All of Kit's Comments + Replies

Getting a feel for changes of karma and controversy in the EA Forum over time

Thanks for this.

Without having the data, it seems the controversy graph could be driven substantially by posts which get exactly zero downvotes.

Almost all posts get at least one vote (magnitude >= 1), and balance>=0, so magnitude^balance >=1. Since the controversy graph goes below 1, I assume you are including the handling which sets controversy to zero if there are zero downvotes, per the Reddit code you linked to.

e.g. if a post has 50 upvotes:
0 downvotes --> controversy 0 (not 1.00)
1 downvote --> controversy 1.08
2 downvotes --> controve... (read more)

1FJehn8moThat's a valid point. Here's the controversy graph if you exclude all posts that don't have any downvotes: Overall trend seems to be similar though. And it makes me even more interested what happened in 2018 that sparked so much controversy^^

People from 80k, Founders Pledge and GWWC have already replied with corrections.

0Milan_Griffes8moThose weren't corrections... The statements I make in the original post are largely about what an org is focusing on, not what it is formally tracking.

(I downvoted this because a large fraction of the basic facts about what organisations are doing appear to be incorrect. See other comments. Mostly I think it's unfortunate to have incorrect things stated as fact in posts, but going on to draw conclusions from incorrect facts also seems unhelpful.)

2Milan_Griffes8moCould you give some examples of the basic facts I stated that appear incorrect?
Which effective altruism projects look disingenuous?

I'm totally not a mod, but I thought I'd highlight the "Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?" test. I think it's right in general, but especially important here. The Forum team seems to have listed basically this too: "Writing that is accurate, kind, and relevant to the discussion at hand."

I'm also excited to highlight another piece of their guidance "When you disagree with someone, approach it with curiosity: try to work out why they think what they think, and what you can learn from each other." On this:

  • Figuring out what someone thinks usually involv
... (read more)
5Aaron Gertler1yI agree with everything that Kit has said here. This post might have been in sufficient violation of the Forum's rules to remove (being slightly inaccurate and slightly unkind), but I'm leaving it up (without asking the author to consider changes, as I typically would -- see following comment) because I think Kit's comment suitably addresses my concerns. EA orgs aren't run by angels. Any community where money changes hands will attract people who want to deceive others, with or without good intentions. But it's really good to reach out to people before accusing them of deception; they could be making an honest error, you could be making an honest error, or the issue could simply be a difference of opinion within a moral gray area. We're working in a field with many complex questions (moral and logistical), and the best first reaction to confusion is communication.
The Risk of Concentrating Wealth in a Single Asset

I think this is the best intro to investing for altruists that I've seen published. The investment concepts it covers are the most important ones, and the application to altruists seems right.

(For context: I used to work as a trader, which is somewhat but not very relevant, and have thought about this kind of thing a bit.)

4MichaelDickens1yThank you, I appreciate the positive feedback, especially from someone as knowledgeable as you!
GiveDirectly plans a cash transfer response to COVID-19 in US

I would guess that the decision of which GiveDirectly programme to support† is dominated by the principle you noted, of

the dollar going further overseas.

Maybe GiveDirectly will, in this case, be able to serve people in the US who are in comparable need to people in extreme poverty. That seems unlikely to me, but it seems like the main thing to figure out. I think your 'criteria' question is most relevant to checking this.

† Of course, I think the most important decision tends to be deciding which problem you aim to help solve, which would precede the question of whether and which cash transfers to fund.

GiveDirectly plans a cash transfer response to COVID-19 in US

The donation page and mailing list update loosely suggest that donations are project-specific by default. Likewise, GiveWell says:

GiveDirectly has told us that donations driven by GiveWell's recommendation are used for standard cash transfers (other than some grant funding from Good Ventures and cases where donors have specified a different use of the funds).

(See the donation page for what the alternatives to standard cash transfers are.)

If funding for different GiveDirectly projects are sufficiently separate, your donation would pretty much just incr... (read more)

1warrenjordan2yThank you for the clarification. Confused about this one as I have not donated directly to GiveDirectly - I thought that if I were to donate $100 for standard cash transfer, some % of that goes directly to recipients. They state 89% [https://www.givewell.org/charities/give-directly#footnote145_d3encfl] for specific African countries. I would hope there would be some comparable % for standard cash transfers to US recipients. What questions come to mind for you? Some that I think of... * What is the criteria for someone to receive this benefit? What does that vetting process look like? * What would coverage look like? * How do they ensure that the funds will actually benefit the recipients and where do they draw those margins?
Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

[Comment not relevant]

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
A small observation about the value of having kids

For the record, I wouldn't describe having children to 'impart positive values and competence to their descendants' as a 'common thought' in effective altruism, at least any time recently.

