February Open Thread

post by RyanCarey · 2015-02-16T17:42:35.208Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · 21 comments

Welcome to February's open thread on the Effective Altruism Forum. This is our place to discuss relevant topics that have not appeared in recent posts.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ChristianKleineidam · 2015-02-20T13:05:24.190Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Reddit made a decision to give away 10% of it's advertising revenue towards charity. The 10 charities with the most votes get the money. You can vote for multiple charities. If you have a reddit account go and vote:

GiveWell: https://www.reddit.com/donate?organization=208625442 (using it's official name "Clear Fund")
Against Malaria Foundation: https://www.reddit.com/donate?organization=203069841
GiveDirectly: https://www.reddit.com/donate?organization=%20271661997
MIRI: http://www.reddit.com/donate?organization=582565917
CFAR: https://www.reddit.com/donate?organization=453100226

comment by Yuval · 2015-02-19T23:44:18.872Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi all, This is my first post here, but I'm reading the posts here for a while and it's very interesting and inspiring. So thank you, and kudos for all the writers and bloggers. I think this forum is a great outreach platform.

Second, I think many of you will be interesting to participate in the edX MOOC "The Challenges of Global Poverty" here: https://courses.edx.org/courses/MITx/14.73x_1/1T2015/ It is based on the "Poor Economics" (by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, free pdf for course participants) book that was recommended here on the reading list as an evidence base approach to alleviate poverty. Also, discussing EA - course related subjects in the course forum may be good way to outreach for people already invested in the subject.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-02-23T17:28:22.591Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Glad you've enjoyed reading. Yes, charity MOOCs are greart. You might also be interested in this one on Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/course/giving2.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-02-16T17:56:24.833Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do people think about the more polemical people in the rationality and effective altruism space? Some names that come to mind are Robin Hanson, Scott Alexander and Eliezer Yudkowsky. Each of them seems to derive their persuasive force by identifying examples of what they perceive to be a social ill. In Robin's case, it's often about signalling - when people say or display things that are insincere or hypocritical, in order to achieve some gain. For Scott, it tends to be about the excesses of tribalism. For Eliezer, it's about cognitive biases. It's interesting that these persuasive writers all identify a fundamental and pervasive flaws in human character, and of the importance of overcoming them. It's a kind of motivational critique has obviously been around at least since the bible. It's not necessarily a bad trick, but it does seem to add persuasive value.

Are there other good persuasive techniques in this space?

comment by Alexander · 2015-02-21T05:53:13.117Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Helping first-world folks

Edit: I already doubted anyone here wanted to discuss non-cosmopolitan thoughts, so I just gave a link. The downvote suggests that only cosmopolitan ideas are tolerated here.

comment by EricHerboso · 2015-02-25T04:38:02.725Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

As a matter of policy, I believe downvotes should indicate that the discussion point is not worth considering -- not that we disagree with the idea. For example: we should downvote spam, nonsense posts, or inappropriately immature posts.

I'm not sure who downvoted you, but I can say that I doubt helping first world people is likely to be more cost-effective than helping people in developing countries. There's just too many people already helping first world people. All the low hanging fruit has already been plucked.

Your link mentions possibilities like nuclear weapon containment or the far-future benefits accruing from funding artists today. The former seems like it would help everyone, not just first-world people. The latter seems... rather difficult to get evidence for.

Sure, we can create just-so stories that provide plausible ways that art/idea funding could effectively help the future. But we have no clear way of testing whether those just-so stories are accurate -- nor even any way to really judge what kind of confidence level we should have for the effectiveness of art funding.

I like art. It's one of my "things". My house has several canvases, dozens of paint brushes, and upwards of 600 books on art. I have a significant other that is an art educator, and promoting art literacy is a big deal in our house. Despite this, I sincerely doubt that funding art is anywhere near as effective at creating utility than conventional EA interventions. Sure, great art can impact generations, and has potential far-future effects, but you can't just fund the greats -- how would you know which to fund in the first place? I just don't see how it can compare to conventional EA ideas.

With that said, I do agree that we should consider first world interventions as a possibility for EA. I just can't think of any first world interventions that could plausibly do a better job than developing world interventions.

comment by Alexander · 2015-02-25T19:12:08.831Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I hope we don't get carried away with the art thing-I was just trying to steelman that guy's response.

