All of Miranda_Zhang's Comments + Replies

Announcing my retirement

Only fitting that it's Thanksgiving today - I am so grateful for all that you've done with the Forum. Your presence was part of what made me feel welcome here and I think you've done an incredible job building this place up. : )

Also - your new plans sound so cool. Despite my sadness to see you leave your moderator role, it's overwhelmed by sheer excitement for your future! 

As an EA, what D&D alignment do you identify with?

Probably neutral good but I think I've 'tested' as some kind of neutral.

What is most confusing to you about AI stuff?

Firstly, thank you for this! For such a big priority (within the EA community), I feel like there's a lot of confusion about AI.

I help organize UChicago EA & have asked members to send me questions, so I'll update this comment as they come in:

  • AI Alignment: Do we need to decide on a moral principle(s) first? How would it be possible to develop beneficial AI without first 'solving' ethics/morality?
  • AI is neglected by the world generally but doesn’t seem neglected within EA. Does this have any implications for career planning?
8SamClarke6dGood question! The answer is no: 'solving' ethics/morality first is one thing that we probably eventually need to do, but we could first solve a narrower, simpler form of AI alignment, and use those aligned systems to help us solve ethics/morality and the other trickier problems (like the control problem for more general, capable systems). This is more or less what is discussed in ambitious vs narrow value learning [https://ai-alignment.com/ambitious-vs-narrow-value-learning-99bd0c59847e]. Narrow value learning is one narrower, simpler form of AI alignment. There are others, discussed here [https://www.lesswrong.com/s/4dHMdK5TLN6xcqtyc/p/TE5nJ882s5dCMkBB8#Alternative_solutions] under the heading "Alternative solutions".
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Ooh I like this a lot! Almost like blending the IF discussion with workshops. I'm going to edit my long comment to include this as an alternative about which I'm excited.

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

This is interesting! I would be curious to try having one 'accelerated' group that operates on a faster timeline - but I imagine this would require more coordination/commitment from organizers (e.g., really frequent 1:1s to engage them and check understanding).

3ChanaMessinger9dI like that idea too! Maybe could start after a few weeks to gauge interest?
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

That sounds awesome. Do you have any resources from this (e.g., slides or a link)?

2Khorton9dI don't sorry! It was organized by weeatquince
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

I agree that this would help address some of the downsides of an IF. I have heard that pairing programming together (e.g., a fellowship discussion followed by a mealtime social) would be optimal and based on my personal experience with student communities outside of EA, that rings true.

Unfortunately, I have yet to implement that in UChicago EA, but I would be interested to see if that improves engagement among IF fellows!

One concern I have would be that these socials wouldn't be mandatory, and so you may be selecting out promising EAs who just haven't built enough rapport yet. It would be great to be able to combine deep un/structured engagement in a 'mandatory' setting.

1ChanaMessinger9dTrue - I wonder if two things that might address that are 1. Explicitly inviting people (especially those who may not be as connected) to the social and having organizers be warm and attentive (in general I find that explicit encouragement / invitation is quite powerful!) 2. Ending the mandatory session with either something fun and social, or deep and personal/reflective (appropriate to context and the conversation that's just happened), which could both transition it to social and be engineered to help the intellectual notes be integrated into one's worldview.
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

TL;DR: I resonated with quite a few of your points as one of UChicago EA's main organizers, and I agree that the IF is not currently the optimal model for introducing University students to EA. I think one conservative trial to run would be to replace the last few weeks of the IF with a retreat and/or workshop.  More generally, I think a careers-first approach could be more optimal.