I've been involved in the community in London for three years and in Berkeley for a year, and don't recall ever having an in-person conversation about having children to promote values etc. I've seen it discussed maybe twice on the internet over those years.

--

Additionally: This seems like an ok state of affairs to me. Having childre... (read more)

Assumptions about the far future and cause priority

In the '2% RGDP growth' view, the plateau is already here, since exponential RGDP growth is probably subexponential utility growth. (I reckon this is a good example of confusion caused by using 'plateau' to mean 'subexponential' :) )

In the 'accelerating view', it seems that whether there is exponential utility growth in the long term comes down to the same intuitions about whether things keep accelerating forever that are discussed in other threads.

1Jc_Mourrat2yOk, but note that this depends crucially on whether you decide that your utility looks more like log(GDP), or more like (GDP)^0.1, say. I don't know how we can be confident that it is one and not the other.
Assumptions about the far future and cause priority

Thanks!

In my understanding, [a confident focus on extinction risk] relies crucially on the assumption that the utility of the future cannot have exponential growth in the long term

I wanted to say thanks for spelling that out. It seems that this implicitly underlies some important disagreements. By contrast, I think this addition is somewhat counterproductive:

and will instead essentially reach a plateau.

The idea of a plateau brings to mind images of sub-linear growth, but all that is required is sub-exponential growth, a much weaker claim. I think this will... (read more)

3Jc_Mourrat2yThanks for your detailed and kind comments! It's true that naming this a "plateau" is not very accurate. It was my attempt to make the reader's life a bit easier by using a notion that is relatively easier to grasp in the main text (with some math details in a footnote for those who want more precision). About the growth rate, mathematically a function is fully described by its growth rate (and initial condition), and here the crux is whether or not the growth rate will go to zero relatively quickly, so it seems like a useful concept to me. (When you refer to footnote 15, that can make sense, but I wonder if you were meaning footnote 5 instead.) I agree with all the other things you say. I may be overly worried about our community becoming more and more focused on one particular cause area, possibly because of a handful of disappointing personal experiences. One of the main goals of this post was to make people more aware of the fact that current recommendations are based in an important way on a certain belief on the trajectory of the far future, and maybe I should have focused on that goal only instead of trying to do several things at once and not doing them all very well :-)
Updated Climate Change Problem Profile
I’m curious to know what you think the difference is. Both problems require greenhouse gas emissions to be halted.

I agree that both mainline and extreme scenarios are helped by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but there are other things one can do about climate change, and the most effective actions might turn out to be things which are specific to either mainline or extreme risks. To take examples from that link:

  • Developing drought-resistant crops could mitigate some of the worst effects of mainline scenarios, but might help little in extreme scen
... (read more)
Updated Climate Change Problem Profile

Thanks for this. I found it interesting to think about. Here are my main comments.

Mainline and extreme risks

I think it would be better to analyse mainline risks and extreme risks separately.

  • Depending on whether or not you put substantial weight on future people, one type of risks may be much more important than the other. The extreme risks appear to pose a much larger existential threat than mainline risks, so if you value future generations the extreme risks may be much more important to focus on. The opposite may be true for people who apply high pure ti
... (read more)
1mchr3k2yI’m curious to know what you think the difference is. Both problems require greenhouse gas emissions to be halted. The neglectedness guidelines focus on the level of existing funding. I argue that this is an insufficient view - that if you have two problems who require $100 or $200 of total funding to solve completely, if they both have $50 of funding today, they are not equally neglected. The denominator matters - the $200 problem is much further from being solved. Perhaps I’m proposing a slightly different framework - but it’s definitely not one divorced from the notion of caring about the good done per effort put in. I just don’t believe that climate change is really at saturation point for the level of effort. Fair point about use of language. I’ll try and address this in a future edit.
Summary of my academic paper “Effective Altruism and Systemic Change”

Regarding increasing marginal returns (IMR), which seems to be the primary contribution of this paper and not obviously addressed by replies to other types of systemic change objections:

Perhaps rather than 'Are IMR commonly found in cause areas?', I would ask 'where are IMR found?' and, for the purposes of testing the critique, 'in which cases are relevant actors not already aware of those IMR?' This is because I expect the prevalence of IMR to vary substantially between areas. (I see that you also call for concrete examples i... (read more)

Are we living at the most influential time in history?
Punting strategies, in contrast, affect future generations primarly via their effect on the people alive in the most influential centuries.

That seems like a sufficiently precise definition. Whether there are any interventions in that category seems like an open question. (Maybe it is a lot more narrow than Will's intention.)

