All of RogerAckroyd's Comments + Replies

RogerAckroyd's Shortform

Yay for me: I have found that I can increase my donations in way that seems long-term sustainable in terms of finances and emotional engagement. I have also found that a moderate engagement with the movement is the best way for me to maintain an interest, while avoiding getting depressed by the state of the world.  

Open Thread: September 2021

I thought the Clickhole post was both funny, and a good illustration of how cause prioritization can be perceived by many people. 

RogerAckroyd's Shortform

I think it was the GWWC page that I eventually linked to. 

I looked at the Centre for Effective Altruism home page first, and somewhere else that I can not remember, and did not find them very suitable as a starting point for the general public. 

2Aaron Gertler3moI see! CEA's website is meant to be a place to learn about CEA; the intro EA material on the homepage and "Get Involved" menu send newcomers to appropriate intro resources. But it seems fine to have the bullet list on our homepage mention donations more explicitly; I've added a direct link to GWWC.
RogerAckroyd's Shortform

I was recently looking for a page with donation advice to link to. I found one, but it struck me that some general EA-organisations could start their homepages more focused on effective donation. (As opposed to getting people involved in other ways.) Most people are not looking to join an organistion or change jobs to more altruistically effective ones, but probably donate something to charity and could repriotize those donations. Having a "hook" which is about what to donate to might be more helpful. 

2Aaron Gertler3moThe Giving What We Can donate page [] is easily the best overall resource for this that I know of — not perfect, but very comprehensive. I'm not sure how many "general EA organizations" exist, though. All the ones I could think of that are meant for a general audience —, GWWC, Charity Science Outreach — make it pretty easy to find advice on donating. Meanwhile, both GiveWell and GWWC (as well as Future Perfect) come up on the front page when I Google "best charity" from an incognito window. Are there specific organizations that you think should provide easier access to donation advice? (Keep in mind that most "EA orgs" have a specific mission and will want to tell people about their work, not the broader movement.)
World federalism and EA

I am not convinced federalism does much to mitigate risk of totalitarianism. I think there is tendency for power to get concentrated to the federal level, regardless of what legal documents say, and to achieve totalitarianism it should be enough to get power over armed forces, law enforcement and highest courts. 

What would an entity with GiveWell's decision-making process have recommended in the past?

If that was done before the slave trade was abolished it would have encouraged the enslavement of more people. 

1Mati_Roy5moGood point, and GiveWell would probably have figured that one out
What would an entity with GiveWell's decision-making process have recommended in the past?

Another question: Would it have supported Christian missionary efforts because of education/healthcare they spread? Would it instead have competed with such efforts? 

(I am assuming that we are talking of an organisation founded in the Western world. What a Chinese GiveWell in the 19th century would have done I have absolutely no idea about.) 

What would an entity with GiveWell's decision-making process have recommended in the past?

Going back a little more than 200 years, would it have recommended supporting the anti-slavery movement? Presumably it would agree that abolishing slavery was good, but the evidence that the movement would work would not be there beforehand, and it might have seemed very unlikely to succeed. 

1Mati_Roy5moMayyybe it would have bought slave's freedom one by one instead? (I don't know; just speculating)
2RogerAckroyd5moAnother question: Would it have supported Christian missionary efforts because of education/healthcare they spread? Would it instead have competed with such efforts? (I am assuming that we are talking of an organisation founded in the Western world. What a Chinese GiveWell in the 19th century would have done I have absolutely no idea about.)
RogerAckroyd's Shortform

Professor Abigail Marsh writes in NYT that individualism promotes altruism:

I have not made any attempt to vet the study, and for studies of this kind you don't expect one study to be more than a small piece of evidence but it is clearly an interesting research question. 

