Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey 2018 Series: Where People First Hear About EA and Influences on Involvement · 2019-02-23T11:49:56.263Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hi David,

Thank you very much for doing this (long!) analysis.

Your conclusion makes sense to me and is an interesting result.

It would be interesting to think about how the survey can be adapted to better pick up these differences in future years.


Comment by benjamin_todd on What has Effective Altruism actually done? · 2019-01-18T04:38:03.980Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA? · 2018-12-03T08:15:12.456Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

This data might also be useful to cross-check against:

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA? · 2018-12-01T23:28:14.897Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I just noticed that there were people who report first finding out about EA from 80k in 2009 and 2010. I'd say 80k was only informally formed in early 2011, and the name was only chosen at the end of 2011, so those survey responses must be mistaken. I gather that the sample sizes for the early years are small, so this is probably just one or two people.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-28T01:03:24.173Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

That's a complex topic, but our starting point for conversions would be the figures in the EA leaders survey:

Comment by benjamin_todd on Earning to Save (Give 1%, Save 10%) · 2018-11-27T09:53:03.904Z · score: 10 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Just adding that we made a similar suggestion: that people should cut back their donations to ~1% until they've built up at least enough savings for 6-12 months of runway.

We also suggest here that people also prioritise saving 15% of their income for retirement ahead of substantial donations. If people want to donate beyond this level that's commendable, but I don't think that's where we should set a norm.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers · 2018-11-26T23:09:16.005Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Great! I was wondering if this might be it.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers · 2018-11-26T23:08:25.271Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think in practice people work on it for both reasons depending on their values.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers · 2018-11-26T21:17:04.648Z · score: 16 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this analysis. If there's time for more, I'd be keen to see something more focused on 'level of contribution' rather than subscriber vs. identifier. I'm not too concerned about whether someone identifies with EA, but rather with how much impact they're able to have. It would be useful to know which sources are most responsible for the people who are most contributing.

I'm not sure what proxies you have for this in the survey data, but I'm thinking ideally of concrete achievements, like working full-time in EA; or donating over $5,000 per year.

You could also look at how dedicated to social impact they say they are combined with things like academic credentials, but these proxies are much more noisy.

One potential source of proxies is how involved someone says they are in EA, but again I don't care about that so much compared to what they're actually contributing.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers · 2018-11-26T21:09:33.389Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi there, just a quick thought on the cause groupings in case you use them in future posts.

Currently, the post notes that global poverty is the cause most often selected as the top priority, but it should add that this is sensitive to how the causes are grouped, and there's no single clear way to do this.

The most common division we have is probably these 4 categories: global poverty, GCRs, meta and animal welfare.

If we used this grouping, then the identifiers would report:

GCRs: 28%

Global poverty: 27%

Meta: 27%

Animal welfare: 10%

(Plus Climate Change: 13% Mental health: 4%)

So, basically the top 3 areas are about the same. If climate change were grouped into GCRs, then GCRs would go up to 41% and be the clear leader.

Global poverty is a huge area that receives hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and could arguably be divided into health, economic empowerment (e.g. cash transfers), education, policy-change etc. That could also be an option for the next version of the survey.

I'm glad we have the finer grained divisions in the survey, but we have to be careful about how to present the results.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey 2018 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics · 2018-11-26T20:54:03.907Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think it might be clearer to break up the Bay Area into SF, East Bay, North Bay and South Bay. These locations all take about an hour to travel between, which makes them comparable to London, Oxford and Cambridge (even Bristol). Including such a large area as a single category makes it much easier to rank top. Wikipedia reports that London is about 600 square miles, while the nine-county Bay Area is 7000. I appreciate that what counts as a city is not clear, but I'd definitely say the Bay Area is more than one city. (Alternatively, we could group 'Loxbridge' as one category.)

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-25T09:43:57.213Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree it's better to give the most concrete suggestions possible.

As I noted right below this quote, we do often provide specific advice on ‘Plan B’ options within our career reviews and priority paths (i.e. nearby options to pivot into).

Beyond that and with Plan Zs, I mentioned that they usually depend a great deal on the situation and are often covered by existing advice, which is why we haven’t gone into more detail before. I’m skeptical that what EAs most need is advice on how to get a job at a deli. I suspect the real problem might be more an issue of tone or implicit comparisons or something else. That said, I’m not denying this part of the site couldn’t be greatly improved.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-25T09:40:41.011Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · EA · GW
One point of factual disagreement is that I think good general career advice is in fact quite neglected.

I definitely agree with you that existing career advice usually seems quite bad. This was one of the factors that motivated us to start 80,000 Hours.

it seems like probably I and others disappointed with the lack of broader EA career advice should do the research and write some more concrete posts on the topic ourselves.

