gavintaylor

748Joined Nov 2017

Bio

I am an experienced interdisciplinary researcher and have focused on using computational methods to derive insights into biological systems. My academic research took me from collecting insects in tropical rainforests to imaging them in synchrotrons. I have become progressively more involved with the Effective Altruism community over several years and I am now aiming to apply my expertise in areas that more directly benefit society. To that end, I have recently redirected my research towards exploring novel technical countermeasures against viral pandemics.

Comments
153

I could relate to many of the reasons given in the post. Perhaps the biggest point for me is that writing on the forum often to takes me much longer than usual, as I seem to make myself write in a different style to what I use elsewhere (this also often leads me to spend almost as long editing any comments as I do writing them...). Additionally, I never feel good, and often feel rather embarrassed/silly, after having posted (admittedly few, and mostly link posts) or commented, regardless of how they are received. I'm not really sure why I experience this, but suspect it is a combination imposter syndrome with nervousness about my posts/comments being  voted on. I mostly write on another forum where I don't get this feeling; perhaps I should write more shortform here as that format is more similar to posts on the other forum which uses the Discourse platform.

As all the replies so far have mentioned paying tax on grants, I think it is worthwhile noting that this probably isn't required in many countries (although it is in the US). When I got a grant from the LTF Fund I contacted a tax lawyer to ask if I should pay income tax on it as, based on my experiences with income tax-free academic stipends/scholarships in Australia, Sweden, and Brazil, I assumed I wouldn't. His reading of the CEA Grant agreement was that:


the money you receive from this research grant should be expended on the research, but it is not dependent on your performance of any services to the granter, and therefore does not represent a compensation for services you render to the granter nor does it represent to the granter any other type of economic advantage
 

I'm living in Brazil, where the tax code provides an income tax exemption for: 'scholarships and research grants characterised as donations, when received exclusively to carry out studies or research and provided that the results of these activities do not represent an advantage for the donor, nor do they imply compensation for services' (I never looked into the tax codes in Australia or Sweden, but I assume they included a similar exemption). This actually surprised the accountant who does the taxes for my company (which I used for research consulting), as he didn't have any experience with people receiving academic scholarships and thought I would have to pay income tax on it. 
 

Anyway, my assumption is that research grants from EA funders is likely to be tax-free in any country where it's possible to get tax-free scholarships for PhD studies or postdoctoral research. I think it would be useful for EA Granters to advise recipients to check whether any academic scholarships are tax-free in their country, and if so, to seek advice from a tax professional familiar with the taxation of academic scholarships. I got a bit lucky with the tax lawyer I contacted, as he had advised Brazilians about receiving domestic scholarships to do research abroad, and so was generally familiar with this part of the tax code. Most students I know receiving tax-free scholarships don't file taxes at all (or earn very much for that matter), so I assume that many tax professionals won't be familiar with the situation. 

See here for a similar discussion on accessing articles as an independent researcher. TLDR: The Unpaywall extension is a good alternative to scihub because it links to legal Green Open Access version of articles (and scihub is a bit intermittent with uploading new content). There are other options, but most are less efficient than these two. 

Empirical research (probably qualitative): Are there systematic reviews of unusual governance structures tried out by companies, and what the results have been? Of smaller-scale experiments at co-ops, group houses and lunch tables?

Check out the Community Rules governance toolkit. It's intended for communities (which probably leans towards the small side of the governance spectrum) and describes eight governance frameworks with three brief case studies of practioners, ranging from  Ancient Athens to the Facebook Oversight Board,  that have used each.  Four of the governance frameworks have already been described in the post:

  • Elected board
  • Self-appointed board
  • Benevolent dictator (matches founder keeping control)
  • Jury (matches sortition?)

And there are four others:

  • Circles
  • Do-ocracy
  • Petition (basically governance  only using ballot initiatives)
  • Consensus

I don't know much about the  groups that put together the toolkit, but they would probably be worth contacting to find further expertise:
 

CommunityRule is a project of the Media Enterprise Design Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, in collaboration with the Metagovernance Project.