Thank you for this post, particularly since many groups seem to have committed to the fellowship model in recent years! While I think the fellowship model is an improvement... (read more)

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Ah, interesting! Two questions:

  • Why did you end up being turned off by EA?
  • How did it end up being crucial for your long-term engagement?
2Jsevillamol8dIt's hard to pinpoint but I think it's somehting along the lines of a) the messaging didn't match my perceived self-image ("I am not an altruist"), b) they seemed weirdly fanatical ("donating 10% of my money seems crazy weird") and c) I was not impressed with the people I interacted with (concretely the people from eg the rationality community seemed comparatively more thoughful and to be working on cooler things). I am unsure of whether I would have changed my mind had I interacted more with the community at that time - I think the quality of discussion has improved a lot since then. > How did it end up being crucial for your long-term engagement? After the MIRI Summer Fellows I started organizing a community in Spain (primarily about rationality, though some of the other people involved were self-identifying Effective Altruists and we also organized events about that. I also participated in several more Rationality and Effective Altruism events. I kept talking to Effective Altruists regularly, and eventually became convinced that they were working on cool things and that it was a community I wanted to be a part of.
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Would love to hear about this 3 week program! From my skim (will read properly soon), that is the alternative I am most excited about. For example, my shift from planning a career in communications to community building is almost entirely attributable to a 3-day retreat I went on.

3Jsevillamol10dRetreats are awesome! It was the MIRI Summer Fellows in 2015. For full disclosure it was not about EA, and I came off it being turned off by EA aesthetics. But it was where I first heard about the movement, and it was crucial for my involvement in the long term.
If you could make a second EA forum with a different vibe to this one, what would it be like?

Way more casual - maybe more like Reddit, but with easier delineation between communities (ranging from cause areas to identities).

So, a mix of Reddit and Facebook, but with better quality norms. Maybe if the EA Hub started a Forum, I guess.

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

Yes! I strongly agree with your follow-up. I think that more EA orgs should invest in communications strategy, which typically looks very different from mass outreach (where engagingness is more important). Correspondingly, I think we need more EAs who understand comms as well as EAs who can do mass outreach.

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

Interesting! I feel like literature reviews are somewhat related to this - almost like, concept distillation or summarization. As far as I can tell, literature reviews are fairly in-demand within the EA community.

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

I strongly agree with the framing of hard-to-read writing as imposing a burden on readers. I liken it to a time tax - and, in the case of government documents, can really have financial consequences.

So, to be fair to your reader, make your writing as clear and engaging as possible!

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

I largely agree with your points, particularly the idea that certain audiences have different preferences than the 'general public' and that rigor is more key than engagement in research.

However, my main takeaway from your comment is that research is an extremely broad term and can be relevant in many different contexts, some of which would benefit from a more engaging communication style (e.g., lobbying). So, whether comms for EA research would benefit from being more engaging really depends on the context in which that research will be communicated.

On th... (read more)

2Peter Wildeford14dThis comment I wrote [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dAbs7w4J4iNm89DjP/why-boring-writing-is-unethical-the-case-for-it-being-high?commentId=Qh7oKJBgNAfXichxD] is relevant to your comment too, as a follow-up to my other answer.
6Peter Wildeford16dI agree. I'm referring specifically to research roles (not comms roles) that are at Rethink Priorities, where we usually (though not always) aim to influence more insular EA-oriented actors and thus (typically) prioritize rigor over engagingness.
Why fun writing can save lives: the case for it being high impact to make EA writing entertaining

I love this post! It articulates a background assumption I often have, so I am very glad that this post exists, so I can point to it.

I also appreciate the discourse in the comments - which is why I think communication strategy (most of the advice in the final, recommendations section) must be tailored to the specific context of audience/organization/aims.

However, I am also quite cynical about the rationality of decisionmakers, such that I think it's less common than is typically assumed that decisionmakers rely on well-reasoned, 'boring' arguments. I also ... (read more)

Vael Gates's Shortform

This sounds like a great idea and aligns with my growing belief that classes are, more often than not, far from the best way to learn.

