I lead the Centre for Effective Altruism. I used to be a moderator here, and helped to launch the new version of the Forum in 2018.

Here's my LinkedIn.

Feel free to reach out if you think I might be able to help you. Follow the links to give (anonymous) feedback to me or CEA.


A ranked list of all EA-relevant (audio)books I've read

I haven't read everything on your list, but I broadly agree with your rankings for the things I have read (with some tweaks - e.g. I'd probably put Inadequate Equilibria higher and Thinking Fast and Slow lower). 

I feel a bit confused still about how many/which things should be canonical. Maybe I want canonical ideas rather than canonical books? E.g. I think some of the ideas in the sequences are  important, and should be more widely known/used even in EA. But I also think it contains some less important stuff, and some people find the presentation offputting (while others love it). So I guess I'd ideally like there to be a few different presentations of the same ideas, and people can read the presentation that works best for them (bold academic book, super-well-evidenced academic papers, spicey blog posts, fanfic etc.). Maybe we now have this in some domains - e.g. you listed several presentations of AI safety?

I won't do a full  list of things I like right now, but some quick thoughts: 

  • I think The Great Courses can sometimes be great: I remember particularly liking one on biology. My understanding of biology overall is still quite imprecise, but the course gave me images of how a bunch of cellular biology works mechanistically which I think would be good scaffolding for a better understanding. I also really liked one on Chinese history (I think this one, which is a bit broader but still quite China-focused). I think the quality varies a bit between courses though.
  • I also love the In Our Time podcast . Especially the science ones - they have a version of the podcast that's only science. I like that they have several academics, which means you can get a variety of perspectives, and which makes me less worried that I'm only hearing one side of a debate.

P.s. I agree with a lot of your points in the other comment too, and I'm glad you posted this list!

A ranked list of all EA-relevant (audio)books I've read

I agree there are some costs to having some canonical books, but I think there are also some real benefits: for instance it helps to create common knowledge, which can facilitate good discussion and coordination. Also maybe some books are sufficiently important and high-quality that ~all EAs should read them before reading a broader variety of books (e.g. maybe all EAs should read The Precipice and a few other books, but then they should branch out and read a variety of things). 

I don't think that everything on Michael's list should be canonical, but I think probably some of his top recommendations should be.  I agree that some of the things on the list are probably over-canonized too.

Why do EA events attract more men than women? Focus group data

Thanks for doing this investigation, it's always helpful to have more data on this sort of thing.

Small note: I just re-skimmed this , and I found it really helpful that the headings were quite long: you can read the table of contents as a kind of summary, then click on bits that are interesting to you. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but I found it very helpful.

CEA update: Q4 2020

Interesting! Thanks for sharing.

CEA update: Q4 2020

That's interesting - I'm surprised by that and wonder if it's due to some differences between systems? In the UK people often begin to think about internships in their first or second years, and then look for jobs in the 3rd year, so I think there's quite a lot of ability to influence and discuss career plans early on. In the US degrees are longer, but early on people are trying to decide their major which is also a significant career decision. I also think that students have a lot more time and interest in engaging with new things, and they tend to be easier to reach (e.g. because they all come to activity fairs).  How do you find/target these early-career people? And aren't they already normally in employment/set on a career path?

CBGs remains open to non-student groups.

Things CEA is not doing

No, I think you understood the original post right and my last comment was confusing. When I said "grow" I was imagining "grow in terms of people/impact in the areas we're currently occupying and other adjacent areas that are not listed as "things we're not doing"".

I don't expect us to start doing the things listed in the post in the next 4-10 years (though I might be wrong on some counts). We'll be less likely to do something if it's less related to our current core competencies, and if others are doing good work in the area (as with fundraising).

Things CEA is not doing

Yeah, I agree that "be able to usefully scale" is a pretty positive instrumental goal (and maybe one I should pay attention to more). 

Maybe there are different versions of "be able to usefully scale":

  1. I'm mostly thinking of this in terms of "work on area X such that you have a model you can scale to make X much higher impact". I think this generally doesn't help you much to explore/scale area Y. (Maybe it helps if X and Y are really related.)
  2. I think you're thinking of this mostly in terms of "Be able to hire, manage, and coordinate large numbers of people quickly". I think this is also useful, and it's also something I'm aiming towards (though probably less than more object-level goals, like figuring out how to make our programs great, at the moment).
Things CEA is not doing

Yeah, agree that experimentation and listening to customers is good. I mostly think this is a different dimension from things like "expand into a new area", although maybe the distinction is a bit fuzzy.

I also agree that aiming to find scaleable things is a great model. 

I do think of CEA as looking for things that can scale (e.g. I think Forum, groups, and EAGx could all be scaled relatively well once we work out the models) (but we also do things that don't scale, which I think is appropriate while we're still searching for a really strong product-market fit).

(Edited to add: below I make a difference between scaling programs and scaling staff numbers. My sense is that startups' first goal is to find a scalable business model/program, and that only after that should they focus on being able to scale staff numbers to capitalize on the opportunity.)

Things CEA is not doing

This all seems reasonable. Some scattered thoughts:

  • To be clear, I'm not claiming 1), I'm more like "I'm still figuring out how fast/how to grow)"
  • I still think that "expanding staff/focus" is getting a bit too much emphasis: I think that if we focus on the right things we might be able to scale our impact faster than we scale our staff
Things CEA is not doing

Another argument: I think that startup folk wisdom is pretty big on focus. (E.g. start with a small target audience, give each person one clear goal).  I think it's roughly "only start doing new things when you're acing your old things". But maybe startup folk wisdom is wrong, or maybe I'm wrong about what startup folk wisdom says.

I also think most (maybe basically all?) startups that got big started by doing one smaller thing well (e.g. Google did search, Amazon did books, Apple did computers, Microsoft did operating systems). Again, I think this was something like "only start new products when your old products are doing really well" ("really well" is a bit vague: e.g. Amazon's distribution systems were still a mess when they expanded into CDs/toys, but they were selling a lot of books).

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