All of ishaan's Comments + Replies

What should CEEALAR be called?

I thought "EA hotel" was pretty great as a straightforward description, good substitutes might have a word for "ea" and a word for "hotel". So like:

Bentham's Base
Helpers' House

Swap with Lodge, Hollow, Den if alliteration is too cute
 e.g. "Bentham's House", "Bentham's Lodge" both sound pretty serious.

Or just forget precedent and brand something new e.g. Runway (or Runway Athena)

Some "just kidding" alliterative options that I couldn't resist:
Crypto crib, Prioritization Place, Utilitarian's Union, Consequentialist Club, Greg's iGloo

EA is a Career Endpoint

What would it take to get the information that people like you, MichaelA, and many others have, compile it into a continually maintained resource, and get it into the hands of the people who need it?

I guess the "easy" answer is "do a poll with select interviews" but otherwise I'm not sure. I guess it would depends on which specific types of information you mean? To some degree organizations will state what they want and need in outreach. If you're referring to advice like what I said re: "indicate that you know what EA is in your application", a compilatio... (read more)

EA is a Career Endpoint

Heh, I was wondering if I'd get called out on that. You're totally right, everything that happens in the world constitutes evidence of something! 

What I should have said is that humans are prone to fundamental attribution error and it is bad to privilege the hypothesis that it's evidence of real skill/experience/resume signalling/degree etc, because then you risk working on the wrong things. Rejections are evidence, but they’re mostly evidence of a low baseline acceptance rate, and only slightly  evidence of other things.

I can imagine someon... (read more)

EA is a Career Endpoint

Another factor which may play a role in the seeming arbitrariness of it all, is that orgs are often looking for a very specific thing, or have specific values or ideas that they emphasize, or are sensitive to specific key-words, which aren't always obvious and legible from the outside - leading to communications gaps. To give the most extreme example I've encountered of this, sometimes people don't indicate that they know what EA is about in their initial application, perhaps not realizing that they're being considered alongside non-EA applicants or that i... (read more)

Great thoughts, ishaan. Thanks for your contributions here. Some of these thoughts connect with MichaelA's comments above. In general, they touch on the question of whether or not there are things we can productively discover or say about the needs of EA orgs and the capabilities of applications that would reduce the size of the "zone of uncertainty." This is why I tried to convey some of the recent statements by people working at major EA orgs on what they perceive as major bottlenecks in the project pipeline and hiring process. One key challenge is triangulation. How do we get the right information to the right person? 80000 Hours has solved a piece of this admirably, by making themselves into a go-to resource on thinking through career selection from an EA point of view. This is a comment section on a modestly popular blog post, which will vanish from view in a few days. What would it take to get the information that people like you, MichaelA, and many others have, compile it into a continually maintained resource, and get it into the hands of the people who need it? Does that knowledge have a shelf life long enough to be worth compiling, yet general enough to be worth broadcasting, and that is EA-specific enough to not be available elsewhere? I'm primarily interested here in making statements that are durably true. In this case, I believe that EA grantmakers will always need to have a bar, and that as long as we have a compelling message, there will consequently always be some people failing to clear it who are stuck in the "zone of uncertainty." With this post, I'm not trying to tell them what they should do. Instead, I am trying to articulate a framework for understanding this situation, so that the inchoate frustration that might otherwise result can be (hopefully) transmuted into understanding. I'm very concerned about the people who might feel like "bycatch" of the movement, caught in a net, dragged along, distressed, and not sure what to do. That kin
EA is a Career Endpoint

Also don't worry about repeated rejections. Even if you are rejected, your application had an expected value, it increased the probability that a strong hire was made and that more impact was achieved. The strength of the applicant pool matters. Rejection of strong applicants is a sign of a thriving and competitive movement. It means that the job that you thought was important enough to apply to is more likely to be done well by whoever does it.

