Topic Contributions


The Forum should consider anonymizing names

Agreed that accountability and bad behavior would be an issue if everything was fully anonymous. I definitely wouldn't be in favor of any sort of full anonymity. Moreso some very surface level version, to try to give people a chance to assess things without preconceived notions. If you could click on the author and see who is was it really wouldn't incentivize more bad behavior (I think).

I feel more neutral  about your point about outsiders respecting the status staking because I don't think there are many "swing voters" spending time on the forum nor do I think public names would be the make or break for the majority of those people. But this response from me is complete speculation and ultimately we would have to see the data. 

The Forum should consider anonymizing names

Oh awesome thanks for the link, did not know that. 

I find names helpful for similar reasons. I'm curious how much more productive  you feel it makes you (vs a counterfactual where you can click on the accounts that made posts to see true identity), though it might be hard to give a concrete answer. 

It's sort of interesting that the thing you like about names is also the thing I think could cause problems. 

Using names to sort content could improve epistemics  if you sorted people well. But it also could reduce if you sort badly. Personally I'm not confident my own views of the people in this community are well-founded. Plus people with overall bad epistemics can write good arguments and vice versa. 

I also like to associate ideas with people, would be curious if anyone has information of if this is actually useful for learning important stuff faster.

Ways money can make things worse

Commenting to say I strongly agree that epistemic and attention distortions are big problems. It already seems like future funds has swayed the ideological center of this movement. 

Would like to see an analysis on how future funds changed the ideological mass distribution of this community. I think you could argue that most shift it caused was simply by changing incentives and not from new information. 

e.g. As someone who has thought EA has underfunded political type stuff for a while, It's been concerning to see people get more interested in (EA) politics and spend so much attention on whether politics is worth it and/or how best to do politics just because someone in the community donated 12M dollars(and because they have high status, which is because they are rich... ).  It's not like SBF is a poly sci expert or wrote a ground breaking cost benefit to convince us(correct me if I'm wrong). He just went on 80k pod and said he thinks politics is a good bet and then dumped the cash trucks. I  understand that even if you disagree w/ flynn campaign you're going to want to comment on how you disagree, but the implication here is if an EA billionaire gives 12M dollars to have people dig holes in the ground (ok it would have to be something a bit more convoluted and or justifiable) it's going to at least cause a bunch of impactful people to spend time thinking about the value prop. 

If EA people think that project is valuable we would hope there focus would not be super conditional on the current funding streams. 

Charles_Guthmann's Shortform

Has anyone thought through if EA should try to start a charter school/ done some sort of impact estimate? Specifically with the purpose of making a really good school, not specifically related to EA outreach.

I searched google and the forum for posts on this and couldn't find anything. 

The Vultures Are Circling


Thanks for the thoughtful reply, appreciate it. Super valid points. Upon re-reading it seems I may have come off insultingly towards the community building contingent of EA. Certainly not my intention! I think y'all are doing a great job and I def don't want to give the impression that I would have a better plan in mind. I am  somewhat familiar with the recent initiatives with universities and think they will def be solid also. 

  • Makes me a bit sad that you need to be publicly engaged to receive recognition. I understand this is probably just a truism about life, not anyone in particulars fault. 
  • Good to hear things are moving forward, def rooting for the success of the new initiatives. 
  • Can you comment on why there are only 1.5 FTE covering uni groups? does no one want those jobs? Trying to be very careful abt scaling? Seems remarkably low when considering potential Cost Benefit but I haven't thought about it enough.  I don't think it would be crazy to have as many as 25 FTE but maybe that is completely ridiculous( maybe this is happening w/ugap?).
  • Good to hear that you care about delegation/passing off. I wonder if you think it's worth making it clear to people that this incentive exists? or do you think it is clear already? Moreover if you hire people at the end of senior year of college how do you know whether or not they did a good job passing off the group?
  • I wonder what you think would happen if you were a nepotist- say you advantaged the community builders you had closer relationships with in hiring/referal decisions. Would you expect to be fired and how quickly? 

Again I just want to clarify that I don't think EA community builders are doing anything specifically wrong per se, and I don't think most of these issues are even super specific to the community building sector of EA. I think the issues I brought up would be present in pretty much any new social movement that is fast scaling and has lots of opportunities. 

