All of Cullen_OKeefe's Comments + Replies

Announcing my retirement

Congrats, Aaron, and thank you for your innumerable contributions to the Forum and broader community

What Small Weird Thing Do You Fund?

Last year, when Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel Prize, I spent about $175 to give away copies of Poor Economics to any Facebook friend that wanted one. I was inspired by posts like this one.

This year, I heard about Legal Impact For Chickens, and their model of change made a lot of sense to me. I was able to donate $20,000 (about 1/3 marginal FTE), which the President said tipped their funding situation to the point where they could start hiring.

Many Undergrads Should Take Light Courseloads

+1. I did two majors and a minor, and probably could have done a lot more good with my time doing some subset of that that bought me both more academic flexibility and lighter overall courseloads.

(I was not an EA at the time, and so EA considerations did not enter this calculus.)

However, there are probably certain grad school programs (including law school) for which undergrad academic rigor matters to your application. E.g., it was very helpful to my law school app that I did both a STEM and a Humanities major, since it showed interdisciplinary capabiliti... (read more)

Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021

I had one of the EA Forum's launch codes, but I decided to permanently delete it as an arms-reduction measure. I no longer have access to my launch code, though I admit that I cannot convincingly demonstrate this.

Altruistic motivation

Ah, I see. If that's the intended distinction (which I agree makes sense!), I suggesting renaming the 'posts-that-are-motivating' tag to something more distinctive, like "Motivating posts."

Hilary Greaves

What's the reason for the general recommendation against copying from Wikipedia?

6Pablo7moThe main reasons are that often I would expect Wikipedia articles to not be a particularly good fit (because they have different evidential standards, because we want to emphasize the way the topic relates to EA); that sometimes their articles are low quality, are biased, or both (though this would provide a reason only in these specific cases); that Wikipedia requires (I believe) the display of a notice in articles that reuse its content; and that I feel this won't look good if we do it regularly. Do you think we should consider using their content more?
Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Agreed that it’s not dominant in society at-large, though I think it is dominant in a number of important institutions (esp. higher ed, the liberal nonprofit sphere, and journalism)

Cullen_OKeefe's Shortform

Random, time-sensitive charity idea: start a pledge drive for people who have received their COVID vaccine to contribute the cost of at least one vaccine to the COVAX facility. Unfortunately, Americans can’t directly donate to COVAX, but people from the UK can.

6Cullen_OKeefe4moSuch a thing now exists: []
Altruistic motivation

I suggest that this be merged with the motivation tag.

2Pablo7moI renamed the other tag motivational [].
4JP Addison7moI think of a difference between posts-that-are-motivating, and posts-about-motivation. I'd be sad if there wasn't a place to go for posts-that-are-motivating, that was mostly that thing.
4Pablo7moThanks for the suggestion. I've added a reminder to take a closer look.
Open Thread: April 2021

A Wikipedia-style "random post" feature for the Forum could be cool, to help people find new posts. It would also help people find posts that are not fully tagged or organized.

Style guide

Citation Formatting

I would suggest that we don't encourage citations to books to include the name or (especially) city of the publisher. This information is almost always superfluous.

2Pablo8moYeah, I agree it's superfluous. I was reminded of this tweet [] by Diana Fleischman. Scholarly conventions change at a glacial pace, but unfortunately this convention is followed by all the major reference works that I'm aware of, including Wikipedia. Since the formatting can be outsourced to an assistant, I think the costs of adhering to this convention are worth its relatively low costs.
A Comparison of Donor-Advised Fund Providers

Great post. One more resource that EAs should be aware of is Charitable Solutions LLC. They facilitate large (>$250k) DAF donations of exotic assets like restricted stock, LP interests, art, etc.

Law school vs MPP in Australia for those who have strong verbal skills but are weak at maths

Fair points. My impression is that it's actually just hard to get into those lines of work without substantial experience. US law school is also just structured to make getting traditional law jobs much easier than policy jobs. I also think it's often prudent to model oneself as the median person in the reference class, even if there's good reason to think that one is not. Finally, empirically, most EAs that I knew in law school did in fact end up working as traditional lawyers.

