All of ChrisSmith's Comments + Replies

Cause Exploration Prizes

Hi arghya - sorry I missed this post. Just as a reminder, we're paying $200 for the first 200 submissions made in good faith, so don't feel put off submitting something if you don't think you have time to write something that you think will be competitive for the top prizes.

We suggest my colleague Lauren Gilbert's shallow on civil conflict as an example of a shallow investigation of a potential cause area. She's also published one more recently on telecoms in LMICs. There's also the guidance page of the Cause Exploration Prizes website. 

Looking forwar... (read more)

Why Effective Altruists Should Put a Higher Priority on Funding Academic Research

I enjoyed reading this, thank you for writing it. Two things:

Firstly, I wondered if you were aware of this recent GiveWell scoping grant to Precision Development (PxD) which explores something very close to what you're suggesting - it's asking them to come up with an evaluation design (which could by an RCT) for their work on providing information to smallholder farmers, which GiveWell is then open to funding ("we think there's a 70% chance we will provide a grant to fund implementation, and evaluation of PxD's agriculture program...40% chance we'll provid... (read more)

Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes: $120k for written work on global health and wellbeing

Suggestions of scientific research and lobbying / advocacy, or other activities where cost-effectiveness are hard to measure are all potentially valid suggestions and would be eligible for prizes (and the $200 participation awards). For each of these I'd say that costs are relatively estimable based on what individual research projects costs, current research spending in an area, the cost of comparable advocacy campaigns etc. I agree that the chances of success are more difficult, but they can be estimated to at least some extent based on comparable base r... (read more)

Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes: $120k for written work on global health and wellbeing

All of those things are ok. Open Phil staff shouldn't be listed as co-authors since they are not eligible for the prizes. A brief acknowledgement section is welcome if you've had substantial input from others who are not co-authors. 

If you are submitting an unpublished piece of writing which you've already produced, please make sure it is answering a question that we've put forward and is geared towards the perspective of a funder (see our guidance page for more detail)

Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes: $120k for written work on global health and wellbeing

Yes, a broader proposal on scientific reproducibility as a potential cause area would be appropriate for this. Your proposed project could be an example grantee, but it would be great idea to explore other ways that a funder could help address the problem as well (even if you conclude that something like I4R is the most cost-effective opportunity)

Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes: $120k for written work on global health and wellbeing

This is a good question, and it's certainly something that could be clearer on the website. The closest thing to what you're asking for is here but the page is slightly dated and is due to be refreshed soon. Some of the focus areas are also at a very high level of abstraction (e.g. global health and development) which should not be read as meaning we don't want suggestions for opportunities within those focus areas.

On the page for the new cause area prompt it specifies deliberately that we are open to suggestions for new problems to work on,... (read more)

Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes: $120k for written work on global health and wellbeing

Yes - this fits within our GHW portfolio. From the FAQ page:

Can I write about non-human animals?

Yes. Open Philanthropy is a major funder of work to improve farm animal welfare. If you want to write about a potential new cause area where the primary beneficiaries are non-human animals, please use the open prompt.

Open Philanthropy's Cause Exploration Prizes: $120k for written work on global health and wellbeing

Sorry to hear! I think you might have clicked it during the split-second I was updating that page. Please could you give it another try and send a screenshot of whatever error you're getting if it doesn't work

It's working now, thanks.
Making Effective Altruism more emotionally appealing

I was about to delete my post (thanks Gleb_T for the quick change of name) but noticed a downvote. Could that person come forward and explain why they thought my post was unhelpful?

I'd also like to know that. I think your point was right on and thanks for helping improve the title.
Making Effective Altruism more emotionally appealing

I don't particularly object to the content of the post, but could you please consider rewriting the title?

"Overcoming emotional resistance" honestly sounds like something deeply unpleasant pick up artists write about coercing women into unwanted sex (

I was about to delete my post (thanks Gleb_T for the quick change of name) but noticed a downvote. Could that person come forward and explain why they thought my post was unhelpful?
Thanks, appreciate the suggestion! I edited the title.

I really enjoyed reading this post, and I'm pleased to see an effective altruist making a case for family planning as an effective cause. You sound particularly well informed about development issues - have you laid out your personal or professional background somewhere? I've asked to join your Effective FP facebook group

Thanks. My professional background is as a tech entreprenuer, my LinkedIn profile has more details []. I've learned about development issues mostly by searching Google Scholar, reading GiveWell's website, and talking to knowledgeable people.
The career questions thread

My guess for maximising salary would be something which is going to make you into a quant trader or financial engineer. There is a useful discussion on this site:

The career questions thread

Strongly urge Trinity.

