Pete Rowlett
PresidentatEffective Altruism at Georgia Tech
Pursuing an undergraduate degree

I'm do community building with Effective Altruism at Georgia Tech. My primary focus areas are animal welfare and artificial intelligence.


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We should be paying Intro Fellows

I think that stipends for intro fellows is an idea worth considering, but I have real concerns at the moment, especially since Penn’s write-up about it hasn’t come out yet.

1.1 “Makes Fellowships more accessible to people who are not wealthy, potentially leading to a more diverse community”
I think there’s probably some truth to this, but honestly, I don’t think an amount that we could give every fellow would allow anyone to meaningfully decrease the outside work they do.  I’d be in support of packages for those that wouldn’t be able to participate without one, or for whom sacrificing several hours each week would cause stress.  There could be a very easy, low-barrier-to-entry application, and it could be made clear that anyone who could use the money is highly encouraged to take it.

1.2 “Incentivizes people to complete the Fellowship, in-creases accountability”
Likely true, but not necessarily positive.  I don’t want people to come to the meetings for the money; I just don’t want money to be a barrier.  Potentially decreasing the quality of fellows scares me.  Also, too much accountability comes with a few problems.  It could deter people from applying.  The fellowship itself could feel more like a class and be less enjoyable.  And organizers’ time, one of the hottest commodities in EA right now, would go to the administrative work of holding people to account.  Failing to complete something and being held accountable for it could cause fellows to have negative sentiments toward EA, and whether that would be justified or not is irrelevant.

1.3 “It is the norm for Fellowships to be paid, and us breaking this norm looks bad”
Agreed.  Fellowship does have a nice ring to it, but the program really isn’t one.  I wouldn’t mind changing the name.  The only problem is that everyone uses it.  I would like to see broader discussion on this issue, and I think the organization that I work with (EA at Georgia Tech) would be very open to changing our terminology.

1.4 “Paid Fellowships appear more prestigious to outsiders helping Fellows spend more time on the Fellowship”
I think a paid EA intro fellowship would look better on the surface, but I don’t think there’s enough commitment in the intro fellowship to warrant much prestige anyway.

1.5 “Fellows might put more effort into a program if they are being paid for it”
Agreed, generally, but I think the effect would be smaller in an EA fellowship than other programs. Also, it doesn’t matter that much if people put more effort into the fellowship if it doesn’t affect the likelihood that they’ll take effective actions. You can’t really pay people to be altruistic, and I’m uncertain about the degree to which you can educate people into being altruistic if the underlying philosophy or empathy isn’t there.

2.1 “Might draw people to the Fellowship for the money rather than genuine interest”
I’m really concerned about this.  As mentioned earlier, having high-quality fellows is a top priority.  One reason I fell in love with EA during my fellowship was that my cohort had smart, thoughtful people who really cared about EA.  Every member of the cohort that I’m currently facilitating is really into EA too.  Having one disinterested person could really damage that experience for the others.

2.2/2.3 “Seems odd to pay people who are reading moral arguments,” “Might make EA look bad as we are a community oriented around helping others”
Communicating EA ideas with fidelity is widely discussed for a reason.  If hundreds of new fellows tell their families that they’re getting a significant amount of money to read about how to best help people, that could be very problematic.  I have a hard enough time explaining EA myself.

2.4 “Counterfactual use of money, could be better used elsewhere”
I’d rather give larger amounts of money to highly engaged EAs who organize or do other community building work so they can have more time/be more effective. There are a hundred things you could help interested people do with the money. These highly engaged people are the ones that will provide the most value by far, and are likely the recent hires that EA organizations would pay six figures for. They likely would have joined anyway after hearing our marketing.  Also, the money could go to direct impact organizations rather than meta work.  I think leading by example is important, and not wasting (or even just looking like we’re wasting) money is part of that.  For me, this relates to veganism and sustainability.  I know I don’t actually change that much by being vegan compared to donating to an effective animal advocacy nonprofit, but I do demonstrate a willingness to make sacrifices and gain credibility from it. Also, I read somewhere about GiveWell saying that their growth resulted mostly from outside people actively finding them rather than their own outreach. Others talked about GiveWell because they were so good at what they do, and I think this applies to the EA movement as a whole as well.

I know there’s plenty of EA meta money sloshing around out there, but I think it’ll pay to be careful here.  For anyone considering whether to offer a stipend, at least wait on deciding until the Penn write-up comes out.  I certainly have an opinion at the moment, but I don’t think my personal experience here is nearly broad enough for me to make a very strong judgement, so that piece could switch my thinking. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to reading any responses.

PresidentatEffective Altruism at Georgia Tech
Pursuing an undergraduate degree