RogerAckroyd's Shortform

Sometimes when I see people writing about opposition to the death penalty I get the urge to mention Effective Altruism to them, and suggest it is borderline insane to think opposition to capital punishment in the US is where a humanitarian should focus their energies. (Other political causes don't cause me to react in the same way because people's desire to campaign for things like lower taxes, feminism or more school spending seems tied up with self-interest to a much larger degree, so the question if it is the most pressing issue seems irrelevant.) I always refrain from mentioning EA because I think it would do more harm then good, so I will just vent my irrational frustation here. 


3Aaron Gertler7moI endorse using Shortform posts to vent! I think you're right that mentioning EA would be likely to do more harm than good in those cases, but your feelings are reasonable and I'm glad this can be a place to express them. Some object-level thoughts not meant to interfere with your venting: I don't feel the same way about people who oppose the death penalty, I think largely because I have a strong natural sense that justice is very important and injustice is very especially extra-bad. This doesn't influence my giving, but I definitely feel worse about the stories "innocent person is killed by the state" or "guilty person who is now wholly reformed is killed by the state" than I do the story "innocent child dies of malaria", despite knowing logically that the last of these is likely the saddest (because many more years were lost). I can understand how someone who feels similarly to me would end up spending a lot of energy opposing capital punishment. The death penalty also has a hint of self-interest in that it is funded by tax money. I can imagine people being exceptionally angry that they are paying even the most minute fraction of the cost of executing someone. Similarly, the documentary "Life in a Day" briefly features someone who deliberately earns a very low income so they can pay no taxes and thus ensure that none of their money goes toward "war".
Ending The War on Drugs - A New Cause For Effective Altruists?

I would think associating the EA "brand" with drug legalisation would cause a negative reaction among at least as many people who would appreciate it because it shows concern for systemic change. I also don't see how it more of an example of systemic change than changing animal welfare laws to ban a lot of current practices, or regulating AI, to cite two political goals that some EA pursue. 

I also think the fact that it is non-neglected means that anyone who thinks this is the most good they can do could easily find a current organisation to join and ... (read more)

7MichaelPlant7moI was waiting for this! I thought there were going to be lots of "this would be bad for the EA brand" comments. As some evidence against this, and to my surprise, across all the places where I posted this, or saw others post it (on the EA forum, facebook, and twitter) the post received very little pushback. I was actually pretty disappointed with this as it made me think it hadn't reached many who would disagree. On the plus side, this suggests this cause is not going to objectionable amongst people who are sympathetic to EA ideas. Re the second para, I wasn't claiming that a new organisation would need to exist. My concern what whether it was reasonable to think this is where (for someone) their money or time could do the most good. That doesn't imply they would need to start something.
Consciousness research as a cause? [asking for advice]

Research into the human brain and mind does not seem neglected. I am skeptical of our ability to make much progress into the question of consciousness and in particular I don't think we will ever be able to be confident which animals and AI are conscious. But to whatever extent we can make progress on these questions it seems it will come from research areas that are not neglected. Of course, if you are passionate about the area you might think that going into it and donating part of your salary is the best decision overall. 

How do you compare human and animal suffering?

We can't measure suffering of course across species. (Really, we can barely measure it among humans.) So we have to rely on extrapolation from our own experience, which in a way amounts to extrapolating from one datapoint. My intuition says that non-humans animals don't have a full consciousness by humans standards, and that their moral value is correspondingly less. I feel relatively confident in that judgement. But given scale of factory farming, how neglected the issue is among the general public, and that it intuitively it feels like at least chickens ... (read more)

3calebp7moRelated question: Given how elusive a vaccine against malaria has proved to be how excited are you about the self-amplifying RNA platform (saRNA) vaccine developments (Yale School of Medicine)?
Ramiro's Shortform

Does your feeling that the default state is positive also apply to farm animals? Their reward system would be shaped by aritifical selection for the past few generations, but it is not immediately clear to me if you think that would make a difference. 