It will be easier to get a job in almost any sector with a degree from Trinity rather than a degree from Galway (particularly outside Ireland), you will probably meet more interesting/driven people there, and you can try to make your PPES degree more quantitative if you want through particular choices (eg the econometrics option in third year economics or quantitative methods in fourth year economics), although it is certainly too early to be making specific choices about modules at this stage!

As others have said, it will also keep your options broader, which is valuable for all of us but particularly those of us who are still trying to work out what we are particularly good at.

The career questions thread

Ryan is a more experienced programmer/coder than I am. As a time-poor beginner, I found the MITx course on R much, much easier to use (and far more interesting) than the John Hopkins courses on Coursera. They also have two decent courses on Python, the second of which is more relevant to statistical applications.

MITx course on R - MITx course(s) on Python - (read more)

I would believe that there are much better R courses than the Johns Hopkins one for an introduction. I'm not particularly experienced at coding, but I was basically only watching those videos for the stats, rather than paying much attention to the code at all. I agree that the mitx Python courses look decently good and wuantitative (though not mostly statistical) for an absolute beginner. The other thing is to try Kaggle introductory challenges in Python for a practical taste!
June Open Thread

As someone who really admired George Monbiot as a teenager, I'm slightly surprised to hear him described as an effective altruist in spirit.

I admire his transparency and his willingness to change his mind, but he does strike me as someone quite committed to an ideology (generally a progressive one not too far from my own!) around issues like state intervention and ownership/delivery of public services. I'm also not convinced that rewilding is a promising or cost effective way of tackling the environmental issues which he (quite possibly rightly) prioritis... (read more)

Yes, I agree. 'Effective altruist' appears to me to be a label picking out a very particular and narrow movement and group of people, despite the broadness of the words we happen to have adopted as a label.
Suggestions thread for planning and executing the 2015 EA Survey

Great suggestion Stens!

I'm happy to trial draft versions of the survey

Suggestions thread for planning and executing the 2015 EA Survey

My main additional comment to the below is that we should be relatively unconcerned with people failing to finish a long survey - we are talking to individuals who are committed to doing a significant amount of good in the world. The relative cost of a few extra questions is low compared with the cost of missing out a question which allows us to better understand the movement and therefore change the world.

Suggestions thread for planning and executing the 2015 EA Survey

I'm going to reproduce a comment I wrote at the time the 2014 results were released in order to have them on the agenda for the call later on. I remain convinced that each of these three practical suggestions is relatively low effort and will make the survey process easier, the data more reliable and any resulting conclusions more credible:

Firstly, we should use commercial software to operate the survey rather than trying to build something ourselves. These are both less effort and more reliable. For example, SurveyMonkey could have done everything this su... (read more)

It does seem clearly to be worth this expense. I'm concerned that .impact/the community team behind the survey are too reluctant to spend money and undervalue the time relative to it. I suppose that's the cost of not being a funded organization. Seconded - I'd urge the team to do this, even if it means ignoring some genuine answers (I would expect Effective Altruists to generally put enough effort into the survey to spot and complete this question, though I might be naïve). An excellent suggestion also. I'd be willing to do this - I imagine anyone else who'd volunteer can comment below and hopefully someone from the team will spot this and send messages.
May Open Thread

I have not seen any extended discussion of it, but I know of individuals in this position (ie considering leaving jobs where they are earning to give) and I'm sure Benjamin Todd, the executive director of 80,000 Hours, will be aware of other examples. Obviously, career decisions are intensely personal, so I don't think either of us can say much publicly about any such individuals.

I think exploration of leaving earning to give jobs is a (small) gap in Effective Altruist discussion at the moment - but then we're only less than four years past the point when 80,000 hours was founded! Perhaps more writing on the topic will appear in the coming few months and years.

EA Survey bar chart plotter

This is useful and cool - thanks!

The 2014 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis

Happy to answer these any time, and happy to help out next year (ideally in low time commitment ways, given other constraints).

The 2014 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis

Thank you to the survey team for completing what is an easy-to-underestimate volume of work. Thank you also to the many who completed this survey, helping us to both understand different EA communities better and to improve this process of learning about ourselves as a wider group in future years.

I have designed and analysed several consumer surveys professionally as part of my job as a strategy consultant.

