June Open Thread

post by RyanCarey · 2015-06-01T12:04:00.027Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · 33 comments

Here's a place to discuss projects, ideas, events and miscellanea relevant to the world of effective altruism that don't need a whole post of their own!

Some news from the last week in effective altruism:

Also, last month was the highest-traffic month for the EA Forum so far, so welcome to any new members, and if you have any questions or thoughts, here might be a good spot to try writing about them. Hopefully the forum continues to grow!





Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by technicalities · 2015-06-04T14:32:27.679Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi folks,

George Monbiot – an effective altruist in spirit – just wrote a passionate attack on idealists entering 'soulless' industries like finance ^.

As far as self-direction, autonomy and social utility are concerned, many of those who enter these industries and never re-emerge might as well have dropped dead at graduation.

He completely fails to consider the financial discrepancy argument, and dismisses outright the argument from replaceability (reform-from-inside, with an EA financier yielding at least one unit of reform from inside).

I think rebutting this article would be a very good opportunity for promoting e2g. Would anyone be willing and able to get something onto Practical Ethics or the 80,000 Hours blog?

(I'd do it myself, but don't think my name would carry any weight. Is this Forum well-established enough to transfer gravitas onto its writers?)

comment by Vincent_deB · 2015-06-04T15:57:08.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

George Monbiot – an effective altruist in spirit

What makes you say that? Could someone pitch effective altruism to him? He's a UK author, right?

comment by technicalities · 2015-06-04T16:34:28.191Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What makes you say that?

His unusual concern for the balance of evidence (e.g. pro-nuclear environmentalism), his animal welfarism, environmental x-risk, and his transparency about his interests. Some examples:

Good idea to pitch directly. I'll draft something to send to him.

comment by ChrisSmith · 2015-06-04T23:52:29.858Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

As someone who really admired George Monbiot as a teenager, I'm slightly surprised to hear him described as an effective altruist in spirit.

I admire his transparency and his willingness to change his mind, but he does strike me as someone quite committed to an ideology (generally a progressive one not too far from my own!) around issues like state intervention and ownership/delivery of public services. I'm also not convinced that rewilding is a promising or cost effective way of tackling the environmental issues which he (quite possibly rightly) prioritises so much. I'm not saying I don't think he is a good person, but I am saying it seems a stretch to think of him as an effective altruist in spirit. Do you know him personally?

I actually think the argument in his piece is pretty good as someone who works in one of the industries he is upset about. I can think of several friends, none of whom would consider themselves effective altruists, who have indeed followed the sort of path he outlines. All too often, people do not make differences from the inside.

I take your point that there are counterexamples where people do good from inside (I would hope to consider myself here, as someone donating 15%+ and triggering donations from colleagues worth around twice that last year) but as a general phenomenon his piece is pretty sound. A rebuttal would be difficult, but a response could go along the lines of "Not all City workers" or similar. Do you think this would still be valuable?

comment by Vincent_deB · 2015-06-10T18:31:45.374Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I agree. 'Effective altruist' appears to me to be a label picking out a very particular and narrow movement and group of people, despite the broadness of the words we happen to have adopted as a label.

comment by Alexander · 2015-06-21T21:55:44.518Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Peter Singer interview

Dylan Matthews:You talk about existential risks in your latest book — big threats that have a chance of wiping out all of humanity. Which of those, if you had to pick one or two, concerns you the most? Is there one where the story of how a disaster would unfold is particularly compelling?

Peter Singer: It's not just that the disaster story is more compelling, but that there is a reasonably compelling story as to how we can reduce that risk. When it comes to collision with an asteroid, there is a reasonable story about how we could reduce that risk. First we need to discover whether asteroids are on a collision path, and NASA is already doing that, and then we would need to think about how we could deflect it from Earth. So that, I can kind of understand.