1Ramiro7moFirst, it's not a feeling, it's a hypothesis. Please, do not mistake one for the other. It could apply to them if they were not observed to be under stress conditions and captivity, and in behaviors consistent with psychological suffering - like neurotic ticks, vocalization or apathy. (Tbh, I don't quite see your point here, but I guess you possibly don't see mine, either)
RogerAckroyd's Shortform

Sometimes the concern is raised that caring about wild animal welfare is seen as unituitive and will bring conflict with the environmental movement. I do not think large-scale efforts to help wild animals should be an EA cause at the moment, but in the long-term I don't think environmentalist concerns will be a limiting factor. Rather, I think environmentalist concerns are partially taken as seriously as they are because people see it as helping wild animals as well. (In some perhaps not fully thought out way.) I do not think it is a coindince that the ext... (read more)

3MichaelStJules7moTo add to this, Animal Ethics has done some research on attitudes towards helping wild animals: 1. [] 2. [] (another summary by Faunalytics [] ) From the first link, which looked at attitudes among scholars and students in life sciences towards helping wild animals in urban settings, with vaccinations and for weather events: For what it's worth, I think the current focus is primarily research, advocacy for wild animals and field building, not the implementation or promotion of specific direct interventions.
Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

Thank you for writing this, this is indeed concerning. I will acknowledge that I have a bias against the social justice movement, for many different reasons, but if I want to be altruistic I have to also see if it has good sides. 

I can certainly see a case that working with diversity and inclusion can have instrumental value for EA organisations, including animal advocacy ones. The idea that having representatives from diverse backgrounds can help to give a movement broad appeal seems very likely correct. The idea that this can also generate useful id... (read more)

Possible misconceptions about (strong) longtermism

It is not obvious that non-extinction is an attractor state. If there is some minimal background risk of extinction that we can not get below (whether due to asteroids, false vacuum decay, nuclear war,  everyone becoming a negative utilitarian and stops reproducing, whatever) then it is the nature of exponential discounting that the very long-term future can quickly become essentially unimportant. 

2jackmalde9moIt's certainly not as strong an attractor state as extinction, but I still think it's an attractor state to some extent. Certainly wild animals (especially when you consider aquatic life) have and likely will exist for a very long time unless we take extreme action to get rid of them or there's a particularly intense catastrophe. Also I agree with Michael on the relevance of space colonisation. Many total utilitarians can't wait for space colonisation as it will significantly reduce x-risk. I get this thinking, but I hope we don't bring non-human animals. As I say in the post, it seems safer to make them go extinct. On discounting, uncertainty over future discount rates (perhaps due to uncertainty about future x-risk which may become lower than it is now) leads to a declining discount rate over time and the result that we should discount the longterm future as if we were in the safest world among those we find plausible. This is known as Weitzman discounting. From Greaves' paper Discounting for Public Policy [] : Therefore we can't really wave away the very long-term future, assuming of course that Weitzman is correct (he may not be, see the "Weitzman-Gollier puzzle").
5MichaelStJules9moI think expansive space colonization would reduce the risk asymptotically, since it's unlikely for all of a large number of very distant civilizations to go extinct around the same time. The more distant the civilizations, the more roughly independent their risks should be. And the more civilizations there are, the more likely at least one is around at any time.
Total Funding by Cause Area

Personally I give mostly to animal welfare, on the ground that it is comparitively neglected within the movement, and even more neglected in the larger philantropic world. Your data seems to confirm my intuition on that score.

 One could say thatlong-termism is also neglected, but I am not convinced of the effectiveness of long-termist charities. (I should say I have not looked deeply into it.) 

What is the argument against a Thanos-ing all humanity to save the lives of other sentient beings?

You assume here that other wild animals have net-positive lives. It is also possible from a utilitarian viewpoint that their lives are net-negative, or that their lives are neutral since they lack conscioussness. I don't think there is any way, even in principle, of knowing which is true. I do feel comfortable saying however  that humans are both more intrinsically valuable than other animals, and have a higher potential to live a good life than other animals. 