My main point was just to solicit ideas about how to help first-world folks. That's not because I think you can save more first-world folks than developing-world folks: it's because I accept greater concern with socially nearby people in my definition of altruism. On this site you guys don't-and I accept that too. But I now wonder if your definition of effectiveness is so different from mine that we can't even talk.

comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2015-02-25T19:44:32.711Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would definitely be interested in seeing more of a conversation about how to effectively help people in the first world. I think your position is not abnormal, and while I don't hold it, I do think that it's valuable for people with many different positions to pay attention to effectiveness in their altruism. At the Global Priorities Project we are working on some notes on how different ethical or factual assumptions would lead you to preferring different causes.

I guess that the link without framing may have made people think you were saying we should as a whole focus more on the first world, which could have earned the downvote.

Are you concerned with first world people alive today, or also with future first-world people? The answer may well depend on this (it affects how good economic growth is, as well as climate change mitigation and catastrophe reduction, particularly catastrophes that might destroy civilisation).

comment by Alexander · 2015-02-26T01:17:48.757Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am concerned with future people; I would like us to have an interesting or "awesome" future.

comment by Andy_Schultz · 2015-02-19T01:13:38.858Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Would it be worthwhile for aspiring effective altruists to download BOINC or World Community Grid to run on their computers? These are distributed computing programs that try to tackle problems that take a lot of computing power to solve. The software runs in the background on your computer and works on part of a project of your choice.

If so, would it be possible to estimate the best project to participate in? Here are the lists of projects available for BOINC and World Community Grid. At first glance, the project Malariacontrol.net looks most closely related to any promising cause that has been identified in the EA community, as one of their objectives is to "optimize deployment of established interventions and integrated strategies" for malaria (full description).

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2015-02-25T14:01:28.692Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Christian raises a good point. Still, though, we could ask how much money does this sort of thing really use? Well, Gwern is a man who will analyze something to death if he feels like it, and he disparaged SETI@home from the perspective of effective altruism. That's as close to a full answer as I know of. I don't know how Malariacontrol.net compares. I figure it would be worth doing a whole new cost-benefit analysis for Malariacontrol.net by plugging in the numbers to calculate new rates using Gwern's original formula(s).

comment by ChristianKleineidam · 2015-02-20T13:08:04.115Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Running your computer at full power costs you electricity. That costs money that you could also donate directly to a cause.

comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-02-17T09:26:10.124Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Might it be worth someone writing a lesson plan about some aspect of EA and making it available to teachers on places they get these plans? Aspects could be effective charity, or global poverty with a mild EA angle. Do any teachers or people familiar with the education system have thoughts on the prospects of this?

Here's the .impact idea page: http://bit.ly/1zeogO4

Here's the Facebook thread: https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/824115974311428/

And here's a helpful comment:

"I teach at the high school level, and I think that you might get more play with interested parties if you targeted the kinds of teachers who would be most likely to use your information, and a lot of them don't use online lesson plan resources because they are generally poorly done. I would look at working with the International Baccalaureate Programs first because they focus on creating citizens of the world. They also have a course in the Diploma Programme called TOK (Theory of Knowledge) which could be a good fit. Also, speaking at conferences with teachers is a great way to introduce a topic, and engage the most engaged educators. Teachers largely don't know what EA is, so they won't know to look for a fantastic lesson plan until they know the topic exists and relates to their work."

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-02-16T17:44:54.419Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

To reiterate an offer that I made last week: if you want to hear contributions and suggestions for your career planning, you can crowdsource these here. If you prefer privacy, you may like to use a different username from your usual one.

comment by kierangreig · 2015-02-17T10:14:05.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Firstly, thanks for this offer Ryan. I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my comment and proffer their insights. I frequently read this forum but this is my debut post. Essentially, I am approaching a kind of career cross road and am unsure of which direction I should travel.

I have completed a science degree and majored in applied mathematics- I averaged a high credit because of a lack of effort. I believe this average prevents me from entry into relevant PhD studies with most universities. In roughly 2-3 months I will have completed a Master’s in Teaching. At the same time as doing the Master’s course I have also just commenced a Bachelor of Arts degree and would like to focus my studies there mainly on philosophy and politics.

By the second half of this year, when I have graduated from the Master’s in Teaching I feel like my main options to decide from are: (1) Maths and science teaching whilst studying philosophy and politics part time. (2) Going 100% into studying philosophy and politics. (3) Going into a PhD program relating to education.

