All of Julia_Wise's Comments + Replies

A contact person for the EA community

I’m adding info about some mistakes I’ve made so people can be aware of my track record. While I’ll do my best to keep confidential anything you want to talk to me about privately, I can’t guarantee that I’ll never make a mistake. So far, I know of two situations where I’ve failed to maintain confidentiality.

I tally that in the 6 years I’ve been in this role, I’ve handled about 135 situations where confidentiality was implied or requested by members of the community (not counting more standard situations like internal work emails). Here are the two mistake... (read more)

Someone sent me a draft of a critique of my colleague’s book, which I agreed to keep confidential. In deciding what to do with the email chain the following week, I forgot that they had asked for confidentiality in the first message, and sent it to my colleague. You can read more detail here.

I think it's worth noting several details of my incident that change the picture quite significantly from (the entirely understandable) accidental sending of an email to a colleague.

After Wise sent the draft of my essay to MacAskill's team:

  1. MacAskill's team forward
... (read more)

+1. This was fun, it was a great excuse to bring up some EOY giving by a month — and your instructions were ultra-clear. Thank you, William!

APPLY NOW | EA Global: London (29-31 Oct) | EAGxPrague (3-5 Dec)

It's a good question. For some people who have already considered their plans pretty carefully and who don't expect much benefit from meeting others in the community, it might not be worthwhile. Or just people for whom the travel / time costs would be unusually high (personally, I'm in that category this year).

I expect it to be most valuable for people who are considering some kind of change of plan in how they might have impact. Hearing about projects in the community and getting input from other people on your plans could be really valuable, allowing you... (read more)

What is the closest thing you know to EA that isn't EA?

A couple of historical predecessors:

The scientific charity movement starting in the 1870s:

And John Wesley advocating earning to give in the 1700s:

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

For me it might be two sides of the same coin (particular to my role on the community health team).

The positive is getting to serve a community I really believe in, and supporting people who feel very much on the same team as me as far as big life goals.

The negative is that there's less separation between work life and community life than there would be in a lot of jobs. I'm not a normal community member in the way I was before I worked here - there are more things I have to try to be neutral on, etc. Facebook is mostly a work space for me.

AMA: Working at the Centre for Effective Altruism

I have a similar impression to Amy - when I came on almost 6 years ago and for several years after, things were much looser. There was not a particularly consistent strategy, hiring was sometimes very informal, and we were running a lot of projects without always having adequate staffing to do a good job.

Now things are more settled, more formalized (e.g. annual performance reviews, standard hiring process, clearer communication about who is responsible for what). We're less likely to take on big new projects, and we're focused on better performance on our existing projects.

RyanCarey's Shortform

My favorite example of Slate Star Codex translating into Republican is the passage on climate change starting with "In the 1950s":

Small and Vulnerable

I really appreciate both this piece and your drive to leave this world better than you found it!

This made me think about two of my favorite older pieces about EA, which are both about the tie between one's own losses and a drive to do something positive:

Derek Thompson on donating after the death of his mother: "Malaria is not merely the greatest killer of children in the world, but also it is the greatest killer of pregnant women. The disease plunders motherhood from both sides of the equation. The loss of a mother must be quantifiable by some measure of c... (read more)

Being Vocal About What Works

You probably wouldn’t consider yourself an EA if it didn’t improve your life.

I don't think EAs should keep doing things that make them miserable (as with the noisy housing example someone gives below), but I don't think personal benefit is or should be the main reason to do EA. I'm not a fan of the obligation/excitement dichotomy because I feel some of both, but the word that fits best to me is "determination."

I get benefits from being part of EA, like friendships with smart and caring people. But there are other smart and caring people I could have met... (read more)

Julia_Wise's Shortform

Write roundup posts!

The posts I've made that I think yielded the most value for the amount of work I put in were essentially lists of other people's work.

EA Syllabi and teaching materials

Giving now vs. later: a summary

There are other formats that may make sense, like tags for material on this forum, or wikis. But the general principle is that you can do something really useful by making it easy for people to find existing material on a topic.

Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

The community health team at CEA has been following the situation.

Announcing "Naming What We Can"!

My coworkers got me a mug that said "Sorry, I'm not Julia Galef" to save me from having to say it so much at conferences. Maybe I should have just gone this route instead.

Or, you could change your name to Wise Julia. This will also allow you to signify your intellectual superiority.

Tail risk: if EA ends up voting for a top leader, and you get elected, this could sound pretty culty. If that risk seems significant to you, I would advise avoiding the obvious choice here - Julia the Wise - which is even worse.

I generally believe that EAs should keep their identities small. Small enough so it wouldn't really matter what Julia you are

Some quick notes on "effective altruism"

I think I'd expect US culture to be most ok with self-congratulation, and basically everywhere else (including UK) to be more allergic to it? But most of the people who voted on the name in the first place were British.

Please stand with the Asian diaspora

I’m so sorry for the pain and fear that many people are experiencing after the Atlanta shootings. And I know this comes on top of subtle disadvantages, misunderstandings, and slights that wear people down even when something like this isn’t in the news.

I can understand the worry about getting sidetracked by current events that are culturally important but not as large-scale/neglected/tractable as other problems EA already focuses on. But I agree with Will’s comment - we can still acknowledge pain that’s happening, especially pain felt by fellow EAs. To me,... (read more)

Please stand with the Asian diaspora

I don't see much in that paper, but it's been written about elsewhere, e.g. Harvard's Impossible Personality Test

Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’

A little historical background - one of my first introductions to proto-effective altruism was through corresponding with Nick Beckstead while he was a graduate student, around the time he would have been writing this dissertation. He was one of the first American members of Giving What We Can (which at the time was solely focused on global poverty), and at the time donated 10% of his graduate stipend to charities addressing global poverty. When I read this passage from his dissertation, I think of the context provided by his personal actions.

I think that ... (read more)

3jtm8moThanks for the context. I should note that I did not in any way intend to disparage Beckstead's personal character or motivations, which I definitely assume to be both admirable and altruistic. As stated in my comment, I found the quote relevant for the argument from Torres that Haydn discussed in this post. I also just generally think the argument itself is worth discussing, including by considering how it might be interpreted by readers who do not have the context provided by the author's personal actions.
What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

I think "The Privilege of Earning to Give" by Jeff Kaufman (who I'm married to) helped bridge a gap between us and our non-EA friends, who tend to have much more standard leftist views than we do.

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

Ironically, the situation in which I have most frequently been asked about whether EA is elitist is while giving intro talks about EA at MIT, Yale, etc.

7Cullen_OKeefe9moThis is my experience too.

My pet peeve about this argument is that the Shakers lasted from 1770 to the present (although now with just two elderly members). That's nothing to sneeze at for a utopian movement - compare them to the longevity of many 1960s communes that produced plenty of babies.

3Milan_Griffes9moI think there's a lot to admire about the Shakers... I'm just pointing out that as a social movement they are dying out, probably in part due to their views about sex & child-rearing. Catholicism, Islam, and Mormonism seem to be much more durable in the long run (at least so far).

I've done all these things, and the time still has to come from somewhere. Imagine a normal workday, and then imagine it while also getting snacks, resolving disputes, helping someone find their shoes, etc. Even while living with extended family and friends, we have never lived with someone who wanted to volunteer for this. We are just now getting to the point where it's viable to do for two days a week with a 5- and 6-year-old while both parents work full-time from home. Even that much is pretty suboptimal for both parents and kids.

9Denise_Melchin9moIn my answer I was assuming that the children go to school (usually between 9am-3:30pm in the UK) and I'd guess Greg was assuming the same, therefore only having to cover 1-2 hours working while children are present each day. Otherwise I agree, this is much harder if children don't go to school!

Childcare in the early years is a major expense. Housing is another major one (and one that doesn't go away once they're old enough to be in school).

