Jonas Vollmer

I'm the Head of EA Funds at the Centre for Effective Altruism.

Previously, I was a co-founder and co-executive director at the London-based Center on Long-Term Risk, a research group and grantmaker focused on preventing s-risks from AI.

My background is in medicine (BMed) and economics (MSc) with a focus on health economics and development economics.

See my LinkedIn.

Comments

How to best address Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?

Thanks, very helpful. Especially knowing about your experience (what you said in the first paragraph) seems helpful.

Would love to get some more of that vitamin EA! ;)

Why you should give to a donor lottery this Giving Season

Good point. I think this would probably involve some coding effort which I'm not sure is worth it, but it's worth considering.

How to best address Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?

Some things I've tried and found mildly helpful:

  • Using an ergonomic keyboard (I use a split keyboard, which also helps with back pain)
  • Avoiding typing while feeling cold (this means sometimes wearing a coat at my desk)
  • Wearing a wrist brace at night
  • Adjusting the height of my desk, and using a desk with sufficient depth so I can rest my forearms on it while typing
  • Using my phone with the other hand that isn't affected
  • Generally trying to avoid straining movements with the affected hand (during cooking, etc.)

 

Things I've considered:

  • Learning touchtyping with the Dvorak layout (or some other alternative layout) – takes ~20h to learn, benefits seem disputed (academic research and lifehackers claim mixed results). Might look into if things don't get better.
  • Using a foot pedal for clicking and modifier keys. Takes some time to learn and set up, though some seemed to like it a lot.
Why you should give to a donor lottery this Giving Season

Some reasons for entering anonymously:

  • You might generally care about anonymity/privacy on the internet
  • You might want to avoid public attention in case you win (e.g., perhaps some people might send you unsolicited fundraising pitches (which I hope they don't), or you worry that you might feel pressured by other EAs to publish your grants or thinking)
  • You can always publish your name later, so entering anonymously has more option value

Some reasons for entering with your name attached:

  • It’s generally more exciting to know who else in the community is participating
  • It shows other people that you personally endorse the lottery as a serious way to donate effectively, which might encourage others to participate

I'm sure I forgot some points, so would be curious to hear what people think.

Why you should give to a donor lottery this Giving Season

I haven't checked with our ops/legal team, but here are some examples of grants I personally would guess we probably can't make: political lobbying and partisan campaign funding, supporting individuals without a clear public benefit (e.g., giving people money to free up their time without an explicit expectation that they will do something good for the world), religious missionary work to save souls from hell, supporting very specific groups (e.g., distributing unconditional funding to all members of a particular EA group). Basically there needs to be a convincing common-sense argument that the grant is for the public benefit.

Why you should give to a donor lottery this Giving Season

Another point I'd like to add is that some may come away thinking "I had a pretty cool and unusual idea for using my donations that probably won't get funded otherwise, but now I will give to the donor lottery instead." I would prefer that this person didn't participate in the lottery, and instead evaluate and support the novel opportunity they came up with. I think individual donors exploring such opportunities on their own is an important source of experimentation and viewpoint diversity in the EA community, and it seems better for them to continue doing so instead of supporting the lottery. (The same point also applies to donations to EA Funds. Thanks to Oliver Habryka for first bringing this point to my attention.)

All things considered, I think it's good to make a strong case for the donor lottery, as I think it's really one of the best ways to give, and that seems under-appreciated, but I hope donors will be aware of the above point.

Why you should give to a donor lottery this Giving Season

(I'll post two replies as separate threads.)

Thanks for the critique!

You mentioned that there are some reasons to think that the donor lottery would make things worse. I'll try to rephrase them in my own words:

1. Donors might feel like they're not supposed to give to EA Funds and come up with their own ideas instead.

This could be good if the donors allocate the money better than EA Funds could! Also, I think EAs are generally careful thinkers, so I expect many to successfully avoid this pitfall. I also think many will see this as a particularly good opportunity to carefully evaluate the EA Funds' grantmaking, potentially resulting in a carefully reasoned donation to EA Funds or useful feedback that could lead to improvements. That said, if many donor lottery winners turned out to have a bias towards making their own grants, and had a less good track record than EA Funds, that would convince me that your concern is probably right. But I think it's worth running a larger experiment before giving a lot of weight to these concerns.

2. Donors will allocate funds to a smaller number of donation targets.

If the worry is that smaller groups will have a harder time fundraising, I don't think this will be the case (except to the extent that less promising projects don't get funded after extra scrutiny). If, say, half of EA Funds donation volume was given through the donor lottery, we would have about 10-200 separate winners (depending on the lottery), who could jointly spread out their donations across a lot of smaller groups. (If it was only 10 people, hopefully they'd delegate some of the funding decisions to a larger set of people or committees, and I might suggest this to them in that case.) As mentioned in the post, the lottery could also make it easier to support new/smaller groups tax-deductibly. (It might also reduce admin overhead from donation processing.)

Why you should give to a donor lottery this Giving Season

(I'll post two replies as separate threads.)

In terms of improving EA discourse and information it also seems unclear to me that the effect of one lottery winner thinking more about their donation decisions (and potentially writing it up) beats out the effect of all the other lottery donors thinking about their donation decisions (and potentially writing them up).

I think most donors giving most of their donations through the donor lottery is more likely to improve than worsen this because:

  1. If most EAs participate in the lottery, we will have many lottery winners (not just a single one), who can jointly cover a lot of ground. (And if only few EAs participate, we will still have lots  of EAs making direct donations.)
  2. We explicitly encourage people to continue to make direct donations with some of their budget, so if people agree with this post, we will continue to have lots of people thinking about their donation decisions (and potentially writing them up).
  3. At the current margin, I am pretty happy to trade shallow analysis for more deep analysis, as I think a lot of the shallow analyses will be similar to each other (so won't provide as much viewpoint diversity as multiple deeper analyses).
some concerns with classical utilitarianism

I think EAs are drawn to CU not because it has no counterintuitive or implausible implications, but simply because most of the alternatives (including NU) seem even worse in this regard (and often worse in other ways, too).

It seems that pluralistic views that give some weight to lots of different values would perhaps have the least implausible implications. These would probably be somewhat suffering-focused, but not strongly so.

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