Growth and the case against randomista development 2020-01-16T10:11:51.136Z · score: 268 (118 votes)
Is mindfulness good for you? 2019-12-29T20:01:28.762Z · score: 58 (28 votes)
The ITN framework, cost-effectiveness, and cause prioritisation 2019-10-06T05:26:24.879Z · score: 95 (39 votes)
What should Founders Pledge research? 2019-09-09T17:41:04.073Z · score: 51 (19 votes)
[Link] New Founders Pledge report on existential risk 2019-03-28T11:46:17.623Z · score: 39 (13 votes)
The case for delaying solar geoengineering research 2019-03-23T15:26:13.119Z · score: 49 (20 votes)
Insomnia: a promising cure 2018-11-16T18:33:28.060Z · score: 38 (19 votes)
Concerns with ACE research 2018-09-07T14:56:25.737Z · score: 32 (29 votes)
New research on effective climate charities 2018-07-11T13:51:23.354Z · score: 19 (19 votes)
The counterfactual impact of agents acting in concert 2018-05-27T10:54:03.677Z · score: 4 (10 votes)
Climate change, geoengineering, and existential risk 2018-03-20T10:48:01.316Z · score: 16 (15 votes)
Economics, prioritisation, and pro-rich bias   2018-01-02T22:33:36.355Z · score: 3 (9 votes)
We're hiring! Founders Pledge is seeking a new researcher 2017-12-18T12:30:02.429Z · score: 4 (4 votes)
Capitalism and Selfishness 2017-09-15T08:30:54.508Z · score: 13 (15 votes)
How should we assess very uncertain and non-testable stuff? 2017-08-17T13:24:44.537Z · score: 18 (18 votes)
Where should anti-paternalists donate? 2017-05-04T09:36:53.654Z · score: 10 (10 votes)
The asymmetry and the far future 2017-03-09T22:05:26.700Z · score: 9 (17 votes)


Comment by halstead on AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell · 2020-03-18T10:24:15.247Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · EA · GW

GiveWell seems to be unusually well run.

  • What are your top organisation, management and strategy tips? Research management tips would be especially useful
  • Allocating time to research is a difficult optimal stopping problem - how do your researchers decide when they should stop researching a particular question or subquestion?
Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-18T10:23:34.702Z · score: 53 (21 votes) · EA · GW

How likely do you think we would be to recover from a catastrophe killing 50%/90%/99% of the world population respectively?

Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-18T10:18:42.505Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

What are your top three productivity tips?

Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-18T10:18:01.191Z · score: 25 (12 votes) · EA · GW

What is your solution to Pascal's Mugging?

Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-18T10:15:55.757Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Do you think the problems of infinite ethics give us reason to reject totalism or long-termism? If so, what is the alternative?

Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-18T10:14:40.219Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Do you think we will ever have a unified and satisfying theory of how to respond to moral uncertainty, given the huge structural and substantive differences between apparently plausible moral theories? Will MacAskill's thesis is one of the best treatments of this problem, and it seems like it would be hard to build an account of how one ought to respond to e.g. Rawlsianism, totalism, libertarianism, person-affecting views, absolutist rights-based theories, and so on, across most choice situations.

Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-18T10:11:23.404Z · score: 19 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Is your view that:

(i) the main thing that matters for the long-term is whether we get to the stars

(ii) This could plausibly happen in the next few centuries

(iii) therefore the main long-termist relevance of our actions is whether we survive the next few centuries and can make it to the stars?

Or do you put some weight on the view that long-term human and post-human flourishing on Earth could also account for >1% of the total plausible potential of our actions?

Comment by halstead on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-17T18:07:15.759Z · score: 34 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Does it worry you that there are very few published peer reviewed treatments of why AGI risk should be taken seriously that are relevant to current machine learning technology?

Comment by halstead on AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell · 2020-03-17T17:54:46.808Z · score: 23 (8 votes) · EA · GW

What do you make of Lant Pritchett's arguments against the RCT-based approach to development, and for focusing on national development?

Comment by halstead on Insomnia with an EA lens: Bigger than malaria? · 2020-03-17T17:53:02.944Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This feels more like something that could be conveyed on 1 side of A4. Could someone create a webpage with the evidence on CBT-i and instructions on how to do it?

