Aerospace Engineer
Working (0-5 years experience)
945Silver Spring, MD, USAJoined Aug 2021


Aerospace engineer by day, nit-picky red teamer by night. Most interested in farmed animal welfare and the nitty-gritty details of global health and development work. Co-winner of the 2022 GiveWell Change Our Minds contest. 


I think your graph actually agrees with what sapphire's comment was arguing? Among the GWWC pledgers, donations don't actually hit the pledged 10% of income until well past an income of $100k/year. It's hard to eyeball the combined pledger/non-pledger average donation percentage from the graph, but it seems fair to say it's under 10% at the vast majority of income levels. 

I think 

The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).

has to get more than 0.2, right? Being elitist and on a special mission to save humanity is a concerningly good descriptor of at least a decent chunk of EA. 

I just want to second Peter's comments - your discussion of downside risks was really thoughtful and cogent. 

Of the risks you identified, I'm personally most concerned about 80k contributing to a negative feedback loop on demographic diversity (public perception of EA becomes that it is demographically homogenous -> people who don't match those demographic characteristics are rightfully more skeptical of EA -> recruitment efforts target demographically skewed areas because engagement in them is higher -> public perception of EA as demographically homogenous solidifies -> ...). I look forward to seeing what you find in your investigation of methods of improving 80k's demographic reach!


Also, I found the lack of discussion of animal welfare frustrating. That's one of the three big cause areas within EA (or one of four if you count community building)!


I also watched the video and was also pleasantly surprised by how fair it ended up feeling.

For what it's worth, I didn't find the EA and systemic change section to be that interesting, but that might just be because it's a critique I've spent time reading about previously. My guess is that most other forum readers won't find much new in that section relative to existing discussions around the issue. And Thorn doesn't mention anything about tradeoffs or opportunity costs in making that critique, which makes it feel like it's really missing something. Because for practical purposes, the systemic change argument she's making requires arguing that it's worth letting a substantial number of people die from preventable diseases (plus letting a substantial number of people suffer from lack of mental healthcare, letting a substantial number of animals be subject to terrible conditions on factory farms etc.) in the short run in order to bring about systemic change that will do more to save and improve lives in the long run. It's possible that's right, but I think making that case really requires a clear understanding of what those opportunity costs are and a justification of why they would be worth accepting. 


I just want to say that I agree. I am angry not only at Owen's behavior, but also at the people and processes that enabled him to stay in a position of power for years after this pattern of behavior became apparent. 


I think Ozy Brennan's response to this section was very good. To quote the relevant section (though I would encourage readers to read the whole piece, which also includes some footnotes) : 

It is true that effective altruism is very homogeneous, and this is a problem. I am 100% behind inclusivity efforts. And I praise the authors for their observation that inclusivity goes beyond the standard race/class/gender to matters of culture and intellectual diversity.

However, I think that this subject should be addressed with care. When you’re talking about homogeneity, it’s important to acknowledge effective altruist members of various groups underrepresented in effective altruism. Very few things are more unwelcoming than “by the way, people like you don’t exist here.”

Further, the description itself is offensive in many ways. Describing the average member of a movement with as many Jews as effective altruism as “culturally Protestant” is quite anti-Semitic. The authors fail to mention queerness and transness, probably because it would be a bit inconvenient for their point to mention that an enormous number of EAs are bisexual and trans women are represented in EA at something like forty times the population rate. The average effective altruist is “neurodivergent” which… is a bad thing, apparently? We need to go represent the neurotypical point of view, which is inescapable everywhere else in politics, corporations, and the media? The vague term “neurodivergence” actually understates the scale of effective altruism’s inclusion problem. Effective altruism is inclusive of a relatively narrow range of neurodivergences: it’s strikingly unwelcoming of, say, non-Aspie autistics.

Finally, some of this homogeneity is about things that are… true? I realize it’s rude to say so, but consuming animal products in the vast majority of situations in fact supports an industry which tortures animal and God in fact doesn't exist.I am glad that the effective altruism movement has reached general consensus on these things! Effective Altruist Political Ideology is hardly correct in every detail, but I don't think it's a bad sign if a movement broadly agrees on a lot of political issues. Some political policies are harmful! Other policies make things better!

Further, perhaps I am interpreting the authors uncharitably, but I suspect that when they say “there should be more diversity of political opinions” they mean “there should be more leftists.” I am just ever-so-slightly suspicious that if my one-sided archnemesis Richard Hanania showed up with a post about how the top cause area is fighting wokeness, the authors would not be happy with this and in fact would probably start talking about racism. Which is fine! I too agree that fighting wokeness is not the top cause area! But in this case your criticism is not “effective altruism should be more inclusive of different political views,” it’s “effective altruism’s political views are wrong and they should have different, correct ones,” and it is dishonest to smuggle it in as an inclusivity thing.

I'd be curious to hear how forum usage trends have moved since this change was introduced. It seems pretty clear that community post engagement has gone down significantly. How has engagement with other posts trended in that time? I could imagine it going either way. 

Thanks Bob, that makes sense!

Just to see the magnitude of the change, I tried rerunning the model with a neuron count estimate of 100 million for salmon. That led to salmon's 50th-percentile estimate increasing by 0.001 and  95th-percentile estimate increasing by 0.002. So you're right that it's not really a noticeable impact. 

This is really valuable work, and I look forward to seeing the discussion that it generates and to digging into it more closely myself. I did have one immediate question about the neuron count model specifically, though I recognize that it's a  a small contributor to the overall weights.  I'd be curious to understand how you arrived at 13 million neurons as your estimate for salmon. The reference in the spreadsheet is: 

The teleost brain is capable of adult neurogenesis, with neural proliferation zones in dozens of locations within the brain (e.g. Zupanc et al. 2005, Zupanc 2009). This makes a definitive count of total neurons within the brain difficult, since the number of neurons may be continuously in flux. For example, Zupanc (2009) summarizes: “the continuous production of new cells, together with the longterm persistence of a large portion of them, leads to a permanent growth of the brain and its individual structures... This growth by a net increase in the total number of brain cells is characteristic of at least some, but likely most, of the estimated 30,000 species of teleost fish.” Therefore, reports of total neuron counts for salmon and carp are rare, but Hinsch & Zupanc (2007) report that “By labeling S-phase cells with the thymidine analog 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdU), quantitative analysis demonstrated that, on average, 6000 new cells were generated in the entire adult brain within any 30 min period. This corresponds to roughly 0.06% of the total number of brain cells” in an adult zebrafish (Danio rerio, a model cyprinid) brain. As part of their study, Hinsch & Zupanc (2007) report that, for adult zebrafish, the total number of brain cells varied between 0.8 x 107 and 1.3 x 107 (mean: 1.0 x 107 ± S.E.M. 8 x 105). They also report that “approximately 46% of the cells present at 10 days persisted in the adult zebrafish brain” meaning that “​​at least half of the cells generated in the adult zebrafish brain develop into neurons and are likely to persist for the rest of the fish’s life.” This pattern is reflected in other species of teleosts, for example in adult gymnotiform fish (Apteronotus leptorhynchus) who generate 100 000 new brain cells (corresponding to approximately 0.2% of the total population of cells in the brain) within a period of 2 hours (Zupanc & Horschke 1995). Thus the teleost brain is constantly growing and likely increasing in terms of total number of neurons, and counts are only representative of snapshots through time.

I don't easily see how that translates to 13 million neurons. When I previously looked at this issue myself, I came away thinking it was possible that salmon had substantially more neurons than you're estimating. 

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