sella

I am currently the founder and chair of the board of Effective Altruism Israel, I lead Google's Flood Forecasting Initiative alongside several other humanitarian and climate-related efforts, am a strategic advisor for Firstime on investing in startups that advance the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, and teach Applied Ethics (and Information Security) in Tel Aviv university.

Feel free to reach out if there's anything EA-related you believe I can help you with.

Wiki Contributions

Comments

EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series

Hi Ben, thanks for these questions.

Regarding whether we achieved “deep” engagement. We have not formally followed up with participants to be able to answer this meaningfully. I can say anecdotally that a couple of participants I know personally have since been active on EA-related Facebook groups, but I don’t know if this generalizes. We’ve also collected the contact information of participants in the study and are able to follow up with additional surveys (of those interested) in the future, exactly for analysis such as this. Also, just a minor clarification - what we meant by the original sentence was a “deep” engagement in a rather informal sense - we felt people meaningfully engaged with the material. We did not mean to claim we achieved deep engagement in a stronger sense than that, e.g. as the term is used in the model of an EA group.

Regarding analysis of how likely debaters are to reach global positions of influence - I’m not aware of any proper measurement of this. My impression that this is true comes not from looking at the distribution of careers of past debaters, but rather looking at the portion of top political leaders with experience as successful debaters, and getting the impression this is substantially higher than the portion of debaters in general (but again - just an impression, no proper analysis here). While quickly searching for any analysis on this I haven’t found anything truly reliable, but I did aggregate the examples I found in this document in case it’s helpful to anyone. I’d be interested if anyone has done or knows of more reliable data on this.

Early Alpha Version of the Probably Good Website

Hi Brian, thanks for the feedback. While we do hope to add other indicators of credibility, we don’t plan on featuring Effective Altruism Israel specifically in the website. Though both Omer and I are heavily involved in EA Israel, and though it seems likely that Probably Good would not exist had EA Israel not existed, it is a separate org and effort from EA Israel. It is “supported by EA Israel” in the sense that I think members of EA Israel are supportive of the project (and I hope members of many other communities are too), but it is not “supported by EA Israel” in the sense that we receive any funding or resources from the group. I mention this mainly because our mission and intended audience are global, and connecting the website or organization with EA Israel may lead to confusion or discourage those who are not from Israel from engaging with us.

Early Alpha Version of the Probably Good Website

Hi Peter, thanks for these suggestions!

I hadn’t seen the doc you linked to before, and is indeed a good starting point. We’re actively working on our internal M&E strategy at the moment, so this is particularly useful to us right now.

I agree with the other suggestions, and those are already planned. Their full implementation might take a while, but I expect us to have some updates related to this soon. 

Early Alpha Version of the Probably Good Website

Thanks for this detailed feedback, I’m happy to hear you think the article would be useful to people in situations you’ve been in. All three of the points you raised seem reasonable - some touch on nuances that I already have down in my full notes but were dropped for brevity, while others are things we hadn’t heard yet from the people we interviewed (including those acknowledged in the article, and several others who preferred to remain anonymous). Based on consultation with others I’ll look into incorporating some of these nuances, though I apologize in advance that not all nuances will be incorporated.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

We’re definitely taking into account the different comments and upvotes on this post. We appreciate people upvoting the views they’d like to support - this is indeed a quick and efficient way for us to aggregate feedback.

We’ve received recommendations against opening public polls about the name of the organization from founders of existing EA organizations, and we trust those recommendations so we’ll probably avoid that route. But we will likely look into ways we can test the hypothesis of whether a “less controversial” name has positive or negative effects on the reaction of someone hearing this name for the first time.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

Hi Manuel, thanks for this comment. I think I agree with all your considerations listed here. I want to share some thoughts about this, but as you’ve mentioned - this is one of our open questions and so I don’t feel confident about either direction here.

First, we have indeed been giving general career coaching for people in Israel for several years now, so in a sense we are implementing your recommended path and are now moving onto the next phase of that plan. That being said, there still remain reasons to continue to narrow our scope even at this stage.