Comment by halstead on [Link] Updated Drawdown now available, incl. 2020 Review · 2020-03-12T13:49:42.689Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Matthew,

1. I think you give a partial picture of the split in expert opinion here in the penultimate paragraph. I think it would be more accurate to say that some people take the view you do and some respectable people take the view that firm controllable low carbon power will be very important. e.g. Your headline claim is pretty strongly at odds with IPCC integrated assessment models, which the typical model saying that a quadrupling of nuclear is needed, rather than the controlled mothballing that you suggest here. And these models also assume a massive increase in bioenergy with CCS, which seems very unlikely to happen, suggesting that nuclear will have to step in.

2. The picture you give on cost ignores where most nuclear new build is happening today. The vast majority of new nuclear is built in China at the moment, and the typical plant construction time is around 6 years, with costs at around $3000/kW. This shows that failures in the US and Europe are particular to the politics and licensing regime and to the industry, rather inherent to the technology. And it shows that changing the licensing regime to allow next gen nuclear in the US and Europe could make a large difference.

3. It is useful to think about the role of nuclear as one about reducing the risk of our decarbonisation efforts. On your approach, I take it that we would bet on solar and wind continuing to get cheaper and then taking over 80% of electricity. To me, it is much safer to invest in the full range of low carbon tech options, including nuclear, if there turn out to be barriers to getting to 80% solar and wind.

  • Technology-level levelised cost is a meaningless metric. The more relevant one is the system-level levelised cost. Studies show that once solar and wind go past 50-80% of electricity production, system-level costs start to rise dramatically. Should we bet on the inflection point in the real world being 80% rather than 50% or 40%? I would prefer not to.
  • Cost is only one determinant of political feasibility. The studies you mention I take it refer to increasing long-distance transmission infrastructure 2-4x. The land use requirements of this and of high solar and wind systems are enormous. There is already significant local opposition to onshore wind in the UK, where it supplies about 9% of UK electricity - there was a ban on subsidies until recently even at these levels of penetration. In Germany, new onshore wind has flatlined in part due to local opposition.
  • Value deflation at higher levels seems to be a major problem in high-solar and wind systems. Various studies suggest that for example solar would have to decline well in advance of this historical trend in order to outpace value deflation.
  • The route you propose is the one Germany has taken, and it is going very badly. Why do you think the entire world should double-down on this approach?
  • Historical experience seems like it should carry some weight here. The only advanced economies that have decarbonised are those with lots of hydro and geothermal and/or nuclear power. Nuclear is a proven solution to decarbonised electricity. Solar and wind are not.

4. Your points only focus on electricity. But electricity and heat is only about 45% of emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Nuclear is much better suited to producing zero carbon fuels and district heating than solar and wind.

Comment by halstead on [Link] Updated Drawdown now available, incl. 2020 Review · 2020-03-09T14:32:31.258Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I think drawdown has lots of flaws as a prioritisation source.

(1) How they arrive at the ranking is unclear - the details on the models at the time I looked were very unclear.

(2) Technologies should be assessed as part of a whole system rather than individually. e.g. Having lots of energy storage makes sense when you have intermittent power sources like solar, but not much when you have controllable ones like gas with carbon capture. So, it doesn't really make sense to assess the possible climate contribution of storage independently of everything else because its contribution depends on the whole system. Figuring out what energy system each country should have depends significantly on local context. e.g solar makes a lot of sense in Australia, but very little in England.

(3) I didn't think that the potential contribution of various different energy technologies was well justified, and provided a false sense of certainty. E.g. nuclear could in principle supply the vast majority of global low carbon energy supply, but you have to think about all the potential unclear political barriers. Solar and wind could provide maybe up to 40% electricity, but you need to think about the massive land use implications of this and the consequent local opposition

(4) They don't talk about neglectedness, which is a crucial determinant of what difference donors can make on the margin. Wind and solar will probably be important going forward, but philanthropists are already ploughing hundreds of millions of dollars into advocating for them in Europe and the US. In contrast, things like CCS and nuclear get almost no money. Even less attention is paid to things like low carbon heavy duty transport.

(5) Some of the research seemed to be lacking in places. e.g. they put refrigerant management very high, but there are strong arguments suggesting that we should deprioritise short-lived climate pollutants. Similar thoughts apply to plant-based diets.

(6)The ranking is from the point of view of governments to a large extent. This isn't a flaw but does make it less relevant for people donating.

