consider meta-EA). In other words, EA is meta-altruism.

The content might be useful as a road-map, but I think that the terminology is a bit misleading. What these areas have in common is that they are indirect, as opposed to having some kind of abstract meta-ness property.

9vaidehi_agarwalla4moHi Bill, You're right that basically everything defined in this list can be referred to as EA work itself. However most of these things can be referred to as "meta EA" is used within the community. Meta EA is not limited to comparing causes or interventions. The examples given in the EA Movement Building section are more action oriented. E.g. running a local group or field building. They are a higher level of abstraction (one step or more removed) from direct impact. I agree that that the USP of EA is the concept of cause neutrality / prioritisation. However EA is more than just meta work - so some people may spend a little time on comparing, and then move on to direct work in the space (e.g. lobbying for animal rights, research on x-risk, implementing vaccine programs). I think meta work is sufficiently different that it's worth mapping out the possible things you could do. I think these things have a meta-ness property in the sense that they influence the structure / composition / nature of the EA movement. GPR research influences the causes we focus on, movement building affects the people within the movement and what they do. One influences the other. For example, if research on cause prioritisation suggests we should prioritise AI Safety movement builders may do active outreach to software engineers, thus changing the composition of the movement. Similarly, if fundraisers decide to fund certain cause areas, they may pull in new people who counterfactually wouldn't have joined the movement. On the other side, if movement builders start to quickly grow specific profession-specific networks, then there may be interest to research how people from say, a political background, can leverage their political capital - which may result in a very different prioritisation than if we are looking for causes that have the biggest funding gaps.
EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series

This is a really neat idea. I used to debate a lot during my undergrad, and while I have quite a lot of negative feelings towards the sport from my own experience, I do agree that debaters are a very receptive audience for EA ideas for the reasons you mention.

One major challenge I see is getting debaters to take more than a superficial interest in ideas that sound interesting. Debates about AI, global health, animal rights and many other EA issues were fairly popular motions when I debated, but didn't necessarily lead to deeper consideration than simply as... (read more)

4Dan Lahav6moThanks! The indicators we have are quite positive on whether people took a more profound interest than purely trying to win, and we are trying to figure ways to further deepen the engagement. It is also great to hear from you Billy, we should definitely schedule a catch up!
Proposed Longtermist Flag

Can we get CGP Grey to consult on this?

What is the argument against a Thanos-ing all humanity to save the lives of other sentient beings?

Comments about moral uncertainty and wild animal suffering are valid, but I think kind of unneccessary. I don't think the argument works at all in its current form. 

I think the argument is something like this:

  1. Human existence is bad for animals because they cause a much greater probability of complete animal extinction (via anthropogenic extinction risk)
  2. Animal life is more important than human life on net (because there's more of them, and perhaps because non-human animals don't pose significant extinction risk)
  3. Therefore humans should destroy themselve
... (read more)
How to estimate the EV of general intellectual progress

But how do we estimate the EV of estimating the EV of general intellectual progress?

On a less facetious note, it's about the average effect of intellectual progress on innovation right? What EV comes from general intellectual progress that is not a result of innovation?

So you try to causally estimate the effect of innovation on things you value (e.g. GDP), and you try to create measures of general intellectual progress to see how those causally impact innovation. That's obviously easier said than done.

Growth and the case against randomista development
We did not use it in a name calling way but rather as a neutral term to describe the intellectual movement.

I have no doubt that the term was used in good faith. I apologise that my post was worded a bit poorly, so it sounded like I was accusing you of name-calling.

What's your basis for claiming that 'randomista' is a non-neutral term?

The '-ista' suffix sounds pejorative to me in English,like someone who is a zealous dogmatic advocate. Corbynista was the example I referred to, which is a term used often to in the UK to bash the ... (read more)

Growth and the case against randomista development

Interesting post, very stimulating. A couple of thoughts:

  • Randomista is clearly not a neutral term, and I think constitutes a kind of name calling (e.g. Corbynista in the UK). Do proponents of RCT development use this term for themselves?
  • I'm not sure the 'extreme scepticism' (perhaps we could just call it scepticism?) argument is given a fair shake. Note that answering the question of what causes a country to grow is basically the big question of development economics, and as such it has received considerable attention from economists. In th
... (read more)
6HaukeHillebrandt2yYes, I steelman this view in the Appendix (my view not necessarily John's): However, there is a debate about this and counterarguments: Pritchett too seems much more optimistic about growth diagnostics and believes that while we might not know everything, we generally have a reasonable understanding of what causes growth and can even influence it. Pritchett has edited a whole volume on growth diagnostics, including on the causes of growth in India [] . Generally, my take is that growth diagnostics might get harder the richer a country becomes, by virtue of there being less and less data from other countries on how they developed. Thus, for the poorest countries, growth diagnostics might be easiest because we can draw lessons from all other countries on they developed. Because effective altruism often tries to focus on the poorest countries, where a dollar goes 100x further than in rich countries, there is perhaps most hope for growth diagnostics. So perhaps Duflo is right in that “Growth is likely to slow, at least in China and India, and there may be very little that anyone can do about it.” And this is actually born out in China’s and India’s performance on the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators, where they score 63th and 31st out of 189 countries, though being relatively poor. Thus, there seem no low hanging fruit to improve their economic policy. But in the Appendix I have an analysis where I multiply population size of every country by their poverty multiplier (i.e. $1 is worth x times more going to this country than to the richest country in the sample. See appendix 2 of this doc [] for more info). This can then be ordered by the utility created by increasing GDP per capita by $1. India comes out on top because of its large population (1.3bn) and relatively low G
Randomista is clearly not a neutral term, and I think constitutes a kind of name calling

What's your basis for claiming that 'randomista' is a non-neutral term? That is not my impression. A popular book that presents a positive picture of the field is titled Randomistas: How Radical Researchers Are Changing Our World. A recent article by one of the world's most prestigious science journals uses the headline "‘Randomistas’ who used controlled trials to fight poverty win economics Nobel", and includes the following ... (read more)

8HaukeHillebrandt2yWe did not use it in a name calling way but rather as a neutral term to describe the intellectual movement. The term is used by mainstream economists who are critical in a respectful way [] , but also by randomistas themselves (note for instance that Duflo []or Blattman [] have used the term). However, it is true that
The Ethics of Giving Part Four: Elizabeth Ashford on Justice and Effective Altruism

Isn't factory farming a clear-cut case of injustice? A pretty standard view of justice is that you don't harm others, and if you are harming them then you should stop and compensate for the harm done. That seems to describe what happens to farmed animals. In fact, as someone who finds justice plausible, I think it creates a decent non-utilitarian argument to care about domestic animal suffering more than wild animal suffering.

As my last sentence suggests, I do think that justice views are likely to affect cause prioritisation. I think you're right that justice may lead you to different conclusions about inter-generational issues, and is worth a deeper look.

0Parker_Whitfill3yI think this only applies to people who are contributing to the harm. But for a vegan for is staunchly opposed to factory farming, they aren't harming the animals, so factory farming is not an issue of justice for them.
Visualising animal agriculture

I think high amounts of concern for wild animals is actually a bit of a defect in utilitarianism. A quite compelling reason for caring more about factory farmed animals is that we are inflicting a massive injustice against them, and that isn't the case for wild animals generally. We do often feel moral obligations to wild animals when we are responsible for their suffering (think oil spills for example). That's not to say wild animals don't matter, but they might be further down our priority list for that reason.

I think the visualization is great. I think the exploding red dots is very powerful, demonstrates just an immense amount of bloodshed.

1markus_over3yBut couldn't you say that, for instance, the forces of evolution are inflicting an even more massive injustice against wild animals? Assuming injustices are more relevant because our species happens to inflict them doesn't seem 100% convincing to me. From the animal's point of view, it probably doesn't matter very much whether its situation is caused by some kind of injustice, what matters to the animal is whether and by what degree it's suffering. I do of course share your intuition about injustice being bad generally, and "fixing your own mistakes before fixing those of others" so to speak seems like a reasonable heuristic. It's hard to tell whether the hypothetical "ideal EA movement" would shift its focus more towards WAS than it currently does, or not. My rather uninformed impression is that quite many EAs know about the topic and like talking about it - just like we are now - so it often seems there's a huge focus on wild animals, but the actual work going into the area is still a great degree lower than that. [] still only lists three employees, after all. Also I, too, like the visualization. I wonder how it would look with ~2k animals/second, which seems to be the sad statistic of the planet.
It’s Supposed To Feel Like This: 8 emotional challenges of altruism

Thank you for sharing this Holly. Have you read Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar? It's a book full of stories of extraordinarily committed "do-gooders" (some effective altruists, some not), as well as some interesting analysis on the mixed reaction that they receive from society. I think there's a lot of overlap with some of what you've written and the experiences of the individuals in Strangers Drowning, so you're definitely not alone.

I suppose the extent that anyone experiences any of these 8 challenges really depends on how motivated ... (read more)

1[anonymous]3yThanks for the recommendation, I've actually never gotten round to reading it and have added to my Christmas list ^_^ I did worry a bit about people reading this as a "How saintly are you?" quiz, and possibly that outweighs the benefits of acknowledging what some people go through. I think all I can say is that this is not a competition you want to win. Walk cheerfully [] :-)