Comment by ishi on Are we entering an experiment in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)? · 2020-05-12T19:18:52.448Z · score: -3 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I've been following some of the literature (and also blogs ) on MMT off and on for about 3 years. I sort of agree with Brad Delong (economic historian at UC Berkeley) that its 'warmed over keynesianism' (as noted in OP it it could also be called 'keynsianism on stilts'. (Unlike Keynes, MMT people say just keep printing money, all day, everyday since you can never run out. Although I mostly disagree with Niall Ferguson he pointed out this was tried in the past, and Ferguson argues in his first, and one reasonable book that it was this view that led to the collapse of the British Empire.)

MMT partly owes its creation to Arthur Laffer (of the 'laffer curve' under Reagen ('supply side economics') who argued that by cutting taxes (especially on the rich) the government raises more revenue due to economic growth---which in my view has been disproven by many mainstream economists (although Trump is following that policy).

MMT 's main founder is W Mosler --friend of Laffer--- is a wealthy hedge fund owner/manager who keeps his money off shore in tax free accounts. He more or less funded the 'economists' (eg R Wray of U Mo and S Kelton now in NYC ) who are MMT's main figure heads.

Neither has much of a background in quantitative economics---they are primarily economic historians. You won't find a single mathematical formula in most of their papers. (Instead you will find many discussions of 1800's economics --they remind me of many marxists and free market and libertarian economists who try to analyze the US or world economy of 2020 in terms of adam smith ('division of labor', 'the invisible hand', the person who makes a safety pin cooperating with someone who brings food from the farm in a horse and buggy) and marx (e.g. an example of someone exchanging 4 pounds or iron for 3 sacks of corn is supposed to explain silicon valley) .

My view is the main ideas or rationals behind MMT is to

1) stop taxing the rich (this is why they say taxes have no affect on the government budget --and there is a small element of truth in that --Mosler doesn't want to pay taxes--he says rather than take his money, government should just print more.)

2) 'help the poor' , ' people with no or low income', and the 'unemployed', by giving them a 'guaranteed job' paid for not with money from progressive taxes, but just printed by the govt. These jobs could be something like FDR's new deal , Sanders-AOC's green new deal, or they could be like indentured servitude on some billionaire's such as Mosler's plantation. (My impression is the MMT'ers like the plantation idea the best.)

MMTers are adamantly against a Universal basic Income---they feel it makes people feel better to 'work for a living' even if its on a plantation picking cotton than to just get 'free money' ---hedge fund managers have to work for their money (eg collect interest).

'Economists' like Wray and Kelton also work--they regurgitate ancient economic literature, relabel it as MMT, make podcasts, do TED talks, write blog posts, write papers in non-mathematical economic history journals , and become media stars. I don't view what they do as a very productive job.

Unfortunately mainstream economists' critiques of MMT (eg Krugman) come from a perspective which is equally flawed.

(I support a Universal Basic Income (uBI--not exactly the same as Unconditional basic income, or UBI, promoted by Yang , though the 2 can be made equivalent if viewed as a negative income tax---Hayek and Friedman) but unfortunately proponents of BI in general also have almost no quantitative analyses. Most of them just make general --but valid-- arguments that if people have a basic income they are less likely to go into a life of crime and can spend more time dealing with local issues--eg family, community improvement , etc. Studies have shown also that people with a BI actually work more than those without one---but they choose which jobs to take--and they keep them---if you are forced to work a job you don't like, you likely will quit very soon.)

The discussions around MMT, UBI or BI, and mainstream neoclassical economic theory are all ideologically biased. They all preach to their respective choirs and echo chambers--and they all have big 'megachurches' with devout followers.

Comment by ishi on Lant Pritchett's "smell test": is your impact evaluation asking questions that matter? · 2020-03-31T23:10:18.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I was only commenting on the particular wording of the 'smell test' in devlopemntal economics---i use a smell test to decide if i need to throw food away which i try not to do, or wash clothes , or if somehow a dead mouse is in my apt --i leave mice alone but they are poisoned by what they eat or die of old age--i dont think they live very long--maybe 2 years

developmental economics (definately not my area) i associate with jeffrey sachs, william easterly, amartya sen, and partha dasgupta. one can add jagdish baghwati and more than i can remember. there are more recent ones. i just know these from books and articles. (there are math modelers, anti-globalization/neoliberalism activists, etc --they all have books and articles).

Comment by ishi on Effective Altruism and Free Riding · 2020-03-31T22:45:42.771Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

That article has a good reference list but these are mostly of historical interest . I do reccomend reading the article and looking at the references . (it might take 80,000 hours to read them all in full so i do not reccomend that --just read the abstracts , and if you want look at the intros, conclusions, scan main text --especially equations----one can say in 1 equation more than in 1000 words, but the equation has 1000 words behind it, and references. )

Michael Taylor's 1976 book 'the possibility of cooperation' discussed this theme, but he used a sort of outmoded game theoretic approach which has been mostly replaced by a different formalism (which derives from physics and theoretical and evolutionary biology--behavioral economics and Rawlsian utilitarianism or other variants doesn't come close to that formalism.)