I can certainly see myself doing any of these.

However, during 2014 I became obsessed with philosophy particularly practical ethics. The result of this, is that I strongly feel that my career should be doing work that makes a large contribution to increasing good or work that makes a large contribution to reducing evil. Ideally both. I currently don’t think these options satisfy this career path as much as they could.

At the moment I feel that the best way to achieve such a career, would be to have a career dominated by the question ‘how to do the most good?’ And that I should therefore begin work towards a career in effective altruism. Yet, I am not sure where I could do be of the most help and even what would be the best preparation. I can see myself being an advocate of effective altruism, completing charity evaluation research, starting a non-profit… honestly I am open to most things.

As such I feel like the option that I will take is (4) Completing some degree to best prepare me for this career. For instance, An Arts/Business double degree focusing mainly on Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

I think that my main question is what degree should I take in order to achieve this career? But I would also be more than interested to hear any opinions on my current situation as well, particularly whether I have missed out on possible options and which of the first 3 options would be the best to go with.

Thank you again to those who respond.


comment by RyanCarey · 2015-02-17T15:54:57.099Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Kieran. Always glad to see people considering personal decisions from an altruistic point of view, and it's good to have your contribution on the site. Your situation is interesting because it includes some education in fields that are fairly different - maths, teaching and arts, and all of which offer some safe options, but none of which is of such obviously high impact that it blows away the others.

To get more engaged in comparing these options, it'd be valuable to know what kinds of causes you're interested in. If you want to be involved in steering science and tech, then that's going to give a different answer from if you're more interested in alleviating global poverty.

One preliminary point to make is that although effective altruism often comes from a place of interest in philosophy and politics, the field in which you achieve a practical impact need not be the same one in which you decide that it's important. Basically, I love philosophy, but I've become a bit disillusioned with it as far as influencing the world goes. I think only a few elite philosophers (the Peter Singers and Nick Bostrom of the world) actually manage to turn their study into practical insight. As for policy, I would be interested to hear whether you're interested in running as an elected representative, joining a think tank, staying in academia, or doing some combination thereof. Similarly, with the PhD program in education, it seems useful to ask whether you would eventually become a teacher, or whether you would try to become an academic researcher in education. With regard to the arts/business double-degree option, it's also interesting to think about what you'd be trying to achieve through that. Business might mean you're thinking about earning to donate to charity, yet it's only one of many ways to get an income.

In terms of 'what degree you should take for this career', I would say it depends how you want to integrate effective altruism with your career. There are a lot of ways of doing this, and you've probably seen that 80,000 Hours name a bunch on their website.

Another way of get more concrete would be to think about what careers are common in your extended family, and why you would or wouldn't like those things.

So I think this could be the start of a longer and very helpful conversation

comment by kierangreig · 2015-02-17T23:17:10.939Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ryan, Grateful for your insight.

At the moment I would say that in descending order that I am most interested in reducing animal suffering, alleviating global poverty, AI research and then Existential risk. Although I do find it hard to rank them so this order may change in the future. I agree with you that only the best of the best philosophers are high impact, but I still feel as though a solid grounding in philosophical thought will be very helpful to me making an impact no matter what field I go into.

To answer a few of your questions, I would say that I am not that interested in running for an elected representative position currently. A think tank would be more interesting but I don’t think it would be an excellent personal fit. If I did complete a PhD program in education I would try to become an academic researcher. Regarding the arts/business double degree I would be most interested in starting my own charity or non-profit. Thankyou for the link to 80,000 hours site. I am currently getting career coaching from them and I would highly recommend this process to anyone who is unsure of their career path.

As for the extended family jobs, I love my family but I think that they are most helpful in determining what not to do. The best description I can think of would be in David Graeber's "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit jobs." Tried to link to this article but couldn't find a way...

Please let me know your thoughts.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-02-19T22:34:24.583Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Kieran,

So far, I only have a couple of thoughts, and they're fairly general:

  • As much as I enjoy philosophy, I suspect that it would be less helpful than maths, physics, computer science, commerce, economics and most other academic subjects for most people, in most professional domains.
  • Starting an arts/business double degree sounds dubious as far as starting your own charity or nonprofit goes. If I wanted to start an effective nonprofit, I would be more inclined to work for one, or to get relevant commercial experience in a relevant area like sales, health or elsewhere.