If we thought this was good, we would likely cross-post it or link to it. (Though we’ve found working with freelance researchers tough in the past, and haven't accepted many submissions.)

I think my hope for better broad EA career advice may be better met by a new site/organization rather than by 80k.

Potentially, though I note some challenges with this and alternative ideas in the other comments.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-25T09:39:10.530Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Jamie,

Here are some additions and comments on some of your points.

If I remember correctly, the EA survey suggests that 80K is an important entry point for lots of people into EA.

It’s true that this means that stakes for improving 80,000 Hours are high, but it also seems like evidence that 80,000 Hours is succeeding as an introduction for many people.

3) We talk about EA movement-building not being funding constrained. If that's the case, then presumably it'd be possible to create more roles, be that at 80K or at new organisations.

Unfortunately lack of funding constraints doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to build new teams. For instance, the community is very constrained by managers, which makes it hard to both hire junior people and set up new organisations. See more here.

Research/website like 80K's current career profile reviews, but including less competitive career paths (perhaps this would need to focus on quantity over quality and "breadth" over depth)

Note that we have tried this in the past (e.g. allied health, web design, executive search), but they took a long time to write, never got much attention, and as far as we’re aware haven’t caused any plan changes.

I think it would also be hard to correctly direct people to the right source of advice between the two orgs.

It seems better to try to make some quick improvements to 80,000 Hours, such as adding a list of very concrete but less competitive options to the next version of our guide. (And as noted, there are already options in earning to give and government.)

Research/website/podcasts etc like 80K's current work, but focusing on specific cause areas (e.g. animal advocacy broadly, including both farmed animals and wild animals)

Agree - I mention this in another comment.

Regular career workshops

Yes, these are already being experimented with by local effective altruism groups. However, note that there is a risk that if these become a major way people first engage with effective altruism, they could put off the people best suited for the narrow priority paths. As noted, this seems to have been a problem in our existing content, which is presumably more narrow than these new workshops would be. They’re also quite challenging to run well - often someone able to do this independently can get a full-time job at an existing organisation.

One-on-one calls seem safer, and funding someone to work independently doing calls all day seems like a reasonable use of funding to me, provided they couldn’t / wouldn't get a more senior job. (Though it was tried by ‘EA Action’ once before, which was shut down.)

Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K's current work, but focused on high school age students, before they've made choices which significantly narrow down their options (like choosing their degree).

This seems pretty similar to SHIC:

So it seems to me that either 80K should prioritise hiring more people to take up some of these opportunities, or EA as a movement should prioritise creating new organisations to take them up.

Unfortunately, we have very limited capacity to hire. It seems better that we focus our efforts on people who can help with our main organisational focus, which is the narrow vision. So, like I note, I think these would mainly have to be done by other organisations.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-25T09:34:32.824Z · score: 12 (10 votes) · EA · GW
So it ought not to surprise anyone that a huge fraction of them come away demoralized.

I want to quickly point out that we don’t have enough evidence to conclude that ‘a huge fraction’ are demoralized. We have several reports and some intuitive reasons to expect that some are. We also have plenty of reports of people saying 80,000 Hours made them more motivated and ambitious, and helped them find more personally meaningful and satisfying careers. It’s hard to know what the overall effect is on motivation.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-24T06:50:19.902Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Milan, this is a very quick response. The short answer is that we have considered it, but don't intend to do it in the foreseeable future.

The main reason is that it would cost one of our key managers, but we think it would be lower impact than our current activities for the reasons listed in the main post. I also think our donors would be less keen on it, and it seems hard to make work in practice - how would you tell people which one they should use?

My guess is that it might be better for a new team to work on. One framing might be to to approach the problem from a different angle, such as making a guide to contributing to politics part-time (e.g. neglected bipartisan bills you could call your congressperson about); or putting more emphasis on the GWWC pledge again. It would also be cheaper to start by just publishing a more concrete list of less competitive career options.

A slightly different project that might be worth someone taking on is an organisation focusing on global health or factory farming career advice.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-24T03:47:11.376Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Milan, it would depend a lot on the details, but if it were mainly due to us and they were donating to the EA Long-term Fund or equivalent, then it would roughly be a rated-10 plan change, which would mean it's in the top 150 of all time.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-23T22:02:11.913Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

On 2), note there’s discussion about this here.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-23T22:00:44.516Z · score: 22 (10 votes) · EA · GW

It’s not our intention to give this impression - finding someone who donates $60k per year would be seen as a significant success within the team. We also highlight an example of someone doing exactly this (working at Google and earning to give) in our key career guide article on high impact jobs. I’d be curious to hear about anything we’ve done to exacerbate the problem other than our discussions of certain very competitive paths, which I admit can be demoralizing in themselves.