What is the strongest case for nuclear weapons?

It seems possible, although not a sure thing that expectation("world with no nukes")(1)>expectation("world with nukes")(2). 

However the far more realistic situation is "world where some countries, eg US, get rid of nukes"(3). I think these(2,3) are very different situations. do you agree/ would you like to clarify which you are describing? 

It seems not that hard to argue the US dropping/decaying its nuclear Arsenal without other countries doing the same would be bad. 


Also: Nuke sequence on the forum

The Vultures Are Circling

I started Northwestern's EA club with a close friend my sophomore year at northwestern (2019). My friend graduated at the end of that year and our club was still nascent. There was an exec board of 6 or 7 but truly only a couple were trustworthy with both getting stuff done and actually understanding EA. 

Running the club during covid and having to respond to all these emails and carrying all this responsibility somewhat alone(alone isn't  quite fair but )  and never meeting anyone in person and having to explain to strangers over and over again what ea was stressed /tired me a decent bit (I was 19-20) and honestly I just started to see EA more negatively and not want to engage with the community as much, even though I broadly agreed with it about everything. 

 I'm not sure I really feel externally higher status in any way because of it. I guess I might feel some internal status/confidence from founding the club, because it is a unique story I have, but I would be lying if I said more than 1 or 2 people hit me up during eagx boston (had a great time btw, met really cool people)to talk over swapcard, meanwhile my  friend who has never interacted with ea outside of NU friends and fellowship but has an interesting career was dmed up like 45 times. And the 2 people who hit me up did not even do so because I founded, much less organized the club.  The actual success of the club in terms of current size/avg. commitment and probabilistic trajectory does not seem to be data that anyone in the community would necessarily notice if I didn't try to get them to notice. Don't even get me started on whether or not they would know if I promoted/delegated (to) the right people. At any point during our clubs history I could tell you which people were committed and which weren't, but no one ever asked. There are people who work with the university groups but it's not like they truly knew the ins and outs of the club, and even if I told them how things are truly going, what does that really do for me? It may be the case that they would be more likely to hirer or recommend people who are better at delegating but anecdotally this doesn't even seem true to me. Which is still a far cry from doing impact estimates and funding me based on that. Plus isn't it possible that people who delegate less just inherently seem like a more important piece of a universities "team". Maybe there are other people waiting to take over and do and even better job but they are quite literally competition to their boss in that case. Perhaps it increases my chance of getting jobs? but I'm not sure, and if it was, it's not like it would be connected to any sort of impact score. 

Founding the club has at best a moderate impact on its own. It is the combination of starting the club and giving it a big enough kick to keep going that I believe is where the value is created. Otherwise the club may die and you basically did nothing. A large part of this "kick" is ofc ensuring the people after you are good. Currently, Northwestern's Effective Altruism club is doing pretty good. We seem to be on pace to graduate 50+ fellows this year, we have had 10-15 people attend conferences. TO BE CLEAR - I have done almost nothing this year. The organizers that (at risk of bragging) I convinced/told last year to do the organizing this year have done a fire job. Much better than I could have. I like to think that if I had put very little effort in last year, or potentially even worse, not give authority to other positive actors in the club, there would have been a not tiny chance the club would have just collapsed, though I could be wrong. It does seem as though there is a ton of interest in effective altruism among the young people here, so it's feasible that this wasn't such a path dependent story.

Still - If I had started the club, put almost no effort in to creating any structure to the club/giving anyone else a meaningful role during covid year other than running events with people I wanted to meet (and coordinating with them myself, which counterintuitively is easier then delegating), and then not stepped down/maintained control this year so that I could continue doing so, no one would have criticized me, even though this action would probably have cost ea 15-30 committed northwestern students already, and potentially many more down the line. I mean, no one criticized me when I ghosted them last year(lol). If I had a better sense of the possibility of actually getting paid currently or after school for this stuff, I could see it increasing the chance I actually did something like above. Moreover, if I had a sense of the potential networking opportunities I might have had access to this year ( I did almost all my organizing except the very beginning during heavy covid), this probably would have increased my chances of doing something like above even more than the money. 