0Alexis Carlier8moThanks for the clarification!
What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Ah great, very happy to hear about the broader success. Seems like the causes may have been more local to my approach while leading HLSEA.

EA for Jews - Proposal and Request for Comment

With the obvious caveat that Israel is not synonymous with Judaism, it may be worth noting that Israel has a (AFAICT) active and successful EA (or EA-adjacent) ecosystem, especially in the space of animal advocacy and meat alternatives.

Thanks Cullen!  I've talked to a few folks that are part of the EA Israel group and they are interested in helping out.  I think this proposed project would be complementary in some ways, but largely different from their group.  

Law school vs MPP in Australia for those who have strong verbal skills but are weak at maths

Unfortunately I'm not sure I have great answers to this question given my lack of knowledge about the Australian law ecosystem. I would defer more heavily to those who, like Michael, know much more about that.

As Michael pointed out, law is not very well tailored to policy careers generally in the sense that it both teaches you much more than you need to know for policy in some areas (e.g., the minutiae of contract law) and much less in others (e.g., how to analyze proposed policy changes, economic/fiscal policy). However, it's also true that, for whatever ... (read more)

3Alexis Carlier8moHey Cullen, I'm a bit confused about why you should assume that you would do traditional lawyering for so long. The fact it's the modal path could just mean most law-schoolers want to be lawyers—which seems probably true. So maybe if you want to do policy, you can jump in straight away.
1Douglas_M8moThanks a lot for your response, Cullen! One thing that I would like to do more research on is the question of how valuable legal research and legal policy work is overall, in comparison to the work done by generalists. 80K hours seem somewhat pessimistic about law, so reading your more optimistic perspective (and things like the Legal Priorities Project) is really fascinating to me. It's really hard to know whether one could do more good doing either, A: improving policy as a generalist in The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Australian Department of Defence (etc), or B: focusing specifically on law, in The Attorney General's Department, The Australian Law Reform Commission (etc). Of course, even if A is better (though I'm not saying it is), doing A poorly is obviously much worse than doing B well. Honestly, I'm starting to wonder if many non-entry level policy positions are really competitive, and thus I might be 'capped' as a generalist in a way that I would not be if I focused on law. It would also be bad if I managed to reach an influential generalist position through charisma (or whatever) and ended up taking up a spot that ought to have been filled by someone who was quantitatively talented. I found your point about traditional lawyering for a while really interesting. I actually think I might enjoy being a lawyer more than being a policy advisor (though it's hard to be sure), based on the research I've done thus far. What worries me is whether I could be a traditional lawyer with a clear conscience. 80K has several articles that (whether correctly or not) heavily emphasize the amount of good one can do as a generalist in the public service. On the other hand, it's very possible that those articles don't really apply to me, given the (perhaps atypical) gap between my verbal and quantitative aptitude. I get the general sense that it might be better for me to excel as a lawyer rather than scrape by as a generalist, because doing a great job al
Proposed Longtermist Flag

Thanks Aaron! I think I made a mistake by calling it “proposed”, which probably implied more certainty than appropriate, and caused people to vote as if it was a proposal rather than a starting point for discussion.

Some quick notes on "effective altruism"

Amazing. I knew RP did a lot of great work in this space, but didn’t realize how systematized you’d gotten. Great stuff :-)

Some quick notes on "effective altruism"

It seems like EA could benefit from a dedicated, evidence-based messaging consultancy that served all EA orgs.

Rethink Priorities is pretty close to this! We've done message testing now for many orgs across cause areas... Centre for Effective Altruism, Will MacAskill, Open Phil, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Humane Society for the United States, The Humane League, Mercy for Animals, and various EA-aligned lobbyists. We have a lot of skills and resources to do this well and already have a well-built pipeline for producing this kind of work.

We'd be happy to consider doing more work for other people in EA and the EA movement as a whole!