The conclusion to the article does come to the correct conclusion. EA movement could easily just do the greatest good for the smallest number. In ancient europe the educated and better off classes barricaded themselves into forts, castles and mansions. There was the bubonic plague. But this in the long term in a sense saved many others in the future --created the 'enlightenment'.

I think with current modern knowledge that approach is unnecesary. i cannot wholeheartedly reccomend this group because they also have limited view of cooperation but they do have more currrent thought in this area. or

Comment by ishi on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-31T22:18:12.098Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · EA · GW has a more recent study and discussion of 2 other studies at imperial college london and oxford. Science Magazine AAAS also has a whole issue (march 27) on topic. COVID-19 appears to be a real problem but time will tell. (My area has many scientists, but also many poor and uneducated people, so there are lots of 'conspiracy theories' floating around --'viruses of the mind' --there are academic papers on these as well, mostly written by physicists.)

My point 4 i actually view as the main one, unless you are actually developing vaccines in a laboratory or testing them in the field. I have done a tiny bit of lab biology and field biology as a student a but its not my area )

In that sense my comment was 'off topic'---i was talking about prevention, not cures. A term commonly used now is to avoid 'hot spots' --the temperature or incidence of the virus is not the same everywhere, so while it may seem biased, avoid the hot spots . You can say hi to your neighbor, but you cant hug them. may have more discussion that is more relevant to your post.

Comment by ishi on Free E-Book: Social Movements: An Introduction, 2nd Edition · 2020-03-22T08:42:04.773Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

On the same theme .

there was a free online copy and there may still be. its a collection of 100 essays by people associated with various social movements (some of which have been around for decades) mostly dealing with the global south, environmental issues and also ones relevant to 'developed countries' such as USA .

i think it overlaps with the Oxford handbook. both of these to me are like reading an encyclopedia or history book.

(There are more social movements than the 100 in the book, but they overlap alot, so in a sense even if the 'missing' movements are not in the book they are mostly implicity there. I think there may have been some favoritism into who was included in the book, and who was excluded.

Many of these 'movements' or groups are fairly short lived --they last for a few years and dissapear, often partly due to internal conflicts. )

I never joined any social movements except for the green party, and i no longer attend their events due to internal strife. These small groups tend to attract certain individuals who try to take them over and turn them into cults of personality, though they do it using the rhetoric of social justice, intersectionality, ecology, democracy, etc.

Jacobin magazine (now sort of affiliated with DSA and a big supporter of Bernie S., though it had its roots in ISO , and has had a sort of constantly shifting ideology ---they can't decide which form of socialism they prefer ) was among the groups involved in the local political or 'social movement' scene--sort of by mistake i get their magazine .

(it has interesting histories of leftist movements in USA and internationally--written by academics and grad students primarily (almost never in sciences), but some of it i view as redundant leftist drivel.) Its a younger version of the nation mag, and a high brow version of CPUSA (i've seen old copies of that) , with excellent production and graphics. Their articles are usually written by various academics affiliated with universities that range from fairly 'low level' city colleges to the ivy league. )

This book and the Oxford one are also relevant to a May 2019 discussion on the EA forum about 'leftist critiques of EA movement'---which i thought was fairly thorough. ( i looked at that partly since i'm 'self-quarantining'. My area is sort of on 'lockdown' , so i skim various math models of this issue, and then look at lighter stuff.)

The may 2019 discussion pointed out both criticisms of EA as well as its defenses. eg 'leftists' dislike the word 'charity'--it sounds paternalistic; and in the area i live, 'US imperialism' and 'capitalism' are sort of code or trigger words, or phrases, or rallying crys.

'Earning to give' does remind one of Andrew Carnegie (I had a relative who went to CMU which is a top school for AI research--carnegie and mellon gave their money away) , the Rockefellors (Rockefellor U), , the Sackler family (art gallerys, and credited in part for the US opiate epidemic) , and Henry Paulson (plans to donate his 4 Billion $ wealth to environmental causes which he earned on wall street. )

(I knew someone who made a fair amount of money on wall street, who also gave away a large fraction of it, but part of it was based on cigarette companies. He simply seperated his money making investment decisions from his values, so he invested in whatever was most profitable. And then he gave alot of that money away to good causes. He also didnt approve of smoking even though he invested in the companies. ).

(he was actually from a small town background, so didn't have a 'systems' point of view-he was just a good stock picker. I.e. he didn't notice he may have been 'stealing from the poor to get rich', and then acting as a kind of 'robin hood' to 'take from the rich and give to the poor'. (he also donated to bernie's 1st campaign against Hilary). )

I'm not really affiliated with any 'leftist movements' anymore (though i used to attend protests organized by many of these groups, which range from 'moderate DSA', green party, or 'progressive democratic ' groups , and environmentalist and anti-poverty groups , to ones with more 'radical views' (all kinds of socialists, anarchists, and others---many of whom did not get along with each other) .

However since i think i am familiar enough with many of these 'leftist' groups i would say for every criticism of EA one can make there is another one equal to that can be made of many of these groups.

(I actually view some of them as sort of modern versions of stalinists--i call them 'stalinists- lite'.

Just as i view the 'alt-right' as the 'lite' versions of nazis and kkk. (they don't dresss in white hoods and gowns anymore, or as storm troopers--they dress in khakis and suits and ties--look like college students or government buerocrats.