Second, you mention partnering with experts in the various cause areas to ensure accurate content - I completely agree with this, and wouldn’t dream of providing concrete career advice independently in fields I don’t have experience in. In the content we are writing right now we require interviewing at least 7 experts in the field to provide high-confidence advice, and at least 3 experts in the field even for articles we mark as low confidence (of which we warn people to be careful about). So it’s really important to me to clarify that none of the concrete career-specific advice we provide will be based exclusively on our own opinions or knowledge - even within the fields we do have experience in.

Finally, I think at least some of the issues you’ve (justifiably) raised are mitigated by the way we aim to provide this advice. As opposed to existing materials, which more confidently aim to provide answers to career-related questions, we have a larger emphasis on providing the tools for making that decision depending on your context. As community organizers, one of the things that pushed us to start this effort is the feeling that many people, who don’t happen to be from the (very few) countries that EA orgs focus on, have very little guidance and resources, while more and more is invested in optimizing the careers of those within those countries. We believe that doing highly focused work on Israel would not serve the community as well as providing guidance on what needs to be explored and figured out to apply EA career advice to your own context. As such, we want to provide recommendations on how to check for opportunities within the scope that’s relevant to you (e.g. country or skillset), rather than aiming to provide all the answers as final conclusions on our website. This applies most to our career guide, but also to specific career path profiles - where we want to first provide the main considerations one should look into, so that we provide valuable preliminary guidance for a wide range of people, rather than end-to-end analysis for fewer people.

The mitigations described above can be much better evaluated once we have some materials online, which will allow others to judge their implementation (and not only our aspirations). We plan on soliciting feedback from the community before we begin advocating for them in any meaningful way - hopefully that will help make these responses less abstract and still leave us time to collect feedback, consider it and try to optimize our scope and messaging.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

Hi Jack, thanks for the great question. 

In general, I don’t think there’s one best approach. Where we want to be on the education \ acceptance trade-off depends on the circumstances. It might be easiest to go over examples (including ones you gave) and give my thoughts on how they’re different.

First, I think the simplest case is the one you ended with. If someone doesn’t know what cause area they’re interested in and wants our help with cause prioritization, I think there aren’t many tradeoffs here - we’d strongly recommend relevant materials to allow them to make intelligent decisions on how to maximize their impact. 

Second, I want to refer to cases where someone is interested in cause areas that don’t seem plausibly compatible with EA, broadly defined. In this case we believe in tending towards the “educate” side of the spectrum (as you call it), though in our writing we still aim not to make it a prerequisite for engaging with our recommendations and advice. That being said, these nuances may be irrelevant in the short-term future (at least months, possibly more), as due to prioritization of content, we probably won’t have any content for cause areas that are not firmly within EA.

In the case where the deliberation is between EA cause areas (as is the case in your example) there are some nuances that will probably be more evident in our content even from day one (though may change over time). Our recommended process for choosing a career will involve engaging with important cause prioritization questions, including who deserves moral concern (e.g. those far from us geographically, non-human animals, and those in the long term future). Within more specific content, e.g. specific career path profiles, we intend to refer to these considerations but not try and force people to engage with them. If I take your global health example, in a career path profile about development economics we would highlight that one of the disadvantages of this path is that it is mainly promising from a near-term perspective and unclear from a long-term perspective, with links to relevant materials. That being said, someone who has decided they’re interested in global health, doesn’t follow our recommended process for choosing a career, and navigates directly to global health-related careers will primarily be reading content related to this cause area (and not material on whether this is the top cause area). Our approach to 1:1 consultation is similar - our top recommendation is for people to engage with relevant materials, but we are willing to assist people with more narrow questions if this is what they’re interested in (though, much like the non-EA case, we expect to be in over-demand in the foreseeable future, and may in practice prioritize those who are pursuing all avenues to increasing their impact). 

