All of Tessa's Comments + Replies

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

a rhetorical move that introduces huge moral stakes into the world-view in order to push people into drastically altering their actions and priorities

What is the definition you'd prefer people to stick to? Something like "being pushed into actions that have a very low probability of producing value, because the reward would be extremely high in the unlikely event they did work out"?

The Drowning Child argument doesn't seem like an example of Pascal's Mugging, but Wikipedia gives the example of:

"give me five dollars, or I'll use my magic powers from out

... (read more)
Yes this is the definition I would prefer. I haven't watched the video, but I assumed it's going to say "AI Safety is not a Pascal's Mugging because the probability of AI x-risk is nontrivially high." So someone who comes into the video with the assumption that AI risk is a clear Pascal's Mugging since they view it as "a rhetorical move that introduces huge moral stakes into the world-view in order to push people into drastically altering their actions and priorities" would be pretty unhappy with the video and think that there was a bait-and-switch.
Hypertension is Extremely Important, Tractable, and Neglected

I haven't looked into this in detail (honest epistemic status: saw a screenshot on Twitter) but what do you think of the recent paper Association of Influenza Vaccination With Cardiovascular Risk?

Quoting from it, re: tractable interventions:

The effect sizes reported here for major adverse cardiovascular events and cardiovascular mortality (in patients with and without recent ACS) are comparable with—if not greater than—those seen with guideline-recommended mainstays of cardiovascular therapy, such as aspirin, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, β-

... (read more)
Super interesting and thank you for sharing! A potential advantage of vaccination is that it does not require daily dosing (unlike hypertension medications), and of course, it has the benefit of also preventing illness. Would be interesting to see cost-effectiveness analyses for seasonal influenza campaigns.
Bad Omens in Current Community Building

Minor elaboration on your last point: a piece of advice I got from someone who did psychological research on how to solicit criticism was to try to brainstorm someone's most likely criticism of you would be, and then offer that up when requesting criticism, as this is a credible indication that you're open to it. Examples:

  • "Hey, do you have any critical feedback on the last discussion I ran? I talked a lot about AI stuff, but I know that can be kind of alienating for people who have more interest in political action than technology development... Does th
... (read more)
Request for proposals: Help Open Philanthropy quantify biological risk

Some recent-ish resources that potential applicants might want to check out:

David Manheim and Gregory Lewis, High-risk human-caused pathogen exposure events from 1975-2016, data note published in August 2021.

As a way to better understand the risk of Global Catastrophic Biological Risks due to human activities, rather than natural sources, this paper reports on a dataset of 71 incidents involving either accidental or purposeful exposure to, or infection by, a highly infectious pathogenic agent.

Filippa Lentzos and Gregory D. Koblentz, Mapping Maximum Bio... (read more)

Request for proposals: Help Open Philanthropy quantify biological risk

One now-inactive past project in this space that I would highlight (since I would very much like something similar to exist again) is The Sunshine Project. Quoting its (sadly very short) Wikipedia page:

The Sunshine Project worked by exposing research on biological and chemical weapons. Typically, it accessed documents under the Freedom of Information Act and other open records laws, publishing reports and encouraging action to reduce the risk of biological warfare. It tracked the construction of high containment laboratory facilities and the dual-use act

... (read more)
EA and the current funding situation

I logically acknowledge that: "In some cases, an extravagant lifestyle can even produce a lot of good, depending on the circumstances... It’s not my preferred moral aesthetic, but the world’s problems don’t care about my aesthetics."

I know that, but... I care about my aesthetics.

For nearly everyone, I think there exists is a level of extravagance that disgusts their moral aesthetics. I'm sure I sit above that level for some, with my international flights and two $80 keyboards. My personal aesthetic disgust triggers somewhere around "how dare you spend $100... (read more)

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

You might be interested to know that iGEM (disclosure: my employer) just published a blog post about infohazards. We currently offer biorisk workshops for teams; this year we plan to offer a general workshop on risk awareness, a workshop specifically on dual-use, and potentially some others. We don't have anything on general EA / rationality, though we do share biosecurity job and training opportunities with our alumni network.

