May Open Thread

post by RyanCarey · 2015-05-01T09:53:47.278Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW · Legacy · 31 comments

Welcome all,

Here's a place to discuss projects, ideas, events and miscellanea relevant to the world of effective altruism!

There have been plenty of these in the last month, including the shipping of Peter Singer's book, Nick Bostrom's TED Talk and Will MacAskill's upcoming book! And also my own EA Handbook! :)

Thanks very much to Marcus Davis for moderating the EA Forum over the past month! He will be wrapping up over the coming weeks, but if anyone else if interested in taking up the reins and using it as a way to promote thoughtful effective altruism, then I would like to hear from you. (You can contact me at



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2015-05-01T12:37:01.459Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have recently just cold-added about 10% of my FB friends who I thought might be interested in EA to the EA facebook group. Probably added about 40 people in one go. What do people think of this outreach strategy? I think it's a pretty unintrusive soft sell that doesn't take a lot of time and could be a good foot in the door technique.

comment by Jeff_Kaufman · 2015-05-05T11:43:45.939Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

If someone did this to me for a group like EA that I wasn't into I would be pretty annoyed.

Though I would mostly be annoyed at FB for letting people add you to groups.

comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-05-05T14:55:39.605Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

As another data point, I'd be at most slightly annoyed, and just leave the group. So the benefit might be worth the slight annoyance and social cost, in a similar way to that I discussed in Spreading EA messages to friends - including giving the hard sell.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2015-05-01T14:16:33.243Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It might be a bit jarring for people to be thrown into a group without knowing much about what it is or why. Maybe if you also coupled it with a PM to them explaining it?

comment by HaukeHillebrandt · 2015-05-01T16:26:57.332Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that's the beauty of it :)

but yes maybe one could follow up after a while with a PM.

comment by aliwoodman · 2015-06-01T11:43:28.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

You can also 'invite' people to join the group rather than add them straight to it - perhaps a bit less jarring this way, especially with a bit of PM explanation

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-05-01T17:27:58.092Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Plain friend request is more fun than friend-request-accompanied-by-sales-pitch!

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-26T02:22:52.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it would be a very good thing to encourage other EAs to do at least a smaller version of this. After reading your comment, I realised that ~3% of my FB friends were particularly receptive to EA ideas, but hadn't even been invited to the group yet. I invited them immediately.

I tend to agree with Peter that coupling it with something else, like a FB message (or maybe something more personal), would be good for anyone outside that first couple of percent.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-05-01T13:56:48.958Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sounds helpful to me.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2015-05-17T22:20:02.070Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone have a list of regular meetups and emails for their organizers? I'm interested in trying to get more of the regular meetups posted here to the EA forum.

comment by AlasdairGives · 2015-05-07T07:22:55.015Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I follow this site via RSS recently, there have been a few times I have seen articles posted in my rss reader that I wanted to comment on but when I visited the site I could not find the articles - are these articles that people have posted and subsequently deleted/changed their mind about?

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-05-07T07:38:55.751Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think so. There's no secret parts of the site! Feel free to ask me if it happens again!

comment by AlasdairGives · 2015-05-07T13:31:18.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The article that prompted this was stefan's article that is now at the top of page - I got. Few different version in my rss and I don't think this is first time it has happened - did he delete the article and republish it or tweak a few times or was I seeing drafts?

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-05-07T13:40:27.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah, I think that I saw the post on the site, then it disappeared, then came back again. That would suggest that he put it back into his drafts to edit it before posting again, which would explain your experience, but you'd have to ask him.

comment by AlasdairGives · 2015-05-07T15:09:44.419Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ahh ok that makes sense just wanted to check drafts were not being inadvertently published in the rss or something

comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-05-05T14:52:29.425Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

People sometimes accuse effective altruism or effective altruists of being cold and clinical. What are your thoughts on this accusation and to what extent do you think it's true or false?

For my part:

  • I don't think our attitude to charity is cold. We may often not ultimately care about particular causes, but we mostly care about some terminal values like preventing suffering. And this moves us to give large amounts, or even give until it hurts. Whereas many people barely give at all, or at least don't respond to the fact that giving up luxuries could save lives and prevent enormous amounts of suffering.

  • That said, not all EAs are motivated by warmth or caring.

  • The many EAs I've known have on average had above average general warmth. Unsurprisingly, some have been exceptionally warm and some exceptionally cold.

  • I don't feel I have a good understanding of the accusation of coldness. Some of it may be discomfort at turning down opportunities to help (e.g. giving to homeless people you pass, arguably) because of the numbers.