Just to throw a plausible example out there (not a firm recommendation), have you considered data science? What's good or bad about it? What other career have you or haven't you considered, and why?

Also, if you click "Show help", you can see how to make a link - with square and round brackets.

comment by kierangreig · 2015-02-20T09:43:01.062Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ryan,

You make a good point about how philosophy will most likely be of limited use in a number of professional domains. I do think there is a distinction though between what is useful in these professional domains and what is useful for a career that focuses on doing the most good. In the latter I think that a degree in philosophy would be valuable, I mean at heart this quest is deeply philosophical. Further, my impression is that a number of significant members of the effective altruism movement have strong backgrounds in philosophy and I could see myself in a career within academia relating to this field. Although because I also enjoy philosophy I may be overestimating its importance so that I can justify formally studying it.

Yeah computer science and economics are certainly areas that I rank highly. These areas obviously give possibilities of high earning careers, but I don’t see myself as being satisfied with the earning to give approach. I would be more interested because in others ways they would provide a lot of career capital both in terms of getting towards my current vision while also keeping my options open. I would say presently I would be more inclined to computer science because I think that there would be more freedom there. Would you agree?

Thanks for your views about starting a non-profit, they were both helpful and informative. Do you have a view on the best degree to prepare for starting a non-profit? Or am I coming at this situation from the wrong angle? I think that the connections made at a university would be very helpful for starting a non-profit especially if this is combined with interning at non-profits over summer breaks.

I think that I recognise the broader point that you are making with your data science example (not trying to sound smug, I struggle with tone via this format) and I agree that I am still in the early stages of redirecting my career and could perhaps benefit from a more rigorous approach. As for data science itself, it would provide good potential earning possibilities and skills that will be very useful within a number of different fields because the sector of data will only expand. However, I think that the role impact of a data scientist is relatively low, that it would be too confining, would not really help me achieve my vision, has a quite high cost associated with its exploration and that therefore my overall job satisfaction would be limited.

Thankyou again Ryan. This has been very helpful to me. What are your thoughts?

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-02-25T19:38:57.369Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Kieran, I think that the main reason that philosophy is common in effective altruists is that effective altruism is, in-part, a philosophical idea, rather than as evidence that we are driven to study philosophy for its altruistic value. Rather, I think that effective altruists have left philosophy very commonly, and have entered it quite rarely. Obviously, that's true for people in general, because there are more degrees in philosophy than jobs, but I suppose that's just my point anyway...

Computer science and economics are both large fields with a lot of freedom, although computer science leads to better non-academic jobs.

For nonprofits in your interest areas, I'm not sure that a degree is very helpful, although software or business are generally pretty useful.

I'm not trying to make any wider point with the data science example. Rather, I'm just trying to get a map of what you do or don't like about certain work-activities or certain jobs in order to apply those characteristics to other jobs. It's like 'sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!' It's just about getting a concrete idea of what you prefer to be doing!

And that'd be my final advice - I think it'll be important to consider what concrete activities you actually want to do, and what aspect of 'achieving your vision' you can get paid for.

comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-02-17T09:28:34.320Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Pablo Stafforini has been considering doing online EA outreach in non-English languages and is seeking thoughts on this.

Here's what he said on Facebook:

"For the last couple of months, I have been considering seriously the possibility of switching my energies to doing outreach in the Spanish-speaking world. Currently there is no organized Spanish-speaking EA community, and until I created them a couple of weeks ago, there were no Facebook EA groups or pages, no Wikipedia article about EA, and no EA websites of any kind. Yet Spanish is the second most widely spoken language measured by number of native speakers, and the third most widely spoken language measured by number of fluent speakers. Spanish-speaking EA meme-spreading thus seems to be both a very uncrowded and a very important cause.

"However, this analysis may be too simplistic. In particular, I worry that English may have acquired such a dominant position in elite circles globally as to offset any advantages that non-English languages may appear to have when assessed strictly in terms of quantity of speakers. One may argue, for instance, that the group of people whose native language isn’t English will likely speak English as a second language if they are at all receptive to the EA meme. There are also considerations related to the link between the geographical region in which a language is spoken and the level of development of countries in that region: people in developing countries will (sadly) on average have lower incomes, lower levels of educational attainment, and in general a lower score on most metrics that correlate with power to change the world for the better.

"What do others here think? Any feedback is greatly appreciated."

Here's the FB thread: https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/823288501060842/