Posts

Are there robustly good and disputable leadership practices? 2020-03-19T01:46:38.484Z · score: 9 (4 votes)
Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism 2020-02-20T15:27:33.621Z · score: 49 (40 votes)
More info on EA Global admissions 2019-12-23T20:20:09.969Z · score: 51 (35 votes)
Quote from Strangers Drowning 2019-12-23T03:49:51.205Z · score: 43 (14 votes)
Peaceful protester/armed police pictures 2019-12-22T20:59:29.991Z · score: 14 (9 votes)
How frequently do ACE and Open Phil agree about animal charities? 2019-12-17T23:56:09.987Z · score: 62 (28 votes)
Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019 2019-11-07T16:26:55.458Z · score: 106 (46 votes)
EA Art: Neural Style Transfer Portraits 2019-10-03T01:37:30.703Z · score: 37 (20 votes)
Is pain just a signal to enlist altruists? 2019-10-01T21:25:44.392Z · score: 60 (25 votes)
Ways Frugality Increases Productivity 2019-06-25T21:06:19.014Z · score: 69 (43 votes)
What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? 2019-05-03T23:31:40.123Z · score: 25 (10 votes)
Identifying Talent without Credentialing In EA 2019-03-11T22:33:28.070Z · score: 36 (18 votes)
Deliberate Performance in People Management 2017-11-25T14:41:00.477Z · score: 30 (26 votes)
An Argument for Why the Future May Be Good 2017-07-19T22:03:17.393Z · score: 26 (26 votes)
Vote Pairing is a Cost-Effective Political Intervention 2017-02-26T13:54:21.430Z · score: 12 (14 votes)
Living on minimum wage to maximize donations: Ben's expenses in 2016 2017-01-29T16:07:28.405Z · score: 21 (21 votes)
Voter Registration As an EA Group Meetup Activity 2016-09-16T15:28:46.898Z · score: 4 (6 votes)
You are a Lottery Ticket 2015-05-10T22:41:51.353Z · score: 10 (10 votes)
Earning to Give: Programming Language Choice 2015-04-05T15:45:49.192Z · score: 3 (3 votes)
Problems and Solutions in Infinite Ethics 2015-01-01T20:47:41.918Z · score: 9 (8 votes)
Meetup : Madison, Wisconsin 2014-10-29T18:03:47.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes)

Comments

Comment by ben_west on The Precipice is out today in US & Canada! Audiobook now available · 2020-03-26T16:57:58.540Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

See also Toby's AMA

Comment by ben_west on What posts do you want someone to write? · 2020-03-24T16:54:08.791Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Defining "management constraints" better.

Anecdotally, many EA organizations seem to think that they are somehow constrained by management capacity. My experience is that this term is used in different ways (for example, some places use it to mean that they need senior researchers who can mentor junior researchers; others use it to mean that they need people who can do HR really well).

It would be cool for someone to interview different organizations and get a better sense of what is actually needed here

Comment by ben_west on What posts do you want someone to write? · 2020-03-24T15:31:39.558Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

More accessible summaries of technical work. Some things I would like summarized:

1. Existential risk and economic growth
2. Utilitarianism with and without expected utility

(You can see my own attempt to summarize something similar to #2 here , as one example.)

Comment by ben_west on Are there robustly good and disputable leadership practices? · 2020-03-19T04:03:59.335Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

If I had to suggest something which is both robustly good and disputable, I would suggest this principle:

Focus on minimizing the time between when you have an idea and when your customer benefits from that idea.

Evidence for being robustly good

This principle has a variety of names, as many different industries have rediscovered the same idea.

  1. The most famous formulation of this principle is probably as part of the Toyota Production System. Traditional assembly lines took a long time to set up, but once set up, they could pump out products incredibly fast. Toyota decided to change their focus instead towards responding rapidly, e.g. they set a radical goal of being able to change each of their dies in less than 10 minutes.
  2. Toyota’s success with this and other rapid response principles inspired a just-in-time manufacturing revolution.
  3. These principles were included in lean manufacturing, which has led to a variety of derivatives like lean software development and the lean startup.
  4. Another stream of development is in the software world, notably with the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which drew from prior methodologies like Extreme Programming.
  5. Agile project management is now common in many technical fields outside of software.