I think the main aspect of our advice that might be mainly relevant to people who have ‘top half of Oxford’ credentials is the list of priority paths. However, even within this list of our highest priorities, are options that don’t require that kind of academic background, such as government jobs and operations positions. We know lots of people without this background currently succeeding in these roles. What’s more, on that page, we also highlight five broader paths that a significant fraction of college graduates could pursue, as well as a general step-by-step process for coming up with options.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-23T21:58:14.807Z · score: 33 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Here are some responses to your specific points:

while their career reviews provide an “ease of competition” rating on a 1-5 scale, there’s no explanation how they arrive at these ratings or what a given rating means concretely, and what information they provide on standards and expectations in different fields is frustratingly vague.

We aim to assess entry criteria, predictors of personal fit and how to test out your fit within each career review, although we admittedly do a substantially better job of this in our ‘medium depth’ reviews than in our ‘shallow’ ones. The score, along with the ‘key facts on fit’ section in the summary of each profile, is just a very quick summary of that material. For instance, you mentioned working out whether to continue with academia, and we have about four pages on assessing personal fit in academia in the relevant career review.

while 80,000 Hours occasionally mentions in passing the value of having a backup plan, their website contains almost no concrete advice or recommendations about what such a plan might entail or how to make one.

We encourage people to make a ranking of options, then their back-up plan B is a less competitive option than your plan A that you can switch into if plan A doesn’t work out. Then Plan Z is how to get back on your feet if lots goes wrong. We lead people through a process to come up with their Plan B and Plan Z in our career planning tool.

Precisely what a person’s Plan B and Plan Z will be will depend a great deal on their skills, interests, existing resources, and on what Plan A they are aiming for. For that reason, in our profiles on particular career steps, we try to discuss what the highest value roles to aim for might be, and also what other paths they open up, for example in our page on studying economics. Having said that, unfortunately (being a small team) we are not able to discuss the specifics of the vast majority of career paths. This is less bad than it could be because Plan Zs are likely to involve ways of building up savings or taking jobs which aren’t peculiar to effective altruists, and so to be covered by other careers advice.

To ameliorate this somewhat, we also often discuss donating as a great option which allows most people to have a huge impact. While we think it’s crucial to find the most important skill bottlenecks and work out how people can train to fill them, that shouldn’t be taken to imply that we think donating to effective charities is not important.

Somebody coming to the front page might start by reading the “Career Guide”, where in the section on career capital they would read that the most impactful years of one’s life are probably one’s 40s, and that in the meantime it’s important to build up broad flexible skills since the most important opportunities and cause areas will likely be unpredictably different in the future. However, buried in the 2017 Annual Report where a new reader is unlikely to find it is a more recent discussion reaching the exact opposite conclusion, that one should focus exclusively on narrow career capital that can apply directly to the things that seem most important right now.

I agree this is a mistake, for which I apologise. We’ve been working on an update to our content on career capital this year, but haven’t been able to finish it due to the lack of writing capacity. I agree we should have flagged this at the top of the career capital article, and I’ve now added a note there. We’ll likely add it to our mistakes page too. Thank you for prompting us on this.

Other widely-linked parts of the website seem neglected or broken entirely; for example no matter what answers I put into the career quiz it tells me to become a policy-focused civil servant in the British government (having neglected to ask whether I’m British)

I agree there are some major problems with the career quiz. It was last reviewed in 2016 and no longer reflects our current views - we’ve therefore removed most links to it from the website (dramatically reducing traffic), and added a note on the page to the effect that it doesn’t reflect our views. We're considering whether to remove it altogether when we redesign our site next year. In the meantime, we recommend people use the general process for generating options listed here.

For what it's worth, civil service only stays on the top if you select 'no' to working in the most competitive fields. We do think this can be a high-impact but less competitive option, but it'd obviously be better to have more such options, and better tailored ones. I agree that sending people of all nationalities to our UK civil service career review is confusing; though we do think many of the general points are relevant to working in government in other countries.

We built the tool to be a fun way of thinking about new options, and to act as a springboard for further research. We hoped that this would be evident from the format (only asking 6 questions). Unfortunately, we failed to anticipate how people would in fact use it.

Many of my friends report that reading 80,000 Hours’ site usually makes them feel demoralized, alienated, and hopeless.