There is already a discussion of sample bias so I will leave those issues alone in this post and focus on three simple suggestions to make the process ... (read more)

Thanks Chris, all very useful info. (On the 0 donors question: I've written about this elsewhere in the comments and a sizeable majority of these respondents were full time students or low income or had made significant past donations or had pledged at least (and often much more) of future income). Once all these people are taken account of, the number of 0 donors was pretty low. There was a similar (if not even stronger) trend for people donating <$500).
Thanks Chris, this is useful feedback and we'll go through it. For example, I think trying out draft versions would be valuable. I may ask you some more questions, e.g. about SurveyMonkey's features.
The 2014 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis

I regularly do this when designing consumer surveys as part of m professional work - the concern in those instances is that respondents are mainly completing the survey for a small monetary reward and so are incentivised to click through as fast as possible. To help my own survey development skills, I participate in several online panels and can confirm that whilst not exactly standard practice, a non-negligible proportion of online consumer surveys will include questions like this used to screen out respondents who are not paying attention.

This is less of a concern for the EA survey, but is almost costless to include such a screening question so seems like an easy way to help validate any resulting analysis or conclusions.

Initial research into corporate fundraising

These materials should be useful for peer-to-peer fundraising as well.

To pick an example from a mainstream charitable context, Macmillan Cancer Support produce materials which explain what cancer is, why it is a problem and how they (Macmillan) tackle it (something close to their theory of change). These materials are mostly designed for peer-to-peer fundraising, but would also be useful for me if I wanted to promote Macmillan in a corporate fundraising case as well.

(Disclosure - I'm the management consultant Tom is referring to in the opening post)

Can you think of any fundraising ideas?

One value adding activity which Charity Science feels well placed to carry out would be putting together the sort of promotional packs which charities with larger fundraising budgets do to support sponsored events, but which most charities favoured within the Effective Altruism movement don't.

I found it difficult to find a simple introduction to SCI and the work they did when I was pitching it as a charity for my work's annual charity auction. (NB: Materials seem to have improved since I did this - Opportunity may well remain, within and beyond SCI)

Thanks Chris, that's an excellent idea and there's a good chance that we'll do this. It fits quite well with other things we do, such as learning a lot about the GiveWell charities and practicing pitching them in a persuasive way. It's not exactly the same thing, but I recently made this infographic showing SCI's impact [] for our donors.
Effective Altruism Outreach needs your donations this Christmas!

Niel and Rob. I understand that you are both extremely capable people, but I am pleased to see that part of the funding would go towards seeking professional help in promoting the books.

My main question is around whether or not you see this as a one-off funding request, or part of an ongoing program that will need funding for several years?

Hi Chris, This is a good question. Many of the sub-projects that we are doing are one-off opportunities which we are unlikely to seek funding for in future years (e.g. a publicist for Will and Peter). Other projects are experiments that we would like to repeat and/or expand in future years if they are successful, such as EA Global, the EA Fellows Programme, etc. EA Outreach as a whole is also in this category - if it is successful (or more accurately if it looks in hindsight like it was a worthwhile bet) then we would like to continue working on it and funding it. On the otherhand if the project is not successful (or more accurately does not look like it was a worthwhile bet), then we would like to discontinue it. My guess at this stage is that we will want to seek further funding for EA Outreach activities in future years, as this seems to be an under-invested area within the EA movement and we seem to be well placed to execute on it, however much will depend on how much we achieve over the coming year. I hope that answers your question, and let me know if you have any others. Cheers, Niel
Where are you giving and why?

I am donating donating 60% to SCI, 20% to AMF and 20% to GiveDirectly. I reviewed this at my last pay rise, and would expect to do the same at my next one (all being well, April). Research suggests these are all good groups which address global poverty. When I review my donations in April, I will consider expanding into supporting EA groups or other more meta opportunities where good options exist.

After the GiveWell hesitation around AMF earlier in the year, I decided that I wanted to give my money to more than one charity. Previously, AMF had been the mai... (read more)

1Peter Wildeford8y
It's worth noting that GiveWell is actively encouraging people to split their donations, as well. "Based on this allocation, for any donors looking to give as we would, we recommend an allocation of $5 to AMF (67%), $1 to SCI (13%), $1 to GiveDirectly (13%) and $.50 to DtWI (7%) for every $7.50 given." (Source [])
Should we launch a podcast about high-impact projects and people?

I would listen to the podcast, and I also think it is worth spending some time on. The closest thing I listen to is Development Drums ( which is excellent and technically fairly simple, following a very similar format to the one you have suggested.

It's definitely worth thinking about how what you are doing would be different to what other EA groups are doing, and not just other podcasts but also other media through which various groups publish. My suggestion would be that it is something which is less explicitly EA than someth... (read more)