I'm one of the Philly group organizers, with a BA in Sociology from Haverford College. Currently building career capital while doing EA projects on the side. I have a background in social movement theory and structural functionalism.

Current Projects:

  • Running the Local Career Advice Network
  • Effective Environmentalism community building


Local priorities research: what is it, who should consider doing it, and why

For those interested local priorities research, a number of local group organisers are doing it as part of the Local Career Advice Network. We have written a preliminary guide (currently focused on cause prioritisation and field/careers research) and have written up case studies on how other groups have conducted this research. 

If anyone has thoughts on this kind of research and would like to give feedback on the guide, I'd be keen to get more feedback. 

What (other) posts are you planning on writing?

I'd be interested in basically all of the Giving Now vs Later but especially:

  • Reverse-engineering the philanthropic discount rate from observed market rates +++
  • If giving later > now, what does that imply for talent vs. funding constraints? +
  • Is movement-building an expenditure or an investment? +
  • Prioritization research might need to happen now, not later ++
vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Yeah I think you're right. I didn't need to actually reference Piaget (it just prompted the thought). To be clear, I wasn't trying to imply that Piaget/Kohlberg's theories were correct or sound, but rather applying the model to another issue. I didn't make that very clear.  I don't think my argument really requirs the empirical implications of the model (especially because I wasn't trying to imply moral judgement that one moral circle is necessary better/worse). However I didn't flag this. [meta note: I also posted it pretty quickly, didn't think it through it much since it's a short form]

I broadly agree with all your points. 

I think my general point of x,10x,100x makes more sense if you're looking along one axes (eg. A class of beings like future humans) rather than all the ways you can expand your moral circle - which I also think might be better to think of as a sphere or more complex shape to account for different dimensions/axes. 

I was thinking about the more concrete cases where you go from cats and dogs -> pigs and cows or people in my home country -> people in other countries. 

Re the other reasons you gave:

  • Sometimes belief x1 itself gives a person epistemic reason to believe x2

I think this is kind of what I was trying to say, where there can be some important incremental movement here. (Of course if x2 is very different from x1 then maybe not).

  • Sometimes believing x1 increases your self-identity as a person who believes weird things, making you more likely to believe weird things

This is an interesting point I haven't thought much about. 

  • Sometimes believing x2 increases your affiliation with a group associated with x1 (e.g. EA) making you more likely to believe x3 which is also associated with that group

I think this is probably the strongest non-step-wise reason. 

vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Is anyone aware of/planning on doing any research related to the expected spike in interest for pandemic research due to COVID? 

It would be interesting to see how much new interest is generated, and for which types of roles (e.g. doctors vs researchers). This could be useful to a) identify potential skilled biosecurity recruits b) find out what motivated them about COVID-19 c) figure out how neglected this will be in 5-10 years 

I'd imagine doing a survey after the pandemic starts to die down might be more valuable than right now (maybe after the second wave) so that we're tracking the longer-term impact rather than the immediate reactions. 

An MVP version could be just looking at application rates across a variety of relevant fields.  

vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Some thoughts on stage-wise development of moral circle

Status: Very rough, I mainly want to know if there's already some research/thinking on this.

  • Jean Piaget, a early childhood psychologist from the 1960s, suggested a stage sequential model of childhood developemnt. He suggesting that we progress through different levels of development, and each stage is necessary to develop to the next.
  • Perhaps we can make a similar argument for moral circle expansion. In other words: you cannot run when you don't know how to walk. If you ask someone to believe X, then X+1, then X+2, this makes some sense. if you jump from X to 10X to 10000X (they may even perceive 10000X as Y, an entirely different thing which makes no sense), it becomes a little more difficult for them to adjust over a short period of time.
  • Anecdotally seems true from a number of EAs I've spoken to who've updated to longtermism over time.
  • For most people, changing one's beliefs and moral circles takes time. So we need to create a movement which can accomodate this. Peter Singer sums it up quite well: "there are people who come into the animal movement because of their concern for cats and dogs who later move on to understand that the number of farm animals suffering is vastly greater than the number of cats and dogs suffering and that typically the farm animals suffer more than the cats and dogs, and so they’ve added to the strength of the broader, and as I see more important, animal welfare organizations or animal rights organizations that are working for farm animals. So I think it’s possible that something similar can happen in the EA movement."
  • Risk to the movement is that we lose people who could have become EAs because we turn them off the movement by making it too "weird"

Further research on this topic that could verify my hypothesis:

  • Studying changes in moral attitudes regarding other issues such as slavery, racism, LGBT rights etc. over time, and how long it took individuals/communities to change their attitudes (and behaviors)
EA Cameroon - COVID-19 Awareness and Prevention in the Santa Division of Cameroon Project Proposal

Meta-level: It might help to add a section on the top explaining the above so the relationship is clear.

vaidehi_agarwalla's Shortform

Collection of Constraints in EA

Systemic change, global poverty eradication, and a career plan rethink: am I right?

Thanks for this write-up, it's nice to have an opportunity to discuss Hickel's book. I haven't yet finished the book (I've yet to read the recommendations section) but here are a few thoughts I had so far:

1) The number of people around the world in absolute poverty is increasing, not decreasing

Overall, what I learnt from this section (my charitable takeaway) is:

  • 1a) and 1b) are a reminder that organisations like the World Bank and IMF have strong incentives to make themselves look good by changing the goalposts. We should be consistent about dates & metrics when discussing longitudinal changes in poverty
  • 1c) is a reminder that the IPL is not the bar for a decent quality of life, and that we should be more demanding of poverty eradication efforts.
  • We should probably look at poverty rates over time by region, or at the very least exclude China. OurWorldInData's history of poverty charts on this it contains data on multiple poverty lines. Here is my summary of the extreme poverty line ($1.90 per day):
    • Subsaharan Africa (1 billion in 2015): A drop in relative poverty from ~60% to ~40% from 1990s to 2015. An increase in absolute extreme poverty from ~280 to ~412 million people.
    • South Asia (1.7 billion in 2013): Absolute improvements in extreme poverty from 513 to 274 million people from 1981 to 2013, and relative improvements of 55% to 16%.
    • East Asia & Pacific (2 billion in 2015): An extreme drop in relative poverty from ~80% to ~2%, and a drop in absolute poverty from 1.1 billion to 47 million people.
    • Latin America & the Caribbean (620 million in 2015): An drop in relative poverty from ~13% to ~4%, and 49 to 24 million people.
    • Proxy for South East Asia - Philippines and Indonesia (101 million in 2015, 263 million in 2017): A drop in relative poverty in Indonesia from ~70% to ~6%, and 115 to 15 million people. A drop in relative poverty in the Philippines from ~28% to ~8%, and 15 to 8 million people.

With the exception of Subsaharan Africa, all other regions have seen decreases in absolute poverty, and all regions have seen drops in relative poverty. Even if you look at higher poverty lines that are there in the chart, there is a similar (but less extreme) positive growth trajectory.

And this is my major issue with his choice to use absolute poverty rather than relative poverty, which he justifies using because this was the original goalpost, and the way he presents the situation, which I think is a bit misleading. I don't think this is a very strong reason to use that numbers, I think that consider. The decrease in extreme poverty in Asia (specifically South Asia, if we are to exclude China) has been a real improvement, even if many are still living in poverty.

There is this chart which shows the world decrease in extreme poverty split up by regions and a projection of stagnation in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa if those economies stagnate.

What are the implications of this?

  • It makes me wary of Hickel's overall argument, and makes me concerned his narrative doesn't fully make sense (although individual parts of his arguments may be true). I don't think that the second part of his argument is actually invalidated by the above if we just change the argument to be more accurate:
    • Hickel's claim: Neocolonialisms has prevented the absolute decrease in extreme poverty for countries that experienced it.
    • (in my opinion) The more defensible claim: Neocolonialism has slowed down the rate of relative decrease in extreme poverty for countries that experienced it.
  • Thus, in both cases neocolonialism is the cause for a counterfactual where the world is much better, my claim is less extreme than Hickel's. I haven't spent too much time on the claims he makes in the neocolonialism section yet, although I also was shocked by the number of coups, and agree with your comment that he may have overlooked the negative aspects of some of the regimes.

I'd be curious to know what you find out from your research!

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