May 2020: I've now been working at Charity Entrepreneurship for a little under a year. My primary responsibility is designing the curriculum for next year's incubation program.

May 2019: I've been lurking / supporting EA from the sidelines since around 2011, reading content from here, LW, and OB. This year, my involvement has increased, as I attended my first EAG in London, stayed at the EA hotel, and volunteered a bit for Rethink Priorities. At time of writing, I'm about to do CharityEntrepreneurship's incubation program. Most of my recent activity on the forum is geared to improving my knowledge of things which I think will help me succeed at creating an impact via that avenue.

-Ishaan Guptasarma


EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series

Thanks for hosting this event! It was a pleasure to participate. 

The Intellectual and Moral Decline in Academic Research

Without making claims about the conclusions, I think this argument is of very poor quality and shouldn't update anyone in any direction.

"As taxpayer funding for public health research increased 700 percent, the number of retractions of biomedical research articles increased more than 900 percent"

Taking all claims at face value, you should not be persuaded that more money causes retractions just because retractions increased roughly in proportion with the overall growth of the industry. I checked the cited work to see if there were any mitigating factors which justified making this claim (since maybe I didn't understand it, and since sometimes people make bad arguments for good conclusions) and it actually got worse - they ignored the low rate of retraction ( It's 0.2%), they compared US-only grants with global retractions, they did not account for increased oversight and standards, and so on.

The low quality of the claim, in combination with the fact that the central mission of this think tank is lobbying for reduced government spending in universities and increase political conservatism on campuses in North Carolina, suggests that the logical errors and mishandling of statistics we are seeing here is partisan motivated reasoning in action.

How Dependent is the Effective Altruism Movement on Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna?
Answer by ishaanSep 22, 202035

This matches my understanding, however, I think it is normal for non-profits of the budget size that the EA ecosystem currently is to have this structure.

Bridgespan identified 144 nonprofits that have gone from founding to at least $50 million in revenue since 1970...[up to 2003]...we identified three important practices common among nonprofits that succeeded in building large-scale funding models: (1) They developed funding in one concentrated source rather than across diverse sources; (2) they found a funding source that was a natural match to their mission and beneficiaries; and (3) they built a professional organization and structure around this funding model.

- How Non-Profits Get Really Big

Some common alternatives are outlined here: Ten Non-Proft Funding Models.

Within this framework, I would describe the EA community currently using a hybrid between "Member Motivator" (cultivating membership of many individual donors who feel personally involved with the community - such as the GWWC model) and "Big Bettor" (such as the relationship between Good Ventures and the ecosystem of EA organizations).

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?
Answer by ishaanSep 10, 202016

This time last year, I started working at Charity Entrepreneurship after having attended the 2019 incubation program (more about my experience here). I applied to the 2019 incubation program after meeting CE staff at EAG London 2018. Prior to that, my initial introduction to EA was in 2011 via LessWrong, and the biggest factor in retaining my practical interest sufficiently to go to a conference was that I was impressed by the work of GiveWell. The regular production of interesting content by the community also helped remind me about it over the years. 80k's career advice also introduced me to some concepts (for example replacability) which may have made a difference.

Going forward I anticipate more engagement with both EA specifically and the concept of social impact more generally, because due to working at CE I have acquired a better practical understanding of how to maximize impact in general than I did before, as well as more insight about how to leverage the EA community specifically towards achieving impact (whereas my prior involvement consisted mostly of reading and occasionally commenting).

Are there any other pro athlete aspiring EAs?
Answer by ishaanSep 08, 202014

It's a cool idea! Athletes do seem to have a lot of very flexible and general-purpose fundraising potential, I think it makes a lot of sense to try to direct it effectively. Charity Entrepreneurship (an incubation program for founding effective non-profits) works with Player's Philanthropy Fund (a service which helps athletes and other entities create dedicated funds that can accept tax-deductible contributions in support of any qualified charitable mission) to help our new charities who have not completed the fairly complex process of formally registering as a non-profit get off the ground. You can actually see us on the roster, alongside various athletes. This doesn't mean we are actually working with athletes - we are just using some of the same operations infrastructure, but it might be a useful thing to know. In general I've noticed that there is quite a bit of infrastructure similar to PPF aimed at helping athletes do charitable fundraising, which I think is a good sign that this idea is promising.