This underlying principle, as well as its accoutrements like Kanban boards, can be seen in a huge variety of successful industries, from manufacturing to IT. The principle of reducing turnaround time can be applied by single individuals to their own workflow, or by multinational conglomerates. While it is easier to do agile project management in an agile company, it’s entirely possible for small teams (or even individuals) to unilaterally focus on reducing their turnaround times (meaning that this principle is not dependent on specific organizational cultures or processes).There are also more theoretical reasons to think this principle is robustly good. The planning fallacy is a well-evidenced phenomenon, and it reasonably would lead people to underestimate how important rapid responses are (since they believe they can forecast the future more accurately than they actually can).

Evidence for being disputable

  1. Waterfall project management (the antithesis of agile project management) is still quite common.
  2. Toyota’s success was in part due to how surprising their approach was (compared to the approach taken by US and European manufacturers).
  3. Each industry seems to require discovering this principle anew. E.g. The DevOps Handbook popularized these principles in IT Operations only a few years ago. (It explicitly references lean manufacturing principles as the inspiration.)
  4. The planning fallacy and other optimism biases would predict that people underestimate how important it is to respond rapidly to changes.

Other candidates

Some other possible principles which are both robustly useful and disputable:

  1. Theory of Constraints. This seems well evidenced (the principle is almost trivial, once stated) and managers are often surprised by it. However, I’m not sure it’s really “disputable” – it is more a principle that is unequivocally true, but hard to implement in practice.
  2. Minimize WIP”. This principle is disputable, and my impression is that certain areas of supply chain management consider it to be gospel, but I'm not sure how solid the evidence base for it is outside of SCM. Anecdotally, it's been pretty useful in my own work, and there are theoretical reasons to think it's undervalued (e.g. lots of psychological research about how people underestimate how bad distractions are).
  3. Talk to your customers a lot. Popularized by The Four Steps to the Epiphany and then later The Lean Startup. Well regarded among tech startups, but I’m less clear how useful it is outside of that.

Appendix: Evidence From India

One of the most famous experiments in management is Does management matter? Evidence from India. This involved sending highly-paid management consultants to randomly selected textile firms in India. The treatment group had significant improvements relative to the control group (e.g. 11% increase in productivity).How did they accomplish these gains? Through changes like:

  1. Putting trash outside, instead of on the factory floor
  2. Sorting and labeling excess inventory, instead of putting it in a giant heap
  3. Doing preventative maintenance on machines, instead of running them until they break down

I think the conclusion here is that “disputable” is a relative term – I doubt any US plant managers need to be convinced that they should buy garbage bins. Most of the benefits that the management consultants were able to provide were simply in encouraging adherence to (what managers in the US consider to be) “obvious” best practices. Those best practices clearly were not “obvious” to the Indian managers.

Comment by ben_west on AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell · 2020-03-18T02:31:30.395Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

GiveWell hired a VP of Marketing last fall. Do you have any insights from marketing GW that would be applicable to other EA organizations? Are there any surprising ways in which the marketing you are doing is different from "traditional" marketing?

Comment by ben_west on AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell · 2020-03-18T02:28:28.962Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

One for the World was incubated by GiveWell and received a sizable grant from the GH&D Fund.

The average American donates about 4% of their income to charity. (Some discussion about whether this is the correct number here). Given this, asking people to pledge 1% seems a bit odd – almost like you are asking them to decrease the amount they donate.

One benefit of OFTW is that they are pushing GiveWell-recommended charities, but this seems directly competitive with TLYCS, which generally suggests people pledge 2-5% (the scale adjusts based on your income).

It's also somewhat competitive with the Giving What We Can pledge, which is a cause-neutral 10%.

I'm curious what you see as the benefits of OftW over these alternatives? I'm also curious if you have visibility into your forecasts (namely, whether they will move 1-2x the money to top charities as they received in support this year)?