The stalinist-lite 'leftist' critics of US imperialism, etc. seem to have strong affiliations with RT state sponsored media 'russia today' and its 'Sputnik' radio version--they have their own radio shows or appear as guests on those stations, as well as with China. They are big critics of US presence in Afghanistan but never mention Russia also invaded Afghanistan. )

I think the differences between EAs, 'leftists' and people like myself are cultural and educational primarily. Many EA's seem to have a philosophy bacground, so for example they use the philosophical definition of Utilitarianism rather than the ones i've seen in economics , which are mathematical (Hilary Greaves of Oxford and associated with EA, who also has a background in physics, uses the formalism of utilitarianism closest to the one i try to use--though I am not at her mathematical level.) 'Leftists' tend to get their information more from either 'radical media' or in college classes in humanites or semi-social sciences like 'cultural marxism' and 'intersectionality studies'. I get my views from my backgroun in ecology and lived experiences in fairly diverse environments--so you have to keep your language simple, even if you are familiar with technical dialects. (There are in my view at least 3 or 4 different dialects for 'systems science' or 'systemic approaches'--i view them as equivalent but they range in mathematical complexity.)

Comment by ishi on AMA: Toby Ord, author of "The Precipice" and co-founder of the EA movement · 2020-03-21T11:11:16.783Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I've seen and liked that book. But i don't think there really is enough information about risks (eg earth being hit by a comet or meteor that kills everything) to really say much---maybe if cosmology makes major advances or in other fields one can say somerthing but that might takes centuries.

Comment by ishi on Lant Pritchett's "smell test": is your impact evaluation asking questions that matter? · 2020-03-21T10:48:57.895Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I can't really tell what the article is about, but it appears to be saying that devoting alot of resources and talent to academic economists to do rigorous RCT evalutions of programs is 'innefective' or 'inneficient' (a waste). (I think the recent noble econ prizes were for this---so this might be critique of them.) I think the same point is often made of alot of rigorous economics---many view these as primarily aesthetic or mathematical excercizes which some economists value more than developement or economic policy.

I think there is a place for aesthetics, mathematics, RCTs and evaluations of them, as well as other forms of policy research and interventions.

But you sort of have to figure out what mix is the best.

I also don't think the 'smell tests' are well worded. I think academic specialties often have their own dialects (as does EA) and they are often mutually almost incomprehnsible. Ecological economists and neoclassiclas often have different dialects, and the same theorem in math can be proven at times many ways, but people can only understand some of them,.

Comment by ishi on Launching An Introductory Online Textbook on Utilitarianism · 2020-03-15T08:32:47.405Z · score: -7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

The article by D Meissner (original post) , the comments on it, and the expanded set of articles on the website utilitarianism , all make good points.

My comments:

1. Specieism. I knew people who lived on farms and raised animals and also grew corn, wheat, and vegetables for food, and also to sell to get cash so they could buy things they couldn't produce on their farm which they decided they either needed or wanted. (For example a car, truck , phone, or a college education for their children (eg my grandparents, or some of the families in small rural towns i used to live in).

While they were definately not vegans or even vegetarians, many were often not exactly 'specieist---they valued very much the welfare of their cows, chickens, and the wildlife (such as deer , turkeys, trout, bears, bobcats, skunks, weasels, hedgehogs, snakes, etc.) , flora (eg forests), and ecosystems (eg trout stream valleys and the mountains above them) . They took very good care of their animals until they killed or sold them, and they would not tolerate people doing illegal logging to cut down forests to sell as lumber to make paper for newspapers , or use their creeks and valleys as trash dumps and sewers.

Some of the people (even in the same families) decided the only thing that mattered was money--so they permitted illegal dumping, logging, etc. in return for cash, and basically left (with their cash) the areas they grew up in as ecological wastelands , and moved to the city to get a 'better life' including a college education and a 'good job'. the book book 'hillbilly elegy' by j d vance shows that perspective.

Some people from cities who do have money have bought up alot of that land and abandoned properties in small towns and now are creating organic farms and vegan restaurants in those areas (while those areas were not really suitable for the kind of large scale 'factory farming' except for chickens--there were some cattle but it was nothing like the industrial feedlots of the midwest USA; there were a few (tiny) fish farms--people had a trout pond which was the fish farm equivalent of a small vegetable ---they also had small vegetable gardens and sold the produce in front of their homes---and it was a 'trust system'---they just left the vegetables and the 'cash register' on a table (where you put your money---they sold really cheap produce and almost nobody stole anything ( a few teens and preteens might steal stuff, and also break into houses, but it was unusual, and in general people knew who thy were ad just talked to the parents to tell them to 'behave').

I heard that has changed now, partly because hard drugs (methamphetamine, heroin) have been introduced into those areas. The level of trust has gone down. (ts near to what is called the 'heroin highway'). its possible the new organic farms and vegan restaurants can entice the local people to start caring about things beyond drugs, chicken and money, but thats an open question---some of the old time local people resent people they do not know who have alot of money buying up all the property.

while i know most EAs probably hate hunting, the 'old timers from that area (eg anyone over age 20 though it goes up to over 80) hunted and fished for food in part ---bass, trout, deer, grouse, turkeys, squirrels, etc. Its brutal, but so is buying a car and driving 60 miles round trip to work in a recycling plant so they can make cash and eat burgers at a Mcdonald's .