3James Ozden8moI’ve been thinking about this! I really have no sense if anyone involved in building the EA movement/EA orgs has sat down and really meticulously thought about narratives, audiences, framing and other elements of building a strong message. Does anyone know if this is being done? If not, this seems like a potentially really exciting piece of work. If we just look at organisation that had a strong “meme”/message, whether it’s McDonalds or Friday’s for Future, it can really help an org reach their desired outcome. For us this might not be exponential growth in the general public (if we’re concerned about keep strong community values) but exponential growth in certain social groups e.g. donors or talented individuals in specific fields. The consensus on messaging says that emotional narratives work far better than facts [] and I think that could be an area where EA messaging hasn't been optimal -as my impression is that we're far more likely to speak about statistics vs emotional stories of those we're helping. One piece of work could be focus groups with the various audiences, high net-worth donors as an example, to figure out what message resonates the most then we try align wider EA orgs that do fundraising around this message. Same could go for recruiting people involved in technical AI safety etc. I get the impression it could be quite high-leverage as having been involved in crowdfunding, the strength of your messaging can make a huge (10x) difference to your results. This is a field where you can be quite rigorous with building narratives based on evidence so seems like a no-brainer for EA-aligned folks. Would love to hear if any of this work is already being done as I definitely see it as a need in the EA-meta ecosystem. I could see it fitting in with CEA potentially or like you said - external consultancy or non-profit.
Proposed Longtermist Flag

Thanks; wasn't even aware it was a thing one could do :-)

Proposed Longtermist Flag

I think it looks a bit too much like pizza, though.

Proposed Longtermist Flag

Another, simpler concept: Longtermist Flag v2

The hourglass represents time, as well as an "X" shape for X-risk.

9Stefan_Schubert8moAn alternative is to just have the hourglass as a symbol/logo, and not a flag. There is an EA symbol (the lightbulb) but no flag. Also, one might consider making the hourglass less stylised, and to drop the X-risk symbolism. Longtermism isn't intrinsically tied to X-risk. One approach would be to strictly focus on the long time duration, and drop associations with X-risk, space colonisation, and so on. It depends on how one conceives of longtermism.
4willbradshaw8moI like this much better! I like the colour scheme, I like the simplicity, and I (mostly) like the symbolism. Per Larks's comment, I'd like to see a version with the top triangle all yellow and the bottom one all blue, to indicate how much bigger the future could be than the past.

It also resembles the light cone which is nice. I would consider putting more sand in the top though, and less in the bottom. Hopefully we have more time left than that!

7Cullen_OKeefe8moI think it looks a bit too much like pizza, though.
Proposed Longtermist Flag

I like the concept a ton, but think the dot is a bit too small, aesthetically and functionally.

Well we are working on making the dot bigger but that takes time; realistically we want to have a flag design before the generation ships reach their destinations. 

Proposed Longtermist Flag

You don't have to apologize! I'm not a graphic designer; it's not surprising to me that many people don't like it.

Your feedback is good; I might try to iterate and incorporate in it.

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Discussion of progressive ordinal speciesism on the latest 80,000 Hours podcast:

Robert Wiblin: What’s something important that your political fellow travelers get really wrong, in your view?

Ezra Klein: Animal rights. Maybe since I’ve already said that, you want me to do a different one. But I do first want to say just animal rights.

Ezra Klein: I think this is just a tremendous quantity of suffering that a political movement that thinks of itself as concerned with suffering ignores. Not only ignores, but mocks and dismisses. A lot of people who think of t

... (read more)
Proposed Longtermist Flag

Interesting point re the sun — I literally just copied it from Malawi’s flag and tweaked a few things :-)

4BrianTan8moI still understood it as a sun, but maybe 10-20% of people won't?
Proposed Longtermist Flag

Yeah, I do think it’s a bit more complicated than generally accepted vexillological best practices.

4BrianTan8moI had to Google vexillological - I learned a new word today!
What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Another thought I meant to include with my original post:

These reflections/experiences have also led me to believe that, all else equal, EA groups at colleges are more valuable than ones at grad schools. Anecdotally, One For The World college chapters were much more successful on average than HLS's, despite HLS grads' higher earning potential. My model is that many people adopt the sort of EA-skeptical progressive worldview described here in college, which makes outreach in grad schools harder.

I think making EA a viable alternative or complement to which college students are exposed during their formative years would be very valuable for this.

