sky

I write about ideas and resources I like, along with some ideas for making concepts more clear to me and others who come from a humanities background but are digging into the tools EA gives us to build stuff we care about. I have academic and informal training in conflict studies and language studies, so I'll write about that too.

I got interested in EA via GiveWell when it started and got a bit more involved in EA when 80K started. I ascribe to the "keep your identity small" idea and see EA as a really useful set of tools and important questions, though not the only set of tools and important questions someone might consider when doing good. I'm a member of EA DC.

I'm also a Community Liaison at CEA (www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/team)

Outside of EA, I'm involved in the Deaf community and interpreting field/higher ed. I'm generally interested in how people learn what they learn, how we effectively relate to ourselves and each other, and how to apply those ideas to mentoring and resolving conflict.

Fun things = acro-yoga, cross fit, 1:1 conversations about ideas, reading while laying in hammocks, scuba

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Why I prefer "Effective Altruism" to "Global Priorities"

I have some data that may be relevant to folks with interest in this topic*:
I work for CEA, and this quarter I did a small brand test with Rethink’s help. We asked a sample of US college students if they had heard of “effective altruism.” Some respondents were also asked to give a brief definition of EA and a Likert scale rating of how negative/positive their first impression was of “effective altruism.”

Students who had never heard of “effective altruism” before the survey still had positive associations with it. Comments suggested that they thought it sounded good  - effectiveness means doing things well; altruism means kindness and helping people. (IIRC, the average Likert scale score was 4+ out of 5). There were a small number of critiques too, but fewer than we expected. (Sorry that this is just a high-level summary - we don't have a full writeup ready yet.)

Caveats: We didn't test the name “effective altruism” against other possible names. Impressions will probably vary by audience. It could still be the case that "EA" puts off a sub-set of the audience we really want to reach. (E.g. if we found that highly critical/truth-seeking people in certain fields were often turned away by "EA," I'd consider that a concern. We don't have that data). 

I do think this is encouraging, but doesn't settle the question.  Testing other brands and sub-brands may still be a good idea. Testing brands within very specific sub-audiences is also harder to do. CEA is currently considering trying to hire someone to test and develop the EA brand, and help field media inquiries.

*I think this post may have been written after I gave Max the info that he posted  on my behalf here so I'm cross-posting. 
 

Some quick notes on "effective altruism"

Thanks for sharing that info, Max. It was an interesting first pass at some of these questions. 

AMA: Tom Chivers, science writer, science editor at UnHerd

What are your thoughts on solutions journalism? Does it have much traction among science writers you know? Do you personally use it or promote it as a framework for writing?

Do you think this is a good/bad idea?:
I have the hunch that EA and solutions journalism could be a good match. E.g. EAs in journalism could join the solutions journalism network and seek solutions journalism angles to their editors.  EA projects that think they would be well-served by public media coverage could seek to build relationships with strong solutions journalists and make themselves available for stories when they have something going on that the journalists are interested in. I'm not a journalist myself, and think the SJN approach is still small, so I'm curious if you see this area growing.

What Makes Outreach to Progressives Hard

I haven't read this whole thread, so forgive me if I'm re-stating someone else's point. 
I think there's another explanation: they have a hypothesis about you/EAs/us that we are not disproving. 

My experience has been that people in any numerical or social minority group (e.g. Black Americans, people with disabilities, someone who is the "only" person from a given group at their workplace, etc), are used to being met with disappointing responses if they try to share their experiences with people who don't have them  (e.g. members of the numerical or social majority group that they are different from).  Most of us have had this experience at least some of the time, maybe as EAs! People get blank stares, unwanted pity or admiration,  or outright dismissal and invalidation (e.g. "it can't be all that bad" or "you're just playing the [race/poverty/privilege/ whatever] card"). This is definitely the kind of conversation people see over and over again on the internet. So, until proven otherwise, that's what people expect. Majority group members are expected to be ignorant of what life is really like for people who experience it differently. I think this is a rational expectation at least some of the time. The hypothesis then goes: EAs look like majority group members and often are, ergo anything EAs say about which problems are "most important" is assumed to be somewhat ignorant. Maybe people see it as well-meaning or callous ignorance. Regardless, ignorance is assumed as most probable, because it's true of most people. (I think EAs and progressives also have different models of when ignorance matters the most and when differences matter the most, but that's a different thread).  

I've usually taken the view that I don't get to assume people will see me as an informed, compassionate person on the progressive left until I disprove the hypothesis above. If the first thing I say is something like why local US poverty issues are "less important" than other issues, I've just reinforced the hypothesis rather than disproven it. It sounds like denying the reality that they know is true -- they've seen the real-life people impacted and/or read their stories or studied the human impact of these issues.  At least in my case, it's not true that they struggle to think of people in other countries as real people too. (My progressive friends have often lived abroad, have family in other countries, or work in immigrant communities). It's a trust issue. If they see me denying that local issues are "real/important," I must be ignorant, and worse, I must be unwilling to be bothered with the real-life experiences of people different from me. Why should they trust anything I say after that about helping people? "But Africa though!" sounds like a deflection, not a genuine consideration or a sincere, compassionate challenge of their own thinking about poverty. 

When I speak first about things we both care about and share sincere examples of the ways that I do see and care about the depth of personal stress that US poverty and racial disparities have on people I actually know, I haven't had a progressive friend respond by saying that poverty in other countries didn't matter.  I brought it up second though, and that seems to make a difference. If someone trusts that I am a caring, informed person, not a callous ignorant one, we can expand the scope of the conversation from there.

Fwiw, I can't think of a time this has led to changed actions on their part. 