We deeply regret this. Unfortunately, as noted, we also often hear the opposite reaction. I think it’s going to be difficult to be helpful for our whole potential audience. With the narrowing of our focus, we’ve been putting a lot of time into thinking about ways to make it clearer who will find our content most useful, and to avoid demoralising others. We’re sad that we haven’t yet succeeded in striking this balance, and are keen for more ideas on this front. We think that the number of importantly impactful jobs in the world are far more than we can expect to cover, and we at root want to convey a message of hope: that by thinking carefully about our career decisions, we really can help others and build a better future.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-23T21:49:18.124Z · score: 63 (25 votes) · EA · GW

Hi lexande,

Thank you for taking the time to post this, we’re keen for the feedback. We hate the idea that we’ve contributed to people feeling demotivated about their careers, particularly because we believe that most people living in rich countries have the power to do an immense amount of good. Saving a life is the kind of incredible feat that most people wouldn’t expect ever to be able to do. But if we donate under $10,000 over our lifetime to AMF, we can do the equivalent of that.

That said, we also want to highlight ways people might be able to achieve even more. This includes highlighting some extremely competitive but high-impact jobs, and we understand that this may be demotivating for many of our readers. We wish we knew how to do a better job of communicating our priorities without having this effect.

I think the core issue behind your comments might be that there are two visions for 80,000 Hours.

One vision is a broad ‘social impact career advice’ organisation that could be used by a significant fraction of graduates choosing their careers, helping a large number of people have more impact whether or not they’re a fit for our highest priority areas and roles.

Another vision is to focus on solving the most pressing skill bottlenecks in the world’s most pressing problems. Given our current view of global priorities, this likely involves working with a smaller number of people.

In the second vision, we would talk more about cutting edge ideas in effective altruism, while in the first, we talk more about regular career advice - how to get a job, how to work out what you’re good at etc - and a wider range of jobs.

It seems like one thrust of your post is that we should focus more on the broader ‘social impact career advice’ vision.

We currently think the narrower ‘key skill bottleneck’ vision will have more impact. There’s a lot going into this decision, some of which is mentioned in our last annual review. One factor is that it seems easier to get and track a small number of plan changes in crucial areas than a much large number of smaller shifts. One reason for this is that the problems we most prioritise seem most constrained by the need for a small number of people filling some key roles and types of expertise (discussed more here).

The narrower vision is also more neglected, since no-one else does it, while there is already lots of general careers advice out there. You say:

Most people starting careers suffer from extremely poor and and incomplete information about the necessary and sufficient conditions for getting various jobs. This seems to me to be the most important source of inefficiency/market failure in the labor market and suboptimal (both altruistically and selfishly) career choices generally.

I think the biggest source of altruistic inefficiency is not considering the importance of choosing the right problem area, knowing what the key bottlenecks are within each area, not being scope blind about choice of intervention, and other ideas like these. Information about what it takes to get different jobs that’s currently available may not be great, but it’s already out there and can be provided by people outside of the effective altruism community. I don’t think 80,000 Hours should try to compete with normal careers advice when the core ideas in effective altruism haven’t been properly developed and written up, something that almost no-one else is going to do.

These two directions put us in a difficult position. Given our limited resources, if we go narrower, then we’ll make our site worse for the broader audience, and vice versa. We’ve received a lot of feedback in the opposite direction, where people who are more involved in effective altruism have said we weren’t able to help them, or people in a great position to enter our priority paths told us that the advice seemed too simplistic and they stopped reading. It’s already challenging even if we just have one audience, since each person needs different advice at different stages in their career and in different situations.

A particularly tough aspect of the situation is that I think a lot of our content is relevant to the broader audience (such as most articles in the career guide), but mentioning the narrower material (such as our list of priority paths) sometimes demoralises others.

Likewise, I expect that a broader range of people can enter our priority paths than you seem to suggest. For instance, you don’t need to be in the “top half of Oxford”/ Cambridge / Ivy League to get a relevant job in government, which I think is often higher-impact than earning to give, which is in turn higher impact than most ‘social impact’ jobs. But mentioning the narrower options often causes people to conclude everything we list isn’t suitable.

Another issue is that we’ve been narrowing our focus over the last few years, but the site started out broader, and still has some legacies from that time (e.g. the career quiz). We’re steadily fixing these but there’s a long way to go. Likewise, we’d like to make it clearer who our target audience is, and we're currently working on a major redraft of the front page and career guide which will address this.

Unfortunately, in part due to being held up by the redraft, we haven’t yet managed to adequately convey to the community that our focus has narrowed. Hopefully this will also become clearer after we redraft the site.

Doing both visions well would require substantially more capacity than we currently have. In the meantime, we aim to finish the redraft as soon as possible to make our intended audience really clear to readers. We will also continue thinking through and testing new ways to try to communicate both that we think that almost all university graduates in wealthy countries can have an incredible impact, and also the importance of us each considering whether and how we could be doing even more good. If you have thoughts on how we can strike this balance, and in particular do so in a way which is supportive and encouraging, please let us know.