Rejection should not be taken as evidence that your talent or current level of experience is insufficient. I thin... (read more)

I agree with most of the things you said. But I think rejection should be taken as evidence that your talent or current level of experience is insufficient. Rejection from any one round is weak evidence, because there are lots of other factors + random noise that might also explain the result. But if you applied to a similar type of role 100 times and were rejected 100 times without making it through the initial screening, that would be strong evidence. (Caveat that this might just be semantics/pedantry and we might already agree)
I agree with your first comment, and am sad to see it downvoted. As I mentioned in my comment above, I think for a lot of people, at least a lot of people who do think they'd be interested in EA jobs or grants, it really makes sense to apply to both EA and non-EA things. And it makes sense to apply to lots of things, even though / because any given application probably has a low chance of success. (And when success happens, that's usually a really big positive for both the applicant and the org/grantmaker, such that it can make up for the cost of many applications.) I do think it's possible for people to spend too long applying to things, but I think it's probably more common to make too few applications and so end up either with no offers or with a less good offer than one could've gotten. And I certainly think it's possible for people to focus too much on EA orgs/grants and not apply enough to non-EA ones, but I think often (not always) the real problem there is that they're not applying to enough non-EA stuff, rather than that they're applying to too much EA things. All that said, I disagree with "Rejection should not be taken as evidence that your talent or current level of experience is insufficient", taken literally. Rejection should be taken as (very) weak evidence of. Consider: If you were accepted, this would be evidence that you are a good fit for the role. And you started out thinking there was some chance you'd be accepted. So a rejection has to be some evidence that you aren't a fit. (See also [].) I think people often update too strongly on that weak evidence, and it's good to caution against that. But the evidence can still matter - e.g., if you've now had 5-10 rejections for one type of role and got an offer for another type, your decision about whether to accept the latter role or keep looking should take into account the now weak/moderate evidence you're not a great fit for the fo

Another factor which may play a role in the seeming arbitrariness of it all, is that orgs are often looking for a very specific thing, or have specific values or ideas that they emphasize, or are sensitive to specific key-words, which aren't always obvious and legible from the outside - leading to communications gaps. To give the most extreme example I've encountered of this, sometimes people don't indicate that they know what EA is about in their initial application, perhaps not realizing that they're being considered alongside non-EA applicants or that i... (read more)

EA is a Career Endpoint

Counter-point: If you are interested in an EA job or grant, please do apply to it, even if you haven't finished school. If you're reading the EA forum, you are likely in the demographic of people where (some) EA orgs and grant makers want your application.

I just imagined the world where none of my early-career colleagues had applied to EA things. I think that world is plausibly counterfactually worse. Possibly a world with fewer existing EA adjacent orgs, smaller EA adjacent orgs, or fewer high impact EA jobs. I think dynamic where we have a thriving commu... (read more)

Also don't worry about repeated rejections. Even if you are rejected, your application had an expected value, it increased the probability that a strong hire was made and that more impact was achieved. The strength of the applicant pool matters. Rejection of strong applicants is a sign of a thriving and competitive movement. It means that the job that you thought was important enough to apply to is more likely to be done well by whoever does it. Rejection should not be taken as evidence that your talent or current level of experience is insufficient. I think that (for most people reading this forum) it's often less a lack of the trust/vetting issue, and more a bit of randomness. I've applied lots of places. In some I did not even make it into the first round, totally rejected. In others I was a top candidate or accepted. I don't think this variance is because of meaningfully differing fit or competitiveness, I think it's because recruiting, grantmaking, any process where you have to decide between a bunch of applications, is idiosyncratic. I'm sure anyone who has screened applications knows what I'm talking about, it's not an exact science. There's a lot of applicants and little time, sometimes snap judgements must be made in a few seconds - at the end we pick a hopefully suitable candidate, but we also miss lots of suitable candidates, sometimes overlooking several "best" candidates. And then there's semi-arbitrary differences in what qualities different screeners emphasize (the interview? a work task? EA engagement? Academic degrees?). When there's a strong applicant pool, it means things are a bit more likely to go well. (All that said, EA is big enough that all this stuff differs a lot by specific org as well as broader cause area)
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 m... (read more)