The community's conception of value drifting is sometimes too narrow

I think that what is causing some confusion here is that "value drift" is (probably?) a loanword from AI-alignment which (I assume?) originally referred to very fundamental changes in goals that would unintentionally occur within iterative versions of self improving intelligences, which...isn't really something that humans do. The EA community borrowed this sort of scary alien term and is using it to describe a normal human thing that most people would ordinarily just call "changing priorities".

A common sense way to say this is that you might start out with great intentions, your priorities end up changing, and then your best intentions never come to life. It's not that different from when you meant to go to the gym every morning...but then a phone call came, and then you had to go to work, and now you are tired and sitting on the couch watching television instead.

Logistically, it might make sense to do the phone call now and the gym later. The question is: "Will you actually go to the gym later?" If your plan involves going later, are you actually going to go? And if not, maybe you should reschedule this call and just going to the gym now. I don't see it as a micro death that you were hoping to go to the gym but did not, it's that over the day other priorities took precedence and then you became too tired. You're still the same person who wanted to go... you just ...didn't go. Being the person who goes to the gym requires building a habit and reinforcing the commitment, so if you want to go then you should keep track of which behaviors cause you to actually go and which behaviors break the habit and lead to not going.

Similarly you should track "did you actually help others? And if your plan involves waiting for a decade ...are you actually going to do it then? Or is life going to have other plans?" That's why the research on this does (and ought to) focus on things like "are donations happening", "is direct work getting done" and so on. Because that's what is practically important if your goal is to help others. You might argue for yourself "it's really ok, I really will help others later in life" or you might argue "what if I care about some stuff more than helping others" and so on, but I think someone who is in the position of attempting to effectively help others in part through the work of other people (whether through donations or career or otherwise) over the course of decades should to some degree consider what usually happens to people's priorities in aggregate when modeling courses of action.

Book Review: Deontology by Jeremy Bentham

Cool write up!

Before I did research for this essay, I envisioned Bentham as a time traveller from today to the past: he shared all my present-day moral beliefs, but he just happened to live in a different time period. But that’s not strictly true. Bentham was wrong about a few things, like when he castigated the Declaration of Independence

Heh, I would not be so sure that Bentham was wrong about this! It seems like quite a morally complex issue to me and Bentham makes some good points.

what was their original their only original grievance? That they were actually taxed more than they could bear? No; but that they were liable to be so taxed...

This line of thought is all quite true. Americans (at least, the free landholders whose interests were being furthered by the declaration) at the time were among the wealthiest people in the world, and payed among the lowest taxes - less taxed than the English subjects. They weren't oppressed by any means, British rule had done them well.

But rather surprising it must certainly appear, that they should advance maxims so incompatible with their own present conduct. If the right of enjoying life be unalienable, whence came their invasion of his Majesty’s province of Canada? Whence the unprovoked destruction of so many lives of the inhabitants of that province?

This too, remains pertinent to the modern discourse. In response to Pontiac's Rebellion, a revolt of Native Americans led by Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, King George III declared all lands west of the Appalachian Divide off-limits to colonial settlers in the Proclamation of 1763.

Americans did not like that. The Declaration of independence ends with the following words:

“He (King George III) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.”

The Declaration of Independence voided the Proclamation of 1763, which contributed to the destruction of the Native Americans, a fact which is not hindsight but was understood at the time. Notice how indigenous communities still thrive in Canada, where the proclamation was not voided. There is also argument that slavery was prolonged as a result of it, and that this too is not hindsight but was understood at the time.