Are we living at the most influential time in history?

Not appropriated: lost to value drift. (Hence, yes, the historical cases I draw on are the same as in my comment 3 up in this thread.) I'm thinking of this quantity as something like the proportion of resources which will in expectation be dedicated 100 years later to the original mission as envisaged by the founders, annualised.

Are we living at the most influential time in history?

Got it. Given the inclusion of (bad) value drift in 'appropriated (or otherwise lost)', my previous comment should just be interpreted as providing evidence to counter this claim:

But I shouldn’t think that the chance of my funds being appropriated (or otherwise lost) is as high as 2% per year.

[Recap of my previous comment] It seems that this quote predicts a lower rate than there has ever† been before. Such predictions can be correct! However, a plan for making the prediction come true is needed.

It seems that the plan should be different to what ... (read more)

1Max_Daniel2yJust to make sure I understand - you're saying that, historically, the chance of funds (that were not intended just to advance mutual self-interest) being appropriated has always been higher than 2% per year? If so, I'm curious what this is based on. - Do you have specific cases of appropriation in mind? Are you mostly appealing to charities with clear founding values and religious groups, both of which you mention later? [Asking because I feel like I don't have a good grasp on the probability we're trying to assess here.]
Are we living at the most influential time in history?

Thanks. I agree that we might endorse some (or many) changes. Hidden away in my first footnote is a link to a pretty broad set of values. To expand: I would be excited to give (and have in the past given) resources to people smarter than me who are outcome-oriented, maximizing, cause-impartial and egalitarian, as defined by Will here, even (or especially) if they plan to use them differently to how I would. Similarly, keeping the value 'do the most good' stable maybe means something like keeping the outcome-oriented, maximizing, cause-impartial a... (read more)

Are we living at the most influential time in history?

I was very surprised to see that 'funds being appropriated (or otherwise lost)' is the main concern with attempting to move resources 100 years into the future. Before seeing this comment, I would have been confident that the primary difficulty is in building an institution which maintains acceptable values† for 100 years.

Some of the very limited data we have on value drift within individual people suggests losses of 11% and 18% per year for two groups over 5 years. I think these numbers are a reasonable estimate for people who have held certain ... (read more)

Sorry - 'or otherwise lost' qualifier was meant to be a catch-all for any way of the investment losing its value, including (bad) value-drift.

I think there's a decent case for (some) EAs doing better at avoiding this than e.g. typical foundations:

  • If you have precise values (e.g. classical utilitarianism) then it's easier to transmit those values across time - you can write your values down clearly as part of the constitution of the foundation, and it's easier to find and identify younger people to take over the fund who also endor
... (read more)
2Max_Daniel2yI think you make good points, and overall I feel quite sympathetic to the view you expressed. Just one quick thought pushing a bit in the other direction: But perhaps this example is quite relevant? To put it crudely, perhaps we can get away with keeping the value "do the most good" stable. This seems more analogous to "maximize profits" than to any specification of value that refers to a specific content of "doing good" (e.g., food aid to country X, or "abolish factory farming", or "reduce existential risk"). More generally, the crucial point seems to be: the content and specifics of values might change, but some of this change might be something we endorse. And perhaps there's a positive correlation between the likelihood of a change in values and how likely we'd be to agree with it upon reflection. [Exploring this fully seems quite complex both in terms of metaethics and empirical considerations.]
Are we living at the most influential time in history?

Thanks! I hadn't seen the Cotton-Barratt piece before.

Extinction risk reduction punts on the question of which future problems are most important to solve, but not how best to tackle the problem of extinction risk specifically. Building capacity for future extinction risk reduction work punts on how best to tackle the problem of extinction risk specifically, but not the question of which future problems are most important to solve. They seem to do more/less punting than one another along different dimensions, so, depending on one's definition of ... (read more)

Are we living at the most influential time in history?

I agree that, among other things, discussion of mechanisms for sending resources to the future would needed to make such a decision. I figured that all these other considerations were deliberately excluded from this post to keep its scope manageable.

However, I do think that one can interpret the post as making claims about a more insightful kind of probability: the odds with which the current century is the one which will have the highest leverage-evaluated-at-the-time (in contrast to an omniscient view / end-of-time evaluation, which is what this thread m... (read more)

Are we living at the most influential time in history?

This was very thought-provoking. I expect I'll come back to it a number of times.

I suspect that how the model works depends a lot on exactly how this definition is interpreted:

a time t is more influential (from a longtermist perspective) than a time t iff you would prefer to give an additional unit of resources,[1] that has to be spent doing direct work (rather than investment), to a longtermist altruist living at t rather than to a longtermist altruist living at t.