Comment by halstead on Insomnia with an EA lens: Bigger than malaria? · 2020-03-06T11:54:17.114Z · score: 12 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hi, thanks for this. I am personally very enthusiastic about CBT-i as it worked for me and has done for a couple of friends and the evidence seems to be reasonably good. One of the attractions of CBT-i for me was that you I don't really think you need a trained therapist or an app, you can just follow instructions in a book about sleep hygiene and sleep restriction. I did use an online course, but I don't think it was really necessary. The instructions are quite straightforward -

  • have a set waking up time. Spend the time in bed that you wish to spend sleeping (e.g. 7 hours) and then taper down time in bed by a half an hour each week until you reach the time you actually spend sleeping (e.g. 4 hours) and then ramp back up half an hour a week once the association between bed and stress is broken. If you can't sleep for an hour get out of bed.
  • Sleep hygiene also seems quite straightforward - cut out caffeine, booze and nicotine, dim the lights, don't look at your phone for tv two hours before bed, exercise. Just use bed for sex and sleep - don't read in bed.

I think you could just get this by reading the second half of Colin Espie's short book Overcoming Insomnia. Given this, what value do you think an app adds?

My favoured EA insomnia solution would be to publicise the Espie book far and wide and to get doctors to do what is required by their guidelines and recommend CBT-i, rather than just prescribing sleeping pills.

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-02-06T20:52:15.972Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for these comments Alex. I agree that it would be best to look at how growth translates into subjective wellbeing, and I am planning to do this or to get someone else to do it soon. However, I'm not sure that this defeats our main claim which is that research on and advocacy for growth are likely to be better than GW top charities. There are a few arguments for this.

(1) GW estimates that deworming is the best way to improve economic outcomes for the extreme poor, in expectation. This seems to me very unlikely to be true since deworming explains almost none of the variance in economic outcomes across the world today, and research on and advocacy for growth looks a much better bet unless you endorse extreme scepticism about growth economics, which no EA has yet argued for. On the welfare metrics endorsed by GiveWell's staff, deworming is roughly as good as their top charities. It is therefore very unlikely that GW's top charities are better than research and advocacy for growth.

(2) The cost-effectiveness argument. Many of the huge growth episodes analysed by Lant occurred in countries that were extremely poor before those growth episodes. Looking to the past, it seems unreasonable to deny that funding research on and advocacy for growth is better than the best that one could do with a randomista intervention. The Chinese experience alone seems to me to clearly make this case. Looking to the future, our conjecture is that a 4 person year research effort will show that research and advocacy targeted at LMICs is better than the best GW charities. This takes account of the diminishing marginal utility of money. The case for this claim is unproven, but I think our argument provides strong support for it being probably true.

  • On the 'risk-lovers would work on animals/long-termism' point, I don't think i agree. To me it seems that people work on these causes because of ethical assumptions about the weight of animals and future beings rather than because of attitudes to risk.
  • I agree that getting into the weeds is important for our predictive conjecture: the aim of our piece was precisely to motivate getting into these weeds. Moreover, someone needed to make these general arguments at some point as they had been around for many years without response.
Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-02-06T20:28:31.983Z · score: 16 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this, I think you make a lot of good points here that anyone carrying out this research would need to think about carefully.

Comment by halstead on Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals? · 2020-02-05T15:02:08.473Z · score: 12 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Cheers for this. A stylistic point - I think there are far too many acronyms here. I would limit yourself to one acronym per 30 pages of A4 - it just becomes really hard to keep track after a while

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-27T19:06:09.223Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that we should keep our focus on human welfare rather than on gdp per capita as such, and that proposed research agenda should consider a broad question such as "how can we ensure democratic, sustainable and equitably shared growth?" As we say, I do think this is best approached outside of RCTs.

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-27T19:02:25.025Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hello, thanks for these comments! On the antagonistic point, I personally don't think the post is antagonistic. I think calling something "the case against view x" is what you would expect of a post criticising a particular view. I also don't think there are any parts of the substantive post itself that involve any snark, sneering or things like that. Where we do put forward critical opinions, they seem to me to be stated neutrally and directly, without flourish, rather than in an antagonistic way.

This being said, it has been mentioned to me that stuff I write can come off as antagonistic when it isn't meant to be, and I come from philosophy where discussion norms are highly confrontational, so I am open to suggestions as to how this piece could be less confrontational.

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-18T19:03:10.795Z · score: 23 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I do think this is a concern that we need to consider carefully. On the standard FHI/Open Phil view of ex risk, AI and bio account for most of the ex risk we face this century. I find it difficult to see how increasing economic development LMICs could affect AI risk. China's massive growth is something of a special case on the AI risk front I think.