I view Thoreau and Albert Schweitzer as promoting vegetarianism and anti-specieism long beofre p singer.

2. This article and website appears to be written from a philosophical POV. I learned the little i know about utilitarianism from my background as a student in biology---which turned into physics (to study modern biology, you have to take physics, which i did, all the way up into quantum theory and statistical mechanics and a bit of QFT. Once you take those, you realize from a literature search that many of the famous physicists actually wrote papers on utilitarianism (as well as biology). As did economists (who studied biology and physics).

I consider myself a utilitarian--but maybe i should use a different term. (In USA this is like saying you are a 'socialist' (some people interpret this as meaning you support Bernie Saunders for president, while others say this means you worship Stalin.

I also consider myself a darwinist (though many interpret this to mean what is called 'vulgar darwinism' which is not what darwin said---ie the idea that we are the 'additive' sum of our genes.). In a sense i'm also a marxist (but not a vulgar marxist---who are common--who think the world is explained as 'class struggle'. The LTV has a kernel of truth to it--eg bitcoin).

The 4 postulates of utilitarianism are not what is meant by the term for last 20-40 years though some economists still use that formalism--both 'left wing' and 'right wing' ones. The first 1 and the 4th are the most explcitly outdated---'additivity' in physics went out decades ago, as did 'consequentialism' (ther e is a newer term (which actually goes way back but became more popular or rediscovered after 1990-2000).

Comment by ishi on International Relations; States, Rational Actors, and Other Approaches (Policy and International Relations Primer Part 4) · 2020-03-06T20:13:33.630Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I didn't notice this reply to my comment, but today i did. (as an aside i notice i have -33 votes and +55 votes for my comments. it would be nice if EA world could tolerate diversity of opinions--so far i'm still above zero and i don't want to start a war. but if people cannot disagree agreeably i'm perfectly willing to go somewhere else--and it won't be silicon valley. )

While i dislike the term 'intelligent', i would call your comment or answer a very intelligent and well informed reply to my comment.

Since you mentioned Brexit, in USA we have a similar issue---- the democratic primaries (as you likely know, though my impression is you are not in USA) --there are not really any single peaked preferences here though it has been reduced to Biden vs Bernie and other --possibly alot of nonvoters.)

I agree that 'the map is not the territory'. One needs to revise the maps as you go through the territory. there is a tradeoff --- do you follow the map you have and keep going, or spend time revising the map and take a different path?

Comment by ishi on Potential High-Leverage and Inexpensive Mitigations (which are still feasible) for Pandemics · 2020-03-06T19:48:33.753Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with you. 'common sense is not common sense'. (I personally am on a special diet--this means i mostly have to eat vegetables, but other people i know always say 'you need some protein or meat--that's common sense' . i do feel good if i eat some, but next day i wake up sick as a dog. so i avoid it. )

the only issue i had was most people do not read J Emergency management. everyone lives in a 'filter bubble'. (and more like that)

I had to look up PPE--personal protective equipment. )

I view plastic garbage bags as an almost neccessary thing to carry ( large ones. medium size and small ones --they keep everything dry --small ones are good for papers and books; medium ones are good for extra clothes, and big ones can serve as a rain or snow poncho or tent . I am aware of the environmental consequences of all this plastic but for now i still use them).

When i was in Alaska i lived a 6 mile walk down the frozen Yukon river (in winter ) from Eagle (near the canadian border) . In summer i stayed somewhere else in same area. it seemed like it could go from 80F in summer to -45Fp or colder in winter.

My current area used to be the 'murder capital of the USA' ( but now we have lost that title to Baltimore ) but now its the 'bedbug capital of the world' . (There are radio shows on the local NPR affiliate WAMU on this bedbug problem ---i even had it recently ---i dont know how they got in here--maybe some of my guests had them on their clothes and there are also mice in here. This plastic kills these bedbugs.

(Its required in my area that if you throw out a bedbug infested matress you have to enclose it in a big plastic bag).

The neighboring state (maryland) has just declared a corona virus (or covid) state of emergency . I think they only have a few confirmed cases.

Comment by ishi on How effective were vote trading schemes in the 2016 U.S. presidential election? · 2020-03-05T15:53:56.086Z · score: -3 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Short answer: exploring this idea is a good idea ---vote swapping is a good idea and its basic common sense. But i'd just 'explore' it--the problem with vote swapping is most people who are sympathetic to it, or would be if they knew about --many have never of heard the idea--- and if they have won't actually do it. They find it too complex (as i did in 2016). Even registering to vote and then voting was too complex.

(Just as many people who are sympathetic to, or supporters of some candidate won't vote for that candidate---they just don't vote. I probably will not vote in nov 2020 elections--in my area it doesnt matter --this is an 'anybody but Trump' district).

unless you have a 'critical mass' its useless. so explore the idea, but don't put all your eggs in one basket or kill yourself promoting this idea. just keep it on the shelf (if you have a support network of people with similar ideas then you can explore it further--it might work). Lots of explorers perished, but a few hit the jackpot.


longer answer:

This idea was developed a long time ago in my area by a local Green Party Member who is also a local politician (who is also nationally known--Jamin Raskin. I'm not sure if he is the originator of the idea.) . He said 'vote green' if you are in a safely democratic district; otherwise swap your vote with someone in a republican district and they can vote green party (GP) and you hold your nose and vote democratic.

i'm a member of GP though i actually do not like the the GP candidates--they seem to 'talk left, and walk right' and tend to be bullies, elitists, and opportunists.