Comment by benjamin_todd on [Link] Introduction to Cause Prioritisation · 2018-11-23T20:53:01.599Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hey there, I'm a bit surprised you didn't mention some of the existing introductions to this topic including:

1. CEA's introduction to EA, which includes a section on choosing a cause:

And more in-depth articles within the handbook, such as:

2. The chapter on this topic in Doing Good Better

3. Some of GiveWell and Open Phil's relevant posts, such as:

4. 80k's introduction and video as well as other relevant articles:

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA? · 2018-11-23T07:47:58.816Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

The other additional analysis which would be great is if you could identify the 20% of the respondents who seem most involved and dedicated, and then repeat the analysis by source for this sub-group. This would give us some sense of the quality as well as the scale of the reach of different sources.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA? · 2018-11-23T07:45:32.636Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

That makes sense. I agree none of this is simple.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Cross-post: Think twice before talking about ‘talent gaps’ – clarifying nine misconceptions, by 80,000 Hours. · 2018-11-20T09:06:42.432Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Also agree, though presumably some fraction is zero-sum.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Cross-post: Think twice before talking about ‘talent gaps’ – clarifying nine misconceptions, by 80,000 Hours. · 2018-11-20T02:19:56.961Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

That's a good point. We have worried about this in setting our own salary policy, but I forgot to mention it in the post. I've added to the original version. (Edit: Although we worried about this consideration, we didn't end up using it in setting our policy, and don't recommend that other orgs do. I've also removed the new sentence from the original version.)

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA? · 2018-11-20T01:14:36.690Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Hey David and everyone else involved, thank you for the analysis! This is useful data for us.

A quick request for next year: it would be great to keep working on the categories to get fewer 'other' responses and reduce overlap.

Approximately 19% of the open comment responses mentioned Podcasts (typically the Sam Harris or Joe Rogan podcasts), 15% mentioned Books, 10% mentioned Articles (online or in a newspaper), 9% mentioned a university or school Course, 7% a Blog, and 4% a Talk. 5% and 6% referred to an EA org that had already been included in the fixed response options (e.g. GWWC) and to a Personal Contact respectively.

The Sam Harris and Joe Rogan podcasts were done by Will as part of the promotion campaign for DGB while he was working at CEA/80k so could arguably be coded as DGB/CEA/80k. Presumably some of the books / articles / talks are also other materials produced by the organisations or press coverage they sought out - does that seem right?

Likewise, maybe 'search' and 'facebook' should be removed as categories, because they're channels you use to find the other content listed. Presumably everyone who found out about EA through 'facebook' likely saw a post by a friend, so should be a personal referral, or saw a post by one of the orgs, so should be coded as an org.

I'm also surprised to see isn't listed - do you know what happened there?

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-25T00:41:29.808Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

80,000 Hours would likely be supportive of another organisation specialising in global health or factory farming career advising. I'd prefer to divide up by problem areas, rather than long vs. short term. We plan to write more about this.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Why more effective altruists should use LinkedIn · 2018-10-24T01:41:21.416Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Unfortunately they've removed the ability to search within groups like the 80k group. You can still, however, do a keyword search of profiles.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-20T19:24:55.909Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, I apologise for that, we were talking at cross purposes.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-20T05:31:03.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Alex,

I'm feeling a bit set upon here. I was talking about a different topic (why people hire slowly) and it seems like we got our wires crossed and are now debating the value of a marginal hire. Looking back, I see how my earlier comment led us off in a confusing direction.

If we're discussing the value of a marginal hire, I totally agree that the survey figures DON'T include the costs of hiring someone in the first place. That's why I brought up the ex-ante ex-post distinction in the first place.

This means that someone considering working at an EA org should use a lower figure for the estimate of their value-add (we agree). In particular, they should subtract the opportunity costs of the time spent hiring them. (This varies a lot on the situation, but one month of senior staff time seems like a reasonable ballpark to me.)

However, just to be clear, I don't think they should subtract the opportunity costs of senior staff time spent on their on-going management, since I think the natural interpretation of the survey question includes these. (If a new hire could raise $1m of donations, but would take up management time that could have raised $800k otherwise and has a salary of $100k, it would be odd for the org say that they'd need to be compensated with $1m if the hire disappeared. Rather, the answer should be $100k. I expect most orgs were aiming to include these costs, though of course they might not have made a good estimate. This is what I thought you were talking about when I said I think orgs partially take opportunity costs into account.)

Where does this leave the survey figures? We could super roughly estimate the value of a month of senior staff time at an org is 5x the value of a month of junior staff time, so this would super roughly reduce the value of junior hires over three years by 5/36 = 14%.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-18T20:45:00.098Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Alex,

I agree with the thrust of your point: if hiring is very costly, then that's reason against working at EA orgs vs etg.