A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List

On passive technologies, I imagine the links from Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists would be informative. The areas highlighted there under "physical protection from pathogens" are:

  • Improving personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Suppressing pathogen spread in the built environment
  • Improving biosafety in high-containment labs and clinics
  • Suppressing pathogen spread in vehicles

For spread in vehicles and the built environment, my sense (based on conversations with others, not independent research) is that lots of folks are excited about a... (read more)

A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List

On cyberbiosecurity:

... (read more)
A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List

Under Solutions to deal with misinformation, Tara Kirk Sell at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has done a bunch of related work (her list of publications includes things like a National Priorities to Combat Misinformation and Disinformation for COVID-19 and Future Public Health Threats: A Call for a National Strategy and Longitudinal Risk Communication: A Research Agenda for Communicating in a Pandemic). She was also interviewed for the 80,000 Hours podcast in May 2020, though I suspect her thinking has evolved since then.

(For all of these com... (read more)

Nathan Young's Shortform

I have strong "social security number" associations with the acronym SSN.

Setting those aside, I feel "scale" and "solvability" are simpler and perhaps less jargon-y words than "impact" and "tractability" (which is probably good), but I hear people use "impact" much more frequently than "scale" in conversation, and it feels broader in definition, so I lean towards "ITN" over "SSN".

In my head, "impact" seems to mix together scale + neglectedness + tractability, unless I'm missing something.
Project: bioengineering an all-female breed of chicken to end chick culling

Thank you for highlighting this opportunity, which seems like the sort of cool research that this community is into funding (including me, I chipped in a little bit), as well as for doing so much investigation of the project in order to write up this report.

1Zane Oberholzer2mo
Thank you Tessa for your support!
Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics

Man, I find it so difficult (on, like, an emotional level) to think clearly about the dollar value of an hour of my time (I feel like it is overvalued?? because so many people make so much less money than me, a North American???) but I agree that adopting some kind of clear heuristic here is good, and that I should more frequently be doing explicit trades of "I will spend up to 2 hours on trying to find a cheaper option, because I think in expectation that's worth $60".

You might be aware of this but for others reading -  there's a calculator to help you work out the value of your time.

 I think it's worth doing once (and repeating when your circumstances change, e.g. new job), then just using that as a general heuristic to make time-money tradeoffs, rather than deliberating every time.

Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics

I wonder if it might be possible to get volunteers to help find some of opportunities to save money, in the genre of

putting students up in cheaper hotels, booking flights further in advance, or selecting cheaper flights where inconvenience is minimal (rather than treating money as no object).

I am not confident that this is true, because coordinating with volunteers is a lot of work and coordination-time is limited, but I could imagine a world where you could be like "here is my BATNA for booking flights for these speakers, if someone can improve upon this in the next 12 hours, I will donate the difference in money to the charity of their choice".

4Vaidehi Agarwalla3mo
You could outsource this to someone who saves more per hour worked would save more than the total cost of their time.
Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics

+1, the frugality options seem like a nice way to "make the opportunity cost of funding more salient" without necessarily requiring huge changes from event organizers.

+1 here as well, frugality option would be an amazing thing to normalize, especially if we can get it going as a thing beyond the world of EA (which may be possible if we get some good reporting on it).
Announcing the EU Tech Policy Fellowship

This project sounds great! You said this is focused on "high-priority emerging technologies, especially AI and cybersecurity". My network is mostly composed of synthetic biologists, would this also be an appropriate opportunity for them?

Hi Tessa, although biorisks can be included in risks coming from high-priority emerging technologies, we decided for this round to focus on AI / cybersecurity risks for placements and therefore also for our training content. After the program we will re-evaluate and possibly re-run the program including expansion to other areas (as biorisks). We will announce this on the Forum and feel free to subscribe to our newsletter to receive updates.
We're announcing a $100,000 blog prize

I just want to pipe in to say that I think this is a cool example; the structure of "extremely small prize for doing the thing at all" seems like a nice way to build up the funnel of new blogs in a more even-handed way.