I think growth probably reduces biorisk by increasing the capacity of health systems in poor countries. It seems that leading edge bioscience research is most likely to happen in advanced economies.

On climate, it seems clear that it would exacerbate climate change, but it would also increase the capacity of very poor countries to deal with climate change. Most of the up to 2100 damages seem to me to stem from dryer dry places and wetter wet places, and I think economic development is a good way to deal with these problems for poor countries - they can do desalination, more efficient agriculture, and build flood defences. It would of course be better if they did this with clean energy, but it seems that working on that separately is the best way forward. It's not like stopping Africa growing is a top priority for environmentalists.

On nuclear, economic growth is a major risk factor for nuclear weapons status, much more important than other factors people often talk about such as pursuing a civilian nuclear power programme. But the ex risk of nuclear war is debatable and seems to stem from the unique features of US v Russia tensions - it seems v unlikely that today's LMICs would come to possess thousands of warheads.

On the alternative boring long-termist view, these risks seem a much weaker concern.

Generally, I disagree with Cowen that increasing growth is the best thing to do from a long-termist point of view. Though, as we argue, it does seem good from a person-affecting point of view

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T20:59:20.960Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Yes I think that's a fair point

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T16:01:52.195Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · EA · GW

A few people have mentioned that they think the title is inflammatory - it wasn't intended as such. I had never thought that the term randomista is pejorative, e.g. you can find various examples of eg chris blattman owning it

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T10:40:52.217Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

thanks for all the comments! responding above

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T10:33:33.805Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

The Easterlin paradox notwithstanding, as we say in the post, economic growth does buy you a lot of subjective wellbeing improvement in a country. It would be interesting to explore how far increasing growth in a country would improve subjective wellbeing in LMICs. The path to impact in HICs seems much less clear imo

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T10:32:14.716Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think it is unreasonable to interpret geography in the way you suggest. I don't see how migration loans or deworming change the geography of a place. RCTs may have had an effect on culture but it seems likely a very small one wrt culture affecting growth.

I agree on the human capital point.

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T10:26:27.368Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

hi! have two things in response. Firstly, Randomistas are not trying to increase growth. Some of them, such as Blattman, Banerjee and Duflo are explicit about this. Secondly, for the reasons we discuss in the post, it is implausible that RCT-backed interventions are among the top 100 ways to increase growth.

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T10:22:44.329Z · score: 20 (7 votes) · EA · GW

In the piece, we say that there is no publicly published treatments by EAs of (1) how best to increase growth, (2) the claim that we know nothing about how to increase growth. I don't see that claim being discussed in either the Broi post or the Shulman post - neither of them mentions economic growth. I hadn't seen the thing on trade, but this also can't really be classed as a treatment of either question - it just discusses one way to increase growth, it doesn't compare and rank different ways of increasing growth.

Pritchett's arguments are a form of the systemic change objection, which has been discussed a bit. But there are lots of different forms of the systemic change and the forms that have been raised previously are either (i) socialist or (ii) people misrepresenting what EA actually does by saying that EA is in principle opposed to systemic change or that it never does systemic change, both of which are obviously false.

Comment by halstead on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-17T10:09:03.442Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA · GW

hello. The causal evidence was the claim that we would expect people with more income to buy more basic private goods which improve their private welfare.

Comment by halstead on [Notes] Could climate change make Earth uninhabitable for humans? · 2020-01-15T11:48:18.742Z · score: 26 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this. I think it could be made clearer here how seriously we are meant to take the possibility that climate change could directly make the Earth uninhabitable. Is the claim that this is possible just like the LHC causing a black hole, or is it that there is like a 1 in 100 or 1 in 1,000 chance? Having looked at the evidence, I find it very difficult to see how climate change could directly cause extinction. It is a very slow moving problem, and for the effects we could see over the course of centuries, I just don't see any mechanism by which it could cause extinction.

The only plausible way extinction could happen is from moist greenhouse or runaway greenhouse, but the median view in the literature is that this is not physically possible. e.g. The Popp et al paper mentioned assumes that the Earth is entirely ocean.

Comment by halstead on What should EAs interested in climate change do? · 2020-01-13T19:25:39.839Z · score: 17 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Founders Pledge is about to start a major research project on this soon and some of us are also thinking about writing a book on the topic fyi

Comment by halstead on Is mindfulness good for you? · 2019-12-31T12:53:25.519Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

On the true believers point, I have also hear second-hand stories from people who went to mindfulness conferences to find that they were full of people who really wanted mindfulness to have a big effect

Comment by halstead on Is mindfulness good for you? · 2019-12-31T12:52:28.763Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I haven't read it, no, thanks for the tip

Comment by halstead on Is mindfulness good for you? · 2019-12-30T14:45:07.611Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Good point! I haven't looked into this. My impression is that these are much better studied than mindfulness and the quality of the evidence is better, so the estimates might be less upwardly biased. But yes they could also be upwardly biased.

The main point here was that this meta-analysis doesn't correct for reporting bias because the evidence is so weak.

Comment by halstead on Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN · 2019-11-06T23:15:52.898Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with that. My response is (1) to contextualise this by saying that this feature is true of almost all CEAs, (2) to say that I don't think the counterfactual use of funds is very good in comparison to effective spending on deforestation prevention.

Comment by halstead on Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN · 2019-11-05T14:11:11.900Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hello, my response was about the counterfactual value of funds to REDD+ - i.e. what govts and the private sector would spend money on. It is analogous to a donation to FHI: Sanjay is proposing that we should discount money to REDD+ projects because part of the money would otherwise have gone to global development. In the same way, one could argue that money donated to FHI would otherwise have gone to global development and discount by that. This is in principle correct, but it tends not to be done.

Comment by halstead on Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN · 2019-11-05T09:41:15.484Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Sanjay, thanks for writing this. As we have discussed, I agree with some of this and disagree with other parts.

1. On whether the pledged funds will be forthcoming. I agree that the pessimistic estimate of funds forthcoming was probably too high, though I haven't looked at how much money has actually come out in the past year. However, I don't think this that big an effect on the CEA because the pessimistic estimate also assumes a cost per tonne of $30 (vs the $5 per tonne that you assume here) to abate CO2 through deforestation prevention. In the model, this offsets the potential overestimate of the forthcoming funds by a factor of 6, which makes the end estimate similar to the one you produce. I'm also not sure it is right to anchor so much on how much money has been disbursed so far, given that the model assesses the money that will be disbursed through REDD+ over all time, and not just the preceding year.

2. On the counterfactual impact of funds. I agree that this is in principle a gap in the CEA. However, this criticism also applies to almost all CEAs I have ever seen. Accounting for all counterfactuals in CEA models is very hard. Moreover, as you note, we do try to account for the counterfactual in the model by trying to estimate how much of the additional funding for REDD+ counterfactually contributes to additional CO2 reductions. We do this in the section where we discuss the interaction between carbon pricing and the effect of freeing up relatively cheap forestry offsets. The argument is that carbon is priced at a very low level worldwide (<$10/t), so opening up <$10/t offsets does free up additional funds for climate change that would not otherwise have gone to climate change. This also applies for planting trees, since REDD+ in principle covers such activity, so I don't think that could be a reason to downgrade CfRN's cost-effectiveness.

I agree that the funds spent on REDD+ could have gone to global development and this isn't accounted for in the model, but (1) to put this criticism in context, this is also true of almost all other CEAs that I have seen - you could do this in a CEA for FHI for example - money to them could have gone to global development. It becomes very unwieldy to measure such things. (2) Standard EA wisdom is that a lot of govt global development spending isn't very impactful. It is also of course hard to know how to trade off CO2 and global development metrics, but this seems to me at most a reason to very modestly reduce your estimate of CfRN's cost-effectiveness. I personally think that climate change is clearly better than global development from a long-termist point of view, so directing money to the former is far better than the directing money to the latter.

On counterfactual private sector funds, I'm not sure I agree with this. The government compulsion we refer to in the report is assuming that they impose a carbon price of <$10/t. For the reasons mentioned above, I don't think there are many other <$10/t offsets aside from forests.

3. Insufficient incentive funds. This is definitely a concern about REDD+ and I had hoped it would have (1) picked up more over the last year (maybe it has I haven't checked) and (2) constrained Bolsonaro's policies more due to the financial incentives (though I haven't looked into this this year either).

I'm not sure I agree that this is a good reason not to support CfRN. One could also argue that this makes it especially important to make sure REDD+ does not collapse and get replaced by nothing/something worse. It is (I think we agree) in principle a good idea, but there is a fair way to go on the implementation side. But I can also see the force of your argument.

4. Future private sector demand for compliance-grade offsets. I agree that the rationale surrounding the chart was a mistake and could have included other reasons for the decline in demand. However, as you say, this isn't the only piece of evidence that we produce for this estimate. The argument is that carbon pricing will incentivise private companies to buy high-grade offsets. I still think this is true. I agree that it is unlikely that corporates will buy such offsets for extra security of having an impact, though this was not part of our argument for the private sector funding projections.

The idea is not that CfRN ensure that the private funding goes through the registry and exchange but rather that REDD+ offsets are recognised as high enough quality to be included in carbon pricing schemes, incentivising corporates to buy such offsets.

5. On it being overly generous to assign all of these benefits to CfRN. I think this is a philosophical difference in measuring counterfactual impact. Some evaluators give orgs a portion of 'the credit' for some amount of impact, but I don't think this is correct. We measure the impact of CfRN as a speed up in deforestation prevention, rather than giving them a portion of the credit, which I don't think is an idea that makes conceptual sense.

I do think it is plausible that if CfRN had not existed, agreement on a system for forestry protection would have been delayed for 2-5 years and arguably much longer (it is extremely hard to say). (This also means that Paris Agreement would probably also have been delayed by many years). So, I do think it is plausible that CfRN have counterfactually released massive amounts of money for forests despite having a small budget. It is important to remember that CfRN are unusual in that they are an intergovernmental org and have a seat at the table at climate negotiations where they represent all of the world's largest rainforest countries except Brazil.

These disagreements aside, I encourage more efforts at checking charity recommendations rather than taking them on faith, so thanks again for doing this. Also, Founders Pledge has hired a new climate policy expert and we will be revisiting our climate research over the next few months and will assess our old recommendations and hopefully add new ones.

Comment by halstead on The ITN framework, cost-effectiveness, and cause prioritisation · 2019-10-18T14:51:15.194Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hello michael. This feels like going too far in an anti-ITN direction. On the scores going to infinity point, this feels like an edge case where things break down rather than something which renders the framework useless. Price elasticities also have this feature for example, but still seem useful.

On defining a problem, there have to be restrictions on what you are comparing in order to make the framework useful. Nevertheless, it does seem that there is a meaningful sense in which we can compare eg malaria and diabetes in terms of scale and neglectedness, and that this could be a useful comparison to make.

Overall, I do think the ITN framework can be useful sometimes. If you knew nothing else about two problems aside from their importance and neglectedness and one was very important and neglected and one was not, then that would indeed be a reason to favour the former. Sometimes, problems will dominate others in terms of the three criteria considered at low resolution, and there the framework will again be useful.

Where I have my doubts is in it being used to make decisions in the hard high stakes cases. There, we need to use the best available arguments on marginal cost-effectiveness, not this very zoomed out perspective. eg we need to discuss whether technical AI safety research can indeed make progress.

Comment by halstead on Shapley values: Better than counterfactuals · 2019-10-11T09:18:35.162Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this interesting post. As I argued in the post that you cite and as George Bridgwater notes below, I don't think you have identified a problem in the idea of counterfactual impact here, but have instead shown that you sometimes cannot aggregate counterfactual impact across agents. As you say, CounterfactualImpact(Agent) = Value(World with agent) - Value(World without agent).

Suppose Karen and Andrew have a one night stand which leads to Karen having a baby George (and Karen and Andrew otherwise have no effect on anything). In this case, Andrew's counterfactual impact is:

Value (world with one night stand) - Value (world without one night stand)

The same is true for Karen. Thus, the counterfactual impact of each of them taken individually is an additional baby George. This doesn't mean that the counterfactual impact of Andrew and Karen combined is two additional baby Georges. In fact, the counterfactual impact of Karen and Andrew combined is also given by:

Value (world with one night stand) - Value (world without one night stand)

Thus, the counterfactual impact of Karen and Andrew combined is an additional baby George. There is nothing in the definition of counterfactual impact which implies it can be always be aggregated across agents.

This is the difference between "if me and Karen hadn't existed, neither would George" and "If I hadn't existed, neither would George, and if Karen hadn't existed neither would George, therefore if me and Karen hadn't existed, neither would two Georges." This last statement is confused, because the babies referred to in the antecedent are the same.

I discuss other examples in the comments to Joey's post.