9Vael Gates21dI think classes are great given they're targeting something you want to learn, and you're not uncommonly self-motivated. They add a lot of structure and force engagement (i.e. homework, problem sets) in a way that's hard to find time / energy for by yourself. You also get a fair amount of guidance and scaffolding information, plus information presented in a pedagogical order! With a lot of variance due to the skill and time investment of the instructor, size of class and quality of the curriculum etc. But if you DO happen to be very self-driven, know what you want to learn, and if in a research context if you're the type of person who is capable of generating novel insights without much guidance, then heck yes classes are inefficient. Even if you're not all of these things, it certainly seems worth trying to see if you can be, since self-learning is so accessible and one learns a lot by being focusedly confused. I like how neatly presented the above deep dives idea is: it feels like it gives me enough structure to have a handle on it and makes it feel unusually feasible to do. But yeah, for the people who are best at deep dives, I imagine it's hard for any class to match, even with how high-variance classes can be :).
Miranda_Zhang's Shortform

Just finished Semple (2021), 'Good Enough for Government Work? Life-Evaluation and Public Policy,' which I found fascinating for its synthesis of philosophy + economics + public policy, and potential relevance to EA (in particular, improving institutional decisionmaking).

The premise of the paper is essentially, "Normative policy analysis—ascertaining what government should do—is not just a philosophical exercise. It is (or should be) an essential task for people working in government, as well as people outside government who care about what government does... (read more)

Many groups metrics have grown by 100% to 400% in the past year

This is so exciting! Quick note that the footnote says Chicago University although the linked post says University of Chicago.

2Aaron Gertler25dThanks for the note! Fixed.
Miranda_Zhang's Shortform

Very useful, thank you! Apparently they did a trial with high schoolers, so I've reached out : )

Miranda_Zhang's Shortform

Two thoughts inspired by UChicago EA's discussion post-Ben-Todd's-talk at EAG:

  1. I am aware that there have been some efforts targeted towards high schoolers (I believe Stanford EA ran a workshop/program). Has there been any HS outreach targeting debaters specifically, e.g. a large-scale debate tournament? I'm thinking of, say, introducing EA-relevant debate topics to a big tournament or group
  2. Has there been any middle-school outreach?
2BrianTan1moOn #1: There has been a large-scale EA-themed debate tournament targeting debaters (mainly undergraduates I believe) organized by Dan Lahav from EA Israel, talked about here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/AnGfvd83XPiP5D6p4/ea-debate-championship-and-lecture-series] !
Many Undergrads Should Take Light Courseloads

Strongly agree. I dropped my double major because I realized I didn't need the extra work to take the classes I wanted (since I'm not pursuing academia). I'm also taking my lightest load ever in order to community-build because I'm confident that's one of the highest-impact things I can do ... And I can't imagine trying to community-build with a full courseload (nor do I really have to, given the lack of capacity my other organizers have)

If you really need to learn something, you can do it in your own time. Of course, there's a balance to this - I accept, ... (read more)

No, really, can "dead" time be salvaged?

Something I haven't tried but might be interesting is to volunteer to complete tasks you find interesting/relaxing/fun for EA orgs (e.g. graphic design or copyediting). You can find opportunities on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1392613437498240/), Impact CoLabs (https://www.impactcolabs.com/) and EA Work Club (https://www.eawork.club/)

Spreadsheet for categorizing opportunities: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tJtJ6lpIjE7Dv5hUo_HCXb8mNGYvDgiQSQYvNfJGJyU/edit#gid=1264761950

No, really, can "dead" time be salvaged?

Note: My answer isn't about the highest-impact thing you could do. I also don't face (EA-related) guilt/anxiety about downtime because I repeatedly remind myself that I need not to burnout.

I reserve an hour each night as 'transition time' between work and downtime, with half of that hour being dedicated either to therapy (which is important in sustaining myself so I can solve important problems) or reading tabs (so I can prioritize them and not waste 'work time').

