holocron feed - EA Forum Reader holocron’s posts and comments on the Effective Altruism Forum en-us Comment by Holocron on Is EA ignoring significant possibilities for impact? https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Zbe4Dsz7P5rGBFYqw/is-ea-ignoring-significant-possibilities-for-impact#cEMY4qLGiGvqoMvd7 <blockquote>better to critic specific points rather than something broad like ‘all strategy of EA affiliated orgs’.</blockquote><p>I&#x27;m mentioning broad concerns I have about the movement&#x27;s strategy, primarily a potential underemphasis on acquiring resources and an overemphasis on established courses of impact. How exactly would I critic specific points? I mention potential examples of problems and associated optimizations, such as relying more on decision analysis than RCTs.</p><blockquote>generally, if it seems like a large number of really smart people in EA appear to be missing something, you should have a strong prior that you are the one missing something. Took me a long time to accept this. It’s not wrong to shine a light on things of course, but a touch more humility in your writing would go a long way.</blockquote><p>I don&#x27;t claim to be correct, just wanted to document my thoughts and see if anyone had other views.</p><blockquote>reasoning and evidence aren’t exclusive things, evidence is part of reasoning.</blockquote><p>I separated the two for rhetorical effect, using evidence to refer more towards established routes of impact and reasoning to refer to reasoning about unproven routes of impact. I agree evidence and reasoning are linked, and that reasoning should use both academic evidence and other factual data.</p><blockquote>this said, I don’t think the criticism of “too evidence based” sticks anyway, have you read much academic ea research recently? Maybe in poverty.. but that’s a very busy area with loads of evidence where most approaches don’t work so it would be pretty crazy not to put heavy weight on evidence in that cause area.</blockquote><p>Why exactly do you not think this sticks? My point is there may be research on, say, the effect of ads on animal protein consumption, but there are many courses of action that do not have supporting evidence that may be much higher impact than courses of action with supporting evidence. For instance, starting Impossible Foods to create good tasting alternatives. Why is that not considered EA? Seems pretty high impact to me.</p><blockquote>Jude’s spends 2.1m a day but given the differences between the impact p dollar of projects easily gets into the order of 100s-1000s this isn’t very relevant.</blockquote><p>I completely agree that EA may spend money more effectively than Jude&#x27;s by a significant amount. My main point is that the movement could be influence constrained, it may lack the influence to actually affect the long-term or make a significant dent in global poverty, but a change in strategy (perhaps in a direction of directly or indirectly acquiring more resources) may increase the likelihood of creating significant impact.</p><blockquote>OpenPhil <em>could</em> spend that. There are complex reasons why it doesn’t but the main thing to note that total spend is a terrible terrible signal.</blockquote><p>It cannot spend that, because it would run out of money. St Jude&#x27;s has a revenue stream from its fundraising branch that enables it to continually spend much more than the EA movement has in its entire lifetime. I understand OPP is, among other reasons, waiting to have more epistemic certainty on what causes/interventions are most impactful. That may be great, but distributing 0.5% of $100 billion could be much better than distributing 0.5% of $10 billion a year, particularly given the urgency of some cause areas and the theoretically compounding returns of altruism.</p><blockquote>for profit models have been explored numerous times, while still promising, little really great stuff has been found. People are working on it but it’s not a slam dunk.</blockquote><p>Is that true? This seems like an opinion—there are certainly many financially self-sustaining/for-profit models that have enormous positive impacts on the world. I mentioned Impossible Foods earlier, and within companies, the impact of projects like Apple introducing blue light reduction in iPhones affects hundreds of millions of people.</p><blockquote>earning to give is a great way to build career capital and do good.</blockquote><p>Is it? This is an opinion. What if it&#x27;s exceptionally low impact compared to other possible career courses of action? Or what if it is a good idea, but more emphasis should be placed on career strategy in addition to donating money because both have expected impacts in the same range?</p><blockquote>advocacy and philanthropic advisory is really hard. People in that area are going as fast as they sensibly can.</blockquote><p>I&#x27;m not necessarily suggesting the EA movement actually focus on acquiring more HNW individuals or actually pursue these tactics. These were example possibilities to consider to emphasize the point that movement strategy can have big effects on movement impact, and that EA may not currently be pursing the most optimal strategy. </p><p>Also, I think this objection is rather broad. Lots of things can be considered really hard, and something seeming hard doesn&#x27;t mean it&#x27;s lower EV than something seeming easy.