Why EA groups should not use “Effective Altruism” in their name.

To be clear, this also means I don't think everyone should look at PISE and think "we should definitely change our name too!" I think we don't have enough information from this one example to make a claim that strong. 

I thought this was a thoughtfully-shared example and am glad Koen wrote it up so people could share their thinking.

Why EA groups should not use “Effective Altruism” in their name.

Though I like thinking about words with a skeptical lens, I am not convinced this is a large concern. The name of a new thing will produce both predictable and random reactions from humans. 

 My expectation is that rational, intelligent, self-critical, scientifically literate humans are humans, which comes with a certain degree of randomness to their behaviors. There will be variations in what they feel like doing on a given day, and a low-stakes decision like "Do I want to go to this presentation by a group I haven't heard of?" is not much evidence either way of someone's thinking skills.  If the ideas the group is presenting attract those individuals in their particular context, and they hit upon a name that helps rather than distracts from that goal, that seems solid. 

Introducing LEEP: Lead Exposure Elimination Project

Congrats on the launch! This may be a stretch, but if you'd find it helpful to connect with any of these folks: https://youtu.be/DbplLXRQquI or the Data Science for Social Good team at U of Chicago to see if they have additional contacts, let me know and I can connect you.

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

Joey, could you say more what you mean by "concepts...that connect to impact"? I'm interested in examples you're thinking of. And whether you're looking for advances on those examples or new/different concepts?

EricHerboso's Shortform

Quick meta comment: Thanks for explaining your downvote; I think that's helpful practice in general

sky's Shortform

Quick thoughts on turning percentages back into people

Occasionally, I experiment with different ways to grok probabilities and statistics for myself, starting from the basics. It also involves paying attention to my emotions, and imagining how different explanations would work for different students. (I'm often a mentor/workshop presenter for college students). If your brain is like mine or you like seeing how other people's brains work, this may be of interest.

One trick that has worked well for me is turning %s back into people

Example: I think my Project X can solve a problem for more people than it's currently doing. I have a survey (N=1200) which says I'm currently solving a problem for 1% of the people impacted by Issue X. I think I can definitely make that number go up. Also, I really want that number to go up; 1% seems so paltry.

I might start with:Ok, how likely do I think it is that 1% could go up to 5%, 10%, 20%?

But I think this is the wrong question to start with for me. I want to inform my intuitions about what is likely or probable, but this all feels super hypothetical. I know I'm going to want to say 20%, because I have a bunch of ideas and 20% is still low! The %s here feel too fuzzy to ground me in reality.

Alternative: Turn 1% of 1200 back into 12 people

This is 12 people who say they are positively impacted by Project X.

This helps me remember that no one is a statistic. (A post which may have inspired this idea to begin with). So, yay, 12 people!

But going from 1% to 5% still sounds unambitious and unsatisfying. I like ambitious, tenacious, hopeful goals when it comes to people getting the solutions they're looking for. That's the whole point of the project, after all. Sometimes, I can physically feel the stress over this tension. I want this number to be 100%! I want the problem solved-solved, not kinda-solved.

At this point, maybe I could remind myself or a student that "shoulding at the universe" is a recipe for frustration. I love that concept, and sometimes it works. But often, that's just another way of shoulding at myself. The fact remains that I don't want to be less ambitious about solving problems that I know are real problems for real people.

I try the percents-to-people technique again:

  • Turn 5% of 1200 back into 60 people. Oh. That's 48 additional people. Also notice: it's only 60 people if we're talking about 48 additional people, while losing 0.
  • Turn 10% back into 120 people. 108 additional people, while losing 0.
  • Turn 20% back into 240 people. 228 additional people, while losing 0.
  • So, an increase of 5% or 20% is the difference between 48 or 228 additional people reached. I know about this program because I work on it, and I know how much goes into Project X right now to reach 12 people. I'm sure there are things we could do differently, but are they different enough to reach 228+ additional people?

Now this feels different. It's humbling. But it piques my curiosity again instead of my frustration: how would we attempt that? Could we?

  • What else do I need to know, to figure out if 60 or 120 or 240 (...or 1000, or 10000) is anywhere within the realm of possibilities for me?
  • Do I have a clear idea about what my bottlenecks or mistakes are in the status quo, such that I think there are 48 more people to reach (while still reaching the 12)? What processes would need to change, and how much?
  • This immediately brings up the response, "That depends on how long I have." (Woot, now I've just grokked why it's useful to time-bound examples for comparison's sake). We could call it 1 year, or 3, or 10, etc. I personally think 1-3 years is usually easier to conceptualize and operationalize.
  • Also, whatever I do next, it's obviously going to take notable effort. I know I can only do so much work in a day. (I probably hate this truth the most. This is definitely where I remind myself not to should at the universe). Now I wonder, is this definitely the program where I want to focus my effort for a while? Why? What if there are problems upstream of this one that I could put my effort toward instead? ...aha, now my understanding of why people care about cause prioritization just got deeper and more personally intuitive. This is a topic for another post.

To return to percentages, here's one more example. Percentages can also feel daunting instead of unambitious:

  • Going from 12 to 60 people is a 400% increase. (Right? I haven't miscalculated something basic? Yes, that's right; thank you, online calculators). 400%! Is that madness?
  • Turn '400% increase' back into 4 additional people reached, for every 1 person reached now.

That may still be daunting. But it may be easier to make estimates or compare my intuitions about different action plans this way.

If you (or your students) are like me, this is a useful approach. It gets me into the headspace of imagining creative possibilities to solve problem X, while still grounding myself within some concrete parameters rather than losing myself to shoulding.

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