The latter might be more relevant here. I use Notion to clip tabs, such as Forum posts, that s... (read more)

1Miranda_Zhang1moSomething I haven't tried but might be interesting is to volunteer to complete tasks you find interesting/relaxing/fun for EA orgs (e.g. graphic design or copyediting). You can find opportunities on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/groups/1392613437498240/ [https://www.facebook.com/groups/1392613437498240/]), Impact CoLabs ( https://www.impactcolabs.com/ [https://www.impactcolabs.com/]) and EA Work Club (https://www.eawork.club/ [https://www.eawork.club/]) Spreadsheet for categorizing opportunities: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tJtJ6lpIjE7Dv5hUo_HCXb8mNGYvDgiQSQYvNfJGJyU/edit#gid=1264761950 [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tJtJ6lpIjE7Dv5hUo_HCXb8mNGYvDgiQSQYvNfJGJyU/edit#gid=1264761950]
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

Really appreciate and resonate with the spirit of this post. Something that's always intrigued me is the distance between the EA-flavored futurism that permeates the current longtermism community, and Afrofuturism. Both communities craft visions of the future, including utopias and dystopias, and consider themselves 'out of the norm.'

I suspect it's in part because the EA community generally does not talk much/explicitly about race and racial justice.

Miranda_Zhang's Shortform

Hmm okay! Thanks so much for this. So I suppose the main uncertainties for me are

  • whether I trust that the cap will remain fixed
  • whether the cap-and-trade system is more effective than the offsets I was considering

Really appreciate you helping clarify this for me!

Miranda_Zhang's Shortform

I know that carbon offsets (and effective climate giving) are a fairly common topic of discussion, but I've yet to see any thoughts on the newly-launched Climate Vault. It seems like a novel take on offsetting: your funds go to purchasing cap-and-trade permits which will then be sold to fund carbon dioxide removal (CDR).

I like it because it a) uses (and potentially improves upon) a flawed government program in a beneficial way, and b) I can both fund the limitation of carbon emissions and the removal, unlike other offsets which only do the latter.

However, ... (read more)

4jackva3mo"How do you convert a permit into CO2 removal using CDR technologies without selling them back into the compliance market – in effect negating the offset? We will sell the permits back into the market, but only when we’re ready to use the proceeds to fund carbon removal projects equivalent to the number of permits we’re selling, or more. So, in effect, the permits going back onto the market are negated by the tons of carbon we are paying to remove." Once credible CDR is so cheap (now > USD 100/t, most approaches over USD 600, cf Stripe Climate) that this works (current carbon prices around USD 20), the value of additional CDR tech support is pretty low because the learning curve has already been brought down. Am I missing something? It seems like a good way to buy allowances which is, when the cap is fixed (also addressed in the FAQ, though not 100% convincingly) better than buying most offsets, but it seems unlikely to work in the way intended.
Mental Health Resources tailored for EAs (WIP)

yes! i've read some of her posts too but alas, forgot about them too (hence the need for this post i suppose). will add, thank you for your fantastic flags!

i also subscribe to those tags so i should probably add the ones that i've enjoyed too : )

Mental Health Resources tailored for EAs (WIP)

ah, great flag, thank you! i've watched Helen's talk before and found it helpful, but forgot to put it in, so i'll add that in now.

also adding a section for resources that i haven't personally viewed, for posterity. very much appreciate this!

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

On board with you there! I think there's a lot of great people already trying to do that, like yourself or Catherine Low, but perhaps to inconsistent effect. This might warrant me sitting down with my group and trying to figure out how we got motivated to organize in the first place. : )

Completely not surprised by your experience re: community building being rewarding. As someone who's been very connected to non-EA communities in the past, I definitely think community-building doesn't need to compromise non-community-building priorities! After all, you're ... (read more)

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

That makes sense, thank you for expanding on the timeline! I also really appreciate your acknowledgment of other factors. My original comment (intentionally) discounted the many other factors that contribute to a group's success, simply because I am confident that my group has a better-than-average mix of factors and so should not be at its current state.

I 100% agree that it's not a binary trade-off and in fact, if someone is potentially interested in community-building as a career, this could be one of the highest-impact things to do. Even if not, I also agree that exclusively maximizing for EA career prospects is not necessarily the best community norm to set!

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Another reflection: I think the belief in community-building as being EA is really helpful in sustaining an effective team. I am fairly confident that has played a significant role in the lack of progress my group has made.