</p><blockquote>it takes a long time to become a chief of staff at a powerful org</blockquote><p>I think there are easier ways to come into contact with ultra-high-net-worth individuals. Again, just an idea, not a recommendation.</p><blockquote>policy / lobbying approaches are really hard, and people are again working on it as fast as they can.</blockquote><p>Allocating more resources to these approaches would have some sort of impact, whether positive or negative. How do we know our current allocation is optimal?</p> holocron cEMY4qLGiGvqoMvd7 2019-05-10T19:39:21.027Z Is EA ignoring significant possibilities for impact? https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Zbe4Dsz7P5rGBFYqw/is-ea-ignoring-significant-possibilities-for-impact <p><strong>Summary</strong>: It is possible that effective altruism misses out on pursuing higher impact courses of action, backing more impactful organizations, and/or recommending better career paths to individuals. Two key contributing factors may be: (1) paying insufficient attention to the relative amount of influence EA has relative to other global actors and how to increase relative influence and (2) focusing on activities that are backed by academic research instead of more broadly focusing on activities that reasoning/EV estimates suggest would be higher impact than academic research–backed activities. A broader issue is that EA lacks a system to suggest, discuss, and evaluate improvements to EA community strategy and recommendations issued to the community.</p><h2>Introduction</h2><p>Several times a year, the St. Jude Children&#x27;s Research Hospital spends more than the effective altruism movement has allocated to good causes in its entire lifetime, including the Open Philanthropy Project&#x27;s disbursements. <a href="https://www.google.com/nonprofits/resources/community-stories/samasource.html">Samasource</a> has lifted tens of thousands of people out of poverty with a self-sustaining model that, unlike GiveDirectly, is completely unreliant on continual donor funding, providing a tremendous multiplier on top of the funds that were initial used to establish Samasource. And <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Briggs">Kevin Briggs</a>, a California Highway Patrol officer, singlehandedly saved more than 200 people from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge over the course of his career. These examples highlight potential issues of the Effective Altruism movement on a movement-wide, organizational, and individual level.</p><h2>Movement-Wide</h2><p>Is the EA movement on track to significantly change the world, or is it merely a very small group of actors making a very limited difference with an unclear future trajectory? If the answer is something along the lines of the latter, we should consider whether or not this is the most optimal way to proceed, give the resources at the movement&#x27;s disposal.</p><p>The EA movement originally threw around the idea of earning to give, a concept which was later <a href="https://80000hours.org/about/credibility/evaluations/mistakes/#mistakes-concerning-our-research-and-ideas">retracted</a> as a key talking point in favor of theoretically more impactful options. But the fact that a movement oriented around maximizing impact started out with earning to give is worrying. Even if earning to give became popular with hundreds to thousands of people, which in fact ended up happening, the impact on the world would be fairly minimal compared to the impact other actors have. It is possible that the EA movement is not pursuing courses of action that could have a substantially higher impact than what is currently happening.</p><p>As an example issue, in terms of financial resources, the entire EA community and all of its associated organizations are being outspent and outcompeted by St. Jude&#x27;s alone. Earning to give might not resolve the imbalance, but getting a single additional large donor on board might. If that was promoted when EA first started instead of earning to give, the movement could look completely different right now. Perhaps EAs would be fanning out at high net worth advisory offices to do philanthropic advisory instead of working at Jane Street. Perhaps EAs would be working as chiefs of staff for major CEOs to have a chance at changing minds. Perhaps the movement would conduct research on how Warren Buffet decided on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation instead of less optimal choices, and whether outreach, networking, or persuasion methods would be effective.</p><p>As another example, there apparently aren&#x27;t enough high impact jobs to go around, but there are <em>in theory</em> billions of dollars available. How exactly is this possible? Certainly key EA organizations might want to have the best, super-mission-aligned individuals, which requires slow and careful hiring. But the vast majority of successful startups did not require staff that were perfectly motivated to, say, <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexkonrad/2019/02/21/flexport-raises-1-billion-softbank/#2d196e215650">optimize freight logistics</a>. It&#x27;s a stretch to say that hundreds to thousands of EAs should be working at corporations instead of doing something better like direct work. There are multitudes of high impact activities that may not require small ultra-curated teams and can involve currently underutilized community members.