I'm in a 90% democratic district. i did (hold my nose--i'm no fan of jill stein) vote GP in 2016 and also to legalize cannabis since i didnt like seeing people getting locked up for smoking a blunt on the street--it also costs money to deal with all these police, courts, and jails, besides wasting the time of people by locking them up---and then people later complain that they didnt go to school and get an education. (i was smoking weed almost starting in elementary school but i never went to jail for that (i have been locked up a few hours a few times for drinking a beer outside--which i did because its cheaper than going to a nosiy bar. ).

I almost regret voting for cannabis legalization because now its turning into another big business controlled by a few people.

I didn't do the 'vote swap'--too complex--but its a good idea. I think very few people did this---and this may be why Trump won---he won by a small margin, and a few of these green or other alternative parties may have made the difference (in places like Pennsylvania--which is about 50 miles from here ).

the vote swap was too complex--even voting is too complex.

(I actually sometimes think the people in the GP actually are Trump supporters . Many of them are already associated with RT media (russia today).

Alot of GP people are 'no compromise' --they will never vote for a democrat because they are not strict enough on the environemnt and other issues. They'd rather have Trump as a lesser evil rather than than having dirty voting hands. (Many of them are in fairly elite professional and academic positions so another 4 years of Trump won't affect them. If Trump decides to sell their favorite national park to an oil company, they'll just go their second favorite national park for vacation. )

Comment by ishi on Potential High-Leverage and Inexpensive Mitigations (which are still feasible) for Pandemics · 2020-03-05T14:56:48.453Z · score: -5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

To me this paper looks like 'common sense'. Its good to write down 'common sense' but its not 'rocket science'.

(Since i sometimes go hiking or backpacking or on a bike trip i try to keep a list of things i need to take with me--i can basically remember these or recreate the list in my head-- but its useful to have a written down checklist--but its basically common sense.

The same is true for phone numbers, addresses, email adresses, computer passwords, the value of fundamental or mathematical constants like c or pi or e, etc. Those of course best be written down.)

I do like the emphasis on 'prepare to DIY' (do it yourself). If i recall one of the authors lives in Alaska--i checked the weather in AK today and temperatures ranged from -30F to -40F in the areas i lived in for awhile. In that area (miles from the nearest town and you couldn't drive to that town in winter) you had to be prepared to DIY. For example---make your own gloves---when i lived in Alaska i made my own gloves and overshoes (like mocassins) from mooseskin someone gave me--my feet were never cold. Its what the indigenous Athabascan indians wear in winter ).

The only issue I have with this is I occassionaly go to a hospital or some other thing---sometimes a 'planning meeting' . I usually go to a hospital if i've broken my wrist or ankle on a hike--i usually try to do DIY healthcare to fix these broken bones but eventually i seek professional help. (Some times they tell me actually its not broken , just fractured, so i just need a cast.) But also there is alot of buerocracy in these hospitals with paid staff, so you people tell you how to tie your shoes, what a 'healthy diet ' is (i'm basically a mixed vegetarian/vegan), and why i should excercize.

In 'community planning meetings' people can spend and hour in a discussion and some paid professionals will write 'policy memos' or 'white papers' on the pros and cons 0f having a community park' or 'bike lanes' if they are planning some new commercial development.

These paid professionals are usually government employees, who sometimes get paid the same amount as a rocket scientist (to write an article on whether you need a community park)

Thats not rocket science either, its common sense. (Though some people oppose community parks--they (usually the owners of the land) view those as wasted land they could put more commercial development or condominiums on. And a few local residents dont want a community park because these attract noisy children and sometimes homeless people and drug addicts).

Its just seems like too much beurocracy--- if people had common sense they could DIY. I dont need an academic paper explaining how to tie my shoes. (I did need to learn that long ago ---but my parents taught me that---maybe some people who are adults do need to read peer reviewed academic papers to learn things like that. Also, why you should 'wash your hands' and 'clean your room'. Perhaps there should be PhD programs in these areas. )

Since the guidelines for this forum say 'be kind', I am sort of pointing out a problem with academic problem--which is one reason alot of open access journals and working paper sites and blogs exist. Noone wants to wait to go through a long peer review process, nor pay to get beyond a paywall to publish or read papers which are mostly common sense. 'How many economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?'.

Comment by ishi on Are there good EA projects for helping with COVID-19? · 2020-03-05T13:48:37.912Z · score: -2 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I have mixed feelings about this idea because

1) its still fairly early to know how big a problem this is (and I have heard or read expert opinions on both sides---some say it may be a big problem, while others say it most likely is not)

2) using the EA INT ( Impact-Neglectedness--Tractability) framework (though some use SNT (U) where S= scale=Impact and (U) is 'urgency' (a time discounting or triage factor ---i.e. there's no point in setting up a research program to find a cure if it is going to arrive too late ) I am not sure this issue is Neglected. (I think US govt just allocated 1/2 billion$ to work on this).

there are also already many people---epidimiologists, virologists, health care workers, and health management people ---working on this (internationally). Of course that doesn't mean they couldn't use some help, or that what they are doing is the most 'effective'.