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Screen and record all DNA synthesis 
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

Screening all DNA synthesis orders for potentially serious hazards would reduce the risk that a dangerous biological agent is engineered and released. Robustly recording what DNA is synthesized (necessarily in an encrypted fashion) would allow labs to prove that they had not engineered an agent causing an outbreak. We are interested in funding work to solve technical, political and incentive problems related to securing DNA synthesis.


Meta note: there are already some cool E... (read more)

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

yeah, to expand upon this:

Best practices for assessment and management of dual-use infohazards
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe, Values and Reflective Processes

Lots of important and well-intended research, including research into AI alignment and pandemic prevention, generates information which may be hazardous if misused. We would like to better understand how to assess and manage these hazards, and would be interested in funding expert elicitation studies and other empirical work on estimating information risks. We would also be interested in funding... (read more)

Concrete Biosecurity Projects (some of which could be big)

One interesting and somewhat-related story here: an airport spa chain called XPresSpa launched a COVID-testing service called XpresCheck and have been working alongside Concentric by Ginkgo on airport biosurveillance for specific countries:

“For the past 3 months, XpresCheck and their testing partner, Concentric by Gingko, demonstrated that a traveler-based SARS-CoV-2 viral genomic surveillance program can help detect emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States,” said Dr. Cindy R. Friedman, chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch. “In fact, follo

... (read more)
Concrete Biosecurity Projects (some of which could be big)

Hi, I work on biosecurity at iGEM, can confirm we care quite a lot about it. A lot of these projects don't seem obviously best solved through synthetic biology (cf. Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists) but iGEMers often surprise me! 

I think many teams are already motivated to work on medical countermeasures, though I maybe see a somewhat greater number of exciting diagnostics projects than therapeutics projects (for example, two of the winners of the 2020 competition worked on rapid point-of-care diagnostics ( (read more)

The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Continuous sampling for high-risk laboratories
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

We would be excited to fund efforts to test laboratory monitoring systems that would provide data for biosafety and biosurveillance. The 1979 Sverdlovsk anthrax leak happened because a clogged air filter had been removed from the bioweapons laboratory's exhaust pipe and no one informed the night shift manager. What if, by default, ventilation ducts in high-containment laboratories were monitored to detect escaping pathogens? Establishing a practice of continuous sampling wou... (read more)

4Alex D4mo
Add-on: for natural epidemics, there are a number of “event-based surveillance systems” that monitor news, social media, and other sources for weak signals of potential emergencies. WHO, PAHO, and many national governments run such systems, and there are a few private ones (one of which I run). One could set up such a system focussing exclusively on the regions immediately surrounding high containment labs. There are only ~60 BSL-4 labs, so you could conceivably monitor each of these regions quite closely without an impossibly large team. Direct monitoring would be much better, but this might be a useful adjunct.
The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition

Reducing risks from laboratory accidents
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

Some life sciences research, such as gain-of-function work with potential pandemic pathogens, poses serious risks even in the absence of bad actors. What if we could eliminate biological risks from laboratory accidents? We'd like to see work to reduce the likelihood of accidents, such as empirical biosafety research and human factors analysis on  laboratory equipment. We'd also like to see work that reduces the severity of accidents, such as warning systems to inform scientists if a pathogen has not been successfully deactivated and user-friendly lab strains that incorporate modern biocontainment methods.

Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists

You might find some answers in the question on computational biology thesis topic suggestions or some ideas in this post on project ideas in biosecurity, but/and I second Will's idea of moving this into its own question post if you want to solicit more suggestions.

Should GMOs (e.g. golden rice) be a cause area?

I think you're right that the human-health-via-nutrition case for GMOs is pretty weak. Advocating for non-GMO food fortification (e.g. the work of the Food Fortification Initiative, who have been written up by GiveWell but are not a top charity) seems more tractable than pushing for GMOs.

