Comment by impala on Announcing the Effective Altruism Handbook, 2nd edition · 2018-05-03T21:00:18.614Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

There's a valuable discussion of this on Facebook at

Comment by impala on Optimal level of hierarchy for effective altruism · 2018-04-01T22:43:31.625Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

The environmental movement seems to be the closest analogy. It would be strange to find this movement having even the levels of (implicit, claimed) hierarchy that EA does. This should be cause for concern.

Comment by impala on Job opportunity at the Future of Humanity Institute and Global Priorities Institute · 2018-04-01T22:25:12.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW


Comment by impala on The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread - 15 December 2015 · 2015-12-17T21:28:21.928Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Speaking solely for myself, I've down voted fundraising announcements when I felt people were asking for money inappropriately, without a good, straightforward case for why I shouldn't give to AMF instead (to take the example I currently give to). I try not to down vote solely because I disagree with someone.

Comment by impala on Theory of Change feedback · 2015-12-15T14:11:37.132Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'd enjoy reading your reasons for this in a top-level forum post. I expect others would do, and there are certainly plenty who think like you do who could participate in a comment thread discussion of this, which your post could trigger.

Comment by impala on Effective Giving vs. Effective Altruism · 2015-12-15T14:09:52.731Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

What evidence would you (or the other involved in outreach via mass readership articles) cite for it working, besides the Facebook comment you mentioned?

Comment by impala on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-15T14:02:23.565Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you, my top two suggestions would be:

  • Break down which activities have led to which members in as much detail as possible.

  • Justify the "Counter-factual donation rate" more deeply. Use a graduate volunteer's time to dig into it and present multiple explorations of it, some of which don't rely on people's subjective estimates of it when asked by GWWC at the time they're pledging to it. Include some in-depth exploration of the counter-factual rate for a few members.

Comment by impala on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-11T22:44:18.911Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I'll give my own answer when I get time but the questions at look like a decent start.

Comment by impala on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-11T22:42:35.157Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, this is helpful (though as you predict not by itself not enough to resolve the issue). Fundraising seems a good reference class - not too broad (like 'all businesses' would be) and not too narrow. One comment/question, at least for now:

The activity that GWWC is engaging in is not fundraising for itself, but encouraging people to give (and give effectively). Compared to charities fundraising for themselves, there is less competition, and the approach is also more novel: both of these could support more of the low-hanging fruit still being available. Moreover it may be easier to persuade people to give when there is no obvious conflict-of-interest of the charity receiving funds being the same as the people trying to persuade you.

This seems the main reason that could account for your fundraising being so much more profitable than normal. The lack of conflict of interest could help, and I've read Charity Science use the same argument somewhere. But it has very limited strength, there are many independent people who fundraise for charities they're passionate about, and it's hard to see why it'd drive up fundraising profitability that much. That would take a novel approach in an enviroment of low hanging fruit (because low competetition). What exactly is GWWC's approach of this sort? I'm still not clear what you will do with the staff time our money buys to churn out a hundred dollars per dollar.

Comment by impala on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-11T22:34:48.273Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Amid many critical comments I should give props for going above and beyond the original request by clearly presenting this historical data.

Comment by impala on Theory of Change feedback · 2015-12-11T22:30:53.658Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yeh, your comment was correct and needed, but where it's truly needed at punching up (which here obviously means calling out MIRI, CFAR and CEA). That's what I try to do. Otherwise newer and smaller "orgs" like Gleb's get criticized for being redundant and CEA gets a free pass for being one of the first movers and then claiming the EA movement that sprung up as its fiefdom and pass to limitless funding. Leave Gleb alone and fight the real battles.

Oh and good on you for being less of an insensitive (but truth telling!) ahole than you often are. ;-)

Comment by impala on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-11T00:26:34.078Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Our positive effect on AMF is clearest at Giving What We Can which has a return of roughly 100:1 in high-value donations (counterfactually adjusted and time-discounted, but not all to AMF). Even if you assume that not a single member of GWWC gives another penny ever, the ratio is still 5:1.

That's precisely what's at issue. For one I don't find it all convincing, having talked with people who have been experienced with the organisation. And prima facie it's implausibly profitable. So it needs more justification than the prospectus gives.

Comment by impala on The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread - 23 November 2015 Edition · 2015-11-27T19:47:15.707Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · EA · GW

This is catty, but has anyone else noticed how many of some CEA members' blog posts and Facebook updates are about how we should keep giving to and growing metacharities like CEA?

Comment by impala on Why we need more meta · 2015-09-27T22:41:48.244Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I can't emphasize the exponential growth thing enough. A look at the next page on this forum shows CEA wanting to hire another 13 people. Meanwhile GiveWell were boasting of having grown to 18 full time staff back in March; now they have 30.

This. I haven't talked to him personally, but that's the sort of thing that has some of us who made his article one of the most upvoted ever worried about a meta trap, where organisations keep adding jobs for EAs they know without in advance setting out credible limits for when this should stop.

