Holocron's Comments

Is EA ignoring significant possibilities for impact?
better to critic specific points rather than something broad like ‘all strategy of EA affiliated orgs’.

I'm mentioning broad concerns I have about the movement's strategy, primarily a potential underemphasis on acquiring resources and an overemphasis on established courses of impact. How exactly would I critic specific points? I mention potential examples of problems and associated optimizations, such as relying more on decision analysis than RCTs.

generally, if it seems like a large number of really smart people in EA appear to be missing something, you should have a strong prior that you are the one missing something. Took me a long time to accept this. It’s not wrong to shine a light on things of course, but a touch more humility in your writing would go a long way.

I don't claim to be correct, just wanted to document my thoughts and see if anyone had other views.

reasoning and evidence aren’t exclusive things, evidence is part of reasoning.

I separated the two for rhetorical effect, using evidence to refer more towards established routes of impact and reasoning to refer to reasoning about unproven routes of impact. I agree evidence and reasoning are linked, and that reasoning should use both academic evidence and other factual data.

this said, I don’t think the criticism of “too evidence based” sticks anyway, have you read much academic ea research recently? Maybe in poverty.. but that’s a very busy area with loads of evidence where most approaches don’t work so it would be pretty crazy not to put heavy weight on evidence in that cause area.

Why exactly do you not think this sticks? My point is there may be research on, say, the effect of ads on animal protein consumption, but there are many courses of action that do not have supporting evidence that may be much higher impact than courses of action with supporting evidence. For instance, starting Impossible Foods to create good tasting alternatives. Why is that not considered EA? Seems pretty high impact to me.

Jude’s spends 2.1m a day but given the differences between the impact p dollar of projects easily gets into the order of 100s-1000s this isn’t very relevant.

I completely agree that EA may spend money more effectively than Jude's by a significant amount. My main point is that the movement could be influence constrained, it may lack the influence to actually affect the long-term or make a significant dent in global poverty, but a change in strategy (perhaps in a direction of directly or indirectly acquiring more resources) may increase the likelihood of creating significant impact.

OpenPhil could spend that. There are complex reasons why it doesn’t but the main thing to note that total spend is a terrible terrible signal.

It cannot spend that, because it would run out of money. St Jude's has a revenue stream from its fundraising branch that enables it to continually spend much more than the EA movement has in its entire lifetime. I understand OPP is, among other reasons, waiting to have more epistemic certainty on what causes/interventions are most impactful. That may be great, but distributing 0.5% of $100 billion could be much better than distributing 0.5% of $10 billion a year, particularly given the urgency of some cause areas and the theoretically compounding returns of altruism.

for profit models have been explored numerous times, while still promising, little really great stuff has been found. People are working on it but it’s not a slam dunk.

Is that true? This seems like an opinion—there are certainly many financially self-sustaining/for-profit models that have enormous positive impacts on the world. I mentioned Impossible Foods earlier, and within companies, the impact of projects like Apple introducing blue light reduction in iPhones affects hundreds of millions of people.

earning to give is a great way to build career capital and do good.

Is it? This is an opinion. What if it's exceptionally low impact compared to other possible career courses of action? Or what if it is a good idea, but more emphasis should be placed on career strategy in addition to donating money because both have expected impacts in the same range?

advocacy and philanthropic advisory is really hard. People in that area are going as fast as they sensibly can.

I'm not necessarily suggesting the EA movement actually focus on acquiring more HNW individuals or actually pursue these tactics. These were example possibilities to consider to emphasize the point that movement strategy can have big effects on movement impact, and that EA may not currently be pursing the most optimal strategy.

Also, I think this objection is rather broad. Lots of things can be considered really hard, and something seeming hard doesn't mean it's lower EV than something seeming easy.

it takes a long time to become a chief of staff at a powerful org

I think there are easier ways to come into contact with ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Again, just an idea, not a recommendation.

policy / lobbying approaches are really hard, and people are again working on it as fast as they can.

Allocating more resources to these approaches would have some sort of impact, whether positive or negative. How do we know our current allocation is optimal?

Value of Working in Ads?

This reasoning makes sense to me. I think it's difficult to measure the net impact of the global advertising industry, but that might not be relevant. Thinking counterfactually, if we assume you are purely executing a plan that others at Google created with programming skills that Google could hire other engineers to replace, the marginal impact of doing software engineering for Google Ads is essentially zero. I would be more concerned about the impact of your work if you were making high level business strategy or product decisions that could affect millions of people or the state of the ad industry and Google's role in it.

One interesting consideration is that while digital advertising might be net positive, it is net negative compared to other advertising models that could otherwise exist. For example, a hypothetical "ethical ads" business that recommends products and services that actually improve people's lives would be both profitable for advertisers and beneficial to society. The current advertising model involves things like advertising e-cigarettes to smokers and teenagers alike, which could be extremely positive for smokers to switch to to extend their lifespan but negative for teenagers to switch to. I would personally be interested in the expected value of pursing an ethical advertising venture.

Sharing my experience on the EA forum

I am personally not a fan of the strong upvote and strong downvote system. I think problems with that system may be coming into play here. I'm not sure how the algorithm actually works, but it seems like a small number of voters can dramatically reduce the total vote count of a comment or post, and that scenario reflects that minority's opinion much more than it may reflect overall perceptions. Highly penalizing posts that are generally perceived as fine by many but perceived as problematic by a few is a serious concern to take into account.

I liked the old system better where votes were weighted equally, and the proportion of positive and negative votes was transparently disclosed to everyone. Anyone who disagrees strongly with a position can simply write a comment, and if that comment is more upvoted than the original post, that typically reflects the strength of the opposing argument. Strong downvotes might reduce the incentive to have informed discussion in favor of blind disagreement.