Lizka

I recently finished my undergraduate studies. I interned at Rethink Priorities this summer, and now I'm working for CEA (doing communications and impact assessment for the Events Team). Please feel free to reach out!

People don't seem to know about the Forum digest enough: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/zRoXctENAsLchwryn/sign-up-for-the-forum-s-email-digest

Another link I enjoy: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/tags/random

Wiki Contributions

Comments

Wikipedia editing is important, tractable, and neglected

Thanks for this post! I appreciated it. 

It seems worth listing or crowd-sourcing articles that people should focus on, and attaching that to existing project compilations and resources. (Michael seems to point in this direction in a comment, too.)

Maybe you or someone else can write up a quick list of topics to explore, or a meta strategy for identifying such topics? One thing that springs to mind as a possible starting point is simply checking to see which of the EA Forum Wiki tags/pages don't have a corresponding Wikipedia page, or have a poor one (and deciding for which that should change).

On that note, I quite like that you list: 

There is currently no WikiProject on effective altruism. However, some WikiProjects have within their scope topics of EA relevance (HT Rob Bensinger), including:

(Apologies if I am repeating something said in the post itself-- I read some parts and skimmed others.)

December 2021 monthly meme post

Meta point: I appreciate the test and how it's being addressed. 

The Case for Reducing EA Jargon & How to Do It

Jargon glossaries sound like a great idea! (I'd be very excited to see them integrated with the wiki.)

A post I quite like on the topic of jargon: 3 suggestions about jargon in EA. The tl;dr is that jargon is relatively often misused, that it's great to explain or hyperlink a particular piece of jargon the first time it's used in a post/piece of writing (if it's being used), and that we should avoid incorrectly implying that things originated in EA. 

(I especially like the second point; I love hyperlinks and appreciate it when people give me a term to Google.) 

Also, you linked Rob Wiblin's presentation (thank you!)-- the corresponding post has a bunch of comments.
 

Lizka's Shortform

Superman gets to business [private submission to the Creative Writing Contest from a little while back]


“I don’t understand,” she repeated. “I mean, you’re Superman.”

“Well yes,” said Clark. “That’s exactly why I need your help! I can’t spend my time researching how to prioritize while I should be off answering someone’s call for help.”

“But why prioritize? Can’t you just take the calls as they come?”

Lois clicked “Send” on the email she’d been typing up and rejoined the conversation. “See, we realized that we’ve been too reactive. We were taking calls as they came in without appreciating the enormous potential we had here. It’s amazing that we get to help people who are being attacked, help people who need our help, but we could also make the world safer more proactively, and end up helping even more people, even better, and when we realized that, when that clicked—”

“We couldn’t just ignore it.”

Tina looked back at Clark. “Ok, so what you’re saying is that you want to save people— or help people — and you think there are better and worse ways you could approach that, but you’re not sure which are which, and you realized that instead of rushing off to fight the most immediate threat, you want to, what, do some research and find the best way you can help?”

“Yes, exactly, except, they’re not just better, we think they might be seriously better. Like, many times better. The difference between helping someone who’s being mugged, which by the way is awful, so helping them is already pretty great, but imagine if there’s a whole city somewhere that needs water or something, and there are people dying, and I could be helping them instead. It’s awful to ignore the mugging, but if I’m going there, I’m ignoring the city, and of those...”

“Basically, you’re right, Tina, yes,” said Lois.

“Ok,” Tina felt like she was missing something. “But Lois, you’re this powerful journalist, and Clark, you’re Superman. You can read at, what, 100 words per second? Doesn’t it make more sense for you to do the research? I’d need to spend hours reading about everything from food supply chains in Asia to, I dunno, environmental effects of diverting rivers or something, and you could have read all the available research on this in a week.”