It still seems like there could be a world in which hiring is high return but often (but not always) lower return than some other marginal activities. This will mean both that (i) recent hires are valuable (ii) the orgs don't hire many people (iii) hiring is sometimes worthwhile. I was just trying to show how these could be consistent.

Going back to the overall issue of why the dollar figures are high, I don't think the "hiring is costly" point is the main thing going on, and think this post might have emphasised that too much. The post was more trying to answer the question of why the orgs don't hire more often despite the high dollar figures. The broader question of why the figures are high and what to do based on them is discussed briefly in the original article about the survey, but hasn't yet been tackled in depth.

With your first two paragraphs, I just want to step back and point out that things get pretty confusing when you include all opportunity costs. When you do that, the return of every action except the single best action is zero or negative. Being close to zero is actually good. It's probably less confusing to think in terms of a ranked list of actions that senior staff could take.

I also expect the orgs partially take account of the opportunity costs of staff time when reporting the dollar value figures, though it's hard to be sure. This is why next year we'll focus on in-depth interviews to better understand the figures rather than repeating the survey.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-18T20:27:09.848Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Just FYI we're doing this at 80k as part of our new headhunting project, and have also sought advice on hiring in the past from people like the partners at YC.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-18T20:25:54.969Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I agree there's a tradeoff. We're pretty unsure about how much to encourage people towards these roles at the margin.

We've seen cases of people on the other side who said they didn't apply for these roles since they assumed they were too competitive, but were found later and ended up doing really well. We've seen lots of cases of people who ended up getting the job but said they almost didn't apply for the same reason. I suspect we still miss a lot of great applicants.

To avoid this, we could encourage more people to apply, but that will result in more people getting demotivated when they don't succeed. Finding the ideal balancing point seems really hard.

I do agree with Khorton below, though, that we should try to find more "win-win" approaches, such as encouraging people to consider and find out if there might be a good role for them, and providing people with clearer criteria.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Survey of EA org leaders about what skills and experience they most need, their staff/donations trade-offs, problem prioritisation, and more. · 2018-10-13T18:31:51.319Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Personally, I see large differences in the expected impact of potential new hires. I'm surprised you don't, especially at the startup stage, and am not sure what's going on there. I would guess you should be more picky for some of the reasons listed in Rob's post.

I also feel very constrained by management capacity etc. This drives the value of past hires up even further, which is what the survey was about (as also in Rob's post).

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-13T18:23:11.776Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

No, I don't think it's that simple. I think it's sometimes true that the main issue is absorbing talent, but there are also situations when the top hire is much better than the second best, so generates a large excess value. This is because many of these roles require a very unusual skill-set.

I think the message to take away is more like "it's hard to infer what to do based on the survey figures".

Personally, I still think it would be very useful to find more talented people and for more people to consider applying to these roles; we just need to bear in mind that these roles require a very unusual skill-set, so people should always have a good back-up plan.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-13T18:13:28.387Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Alex,

A quick note on another aspect that I think Rob might have underemphasised:

Hiring could generate very high returns to the organisations but often not as high as other marginal activities.

Here's a simple model: If you think that many EA orgs spend about $1m per year and generate $10m per year of "value" (as rough orders of magnitude), then even if a marginal hire generates $1m "excess" value to the org, that's only a 10% increase in impact for that year. This is good but there could easily be even more important things for senior management to focus on.

This would explain why the orgs don't hire many people.

However, it would still be consistent with the idea that marginal hires are valuable and can have more impact by working at the org than by earning to give, since each generates $1m.

It would also mean conditional on an org running a hiring process, it's better for that process to go as well as possible and get the best possible applicants.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Comparative advantage in the talent market · 2018-09-08T15:49:09.838Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

See our new article about this topic:

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Funds - An update from CEA · 2018-08-09T03:20:14.293Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry, I was thinking 1-5% of real returns rather than nominal, though I agree for these purposes nominal might be more relevant.

There's a lot of room for different figures depending on how mean reverting you think valuations are. I think we should expect them to be somewhat mean reverting, so my best guess is more like 3% real.

I was also partly thinking that valuations are much higher again since I wrote that post, so I think that article is a bit optimistic today.

With costs, I'm more thinking about the set-up cost. I wouldn't be surprised if this took several person-months, which could be used to add features that would add much larger proportional gains.

I also guess the on-going costs would be quite a bit more than one week per year, due to the reasons Rob lists.

And then there are also the costs of explaining this feature to users, which seem pretty significant - e.g. even if you write up a clear explanation of why you're doing this and speak to a bunch of people about it in-person, you'll still end up with lots of misunderstandings.

