"To see the world as it is, rather than as I wish it to be."

I work for the EA research nonprofit Rethink Priorities. Despite my official title, I don't really think of the stuff I do as "research." In particular, when I think of the word "research", I think of people who are expanding the frontiers of the world's knowledge, whereas often I'm more interested in expanding the frontiers of my knowledge, and/or disseminating it to the relevant parties.

I'm also really interested in forecasting.

People may or may not also be interested in my comments on Metaculus and Twitter:



Wiki Contributions


vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Keen to get feedback on whether I've over/underestimated any variables.

I think 

Average person's value of time (USD)

As a normal distribution between $20-30 is too low, many EA applicants counterfactually have upper middle class professional jobs in the US. 

I also want to flag that you are assuming that the time is

unpaid labour time

but many EA orgs do in fact pay for work trials. "trial week" especially should almost always be paid. 



Taylor Swift's "long story short" Is Actually About Effective Altruism and Longtermism (PARODY)

Got it, I agree with you that this can be what's going on! When the intuition is spelled out we clearly see the "trick" is comparing individual incomes as if they were comparable to household incomes. 

Living in the Bay Area, I think some of my friends do forget that in addition to being extremely rich by international standards, they are also somewhere between fairly and extremely rich by American standards as well. 

Taylor Swift's "long story short" Is Actually About Effective Altruism and Longtermism (PARODY)

Speaking of the second video, I have my own fan theory that "Blank Space" is based on popular manga and anime series Death Note.

Taylor Swift's "long story short" Is Actually About Effective Altruism and Longtermism (PARODY)

I dunno, I feel like these are two fairly different claims. I also expect the average non-American household to be larger than the average American household, not smaller (so there will be <6 B households worldwide). 

Buck's Shortform

I thought you were making an empirical claim with the quoted sentence, not a normative claim. 

Taylor Swift's "long story short" Is Actually About Effective Altruism and Longtermism (PARODY)

Not your fault, but

the median American household is comfortably in the top richest 1% globally 

does not seem plausible to me, because the US has ~4% of the world population

Buck's Shortform

Below this level of consumption, they’ll prefer consuming dollars to donating them, and so they will always consume them. And above it, they’ll prefer donating dollars to consuming them, and so will always donate them. And this is why the GWWC pledge asks you to input the C such that dF(C)/d(C) is 1, and you pledge to donate everything above it and nothing below it.

Wait the standard GWWC pledge is a 10% of your income, presumably based on cultural norms like tithing which in themselves might reflect an implicit understanding that (if we assume log utility) a constant fraction of consumption is equally costly  to any individual, so made for coordination rather than single-player reasons.

A Sequence Against Strong Longtermism

The set of all possible futures is infinite, regardless of whether we consider the life of the universe to be infinite. Why is this? Add to any finite set of possible futures a future where someone spontaneously shouts “1”!, and a future where someone spontaneously shouts “2”!, and a future where someone spontaneously shouts

Wait are you assuming that physics is continuous? If so, isn't this a rejection of modern physics? If not, how do you respond to the objection that there is a limited number of possible configurations for atoms in our controllable universe to be in? 

I think, however, that longtermism has the potential to destroy the effective altruism movement entirely, because by fiddling with the numbers, the above reasoning can be used to squash funding for any charitable cause whatsoever. The stakes are really high here.

I'm worried that this will come across as a bravery debate, but are you familiar with the phrase "anything is possible when you lie?" 

I don't find it particularly problematic that sufficient numerical fiddling (or verbal fiddling for that matter) can produce arbitrary conclusions. 

Your critique reminds me of people who argue that consequentialism can be used to justify horrific conclusions, as if consequentialism had an unusually bad track record, or if other common ethical systems have never justified any terrible actions ever. 


Writing about my job: pharmaceutical chemist

This seems unlikely from your description, but do you do or know of any work on biologics by any chance? I ask because I'm writing a report on cultured meat and would like a slightly larger pool of reviewers from adjacent industries (eg people who have experience scaling use of CHO cells). 

Metaculus Questions Suggest Money Will Do More Good in the Future

For the first question, I was one of the forecasters who gave close to the current Metaculus median answer (~30%). I can't remember my exact reasoning, but roughly:

1. Outside view on how frequently things have changed + some estimates on how likely things are to change in the future. 

2. Decent probability that the current top charities will go down in effectiveness as the problems become less neglected/we've had stronger partial solutions for them/we discover new evidence about them. Concretely:

Malaria: CRISPR or vaccines.  But also I place decent probability on bednet production and distribution being fully solved by states/international actors/large NGOs.
Deworming:  Possibilities include a) we uncover new evidence that suggests deworming is less effective than we previously thought, especially at 2021/2030 worm loads* or b) mass deworming decreases the total amount of worms, decreasing marginal value, or c) both.
Cash: At GiveWell scale, I don't think direct cash transfers is ever competitive with your current best guess for top health/development interventions under naive cost-effectiveness unless you apply a strong robustness penalty to everything else. 
Vitamin A: haven't thought much about it tbqh, so retreat to priors.

*The evidentiary base for deworming was always shaky to begin with, I think (within the randomista paradigm) it's reasonable to model deworming as a relatively high-risk high-reward economic intervention.

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