“It’s true, Clark reads fast, and we were even trying to split the research up like that at some point,” said Lois. “But we also realized that the time that Clark was spending reading, even if it wasn’t very long, he could be spending chasing off the villain of the week or whatever. And I couldn’t get to all the research in time. I tried for a while, but I have a job, I need to eat, I need to unwind and watch Spanish soap operas sometimes. I was going insane. So we’ve been stuck in this trap of always addressing the most urgent thing, and we think we need help. Your help.”

“Plus, we don’t even really know what we need to find out. I don’t know which books I should be reading. It’s not even just about how to best fix the problem that’s coming up, like the best way to help that city without water. It’s also about finding new problems. We could be missing something huge.”

“You mean, you need to find the metaphorical cities without water?” Clark was nodding. Lois was tapping out another email. “And you should probably be widening your search, too. Not just looking at people specifically, or looking for cities without water, but also looking for systems to improve, ways to make people healthier. Animals, too, maybe. Aliens? Are there more of you? I’m getting off track.” Tina pulled out the tiny notebook her brother gave her and began jotting down some questions to investigate.

“So, are you in?” Lois seemed a bit impatient. Tina set the notebook aside, embarrassed for getting distracted.

“I think so. I mean, this is crazy, I need to think about it a bit. But it makes sense. And you need help. You definitely shouldn’t be working as a journalist, Clark. I mean, not that I’m an expert, really, but—”

“You kind of are. The expert.” Tina absently noted that Clark perfectly fit her mental image of a proper Kansas farm boy. He was even wearing plaid.

“If you accept the offer.” Lois said, without looking up from her email.

“That’s a terrifying thought. It feels like there should be more people helping, here. You should have someone sanity-checking things. Someone looking for flaws in my reasoning. You should maybe get a personal assistant, too— that could free up a massive amount of your time, and hopefully do a ton of good.” Tina knew she was hooked, but wanted to slow down, wanted to run this whole situation by a friend, or maybe her brother. “Can I tell someone about this? Like, is all of this secret?”

Clark shook his head. “We don’t want to isolate you from your friends or anything. But there will be things that need to be secret. And we’ve had trouble before— secrets are hard—” Clark glanced apologetically at Lois, who looked up from her frantic typing for long enough to shoot him a look, “But as much as possible, we don’t want to fall into bad patterns from the past.”

“I guess there are some dangers with information leaking. You probably have secret weaknesses, or maybe you know things that are dangerous—” Tina’s mind was swirling with new ideas and new worries. “Wait a second, how did you even find me? How do you know I’m not going to, like, tell everyone everything...”

Clark and Lois looked at each other.

“We didn’t really think that through very much. You seemed smart, and nice, and you’d started that phone-an-anonymous-friend service in college. And you wrote a good analysis when we asked you to. Sorry about the lie about the consulting job, by the way.”

“And you really need help.” Tina nodded. “Ok, we definitely need to fine-tune the hiring process. And I’ll start by writing down a list of some key questions.”

“I’ll order takeout,” said Lois, and pulled out her phone. 

 

[I wrote and submitted this shortly before the deadline, but was somewhat overwhelmed with other stuff and didn't post it on the Forum. I figured I'd go ahead and post it now. (Thanks to everyone who ran, participated in, or encouraged the contest by reading/commenting!]

Why fun writing can save lives: the case for it being high impact to make EA writing entertaining

I just want to link this article on "Research Debt" and the distillation of ideas: https://distill.pub/2017/research-debt/

A couple of passages:

There’s a tradeoff between the energy put into explaining an idea, and the energy needed to understand it. On one extreme, the explainer can painstakingly craft a beautiful explanation, leading their audience to understanding without even realizing it could have been difficult. On the other extreme, the explainer can do the absolute minimum and abandon their audience to struggle. [...] Research debt is the accumulation of missing interpretive labor. It’s extremely natural for young ideas to go through a stage of debt, like early prototypes in engineering.

[...]