(This question mostly taken from here.)

Comment by ben_west on AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell · 2020-03-18T02:21:34.450Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA · GW

The GH&D Fund on EA Funds is unusual in that it almost exclusively gives large ($500k+) grants. The other funds regularly give $10-50k grants.

Do you think there is an opportunity for smaller funders in the GH&D space? Do you think there are economies of scale or other factors which make larger grants more useful in the GH&D space than in other cause areas?

Comment by ben_west on AMA: Leah Edgerton, Executive Director of Animal Charity Evaluators · 2020-03-18T02:17:51.416Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Most of the animal welfare organizations that I know of which seem unusually effective are somehow related to EA. (E.g. I see staff from ACE's top charities regularly at EA Global.)

Are there parts of the effective animal advocacy ecosystem which don't overlap with EA? Do you have a sense for why these parts aren't involved with EA?

Comment by ben_west on AMA: Leah Edgerton, Executive Director of Animal Charity Evaluators · 2020-03-18T02:11:27.112Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · EA · GW

To what extent do you think future reductions in the number of farmed animals will come from advocacy, as opposed to technological advancement (e.g. Beyond Meat)? Do you have a sense of the historical impact of these two approaches?

Comment by ben_west on Research on developing management and leadership expertise · 2020-03-17T01:39:23.336Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

To clarify, the implication is that the causal chain might be from good organisational outcomes to good evaluations on leadership evaluation instruments, rather than the other way round?

Yep.

Comment by ben_west on Research on developing management and leadership expertise · 2020-03-07T22:16:22.881Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

One thing I found really interesting about this research is statements like these:

Therefore, though transformational leadership has been contrasted to transactional leadership (with the former being suggested to be superior), the use of contingent reward behaviours seems similarly effective to transformational leadership.

It sounds very believable to me that ~0% of "nonobvious" leadership recommendations don't outperform a "placebo". (Or, as you suggest, are only good subject to contingencies like personal fit.)

I would be curious if doing this review gave you a sense of what the "control group" for leadership could be?

I'm imagining something like:

  1. Your team has reasonably well defined goals
  2. Your team has the ability to make progress towards those goals
  3. Your team is not distracted from those goals by some major problem (e.g. morale, bureaucracy)

We might hypothesize that any team which meets 1-3 will not have its performance improved by "transformational" leadership etc.

Do you know if anyone has studied or hypothesized such a thing? If not, do you have a sense from your research of what this might look like?

Comment by ben_west on Research on developing management and leadership expertise · 2020-03-07T22:02:49.119Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Do you know what these researchers are measuring when looking at the "results" level?

If I'm understanding correctly, they are claiming that training increases some sort of result by 0.6 standard deviations, which seems huge. E.g. if some corporate training increased quarterly revenue by 0.6 sd's that would be quite shocking.

(I tried to read through the meta-analyses but I could only find their descriptions of how the four levels differ, and nothing about what the results level looks like.)

Comment by ben_west on Research on developing management and leadership expertise · 2020-03-07T21:58:57.562Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks so much for sharing this and doing this research!

Regarding this:

That high performance on measures of leadership effectiveness causes organisational success, rather than organisational success inspiring high performance on (or at least more positive evaluations of) measures of leadership effectiveness. Given that the research is almost exclusively correlational,[36] we cannot be confident that this assumption is correct. However, this seems to me to be intuitively likely.

The Halo Effect is a compendium of evidence to the contrary. Basically, leaders who are good at one thing (e.g. maximizing revenue) are considered to be good at everything else (e.g. being humble). It has great examples of how the exact same CEO behavior is described positively versus negatively as the company's stock price fluctuates.

I would recommend at least skimming the book – it has really helped me differentiate useful from less useful business research.

Comment by ben_west on Quotes about the long reflection · 2020-03-07T21:44:33.123Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for collecting these!

Comment by ben_west on Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism · 2020-02-24T13:49:45.703Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Alastair Norcross used the term "thoroughgoing aggregation" for what seems to be linear addition of utilities in particular

Ah, my mistake – I had heard this definition before, which seems slightly different.

