James Ozden

Currently doing social movement and protest-related research at Social Change Lab

I recently completed the 2021 Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program. Before that, I was the Director & Strategy lead at Animal Rebellion + in the Strategy team at Extinction Rebellion UK, working on movement building for animal advocacy and climate change.

My blog (often EA related content)

Feel free to reach out on james.ozden [at] hotmail.com or see a bit more about me here

Topic Contributions

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EA is more than longtermism

Some things from EA Global London 2022 that stood out for me (I think someone else might have mentioned one of them):

  • An email to everyone promoting Will's new book (on longtermism)
  • Giving out free bookmarks about Will's book when picking up your pass.

These things might feel small but considering this is one of the main EA conferences, having the actual conference organisers associate so strongly with the promotion of a longtermist (albeit yes, also one of the main founders of EA) book made me think "Wow, CEA is really trying to push longtermism to attendees". This seems quite reasonable given the potential significance of the book, I just wonder if CEA have done this for any other worldview-focused books recently (last 1-3 years) or would do so in the future e.g. a  new book on animal farming.

Curious to get someone else's take on this or if it just felt important in my head.

Other small things:

  • On the sidebar of the EA Forum, there's three recommended articles: Replacing Guilt, the EA Handbook (which as you mentioned here, is mostly focused on longtermism) and the most important century by Holden. Again, essentially 1.5 longtermist texts to <0.5 from other worldviews.

As the main landing page for EA discussion, this also feels like a reasonably significant nudge in a specific direction.

On a somewhat related point, I do generally think there are many less 'thought-leaders' for global health or animal-inclusive worldviews relative to the longtermist one. For example, we have people such as Holden, Ben Todd, Will McAskill etc. who all produce reasonably frequent and great content on why longtermism is compelling, yet very few (if anyone?) is doing content creation or thought leadership on that level for neartermist worldviews. This might be another reason why longtermist content is much more frequently sign-posted too, but I'm not 100% sure on this. 

[FWIW I do find longtermism quite compelling, but it also seems amiss to not mention the cultural influence longtermism has in certain EA spaces]

JamesOz's Shortform

[From my blog, Understanding Social Change]

I've just written a blog post summarising some of our recent research into the effectiveness of protest movements, plus some additional nuance and commentary that doesn’t fit neatly into external articles we recently published. Main things covered:

How many EAs failed in high risk, high reward projects?

I think it would be great to have some directory of attempted but failed projects. Often I've thought "Oh I think X is a cool idea, but I bet someone more qualified has already tried it, and if it doesn't exist publicly then it must have failed" but I don't think this is often true (also see this shortform about the failure of the efficient market hypothesis for EA projects). Having a list of attempted but shut down (for whatever reason) projects might encourage people to start more projects, as we can really see how little of the idea space has been explored in practice.

 

There's a few helpful write-ups (e.g. shutting down the longtermist incubator) but in addition to detailed post-mortems, I would be keen to see a low-effort directory (AirTable or even Google Sheets?) of attempted projects, who tried, contact details (with permission), why it stopped, etc. If people are interested in this, I can make some preliminary spreadsheet that we can start populating, but other recommendations are of course welcome.

EA Forum's interest in cause-areas over time and other statistics

This is super interesting, thanks for doing this! One question: how did you decide to put the tags in the buckets you did? I'm wondering as some things seem fairly arbitrary, and by drawing different boundaries you might actually get quite different results. For example,  I was just checking out your tags script and saw that you have things like nuclear security, nuclear winter, etc. in "Catastrophic risks" rather than in "long_term_risks_and_flourishing" although I would say it could also fit in the latter category. I think this is especially true for these two categories, as most things in "catastrophic risks" would fit neatly into "long-term risks" e.g biosecurity, great power conflict, etc. If this was the case, the number of existential risks-related Forum posts would be much higher than you indicate (although the trends might still be similar, even if the absolute values are different). 

I appreciate this might be an annoying nitpick as the categories will always be subjective, but thought this might change the results somewhat.

(P.S I was trying to run an amended version of this myself to check for myself but had some problems with your code (apparently tags has no attribute tag_types).  Agreed with David below though, it would be nice to have a dynamic version so others could more easily re-run your code with slightly varied tagging.)