Hope this provides at least some clarity, and let me know if you have other questions.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

I agree this is an important question that would be of value to other organizations as well. We’ve already consulted with 80K, CE and AAC about it, but still feel this is an area we have a lot more work to do on. It isn’t explicitly pointed out in our open questions doc, but when we talk about measuring and evaluating our counterfactual benefits and harms, this question has been top of mind for us.

The short version of our current thinking is separated into short-term measurement and long-term measurement. We expect that longer term this kind of evaluation will be easier - since we’ll at least have career trajectories to evaluate. Counterfactual impact estimation is always challenging without an experimental set up which is hard to do at scale, but I think 80K and OpenPhil have put out multiple surveys that try to and extract estimates of counterfactual impact and do so reasonably well given the challenges, so we’ll probably do something similar. Also, at that point, we could compare our results to theirs, which could be a useful barometer. In the specific context of our effect on people taking existing priority paths, I think it’ll be interesting to compare the chosen career paths of people who have discovered 80K through our website relative to those who discovered 80K from other sources. 

Our larger area of focus at the moment is how to evaluate the effect of our work in the short term, when we can’t yet see our long-term effect on people’s careers. We plan on measuring proxies, such as changes to their values, beliefs and plans. We expect whatever proxy we use in the short term to be very noisy and based on a small sample size, so we plan on relying heavily on qualitative methods. This is one of the reasons we reached out to a lot of people who are experienced in this space (and we’re incredibly grateful they agreed to help) - we think their intuition is an invaluable proxy to figuring out if we’re heading in the right direction.

This is an area that we believe is important and we still have a lot of uncertainty about, so additional advice from people with significant experience in this domain would be highly appreciated.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

Hi dglid, I agree with your comment. I think there is a lot of value by making career guidance more available to the masses, even without 80K personally being involved.

I see local groups as being the primary type of organization responsible for this type of work - making EA information accessible and personalized for new people and communities. We don’t see ourselves taking over that role. That being said, we are interested in being involved in the process. We know there’s a lot of interest in creating content / tools / support in the career guidance space, both because we’ve seen it in EA Globals and group organizers’ groups, and also because we are group organizers ourselves, and it’s this need that has set us on this path (originally in our own local group).

All of this is to say - I think working with and empowering local EA groups to provide these services is a great way to improve careers at scale, and would especially love any feedback, requests and comments from local group organizers or anyone else on what you believe would be most helpful to you in this area.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

Hi Michael, as you mention - the issue of accurately defining our scope is still an important open question to us. I’m happy to share our current thinking about this, but we expect this thinking to evolve as we collect feedback and gain some more hands-on experience.

I think it’s worth making a distinction between two versions of this question. The first is the longer-term question of what is the set of all cause areas that should be within scope for this work. That’s a difficult question. At the moment, we’re happy to use the diversity of views meaningfully held in the EA community as a reasonable proxy - i.e. if there’s a non-negligible portion of EAs that believe a certain cause area is promising we think that’s worth investigating. As such, all three of the examples you mention would be potentially in-scope in my view. This is not, in and of itself, a cohesive and well-defined scope, and as I mentioned, it is likely to change. But I hope this gives at least an idea of the type of scope we’re thinking of.

The second version of this question is what we actually intend to work on in the upcoming months, given that we are just getting started and we are still constrained in time and resources. This question will dominate our actual decisions for the foreseeable future. Within the large scope mentioned above, we want to initially focus on areas based on two criteria: First, unmet needs within the EA community, and second, cause areas that are easier to evaluate. Both of these are very weak signals for where we want to focus long-term, but drastically influence how quickly we can experiment, evaluate whether we can provide significant value, and start answering some of our open questions. As a concrete example, we believe the Global Health & Development fits this bill quite well, and so at least part of our first career paths will be in this space. 

I hope this helps clarify some of these questions. I apologize if there are more open questions here than answers - it’s just really important to us to experiment first and make long-term decisions about priorities and scope afterwards rather than the other way around.

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