Your "Other use cases of GMOs" section focuses on addressing other nutritional deficits. My (not deeply researched) sense is that the major benefits of agricultural GMOs are probably more about reduced famine via:

*  ability to survive climate extremes
* resistance to p... (read more)

Thanks. I agree with all of that. My section was supposed to be just one of many examples of the wonders that GMOs can produce. I'll clarify the text to state this more clearly :)
The Bioethicists are (Mostly) Alright


it is worth some eyebrow-raising if it turns out that the ingroup defense is something along the lines of “well, by bioethicists, we mean research ethicists, and by research ethicists we mean research bureaucrats, and by research bureaucrats, we mean research bureaucracy.”

has been roughly my impression of the curious EA bioethics hate, which I have tried to push back on when I've seen my friends expressing it. I liked the Rob Bensinger piece Thirty-three randomly selected bioethics papers that you linked.

My sense is that there are institutions making ... (read more)

3Devin Kalish6mo
I agree, the Bensinger piece was very helpful, and wasn't in my first draft. Credit to Applied Divinity Studies for linking me to something that linked to it, or I wouldn't have found it at all.
Comments for shorter Cold Takes pieces

I haven't read The Culture series but/and I really enjoyed this meta piece about it: Why The Culture Wins: An appreciation of Iain M. Banks for a really excellent discussion of meaning-seeking within a post-scarcity utopia. An excerpt:

In fact, modern science fiction writers have had so little to say about the evolution of culture and society that it has become a standard trope of the genre to imagine a technologically advanced future that contains archaic social structures. ... Such a postulate can be entertaining, to the extent that it involves a dramat

... (read more)
Why do you find the Repugnant Conclusion repugnant?

Is this necessary? I feel like many people judge their lives as worth living even though their day-to-day experiences contain mostly pain. I wonder if we're imagining different definitions  for "barely-net-positive". Maybe you mean "adding up the magnitude of moment-to-moment negative or positive qualia over someone's entire life" (hedonistic utilitarianism) whereas I am usually imagining something more like "on reflection, the person judges their life as worth living" (kinda preference utilitarian).

8Jonathan Mustin6mo
My sense is that people choose to weather currently-net-negative lives for at least two reasons that they might endorse on reflection: 1. The negative parts of their life may be solvable, such that the EV of their future is plausibly positive 2. Ending their life has a few terrible externalities, e.g. the impact it would have on their close loved ones Eliminating those considerations, I would expect the bar for World Z to be much better than the worst lives people reflectively consider worth living today.
Why do you find the Repugnant Conclusion repugnant?

In the maximally repugnant world, no one's life is all that good. I feel the sting of that. It's hard for me to get excited about a world in which all of the people I know personally have barely-net-positive lives full of suffering and struggle, even if that world contains more people.

The Wikipedia page you linked gives a pretty not-upsetting version of the paradox: 

From Wikipedia, the four situations, A, A+, B-, and B of the Mere Addition Paradox, illustrated as bars of different widths and heights with "water" between (in the case of A+ and B-), fol
... (read more)
3Jack Malde6mo
I'd imagine they must have lots of brilliant and amazing experiences to make up for the suffering, in order to leave them at a net-positive life.
Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous

Yeah, I think you're right that a possible takeaway here is "try to minimize your leisure time, but leave yourself generous slack", and I like the idea of building up a "motivational runway" that you can burn down when you need to push really hard on something.

I just still think that most people (sure, probably not Sam Bankman-Fried) are going to cause themselves needless pain by aiming for minimum leisure/fun/etc instead of prioritizing more important uses of a smaller number of impact-oriented hours.

To reverse your financial metaphor, I feel like I see a... (read more)

I like that analogy a lot!
Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous

Thanks, I appreciate this detailed response! My advice for what to do in practice is something like "focus on output against priorities, not marginal hours". I no longer believe that, for most people, there is a real trade-off between hours spent on self-care*  and amount of impact. If someone is making themselves miserable, I think "put real effort into becoming less depressed" is a likely good short-term bet for increasing productivity, but this post is meant to be about a general pattern, not just advice for people struggling with their mental heal... (read more)

5John G. Halstead7mo
yeah that seems right to me
Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous

I'm also familiar with this school of thought, but I'm not sure it's empirically validated? 