9Greg_Colbourn9moGreat to see the write up of expenditure! I think it's unusual for people to rent out their spare rooms, and it's good that you have done so and provided yourselves with more income/reduced your living costs. By that metric I imagine that many people (especially home owners) have higher housing costs than they think. Maybe EAs are more likely to think about this and maximise the efficiency of their housing. But at the limit, every loft, basement and garage not converted is counterfactual lost earnings. Or, indeed, you could say that real estate investment in general is profitable, and people should do more of it. But then so are other things. So any profits "left on the table" through suboptimally investing money are also potential "costs"... (and then here things get tricky, in determining what the optimal investments are. And we're pretty much back to the foundation of EA! Optimal allocation of resources). [As I've said elsewhere in this thread, I don't think children are a special case of expensive. They are one of several things that can be expensive (see also: location, career choice, suboptimal investment, tastes, hobbies), and for most people, who aren't already maximising their financial efficiency (frugality; investments), it's a matter of prioritisation as to the relative expense of having them.]
Can a Vegan Diet Be Healthy? A Literature Review

I think Greger probably does provide good advice for people who have already decided to be vegan, but at least his website I think is not clear that it starts from a premise of veganism and then addresses health rather than starting with the question of what's best for health. Wikipedia says Greger became a vegan as a college student when he toured a stockyard. I certainly respect that decision as a personal one, but I think his nutrition advice doesn't clearly address his non-health reasons for recommending veganism.

2BenSchifman9moThanks Julia -- I didn't realize he had become a vegan before becoming a doctor, writing his book(s), etc. I think he probably underplays that in his writing to reach a wider audience. It does give me a bit of a reason to question his objectivity in assessing the evidence about what diet is best for health / longevity (as opposed to what is best from an animal welfare perspective). However, I did find his book to be a very thorough and evidence-based presentation of the studies that suggest a "whole food plant based" diet (distinct from a vegan diet which could = only potato chips and twinkies!) is helpful in preventing and treating diseases, particularly heart disease and diabetes.
A full syllabus on longtermism

Good to see! I've added this to the list of EA syllabi and teaching materials. Let me know if you want to be credited as something other than jtm.

1jtm9moThanks! You can just use my full name (this is Joshua from the Yale group).
Resources On Mental Health And Finding A Therapist

Seconding this. My partner was spooked by seeing a family member on heavy-duty medications for a more serious mental health situation, so our vague impression was that antidepressants might really change who I was. I did need to try a couple meds and try different times of day, etc to deal with side effects, but at this point I have a med and dose that makes my life better and has very minor side effects.

Resources On Mental Health And Finding A Therapist

I also like the writeups there. I was hoping I could refer community members to the actual practice, but Scott writes in a recent post: "Stop trying to sign up for my psychiatry practice. It says in three different places there that it's only currently open to patients who are transferring from my previous practice."

Charges against BitMEX and cofounders

Well you did announce the policy change as a comment on an article about Delo!

Sorry, I mean my most recent comment specifically - the reasons we're considering these kinds of changes are not just because of this one situation but also because of others that could arise. I'll edit to clarify.

Charges against BitMEX and cofounders

I don’t want this comment to read as all commentary on Delo or BitMEX specifically; we're also thinking about how to be prepared for other situations that could arise. [Edited for clarity]

A lot of what’s happening here is CEA realizing that there are a lot of potential donors who make money in crypto or other emerging fields where society is still trying to figure out how to apply legal and ethical frameworks. We need better systems for thinking about that. Many of the steps CEA is taking or considering are not strictly legally required, but that’s no... (read more)

I don’t want this all to read as commentary on Delo or BitMEX specifically. 

Well you did announce the policy change as a comment on an article about Delo!


EA has long included the idea that some ways of making money could create net negative impact even if you donate your earnings, for example 80,000 Hours’ post on Why you should avoid harmful jobs even if you’ll do more good.

I think (?) I may have pointed this out previously, but there are some significant issues with this article. For example, it suggests a $42,000 average social cost of jobs i... (read more)

Charges against BitMEX and cofounders

I am checking with operations staff about this.

Charges against BitMEX and cofounders

Here’s an update from CEA's operations team, which has been working on updating our practices for handling donations. This also applies to other organizations that are legally within CEA (80,000 Hours, Giving What We Can, Forethought Foundation, and EA Funds).