To be clear I probably suck at organizing, and even if I hadn't solely used the club as my own status machine it would have been pretty terrible if I didn't step down and get replaced by the people who currently organize.

To summarize/ Organize:

  • There is a lack of real supervision (maybe this has changed like I said I wasn't super involved this year) from the top of what is happening at these clubs, and to the extent that you might receive status for success while you organize, it seems highly related to how willing you are to reach out to people in CEA and ask for more responsibility, or to post updates online, or to generally socialize with other EAs about stuff
  • If you correctly step down so someone better can run the club, it’s not clear there is any sort of reward
  • I would be surprised if delegating correctly was noticed.
  • In general, being a good organizer isn’t even something that seems to get you much clout in this community, see other post today about this (i haven’t read it yet)
  • Thus, the real clout from organizing, esp. If you don’t have an online presence, comes from the access organizing can give you
  • organizing provides opportunities to reach out to anyone in the community
    • BUT, these opportunities often come hand in hand with specific events that your club is participating in. The most “bonding” moments come from helping plan events with other members of EA from different places. There are a finite number of these and each one you delegate is a lost opportunity to talk to someone at CEA, another organizer, a possible speaker, etc.
    • It can feel as though you deserve these opportunities because if you just spent the work that you used on organizing networking in the first place, or blogging, you would probably be more respected, since in the first place organizing doesn’t seem to get much status. Because there is no real oversight, you definitely are not at risk of getting shamed for using the club as a status machine.
      • So you start attending meetings that someone else in the club should have been at, or emailing people to ask them to speak at the club when you should have let a freshman or sophomore email them.
      • or even giving an intro talk when you should have let a younger student give it, because it means all the other people from your school will see you more as one of the sole leaders of the club, which tbf is less related to the overarching concept of this post. And also I want to give a nod to the discussion on balancing resilliance vs. immediate impact, in the sense that you might give a better talk(or so you think), which will convince more people, which might make the club more resilient. But Then I would say you should have coached the younger student better.
  • Seems like we might be promoting squeaky wheels. You get paid if you ask for money(i think?), you get status if you take it, etc. This could both provide bad incentives and be incredibly frustrating to the shyer folk.
  • No one has ever reached out to me for advice on starting a club, or asked how my experience went, or asked me if I would be interested in meta work. I have never received a cent for any of my community building work. If I was actually getting paid what I believe my time is worth, which is probably still much much less than the actual value of my time to EA while I was organizing, I would almost certainly be owed (tens of?) thousands of dollars. I definitely feel like my sense that this was a community where you didn’t need to market yourself to get to the top was not as true as I originally envisioned. At the same time I don't regret starting the club at all. It is probably one of the few things I have done in my life that I feel proud of.
  • What should we do? Can we federalize clubs? Should we have more data analysts and researchers and CEA people work on this? Would we actually audit a college club? Should we pay organizers more? <- but wouldn't this increase "vulturism"?
  • The core realization should be that EA needs an institution(s) that doesn't exist. Without more complex institutions we are basically being culty and trusting each other on a variety of dimensions. I hope the trust remains but why not build resiliency(unless of course, you believe gatekeeping is the solution).

 I know I didn't precisely answer your questions and more just rambled. let me know if you have questions, and obviously if I said stuff that sounds wrong disagree. I feel like even though this post is long it's lacking a lot of nuance I would like to include but I felt it was best to post it like this. 


"Long-Termism" vs. "Existential Risk"

Longtermism =/ existential risk, though it seems the community has more or less decided they mean similar things (at least while at our current point in history).

Here is an argument to the contrary- "the civilization dice roll": Current Human society becoming grabby will be worse for the future of our lightcone than the counterfactual society that will(might) exist and end up becoming grabby if we die out/ our civilization collapses.

Now, to directly answer your point on x-risk vs longtermism, yes you are correct. Fear mongering will always trump empathy mongering in terms of getting people to care. We might worry though that in a society already full of fear mongering, we actually need to push people to build their thoughtful empathy muscles, not their thoughtful fear muscles.  That is to say we want people to care about x-risk because they care about other people, not because they care about themselves.