Comment by impala on My Cause Selection: Michael Dickens · 2015-09-20T03:36:31.557Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · EA · GW

This sounds worryingly close to claiming credit for all "etg donors", all EAs' careers and all EA organisations that have had some contact with EA organizations. Of course people like Jonas Vollmer are going to say nice things about 80,000 Hours when asked, and it would be impolitic for any organisation to challenge this, so I'll say it: I don't think all of GBS Switzerland's activities can be classed as counterfactually dependent on 80,000 Hours getting funding. Likewise the volunteers who founded Effective Animal Activism (the predecessor of ACE) or CSER or Effective Fundraising (the predecessor of Charity Science) might have done so at some point anyway, for all I know, and it's hard to buy their saying otherwise as unbiased.

This isn't to single out 80,000 Hours as the only organisation with these murky counterfactuals, it's only jumping off your comment. I've likewise heard people say that people were running fundraisers before Charity Science started recruiting people to do so and that people were giving (or, if students, planning to) before signing up to Giving What We Can's list, and that neither organisation can claim credit for everything these people then go on to do.

Comment by impala on Introducing Moral Economics · 2015-07-15T17:38:24.412Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

It could be worth running this by a mainstream economist to see if they think there's anything to it.

Comment by impala on Looking for EA work for your spare time? Look at (and add to) this list! · 2015-07-15T17:35:46.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Charity Science used to do this by going to local atheist meetups and talking to people there and by going to atheist conferences.

That seems totally unquantifiable - were they actually going to track how many donations it led to, or just say that one in X people (for some high value of X) seemed like they were/"must" be convinced of effective charities and then mark down a guess at their whole lifetime giving to them as impact?

Comment by impala on Giving What We Can needs your support — only 5 days left to close our funding gap · 2015-06-28T03:33:01.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Oh I meant how you distinguished between people who signed up to the pledge after seeing GWWC mentioned in the media attention or book (or elsewhere), and people who were a result of the efforts capitalising on this that EA donors are funding. For the question you answered I agree, I can't think of any better (or other) data to get about individual pledgers and the only thing to compare it to is an overall estimate of the extra donations a pledge could lead to.

Comment by impala on Giving What We Can needs your support — only 5 days left to close our funding gap · 2015-06-27T00:27:04.750Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

How would one tell the difference between extra members which came for "capitalising on the media attention around Effective Altruism over the summer", and 10% donors who simply got rustled up by this attention? Has GWWC publicly advertised conditions in which the money spent on this wouldn't have been worthwhile and shouldn't have been diverted to it?

Comment by impala on Please support Giving What We Can this Spring · 2015-04-27T19:59:06.179Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

duplicate comment

Comment by impala on Please support Giving What We Can this Spring · 2015-04-27T19:58:22.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Doesn't every organization/social movement that efficiently allocates resources have diminishing returns beginning with the first dollar?

That will be the case very often, except in cases like that which you have mentioned. In these comments Michelle Hutchinson came up with a few other possibilities, like economies of scale.

The signalling issue is complicated, and I'm open to suggestions. As I'm a consequentialist, I'm open simply to lying.

This wouldn't address the non-signalling concern that I raised though (as I'm sure you're aware of course).

Comment by impala on Please support Giving What We Can this Spring · 2015-04-27T18:35:41.115Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · EA · GW

The point at which you hit diminishing returns to funding an org may actually be pretty low. I'd be skeptical about the marginal value of budget increases of much more than a factor of 2 per year unless the org had demonstrated really impressive traction.

This isn't incompatible with what you're saying, but they may diminish well before that also. Taking the present example of Giving What We Can, the people who worked there or are involved with it thought that applied to it. They thought most of the value came from the existence of the organisation and a pledge people could sign if they wanted to commit to giving 10%, and other things which were done even before they started paying staff. So that would be diminish returns right at the $ 0 mark!

There are also signaling issues with only donating to metacharities, so if you're public about your giving it might not be a great idea ("guys, look at how much I donate to these organizations that promote donating to themselves!").

There are even less positive ways to frame that also, like giving to one another, and having organisations which heavily focus on promoting themselves (including by promoting the idea of metacharity, and making it a central concept in the movement). Even aside from signalling, we should see others' discomfort with that as a reason to be wary of it ourselves.

The confidence interval for GWWC's leverage ratio plausibly already includes numbers below 1

This is what those people I talked to from GWWC thought, due to their various experiences and observations. And GiveWell too as you say; they had had conversations with people at GiveWell who thought that GWWC's future fundraising ratio was below 1.

Comment by impala on The Importance of GWWC Cohort Data · 2015-04-19T17:05:01.367Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Like I said to Gregory, I am limited in what I can say without violating confidences, but I personally wouldn’t find saying other things scary if it’s anonymous. Is there an anonymous way to send messages to you which doesn’t reveal my email (which contains the username I use around the Web)?