I wouldn't dismiss what these professional people are doing (health departments, CDC, etc.) as innefective or in need of help or input than I would dismiss the efforts of the fire department for fires around here and just try to put the fire myself. But, its possible they could use help (even in a variety of ways---average people can just call the fire dept if they can't put a fire out, and help any people displaced by the fire.)

3) I have already seen a few theoretical epidemiological papers on this subject. has one which is not peer reviewed and less theoretical (its more a 'fermi ' or 'back of an envelope' set of calculations (though done on a computer ) than a fully fledged theoretical model. (I think its based on the standard SIR model in epidemiology , or an updated , more complex modification of that).

If one is doing a theoretical model , I think one has to try to review what people are doing or have done , though one can at the same time develop your own models and compare---there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. (While I have done a little labwork as an undergrad, and studied some molecular biology, I am not a 'wet lab worker', so I would be unable to judge anything regarding possible vaccines except from a theoretical POV---and I'm very limited even at that . )

4) My view is, if this turns out to be a big problem, the real thing is to deal with 'population heterogeneity' . I gather China took this route --- they sort of have quarantined entire cities, and have shut down transportation and trade routes . Also, within these cities, they have sort of quarantined subsections of the cities, homes and businesses . (So you have quarantines within quarantines.) (I imagine most people on this forum know that).

This is a preventetive intervention--no different than containing a wildfire (such as the ones that destroyed many homes and lives in California not long ago).

In lieu of a cure, thats the way to go. Just try to keep the problem localized.

In USA, CDC and others are already doing that.

It may be useful if people had an 'app' to know how close and where the virus (or fire) is --no different than an app for checking the weather.

Also, perhaps an 'app' which is a 'checklist' of things you should have at home, carry with you, and also where to go if there is a problem (health facility, or authorities who can tell you where to go if you need help---eg you know someone who i sick).

Also an 'app' which has a list of things you need to do to prepare for a case in which you lose electricity and internet service.

5) As an aside i'm sort of working (possibly with someone else though the project is in its infancy so we haven't agreed on exactly what the project is or what form it takes--we each have our own closely related but distinct approaches---so we are just seeing if collaboration is possible ) . Both of us are more theoretically oriented but want a 'fermi type' solution --something that could be widely useful and applicable, rather than buried in an academic journal written in language noone without a PhD can understand.

It was not oriented towards the corona virus---its a general formalism--but could be applicable to that issue as well. (The idea is really like creating a very small and short 'manual' or handbook, so people can make 'good decisions' based on the information they have---and also figure out what information is most relevant, and how to assign priorities or weights to different possible actions.)

(sorry for the length of this comment. i'm listening to the news right now and they are talking about how they are making emergency proclamations in Seattle and California---and some people are criticizing them because they say they don't have any teeth in them,--just rhetoric or hot air---and don't deal with 'population heterogeneity'. i.e. FB workers are told to stay home and telecommute, while people like post office and delivery workers are told to continue business as usual. )

Comment by ishi on Michelle Graham: How Evolution Can Help Us Understand Wild Animal Welfare · 2020-02-16T16:46:35.724Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Since this topic interests me and i'm killing time I decided to comment on a few things in your post.

1. wikipedia has a reasonable article on exaptations as an introduction. i also reccomend looking at the wikip article on sexual selection---in my view these topics overlap. (The wikip article on sexual selection looks less complete---i think 'fisher's runaway process' described in that article is most relevant but some others prefer the 'handicap principal'.

there are much more recent articles on these topics which tend to rely on physics formalism---though fisher used earlier forms of it as well. (fisher was a famous statistician).

2. regarding 'differential reproduction' (your 1st question) , i think the answer is 'both'. (this overlaps with the fisher runaway process ).

being a blue bear might be like having a nice car or prestigious college degree. it may not mean much at all but once its around you better be a blue bear, have a nice car, or have a good college degree.

3. your last paragraph to me does support the idea that evolution is (almost ) a zero-sum game. Its not exactly zero sum, because then there would be no evolution. It might , for example, prove to be that the best way to improve animal welfare would be for those who care about it give them more room---this is the argument made by some well known philosophers--eg patricia macCormack--- and writers who promote human extinction---i personally don't believe this argument, and also don't they believe they do either even if they don't know it.

'Maximizing fitness' is an idea thatb only occurs in the most simplistic forms of evolutionary theory ---and its also due to R Fisher--'fisher's fundamental theorem of natural selection'. Its well known it only applies to ideal systems. (analagous to Lucretius' universe from 1000s of years ago---assuming the world is basically a set of billiard balls or atoms bouncing off of each other. its called 'bean bag genetics'. it can explain why a cup of hot coffee cools off, but it cant explain why organisms evolve, much less why there are rocks, rivers, and computers rather than simply air. you need nonequilibrium statistical physics and quantum theory to explain those. )

Comment by ishi on Michelle Graham: How Evolution Can Help Us Understand Wild Animal Welfare · 2020-02-15T21:42:20.783Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW


1. My somewhat limited background is in theoretical biology (which includes evolutionary and ecological field biology) and consersation biology, as well as environmental activism.