Some of the others, it's hard to know exactly what we could do. Bioterrorism, I guess we can develop ways of making things more secure and making it harder for bioterrorists. But it's not going to be easy to find exactly what the best strategy is. Things like the singularity — the takeover by artificial intelligence, or something like that — it's very hard to see exactly, at this stage, anyway, what you could do that would reduce that risk. I don't know.

comment by zackrobinson · 2015-06-06T19:28:00.495Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is anyone aware of efforts to put together a documentary on EA? Documentaries seem to have had some positive effects on movement building in other (often related) arenas such as vegetarianism, and I suspect the main demographic of EAs (young educated folks) probably watch documentaries at a higher rate than the general population. With the number of books being published in EA lately, it seems as though there might be the potential to cast the net a bit further. Thoughts?

comment by arrowind · 2015-06-07T18:19:23.754Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I heard TLYCS might be making one, and they seem uniquely well placed to doing so.

comment by zackrobinson · 2015-06-10T09:52:33.204Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's great to hear. I think it is important that media depictions of EA highlight the positive impact one can have through EA. In other words, present the opportunity to do incredibly good things rather than offering condemnation for inaction. I agree that TLYCS is in a good position to do just that.

comment by Orborde · 2015-06-03T02:22:45.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to decide on a time preference to use to guide my charitable giving (currently for tax optimization reasons, but that's not the only time-amount tradeoff I can imagine facing). Can anyone point me to useful discussion that might help me work out a time preference function?

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-06-04T15:21:28.252Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ben Todd and I investigated the drivers of this in a report published earlier this year. The conclusions are summarised in a flow-chart.

We cover the main things which would affect the time preference rate to use, but we don't produce explicit estimates. This is something I'd like to see the community doing over the next few years.

comment by Jeff_Kaufman · 2015-06-06T11:52:20.152Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

For an EA, another consideration is that I'd expect a movement of people who give as they earn to be more persuasive and grow faster than a movement of people who invest-to-give or borrow-to-give. I think if you're public about your giving (and you should be!) this is a very large factor.

comment by Vincent_deB · 2015-06-10T18:33:07.084Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Obligatory link: To Inspire People to Give, Be Public About Your Giving

comment by tomstocker · 2015-06-03T08:41:42.909Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

By time preference you mean Friedman style lifetime consumption smoothing??

EA links on this topicre: giving now vs later

re: consumption smoothing

re: practically, reducing consumption over the longer term to allow bigger generosity

If you're talking about bunching donations or giving regular installments you have to take a view given the nature of the project and how much you're giving I think.

comment by Orborde · 2015-06-04T03:17:54.754Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

By time preference you mean Friedman style lifetime consumption smoothing??

No, not really. I mean "give now or give later", which doesn't seem significantly related to consumption smoothing. Is there a connection between EA and consumption smoothing that I've missed?

comment by tomstocker · 2015-06-04T09:36:50.416Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

nope, probably not, just the way you said time preference function. Casually, we're at the age where we should be borrowing for consumption smoothing, so we might be able to expect having a lot of resource to give in later life - this is the only like I can think of.

comment by MichaelDickens · 2015-06-02T03:05:27.774Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Applications have opened for EA Global.

I'm confused, I thought applications closed on May 30?

comment by Ben_Kuhn · 2015-06-02T16:53:22.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think May 30 was sort of a soft deadline.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-02T10:36:58.931Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good point. Although my impression was that there might be further future rounds of offers + the online form is still open

comment by Vincent_deB · 2015-06-01T15:20:31.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What were the referrers for the forum traffic, and which ones increased?

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-01T15:51:06.931Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Most of the increase in acquisitions was from referrals (a lesser amount was from social media and search), including effectivealtruism.org, slatestarcodex, vox.com and others.

comment by arrowind · 2015-06-01T20:50:09.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Any chance of a breakdown? What were the Vox and slatestarcodex articles?

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-01T23:36:34.607Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

27% referrals, 23% search, 28% social, 21% direct. slatestarcodex.com's main page, http://www.vox.com/2015/4/24/8457895/givewell-open-philanthropy-charity

comment by Vincent_deB · 2015-06-03T03:11:41.127Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

That Vox article gives an infinite looping error - is there another copy of it?

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-03T11:41:49.842Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's called "You have $8 billion. You want to do as much good as possible. What do you do?."

It works fine for me in Google Chrome.

comment by Vincent_deB · 2015-06-04T15:56:13.409Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It works for me now - but I've since noticed other Vox articles doing the same thing for a few minutes, then working again. I'm using Google Chrome too, trying it on a Mac now, but maybe it is a browser issue.

comment by tomstocker · 2015-06-03T08:51:02.287Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Would anyone on this thread, hypothetically, be interested in funding, supporting or working with a speculative organisation doing what it could to reduce the amount of severe physical pain felt by people across the world?

What if it focused on government and healthcare systems as a target, using evidence and lobbying? For example, encouraging the government to fund or subsidise particularly good projects in terms of reducing physical pain and learning about it?

What if it focused on scientific research and working with funding bodies as a target?

What if it focused on stimulating and monitoring projects in developing countries?

What if it focused on doing a 'state of play' publication each year or so, showing the major sources of physical pain in terms of severity and number affected, and what is being done that could be promising or emulated?

What if it did all of the above?

Interested to hear your reactions :)

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-03T11:40:51.389Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Chronic pain is very hard to treat, especially with any kind of efficiency. Even in talking about acute pain, I think what you're going to end up with is a publication that focuses on lots of negative events in the world, and this might have unplanned adverse effects on people's perception of the world - making people have a more negative outlook, which could make their own mental health worse. It would seem more productive to focus on the aspects of the world that are changeable - where people's physical or mental state can be improved, rather than where it's worst. I also think that most people wouldn't want to read a pain report, but might want to read about where people's experiences can be improved.

I've heard proposals of this nature before, and my reaction to this kind of proposal tends to be mildly to moderately worried about the consequences if such a project could come to pass, and to recommend against funding it. For people running the project, I would recommend thinking of alternative projects, or performing a risk assessment before going forward.

comment by tomstocker · 2015-06-04T09:42:40.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps to make it more concrete - what would be the problem in principle with speculative funding or other support for an academic working on practical solutions of chronic pain like Lorimer Moseley

comment by tomstocker · 2015-06-04T09:40:08.651Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the feedback Ryan. I'd appreciate answers if you could make the time:

Who did you hear these proposals from please?

What gives you the confidence to say that severe pain is not a changeable phenomenon?

Why do you think that recognising that others are in pain and understanding how many and how badly with a view to doing something about it will be a net loss for mental health?


comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-04T12:02:59.922Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think there are any active proposals at the moment.

Pain is most definitely changeable, it's just very costly to do so. Lots of different medical, lifestyle and psychological therapies are tried. I think the best current solution for chronic pain is to have an interdisciplinary pain clinic that has physiotherapists, psychologists, doctors with an interest in pain medicine, some kind of medical or allied health folk with an interest in addiction medicine. And then you want to diagnose the type of pain, and give the minimum amount of opiods possible yet the maximum amount of pain relief. I've visited a bunch of these kinds of clinics as a medical student. All of this stuff is extremely costly, and still doesn't work very well, given the cost. It's not effective altruism. And this has been an active area of research for a long time. Hundreds of doctors in any country would class themselves as pain-specialists. There are pain-specialised-teams that visit patients in any major hospital. All of this is good, but it's far from a priority. What's interesting is that pain teams and pain specialists have emerged to a significant degree from the specialty of anaesthesia, who are really the original people who could reduce pain. If you want to look at where pain-reduction is cost-effective, it's getting the first anaesthetists. Having surgeries done with anaesthesia compared to without is terribly important, and it would seem critical to make sure that in areas of the developing world, basic operations can be safely performed, and local and general anaesthesia are available when required. Chronic pain could be of personal or selfish interest, but from a point of view of effectiveness, it's a disaster.

I think the problem is that a lot of pain is caused by being aware of the pain, and likewise a lot of mental ill-health is caused by ruminating about pain and suffering, so I think that if someone was going to work in this kind of area, it'd be very important for them to be a person who has very robust mental health themselves. The part that seems globally worrying is if people try to run awareness campaigns about the amount of pain, or writing pain reports, which could make worse-off more people who already have bad ruminations about these kinds of things.

comment by tomstocker · 2015-06-10T06:10:35.167Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for expanding, and telling me the source of your opinion, even if not giving much in the way of evidence.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-06-10T07:24:48.435Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's good evidence to be found that interdisciplinary clinics are effective for chronic pain, though it's easy to see their cost-effectiveness, and likewise it's easy to discern that a lot of research has been committed to pain research (including much of the specialty of anaesthetics). The ideas about worries about people ruminating about pain is more complicated, but is a notion that has evolved from discussions with thoughtful EAs.