I just find the conclusion section really jarring.

Thanks for the suggestion – always tricky to figure out what a "straightforward" consequence is in philosophy.

I changed it to this – curious if you still find it jarring?

Total utilitarianism is a fairly controversial position. The above example where can be extended to show that utilitarianism is extremely demanding, potentially requiring extreme sacrifices and inequality. It is therefore interesting that it is the only decision procedure which does not violate one of these seemingly reasonable assumptions.

Comment by ben_west on Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism · 2020-02-23T06:12:10.889Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yeah, it doesn't (obviously) follow. See the appendix on equality. It made the proof simpler and I thought most readers would not find it objectionable, but if you have a suggestion for an alternate simple proof I would love to hear it!

Comment by ben_west on Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism · 2020-02-20T20:41:18.669Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks!

I don't think the theorem provides support for total utilitarianism, specifically, unless you add extra assumptions about how to deal with populations of different sizes or different populations generally. Average utilitarianism is still consistent with it, for example.

Well, average utilitarianism is consistent with the result because it gives the same answer as total utilitarianism (for a fixed population size). The vast majority of utility functions one can imagine (including ones also based on the original position like maximin) are ruled out by the result. I agree that the technical result is "anything isomorphic to total utilitarianism" though.

You might be interested in Teruji Thomas' paper

I had not seen that, thanks!

Comment by ben_west on Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism · 2020-02-20T20:31:08.932Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · EA · GW

In that case, it would IMO be better to change "total utilitarianism" to "utilitarianism" in the article. Utilitarianism is different from other forms of consequentialism in that it uses thoroughgoing aggregation. Isn't that what Harsanyi's theorem mainly shows?

Hmm, it does show that it's a linear addition of utilities (as opposed to, say, the sum of their logarithms). So I think it's stronger than saying just "thoroughgoing aggregation".

Comment by ben_west on Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism · 2020-02-20T17:53:23.988Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yeah, my point was that ex-ante utility was valued equally, but I think that was confusing. I'm just going to remove that section. Thanks!

Comment by ben_west on Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism · 2020-02-20T17:50:32.619Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the comment!

Also, you suggest that this result lends support to common EA beliefs.

Hmm, I wasn't trying to suggest that, but I might have accidentally implied something. I would be curious what you are pointing to?

First, it leads to preference utilitarianism, not hedonic utilitarianism

I used preferences about restaurants as an example because that seemed like something people can relate to easily, but that's just an example. The theorem is compatible with hedonic utilitarianism. (In that case, the theorem would just prove that the group's utility function is the sum of each individual's happiness.)

Second, EAs tend to value animals and future people, but they would arguably not count as part of the "group" in this framework(?).

I don't think that this theorem says much about who you aggregate. It's just simply stating that if you aggregate some group of persons in a certain way, then that aggregation must take the form of addition.

Third, I'm not sure what this tells you about the creation or non-creation of possible beings (cf. the asymmetry in population ethics).

I agree it doesn't say much, see e.g. Michael's comment.

Comment by ben_west on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-11T01:08:39.088Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW
I expect bets about a large number of Global Catastrophic Risks to be of great importance, and to similarly be perceived as "ghoulish" as you describe here.

The US government attempted to create a prediction market to predict terrorist attacks. It was shut down basically because it was perceived as “ghoulish”.

My impression is that experts think that shutting down the market made terrorism more likely, but I’m not super well-informed.

I see this as evidence both that 1) markets are useful and 2) some people (including influential people like senators) react pretty negatively to betting on life or death issues, despite the utility.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-02-10T17:29:57.094Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the suggestions. There are some community-organized events like meetups or parties in the days around the conference. Due to some past issues (e.g. someone sending every attendee a promotional message about their organization on the event app, or confusion about who is actually present at the event to meet with), we’re wary of expanding app access beyond the actual conference attendees. (See also Ellen’s comment here, which is a somewhat similar idea.)