From a glance at some papers on the web site all of this looks to be fairly standard academic research, with a very few differences in emphasis--eg discussing topics like 'suffering' and 'animal's needs', and distinguishing 'welfare biology' from other fields. My view is most scientists and activists do care about these things though just don't usually use that terminology. (Some don't-- they are really just interested in science or activism rather than ecology.)

I would say the same is true 'effective envonmentalism' ---which discusses things like climate change ; i dont see it as very new apart from the term 'effective' --people have been doing this for years, and have implicitly or explcitly done some sort of cost/benefit calculations to be 'the most bang for the buck'.

So in a sense I I have nothing against this any more than the areas I worked in --I did them becuse I supported them.

The one issue I do have is that of 'tractability'. Science in general can be seen as a kind of altruistic activity---eg may benefit future or current living things; as can activism. But one cannot do or fund all science and activism. So the issue is 'how much'. I'd add most other scientists and activists . I dont see welfare biologists any better placed to deal with uncertainty---eg by doing long term studies. They already do that. Sure they do not have enough funds to collect as much data as they like either. (only thing welfare biologists might be able to do better iof they somehow had more money.) As is said in OP ecological systems are not understood with 100% certainty---no system is.

There is also no certainty that conducting research which generates knowledge even if it shows what doesnt alleviate suffering will better 'effectively' inform us what may work. Thats a cost benefit calculation.

Studying ant consiousness of pain i view as neuroscience whuich may have some benefit, though less likely on millions of ants-----using some calculations one could argue spendig the entire 770 billiobn $ defense budget studying ants for this purpose would reasonable because there are so many and likely will be in the future. I'm not a longtermism thinker except for fun---trips to mars, etc. I put my bets that life on earth is my lot. Because of this and my ecological views in also am not much favor of current disciplinary boundaries---activists know that reducing animl suffering as we know it may mean reducing human suffering as well (eg some people advocate big game hunting by tourists as a way to permit some big game to survive so poor don't eliminate all of them for food or to sell for things like ivory.

Comment by ishi on International Relations; States, Rational Actors, and Other Approaches (Policy and International Relations Primer Part 4) · 2020-01-25T17:53:38.257Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This is an interesting review. My family had a grad student from Kenya stay with us when he was working on his PhD in my city--on IR. It was not what i studied so he explained to me the various schools and people ---George Kennon, Hans Morgenthau, etc. (Noam Chomsky has many critiques of Kennon but I looked at what Kennon actually wrote, and Chomsky used selective quotes).

The 'median voter theorem' or 'single peaked /dimensional preferences' is the basic theorem in this area---if you model this mathematically. It also applies to US democracy, etc. It does not hold--in either politics or economics (K Arrow). So you have to deal with more complex situations.

The current world seems a bit too complex to easily model this kind of thing either nationally or internationally . Also, even if you did have a good model, it might be so complex most people could not understand it.

Comment by ishi on When To Find More Information: A Short Explanation · 2019-12-29T12:16:05.748Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I read (or sort of skimmed) your dissertation (since I have a decision to make---actually (too) many) and thought this might provide some useful advice on how to do it.

I was surprised you discouraged people from reading it ---maybe you are trying to hide the fun. I found it be one of the most exciting and racy PhD thesis' i've ever read ---it could be a best seller.
And it just doesn't read like a pulp novel; like the best novels, it also hits peaks of scientific inspiration which i think rival the visions I've been told you get by reading great poets or theological works or einstein or Dirac or hawking in physics --takes you to a transcendent place.

In any event while i enjoyed the read, i didn't get my problem solved---i.e. advice on what decision to make. (I 'might even have to decide first which of my problems i should try to solve first, and then do a 2nd iteration of the method and try to solve that particular problem. Or, the method might suggest I try to solve all the problems at once---eg if your house is burning down in a fire you both put it out and rebuild it at the same time.)

Since i found the procedure not exactly intuitive, it seemed to suggest you have to weigh off the cost of a 'search procedure' to get information about the possible value of alternative decisions, combined with the cost of making a decision. (eg for a burning house, you might spend some costly time consulting with some firefighters and homebuilders about the best course of action.)

A simple example might be shopping for an item. You could just go to a place you know--and you know the cost, and also the quality or value of the item. Or you could spend alot of time and money shopping around, to see if you can find something with a better value/cost ratio. There is always the risk that you may just waste alot of time and money and find nothing better.

I was wondering if the example above is the sort of decision making problem you are talking about.

(I think my main problem is finding a job---but I don't really know where to look, and if there are any of the kind I want (I might be looking for something that does not exist) , and whether and how to research finding one. The cheapest default option might be just to wait and see if one comes to me, though it may lead to same result----nothing. One problem is I don't know what the 'prior' is--any more than did the people from europe who explored the USA knew what they would find. They could try to get information from the indigneous people, but that takes time and effort,, and they didn't know how reliable it would be.)

