I work at CEA on the Community Health team as deputy head of the team.(Opinions here my own by default though will sometimes speak in a professional capacity).
Personal website: www.chanamessinger.com
Effective giving quick take for giving seasonThis is quite half-baked because I think my social circle contains not very many E2G folks, but I have a feeling that when EA suddenly came into a lot more funding and the word on the street was that we were “talent constrained, not funding constrained”, some people earning to give ended up pretty jerked around, or at least feeling that way. They may have picked jobs and life plans based on the earn to give model, where it would be years before the plans came to fruition, and in the middle, they lost status and attention from their community. There might have been an additional dynamic where people who took the advice the most seriously ended up deeply embedded in other professional communities, so heard about the switch later or found it harder to reconnect with the community and the new priorities.
I really don’t have an overall view on how bad all of this was, or if anyone should have done anything differently, but I do have a sense that EA has a bit of a feature of jerking people around like this, where priorities and advice change faster than the advice can be fully acted on. The world and the right priorities really do change, though; I’m not sure what should be done except to be clearer about all this, but I suspect it’s hard to properly convey “this seems like the absolute best thing in the world to do, also next year my view could be that it’s basically useless” even if you use those exact words. And maybe people have done this, or maybe it’s worth trying harder. Another approach would be something like insurance.
A frame I’ve been more interested in lately (definitely not original to me) is that earning to give is a kind of resilience / robustness-add for EA, where more donors just means better ability to withstand crazy events, even if in most worlds the small donors aren’t adding much in the way of impact. Not clear that that nets out, but “good in case of tail risk” seems like an important aspect.
A more out-there idea, sort of cobbled together from a me-idea and Ben West-understanding is that, among the many thinking and working styles of EAs, one axis of difference might be “willing to pivot quickly, change their mind and their life plan intensely and often” vs “not as subject to changing EA winds” (not necessarily in tension, but illustrative). Staying with E2G over many years might be related to having being closer to the latter; this might be an under-rated virtue and worth leveraging.
Am I understanding right that the main win you see here would have been protecting people from risks they took on the basis that Sam was reasonably trustworthy?
I also feel pretty unsure but curious about whether a vibe of "don't trust Sam / don't trust the money coming through him" would have helped discover or prevent the fraud - if you have a story for how it could have happened (e.g. via as you say people feeling more empowered to say no to him - maybe it would have via been his staff making fewer crazy moves on his behalf / standing up to him more?), I'd be interested.
Curious if you have examples of this being done well in communities you've been aware of? I might have asked you this before.
I've been part of an EA group where some emotionally honest conversations were had, and I think they were helpful but weren't a big fix. I think a similar group later did a more explicit and formal version and they found it helpful.
Really intrigued by this model of thinking from Predictable Updating about AI Risk.
Now, you could argue that either your expectations about this volatility should be compatible with the basic Bayesianism above (such that, e.g., if you think it reasonably like that you’ll have lots of >50% days in future, you should be pretty wary of saying 1% now), or you’re probably messing up. And maybe so. But I wonder about alternative models, too. For example, Katja Grace suggested to me a model where you’re only able to hold some subset of the evidence in your mind at once, to produce your number-noise, and different considerations are salient at different times. And if we use this model, I wonder if how we think about volatility should change.
I’m Chana, a manager on the Community Health team. This comment is meant to address some of the things Ben says in the post above as well as things other commenters have mentioned, though very likely I won’t have answered all the questions or concerns.
I agree with some of those commenters that our role is not always clear, and I’m sorry for the difficulties that this causes. Some of this ambiguity is intrinsic to our work, but some is not, and I would like people to have a better sense of what to expect from us, especially as our strategy develops. I'd like to give some thoughts here that hopefully give some clarity, and we might communicate more about how we see our role in the future.
For a high level description of our work: We aim to address problems that could prevent the effective altruism community from fulfilling its potential for impact. That looks like: taking seriously problems with the culture, and problems from individuals or organizations; hearing and addressing concerns about interpersonal or organizational issues (primarily done by our community liaisons); thinking about community-wide problems and gaps and occasionally trying to fill those; and advising various actors in the EA space based on the information and expertise we have. This work allows us to address specific problems, be aware of concerning actors, and give advice to help the community do its best work.
Context on our responses
Sometimes we have significant constraints on what we can do and say that result in us being unable to share our complete perspective (or any perspective at all). Sometimes that is because people have requested that we keep some or all information about them confidential, including what actions our team has taken. Sometimes it is because us weighing in will increase public discussion that could be harmful to some or all of the people involved. This information asymmetry can be particularly tricky when someone else in the community shares some information about a situation that we think is inaccurate or is only a small part of the picture, but we’re not in a position to correct it. I’m sorry for how frustrating this can be.I imagine this might end up being relevant to responses to this comment (and which and how and when we respond to them), so I think it’s useful to highlight.
I’ll also flag that many of our staff are at events for the next two weeks, so it might be an especially slow time for Community Health responses.
About what to expect
Thanks all for your thoughts and feedback.
Hi KnitKnack - I’m really sorry to hear you had a bad experience with the CH team, and that it contributed to some especially bad moments in your life. I totally endorse that people should have accurate expectations, which means that they should not expect we’ll always be able to resolve each issue to everyone’s satisfaction. I think that even in worlds where we did everything quote-unquote “right” (in terms of fair treatment of each of the people involved, and the overall safety and functioning of the community), some people would be disappointed in how much we acted or what we did, and all the more so in worlds where we made mistakes. If you’d like to talk about the situation you were in, feel free to contact me as the manager of the team members handling situations like this; I’d be interested to hear your feedback (happy to do this anonymously, such as through the forum). Entirely understandable if you’d rather not, though, and I wish you all the best.
we had a stronger community health team with a broad mandate for managing risks, rather than mostly social disputes and PR? Maybe, but CH already had a broad mandate on paper. Given EVF’s current situation, it might be a tall task. And if VCs and accountancies didn’t see FTX’s problems, then a beefed-up CH might not either. Maybe a CH team could do this better independently of CEA
(Context - I was the interim head of the Community Health team for most of this year)
For what it’s worth, as as a team we've been thinking along similar lines (and having similar concerns) about how we could best use the team’s capacity to address the most important problems, while being realistic about our areas of strength. We’re aiming to get to a good balance.
Thanks for writing up your views here! I think it might be quite valuable to have more open conversations about what norms there's consensus on and which ones there aren't, which this helps spark.
Thanks for noticing something you thought should happen (or having it flagged to you) and making it happen!