James Ozden

1919Joined Oct 2020

Bio

Currently doing social movement and protest-related research at Social Change Lab, an EA-aligned research organisation I've recently started.

Previously, I 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

Comments
153

Step 1: Make a public post online between now and November 1, 2022. Posts on the EA Forum (link posts are fine) are encouraged.

Step 2: Complete this submission form.

Submissions are due December 1, 2022.

This doesn't make sense - people need over a month to submit their public post via your submission form? Or one of the dates is wrong?

Looking for feedback

We're seeking some broad feedback about this report, such that we can improve our future work. Even if you only read certain sections of this work or just the summary, we would still be really interested in getting any feedback. You can give (anonymous) feedback using this feedback form, where all questions are optional. Thanks in advance and feel free to reach out personally if you want to give more detailed feedback!

If you want a fairly easy and interesting read, I recommend “How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don't” - by Leslie Crutchfield. It’s only focuses on US movements and selects some weird things as movements but overall is a useful read.

For a more academic book, I would recommend “How Social movements matter” by Marco Giugni, which is a collection of chapters from various academics and covers a lot.

For an accessible and pretty interesting read on the theories behind direct action/mass protest, I recommend “This is an Uprising” by Mark and Paul Engler.

For more detail on how civil resistance works, and social movements in the Global south generally, I would recommend “Why Civil Resistance works” or “Civil Resistance: What you need to know” by Erica Chenoweth

I’m on my phone so could link more later if you’re interested! Feel free to DM also.

Social Change Lab is a new nonprofit conducting and disseminating social movement research to help tackle the world’s most pressing problems. We’re looking for a Researcher or Director of Research to join our small team, and conduct interdisciplinary research that addresses crucial unanswered social movement questions.

We’re open to both early-stage and more experienced candidates. This exciting project is one of the first attempts to rigorously examine the impact of grassroots social movements, and understand how they can be used for positive social change. See more information below and here for a link to the full job adverts:

  • Application deadline: 2nd of October, 2022 - 23:59 GMT. Candidates will be considered on a rolling basis so early applications are encouraged.
  • Duration: 6 months, with the possibility of extension dependent on funding. Working 37.5 hours/week. 
  • Location: London or UK preferred. Flexible remote working with access to an office in West London. Fully remote or overseas applications will be considered too.
  • Salary: £30,000-£45,000/year pro-rata dependent on experience and the role.

Aligned AI blocks threats from misaligned AI

This seems like an important claim, but I could also quite plausibly see misaligned AIs destabilising a world where an aligned AI exists. What reasons do we have to think that an aligned AI would be able to very consistently (e.g. 99.9%+ of the time) ward off attacks from misaligned AI from bad actors? Given all the uncertainty around these scenarios, I think the extinction risk per century from this alone could in the 1-5% range and create a nontrivial discount rate.

6.) We should think more about existential risks to the EA movement itself. I don't think enough attention is paid to the fact that EA is a social movement like others and is prone to the same effects that make other movements less effective than they could be, or collapse entirely. I really like what the CEA Community Health team is doing and I think the EA movement may already have had some serious problems without them. I'd like to see more research to notice the skulls of other movements and see what we can do to try to proactively prevent them.


We (Social Change Lab) are considering doing this kind of work so good to hear there's other interest in it! A dive into common reasons why social movements fail has been on our research questions to consider for a while. We've slightly put it off due to difficulty in gathering reliable data / the question being somewhat intractable (e.g. probably many confounding reasons why movements fail so it might be hard to isolate any specific variables) but I would be keen to hear if you had any specific ideas for how this research might be tackled/most useful?

 

11. ...In particular, the 2020 EA Survey showed effective altruism as being 70% male. Secondarily, we risk there being downward spirals where talented women don't want to join what they perceive to be a male-dominated movement and our critics reject our movement by associating us with an uncharitable "techbro" image. This is difficult to talk about and I'm not exactly sure what should or could be done to work on this issue, but I think it's important to acknowledge this.

I've been thinking about writing something along these lines for a while so glad you did! I totally agree - I think this is a big concern and I'm not sure if anything is being done to address it. Hot take but I wonder if EA distancing itself from social justice rhetoric has let some latent sexism go unchallenged, which probably puts otherwise interested women off. I wonder if men challenging sexist comments/attitudes that often crop up (e.g. some comments in this thread) might help remedy this.