Comment by impala on The Importance of GWWC Cohort Data · 2015-04-19T17:04:21.071Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I absolutely agree, like I suggested when complementing Dale for sticking his head out. (If that is the phrase? Google is ambiguous between “head” and “neck”.) I like to think I would state them myself, given the anonymity this forum allows, and I wouldn’t pay much social cost anyway as I don’t talk to EAs much any more now that I’m distant from the main EA centers. But like I said I’ve heard them second hand from a lot of people who wouldn’t want the sources to be guessed at. I’ll ask them if there’s anything I can post on their behalf in this thread.

The one thing I have heard from people other than these people is about some of the EAs who don’t donate but stay on the member lists. That was still second hand however, from other people who weren’t criticising but might not like the implication that they were. I’m not sure it’s right to name individuals in this venue either, beyond identifying classes like “employees or trustees of organisations”. Ambiguity about what counts as a donation vs. self-serving may also be at play.

Comment by impala on The Importance of GWWC Cohort Data · 2015-04-19T17:01:54.150Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Oh, does the GWWC central team know how many of these members were non-poverty people? What was Ravi’s work, was it something the GWWC team did to follow up changing the pledge?

Comment by impala on The Importance of GWWC Cohort Data · 2015-04-19T05:14:17.145Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for sticking your head out with this post, I've heard a lot of people express similar or stronger concerns but say they're too frightened about prompting a pile-on (or in some cases organised and tactical retaliation). One thing some of these people have said is that internal knowledge at and research by CEA reveals unflattering facts about the issues you've raised, but that CEA hides this from impact evaluations and isn't honest about it with donors. For example, people not donating and staying on the member lists, including prominent EAs.

Comment by impala on The Importance of GWWC Cohort Data · 2015-04-19T00:37:38.923Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I wonder if when GWWC opened the pledge, many people already giving 10% joined, as now they don't feel constrained by cause area.

That seems clearly what'd happen, and from what I hear is what most people think. People who'd favoured non-poverty causes and who join in the months after that change are unlikely to be giving as a result of GWWC's work in those months after all, going out and convincing people to give to them from scratch. (Not to say that it's not valuable for them to record their giving, or that the moves away from poverty have been a mistake.)

Comment by impala on Earning to Give: Programming Language Choice · 2015-04-07T15:07:13.425Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

What's the definition of frontend and backend here, which is relevant to earning-to-give potential? If you're writing database-driven Ruby or PHP code which generates HTML, are you a frontend or backend developer in this sense?

Comment by impala on Earning to Give: Programming Language Choice · 2015-04-07T15:05:45.981Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Regarding the topic of how to learn, I am not such a fan of the online courses relative to simply reading a book or website which lists all a language's syntax, or a long list of functions. If that's enough for you to grasp it, it's certainly faster. Many of the main websites for languages contain these lists.

Comment by impala on Common Misconceptions about Effective Altruism · 2015-04-05T15:49:16.514Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

The complication is that the distinctive aspect of consequetialism is that it makes this the only motive or consideration, and it's hard to discover what the general public think about this as they're not used to breaking morality down into all its component factors to find an exhaustive list of their motives or considerations.

Comment by impala on Common Misconceptions about Effective Altruism · 2015-03-25T02:23:22.233Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

"What guides your moral decisions? (the consequences of my actions/the rules i'm following" wouldn't distinguish between people with consequentialist or non-consequentialist intuitions, if they weren't familiar with philosophy.

Comment by impala on Assessing EA Outreach’s media coverage in 2014 · 2015-03-23T20:13:35.464Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for the thoughtful response. I think a big issue here is whether businesses or social movements are the right reference class. I think it's the second, and social movement don't usually try to do the sort of brand management of what other activists or groups do that I see in effective altruism.

Comment by impala on Tech job Q&A · 2015-03-20T15:33:30.095Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Wow weird.

No, not static WordPress sites - more like the second, or something in between, though as a junior webdev I wouldn't be the one taking care of the scaling (setting up the server with varnish, etc.), apart from avoiding direct database queries where possible.

Maybe if you gave a salary target that might help us calibrate.

Again I run into the problem of not knowing enough about the industry, but how about €35,000 in a place where you could relatively quickly head up towards €50,000?

Comment by impala on Tech job Q&A · 2015-03-20T07:29:14.469Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

It's tricky as I'm just starting to consider this career, so may not be familiar enough with it or far enough along with my planning to be usefully concrete. It partly depends on where sensible places to start are with my level of professional experience and knowledge (not negligible, but never fulltime webdev). Pick an example: a junior job at a webdev agency which builds websites for hire. The requirements for that might be illuminating.

Comment by impala on Tech job Q&A · 2015-03-19T23:58:28.369Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

What are the minimum skills or experience necessary to get hired as a full time web developer?

Comment by impala on Assessing EA Outreach’s media coverage in 2014 · 2015-03-19T18:59:22.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I've got some concerns about how "brand management" might be a shiny veneer to cover "centralization" from Oxford or the Bay Area, and what the consequences of it may be.

That would explain how concerned people mostly come from these places, and why they have unusually high concern for a social movement.