Comment by ben_west on Announcing A Volunteer Research Team at EA Israel! · 2020-01-30T23:16:16.577Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this! It seems like a really exciting project, and I hope you continue to post updates. Very cool that you have explicit success metrics.

A semi-research thing I'm interested in is putting more information on Wikipedia. I wrote a little bit about this here. I suspect that for people who are new to research, or aren't entirely sure what subject they want to research, making existing research accessible is a similar task which is also quite useful for the world.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-01-27T23:29:08.896Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for asking Ozzie! The current bottlenecks limiting our ability to make a larger EA Global are not things that community members can easily help with.

That being said, we recently published a post on other types of events. I would encourage community members to read that and consider doing one-on-one’s, group socials, or other events listed there. Even though EA Global in particular is not something that can be easily scaled by the community, many other types of events can be.

More involved community members may also consider doing a residency. I believe you and I first met when I stayed in the Bay for a few weeks many years ago, and to this day I’m still more closely connected with people I met on that trip than many I met at EA Global.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-01-15T17:54:19.287Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the detailed thoughts Oli.

I think having common knowledge of norms, ideas and future plans is often very important, and is better achieved by having everyone in the same place. If you split up the event into multiple events, even if all the same people attend, the participants of those events can now no longer verify who else is at the event, and as such can no longer build common knowledge with those other people about the things that have been discussed.

Interesting, this doesn’t fit with my experience for two reasons: a) attendance is so far past Dunbar’s number that I have a hard time knowing who attended any individual EA Global and b) even if I know that someone attended a given EA Global, I’m not sure whether they attended any individual talk/workshop/etc. (since many people don’t attend the same talks, or even any talks at all).

I’m curious if you have examples of “norms, ideas, or future plans” which were successfully shared in 2016 (when we had just the one large EA Global) that you think would not have successfully been shared if we had multiple events?

I have been to 3 EAGx events, all three of which seemed to me to be just generally much worse run than EAG, both in terms of content and operations

We have heard concerns similar to yours about logistics and content in the past, and we are providing more support for EAGx organizers this year, including creating a “playbook” to document best practices, having monthly check-in calls between the organizers and CEA’s events team, and hosting a training for the organizers (which is happening this week).

At least in recent years, the comparison of the Net Promoter Score of EAG and EAGx events indicate that the attendees themselves are positive about EAGx, though there are obviously lots of confounding factors:

(More information about EAGx can be found here.)

The value of a conference does scale to a meaningful degree with n^2… I think there are strong increasing returns to conference size

Echoing Denise, I would be curious for evidence here. My intuition is that marginal returns are diminishing, not increasing, and I think this is a common view (e.g. ticket prices for conferences don’t seem to scale with the square of the number of attendees).

Group membership is in significant parts determined by who attends EAG, and not by who attends EAGx, and I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the degree of control CEA has over that

Do you have examples of groups (events, programs, etc.) which use EA Global attendance as a “significant” membership criterion?

My impression is that many people who are highly involved in EA do not attend EA Global (some EA organization staff do not attend, for example), so I would be pretty skeptical of using it.

Meta Note

To clarify my above responses: I (and the Events team, who are currently running a retreat with the EAGx organizers) believe that more people being able to attend EA Global is good, all other things being equal. Even though I’m less positive about the specific things you are pointing to here than you are, I generally agree that you are pointing to legitimate sources of value.

Comment by ben_west on Long-Term Future Fund: November 2019 short grant writeups · 2020-01-14T04:02:16.442Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Great – I appreciate your dedication to transparency even though you have so many other commitments!

Comment by ben_west on Long-Term Future Fund: November 2019 short grant writeups · 2020-01-14T02:31:44.056Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up despite all your other obligations Oli! If you have time either now or when you do the more in-depth write up, I would still be curious to hear your thoughts on success conditions for fiction.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-01-09T19:04:14.096Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I wanted to share an update: for the past month, our events team (Amy, Barry, and Kate) have been brainstorming ways to allow more people to attend EA Global SF 2020. Our previous bottleneck was the number of seats available for lunch: even with us buying out the restaurant next to the dome (M.Y. China), we only had space for 550 people. (Tap 415, another nearby restaurant which we had used in prior years, has gone out of business.)