Research distillation is the opposite of research debt. It can be incredibly satisfying, combining deep scientific understanding, empathy, and design to do justice to our research and lay bare beautiful insights. [...] Why do researchers not work on distillation? One possibility is perverse incentives, like wanting your work to look difficult. [...]

(Disclaimer: I only skimmed the post, so this may be off-topic or redundant. In any case, thanks for writing this!)

Why fun writing can save lives: the case for it being high impact to make EA writing entertaining

I agree with this. I also think writing can only be "bad" with respect to a goal of some kind, whereas it can be "boring" regardless of its goal.

Very often, that goal is to engage the reader, communicate clearly and memorably, etc. -- for those things, boring -> bad.

A couple of random/extreme examples off the top of my head, assuming a generic purpose of "being useful to readers" (I haven't thought this through):

  • Legal texts are (probably) often boring writing but not bad writing.
  • Some Buzzfeed articles are (probably) bad writing but not boring writing.

(So I also appreciate the "Unless you're in one of the few contexts where you actively want your writing to be dull" disclaimer in Will's comment.)

Why fun writing can save lives: the case for it being high impact to make EA writing entertaining

I find I really like this comment. I don't really know exactly why and don't have time to spend figuring that out, but I figured I'd put that out there. (I suppose if you're looking for encouragement to write more, there it is. )

Also, +1 to "people are more likely to act when emotionally engaged rather than merely intellectually."

Should EA Global London 2021 have been expanded?

I don’t have time to go into great depth for every one of your questions, but I’ll try to give quick replies to as many as I can.

It’s fair to separate errors from disagreements, and I focused mostly on disagreements in my original reply. (There are more things that should be classified as disagreements than should be classified as errors, and I think that the disagreements in this case mattered more to the discussion, which is why I focused on them. It’s possible I should have deleted the “some errors” line in my reply once I drafted it.) Things I think are errors on your part:

  1. You write: “the fact that there was a large waiting list for this conference was not at all surprising; I think I would have given an ex ante probability of over 90%. I'd be very surprised if the events team wasn't also expecting this.”

    • The Events Team did not expect this. (You phrase it as a prediction that you would be surprised to learn that this was the case, so I don’t have a way of knowing if this is in fact an error. But I think at the core, the statement is that you suspect that we expected this. We didn’t.)
  2. You write: “As with most COVID-related decisions made by the CEA events team over the course of the pandemic, the change in policy was justified solely by an appeal to authority – namely, that they consulted with their COVID advisory board.”

    • This isn’t correct — neither for the recent event nor for EA Global: SF 2020 (the other conference where our plans were substantially changed by COVID).

    • In the email where we offered refunds due to the change of plans, we shared our reason for expanding the conference: “We’ve received hundreds of applications for the event, and we currently have over 300 exceptional candidates on our waiting list. We really want these people to have a chance to attend, but we can only invite them if we increase our capacity.”

      • We were also concerned about the potential increase in risk and understood that some of the people who had registered might not want to attend as a result, and thus offered refunds and other resources they could use to make their decision (e.g. microCOVID).

      • One sentence in our email read: “After consulting our COVID Advisory Board, we’ve decided to increase this cap to allow those 300 people to join us in London”. This doesn’t mean that the board was our _only _source of guidance — just that consulting them was one necessary step we took before deciding to increase the cap.

    • For reference, the Events Team posted this about the decision in 2020. (Note that the composition of the COVID Board has changed since then.) This post isn’t just summarizing what the advisory board said — it also includes a lot of the team’s reasoning.

  3. You write: “Apart from those few people privileged to have close links with CEA or the Oxford office, most attendees didn't have access to the reasoning used to make the decision to expand. The arguments and data used to make that consequential decision should have been made available to the community, so that we could evaluate whether we found them convincing, challenge them if not, and update our beliefs and plans accordingly. This was not done.”

    • To be clear: none of the CEA Events Team was based in Oxford when this decision was made.