In particular, I think you intend direct work to include extinction risk reduction,... (read more)

How I see it:

Extinction risk reduction (and other type of "direct work") affects all future generations similarly. If the most influential century is still to come, extinction risk reduction also affects the people alive during that century (by making sure they exist). Thus, extinction risk reduction has a "punting to future generations that live in hingey times" component. However, extinction risk reduction also affects all the unhingey future generations directly, and the effects are not primarily mediated through the people alive in the most influential

... (read more)
7Stefan_Schubert2yI agree that it seems important to get more clarity over the direct work vs buck-passing/punting distinction. Building capacity for future extinction risk reduction work may be seen as more "meta"/"buck-passing/"punting" still. There has been an interesting discussion on direct vs meta-level work to reduce existential risk; see Toby Ord [https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/the-timing-of-labour-aimed-at-reducing-existential-risk/] and Owen Cotton-Barratt [https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/Allocating-risk-mitigation.pdf].
Are we living at the most influential time in history?

Using a distribution over possible futures seems important. The specific method you propose seems useful for getting a better picture of maxcentury most leveraged. However, what we want in order to make decisions is something more akin to maxleverage of century . The most obvious difference is that scenarios in which the future is short and there is little one can do about it score highly on expected ranking and low on expected value. I am unclear on whether a flat prior makes sense for expectancy, but it seems more reasonable than for proba... (read more)

While I agree with you that is not that action relevant, it is what Will is analyzing in the post, and think that William Kiely's suggested prior seems basically reasonable for answering that question. As Will said explicitly in another comment:

Agree that it might well be that even though one has a very low credence in HoH, one should still act in the same way. (e.g. because if one is not at HoH, one is a sim, and your actions don’t have much impact).

I do think that the focus on is t... (read more)

Key points from The Dead Hand, David E. Hoffman

Thanks! Here are some places you might start. (People who have done deeper dives into nuclear risk might have more informed views on what resources would be useful.)

  • Baum et al., 2018, A Model For The Probability Of Nuclear War makes use of a more comprehensive list of (possible) close calls than I've seen elsewhere.
  • FLI's timeline of close calls is a more (less?) fun display, which links on to more detailed sources. Note that many of the sources are advocacy groups, and they have a certain spin.
  • Picking a few case studies that seemed important and
... (read more)

I recently started to feel that celebrating Petrov was a bad choice: he just happened to be in the right place in the right time, and as you say, there were many false positives at the time. Petrov's actions were important, but they provide no lessons to those who aspire to reduce x-risk.

A better example might be Carl Sagan, who (if I'm correct) researched nuclear winter and succesfully advocated against nuclear weapons by conveying the risk of nuclear winter. This seemed to have contributed to Gorbachov's conviction to mitigate nuclear war risk. This stor

... (read more)
How urgent are extreme climate change risks?

Open Phil (then GiveWell Labs) explored climate change pretty early on in their history, including the nearer-term humanitarian effects. Giving What We Can also compared climate change efforts to health interventions. (Each page is a summary page which links to other pages going into more detail.)

1spanrucker2yThanks Kit! I look forward to reading them.
Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution

I'm very excited to see people doing empirical work on what things we care about are in fact dominated by their extremes. At least after adjusting for survey issues, statements like

The bottom 90% accounts for 30% of incidents

seem to be a substantial improvement on theoretical arguments about properties of distributions. (Personal views only.)

Cluster Headache Frequency Follows a Long-Tail Distribution

I'm less optimistic about the use of surveys on whether people think tryptamines will/did work:

  • 'And do they work?' doesn't seem like a question that will be accurately answered by asking people whether it worked for them. (Reversion to the mean being my main concern.)
  • Non-users are asked whether tryptamines 'could be effective for treating your cluster headaches', which could be interpreted as a judgement on whether it works for anyone or whether it will work for them (for which the correct answer seems to be 'maybe'). Users are asked whether it worked for them specifically. Directly computing the difference between these answers doesn't seem meaningful.
Debrief: "cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics"

Huh. The winning response, one of the six early responses, also engages explicitly with the arguments in the main post in its section 1.2 and section 2. This one discussed things mentioned in the post without explicitly referring to the post. This one summarises the long-term-focused arguments in the post and then argues against them.