We have now updated our agreements with the venue and contractors and brainstormed some additional changes that will allow more attendees in sessions and at lunch. This has increased our capacity by 70 (from 550 to 620).

(As a reference point: EA Global SF had 499 attendees in 2019.)

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-01-03T23:45:22.272Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the feedback, Oliver. Do you have opinions on our hypothesis that we should focus on EAGx over more/bigger EA Globals?

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-01-03T23:45:05.864Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

We don’t have any current plans to split EA Global into multiple sub-conferences. We have used the fact that not everyone attends talks to increase attendance (for example, at EA Global London 2019, we accepted more attendees than could fit in the venue for the opening talk on the assumption that not all of them would attend the opening).

We will keep the sub-conference idea in mind for the future.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2020-01-03T23:44:32.410Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the questions. We have adjusted our promotion – for example: the application page and form lists who we believe EA Global to be a good fit for, and we send group leaders an email with this set of criteria and some FAQs about why group members may not be admitted. Conversely, we send emails to people we expect to accept (e.g. Community Building Grant recipients), to encourage them to apply. We try to make community members aware when applications open and convey who the event is aimed at, but we don’t try to promote it as strongly as we did in some past years.

Despite this, we know that there are still many people who would be a good fit for EA Global who do not apply, and others who apply and feel disappointed when they are not accepted. We want to express our appreciation to everyone who applies.

Regarding themes: in 2017 EA Global Boston had a theme of “expanding the frontiers of EA”, EA Global London had an academic theme, and EA Global SF had a community theme and had looser admission standards than the other two. We found that people primarily applied to the conference they were geographically closest to and did not seem to have strong preferences about themes. We’ve also run smaller targeted retreats on specific topics like organizing EA groups or working in operations.

Comment by ben_west on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2020-01-03T18:08:25.625Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

This blog post does some calculations and estimates 250,000 animals per year.

They don't share the details, but it sounds like a pretty noisy estimate, e.g.:

We have to make a number of other assumptions as well, for example, we take the word of business analyst, Andrew Charles, who is widely quoted as suggesting Burger King could sell 50 Impossible Whoppers per day, and apply that same figure to all the QSRs in our model
Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2019-12-31T19:09:40.011Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, this is worth thinking about. Among similar applicants (e.g. students from the same university group) we’re choosing fairly arbitrarily but we’ve never tried true randomization.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2019-12-31T19:09:18.011Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for taking the time to share this. I didn't read it as bitter. I read it as you sharing your experience with a disappointment (understandable) and then going on to share helpful suggestions for us and others who care about the event. We sincerely appreciate that.

My only point of feedback would be to write a short version of this into the waitlist/rejection emails for future EAGs (or even the next wave for this EAG).

This is a good suggestion - we will add more information to those emails.

I definitely had an immediate reaction of not feeling valued by the community after being involved for ~5 years (and was sad I won't see my EA friends/acquaintances this year), hopefully other people didn't feel that way.

Thanks for raising this – we really do want to reiterate that we were not able to accept many dedicated EAs doing valuable things, and hope that you can help us share this message.

will there be some in-between events for people who are older and more experienced but didn't get into EAG this year?

We are not currently planning anything “in-between” the two EA Globals and the 3-4 EAGx’s in 2020.

I'd be interested to hear about future plans to accommodate the growth of having more "advanced" EAs across the US/world since right now it seems like if we don't live in a major EA city, EAG is our only chance to see other EAs and learn new things.

We plan to publish more information about our events strategy in early 2020. Until then you can check out my response to Denkenberger above for one example of a way we are trying to accommodate growth.

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2019-12-31T19:08:07.710Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hi David, one thing to note is that, since EA Global SF 2020 is in March, the dorms are unlikely to be available. Apart from that: you are correct that there are several ways in which the venue is less suited, e.g. because it is spread across three separate buildings, it’s worse for sparking “serendipitous” interactions between attendees, and the distribution of room sizes is a worse fit. (The venue we selected for EA Global SF 2020 [Bespoke] is very configurable, so it’s easier for us to have one big room for the opening talk, then split it into a bunch of small rooms for meet ups, etc.)