Yeah, I haven't looked into this much but I think goal would be getting as much soot as possible before it spread out across the whole stratosphere. For instance, dumping coagulant into the rising smoke plume so that it got carried up with the smoke could be a good option if one can respond while a city fire is still burning, as the coagulant is then going to get mixed in with most of the soot. IIRC from Robock's paper it also takes a while (weeks/months) for the soot to completely spread out and self-loft into the upper stratosphere, so that gives more time to respond while it's still fairly concentrated around the sources. Determining what an effective response would be at that stage is kind of the aim of the project - one suggestion would be to send up stratospheric weather balloons with high-voltage electrostatic fields (not 100% sure but I expect soot aerosol would be charged and could be electrostatically attracted) under areas of dense soot.

Infrastructure to support independent researchers

Epistemic Institutions, Empowering Exceptional People  

The EA and Longtermist communities appear to contain a relatively large proportion of independent researchers compared to traditional academia. While working independently can provide the freedom to address impactful topics by liberating researchers from the perversive incentives, bureaucracy, and other constraints imposed on academics, the lack of institutional support can impose other difficulties that range from routine (e.g. difficulties accessing pay-walled publications) to restrictive (e.g. lack of mentorship, limited opportunities for professional development). Virtual independent scholarship institutes have recently emerged to provide institutional support (e.g. affiliation for submitting journal articles, grant management) for academic researchers working independently. We expect that facilitating additional and more productive independent EA and Longtermist research will increase the demographic diversity and expand the geographical inclusivity of these communities of researchers. Initially, we would like to determine the main needs and limitations independent researchers in these areas face and then support the creation of a virtual institute focussed on addressing those points.


This project was inspired by proposals written by Arika Virapongse and recent posts by Linch Zhang.

Refinement of project idea #8, Pathogen sterilization technology

Add: ‘We’d also be interested in the development of therapeutic techniques that could treat infections using these (e.g. relying on physical principles) or similar approaches.’

Stratospheric cleaning to mitigate nuclear winters

Recovery from Catastrophes

Proposals to recover from a nuclear winter have primarily focused on providing alternative means of food production until agriculture recovers. A complementary strategy would be to develop technologies to remove stratospheric soot, which could reduce the duration and severity of the nuclear winter if used soon after nuclear strikes while smoke remains concentrated above a relatively small geographic area. Stratospheric cleaning could also prove useful in the event of supervolcano eruptions, meteor impacts, or geoengineering accidents and would offer an option for non-nuclear and neutral states to mitigate the worst-case consequences of nuclear war between other states on both their own and the global population. This approach does not appear to have been explored, and we would like to fund initial feasibility studies and proof-of-concept projects on the possibility of stratospheric cleaning. Promising technology could be tested on ash plumes from volcanic eruptions or pyrocumulus clouds from wildfires. Current atmospheric models of nuclear winter scenarios may also need to be refined to guide a stratospheric cleaning response. We expect that mature technological solutions for stratospheric cleaning would be maintained as emergency response infrastructure at the national or intergovernmental level, and if the approach showed promising initial results, we would support lobbying governments to develop this capacity.

I actually reflected on what points were holding me back as independent research quite recently.

A major point seems to be a lack of research oversight. This isn't so much about accountability for getting things done, more to have somebody thinking objectively and providing a detached perspective on which ways to address open-ended problems and when to change directions, etc. This kind of management isn't necessarily well done in academic research (at least in my experience) but I have recently found that Jason Schukraft's management style has been helpful for a project that I'm working on with him at RP.

Another I've noticed is that it can be hard to prioritize my independent research over competing projects that I already have in progress with academic researchers (or getting drawn into new projects with people who I've already published with - although I'm getting better at saying no to new things). In most cases, I think my independent research in physical virology is likely to have much more impact than continuing research in my former field of visual biophysicis, but dropping an in-progress academic project (particularly if I've been paid to do some work on it previously) feels like a strong violation of an academic norm so I tend to stick them out until they are done. These projects usually also involve working with a larger team of people, which is also appealing when you are used to working alone.

Seconded,  independence offers freedom but creates many difficulties to work around as well. 
That said, I never received any structured institutional support for proofing, editing, graphic design etc when working in academia although some of these tasks were supported by co-authors or supervisors. 

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