I worry I'm missing something here. Dismissing these responses as 'cached arguments' seemed stretched already, but the factual claim made to back that decision up, that 'None of these engaged with the pro-p... (read more)

6Milan_Griffes2yThanks, I think I overstated this in the OP (added a disclaimer noting this). I still think there's a thing here but probably not to the degree I was holding. In particular it felt strange that there wasn't much engagement with the trauma argument or the moral uncertainty / moral hedging argument ("psychedelics are plausibly promising under both longtermist & short-termist views, so the case for psychedelics is more robust overall.") There was also basically no engagement with the studies I pointed to. All of this felt strange (and still feels strange), though I now think I was too strong in the OP.
Debrief: "cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics"

I also came to note that the request was for 'the best arguments against psychedelics, not for counter-arguments to your specific arguments in favour'.

However, I also wrote one of the six responses referred to, and I contest the claim that

None of these engaged with the pro-psychedelic arguments I made in the main post

The majority of my response explicitly discusses the weakness of the argumentation in the main post for the asserted effect on the long-term future. To highlight a single sentence which seems to make this clear, I say:

I don't se
... (read more)

Huh. The winning response, one of the six early responses, also engages explicitly with the arguments in the main post in its section 1.2 and section 2. This one discussed things mentioned in the post without explicitly referring to the post. This one summarises the long-term-focused arguments in the post and then argues against them.

I worry I'm missing something here. Dismissing these responses as 'cached arguments' seemed stretched already, but the factual claim made to back that decision up, that 'None of these engaged with the pro-p... (read more)

How bad would nuclear winter caused by a US-Russia nuclear exchange be?

On the specific questions you're asking about whether empirical data from the Kuwaiti oil field destruction is taken into account: it seems that the answer to each is simply 'yes'. The post says that the data used is adapted from Toon et al. (2007), which projects how much smoke would reach the stratosphere specifically. The paper explicitly considers that event and what the model would predict about them:

Much interest in plume rise was directed at the Kuwati oil fires set by Iraqi forces in 1991. Small (1991) estimated that oil well fires produce energy a
... (read more)
0bengold2yI think the issue is not the energy source/density, the issue is amount of particles in the atmosphere, Sagan/TTAPS is on record saying that the amount of particles is the same magnitude in the Kuwait fires as in their model, in addition at least in theirs simulations the burning of oil/gas deposits within cities like in gas stations cars etc... is what produced the most amount of the particles and particles in the correct mass that would rise and produce the most damage by "self lofting" into the upper layers - hence his predictions. Also the the nuclear mushroom is completely irrelevant it contributes negligible amounts to particles in the atmosphere, it is not surprising that some smoke is thrown from the blast, but to get "Nuclear Winter" from the model/simulations the main source are the fires and the proposition that the particles will "self loft" and rise and rise and rise....., yet it seems that the fires do not produce any "self lofting", in addition as far as i recall they are also not blocking as much of sun energy as proposed. Note that it is not that they were a little off, they were completely wrong, more over it was probably completely politically motivated (it is for a good cause so it is ok to inflate inflate and inflate) but we should be really skeptical.
How bad would nuclear winter caused by a US-Russia nuclear exchange be?

On your general point about paying attention to political biases, I agree that's worthwhile. A quibble related to that which might matter to you: the Wikipedia article you're quoting seems to attribute the incorrect predictions to TTAPS but I could only trace them to Sagan specifically. I could be missing something due to dead/inaccessible links.

How bad would nuclear winter caused by a US-Russia nuclear exchange be?

There are a whole bunch of things I love about this work. Among other things:

  • An end-to-end model of nuclear winter risk! I'm really excited about this.
  • The quantitative discussions of many details and how they interact are very insightful. e.g. ones which were novel for me included how exactly smoke causes agriculture loss, and roughly where the critical thresholds for agricultural collapse might be. The concrete estimates for the difference in smoke production between counterforce and countervalue, which I knew the sign of but not the magnitude, are f
... (read more)
How bad would nuclear winter caused by a US-Russia nuclear exchange be?

I have one material issue with the model structure, which I think may reverse your bottom line. The scenario full-scale countervalue attack against Russia has a median smoke estimate of 60Tg and a scenario probability of 0.27 x 0.36 = ~0.1. This means the probability of total smoke exceeding 60Tg has to be >5%, but Total smoke generated by a US-Russia nuclear exchange calculates a probability of only 0.35% for >60Tg smoke.

What seems to be going on is that the model incorporates estimated smoke from each countervalue targeting scenario as {scenario pr... (read more)

How many people would be killed as a direct result of a US-Russia nuclear exchange?

Agreed. The discussion of the likelihood of countervalue targetting throughout this piece seems very important if countervalue strikes would typically produce considerably more soot than counterforce strikes. In particular, the idea that any countervalue component of a second strike would likely be small seems important and is new to me.

I really hope the post is right that any countervalue targetting is moderately unlikely even in a second strike for the countries with the largest arsenals. That one ‘point blank’ line in the 2010 NPR was certainly surprising to me. On the other hand, I'm not compelled by most of the arguments as applied to second strikes specifically.