willbradshaw made the exact same point [] , earlier, and had lower karma. What's up with that? EDIT: Retracted because the parent comment is substantive in different ways. Still, acknowledging the earlier comment would've been nice!
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 mis
... (read more)
Agree. We should also probably expect it to happen: the income distribution is very heavy tailed, and it becomes easier to donate the more money you have, so we should probably expect the largest couple of donors to account for most of the money. Otoh, the total US non-profit sector is something like 300 billion per year, and I think billionaire philanthropy is under $30bn, so that would suggest 10% from billionaires as a base rate. (Though a lot of this is to fund local services, churches etc. where we might expect a broader base.)
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... (read more)

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 r... (read more)

1Marcus Daniell2y
Hi Ishaan, cool idea. At this point I'm not intending to set up officially as a tax-deductible charity. The athletes will be donating from all over the world, so creating a broad enough network of orgs would be a huge undertaking. At first I'm purely intending to act as an educator and a connector to the charities themselves. Perhaps down the line once this thing has more momentum it would make sense to talk to PPF. Thanks for the input!
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 th... (read more)

I think another term would better fit your description. Maybe "executive failure". Me neither. Nor do I see it as a value drift though.
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 t
... (read more)
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 compa... (read more)

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 &quo... (read more)

Systemic change, global poverty eradication, and a career plan rethink: am I right?
However, I'm sceptical of charity entrepreneurship's ability to achieve systemic change - I'd probably (correct me if I'm wrong) need a graduate degree in economics to tackle the global economic system.

It might plausibly be helpful to hire staff who had graduate degree in economics, but I think you would not necessarily need a graduate degree in economics yourself in order to start an organization focused on improving economic policy. Of course it's hard to say for sure until it's tried - but there's a lot that goes ... (read more)

Yes, I think this is correct. It's worth thinking about what the best path would be - and, although I'm leaning more and more towards a graduate degree in economics, I'm still uncertain and I agree that it wouldn't be necessary for every type of policy work. As for social entrepreneurship vs structural change, this is difficult because (a) for-profit social enterprises may be more sustainable because of a lack of reliance on grants that may not materialise; (b) policy change is much harder to achieve (perhaps) than even a successful social enterprise.
Where is it most effective to found a charity?

I've never done this myself, but here's bits of info I've absorbed through osmosis by working with people who have.
-Budget about 50-100 hours of work for registration. Not sure which countries require more work in this regard.
-If you're working with a lot of international partners, some countries have processes that are more recognized than others. The most internationally well-known registration type is America's 501(c)(3) - which means that even if you were to for example work somewhere like India, people are accustomed to workin... (read more)

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

I posted some things in this comment, and then realized the feature I wanted already existed and I just hadn't noticed it - which brings to mind another issue: how come one can retract, overwrite, but not delete a comment?

9Will Bradshaw2y
I think in the case of regular comments there's a desire not to let people edit the record too much; if you say something you no longer endorse the intended action is that you retract it (which applies strikethrough but leaves the comment standing). Of course, there are some issues with this setup: * One can edit one's comments freely, so it's easy enough to remove unwanted content anyway (as we see here, and in the occasional comment consisting entirely of a struckthrough "."). * If the original comment is yours and no-one has responded to it, there's no conversation to protect, so I'm not sure blocking deletion makes much sense. * Since shortform is implemented as one big comment thread, it's impossible to delete shortform posts except by asking a mod to do it (I've run into this one myself). So one has less power over one's own shortform feed than one's major posts, which seems backwards to me given the intended purpose of shortform.
Dignity as alternative EA priority - request for feedback
What evidence would you value to help resolve what weight an EA should place on dignity?

Many EAs tend to think that most interventions fail, so if you can't measure how well something works, chances are high that it doesn't work at all. To convince people who think that way, it helps to have a strong justification to incorporate a metric which is harder to measure over a well established and easier to measure metrics such as mortality and morbidity.