8Jack Lewars8moThanks for the mention :-) Not sure how helpful this is, but grad schools typically move more money (certainly per pledger/per student/per class etc. and often in naive terms). We have no idea yet of the long term changes in attitudes/actions and how those relate to school-type. Also FWIW someone just started raising OFTW pledges at HLS and is absolutely crushing it - about $20k/annum of pledges in about a fortnight!
Why are some EAs into cryonics?

I found Jeff Kaufman's comment from the 2013 compilation persuasive:

It's also useful to step back, however, and consider how valuable it is to preserve and revive people. If you're a total hedonistic utilitarian, caring about there being as many good lives over all time as possible, deaths averted isn't the real metric. Instead the question is how many lives will there be and how good are they? In a future society with the technology to revive cryonics patients there would still be some kind of resource limits bounding the number of people living or bein

... (read more)
3AndyMcKenzie9moI'm surprised that you find that persuasive. It suggests that humans are fungible: if some people die, it's no matter, because more can simply be created. This strongly goes against my intuition. I also think that human fungibility is flawed from a hedonistic quality of life perspective. Much, perhaps most, of human angst is due to involuntary death. There has been a lot of philosophic work on this. One famous book is Ernest Becker's: [] Involuntary death is one of the great harms of life. Decreasing the probability and inevitability of involuntary death seems to have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of human lives. It is also not clear that future civilizations will want to create as many people as they can. It is quite plausible that the future civilizations will be reticent to do this. For one, those people have not consented to be born and the quality of their lives ay still be unpredictable. Whereas people who have opted for cryonics/biostasis are consenting to live longer lives.
What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

I think for many it would depend on what the Harvard Law grad actually did as a profession, eg - are you a corporate lawyer (class traitor) or a human rights lawyer (not class traitor).

This is consistent with my experience. But also, I think a lot of people that end up at HLS don't think in those sort of Marxist/socialist class terms, but rather just have a sort of strong Rawslian egalitarianism commitment.

I also think many people at HLS are hilariously unaware of their class privilege. In fact, many of them think of themselves as victims of unfair powe... (read more)

But also, I think a lot of people that end up at HLS don't think in those sort of Marxist/socialist class terms, but rather just have a sort of strong Rawslian egalitarianism commitment.

I also think many people at HLS are hilariously unaware of their class privilege.

FWIW, I strongly agree with both of these statements for Oxbridge in the UK as well. 

The latter I think is a combination of a common dynamic where most people think they are closer to the middle of the income spectrum than they are, plus a natural human tendency to focus on the areas where you are being treated poorly or unfairly over the areas where you are being treated well. 

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

I think it's a matter of prioritization and non-quantification: they either don't really appreciate how much bigger/worse extreme poverty is, or else agree that it's very bad but just don't want to get involved in stopping it because they're worried about being Neo-Colonialist or something similar and it's easier to just focus on the domestic context.

I haven't read this whole thread, so forgive me if I'm re-stating someone else's point. 
I think there's another explanation: they have a hypothesis about you/EAs/us that we are not disproving. 

My experience has been that people in any numerical or social minority group (e.g. Black Americans, people with disabilities, someone who is the "only" person from a given group at their workplace, etc), are used to being met with disappointing responses if they try to share their experiences with people who don't have them  (e.g. members of the numeri... (read more)

9Bluefalcon9moI think it's because they know women/poc/trans ppl/ppl on whatever fashionable domestic axis of inequality you want to look at, but don't know anyone who lives in Burundi, and because the experience of oppressed people in America is still close enough to their own to actually empathize with. Lot easier to empathize with your friend who got called a slur than with someone dying of malaria in Africa. Both because they are your friend, and because you've probably been called mean names, maybe even by the same type of asshole tossing slurs at them, whereas deadly diseases that affect young healthy people are hard to even imagine.
What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

And I guess totalism would also imply we should have more children, in contradiction to the idea that we should have fewer to protect the environment.

This is mostly what I was referring to. Matt Yglesias has often said that he gets a lot of pushback against his One Billion Americans book from leftists who implictly have some sort of prior against both population and economic growth.

Also, as Michael says below, I think they (like most people who aren't moral philosophers) just don't really have coherent population ethics.

That is a very worthwhile question, but invoking Shakerism is likely to obfuscate the process of answering it.

Seem like pretty reasonable assumptions. If you thought that either was untrue, then this whole line of inquiry would seem self-defeating.