In the case of Dominic Cummings, I believe you are referring to this post which describes running successful political campaigns. Those seem like they might be an outlier, in that they are an extremely time-bound competition where "do things faster than your opponent" is an obvious win? As Samuel noted, running a startup is also a case where a marginal month of delivery matters, since you likely have <1 year of runway to demonstrate to investors that you sho... (read more)

that is all v interesting and informative. I'd probably agree with your view that the correlation between working hours and output is not all that strong. But I do also think that hyperproductive people tend to work extremely hard. I'm mainly going off anecdotes and personal experience though. 

Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous

Thank you for your kind words! I do find it really useful to have time that is intentionally free from obligation. I do still track my time, but I have an "endorsed chill" category (which I absolutely did not circa 2018).

You might enjoy the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It's written in a standard business-psych tone, so expect lots of inspiring anecdotes of corporate success and bolded subheadings, but/and it has a number of useful strategies for prioritizing. It also frames a bunch of things I was deficient in― e.g. dropping unnecessary commitments, ... (read more)

Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous

Fair enough! I have revised the title to include "self-care", which hopefully makes it clearer (the previous title, for later arrivals to this comment thread, was just "Aiming for the minimum is dangerous").

EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

+1, distinguishing between "No degree requirement", "Bachelors", "Masters" all would be helpful. You could borrow from the 80k board and separate out the "Academic Degree" requirements from the "Relevant Experience" requirements (e.g. "< 1 Year", "1-2 years", "2 or more years")

Open Thread: Spring 2022

If you're looking for resources on mental health, you might enjoy some of the upvoted posts under the self-care tag, including Mental Health Resources Tailored for EAs and Resources on Mental Health and Finding a Therapist.

Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review)

FYI for anyone else who might crosspost Brian Tomasik posts: I learned thanks to a crosspost of The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering that he doesn't like crossposting since it makes updating the content of posts more difficult. I have updated my crossposts from him to only include the summary paragraphs and a table of contents (with a caveat that the contents are as of the time of cross-posting).

7Joan Rohlfing7mo
Thanks for this very thoughtful question, Tessa. 1. What are the most important problems for this project, and what is stopping you (/NTI) from working on them right now? The Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative (BIRRI) [] was born from the recognition that advances in biotechnology are rapidly outpacing the ability of governments to provide effective oversight. Through BIRRI, we are working to identify efforts that would be most impactful in safeguarding science and reducing the risk of catastrophic events that could result from deliberate abuse or accidental misuse of bioscience and biotechnology. The research ecosystem that enables biotechnological developments is diverse—involving publishers, academic scientists, private industry, research funders, bioethicists, managers, security experts, statisticians, and more. Although each group has a shared interest in the overall success of research, their near-term priorities may not always be aligned. BIRRI seeks to bring together these diverse stakeholders to identify and advance practical tools that, when paired with appropriate incentive structures, have a real chance at reducing risks. Projects under the umbrella of the initiative were collaboratively developed and are designed to cut across the research lifecycle, providing a layered defense against deliberate or accidental misuse of biotechnologies. We believe all five of the initiatives you listed are critical components of this layered defense, and we’re working on each of these to different degrees. For example, NTI is partnering with Stanford University on the Visibility Initiative for Responsible Science in an effort to understand, improve, and standardize risk reduction practices among communities involved in research, with a particular focus on funders and publishers. We’re also partnering with the World Economic Forum and global l
AMA: Joan Rohlfing, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative

What do you think are the most important security (I'm especially interested in biosecurity) projects being done outside of the USA/UK? More generally, what are the organizations or projects you would suggest EAs based outside the USA or UK try to get involved with?