It is definitely possible to reach the utilitarian conclusion that the extinction of hu... (read more)

RogerAckroyd's Shortform

There is a well-known argument that rule utilatarianism actually collapses into act utilatarianism. I wonder if rule utilitarians are not getting at the notion of dynamic inconsistency. If might be better if utilitarians can pre-commit to following certain rules, because of the effect that has on society, even if after one has adopted the rules there are circumstances where a utilitarian would be tempted to make exceptions. 

RogerAckroyd's Shortform

I think there might be some interest among the EA community in recent social media discussions about Scott Alexander and SlateStarCodex. My impression is that among some committed leftists the movement will face suspiscion rooted in its support from rich people, its current demographic profile, because some leftists are suspiscious of rationality itself and because the movement might detract from the idea that the causes popular now among leftists are also objectively the most important issues facing the world. 

Blameworthiness for Avoidable Psychological Harms

I agree that ignoring psychological harms completely is arbitrary. Many people would prefer moderate physical pain to public humiliation and this seems pretty hard-wired in our psychology.

 At the same time, in the current climate claims of psychological harm are clearly used strategically. People supposedly feel unsafe if a colleague has political views that they disagree with for example, which clearly is not some sort of universal fact of human psychology. Certain claims of emotional harm should be discounted not because they are necessarily false, but because indulging them leads to a bad equilibrium. 

7Cullen_OKeefe10moI think this is exactly the point I was trying to make here:
Killing the ants

The problems of feral cats seems to receive a fair amount attention among mainstream animal protection and animal rights groups. Eg there are campaigns to neuter them (humanely) to prevent over-population etc. Birds are fed by many humans but it is unclear to me whether that is net-positive in long run, much less an effective intervention. Rodents and bugs receive less attention, quite possibly rightly so. 

1Ramiro10moFeral cats certainly receive more attention than other areas, but the question is if that's done effectively (or if it can be leveraged with new efforts); I have never seen a charity that efficiently tries to optimize for neutering them (though I admit I didn't investigate the matter deeply).
Religious Texts and EA: What Can We Learn and What Can We Inform?

The religious texts I am familiar with contain calls for charity, but not much on making it effective. 

It is also worth considering that the relation between the contents of religious texts and their adherents actual actions is kind of complicated. Very often even devout followers do not follow the prescriptions of their religious texts, but the content of religious texts clearly have some influence. 

What I believe, part 1: Utilitarianism | Sunyshore

I am attracted to utilitarianism, but also find some of the possible implications off-putting. But there are also some objections I have from first principles. 

One objection is that any numbers we use in practice just have to be made up. (This objection might be especially serious if we take animals into account, which I think we should.) So maybe utalitarianism  is the "correct" theory but if I don't have access to the correct utilities it is not clear whether I should use some made up numbers to do the expected utility calculations. One might c... (read more)

How much (physical) suffering is there? Part II: Animals

The fish numbers for suffering only include farm fish, not wild-caught fish if I understand correctly? Regarding the elephant example, it seems a lot of the elephant neurons are in the cerebellum, not the celebral cortex. Humans apparently have three times more neurons in the cortex than elephants, explaining our superior cognitive capacities, and possibly indicating we have more capacity for pain and pleasure. 

2mariushobbhahn1yI understood the numbers to only contain farm fish and no wild fish. Thanks for the fact about elephants, I didn't know that. A better metric might then be the number of neurons in the cortex. But it would still contain a lot of uncertainty about which regions of the brain are actually causally responsible for suffering and so on.
RogerAckroyd's Shortform

On 80000 hours webpage they have a profile on factory farming, where they say they estimate ending factory farming would increase the expected value of the future of humanity by between 0.01% and 0.1%. I realize one cannot hope for precision in these things but I am still curious if anyone knows anything more about the reasoning process that went into making that estimate.  