The counterfactual understanding of impact is how almost all voting theorists analyse the expected value of voting. EAs tends to think that voting is sometimes altruistically rational because of the small chance of being the one pivotal voter and making a large counterfactual difference. On the Shapely value approach, the large counterfactual difference would be divided by the number of winning voters. Firstly, to my knowledge almost no-one in voting theory assesses the impact of voting in this way. Secondly, this would I think imply that voting is never rational since in any large election the prospective pay-off of voting would be divided by the potential set of winning voters and so would be >100,000x smaller than on the counterfactual approach

Comment by halstead on Long-Term Future Fund: August 2019 grant recommendations · 2019-10-07T15:20:08.190Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · EA · GW

I disagree that 80k should transition towards a £3k retreat + no online content model, but it doesn't seem worth getting into why here.

On premises, here is the top definition I have found from googling... "a previous statement or proposition from which another is inferred or follows as a conclusion". This fits with my (and CFAR's) characterisation of double cruxing. I think we're agreed that the question is which premises you disagree on cause your disagreement. It is logically impossible that double cruxing extends this characterisation.

Comment by halstead on Long-Term Future Fund: August 2019 grant recommendations · 2019-10-07T15:10:15.899Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Yes I don't fully understand why they're not legible. A 4 day workshop seems pretty well-placed for a carefully done impact evaluation.

Comment by halstead on Andreas Mogensen's "Maximal Cluelessness" · 2019-10-07T02:28:55.038Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

On the biting the bullet answer, that doesn't seem plausible to me. The preference we have are a product of the beliefs we have about what will make our lives better over the long-run. My preference not to smoke is entirely a product of the fact that I believe that it will increase my risk of premature death. Per proponents of cluelessness, I could argue "maybe it will make me look cool to smoke, and that will increase my chances of getting a desirable partner" or something like that. In that sense the sign of the effect of smoking on my own interests is not certain. Nevertheless, I think it is irrational to smoke. I don't think a Parfitian understanding of identity would help here because then my refusal to smoke would be altruistic - I would be helping out my future self.

The dodge the bullet answer is more plausible, and I may follow up with more later.

Comment by halstead on Andreas Mogensen's "Maximal Cluelessness" · 2019-10-07T02:18:06.278Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

On the latter, yes that is a good point - there are general features at play here, so I retract my previous comment. However, it still seems true that your rational credal state will always depend to a very significant extent on the particular facts.

I find the use of the long-termist point of view a bit weird as applied to the AMF example. AMF is not usually justified from a long-termist point of view, so it is not really surprising that its benefits seem less obvious when you consider it from that point of view.

Comment by halstead on Andreas Mogensen's "Maximal Cluelessness" · 2019-10-07T02:14:53.843Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW


Here is a good paper on this -

Comment by halstead on Long-Term Future Fund: August 2019 grant recommendations · 2019-10-07T02:03:36.967Z · score: 30 (14 votes) · EA · GW

thanks for this.

If the retreats are valuable, one would expect them to communicate genuinely useful concepts and ideas. Which ideas that CFAR teaches do you think are most useful?

On the payment model, imagine that instead of putting their material on choosing a high impact career online, 80k charged people £3000 to have 4 day coaching and networking retreats in a large mansion, afterwards giving them access to the relevant written material. I think this would shave off ~100% of the value of 80k. The differences between the two organisations don't seem to me to be large enough to make a relevant difference to this analysis when applied to CFAR. Do you think there is a case for 80k to move towards the CFAR £3k retreat model?


On double cruxing, here is how CFAR defines double cruxing

"Let’s say you have a belief, which we can label A (for instance, “middle school students should wear uniforms”), and that you’re in disagreement with someone who believes some form of ¬A.  Double cruxing with that person means that you’re both in search of a second statement B, with the following properties:

1. You and your partner both disagree about B as well (you think B, your partner thinks ¬B)

2. The belief B is crucial for your belief in A; it is one of the cruxes of the argument.  If it turned out that B was not true, that would be sufficient to make you think A was false, too.

3. The belief ¬B is crucial for your partner’s belief in ¬A, in a similar fashion."

So, if I were to double crux with you, we would both establish which were the premises we disagree on that cause our disagreement. B is a premise in the argument for A. This is double cruxing, right?

