anon_account's Shortform 2020-09-05T20:26:52.580Z


Comment by anon_account on Promising ways to improve the lives of urban rats in South Africa · 2021-10-10T23:06:34.310Z · EA · GW

Interesting! Potentially ignorant question, from someone who loves rats and humans: Do urban rats spread disease and/or bite people? I was surprised that those potential risks didn't figure into the survey or people’s responses and attitudes. What are the risks to the humans of letting rats live among them? If there are real health risks to people from having a large rat population around, I would expect a culture would be wise to use stories of witchcraft to spread the wisdom that rats are “bad news” to human health. It’s sad when one mammal’s welfare (humans) is at odds with another mammal’s welfare (rats) but I feel more trust in a species-specific welfare agenda when I have info about the trade offs to other species in their ecosystem.

Comment by anon_account on The humbling art of catching golden fish · 2021-10-10T22:23:16.378Z · EA · GW

Thanks for posting and competing! I’m excited to see creative writing on the Forum. I enjoyed the setting of the lake, the kindness and camaraderie between neighbors, and watching the young person grow enthusiasm for a project.

I think it’s fine (maybe good) to explore activities in fiction that I wouldn’t do in real life or would find cruel in real life. So while I don’t fish anymore because I find it cruel, I think it’s fully possible to learn lessons from fiction about things I would find disturbing in real life. So I disagree with the other comment , and would still read a tale about fishing, if it taught me something.

I didn’t see much emphasis in the story on evidence and reasoning, so that part didn’t come through clearly for me.

Hope you keep editing this one, or writing other stories as you create worlds around ideas you care about!

Comment by anon_account on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-07T01:53:04.691Z · EA · GW

This is my favorite part:"While I understand the concern, I must emphasize that the Forum exists on the Internet, a system of interconnected computer networks where space is effectively unlimited."

I think this is in fact a very useful reminder. And it made me laugh, and read it again and laugh again. Thank you :)

Comment by anon_account on How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year? · 2020-09-20T16:43:30.493Z · EA · GW

I also experienced the hesitation to contribute. The more involved I've gotten, the more inspired I've been by the many people I've met who are creating ideas and solutions to problems they care about. I have started doing more of that in my own EA circle, being less afraid of 'being wrong'. It's been very satisfying.

Comment by anon_account on anon_account's Shortform · 2020-09-05T20:26:53.039Z · EA · GW

Turning percentages back into people

Occasionally, I experiment with different ways to grok probabilities and statistics for myself, starting from the basics. It also involves paying attention to my emotions about the process. I like to imagine how this would work for different students I've worked with over the years as well. If your brain is like mine or you like seeing how other people's brains work, this may be of interest.

One trick that has worked well for me is turning %s back into people


I think my Project X can solve a problem for more people than it's currently doing. I have a survey (N=1200) which says I'm currently solving a problem for 1% of the people impacted by Issue X. I think I can definitely make that number go up. Also, I really want that number to go up; 1% seems so paltry.

I might start with:

Ok, how likely do I think it is that 1% could go up to 5%, 10%, 20%?

I don't think this is a useful question to start with. I want to inform my intuitions about what's likely or probable but this all feels super hypothetical. I'm going to want to say 20%, because I have a bunch of ideas and 20% is still low! The %s here feel too fuzzy here to ground me in reality.

Alternative: Turn 1% of 1200 back into 12 people

This is 12 people who say they are positively impacted by Project X. This helps me remember that no one is a statistic (which may have inspired this idea to begin with). So, yay 12 people!

But going from 1% to 5% still sounds unambitious and unsatisfying. I like ambitious, tenacious, hopeful goals when it comes to people getting the solutions they're looking for. I mean, that's the whole point of the program, right? Sometimes, I can physically feel the stress over this tension. I want this number to be 100%! I want the problem solved-solved, not kinda solved.

At this point, I could remind myself that "shoulding at the universe" is a recipe for frustration. I love that phrase so it may work. But often that's just a way to should at myself. I don't want to be less ambitious about solving problems that I know are real problems for real people.

So, I try the percents-to-people technique again:

  • Turn 5% of 1200 back into 60 people. Oh. That's 48 additional people. While losing 0.
  • Turn 10% back into 120 people. 108 additional people, while losing 0.
  • Turn 20% back into 240 people. 228 additional people, while losing 0.
  • An increase of 5% or 20% is the difference between 48 or 228 additional people reached, given everything I know about the program and how much goes into Project X right now to reach 12 people.

Now this feels different. It's humbling. But it piques my curiosity again instead of my frustration: how would we work with that many people? Could we?

  • What else do I need to know, to figure out if 60 or 120 or 240 (...or 1000, or 10000) is anywhere within the realm of possibilities for me?
  • Do I have a clear idea about what my bottlenecks or mistakes are in the status quo, such that I think are 48 more people to reach (while still reaching the 12)? What processes would need to change, and how much?
  • This immediately brings up the response, "That depends on how long I have." (Woot, now I've just grokked why it's useful to time-bound examples for comparison's sake). Call it 1 year, or 3, or 10, etc. I think 1-3 years is usually easier to conceptualize and operationalize.

To take another example, the % could also feel daunting instead of unambitious:

  • Going from 12 to 60 people is a 400% increase. (Right? I haven't miscalculated something basic? Yes, that's right; thank you, online calculators). 400%! Is that madness?
  • Turn '400% increase' back into 4 people reached instead, for every 1 person reached now

That may still be daunting. But it may be easier this way to make estimates or compare my intuitions about different action plans.

So now I'm more grounded in reality. And can productively return to the question:

How likely do I think it is that I can go from reaching 12 people to 60 people in one year?

Comment by anon_account on Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident · 2020-09-02T21:54:20.829Z · EA · GW

Interesting, and thanks, Denise for a different take. When I read Ozzie's comment, I thought he meant that the people leaping to Robin's defense should consider that they might be over-emotion, chill out a bit, and practice their rationality skills. Which, I would agree with. I don't think there's *no* concern that reasonable people could have here. I can think of several concerns, some of which have been pointed out in the comments on this post. But I think people who are freaked out by this one decision seem just as likely to be reacting with the kind of knee-jerk fear, tribalism, confirmation bias, and slippery slope thinking that they'd be quick to criticize in others. This is human, but honestly, it's disappointing. I'm appreciating the more measured responses on this post, though there's still some catastrophizing that seems kind of tiresome. There's so much of that going around in the world, I'd like to see EAs or rationalists handle it better.

Comment by anon_account on Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident · 2020-09-02T20:14:54.464Z · EA · GW

Personally, I feel the same. I can engage with Robin's ideas online. I think he produces some interesting content. Also, some dumb content. I can choose to learn from either. I can notice if he 'offends' me and then decide I'm still interested in whether what he has to say might be useful somehow. ...That doesn't mean I have to invite the guy over to my house to talk with me about his ideas, because I realize that I wouldn't enjoy being around him in person. I think this is more common than people realize among people who know Robin. If Munich wanted to read and discuss his stuff, but not invite him to 'hang out,' I get it.