Comment by benjamin_todd on EA Funds - An update from CEA · 2018-08-08T06:04:37.458Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that would be ideal, but it doesn't seem like a high priority feature. The risk-free 1yr interest rate is about 2% at the minute (in treasuries), so even if the money is delayed for a whole year, we're only talking about a gain of 2%, and probably more like 1% after transaction costs.

You could invest in the stock market instead, but the expected return is still probably only 1-5% per year (as I argue here: Plus, then you have a major risk of losing lots of the money, which will probably be pretty hard to explain to many of the users, the press etc.

I expect the staff time spent adding and managing this feature could yield much more than a couple of percent growth to the impact of the funds in many other ways (e.g. the features Marek lists above).

Comment by benjamin_todd on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-08-07T04:21:43.774Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I agree the long-term value thesis and the aim of reducing extinction risk often go together, but I think it would be better if we separated them conceptually.

At 80k we're also concerned that there might be better ways to help the future, which is one reason why we highly prioritise global priorities research.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-08-05T19:54:21.537Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · EA · GW

As a further illustration of the difference with your first point, the idea that the future might be net negative is only reason against reducing extinction risk, but it might be more reason to focus on improving the long-term in general. This is what the s-risk people often think.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-08-05T04:39:36.030Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · EA · GW

See a list of reasons why not to work on reducing extinction risk here:

See a list of counterarguments to the long-term value thesis here:

There are also further considerations around coordination that we're writing about in an upcoming article.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-08-05T04:36:52.215Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · EA · GW

It's a helpful list and I think these considerations deserve to be more well known.

If you were going to expand further, it might be useful to add in more about the counterarguments to these points. As you note in a few cases, the original proponents of some of these points now work on long-term focused issues.

I also agree with the comment above that it's important to distinguish between what we call "the long-term value thesis" and the idea that reducing extinction risks is the key priority. You can believe in the long-term value thesis but think there's better ways to help the future than reducing extinction risks, and you can reject the long-term value thesis but still think extinction risk is a top priority.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Triple counting impact in EA · 2018-06-05T18:03:55.480Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Makes sense. I don't think Joey would object if orgs were counting this though.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Triple counting impact in EA · 2018-06-05T05:00:49.016Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I agree - I was talking a bit too loosely. When I said "assign credit of 30% of X" I meant "assign counterfactual impact of 30% of X". My point was just that even if you do add up all the counterfactual impacts (ignoring that this is a conceptual mistake like you point out), they rarely sum to more than 100%, so it's still not a big issue.

I'm not sure I follow the first paragraph about leveraging other groups.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Triple counting impact in EA · 2018-06-03T10:41:58.224Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · EA · GW

On the practical point, one help is that I think cases like these are fairly uncommon:

The previous example used donations because it’s easy and clear cut to make the case that this is the wrong move without getting into more difficult issues, but it generalizes to talent as well. For example, recently, Fortify Health was founded. Clearly the founders deserve 100% impact- without them, the project certainly would not have happened. But wait a second: both of them think that without Charity Science’s support, the project would definitely not have happened. So, technically, Charity Science could also take 100% credit. (Since from our perspective, if we did not help Fortify Health it would not have happened, so it is a 100% counterfactually caused by Charity Science project). But wait a second, what about the donors who funded the project early on (because of Charity Science’s recommendation)? Surely they deserve some credit for impact as well! What about the fact that without the EA movement, it would have been much less likely for Charity Science and Fortify Health to connect? With multiple organizations and individuals, you can very easily attribute a lot more impact than actually happens.

In our impact evaluations, and in my experiences talking to others in the community, we would never give 100% of the impact to each group. For instance, if Charity Science didn't exist, the founders of Fortify might well have ended up doing a similar idea anyway - it's not as if Charity Science is the only group promoting evidence-based global health charities, and if Charity Science didn't exist, another group like them probably would have sprung up eventually. What's more, even if the founders didn't do Fortify, they would probably have done something else high-impact instead. So, the impact of Charity Science should probably be much less than 100% of Fortify. And the same is true for the other groups involved.

At 80,000 Hours, we rarely claim more than 30% of the impact of an event or plan change, and we most often model our impact as a speed-up (e.g. we assume the career changer would have eventually made the same shift, but we made it come 0.5-4 years earlier). We also sometimes factor in costs incurred by other groups. All this makes it hard for credit to add up to more than 100% in practice.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Triple counting impact in EA · 2018-06-03T10:24:44.087Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I'm interested in what norms we can use to better deal with the practical case.

e.g. Suppose:

1) GiveWell does research for a cost of $6 2) TLYCS does outreach using the research for a cost of $6 3) $10 is raised as a result.

Assume that if GiveWell didn't do the research, TLYCS wouldn't have raised the $10, and vice versa.