So now turning back to the dice roll argument, we may prefer to survive because we became more empathetic/expanded our moral circle and as a result cared about x-risk, rather than because we just really really didn't want to die in the short-term.  Once (if) we pass the hinge of history, or at least the peak of existential risk, we still have to decide what the fate of our ecosystem will be. Personally, I would prefer we decide with maximal moral circles. 

Some potential gaps in my argument. (1) There might be reasons to believe that our lightcone will be better off with current human society becoming grabby, in which case we really should just be optimizing almost exclusively on reducing x-risk (probably). (2)  Focusing on Fear mongering x-risk rather than empathy mongering x-risk will not decrease the likelihood of people expanding their moral circles , maybe it will even increase moral circle expansion because it will actually get people to grapple with the possibility of these issues (3) Moral circle expansion won't actually make the future go better (4) AI will be uncorrelated with human culture, so this whole argument is sort of irrelevant if the AI does the grabbing.

The Vultures Are Circling

I feel like this community was never meant to scale. There is little to no internal structure, and like others have said, so much of this community relies on trust. I don't think this is just an issue of "vultures", it will also be an issue of internal politics and nepotism. 

To me the issue isn't primarily about grantmaking. If you are a good grantmaker, you should see when people's proposals aren't super logical or aligned with EA reasoning. More people trying to get big grants is mostly a good thing, even if many are trying to trick us into giving free money. I think the much larger issue is about status/internal politics, where there is no specific moment if you can decide how aligned someone is. 

But first to give some evidence of vultures, I have already seen multiple people in the periphery of my life submit apps to EAGs who literally don't even plan on going to the conferences, and are just using this as a chance to get a free vacation. I feel sorry to say that they may have heard of EA because of me. More than that, I get the sense that a decent contingent of the people at EAGx Boston came primarily for networking purposes(and I don't mean networking so the can be more effective altruists). At the scale we are at right now, this seems fine, but I seriously think this could blow up quicker than we realize.

Speaking to the internal politics,  I believe we should randomly anonymize the names on the on the forum every few days and see if certain things are correlated with getting more upvotes (more followers on twitter, a job at a prestigous org, etc.). My intuition has been that having a job at a top EA org means 100-500% more upvotes on your posts here, hell even the meme page. Is this what we want? The more people who join for networking purposes, potentially the worse these effects become. That could entail more bias. 

I post (relatively) anonymously on twitter, and the amount of (IMO) valid comments I make that don't get responded to makes me worry we are not as different from normal people as we claim, just having intellectual jousts where we want to seem smart among the other high status people. To be fair this is an amazing community and I trust almost everyone here more than almost anyone not in this community to try to be fair about these things.

I  get the sense (probably because this is often going on the back of my mind), that many people are in fact simply optimizing for status in this group, not positive impact as they define it themself. Of course status in this community is associated with positive impact, BUT as defined by the TOP people in the community. Could this be why the top causes haven't changed much? I don't feel strongly about this, but it's worth considering.

As a former group organizer, there is a strong tension between doing what you think is best for the community vs for yourself. Here is an example: To build resilience for your group, you should try to get the people who might run the group after you leave to run events/retreats/network with other group organizers, so they are more committed,  have practice, and have a network built up. But you get more clout if you run retreats, if you network with other group organizers, etc. It takes an extremely unselfish person to not just default to not delgating a ton of stuff, in no small part for the clout benefits. This tension exists now, so I'm not claiming this would only result from the influx of money, but now that organizers can get jobs after they graduate school, expect this to become a bigger issue.

P.S. If the community isn't meant to scale, then individual choices like vegetarianism are not justified within our own worldview.

Should we produce more EA-related documentaries?

I am interested in making documentaries and wanted to answer your questions, but found it hard to find a starting out point. It feels useful to first compare documentaries to all types of mediums, and also ask some probing questions. The range in what types of documentaries we are talking about is in some cases as large as the range between some documentaries and other mediums.  I started to outline a belief sheet/ comparison chart because it helped me start to organize my thoughts on the subject. In no way complete but feel free to take a look/edit if useful.

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