4MichaelStJules7moI think it's basically that moral circle expansion [] is an approach to reduce s-risks [] (mostly related to artificial sentience []), and ending factory farming advances moral circle expansion. Those links have posts on the topic, but the most specific tag is probably Non-humans and the long-term future []. From a recent paper on the topic: [] I think Sentience Institute [] and the Center for Reducing Suffering [] are doing the most research on this these days.
3Aaron Gertler1yNote: I don't work for 80,000 Hours, and I don't know how closely the people who wrote that article/produced their "scale" table would agree with me. For that particular number, I don't think there was an especially rigorous reasoning process. As they say when explaining the table in their scale metric [], "the tradeoffs across the columns are extremely uncertain". That is, I don't think that there's an obvious chain of logic from "factory farming ends" to "the future is 0.01% better". Figuring out what constitutes "the value of the future" is too big a problem to solve right now. However, there are some columns in the table that do seem easier to compare to animal welfare. For example, you can see that a scale of "10" (what factory farming gets) means that roughly 10 million QALYs are saved each year. So a scale of "10" means (roughly) that something happens each year which is as good as 10 million people living for another year in perfect health, instead of dying. Does it seem reasonable that the annual impact of factory farming is as bad as 10 million people losing a healthy year of their lives? If you think that does sound reasonable, then a scale score of "10" for ending factory farming should be fine. But you might also think that one of those two things -- the QALYs, or factory farming -- is much more important than the other. That might lead you to assign a different scale score to one of them when you try to prioritize between causes. Of course, these comparisons are far from perfectly empirical. But at some point, you have to say "okay, outcome A seems about as good/bad as outcome B" in order to set priorities.
jackmalde's Shortform

I think of welfare reforms as being excellent complements to work on cultured meat. By raising prices, and drawing attention to the issue of animal welfare, they may increase demand for cultured meat when it becomes available. 

1jackmalde1yThis is plausible. Unfortunately the opposite possibility - that people become less concerned about eating animals if their welfare is better - is also quite plausible. I would be interested in seeing some evidence on this matter.
The Conflicted Omnivore

Like the author of the OP I am excited about the possibility of cultured meat to reduce animal cruelty. If we want people to switch to vegetarian diet on a large scale it seems the most realistic way. Now, I am perhaps more optimistic than the author about the possibility of humane farms. The country where I live has stronger animal welfare laws than the US, and indeed than almost all of the world, and I do think that a non-trivial portion of the meat eaten in my country has been ethically produced. In longer-term, to avoid back-sliding of the standards, c... (read more)

Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA)

Thank you. That is rather different from my view of sentience in some ways, I appreciate the clarification. 

Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA)

Conditional on invertibrates being sentient, I would upgrade my probability of other things being sentient. So maybe bivales are sentient, some existing robots, maybe even plants. I would take the case for hidden qualia in humans seriously as well. Do you agree, and if so, would this have any impact on good policies to pursue? 

Hi Roger,

There are different possible scenarios in which invertebrates turn out to be sentient. It might be the case, for instance, that panpsychism is true. So if one comes to believe that invertebrates are sentient because panpsychism is true, one should also come to believe that robots and plants are sentient. Or it could be that some form of information integration theory is true, and invertebrates instantiate enough integration for sentience. In that case, the probability that you assign to the sentience of plants and robots will depend on your assess... (read more)

Open and Welcome Thread: December 2020

Hello everybody, I have been lurking on the forum for a while and thought I would introduce myself. I encountered EA earlier this year and while I am not as altruistic as many of you, I have become more altruistic than I was before. I have increased my donations, and reprioritized them to hopefully more effecient causes. I have also become almost vegetarian, a lifestyle change I never thought I would attempt. 

I have no overaching moral theory. I am attracted to utilitarianism, but I also think there are lots of practical and theoretical problems with ... (read more)

5velutvulpes1yWelcome, Roger! 😊 Congrats on moving towards a vegetarian diet, even though you previously thought you wouldn't have attempted it 👏