Would US and Russian nuclear forces survive a first strike?

This is fascinating, especially with details like different survivability of US and Russian SLBMs. My main takeaway is that counterforce is really not that effective, so it remains hard to see why it would be worth engaging in a first strike. I'd be interested to hear if you ever attempt to quantify the risk that cyber, hypersonic, drone and other technologies (appear to) change this, or if this has been attempted by someone already.

Relatedly:

If improvements in technology allowed either country to reliably locate and destroy those targets, they would
... (read more)
Would US and Russian nuclear forces survive a first strike?

Quibbles/queries:

The one significant thing I was confused about was why the upper bound survivability for stationary, land-based ICBMs is only 25%. It looks like these estimates are specifically for cases where a rapid second strike (which could theoretically achieve survivability of up to 100%) is not attempted. Do you intend to be taking a position on whether a rapid second strike is likely? It seems like you are using these numbers in some places, e.g. when talking about ‘Countervalue targeting by Russia in the US’ in your third post, when you might be ... (read more)

5Luisa_Rodriguez2yGood catch! I wasn’t considering the fact that a countervalue attack might be ‘launched on warning,’ rather than after a first strike had already destroyed a portion of a country’s nuclear arsenal. I’ve updated the Guesstimate model in the third post [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/FfxrwBdBDCg9YTh69/how-many-people-would-be-killed-as-a-direct-result-of-a-us#2tGJcdtb5eoHyKYeP] to reflect that full-scale countervalue targeting could get a bit deadlier than I originally accounted for, and I'll make sure my post on nuclear winter takes this into account as well. I don’t have the bandwidth to update all of the figures in the post immediately, but I should be able to do so soon. Right, again! Thanks for flagging this. Here’s an updated version of my calculations [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1lk-L00RjnZsI_Jwxcpmj_er1pu0PEa2qrAAh2HWoELA/edit?usp=sharing] . I now find that somewhere between ~990 and 1,500 US nuclear weapons would survive a counterforce first strike by Russia. I’ll update the post to reflect these changes soon.
Which nuclear wars should worry us most?

This series (#2, #3) has begun as the most interesting-to-me on the Forum in a long time. Thanks very much. If you have written or do write about how future changes in arsenals may change your conclusions about what scenarios to pay the most attention to, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

In case relevant to others, I found your spreadsheet with raw figures more insightful than the discrete system in the post. To what extent do you think the survey you use for the probabilities of particular nuclear scenarios is a reliable source? (I previously di... (read more)

1Luisa_Rodriguez2yAlso, I see you’ve left some great feedback on posts 2 and 3. I’ll be replying to those comments shortly.
5Luisa_Rodriguez2yHi Kit, Thanks for your comments — I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the series! I haven’t written about this yet, but I’ll consider working it in as I continue to explore the topic in the next few months. I’ll update this thread if I do. I’ll be sharing a post on the probability of a US-Russia nuclear war soon. It talks a little bit about the relative merits and weaknesses of some of these probability estimates.
Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area
effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor + effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor

Let's go. Upside 1:

effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor

Adding optimistic numbers to what I already said:

  • Let's say EAs contribute $50m† of resources per successful drug being rolled out across most of the US (mainly contributing to research and advocacy). We ignore costs paid by everyone else.
  • This somehow causes rollout about 3 years earlier than it would otherwise have happened, and doesn't trade off aga
... (read more)
4Milan_Griffes3yAn EA contribution of far less than $50m would be leveraged. The $2.4bn estimate doesn't apply well to psychedelics, because there's no cost of drug discovery here (the drugs in question have already been discovered). As a data point, MAPS [https://maps.org/] has shepherded MDMA through the three phases of the FDA approval process with a total spend of ~$30m. The current most important question for legal MDMA & psilocybin rollout in the US is not when, but at what quality. We're at a point where the FDA is likely (>50% chance) going to reschedule these drugs within the next 5 years (both have received breakthrough therapy designation [https://www.fda.gov/patients/fast-track-breakthrough-therapy-accelerated-approval-priority-review/breakthrough-therapy] from the FDA). Many aspects of how FDA rescheduling goes are currently undetermined (insurance, price, off-label prescription, setting in which the drugs can be used). A savvy research agenda + advocacy work could tip these factors in a substantially more favorable direction than would happen counterfactually. Doing research & advocacy in this area scales fairly linearly (most study designs I've seen cost between $50k-$1m, advocates can be funded for a year for $60-$90k). From the OP: So somewhere between 34.1% - 65.4% of SSC readers report having a relevant mental health issue (depending on how much overlap there is between the reports of anxiety & reports of depression). I think SSC readers are an appropriate comparison class for long-term-focused EAs. That said, I agree with the thrust of this part of your argument. There just aren't very many people working on long-termist stuff at present. Once all of these people are supported by a comfortable salary, it's not clear that further spend on them is leveraged (i.e. not clear that there's a mechanism for converting more money to more research product for the present set of researchers, once they're receiving a comfortable salary). So perhaps the argume
Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area
Psychedelic interventions seem promising because they can plausibly increase the number of capable people focused on long-termist work, in addition to plausibly boosting the efficacy of those already involved.

Pointing out that there are two upsides is helpful, but I had just made this claim:

The math for [the bold part] seems really unlikely to work out.

It would be helpful if you could agree with or contest with that claim before we move on to the other upside.

-

Rationality projects: I don't care to arbitrate what counts as EA. I'm going to steer c... (read more)

3Milan_Griffes3yIsn't much of the present discussion about "what counts as EA?" Maybe I'm getting hung up on semantics. The question I most care about here is: "what topics should EAs dedicate research capacity & capital to?" Does that seem like a worthwhile question?
3Milan_Griffes3yRight. I'm saying that the math we should care about is: * effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor + effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor + effect from short-termist benefits I think that math is likely to work out. Given your priors, we've been discounting "effect from short-termist benefits" to 0. So the math is then: * effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor + effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor And I think that is also likely to work out, though the case is somewhat weaker when we discount short-termist benefits to 0. (I also disagree with discounting short-termist benefits to 0, but that's doesn't feel like the crux of our present disagreement.)
Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area

I'm not arguing against trying to compare things. I was saying that the comparison wasn't informative. Comparing dissimilar effects is valuable when done well, but comparing d-values of different effects from different interventions tells you very little.

3Milan_Griffes3yProbably the crux here is that I think rationality training & the psychedelic experience can achieve similar kinds of behavior change (e.g. less energy spent on negative self-talk & unhelpful personal narratives) such that their effect sizes can be compared. Whereas you think that rationality training & the psychedelic experience are different enough that believable comparison isn't possible. Does that sound right to you?
Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area

To explicitly separate out two issues that seem to be getting conflated:

  • Long-term-focused EAs should make use of the best mental health care available, which would make them more effective.
  • Some long-term-focused EAs should invest in making mental health care better, so that other long-term-focused EAs can have better mental health care and be more effective.

The former seems very likely true.

The latter seems very likely false. You would need the additional cost of researching, advocating for and implementing a specific new treatment (here, psilocybin) acros... (read more)

5Milan_Griffes3yfwiw I think negative self-talk (a kind of emotional block) & unhelpful personal narratives are big parts of the subjective experience of depression. Comparing dissimilar effects is a core part of EA-style analysis, right?
3Milan_Griffes3yDoes this mean you think that projects like CFAR [https://rationality.org/] & Paradigm Academy [http://paradigmacademy.co/] shouldn't be associated with the EA plank? Psychedelic interventions seem promising because they can plausibly increase the number of capable people focused on long-termist work, in addition to plausibly boosting the efficacy of those already involved. (See section 3(a) of the OP.) The marginal value of each additional value-aligned + capable long-termist is probably quite high.
Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area

I believe you when you say that psychedelic experiences have an effect of some (unknown) size on emotional blocks & unhelpful personal narratives, and that this would change workers' effectiveness by some (unknown) amount. However, even assuming that the unknown quantities are probably positive, this doesn't tell me whether to prioritise it any more than my priors suggest, or whether it beats rationality training.

Nonetheless, I think your arguments should be either compelling or something of a wake-up call for some readers. For example, if a ... (read more)

5Milan_Griffes3yGot it. (And thanks for factoring in kindness!) There hasn't been very much research on psychedelics for "well" people yet, largely because under our current academic research regime, it's hard to organize academic RCTs for drug effects that don't address pathologies. The below isn't quite apples-to-apples, but perhaps it's helpful as a jumping-off point. CFAR's 2015 longitudinal study [https://rationality.org/studies/2015-longitudinal-study] found: Carhart-Harris et al. 2018 [https://www.enthea.net/files/carhart-harris_et_al_2017_psilo_trial.pdf], a study of psilocybin therapy for treatment-resistant depression, found: Not apples-to-apples, because a population of people with treatment-resistant depression is clearly different than a population of CFAR workshop participants. But both address a question something like "how happy are you with your life?" Even if you add a steep discount to the Carhart-Harris 2018 [https://www.enthea.net/files/carhart-harris_et_al_2017_psilo_trial.pdf] effect, the effect size would still be comparable to the CFAR effect size – let's assume that 90% of the treatment effect is an artifact of the study due to selection effects, small study size, and factors specific to having treatment-resistant depression. Assuming a 90% discount, psilocybin would still have an adjusted Cohen's d = 0.14 (6 months after treatment), roughly in the ballpark of the CFAR workshop effect (d = 0.17).
Cash prizes for the best arguments against psychedelics being an EA cause area

Boring answer warning!

The best argument against most things being 'an EA cause area'† is simply that there is insufficient evidence in favour of the thing being a top priority.

I think future generations probably matter morally, so the information in sections 3(a), 3(b) and 4 matter most to me. I don't see the information in 3(a) or 3(b) telling me much about how leveraged any particular intervention is. There is info about what a causal mechanism might be, but analysis of the strength is also needed. (For example, you say that psychedelic in... (read more)

5Milan_Griffes3yCurious for your take on this part of the OP:
Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil?

As an aside, I wouldn't say that any Good Ventures things are 'housed under Open Phil'. I'd rather say that Open Phil makes recommendations to Good Ventures. i.e. Open Phil is a partner to Good Ventures, not a subsidiary.

Technically, I've therefore answered a different question to the one you asked: I've answered the question 'why aren't these grants on the Open Phil website'.

Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil?
Answer by KitMay 06, 201913

From Good Ventures' grantmaking approach page:

In 2018, Good Ventures funded $164 million in grants recommended by the Open Philanthropy Project, including $74 million to GiveWell’s top charities, standout charities, and incubation grants. (These grants generally appear in both the Good Ventures and Open Philanthropy Project grants databases.)
Good Ventures makes a small number of grants in additional areas of interest to the foundation. Such grants totaled around $19 million in 2018. Check out Our Portfolio and Grants Database to learn more about the g
... (read more)
5Milan_Griffes3yThanks! I just flipped through the Good Ventures grants database [http://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio] & spot-checked ~30 of their 2018 grants. Every grant I checked was made under the aegis of Open Phil, except for the aforementioned psychedelic grants & these grants to Alzheimer's research: 1 [http://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/university-of-southern-california-research-on-microbiome-and-alzheimers] , 2 [http://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/northwestern-university-research-on-microbiome-and-alzheimers] , 3 [http://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/brigham-and-womens-hospital-development-of-a-blood-test-for-alzheimers] , 4 [http://www.goodventures.org/our-portfolio/grants/university-of-chicago-research-on-microbiome-and-alzheimers] The same question comes up for the Alzheimer's grants – seems like they could be neatly placed in Open Phil's other scientific research portfolio [https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus-area/scientific-research/other-scientific-research-areas] , but weren't.
6BenMillwood3yThere's an unanswered question here of why Good Ventures makes grants that OpenPhil doesn't recommend, given that GV believes in the OpenPhil approach broadly. But I guess I don't find it that surprising that they do so. People like to do more than one thing?

As an aside, I wouldn't say that any Good Ventures things are 'housed under Open Phil'. I'd rather say that Open Phil makes recommendations to Good Ventures. i.e. Open Phil is a partner to Good Ventures, not a subsidiary.

Technically, I've therefore answered a different question to the one you asked: I've answered the question 'why aren't these grants on the Open Phil website'.

Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

I figured the OP was suggesting that people go to the retreat? (or maybe be generically supportive of the broader project of running retreats)

Not sure where this is going; doesn't immediately seem like it counters what I said about your comparison to specific fundraising + analysis posts, or about why readers might be confused as to why this is here.

0Milan_Griffes3yCan you point me to the place(s) where the OP is suggesting people go on these retreats? Perhaps this is the part you have in mind: Or maybe this is more a subtextual thing you're picking up on?
2Milan_Griffes3yI'm not sure where it's going either :-) You drew a distinction between the comparison posts I linked to & the OP. I was confused by the distinction you were drawing. I asked for clarification.
Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

Right. The stuff about psychedelics as Cause X was maybe a bit of a red herring. You probably know how to sell your business much better than I do, but something which I think is undervalued in general is simply opening your pitch with why exactly you think someone should care about your thing. I actually hadn't considered creative problem-solving or career choice as reasons to go on this retreat.

My earlier comment was a reply to the challenge of 'how this post is substantively different from previous content like...' and this now seems fairly obvious, so I probably have little more useful to say :)

8Aaron_Nesmith-Beck3yFair enough! I probably should have pointed out those reasons in the original post (although I did link to the paper on psychedelics and creative problem-solving). I probably also unconsciously assumed those reasons are more obvious to most people than they are, because I'm thinking about this stuff all the time.
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