Quantify the overall suffering from different conditions, and determine whether there's misallocation of resources in biomedical research.
I suspect there's a big gap between the distribution of resources allocated to the study of different diseases and what people actually suffer from the most. Among other factors that lead to non-optimal allocation, I'd guess that life-threatening diseases are overstudied whereas conditions that may really harm people's well-being, but are not deadly, are understudied. For example, I'd guess that chronic pain is understud... (read more)
Thank you for writing down these good counterarguments.
About your first and second points, that it’s a wasteful to have someone’s career dedicated to a less promising cause area, I generally agree with that, but with a few caveats (which, for the most part, just reiterate and rephrase points already made in my post):
I like your suggestions for questions one could ask a stranger at an EA event!
About "social EA" vs. "business EA", I think I'd make a slightly different distinction. If you ask for someone else's (or some org's) time or money, then of course you need to come up with good explanations for why the thing you are offering (whether it is your employment or some project) is worthwhile. It's not even a unique feature of EA. But, if you are just doing your own thing and not asking for anyone's time or money, and just want to enjoy the company of other EAs, then this is the case where I think the EA community should be more welcoming and be happy to just let you be.
I totally agree. In order for an impact-oriented individual to contribute significantly in an area, there has to be some degree of openness to good ideas in that area, and if it is likely that no one will listen to evidence and reason then I'd tend to advise EAs to stay away from there. I think there are such areas where EAs could contribute and be heard. And I think the more mainstream the EA mindset will be, the more such places will exist. That's one of the reasons why we really should want EA to become more mainstream, and why we shouldn't hide ourselves from the rest of the world by operating in such a narrow set of domains.
Thank you for bringing this post to my attention, I really like it! We appear to make similar arguments, but frame them quite differently, so I think our two posts are very complementary.
I really like your framing of domain-specific vs. cause-neutral EA. I think you also do a better job than me in presenting the case for why helping people become more effective in what they already do might be more impactful than trying to convince them to change cause area.
Thank you Aaron for taking the time to write this detailed and thoughtful comment to my post!
I'll start with saying that I pretty much agree with everything you say, especially in your final remarks - that we should be really receptive to what people actually want and advise them accordingly, and maybe try to gently nudge them into taking a more open-minded general-impact-oriented approach (but not try to force it on them if they don't want to).
I also totally agree that most EA orgs are doing a fantastic job at exploring diverse causes and ways to imp... (read more)
I totally agree with you that many charities and causes can be a trap for young EAs and put their long-term career in danger. In some cases I think it's also true of classic EA cause areas, if people end up doing work that doesn't really fit their skill set or doesn't develop their career capital. I think this is pretty well acknowledged and discussed in EA circles, so I'm not too worried about it (with the exception, maybe, that I think one of the possible traps is to lock someone with career capital that only fits EA-like work, thereby blocking them... (read more)
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!
About your second point, I totally agree with the spirit of what you say, specifically that:
1. Contrary to what might be implied from my post, EAs are clearly not the only ones who think that impact, measurement and evidence are important, and these concepts are also gaining popularity outside of EA.
2. Even in an area where most current actors lack the motivation or skills to act in an impact-oriented way, there are more conditions that have to be met before I would deem it high-impact to work in this area. In particular... (read more)
I agree that when you first present EA to someone, there is a clear limitation on how much nuance you can squeeze in. For the sake of being concrete and down to earth, I don't see harm in giving examples from classic EA cause areas (giving the example of distributing bed nets to prevent malaria as a very cost-effective intervention is a great way to get people to start appreciating EA's attitude).
The problem I see is more in later stages of engagement with EA, when people already have a sense of what EA is but still get the impression (often unconsciously) that "if you really want to be part of EA then you need to work on one of the very specific EA cause areas".
Thank you for your great feedback and suggestions! (and sorry for not responding sooner)
I guess that one’s meaning for a “major” or “moderate” limitation is, in the end, contingent on their aspirations. If we had the standards of an organization like GiveWell, this would most certainly be a very big limitation. But quite early on we understood that we did not have the data to be able to support as strong conclusions about cost-effectiveness as GiveWell’s recommendations. Rather, our approach was: let’s do the best we can with the data we have at hand, and ... (read more)
I agree it would be nicer to report actual spared animals, rather than generic “portions of meat”. We thought of using data about the average meat diet in the relevant countries, to be able to translate portions of meat into animal lives. But we eventually decided against it, because it would introduce even more assumptions and uncertainties into our analysis, which we felt had many uncertainties already. Given the amount of uncertainty that we already have (with over an order-of-magnitude between our lower and upper bounds), we felt that giving ... (read more)