For example, the current organizing team for my group was, as far as I know, 'picked' quite haphazardly. I personally just fell into leadership  - I was asked to help lead the Intro Fellowship and I guess the existing team assumed I'd also be helping organize the group - and while I love EA community-building as a cause area, I don'... (read more)

Thank you for your kind words Miranda! EA group organizing can be quite difficult when others don't see it as potentially highly impactful and the group isn't doing so well - I hope this post can help change how useful EAs (and in particular students) think community building is, and help us do a better job at it so it feels more intuitively impactful and exciting!

The support system for organizers who want to put a lot of effort into their group is getting better and better. I'm always happy to have calls (or texts/emails) with organizers, to discuss how t... (read more)

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Note: commenting before I've read the post fully because I wanted to show appreciation ASAP 

As a fellow Uni organizer, I am astounded that EA Stanford grew into what it currently is in the span of one(!) year. 

I've been lamenting the lack of similar development for my group and I sometimes resort to thinking, it's 'not really my fault' because past organizers didn't set up sustainable models. I always had the sense that was a bit dishonest but frankly, now I'm realizing that

  1. I very much could kick my butt into gear and help grow my group,
  2.  Eve
... (read more)

To clarify/set realistic expectations, much of the growth happened in our second year (2020-2021 academic year), e.g. all the things mentioned in the intro + summary bullets, the first year mostly involved getting 5-10 highly dedicated core organizers and getting SERI started. I also caveat all the things I had going in my favour (including being in the Bay, being on a CBG, and getting lucky with very dedicated and competent co-organizers).

It can be hard to sacrifice career planning/advancement for group organizing purposes, but as I mentioned in my other comment running your group well has lots of career benefits (both from within the EA community, and the skills you develop from becoming a kick-ass organizer :))!

Another reflection: I think the belief in community-building as being EA is really helpful in sustaining an effective team. I am fairly confident that has played a significant role in the lack of progress my group has made.

For example, the current organizing team for my group was, as far as I know, 'picked' quite haphazardly. I personally just fell into leadership  - I was asked to help lead the Intro Fellowship and I guess the existing team assumed I'd also be helping organize the group - and while I love EA community-building as a cause area, I don'... (read more)

More EAs should consider “non-EA” jobs

Thank you for writing this up! Purely anecdotal but I've been career 'planning' (more just thinking, really) for the past year and I've increasingly updated towards thinking that EA could draw a lot more from non-EAs, whether in terms of academia/knowledge (e.g. sociology) or professionally (e.g. non-EA orgs).

We don't have to reinvent the wheel with everything by making orgs EA-aligned - just as much, if not more, impact could be made not going into traditional EA paths - not just EA orgs but other fields 'neglected' by the highly-engaged community. I think that's a pretty common belief around here but perhaps not always clearly communicated!

Building my Scout Mindset: #2

Thanks for reading + responding! Some responses:

  • I think you're right that my Turing Test doesn't capture the full extent of the author's implications, but I'm not sure I agree on your reframing.
    • Given the headline and the phrase, "unarmed civilian alternatives will always be reliant on the police as a backup," I can see how the article is implying that mental health responders might not replace police at all (if police are equally effective). However, the author also suggests that "it [B-HEARD] frees up cops’ time to focus on fighting crime" which reads to
... (read more)
4Aaron Gertler3moI don't understand this comparison. If there's a clear statistical relationship between socioeconomic status and crime, isn't the implication that unhoused status is correlated with criminal behavior making use of exactly that relationship? It's hard to think of a more effective proxy for socioeconomic status than not having a place to live.
Building my Scout Mindset: #1

Aw, thank you! Just published my next post onto the frontpage (I think), so I suppose we'll see if that sentiment holds!

Needed: Input on testing fit for your career

Agreed! Most of my EA networking is geared towards answering this question.

[PR FAQ] Improving tag notifications

Ah, that's right! Still, for a notification, I'd prefer something like a digest.

I also browse the Forum 50/50 on my phone/laptop, although it's possible people would prefer we bias users towards using the Forum on their computers.