Regarding scaling the event: it’s hard for us to precisely estimate the cost of more attendees. One hypothesis we have is that improved matchmaking (either through formal matchmaking programs or through event apps which let attendees connect with each other) will let us increase the number of attendees at EA Global while preventing the “lost in the shuffle” feeling mentioned above. We have piloted several programs like this last year and will continue iterating and scaling them this year to see if that hypothesis is correct.

Comment by ben_west on Conversation on AI risk with Adam Gleave · 2019-12-31T01:01:50.051Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW
GDP will double in 6 months before it doubles in 24 months

Does anyone have the original version of this? The transcript says that Adam is (perhaps incorrectly) paraphrasing Paul Christiano.

I think I have some intuition about what this is getting at, but I don't think this statement is precisely correct (surely GDP has to double in 24 months before it doubles in six months, as long as there is at least 24 months of data).

Comment by ben_west on More info on EA Global admissions · 2019-12-26T18:34:14.649Z · score: 18 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Peter, We considered having a third EAG in 2020 but decided to focus our efforts on EAGx instead (in addition to the two EA Globals and Leaders Forum). After getting feedback that the volunteer organizers of EAGx could use more support, we’re trying to spend more of our time and budget on those events to better prevent burnout among EAGx organizers. EAGx is also more oriented to students and other earlier-stage EAs who are less likely to be able to get into EA Global. We hope to get more information about both types of events this year and use that to help decide whether to have more of either type in the future.

Comment by ben_west on 2019 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison · 2019-12-20T01:10:27.894Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this up Larks! A highlight of the year, as always.

Comment by ben_west on How frequently do ACE and Open Phil agree about animal charities? · 2019-12-18T18:02:43.606Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Kieran!

I think Compassion in World Farming - USA has received three Open Phil grants.


Good catch, SVB was the one who did not receive an OP grant (AFAICT) but did get one from the Fund. The text has been updated.

I think Compassion in World Farming International has been comprehensively reviewed by ACE and then not recommended but have received several Open Phil grants.


Interesting, thanks! You're right – I will look more into what happened here. It could be that my script got confused about the difference between the domestic and international version of CIWF.

Comment by ben_west on Should we use wiki to improve knowledge management within the community? · 2019-12-13T21:07:39.367Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

But with all my respect to wikipedia, I think that having a local wiki would allow to focus on more action-related topics instead of some general knowledge

I'm curious to hear more about your concerns with just using Wikipedia. I agree that there will be some topics which are outside the scope of Wikipedia, but it seems like many EA-relevant topics are within the scope of Wikipedia, and do not have very well established pages. For example: there is no page on longtermism, cause neutrality, or the INT framework. Even the page on effective altruism itself is pretty short.

My guess is that someone could pretty easily just go through old Forum posts and copy facts into Wikipedia. E.g. the section on invertebrate sentience is two sentences long, and I would bet that a huge chunk of recent Forum posts on invertebrate sentience could be justifiably included in that Wikipedia article.

In general I have a lot of nervousness about trying to re-create an existing successful product (NIH syndrome), and my guess is that Wikipedia will be more considered trustworthy, get more views, and generally be more influential than a local wiki.

Comment by ben_west on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-12T16:47:07.932Z · score: 22 (17 votes) · EA · GW

My impression is that RP is unusually funding constrained relative to other EA research organizations. If that's accurate, do you have a sense for why that is?

Comment by ben_west on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-12T16:45:56.117Z · score: 28 (18 votes) · EA · GW

What do you see as the pros and cons of having an umbrella organization like RP which employees multiple researchers versus something like the EA Funds granting to independent researchers? (E.g. in what circumstances should a grant maker prefer to grant to RP who would then employ a researcher, versus granting directly to the researcher themselves?)