    • It’s true that we did not publish the reasoning. We did this because writing something that requires that kind of polish and care would have taken bandwidth and hours our team did (and still does) not have. We did however write a memo about this decision, which we shared with 40 community leaders (with a request for feedback), and had conversations about this with around a dozen people who attended the EA Meta Coordination Forum. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback on this decision.

I’d also like to add that while in general, I agree that transparency is good, I think you and I have pretty different pictures of what info would be most useful to the community here.

The info we prioritized getting to the community was what we thought would help them make decisions: whether to still come to the conference given the expanded size, and later the breakdown of microCOVID estimates by activity, which people could use to think about having more meetings outdoors, etc.

It sounds like you think it’s particularly important for us to share the specifics of the reasoning behind expanding the conference, beyond the points we’ve already shared. I don’t fully understand what you think would be useful to the community about having these particular details. There’s a lot of reasoning we could write up about each conference: Why does it cost this much? Why hold events in these cities and not those cities? Why have two conferences and not more? Why is this kind of food served?

Discussions and debates on these topics can be useful; sometimes, pushback from the community has helped CEA (and other organizations) recognize things we should be doing differently. But to publish all the reasoning behind all these things as it changes over time would take time that we can’t then use to actually produce events. (Especially as this work has to involve the people running the events, whose time is scarcer and harder to replace than contractor time.)

Should EA Global London 2021 have been expanded?

I think it's very important that CEA in particular is highly transparent about the decisions it makes and why it makes them – to the point, if necessary, of investing in extra capacity to make this extra transparency possible.

I agree, for many forms of transparency (like information people need to make decisions), though less so for other forms (our internal reasoning about event management). We’re doing a lot right now to scale up our capacity.

“ I do think there was quite a bit that could have been done to increase transparency relatively easily, including (in escalating order of effort) [...] It's possible I'm underestimating the amount of work some of these would have required”

My guess is that you are underestimating the amount of work—and especially mental energy and foresight— required for this, or perhaps you’re overestimating how much free time we had while planning the conference. It’s also plausible that doing some or any of the things you list was genuinely a good idea at the time, and something we should have done, even at the cost of spending less time on other priorities. If that’s true, we didn’t realize it at the time.

“now (i.e. after the event) seems like a great time to write that up more carefully for publication.”

The Events Team is actually quite busy after EA Global. (As we mentioned, we’re working on hiring/onboarding — and there’s always another event to plan.) We may still end up writing and publishing something to this effect, although it would probably be less focused on this specific decision than what you suggest.

What was the process by which CEA decided to expand? What sorts of evidence were gathered? How heavily did COVID weigh in this decision?

This decision was made over the span of approximately a week, after a bunch of meetings and ad hoc conversations. We consulted several experts, including our COVID Board, and we went through several iterations of an expansion design. I don’t have time to carefully write out all the things that happened in this process.

Should EA Global London 2021 have been expanded?

I think this is a complete list of everything that was done, before and after the decision to expand. Is that correct? If so, what's the subset of things that were done to compensate for expansion?

Some of the things I listed were added to the COVID Protocol only after the decision to expand. One example of this is that we weren’t planning on requiring tests before we decided to expand. We also decided to closely monitor the number of people who were present in any given room, especially during lunch, when we thought more people would be unmasked. (Very few of the attendees ended up using masks regularly, which we did not expect, so lunch was not as unique as we thought it would be.) I think the most important thing we did to compensate for the expansion, however, was to add the second venue and the marquees (as I mentioned before).

I do think, though, that the impression given was that the marquees would be relatively safer places to meet

We indeed thought that the marquees would be more ventilated than they were. I agree that this is the impression we communicated to attendees.

Seems like if you're already on the honour system, you might as well ask people to take a test every day?

I’m not sure how this follows, but you can probably make the argument that we should have pushed people to take tests more frequently. I am undecided on this, and we discussed this option. We ended up encouraging people to take frequent tests but not forcing it. (I don't really know what kind of response to this point you’re looking for.)

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