One way I could see EA failing to win over broad parts of the public, or otherwise not having significant impact, is something I'm going to call media lock-in. 

What is media lock-in? A phenomenon where the mainstream media finds a sticky but unflattering meme of your social movement, and repeats it frequently in articles or communications about your cause. This can work to quickly turn-off people who might otherwise be interested in your issue, stunting your growth and long-term potential.

Examples of this outside of EA? Extinction Rebellion early-on got labelled as white and middle-class, and the media hammered this point home so much (1, 2, 3), it was almost as widely known as XR itself.

What could be the "white and middle-class" critique of EA? Well, besides it already being called white and middle class [1]- it's probably something about the association of EA  with elitism (1,2,3). This seems like something that has largely avoided the recent media push for WWOTF, which is certainly an impressive feat already, but still a potential cause for concern going forward. 

How do we avoid this? Not sure, but I can imagine the CEA/WWOTF comms team are already thinking about this! 

Some examples of things I've seen work well in practice is going very hard, early-on, about what you expect the most common critiques of your movement to be. For example, The Sunrise Movement did a pretty amazing job of mobilising outside of "the usual suspects" e.g.  non-white and non-middle class people into the climate movement in the US - what previous environmental groups didn't do very well. 

I think this was largely down to them pro-actively communicating, and having in all their core communications, that they were building a multi-racial and cross-class movement (1, 2, 3). This seemed to work quite well, despite the original founding team being majority white

What's the equivalent of this for EA? Well, it might be really pushing the idea that EA isn't about solidifying entrenched power/wealth, or making people richer, but actually about helping beings who can't otherwise help themselves. Really centring examples of people giving away a lot (a la GWWC), or otherwise being very selfless, might help to steer away from the elitist frame. There's plenty more that could be done I'm sure, but outside the scope of this Shortform post! 

Also interestingly, it seems that a lot of the backlash for XR came from other climate or progressive organisations, which was then amplified by less-friendly media. There might be a similar dynamic at play here, where EA is criticised by other people who are generally aiming at doing good, but these criticisms are amplified by less well-meaning actors. This makes me somewhat concerned about certain public criticisms (e.g. about diversity) but obviously they also play an important role in movement health.

 

  1. ^

    "Effective altruism has so far been a rather homogenous movement of middle-class white men fighting poverty through largely conventional means" - link

Thanks for your quick reply Jacob! I think I still largely degree on how substantive you think these are, and address these points below. I also feel sad that your comments feel slightly condescending or uncharitable, which makes it difficult for me to have a productive conversation.

  1. Great, I think we agree the approach outlined in the original report should be changed. Did the report actually use percentage of total papers found? I don't mean to be pedantic but it's germane to my greater point: was this really a miscommunication of the intended analysis, or did the report originally intend to use number of papers founds, as it seems to state and then execute on: "Confidence ratings are based on the number of methodologically robust (according to the two reviewers) studies supporting the claim. Low = 0-2 studies supporting, or mixed evidence; Medium = 3-6 studies supporting; Strong = 7+ studies supporting."

The first one - Our aim was to examine all the papers (within our other criteria of recency, democratic context, etc) that related to the impacts of protest on public opinion, policy change, voting behaviour, etc. We didn’t exclude any because they found negative or negligible results - as that would obviously be empirically extremely dubious.

2. It seems like we largely agree in not putting much weight in this study. However, I don't think comparisons against a baseline measurement mitigates the bias concerns much. For example, exposure to the protests is a strong signal of social desirability: it's a chunk of society demonstrating to draw attention to the desirability of action on climate change. This exposure is present in the "after" measurement and absent in the "before" measurement, thus differential and potentially biasing the estimates. Such bias could be hiding a backlash effect.

I didn’t make this clear enough in my first comment (I’ve now edited it) but I think your social desirability critique feels somewhat off. Only 18% of people in the UK were supportive of these protests (according to our survey), with a fair bit of negative media attention about the protests. This makes it hard to believe that respondents would genuinely feel any positive social desirability bias, when the majority of the public actually disapprove of the protests. If anything, it would be much more likely to have negative social desirability bias. I'm open to ways on how we might test this post-hoc with the data we have, but not sure if that's possible. 


3. The issue lies in defining "unusually influential protest movements". This is crucial because you're selecting on your outcome measurement, which is generally discouraged. The most cynical interpretation would be that you excluded all studies that didn't find an effect because, by definition, these weren't very influential protest movements.

Just to reiterate what I said above for clarity: Our aim was to examine all the papers that related to the impacts of protest on public opinion, policy change, voting behaviour, etc. We didn’t exclude any because they found negative or negligible results - as that would obviously be empirically extremely dubious. The only reason we specified that our research looks at large and influential protest movements is that this is by default what academics study (as they are interesting and able to get published). There are almost no studies looking at the impact of small protests, which make up the majority of protests, so we can’t claim to have any solid understanding of their impacts. The research was largely aiming to understand the impacts for the largest/most well-studied protest movements, and I think that aim was fulfilled. 

4. Unfortunately, this is not a semantic critique. Call it what you will but I don't know what the confidences/uncertainties you are putting forward mean and your readers would be wrong to assume. I didn't read the entire OpenPhil report, but I didn't see any examples of using low percentages to indicate high uncertainty. Can you explain concretely what your numbers mean?

Sure - what we mean is that we’re 80% confident that our indicated answer is likely to be the true  answer. For example, for our answers on policy change, we’re 40-60% confident that our finding (highlighted in blue) is likely to be correct e.g. there’s a 60-40% chance we’ve also got it wrong. One could also assume from where we’ve placed it on our summary table that if it was wrong, it’s likely to be in the boxes immediately surrounding what we indicated. 

E.g. if you look at the Open Phil report, here is a quote similar to how we’ve used it:

“to indicate that I think the probability of my statement being true is >50%”

I understand that confidence intervals can be constructed for any effect size, but we indicate the effect sizes using the upper row in the summary table (and quantify it where we think it is reasonable to do so).

Lastly, I have to ask in what regard you don't find these critiques methodological? The selection of outcome measure in a review, survey design, construction of a research question and approach to communicating uncertainty all seem methodological—at least these are topics commonly covered in research methods courses and textbooks.

The reasons why I don’t find these critiques as highlighting significant methodological flaws is that:

  • I don’t think we have selected the wrong outcome measure, but we just didn’t communicate it particularly well, which I totally accept.
  • The survey design isn't perfect, which I admit, but we didn't put a lot of weight on this for our report so in my view it's not pointing out a methodological issue with this report. Additionally, you think there will be high levels of positive social desirability bias when this is the opposite of what I would expect - given the majority of the public (82% in our survey) don’t support the protests (and report this on the survey, indicating the social desirability bias doesn't skew positive)
  • Similar to my first bullet point - I think the research question is well constructed (i.e. it wasn’t selecting for the outcome as I clarified) but you’ve read it in a fairly uncharitable way (which due to our fault, is possible because we’ve been vaguer than ideal)
  • Finally I think we’ve communicated uncertainty in quite a reasonable way, and other feedback we’ve got indicates that people fully understood what we meant. We’ve received 4+ other pieces of feedback regarding our uncertainty communication which people found useful and indicative, so I'm currently putting more weight on this than your view. That said, I do think it can be improved, but I'm not sure it's as much of a methodological issue as a communicative issue.

Hi Vasco - thanks for your kind feedback - much appreciated! 

Good catch - I think this is something I've updated a bit on recently (although my views are relatively unstable!). In short, I think that disruptive protest / protest-focused SMOs are less marginally useful in the UK relative to 3-4 years ago, due to now high concern from climate change in the UK. That's not to say I don't think they're useful at all, but I think if the aim is "general awareness raising" then it's less useful than previously, or relative to other countries (e.g. East Europe). We see some evidence of this in our public opinion polling which found no changes in climate concern now but there was 3-4 years ago after similar disruptive protests.

However, I do think there's some space for SMOs/protest movements to be more focused on specific policies, as we have seen recently with the likes of Stop Cambo/Stop Jackdaw or Just Stop Oil. This seems more useful in the UK and Western Europe where concern is high, but implementation of climate policies could still be improved.

Overall, I'm still unsure whether, given a magical button, I would incubate/kickstart new additional climate SMOs based in the UK. I think a lot of it depends on their target, their strategies, the audience they want to mobilise, etc. 

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