</p><p>As a final example, EA is very weak compared to all of the other forces in the world in all relevant senses of the term: weak in financial resources, weak in number of people, weak in political power. This problem is why the world has problems in the first place, and why Nate Soares <a href="https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/F2DZXsMdhGyX4FPAd/on-saving-the-world">says</a> <a href="https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/F2DZXsMdhGyX4FPAd/on-saving-the-world">he</a> <a href="https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/F2DZXsMdhGyX4FPAd/on-saving-the-world">spent</a> his college years designing a societal system that &quot;ratchets towards optimality.&quot; Does it matter if we focus on theories to reduce certain types of major risks or if we are not the key decision makers behind when nuclear missiles are launched or how much the power the AI safety committee has in a company? Perhaps EA should consider acquiring more political power, media power, or other forms of power to have a greater impact.</p><p>The problems I have mentioned and potential alternative courses of action are merely ideas. Substantial strategic research and analysis is required to assess the current course of action and evaluate better courses of action. It&#x27;s not clear to me why there has been such <a href="https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/NHpTnqAg3KBNtfHZm/potential-funding-gap-full-time-ea-community-strategisers">limited</a> <a href="https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/NHpTnqAg3KBNtfHZm/potential-funding-gap-full-time-ea-community-strategisers">discussion</a> of this and progress so far unless everyone thinks being financially outmatched by St. Jude&#x27;s for the next 5+ years is an optimal course of action that does not require community strategizing to address.</p><h2>Organizations</h2><p>According to the &quot;official&quot; <a href="https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/">Introduction to Effective Altruism</a>, EA is a &quot;research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.&quot; Ignoring the point of whether or not EA is most appropriately described as a &quot;research field,&quot; in practice in EA there is a significant difference between using evidence versus using reasoning to work out how to maximize impact. Historically, EA has focused on backing &quot;reputable registered tax-advantaged nonprofit organizations of moderate team and budget size that consistently pursue the same activity/activities for long periods of time, with all activities backed by research such as RCTs focused on interventions to improve health outcomes.&quot; But is this actually the right approach?</p><p>The vast majority of ventures, decisions, etc made in the world must be made with limited information for which there are no RCTs available. Samasource, for example, may very be orders of magnitude more effective per dollar of total lifetime donations than GiveDirectly. The longer Samasource runs a financially self-sustaining model, the better the impact per donor dollar will be. But Samasource was not started based on rigorous research. If we pretend it was never started and it sought funding from the EA community today to launch, Samasource may very well have gone unfunded and never have existed, which is a problem if it is actually comparably effective or more effective than GiveDirectly.</p><p>It is possible that there are a very large number of organizations is existence that have a much higher impact per dollar than top EA charities. It is also possible that we can work out with reasoning based on fermi estimates whether organizations have been more effective than top EA charities with reasonable confidence. We can certainly use fermi estimates to assess the potential impact of ideas, startups, and proposed projects. I expect that a relevant number of these estimates will have a higher expected impact per dollar than top charities. As an analogy, a small proportion of VC firms <a href="https://www.kauffmanfellows.org/journal_posts/applying-decision-analysis-to-venture-investing">use</a> <a href="https://www.kauffmanfellows.org/journal_posts/applying-decision-analysis-to-venture-investing">decision</a> <a href="https://www.kauffmanfellows.org/journal_posts/applying-decision-analysis-to-venture-investing">analysis</a> to determine the EV of startup investments, an approach that EA could also use. I am not aware if funding entities like EA Grants apply explicit quantitative models to estimate EVs and use model outputs for decision making.</p><p>It is possible that the EA community is applying suboptimal filters to decide what organizations to back. Perhaps a focus on financially sustainable interventions is superior, or perhaps backing early stage organizations has a higher EV and hence a higher impact. These approaches all rely on reasoning a lot more than scientific evidence, and that may turn out to be much more impactful.