Of course, I doubt the British were truly motivated by humanitarian concern, and it's not clear to me from this piece that even Bentham is particularly motivated to worry about the indigenous peoples (vs. just using their suffering as a rhetorical tool to point out the hypocrisy of the out-group where it fits his politics) - you can tell he focuses more on the first economic point than the second humanitarian one. But his critiques would all be relevant had this event occurred today.

Really I think with the hindsight of history, that entire situation is less a moral issue and more a shift in the balance of power between two equally amoral forces - both of whom employed moral arguments in their own favor, but only one of which won and was subsequently held up as morally correct.

I think the lesson to be learned here might be less that Bentham was ahead of his time, and more that we are not as "ahead" in our time as we might imagine - e.g. we continue to teach everyone that stuff which was bad is good, we continue to justify our violence in similar terms. One thing I've noticed in reading old writings is that so many people often knew that what was going on was bad and that history would frown upon it but they continued to do it (e.g. Jefferson's and many other's writings on slavery largely condemn it, but they kept doing it more or less because that was the way that things were done, which is also not unlike today).

Does Critical Flicker-Fusion Frequency Track the Subjective Experience of Time?

Idk but in theory they shouldn't, as pitch is sensed by the hairs on the section of the cochlea that resonates at that the relevant frequency.

Do research organisations make theory of change diagrams? Should they?

A forum resource on ToC in research which I found insightful: Are you working on a research agenda? A guide to increasing the impact of your research by involving decision-makers

Should they

Yes, but ToC don't improve impact in isolation (you can imagine a perfectly good ToC for an intervention which doesn't do much). Also, if you draw a nice diagram, but it doesn't actually inform any of your decisions or change your behavior in any way, then it hasn't really done anything. A ToC is ideally combined with cost-benefit analyses, the comparing of multiple avenues of action, etc and it should pay you back in the form of generating some concrete, informative actions e.g. consulting stakeholders to check your research questions, generally creating checkpoints at which you are trying to get measurements and indicators and opinions from relevant people.

For more foundational and theoretical questions where the direct impact isn't obvious, there may be a higher risk of drawing a diagram which doesn't do anything. I think there's ways to avoid this - understand the relevance of your research to other (ideally more practical) researchers who you've spoken to about it such as a peer review process, make a conceptual map of where your work fits in to other ideas which then lead to impact, try to get as close to the practical level as you realistically can. If it's really hard to tie it to the practical level it is sometimes a sign that you might need to re-evaluate the activity.

Do they

Back in academia, I didn't even know what a "theory of change" was, so I think not. But, one is frequently asked to state the practical and the theoretical value of your research, and the peer review and grant writing process implicitly incorporates elements of stakeholder relevance. However, as an academic, if you fail to make your own analyses, separately from this larger infrastructure, you may end up following institutional priorities (of grant makers, of academic journals, etc) which differ from "doing the most good" as you conceptualize it.

Systemic change, global poverty eradication, and a career plan rethink: am I right?

The tricky part of social enterprise from my perspective is that high impact activities are hard to find, and I figure they would be even harder to find when placed under the additional constraint that they must be self sustaining. Which is not to say that you might not find one (see here and here), just that, finding an idea that works is arguably the trickiest part.

for-profit social enterprises may be more sustainable because of a lack of reliance on grants that may not materialise;

This is true, but keep in mind, impact via social enterprise may be "free" in terms of funding (so very cost-effective), but, it comes with opportunity costs in terms of your time. When you generate impact via social enterprise, you are essentially your own funder. Therefore, for a social enterprise to beat your earning-to-give baseline, its net impact must exceed the good you would have done via whatever you might have otherwise donated to a GiveWell top charity if you instead were donating as much money as you would in a high earning path. (This is of course also true for non-profit/other direct work paths). Basically, social enterprises aren't "free" (since your time isn't free) so it's a question of finding the right idea and then also deciding if the restrictions inherent in trying to be self-sustaining are easier than the restrictions (and funding counterfactuals) inherent in getting external funding.

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