If you're a donor working out where to give, how should you approach the situation?

If you consider funding TLYCS with GiveWell held fixed, then you can spend $6 to raise $10, which is worth doing. But if you consider funding GiveWell+TLYCS together, then you can spend $12 to raise $10, which is not worth doing.

It seems like the solution is that the donor needs to think very carefully about which margin they're operating at. Here are a couple of options:

A) If GiveWell will definitely do the research whatever happens, then you ought to give. B) Maybe GiveWell won't do the research if they don't think anyone will promote it, so the two orgs are coupled, and that means you shouldn't fund either. (Funding TLYCS causes GiveWell to raise more, which is bad in this case) C) If you're a large donor who is able to cover both funding gaps, then you should consider the value of funding the sum, rather than each org individually.

It seems true that donors don't often consider situations like (B), which might be a mistake. Though sometimes they do - e.g. GiveWell considers the costs of malaria net distribution incurred by other actors.

Likewise, it seems like donors often don't consider situations like (C). e.g. If there are enough interactions, maybe the EA Funds should calculate the cost-effectiveness of a portfolio of EA orgs, rather than estimate the ratios for each individual org.

On the other hand, I don't think these cases where two orgs are both 100% necessary for 100% of the impact are actually that common. In practice, if GiveWell didn't exist, TLYCS would do something else with the $6, which would mean they raise somewhat less than $10; and vice versa. So, the two impacts are fairly unlikely to add up to much more than $12.

Comment by benjamin_todd on “EA” doesn’t have a talent gap. Different causes have different gaps. · 2018-05-22T03:28:59.391Z · score: 8 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, each cause has different relative needs.

It's also more precise and often clearer to talk about particular types of talent, rather than "talent" as a whole e.g. the AI safety space is highly constrained by people with deep expertise in machine learning and global poverty isn't.

However, when we say "the landscape seem more talent constrained than funding constrained" what we typically mean is that given our view of cause priorities, EA aligned people can generally have a greater impact through direct work than earning to give, and I still think that's the case.

Comment by benjamin_todd on The Importance of EA Dedication and Why it Should Be Encouraged · 2018-05-08T06:42:34.327Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

More reasons for why sharing the mission of EA (which includes dedication as a component) is important in most roles in EA non-profits:

Why not to rush to translate effective altruism into other languages

2018-03-05T02:17:20.153Z · score: 59 (60 votes)

New recommended career path for effective altruists: China specialists

2018-03-01T21:18:46.124Z · score: 16 (16 votes)

80,000 Hours annual review released

2017-12-27T20:31:05.395Z · score: 10 (10 votes)

How can we best coordinate as a community?

2017-07-07T04:45:55.619Z · score: 9 (9 votes)

Why donate to 80,000 Hours

2016-12-24T17:04:38.089Z · score: 18 (20 votes)

If you want to disagree with effective altruism, you need to disagree one of these three claims

2016-09-25T15:01:28.753Z · score: 24 (23 votes)

Is the community short of software engineers after all?

2016-09-23T11:53:59.453Z · score: 13 (15 votes)

6 common mistakes in the effective altruism community

2016-06-03T16:51:33.922Z · score: 12 (14 votes)

Why more effective altruists should use LinkedIn

2016-06-03T16:32:24.717Z · score: 13 (13 votes)

Is legacy fundraising actually higher leverage?

2015-12-16T00:22:46.723Z · score: 4 (14 votes)

We care about WALYs not QALYs

2015-11-13T19:21:42.309Z · score: 13 (15 votes)

Why we need more meta

2015-09-26T22:40:43.933Z · score: 22 (34 votes)

Thread for discussing critical review of Doing Good Better in the London Review of Books

2015-09-21T02:27:47.835Z · score: 7 (7 votes)

A new response to effective altruism

2015-09-12T04:25:43.242Z · score: 3 (3 votes)

Random idea: crowdsourcing lobbyists

2015-07-02T01:16:05.861Z · score: 6 (6 votes)

The career questions thread

2015-06-20T02:19:07.131Z · score: 13 (13 votes)

Why long-run focused effective altruism is more common sense

2014-11-21T00:12:34.020Z · score: 15 (17 votes)

Two interviews with Holden

2014-10-03T21:44:12.163Z · score: 7 (7 votes)

We're looking for stories of EA career decisions

2014-09-30T18:20:28.169Z · score: 5 (5 votes)

An epistemology for effective altruism?

2014-09-21T21:46:04.430Z · score: 5 (5 votes)

Case study: designing a new organisation that might be more effective than GiveWell's top recommendation

2013-09-16T04:00:36.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes)

Show me the harm

2013-08-06T04:00:52.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes)