Jess_Riedel's Posts

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Notes on 'Atomic Obsession' (2009)

Were there a lot of new unknown or underappreciated facts in this book? From the summary, it sounds mostly like a reinterpretation of the standard history, which hinges on questions of historical determinism.

What's Changing With the New Forum?

Consider changing the visual format a bit to better distinguish this forum from LW. They are almost indistinguishable right now, especially once you scroll down just a bit and the logo disappears.

Announcing the 2017 donor lottery

Could you explain your first sentence? What risks are you talking about?

Also, how does one lottery up further if all the block sizes are $100k? Diving it up into multiple blocks doesn't really work.

Announcing the 2017 donor lottery

I'm curious about why blocks were chosen rather than just a single-lottery scheme, i.e., having all donors contribute to the same lottery, with a $100k backstop but no upper limit. The justification on the webpage is

Multiple blocks ensure that there is no cap on the number of donors who may enter the lottery, while ensuring that the guarantor's liability is capped at the block size.

But of course we could satisfy this requirement with the single-lottery scheme. The single-lottery scheme also has the benefits that (1) the guarantor has significantly less risk since there's a much higher chance they need to pay nothing, especially once the popularity of donor lotteries is more stable and (2) the "leverage" can get arbitrarily high rather than being capped by $100k/. The main feature (benefit?) of the multi-block scheme is, as Carl says elsewhere in this thread, "the odds of payouts for other participants are unaffected by anyone's particular participation in this lottery design". But it's not clear to me why this non-interaction principle is better than allowing large leverage. We just want to be really careful about unintended incentives?

An argument for broad and inclusive "mindset-focused EA"

EAs seems pretty open to the idea of being big-tent with respect to key normative differences (animals, future people, etc). But total indifference to cause area seems too lax. What if I just want to improve my local neighborhood or family? Or my country club? At some point, it becomes silly.

It might be worth considering parallels with the Catholic Church and the Jesuits. The broader church is "high level", but the requirements for membership are far from trivial.

Introducing the EA Funds

The list of donation recipients from Nick's DAF is here:

I don't believe there's been any write-ups or dollar amounts, except the above list is ordered by donation size.

Introducing the EA Funds

I am on the whole positive about this idea. Obviously, specialization is good, and creating dedicated fund managers to make donation decisions can be very beneficial. And it makes sense that the boundaries between these funds arise from normative differences between donors, while putting fund managers in charge of sorting out empirical questions about efficiency. This is just the natural extension, of the original GiveWell concept, to account for normative differences, and also to utilize some of the extra trust that some EAs will have for other people in the community that isn't shared by a lot of GiveWell's audience.

That said, I'm worried about principle-agent problems and transparency, and about CEA becoming an organization receiving monthly direct debits from the bank accounts of ten thousand people. Even if we assume that current CEA employees are incorruptible superhuman angels, giving CEA direct control of a firehose of cash makes it an attractive target for usurpers (in a way that it is not when it's merely making recommendations and doing outreach). These sorts of worries apply much less to GiveWell when it's donating to developing-world health charities than to CEA when it's donating to EA start-ups who are good friends with the staff.

Will EA Fund managers be committed to producing the sorts of detailed explanations and justifications we see from GiveWell and Open Phil, at least after adjusting for donation size? How will the conflicts of interest be managed and documented with such a tightly interlinked community?

What sorts of additional precautions will be taken to manage these risks, especially for the long term?

Effective Altruism Prediction Registry

Update: the Good Judgment Project has just launched Good Judgement Open.

How valuable is movement growth?

I mostly agree with this. No need to reinvent the wheel, and armchair theorizing is so tempting, while sorting through the literature can be painful. But I will say your reason #1 (the typical sociological research is of very poor quality) leads to a second effect: scouring the literature for the useful bits (of which I am sure there is plenty) is very difficult and time consuming.

If we were talking about ending global poverty, we would not be postulating new models of economic development. Why should we demand any less empirical/academic rigor in the context of movement building?

I can tell you that when financial quants want to make money, they spend some time reading the academic literature on the market, but they are often very critical of its quality and usefulness for real-life decisions.

So what we really need are people to say "this particular topic was already addressed by this particular reference". Too often, the criticism to reinventing the wheel is "you should just read this vaguely defined body of work, most of which is inapplicable".

Can we set up a system for international donation trading?

I am mildly worried that connecting strangers to make honor-system donation trades could lead to a dispute. There are going to be more and more new faces around if the various EA growth strategies this year pan out. The fact that donation trading has been going on smoothly until now means folks might get overly relaxed, and it only takes one publicized dispute to really do damage to the culture. Even if no one is outright dishonest, miscommunication could lead to a someone thinking they have been wronged to the tune of thousands of dollars.

I don't think that communication between the donors, as Brian mentions, is fully satisfactory. Even if everyone promises to send receipts afterwards, you still have Byzantine generals' problems. One idea is that we find someone at CEA who, at the least, can be listed as an email contact to which two donors can send their agreement before they execute, just so there's a records and so the CEA person can point out any obvious confusion. I think this could be a very efficient use of CEA time, especially if it increases trust and therefore makes more trades possible.

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