Julia_Wise

I'm a contact person for the effective altruism community: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/hYh6jKBsKXH8mWwtc/a-contact-person-for-the-ea-community

Please feel free to contact me at julia.wise@centreforeffectivealtruism.org.

I work at CEA as a community liaison, trying to make the EA community stronger and more welcoming. I also serve on the board of GiveWell.

Besides effective altruism, I'm interested in folk dance and trying to keep up with my two young children.

Comments

What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others?

"One day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”
Terry Pratchett (character is Lord Vetinari), Unseen Academicals

Problem area report: Pain

To me "Inhaled analgesia appears to be effective in reducing pain intensity and in giving pain relief in labour" sounds like a ringing endorsement from Cochrane given that their usual bottom line seems to be "not enough evidence." Just about anything for childbirth pain seems to be pretty hit-or-miss, so the fact that it's not that effective for some people seems like not that big of a downside compared to other methods or no method.

Problem area report: Pain

I'm pleased to see this work.

Obviously childbirth accounts for relatively few hours of one's life spent in pain, but I wonder if you've looked into it. Nitrous oxide is safe and relatively cheap and does not need an anesthetist because the patient can administer it themselves. It's commonly used in some Western countries but only getting started in the US, and I can't find anything about its use in middle or low income countries.

Should effective altruists have children?

As someone who's spent a lot of time on EA community-building and also on parenting, I'd  caution against any strong weighting on "my children will turn out like me / will be especially altruistic." That seems like a recipe for strained relationships. I think the decision to parent should be made because it's important to you personally, not because you're hoping for impact. You can almost certainly have more impact by talking to existing young people about EA or supporting community-building or field-building in some other way than by breeding more people.

I'd also caution against treating adoption as less intensive in time and effort. The process of adopting internationally or from foster care is intensive and often full of uncertainty and disappointment as placements fall through, policies change, etc. And I think the ongoing task of shoring up attachment with an adopted child is significant.(For example, I have a friend who realized her ten-year-old, adopted before he can remember, had somehow developed the belief that his parents would "give him back" at some point and that he was not actually a permanent member of the family. I think this kind of thing is pretty common.)  I'd be much more reluctant to travel for work as much as I do if I had adopted children. I think adoption can be really good, but I think it's important that parents expect it to be an ongoing factor in their relationship with the child, not a one-and-done thing.

A post I wrote on costs:
How much do kids cost? The first 5 years - this is less complete than the 18-year estimates, obviously, but it includes lost income which none of the other estimates I've seen include.

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

But still relevant for the Munich organizers, since Singer seems to get protested more per event in Germany than in other countries.

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

I got permission to add the full quote, though the meaning is the same. This example was actually in the US.

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

I appreciate that Larks sent a draft of this post to CEA, and that we had the chance to give some feedback and do some fact-checking.

I agree with many of the concerns in this post. I also see some of this differently.

In particular, I agree that a climate of fear — wherever it originates— silences not only people who are directly targeted, but also others who see what happened to someone else. That silencing limits writers/speakers, limits readers/listeners who won’t hear the ideas or information they have to offer, and ultimately limits our ability to find ways to do good in the world.

These are real and serious costs. I’ve been talking with my coworkers about them over the last months and seeking input from other people who are particularly concerned about them. I’ll continue to do that.

But I think there are also real costs to pushing groups to go forward with events they don’t want to hold. I’m still thinking through how I see the tradeoffs between these costs and the costs above, but here’s one I think is relevant:

It makes it more costly to be an organizer. In one discussion amongst group organizers after the Munich situation, one organizer wrote about the Peter Singer talk their group hosted. [I’m waiting to see if I can give a fuller quote, but their summary was about how the Q&A session got conflicted enough that the group was known as “the group that invited Peter Singer” for two years and basically overpowered any other impression students had of what the EA group was about.]

“It seemed like the talk itself went pretty well, but during the Q&A section a few people basically took over the discussion and only asked question about all the previous things he has said about disabled people (and possibly some other things). The Q&A is basically all people remembered from the event. I think it did a lot of reputation damage to our group, which took 2 years to get over (by which point many attendees of the talk graduated). Before that, people basically didn't know what EA was and after it was "the group that invited Peter Singer". "

Hosting Singer and other speakers who have said controversial things has been good for many EA groups. But I also think it’s okay for individual organizers to decide they’re not up for hosting an event that carries some risk of seriously throwing their group off the rails. Being at the center of a controversy, especially for student organizers constantly living in the same environment where the talk is held, can bear a heavy personal cost as well. (Of course, knowing that people will back down if you make it costly enough for them to follow through is exactly what incentivizes you to make it costly.)