Carl Shulman – What portion of a boost to global GDP goes to the poor?

Well, thanks for leaving feedback despite being unsure! I appreciate it since this is my first time doing a bunch of crossposts, and I'm trying to figure out a good format.

Carl Shulman – What portion of a boost to global GDP goes to the poor?

The EA forum team is going to back-date these posts to their original dates so they can be voted on in the review. Would you still have benefited from the note being at the beginning if this post's date indicated that it's from 2014?

(On my first few cross-posts, I placed the "hey, this is a crosspost" note as a header, but I noticed it was removed when the forum team backdated the posts; decided to try entering it as a footer instead for my latest batch of crossposts.)

3Guy Raveh7mo
Oh, ok, thanks for the explanation. I'm honestly not sure about any benefits once this has the right date, as I did understand who wrote this and where. Then again, I find the whole decade review thing pretty confusing to navigate, so I'm not sure of anything.
EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

I messed around making an Airtable of biosecurity-related early-career opportunities earlier this year, more or less for my own reference.

Here's a link, which might be of interest both from a data design perspective and because you might not have all of the internships listed there (though note that it lists a bunch of non-internship things as well):

Thank you so much! We'll make sure to add those.
EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

One thing that's a bit unclear to me from the form: is this more of a job board, or more of a list of regularly-occurring internships?

(If job board, some Boreal-summer internships I'd think to link will not be posted yet; if list of orgs / programs that regularly host internships, then the "Application Deadline" would be a time of year rather than a specific date.)

It's more of a job board since we're only publishing active opportunities, but if you submit any reoccurring opportunities that'll be offered later in the year we'll make sure to add those once they're active!
Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review)

Thanks for taking the time to put together this list, this is great! I found that a few of these were on the forum already:

... (read more)
Thanks for crossposting these. It seems that it's not possible to review or vote on some of those posts (specifically, these [] three [] posts [] ). Is there an explanation for this? I also noticed I can't vote on this post [] by Carl Shulman, which I crossposted, though in that case I can write a review.
2Jonas Vollmer7mo
Very cool, thanks a lot! :)
Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition

I don't think I quite understand this reply. Are you saying that (check all that apply):

  1. In your experience, the people involved in discussions do embrace redistribution and fairness as core values, they are just placing more value on future people.
  2. Actual longtermists also advocate for near-term redistributive causes, so criticism about resource allocation within the movement away from the global poor and towards longtermism doesn't make sense (i.e. it's not zero-sum).
  3. Redistributive commitments are only one part of the "foundational values", and Toby
... (read more)
I think all of these are true, but I was pointing to #2 specifically.
Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review)

I'm willing to do a few more crossposts― are there pieces of object-level content that you'd really like to see crossposted?

Chloe Cockburn’s Summer 2020 Charities for Racial Justice: []

Here's a somewhat random and non-exhaustive selection of (in my view) excellent content that's not on the Forum (disclosure: a lot is by CLR, the org I used to co-run):

... (read more)
Evidence Action – We’re Shutting Down No Lean Season, Our Seasonal Migration Program: Here’s Why

I would recommend this post over the GiveWell one as a case study / postmortem on charity entrepreneurship.

While it covers similar ground, the GiveWell post (which is essentially a metacommentary on this one) seemed to be written partly with the intention of reassuring donors to GiveWell that they shouldn't update too negatively. This post felt like a more straightforward summary of Evidence Action's decision-making process about No Lean Season.

I think this post also more clearly emphasizes the various factors that contributed to the decision to shut down ... (read more)

tessa's Shortform

While making several of review crossposts for the Decade Review I found myself unhappy about the possibility that someone might think I had authored one of the posts I was cross-linking. Here are the things I ended up doing:

  1. Make each post a link post (this one seems... non-optional).
  2. In the title of the post, add the author / blog / organization's name before the post title, separated by an en-dash.
    • Why before the title? This ensures that the credit appears even if the title is long and gets cut off.
    • Why an en-dash? Some of the posts I was linking alrea
... (read more)
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