Comment by ben_west on We're Rethink Priorities. AMA. · 2019-12-12T16:42:31.754Z · score: 11 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Has your work on invertebrate sentience changed the dietary habits of any of your staff? Would any of you recommend for/against bivalveganism or similar "vegan except some invertebrates" diets?

Comment by ben_west on Introducing Good Policies: A new charity promoting behaviour change interventions · 2019-11-28T00:37:35.636Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Zach – I think your link is broken

Comment by ben_west on Which Community Building Projects Get Funded? · 2019-11-14T18:16:44.138Z · score: 22 (11 votes) · EA · GW

YC doesn't seem like a good example of avoiding geographic clustering effects. You are required to move your company to the San Francisco area while you are going through YC, and PG (cofounder of YC) has written about why founders should move to startup hubs. One of the weirdest parts of my personal YC experience was how they paid to fly me to Mountain View and stay a couple nights in a (ridiculously overpriced, IMO) airbnb, just to have a short conversation with me because they think being in person is so important.

One thing which did differentiate YC when they started is that they had "soft" adds: they offer you a lot of connections and advice, in addition to just money. Possibly more grantmakers should do this, but I'm not sure.

Comment by ben_west on ‘I give away half to three-quarters of my income every year’ [The Guardian] · 2019-11-13T01:56:13.939Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for posting a link to this Henry! It's great to see things like this getting more coverage, and very cool that it's all the way up to number eight.

Comment by ben_west on Suggestions for EA wedding vows? · 2019-11-11T17:10:01.205Z · score: 15 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Here's a poem I wrote for Gina:

If love is like Bentham
You're the push on my pin
If love is like Bostrom
You're the simulation I'm in

If love is like Pearce
You're the wire in my head
If love is like Borlaug
You're my millions fed

If love is MacAskill
You're my good better done
If love is like Beckstead
You're good in the long run

If love is Tomasik
You're a life that's pain-free
And if your love's a person
Then I hope it's me

Comment by ben_west on Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019 · 2019-11-08T22:05:20.351Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the feedback.

However, when that post is titled 'feedback for CEA', it looks like you believe that you're responsible for the friendliness of the EA community.

I think there may be a misunderstanding – the title of this post is “Feedback Collected by CEA”, not “for” CEA.

It would probably have been easiest to make the distinction between feedback on community health and feedback on CEA by posting to separate articles, but it could have also been accomplished in the introduction.

Thanks for the suggestion. I will keep this in mind for future articles.

(Along the same lines, I'd like more detail on specific positives and negatives about community health, especially in London. I feel like local community members are the ones who need to take the feedback forward, so we need to have access to as much quality information as possible.)

I agree that locale-specific information is important. You are probably already aware of this, but for other readers who are not: the EA Survey contains a bunch of data about geographic differences in EA. Your posts on London demographics come to mind as one example of local analysis that I would like to see more of.

Comment by ben_west on Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019 · 2019-11-08T03:39:14.918Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the question! There are different degrees and types of unusual-ness and riskiness. For example, as a reason why someone may choose not to donate to the Long-Term Future Fund we state:

First, they may prefer to support established organizations. The fund's most recent grants have mostly funded newer organizations and individual researchers. This trend is likely to continue, provided that promising opportunities continue to exist.

Established organizations focused on the long-term future such as the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) are, in some ways, “unusual” and “risky”, but some donors may still prefer to donate to FHI instead of an independent researcher with a short track record, and those donors may not be a good fit for donating to the Long-Term Future Fund.

As a side note: we have been brainstorming internally about the correct adjective which would differentiate between e.g. FHI and an independent researcher. As you noted, “risk” is not exactly the dimension along which these two donation targets differ – if anyone has a better suggestion, we would appreciate hearing it.

Comment by ben_west on Summary of Core Feedback Collected by CEA in Spring/Summer 2019 · 2019-11-08T03:38:38.163Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the question! 38% of confirmed speakers at EAG SF 2019 were female and 27% were people of color. (NB: The final numbers may have been slightly different than the confirmed count, due to last-minute cancellations.)