On the specifics: I was the main staff member who advised the Munich organizers, and I’d like to add more detail about how this all unfolded. There are a lot of quotes so I’ll italicize them.

The week before Hanson’s scheduled online talk about tort law reform for the Munich group, the organizers contacted CEA to say they were considering canceling the event after learning about some of Hanson’s past writing. From my first message to the Munich organizers:

"I don’t have a clear answer about whether to cancel the event. I could it being reasonable either way. . . . If the discussion goes into areas where you think people may be offended or upset, maybe have an organizer or two stay behind after to have continued discussion after the Q&A with Hanson is done. I looked at what I think is basically the same talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPdHXw05SvU Some parts will probably go over ok with an audience that’s used to thinking about alternate governance systems. But for example he suggests torture as a possible penalty, and as far as I saw from a cursory look through the slides, he doesn’t address objections to that. People seem to find his work very polarizing, so some people find it very refreshing because he says things almost no one else says, and other people hate it. So you may well get some indication from the Q&A about how people are feeling, and you may want to follow up with them if they seem upset."

After that, the Munich organizers discussed the situation internally, held a vote, and wrote to Hanson saying that they had decided to cancel the talk. Hanson tweeted about the cancellation, indicating he didn’t think they had adequately explained their decision.

I wrote to the Munich organizers:

"If you were going to respond, I'd send this both to Hanson and perhaps also reply on the Twitter, with points along these lines:

  • We weren't familiar with all of Hanson's work, but we saw (and still believe) that he has raised some interesting and valuable ideas. We booked him to give a talk about an idea for reforming the legal system. It was not a large event - around 17 people were RSVPd.
  • After booking the talk, we heard about some of his work that we weren't familiar with, specifically his posts on "gentle silent rape" and sex redistribution.
  • We discussed what to do, and found it a difficult decision. The strongest consideration in favor of continuing the event was that we did not want to further "cancel culture" or make it so that only uncontroversial ideas could be shared in EA spaces.
  • However, we're aware that many people, particularly women, have found Hanson's writing on rape and "redistribution" of sex to be offensive and disturbing.
  • We got in touch with CEA, who said they could see either decision about the event being reasonable. We discussed ways to mitigate negative effects if we went ahead with the event.
  • In the end, we decided that Hanson's previous work was not something we were comfortable tying to our group.
  • Instead, we scheduled a discussion about cancel culture, to give our group a chance to discuss how we could handled controversial ideas and speakers in the future.
  • For anyone eager to see the presentation Hanson would have given, we believe this video shares the material he was planning to present"

Using these suggestions, the Munich organizers drafted their statement explaining the situation and their decision, and a coworker and I made some minor suggestions afterwards.

Since they were volunteers writing what was probably their first public statement to be read by the wider internet on a tight timeframe, I do wish I had given them more feedback on the draft. I also wish I had focused my advice not just on the practicalities, but also on the tradeoffs discussed above. Specifically, I should have checked that organizers were tracking some of the things that Larks raises in the conclusion. I also agree that when CEA leaves the final decision to organizers, we aren’t off the hook — we aim to provide the best advice we can to organizers, and to learn from experience.

Evidence on correlation between making less than parents and welfare/happiness?

My personal experience is that my parents spent money on some stuff that didn't match my tastes. I spend less on some things than them (smaller living space, no car partly because I dislike driving) and more on other things (more expensive city).

I guess I think one major task of young adulthood is figuring out which of your formative influences will serve you well, and which you'd rather get rid of. He probably doesn't want to be identical to his parents, so this is just one more thing to re-evaluate.

Another question is if he plans to have children, what does he want them to be accustomed to? Is the plan for every generation to be at least as rich as his parents so no one will experience a spending cut?

Introducing LEEP: Lead Exposure Elimination Project

I've been surprised that this topic hasn't gotten more attention in EA before, and I'm happy to see this work launch!

Deliberate Consumption of Emotional Content to Increase Altruistic Motivation

The novel "A Thousand Splendid Suns" was an example of this for me - depicting how people could have meaningful lives and happiness despite terrible circumstances, which I found really unintuitive beforehand. (I'm wary of generalizing from fictional evidence but it seems not totally crazy to treat this as a window on what other people can at least imagine experiencing.)

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