</p><h2>Individuals</h2><p>Like organization choice, EA may be recommending overly limited career/time choices to people in the movement.</p><p>For example, it is possible that strategically thinking about career impact is a superior option compared to common courses of action like directly working at an EA organization in operations or earning to give. Careers can have unintuitive but wonderful opportunities for impact. Kevin Briggs&#x27; career approach saved many more lives than a typical police officer, and amounted to the same general range of the number of statistical lives that can be saved with global health donations. The <a href="https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/">Introduction to Effective Altruism</a> mentions the fantastic actions of Stanislav Petrov, Norman Borlaug, and others that saved a tremendous number of lives, each with a different career.</p><p>It is possible that becoming a doctor or high school health teacher could save a similar number of lives compared to Kevin Briggs, for instance if the doctor or high school health teacher was more effective than peers in promoting life-saving choices like smoking and other lifestyle changes across thousand of people they interact with in a lifetime. It may be possible to have a tremendous social impact in a large number of specialties from accounting, to dentistry, to product testing, simply by identifying scalable, sufficiently positive interventions within the field.</p><p>There may be expenditures of time that are not being sufficiently recommended. For example, learning CBT or decision analysis may be very high impact in addition to spending time reading books on EA and attending local groups. There also seems to be a lack of volunteer opportunities which, if solved, may have a big impact.</p><h2>Conclusion</h2><p>EA strategy may be an extremely important area to focus on because changes in strategy can have an enormous impact on the impact of EA over the next few years and moving forward. This post is my first attempt to get some of my preliminary thoughts on potential EA strategy shifts on paper, and I hope it encourages others to share their thoughts on potential optimizations or oversights of the movement as well.</p> holocron Zbe4Dsz7P5rGBFYqw 2019-05-10T13:46:52.616Z Comment by Holocron on Value of Working in Ads? https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/mYt4RKGobiWvcMBeL/value-of-working-in-ads#q4SjSpQFaaj5xsmzy <p>This reasoning makes sense to me. I think it&#x27;s difficult to measure the net impact of the global advertising industry, but that might not be relevant. Thinking counterfactually, if we assume you are purely executing a plan that others at Google created with programming skills that Google could hire other engineers to replace, the marginal impact of doing software engineering for Google Ads is essentially zero. I would be more concerned about the impact of your work if you were making high level business strategy or product decisions that could affect millions of people or the state of the ad industry and Google&#x27;s role in it.</p><p>One interesting consideration is that while digital advertising might be net positive, it is net negative compared to other advertising models that could otherwise exist. For example, a hypothetical &quot;ethical ads&quot; business that recommends products and services that actually improve people&#x27;s lives would be both profitable for advertisers and beneficial to society. The current advertising model involves things like advertising e-cigarettes to smokers and teenagers alike, which could be extremely positive for smokers to switch to to extend their lifespan but negative for teenagers to switch to. I would personally be interested in the expected value of pursing an ethical advertising venture.</p> holocron q4SjSpQFaaj5xsmzy 2019-04-09T21:41:43.103Z Comment by Holocron on Sharing my experience on the EA forum https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/9JuhtbeHLH3TvyHMR/sharing-my-experience-on-the-ea-forum#RJsJLsDRiggWMcd4Y <p>I am personally not a fan of the strong upvote and strong downvote system. I think problems with that system may be coming into play here. I&#x27;m not sure how the algorithm actually works, but it seems like a small number of voters can dramatically reduce the total vote count of a comment or post, and that scenario reflects that minority&#x27;s opinion much more than it may reflect overall perceptions. Highly penalizing posts that are generally perceived as fine by many but perceived as problematic by a few is a serious concern to take into account. </p><p>I liked the old system better where votes were weighted equally, and the proportion of positive and negative votes was transparently disclosed to everyone. Anyone who disagrees strongly with a position can simply write a comment, and if that comment is more upvoted than the original post, that typically reflects the strength of the opposing argument. Strong downvotes might reduce the incentive to have informed discussion in favor of blind disagreement.</p> holocron RJsJLsDRiggWMcd4Y 2019-03-20T20:36:44.787Z