  • There are some personality types and subgroups within EA which may naturally be a little colder. (E.g. the ones often referred to as "geeky" or "autistic", although I don't know if this is a slur against autistic people.)

  • I should say this accusation isn't something I have a chip on my shoulder about; I don't think people often find me cold at all.

comment by mhpage · 2015-05-04T22:06:29.294Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Two questions: (i) do you agree with my hypothesis; and (ii) if so, does it matter?

Non-directed kidney donation seems to be a part of the EA culture, for obvious reasons. Separately, a cornerstone of the EA perspective is that emotional empathy is not enough: cognitive empathy (i.e., reason) should play a critical, even dominant, role in our moral decision-making.

A recent, highly publicized study found that non-directed kidney donors have greater-than-average emotional empathy: "The results of brain scans and behavioral testing suggests that these donors have some structural and functional brain differences that may make them more sensitive, on average, to other people's distress."

Hypothesis: That doesn't hold for EA types that have donated kidneys.

comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-05-05T14:57:28.251Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Relevant: Kidney donation is a reasonable choice for effective altruists and more should consider it.

Do you think EAs are in general not unusually empathetic? I discussed a similar issue elsewhere in this open thread.

comment by mhpage · 2015-05-05T15:14:50.566Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the link, Tom. And yes, I agree that my hypothesis is an indirect answer to the question you posed elsewhere in this thread.

I don't personally know that many EAs, but I am certainly on the cold side of the emotional spectrum. I am sure there are psych/neuroscience papers on this, but I wouldn't be surprised if emotional and cognitive empathy can work at cross purposes (see, e.g., trolley hypotheticals), which might be why those who have a lot of the latter have less of the former.

comment by mwkling · 2015-05-04T18:38:54.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm a former coworker of Matt Wage, an effective altruist that was mentioned recently in the NYT (see I wrote a piece you can see here about EA and leaving wall street. Has the question of leaving a job where you are earning to give (or perhaps your coworkers are) ever received much discussion? I would be interested in any reactions.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-05-04T20:11:49.924Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sure, I've taken a hiatus from medicine to help more directly with existential risk reduction charities. Marek also left finance to work at CEA. For some people, working in finance is going to be psychologically unhealthy. Some will get fatigued and drop out. But it's also a good option for many. Have you looked for other ways to do good?

comment by ChrisSmith · 2015-05-04T20:49:32.768Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have not seen any extended discussion of it, but I know of individuals in this position (ie considering leaving jobs where they are earning to give) and I'm sure Benjamin Todd, the executive director of 80,000 Hours, will be aware of other examples. Obviously, career decisions are intensely personal, so I don't think either of us can say much publicly about any such individuals.

I think exploration of leaving earning to give jobs is a (small) gap in Effective Altruist discussion at the moment - but then we're only less than four years past the point when 80,000 hours was founded! Perhaps more writing on the topic will appear in the coming few months and years.

comment by LKor · 2015-05-03T04:29:51.853Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm seriously considering attending the upcoming EA summit in SF. If you were at the 2014 summit, I'm curious what the experience was like. If you have any information about the 2015 version, I'd also be very interested.

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2015-05-04T04:11:58.786Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't have time now, but I actually took extensive notes on the 2014 Summit because I'm excessively nerdy. Ping me about this on Tuesday if I haven't responded by then. I'll fill you in!

comment by LKor · 2015-05-06T02:40:37.029Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)


comment by mhpage · 2015-05-06T13:56:24.085Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Should we be paying much more attention to what evangelical religions have done (effectively or ineffectively) to recruit?

comment by toron · 2015-05-06T16:45:42.096Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Plausibly, are any methods promising for us?

comment by mhpage · 2015-05-06T17:05:09.699Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I know next to nothing about their methods other than that (i) they've been developing them for a long time and (ii) they seem to be effective. The singular importance of recruitment is an unusual quality for a social movement, but it's one we both have in common.

comment by toron · 2015-05-16T17:01:10.330Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

It looks like there's a Christians and EA Facebook group, though only Christians can join. But someone could join it, ask there, and report back?

comment by Tom_Ash · 2015-05-05T16:01:07.159Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

[Virtual assistants and online freelancers]

Does anyone know of good virtual assistants (or general purpose online freelancers who could do various admin tasks) who they could introduce me to? What are people's experience of them, or online freelancers generally? Any tips for picking good ones?

I'd recommend employing VAs in general. I use them primarily for EA work.