This wrongly assumes that people act only on moral reasoning, not other (e.g., personal happiness) factors. It also wrongly assumes that factors that apply to one's own moral deliberation should universalize to either other EAs or people in general, when in fact I hold neither. I am generally very happy to see other EAs have kids, but don't feel morally compelled to do so enough to override my selfish preference against.

2Milan_Griffes9moI'm basically trying to wonder about whether or not most people who affiliate with EA share your preference set about this.

I suspect that's not true (due to the popularity of total population ethics in the movement), but would be interested in getting solid empirical data on the point.

2Milan_Griffes9moThe revealed preference of most people who affiliate with EA could easily be that having kids doesn't clear their implicit moral bar. (This seems to be the case for you.)

Think on the margin. Once the cost of conversion is high, transmitting the ideology (and humanity) by child-rearing makes more sense. In general, there are plenty of ways for me to promote population growth and the ideology that don't require me reproducing.

2Milan_Griffes9moAmong other things, this assumes that we know how to transmit the ideology via child-rearing and that we know how to switch from one reproductive strategy to another en masse.
1Milan_Griffes9moRight. I wonder if affiliation with EA correlates with an implicit belief that procreation is wrong / not worthwhile / not clearing the bar of moral behavior...

We can expect that we can "convert" people much more cheaply/effectively than they could. At current margins, it almost certainly costs far less to create EAs by "converting" existing people than "creating" new people and raising them in an EA household in hopes that they will later become EA. EA already has far more "adherents" than Sharkerism did at its peak. Also, neither celibacy nor childlessness is a "plank" of EA.

9JoelMcGuire9moIf I may abstract a bit from the Shakerism example... I agree that we should be able to "convert" people more cheaply than other movements could in the past. But that doesn't mean EAs relatively lower fecundity couldn't pose some issues for the LR sustainability of the movement. The question of "can we sustain the movement over time?" is whether 1. we can convert other peoples children more effectively than competing ideologies can convert ours and 2. that we can do so enough to make up for our relatively lower birthrates. (Assuming we don't find a third way involving beings that don't die). Maybe we convert our way to a stable transmission of values across generations, but I'm a bit skeptical since I'm having a hard time imagining a specific instance of a value system that made up for a lower birth rate by having a higher conversion factor. Catholicism? Since the priests / monks were prohibited from having children?
-2Milan_Griffes9moOkay, but if affiliation with EA correlates with a reproductive rate that's far below replacement level, then if EA succeeds in converting everyone to EA, humanity will die out.
When to get a vaccine in the Bay Area as a young healthy person

In my view, the main problem with US vaccination right now is slow rollout, not poor prioritization. Excessive deference slows down rollout even further.

8billzito9moI agree that slow rollout is more of a problem than poor prioritization. But at least in the Bay Area, I think trying to get a vaccine as a young healthy person right now is in expectation directly taking away a vaccine from a more at-risk person for x weeks, and haven't seen significant evidence against that yet. As soon as there is the ability to e.g. drive somewhere to get vaccinated where the time slot would have otherwise gone to waste, I'm strongly in favor of doing that.

I agree—I'm ideologically pro-natalist but averse to having kids myself due to cost and more effective ways to positively impact the future.

0Milan_Griffes9moRight, I think that position is approaching the ideology of the Shakers.

We have much better communications technologies than the Shakers had.

2Milan_Griffes9moI don't follow how that's relevant?
Cullen_OKeefe's Shortform

Should EAs prepare to start stockpiling N95s when the pandemic is over? There will presumably be a lot of excess capacity, so later this year it may be easier than usual to buy up a ton on N95s and store them for the next few years.

Having kids is very expensive.

I don't think having kids needs to be expensive. At least in the UK, schools and healthcare are free. Food and clothing are cheap. Their addition to  bills isn't much in percentage terms. Toys are cheap. 

The biggest expense is probably the time investment, but parenting is a different kind of "work" to  the professional work that most EAs do, so I don't think it necessarily comes from the same time budget (unless maybe the counterfactual is working 60+ hour weeks on EA).

3Milan_Griffes9moYes – and children are the future.
Load More