2Ben_West4moThanks! This is helpful to know. A digest for notifications is an interesting idea. And I agree the current UI gives more information on desktop, which is probably unavoidable given that there's just more real estate, but I do think we want our mobile experience to be good. (About half of our users are on mobile devices.)
[PR FAQ] Banner highlighting valuable EA resources

I think the current proposal looks a bit clunky and may lead to annoyance, as others have noted. Might there be a less obtrusive option, e.g. making the graphic smaller or adding a text banner on the top?

Or maybe placing it to the left- or right-hand sides? Almost like an ad. (Not sure if that would feel worse to people, though!)

[PR FAQ] Adding profile pictures to the Forum

I agree with this, particularly since I feel the same way about where the Forum lies on the spectrum.

Even though I sometimes wish the Forum felt more welcoming, I do think this kind of change feels incongruent with the way the Forum currently presents itself and so am not in favor. Of course, whether the Forum wants to stay where it is on the continuum is a separate discussion!

[PR FAQ] Improving tag notifications

YES, please.

I don't like how the subscription feature currently works and it renders it useless for me, because even though I don't get that many notifications I still feel overwhelmed + I can't easily see what the post is titled so I have to click each individual notification...

2Habryka4moOn desktop at least you should be able to hover over the notification and see the post the notification is for.
[PR FAQ] Sharing readership data with Forum authors

Kind of agree, although I think karma-checking is more unhealthy and so I figure, if I can survive that...

[PR FAQ] Sharing readership data with Forum authors

I think this would be great!

In particular, I'd be most interested in "how much time people spent reading it" (to approximate how engaging and/or accessible a post was) and "how many of them clicked on links within the post" (again, as a proxy for engagement). I think comments both suggest greater engagement and have a higher bar, so I like having more proxies.

How are resources in EA allocated across issues?

Hmm, that's fair - crowdedness for giving is different from career path, in that I should be thinking about the marginal impact of a dollar for the former rather than overall field neglectedness.

I think this makes me less certain about my reallocation because I believe very strongly in the cost-effectiveness of global health charities, although I'm also wary that that is not solely due to true cost-effectiveness (due to cost-effectiveness being harder to measure across cause areas) and that most people think that way - hence the funding gap.

How are resources in EA allocated across issues?

This is a good point! I actually redirected the funding more towards EA Infrastructure instead of the Long-term fund - partly since my giving acts as diversifying my investments (as I'm investing time in building a career oriented towards more longtermist goals), and partly because my existing donations are much smaller relative to what I'm investing to give later on (and hopefully we have more longtermist charities then).

I really appreciate you highlighting the different implications one could draw out from funding disparities.

How are resources in EA allocated across issues?

This is really great - would love to see more of these in the future. It also made me reconsider the way I currently allocate across EA funds/charities, mostly by shifting funds away from global health.

 I do think that what David Manheim mentioned is a strong argument against shifting EA funds away from global health, but I think it makes sense to shift some of my allocation seeing that this issue is not only less neglected by non-EAs but within EA as well.

I think dollars are much more fungible than careers, so for most people, you should move your donations away from global health if and only if you believe that marginal donations to other charities are more cost-effective. "Neglectedness" is just a herustic, and not a very strong one.

6Khorton4moMy impression is that there's a lot of funding available for stuff other than global health, but not a lot of great places to spend it at the moment. So finding a charity with a robust theory of change for improving the long-term future and donating there can be very valuable - and starting something like that would be even more valuable! - but I'm less sure about the value of taking money you would spend on bednets and donating the the Long-Term Future Fund (or at least I'd recommend reviewing their past grants first). Disclaimer: I have a much higher bar for funding long-termist charities than many other EAs.
Who become an Effective Altruist?

While I agree this is a hard question + anyone could self-identify as an aspiring EA, I lean towards thinking that right now, EA attracts certain kinds of people moreso than others, as evidenced by Rethink Priorities' demographic surveys: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ThdR8FzcfA8wckTJi/ea-survey-2020-demographics

At the very least, I suspect people who are more (academically) educated are more likely to become part of the EA community.

2SeanDoubleYouS4moThat survey was just the thing I was looking for. Thank you!
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