NunoSempere's Shortform

One thing I can never figure out is where the missing Open Phil donations are! According to their own internal comms (e.g. this job advert) they gave away roughly $450 million in 2021. Yet when you look at their grants database, you only find about $350 million, which is a fair bit short. Any idea why this might be? 

I think it could be something to do with contractor agreement (e.g. they gave $2.8 million to Kurzgesagt and said they don't tend to publish similar contractor agreements like these). Curious to see the breakdown of the other approx. $100 million though!

Case for emergency response teams

I think if you're looking to hire someone for this role, you might want to provide a lot more information about the role (expected hours, responsibilities, start date, salary, etc.). Currently there's virtually no information provided and I wouldn't expect you would find great and qualified candidates - which would be a shame given how useful this project could be!

Divestment From Animal Agriculture: What Does It Achieve?

Sorry I never replied but here's a very quick thing on what I thought our main disagreement was but maybe we're closer than I initially thought! I interpreted your conclusion to be something along the lines of "We shouldn't do any divestment as other approaches are less risky and more effective" but your final paragraph above is basically the view I hold too:

I do think there should be people trying divestment in the animal advocacy context and seeing how it goes, but unless the results proved us wrong, based on the arguments in this report, I wouldn't recommend a big shift of resources towards it.

Basically I totally agree, in that we should a couple campaigns/organisations trying divestment in a somewhat rigorous way to get some good learnings out of it, before deciding whether to stop it completely or  scale up. I just think when I read your sentence:

We think that, given the existing evidence, many existing animal advocacy campaigns will be more effective and less risky than divestment.

I interpreted this as we shouldn't do it or invest in it at all! Not sure if it's just me but I think adding what you said above "some people should try it with some limited resources to test it properly"  to the conclusion would really help with understanding your final recommendation. Thanks for all your work on this again - super interesting!
 

What are great marketing ideas to encourage pre-orders of What We Owe The Future?

Thinking about your (b), encouraging pre-orders from young people who might switch to high-impact careers, I have a few preliminary thoughts:

  • A lot of young (and older) people are interested in climate change, with some (a lot?) of that being driven by concern for the future, and the lives of future generations.
  • Due to that, I think that climate-interested folks are a particularly good audience for this book, as they're already a) thinking altruistically, b) somewhat concerned about the future and c) generally young and able to pivot their career.
  • If we think this assumptions are true, the question is what forms of media do young/climate interested people engage with, and generally how do we reach them? Some ideas:
    • I would say a lot of people read the Guardian (and Open Phil sponsors some content there) so could be worth trying the Guardian environment section with sponsored advertisements. This could also be true for the Guardian more generally as I assume left-leaning people will be more interested in this relative to the average member of the publc.
      • You could also advertise via their podcasts, e.g Science Weekly
    • Our World in Data social media channels and website (although I'm sure you've already got this covered as Max Roser seems very supportive)
    • Loads of instagram advertising (I think this is more the young climate concerned demographic relative to Facebook)
    • Climate podcasts: TIL Climate, How to save a planet, For what it's earth, outrage + Optimism, the Climate Question
    • Extinction Rebellion UK has a mailing list of 200,000-300,000 people of reasonably engaged and passionate climate folks and there's a small (5-10%) chance I could get Will's book featured on it (message me if you're interested in this)
    • Very speculative: Go to some major festivals in the UK this summer (Glastonbury, Shambala, Green Gathering, etc.)
EA Forum feature suggestion thread

I'm not sure if it's exactly a feature suggestion as a concern highlighted here that I agree with, which is basically: The number of Forum users seem to be growing quite a lot (congrats!), with many more posts, so some posts that might be high-effort slip under the radar or disappear quite quickly (see Ian David Moss' comment). Is there anything the Forum team is doing to mitigate this (someone suggested a higher density of posts on the front page) or other wise any thoughts on this topic? 

Other possible solutions (some already mentioned and I'm not sold of any of them) could be:

  • Sub-communities like Reddit
  • Greater emphasis on people using the Shortform feature for short or link posts rather than the main page
  • EA Librarian or Q&A things could go into a different section (somewhat like a Shortform? I'm quite unsure about this though)
Initial research on social movements & protest

Thanks Ben - this is much appreciated! Agreed there's still lots more work to be done to find these plausibly high-impact options, so fingers crossed we can make some decent headway. Likewise to you on Effective Self-Help, great to see your research on that front!

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