Scott Alexander

Wiki Contributions


What are some success stories of grantmakers beating the wider EA community?

The coronavirus Fast Grants were great, but their competitive advantage seems to have been that they were they first (and fastest) people to move in a crisis.

The overall Emergent Ventures idea is interesting and worth exploring (I say, while running a copy of it), but has it had proven cost-effective impact yet? I haven't been following the people involved but I don't remember MR formally following up.

Despite billions of extra funding, small donors can still have a significant impact

Thank you for writing this. I've seen a lot of people get confused around this, and it's genuinely pretty confusing, and it's good to have a really good summary all in one place by someone who knows what's going on.

How can we make Our World in Data more useful to the EA community?

Thanks for asking!

On some of your graphs, eg, you have a box you can tick to get "relative change". On other graphs, eg, you don't have that box. You can force the chart to do this by adding "?stackMode=relative" to the URL, but that is annoying and hard to remember. Please add the box to all graphs.

If you generate a graph like , it's hard to see what's going on, because all of the action is crammed into a tiny part of the graph - in this case between 1.3 and 1.6 children. I would be interested in either having it autozoom to the part where things are happening, or at least have an option to zoom into that part. Maybe this already exists and I am just missing it.

Another thing that would be neat (though a lot of work for maybe not much gain) would be the ability to graph algorithms, eg the fertility rate of Hungary minus the fertility rate of Austria, over time.

Fighting Climate Change with Progressive Activism in the US: CEA

Thanks for doing this. It's really interesting to see someone try to quantify the effects of activism. A few questions:

1. Can you further explain your estimate of a 0.5% - 10% higher chance of a bill passing because of climate activism?

2. Does that number claim that the Sunrise Movement in particular increased the chance that much, or that all activism (compared to some world with no active pro-climate grassroots movement) increased it that much? If the latter, is this being divided by the Sunrise Movement's budget, or to something else? Is the claim that the Sunrise Movement represents the majority of climate activism, so that its budget is a fair proxy for the budget of the entire cause area?

3. Is the claim that the marginal effect increases linearly? IE if the existing Sunrise Movement increases the chance of the bill 5%, then increasing their budget by 10% would increase the chance of a bill by 5%*10% = 0.5%? If so, what's the thought process behind this assumption?

Seeking Advice: Arab EA

Whether or not you go this route, you might also want to talk to Lama, a rationalist-adjacent Saudi student who was in the last Emergent Ventures cohort. She might be able to give you some advice and connect you to any existing Saudi community. You can find her at

Legal psychedelic retreats launching in Jamaica

Thanks for the link to the Enthea paper, I'll check it out.

Open Thread #40

Vox is looking for EA journalists. This is an opportunity to publicize EA and help shape its public perception. Their ad hints that they want people who are already in the movement, so take a look if you have any writing or journalism related skills.

Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I support the change. I mean, I would, as someone who's taken advantage of the ambiguity in the current pledge to donate to x-risk-related causes, but I think even independent of that I support the change.

The GWWC pledge is a good institution. It provides a unified community norm of "at least ten percent" and helps keep people honest. It's a piece of "social technology" that makes effective altruism easier.

As such, if GWWC restricted it to the developing world, I would expect and encourage the animal rights movement and the x-risk movement to get their own similar pledges so that they could benefit from the same social technology.

But at that point, we would probably all wish there was just one pledge. Having multiple ones is unwieldy, unnecessarily fractures the movement, and creates new transaction costs - someone who took the animal rights pledge can't shift their giving to the developing world (or vice versa) in response to new information without unpledging and repledging.

So while acknowledging that GWWC is an organization primarily donated to the developing world, I think that mission could be consistent with it providing the pledge as a service to the broader effective altruism community, especially since its privileged position as host of the pledge gives it extra credibility and standing in the movement, which helps their own cause in the end. I think this would be in keeping with the behavior of other EA organizations who both push their own causes and try to help the movement as a whole with whatever their comparative advantage is.

Open Thread 2

Does anyone have any thoughts on whether the Ebola outbreak is a unique effective giving opportunity compared to better-studied issues like malaria and schistosomiasis? I tried to do a Fermi estimate here but I don't trust it further than I can throw it.