  • “We are working with our lawyers to devise and implement an overarching policy for due diligence on all of our donors and donations going forward.
  • We've engaged a third party who now conducts KYC (know your client) due diligence research on all major donors (>$20K a year).
  • We have established a working relationship with TRM labs who conduct compliance and back-tracing for all crypto donations.” 

Is the idea that such controls, had they been implemented in the past, would have prevented you from accepting Delo's donations? 

Also, I am curious to see CEA's cost-benefit analysis behind this decision. Naively this seems like incurring a cost (staff time, consultant fees, lawyer fees, annoy donors) in order to reduce a benefit (donations). Based on my cursory research (talking to a lawyer and reading this) I couldn't work out if this was actually legally required given CEA's situation, though it does seem to be reasonably common.

In diversity lies epistemic strength

This stood out to me, too. The situation that came to my mind was an extreme one, but maybe it illustrates the importance of having some basic shared beliefs about how to seek truth:

I used to live upstairs from a neighbor who was from a culture that considered witchcraft a real and serious problem. When she heard noises that she considered strange, she came to my door and told me to stop practicing witchcraft against her. She was not interested in hearing my objections that I was not practicing witchcraft, because she was very sure that I was a witch. I wa... (read more)

In diversity lies epistemic strength

I agree with something in this direction, though not with everything as stated.
Some ways I see research affected by demographics:

  • Research of all kinds has been shaped by the viewpoints of people with more status, money, etc.
  • Sometimes this leads to serious slants in our understanding of the world - for example, the fact that so much psychology research has been done on WEIRD undergraduates means that our understanding of human psychology is badly skewed. Medical research that’s primarily carried out on one demographic group may not be generalizable to other
... (read more)
Killing the ants

Also, this reminds me of Horton Hears a Who.

Yes! I'm not sure what the book was meant to be an allegory for, if anything, but I think of this kind of thing every time I read it to my kids. It's about a character with hearing so keen he can hear the shout for help from a microscopic town, but no one else can hear them and they think he's crazy. The repeated theme is "A person's a person, no matter how small."

Ranking animal foods based on suffering and GHG emissions

I was about to say the same thing - I skimmed for "eggs" and it took me a bit to figure it out.

New infographic based on "The Precipice". any feedback?

I suggest making clearer that these are one researcher's rough estimates. Otherwise I think it gives a false sense of precision. Maybe by titling the infographic "Rough guess at global catastrophic risks from The Precipice" or similar.

My mistakes on the path to impact

Thank you for writing this up! I think it's helpful to see how the different eras of EA advice has played out in people's actual decisions.

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... (read more)

3[comment deleted]1y
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.

4Sid Sharma1yYes, good point! Based on the Cochrane review, we could confidently say nitrous oxide has an effect on pain. I should have said the evidence for the degree of pain relief appears variable and uncertain, although on a closer look, Cochrane's estimate suggests 3.5 on a 0-10 scale vs placebo (which is pretty great).
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.

4Sid Sharma1yHi Julia, thanks for drawing our attention to this! No, we didn’t look into it. From a quick review of the evidence, theeffectiveness [] appears variable and uncertain. But as you rightly point out, it doesn't require an anaesthetist, and it could therefore play an important role in a low resource setting.
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 p... (read more)

Strong +1. I was thinking of writing a very similar comment.

A good strategy to me seems to divide your resources into altruistic and personal buckets, decide on their respective sizes and optimise within those buckets. That having children will be one of the best options in the altruistic bucket is pretty unlikely, but it could be much closer to the top in the personal bucket.

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.

4willbradshaw1yAh, then my comment was based on a misunderstanding. Apologies.
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 limit... (read more)

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.]

Just for context, if anyone is unaware, Peter Singer is extremely controversial ... (read more)

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?

9Buck1yInasmuch as you expect people to keep getting richer, it seems reasonable to hope that no generation has to be more frugal than the previous.
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!

4LuciaC1yThanks so much Julia!
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