You say:

"if you ask me "what are my premises for the belief that Nature is the most prestigious science journal?" then I definitely won't have a nice list of premises I can respond with, but if you ask me "what would change my mind about Nature being the most prestigious science journal?" I might be able to give a reasonably good answer and start having a productive conversation"

Your answer could be expressed in the form of premises right? Premises are just propositions that bear on the likelihood of the conclusion

Comment by halstead on Defending Philanthropy Against Democracy · 2019-10-07T01:07:11.075Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This is a great post, which I think will be useful for the community!

Comment by halstead on Long-Term Future Fund: August 2019 grant recommendations · 2019-10-06T14:43:14.208Z · score: 32 (21 votes) · EA · GW

I'm interested in the recommendation of CFAR (though I appreciate it is not funded by the LTFF). What do you think are the top ideas regarding epistemics that CFAR has come up with that have helped EA/the world?

You mention double cruxing in the other post discussing CFAR. Rather than an innovation, isn't this merely agreeing on which premise you disagree on? Similarly, isn't murphyjitsu just the pre-mortem, which was defined by Kahneman more than a decade ago?

I also wonder why CFAR has to charge people for their advice. Why don't they write down all of their insights and put it online for free?

Comment by halstead on Andreas Mogensen's "Maximal Cluelessness" · 2019-10-06T05:50:07.327Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I'm pretty sceptical of arguments for cluelessness. Some thoughts:

  • Knightian uncertainty seems to me never rational. There are strong arguments that credence functions should be sharp. Even if you can bound your credences very broadly with intervals, it seems like you would never be under knightian uncertainty given your information - your credal state is always somewhere between 0 and 1, and surely your mean estimate will differ between different problems.
  • Similar arguments for complex cluelessness also seems to apply to my own decisions about what would be in my rational self-interest to do. Nevertheless, I will not be wandering blindly into the road outside my hotel room in 10 minutes.
  • I don't see how you could make a general argument for cluelessness with respect to all decisions made by the community. You could make an argument that the sign of the expected benefits of EA actions is much more uncertain than has been acknowledged. I don't see how this could ever generalise to an argument that all of our decisions are clueless, since the level of uncertainty will always be almost entirely dependent on the facts about the particular case. Why would uncertainty about the effects of AMF have any bearing on uncertainty about the effects of MIRI or the Clean Air Task Force?
  • Cluelessness seems to imply that altruists should be indifferent between all possible actions that they can take. Is this implication of the view embraced?
  • Related to the above, in the AMF vs make a wish foundation example, I don't actually agree that we are as uncertain as suggested. e.g. you list studies citing different effects of life saving on fertility saying "Unfortunately, the studies just noted are of different kinds (cross-country comparisons, panel studies, quasi-experiments, large-sample micro-studies), with different strengths and weaknesses, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions". This seems to be asking for the reaction "what are we to do in the face of all this methodological complexity?" But an economist would actually have an answer to this - cross-country comparisons with cross-sectional data are out of fashion for example.
  • Overall, arguments about cluelessness seem to merely reassert that the world is complex and we should think carefully before acting. I don't see how it points to some deep permanent feature of our epistemic situation.
Comment by halstead on [Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form. · 2019-10-06T01:35:47.611Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

ok cheers. I disagree with that but feel we have reached the end of productive argument

Comment by halstead on [Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form. · 2019-10-05T07:10:00.353Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

What do you make of my 'offensive beliefs' poll idea and questions?

Comment by halstead on [Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form. · 2019-10-05T02:40:29.479Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

There are two issues here. The less important one is - (1) are people's beliefs that many of these opinions are taboo rational? I think not, and have discussed the reasons why above.

The more important one is (2) - this poll is a blunt instrument that encourages people to enter offensive opinions that threaten the reputation of the movement. If there were a way to do this with those opinions laundered out, then I wouldn't have a problem.

This has been done in a very careless way without due thought to the very obvious risks

Comment by halstead on [Link] What opinions do you hold that you would be reluctant to express in front of a group of effective altruists? Anonymous form. · 2019-10-05T02:29:33.624Z · score: 12 (7 votes) · EA · GW

They have a section on 'why do this?' and don't discuss any of the obvious risks which suggests they haven't thought properly about the issue. I think a good norm to propagate would be - people put a lot of thought into whether they should publish posts that could potentially damage the movement. Do you agree?

Suppose I am going to run a poll on 'what's the most offensive thing you believe - anonymous public poll for effective altruists'. (1) do you think I should have to publicly explain why I am doing this? (2) do you think I should run this poll and publish the results?