In the post on happiness you linked by Michael, you'll notice that he has a section on comp... (read more)

Ishaan, thanks for sharing these thoughts. As you say, cash transfers feel like an opportune one here - I did some thinking to support Jeremy Shapiro's work on cash and recipient preferences right at the start of this project, published here []. Extending that to give an overview of how different interventions compare and how their ranking might change sounds like a really productive possible project!
EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization
Why effective altruists should care

Opposing view: I don't think these are real concerns. The Future of Animal Consciousness Research citation boils down to "what if research in animal cognition is one day suppressed due to being labeled speciesist" - that's not a realistic worry. The vox thinkpeice emphasizes that we are in fact efficiently saving lives - I see no critiques there that we haven't also internally voiced to ourselves, as a community. I don't think it's realistic to expect coverage of us not to include these ... (read more)

I think this comment provides a useful perspective. And your second paragraph sounds to me like highlighting that EA's largely "pull the rope sideways", in Robin Hanson's terms [] : (Relevant, more recent Hanson post: To Oppose Polarization, Tug Sideways [].) If I wanted to argue against your perspective, I'd say something like "We indeed don't have strong evidence of political polarisation's effect on EA. But it will necessarily be the case that we don't have such evidence until the patterns we're worried about have already started, and likely reached a point where it's much harder to stop them than it would be to prevent them now. So even if we're in a world where polarisation will be a real problem for EA, your critique could be raised for long enough to delay work on the problem. And it's therefore worth at least scoping out the problem in advance, even if we must rely on analogies and speculative arguments." If I wanted to argue against that, I'd probably say something about the analogies and speculative arguments being relatively weak (even for analogies and speculative arguments). And something about how scoping out this problem with a post like this could itself pose risks of increasing partisanship/polarisation within EA, or of drawing a "culture wars spotlight" towards EA. Overall, I feel fairly unsure which perspective I'd lean towards. Though I do very tentatively feel that this post may have had a higher level/proportion of support than I expected, given the quality of arguments and analogies made.
EA and tackling racism

a) Well, I think the "most work is low-quality aspect" is true, but also fully-general to almost everything (even EA). Engagement requires doing that filtering process.

b) I think seeking not to be "divisive" here isn't possible - issues of inequality on global scales and ethnic tension on local scales are in part caused by some groups of humans using violence to lock another group of humans out of access to resources. Even for me to point that out is inherently divisive. Those who feel aligned with the higher-power group will tend ... (read more)

6Chris Leong2y
What do you think about the fact that many in the field are pretty open that they are pursuing enquiry on how to achieve an ideology and not neutral enquiry (using lines like all fields are ideological whether they know it or not)?
EA and tackling racism
I've seen a lot of discussion of criminal justice reform

Well, I do think discussion of it is good, but if you're referring to resources directed to the cause's not that I want EAs to re-direct resources away from low-income countries to instead solving disparities in high income countries, and I don't necessarily consider this related to the self-criticism as a community issue. I haven't really looked into this issue, but: on prior intuition I'd be surprised if American criminal justice reform compares very favorabl... (read more)

EA and tackling racism
What are some of the biases you're thinking of here? And are there any groups of people that you think are especially good at correcting for these biases?

The longer answer to this question: I am not sure how to give a productive answer to this question. In the classic "cognitive bias" literature, people tend to immediately accept that the biases exist once they learn about them (…as long as you don't point them out right at the moment they are engaged in them). That is not the case for these issues.

I had to think carefully abo... (read more)

Something which might be a useful contribution from someone familiar with the topic would be to write about it in EA-friendly terms. Practical every day issues don't have to be expressed in "poorly formed arguments". If the material could be expressed in well formed arguments (or in arguments which the EA community can recognise as well formed), I think it would gain a lot more traction in the community.
EA and tackling racism
What are some of the biases you're thinking of here?

This is a tough question to answer properly, both because it is complicated and because I think not everyone will like the answer. There is a short answer and a long answer.

Here is the short answer. I'll put the long answer in a different comment.

Refer to Sanjay's statement above

There are some who would argue that you can't tackle such a structural issue without looking at yourselves too, and understanding your own perspectives, biases and privileges...But I worried that tackling t
... (read more)
EA and tackling racism

I broadly agree, but in my view the important part to emphasize is what you said on the final thoughts (about seeking to ask more questions about this to ourselves and as a community) and less on intervention recommendations.

Is EA really all about taking every question and twisting it back to malaria nets ...?... we want is to tackle systemic racism at a national level (e.g. in the US, or the UK).

I bite this bullet. I think you do ultimately need to circle back to the malaria nets (especially if you are talking more about directing money than about direc... (read more)

But when it comes to acknowledging and internally correcting for the types of biases which result from growing up in a society which is built upon exploitation, I don't really think the EA community does better than any other randomly selected group of people who are from a similar demographic (lets say, randomly selected people who went to prestigious universities).

What are some of the biases you're thinking of here? And are there any groups of people that you think are especially good at correcting for these biases?

My impression of the EA bubble is that

... (read more)
5Chris Leong2y
"It's a bit concerning that the community level of knowledge of the bodies of work that deal with these issues is just average" - I do think there are valuable lessons to be drawn from the literature, unfortunately a) lots of the work is low quality or under-evidenced b) discussion of these issues often ends up being highly divisive, whilst not changing many people's minds
Effective Animal Advocacy Resources

Super helpful, I'm about to cite this in the CE curriculum :)

Why I'm Not Vegan
I get much more than $0.43 of enjoyment out of a year's worth of eating animal products

I think we would likely not justify a moral offset for harming humans at (by the numbers you posted) $100/year or eating children at $20/pound (100*15 years / 75 pounds). This isn't due to sentimentality, deontology, taboo, or biting the bullet - I think a committed consequentialist, one grounded in practicality, would agree that no good consequences would likely come from allowing that sort of thing, and I think that this probably logically applies to meat.

I ... (read more)

Help in choosing good charities in specific domains

Charity Entrepreneurship is incubating new family planning and animal welfare organizations, which will aim to operate via principles of effective altruism - potentially relevant to your interests.

Thanks for the suggestion, ishaan. I see this is an incubator. So there actually is no way of knowing how efficient and effective the organizations will be. How do effective altruists deal with that? (Sorry for the noobie question, I just got to know what EA is this week.)
Who should give sperm/eggs?

Since you are asking "who" should do it (rather than whether more or less people in general should do it, which seems the more relevant question since it would carry the bulk of the effect), I would wish to replace any anonymous donors with people who are willing to take a degree of responsibility for and engagement with the resulting child and their feelings about it, since looking at opinion polls from donor conceived people has made me think there's a reasonable chance they experience negative emotions about the whole thing at non-negligible rates and it is possible that this might be mitigated by having a social relationship to the donor.

I just found this survey [] thanks to your comment. thank you!
Announcement: early applications for Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Incubation Program are now open!

Spend some time brainstorming and compare multiple alternative courses of action and potential hurdles to those actions before embarking on it, consider using a spreadsheet to augment your working memory when you evaluate actions by various criteria, get a sense of expected value per time on a given task so you can decide how long it's worth to spend on it, enforce this via time capping / time boxing and if you are working much longer on a given task much than you estimated then re-evaluate what you are doing, time track which task you spend your work... (read more)

Growth and the case against randomista development

Any discussion of how much it might cost to change a given economic policy / the limiting factor that has kept it from changing thus far?

(I think this is also the big question with health policy)

I'm gonna write a slightly more detailed top-level comment about this, but the gist of it is: policies that can reasonably be expected to produce growth are *strongly opposed* in the countries that need them.
Should and do EA orgs consider the comparative advantages of applicants in hiring decisions?

"Rejecting" would be a bit unusual, but of course you should honestly advise a well qualified candidate if you think their other career option is higher impact. I think it would be ideal if everyone gives others their honest advice about how to do the most good, roughly regardless of circumstance.

I've only seen a small slice of things, but my general sense is that people in the EA community do in fact live up to this ideal, regularly turning down and redirecting talent as well as funding and other resources towards the thing that they belie... (read more)

Announcement: early applications for Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2020 Incubation Program are now open!

I went to the program, was quite impressed with what I saw there, and decided to work at charity entrepreneurship.

Before attending the program, as career paths, I was considering academia, earning to give, direct work in the global poverty space, and a few other more offbeat options. After the program, I'd estimate that I've significantly increased the expected value of my own career (perhaps by 3x-12x or more) in terms of impact by attending the program, thanks to

1) the direct impact of CE itself and associated organizations. I can say that in ... (read more)

3Aaron Gertler2y
I'd be interested to hear about any of the productive habits you picked up while you were "in proximity"!
Introducing Good Policies: A new charity promoting behaviour change interventions

I'm sure there's a better document somewhere addressing these, but I'll just quickly say that people tend to regret starting smoking tobacco and often want to stop, tobacco smoking reduces quality of life, and that smokers often support raising tobacco taxes if the money goes to addressing the (very expensive!) health problems caused by smoking (e.g. this sample, and I don't think this pattern is unique). So I think bringing tobacco taxes in line with recommendations is good under most moral systems, even those which strongly prioritiz... (read more)

List of EA-related email newsletters

For global health, don't forget Givewell's newsletter!

For meta, CharityEntrepreneurship has one as well (scroll to the middle of the page for the newsletter)

[Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form.
Do you have any opinions that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of your peers? If the answer is no, you might want to stop and think about that. If everything you believe is something you're supposed to believe, could that possibly be a coincidence? Odds are it isn't. Odds are you just think what you're told.

Not necessarily! You might just be less averse to disagreement. Or perhaps you (rightly or wrongly) feel less personally vulnerable to the potential consequences of stating unpopular opinions and criticism.

Or, mayb... (read more)

I Estimate Joining UK Charity Boards is worth £500/hour

I agree that more people trying to do cost effectiveness analyses is good! I regret that the tone seemed otherwise and will consider it more in the future. I engaged with it primarily because I too often wonder about how one might improve impact outside of impact-focused environments, and I generally find it an interesting direction to explore. I also applaud that you made the core claim clearly and boldly and I would like to see more of that as well - all models suffer these flaws to some degree and it's a great virtue to make clear claims that are d... (read more)

2Nathan Young3y
It's tricky isn't it. It's a poor model :P but it's better than my poorly informed intuition. Not quite sure what to do about that. Have a good one :)
I Estimate Joining UK Charity Boards is worth £500/hour

I think the biggest improvement would be correcting the fact that this model (accidentally, I think) assumes that improving any arbitrary high budget charity by 5% is equally as impactful as improving a Givewell equivalent charity by 5%. Most charity's impact is an order of magnitude smaller.

You could solve this with a multiplier for the charity's impact at baseline.

If I understand correctly, you figure that if you become a trustee of a £419668/year budget charity, if only you can improve the cost effectiveness by 5%, then you can divide that by... (read more)

1Nathan Young3y
Thanks for your time in writing this. You've clearly thought about it a lot. I'll have a look at your comments. I guess we want to encourage people to do more pieces like this and I think that were I not quite robust I would find this response intimidating. Maybe you could have started with a hello or a thank you to lighten the tone?
List of ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading

brainstorming / regurgitating some random additional ideas -

Goodhart's law - a charity may from the outset design itself or self-modify itself around Effective Altruist metrics, thereby pandering to the biases of the metrics and succeeding in them despite being less Good than a charity which scored well on the same metrics despite no prior knowledge of them. (Think of the difference between someone who has aced a standardized test due to intentional practice and "teaching to the test" vs. someone who aced it with no prior exposure to standa... (read more)

Good points. (Also, I believe am personally required to upvote posts that reference Goodhart's law.) But I think both regression to the mean and Goodhart's law are covered, if perhaps too briefly, under the heading "Estimates based on past data might not be indicative of the cost-effectiveness in the future."
How Life Sciences Actually Work: Findings of a Year-Long Investigation

I think this description generally falls in line with what I've experienced and heard secondhand and is broadly true. However, there are some differences between my impression of it and yours. (But it sounds like you've collected more accounts, more systematically, and I've actually only gone up to the M.A. level in grad school, so I'm leaning towards trusting your aggregate)

Peer review is a disaster

I think we can get at better ways than peer review, but also, don't forget that people will sort of inevitably have Feelings about get... (read more)

Thanks so much for the feedback! Especially the point about writing grants being real science. I completely agree and I should add this in the post -- planning and thinking in detail about your research and expectations in the process of writing a grant application is indeed very much science.

I think it's worth pointing out that "longtermism" as minimally defined here is not pointing to the same concept that "people interested in x-risk reduction" was probably pointing at. I think the word which most accurately captures what it was pointing at is generally called "futurism" (examples [1],[2]).

This could be a feature or a bug, depending on use case.

  • It could be a feature if you want a word to capture a moral underpinning common to many futurist's intuitions while being, as you said, remaining "compatib
... (read more)
How do you, personally, experience "EA motivation"?

The way I feel when the concept of a person in the abstract is invoked feels like a fainter version of the love I would feel towards a partner, a parent, a sibling, a child, a close friend, and towards myself. The feeling drives me to act in the direction of making them happy, growing their capabilities, furthering their ambitions, fulfilling their values, and so on. In addition to feeling happy when my loved ones are happy, there is also an element of pride when my loved ones grow or accomplish something, as well as fulfillment when our shared values are ... (read more)

What posts you are planning on writing?

That very EA survey data, combined with Florida et all The Rise Of The Megaregion data which characterizing the academic/intellectual/economic output of each region. It would be a brief post, the main takeaway is that EA geographic concentration seems associated with a region's prominence in academia, whereas things like economic prominence, population size, etc don't seem to matter much.

What posts you are planning on writing?

Here's some stuff which I may consider writing when I have more time. The posts are currently too low on the priorities list to work on, but if anyone thinks one of these is especially interesting or valuable, I might prioritize it higher, or work on it a little when I need a break from my current main project. For the most part I'm unlikely to prioritize writing in the near future though because I suspect my opinions are going to rapidly change on a lot of these topics soon (or my view on their usefulness / importance / relevance).

1) Where Does ... (read more)

Would be highly interested in this, and a case study showing how to rigorously think about systemic change using systems modeling, root cause analysis, and the like.
7Peter Wildeford3y
You may have seen that we analyzed this a bit as part of the EA Survey [] . I'm curious what data source you have?
Ways Frugality Increases Productivity

I super agree with the title, but I think the text actually really undersells it! Runway not only increases your flexibility to not earn, but also reduces your stress and removes all sorts of psychologically difficult power dynamics that come with having a boss or otherwise being beholden to external factors for your well being (Yes, you may still have a boss or external factors, but now you won't need their continued approval or success to pay bills, and that makes all the difference). Also, frugality enables you to really splurge without worrying wh... (read more)

Considering people’s hidden motives in EA outreach

You've laid out your opinions clearly. It is well cited, and has interesting and informative accompanying sources. It's a good post. However, I disagree with some portions of the underlying attitudes, (even while not particularly objecting to some of the recommended methods)

In an ideal world where all people are rational, the ideas mentioned in this forum post would be completely useless.

The thing is, this is a purely inside view. It sort of presupposes effective altruist ideas are correct, and that the only barrier to widespread adoption is ... (read more)

It seems that we disagree about to what extent people’s motivation to pursue status (well-earned or not) guides our behavior - I don’t think the status raising effects are secondary to real accomplishment, but I think that the status raising effects are an important underlying reason in our pursuit to accomplish anything at all. I agree that some ways of receiving status are more legitimate than others, that it’s important for EA to focus on legitimate status, and that it’s more important to have a good argument than to wear a suit. But because all humans are also (and maybe even above all) status-climbing apes, I think that EA’s pursuit of achieving legitimate status is affected by content-irrelevant elements. This is why I think it might not be best to view legitimately earned status in isolation from the more irrational parts of status, but to rather see how these two interact. You mentioned that EA could help people increase their status in a non-cynical way, like helping individual effective altruists make measurable impacts, or creating arguments that other intellectuals agree with and cite, and I agree that these are important ways people could increase their status. However, I think they don’t contradict with the ways of increasing status I mentioned in the post. Different methods might differ in to what extent they rely on content-irrelevant status-increasing elements, but in my opinion, we can never fully disregard these more irrational aspects of why people regard something high-status. In the post I tried to emphasize that EA might consider increasing using the strategies that rely on the content-irrelevant status-increasing elements to a larger extent. That is because I think EA right now is overly cautious about using them and as a result, might miss out on reaching out to people valuable to EA’s cause. I think that finding the right kind of “packaging” for EA’s content (while not changing the content) is useful when reaching out to all audiences
Which scientific discovery was most ahead of its time?

I think part of the "continuity" comes from the fact that things that were "ahead of their time" tended not to be useful yet and get lost. Or worse, perhaps several people had to independently come up with, and support, and learn about an idea enough to use it for it to be actually adopted, or it just ends up sitting in some tinkerer's basement or a dusty old tome.

So, you can flip this question: Which discoveries and inventions seem to have occurred after their time (e.g. they were technologically possible, the prerequisite ideas w... (read more)

The safety bicycle [] (two gears and a chain) came in only 1885, long after trains. But the roller power chain was invented by da Vinci hundreds of years earlier and not adopted.
There's Lots More To Do

Well, firstly, how much credence should we assign the actual analysis in that post?

Before we begin talking about how we should behave "even if" the cost per life saved is much higher than 5k - is there some consensus as to whether the actual facts and analysis of that post are actually true or even somewhat credible? (separate from the conclusions, which, I agree, seem clearly wrong for all the reasons you said).

As in, if they had instead titled the post "Givewell's Cost-Per-Life-Saved Estimates are Impossibly Low" and concluded &... (read more)

Dropping in late to note that I really like the meta-point here: It's easy to get caught up in arguing with the "implications" section of a post or article before you've even checked the "results" section. Many counterintuitive arguments fall apart when you carefully check the author's data or basic logic.

(None of the points I make here are meant to apply to Ben's points -- these are just my general thoughts on evaluating ideas.)

Put another way, arguments often take the form:

  • If A, then B
  • A
  • Therefore, B

It's tempti... (read more)

I don't think the post is correct in concluding that the current marginal cost-per-life-saved estimates are wrong. Annual malaria deaths are around 450k, and if you gave the Against Malaria Foundation $5k * 450k ($2.3B) they would not be able to make sure no one died from malaria in 2020, but still wouldn't give much evidence that $5k was too low an estimate for the marginal cost. It just means that AMF would have lots of difficulty scaling up so much, that some deaths can't be prevented by distributing nets, that some places are harder to... (read more)

What exactly is the system EA's critics are seeking to change?

I think that's a little unfair. It wasn't just have an "unexamined assumption", he just declared that solidarity was the best way and named some organizations he liked, with no attempt at estimating and quantifying. And he's critiquing EA, an ideology whose claim to fame is impact evaluations. Can an EA saying "okay that's great, I agree that could be true... but how about having a quantitative impact evaluation... of any kind, at all, just to help cement the case" really be characterized as "whataboutism" / methodology war?

(I don't think I agree with your

... (read more)
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