Comment by ishi on Dylan Matthews: The case for caring about the year 3000 · 2019-12-25T14:58:16.132Z · score: -9 (5 votes) · EA · GW

These are interesting (or amusing, or important) philosophical questions but I am not suren they can be answered. I've seen other EA arguments that reducing insect suffering should be the priority because there are many more of them than humans. I think most people sort of go with their gut (and also prioritize global poverty over life in the next 1000 years). But there are other priorities i rank hire than global poverty---there are many important causes and some are linked.

Comment by ishi on Genetic Enhancement as a Cause Area · 2019-12-25T14:33:19.185Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Though I find alot of EA writing to be basically a different dialect (eg 'Overton window...') and difficult to read this article seems fairly well written and complete (though often its easy to miss some important issues for complex topics). Theoretical genetics and evolutionary theory are among my pet interests though I am not employed in the field.

But i basically support the precautionary principal so I would not 'cause prioritize' genetic enhancement at present any more than I think going to and colonizing Mars or developing a 'superintelligence' is a priority. I view these as causes worth thinking about and perhaps working on---and many people are already doing that---but they do not take priority over other causes in my view. If EA is about 'doing the greatest good' I would place many of my bets on other causes. (Also given the intricacies of genetics, its very possible alot of research and money can be wasted on things that basically do not turn out to be effective---they just become big money sinks for people with vested interests in their narrow interests.)

In fact i would say learning and studying (or doing research in) theoretical genetics and evolution , and also getting many more people in the population interested in practicing that to be a greater priority. (This may be partly my bias--I'm not interested in policy work promoting this cause (i don't like most policy work, unless its more like doing reseach) and I don't want to work in genetic or other labs.)

I similarily don't see promoting new advanced weapons developement in Federal agencies as a priority because many of the people who would decide how to use them i don't have confidence in--their judgement or competency.

Despite my views, I know alot of people will prioritize this cause and already do, and crowd out resourcces for what i think are more cost effective projects.

(The link to the paper blog on how more intelligent people tend to be more tolerant/less discriminitary is interestng though i think issue is also very complex---and I might dispute it because 'underspecified' (there are lots of forms of discriminatory attitudes ). However the author of that blog does have another one on another cause 'Universal Basic income' --his paper is very interesting , and UBI as a cause I think may rank above genetic enhancement---but is an equally complex issue (i.e. just handing out money could be as disastrous as giving geneticists huge budgets to design the future).

Comment by ishi on Interaction Effect · 2019-12-16T18:02:13.794Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I have heard some people wanted to have a 'high impact career' but instead they became a 'stay at home mom or dad'. They had to raise 1 or more children--who then went on to become noble prize winners. That to me is an 'interaction effect'.

Comment by ishi on How do cash transfers impact the people who don’t receive them? · 2019-12-04T19:36:46.845Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Very good comment. I am in favor of some of universal or conditional basic income, because the issue of 'relative deprivation' is very real.

the most extreme example is someone who gets rich by winning a lottery (in my area alot of people play the lottery, because they want to get rich quick and also tend to have low paying and unpleasant jobs--they spend alot of their low incomes on the lottery--which spposedly is used by the govt to pay for public education).

If someone wins the lottery, supposedly everyone is better off, because the winners will buy more stuff in the area (multiplier effect) and so on--and will be much happier themselves because don't have to worry about money. They can even quit an unpleasant job and pay for their kids' private school or college tuition. .

But then everyone they know will show up and ask for some money , and they are quickly miserable, and sometimes go broke--some spend most of their money on luxuries which they think will make them happier.

Also often the 'multiplier effect' doesn't really benefit or help much the people who also get money indirectly from the lottery. They just get a bit more than their own neighbors , who proceed to ask them for money. Cash transfers have to take into account the whole community.

Comment by ishi on Carbon Offsets as an Non-Altruistic Expense · 2019-12-04T18:53:25.910Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I just skimmed this but it raises important issues (which of course have been discussed many times---often economic and philosophy papers).

(I partly skimmed it because i skimmed your 'preprint' paper linked to in another thread. I basically didn't figure out what it said, except I noted it cited Robert May's 'complexity and stability' book which is a classic, so I figured it said something--just not in my dialect.)

What really caught my attention (besides the author's name) was mention of 'vacation travel' as non-altruistic, but part of personal responsibility. The same issue applies less obviously to 'taking care of your kids'. In biology, having kids can be seen as either 'selfish' or 'altruistic' --perhaps some child grows up to a great altruist. Aldo taking a vacation may be indirectly altruistic. If you don't get some 'personal time', its possible you will not be able to take care of personal and family responsibilities, nor even be 'altruistic' (ie donate to various charities). You may help some others more if you take care of yourself enough to also help them.

The question is 'how much is enough'?

I personally donate the little I do to local and small groups dealing with environmental and poverty issues, as well at times to individuals (who can't make their bills---in a way this is taking care of myself---it keeps me on ok terms with people in my area, some of whom otherwise can get desperate and turn to criminal behavior.

In a sense i am paying a 'tax' for personal safety; which is why I support a some forms of 'social safety or welfare nets', and Universal or Conditional Basic Income . Also to an extent i am being 'altruistic' to people who are irresponsible---my donations 'keep the peace' around here, and while they provide some safety for me, they also provide safety for people who spend all their money on themselves (probably because they feel its a personal responsibility-and even altruistic in their own way. If they have some very expensive car , clothes, and house, their neighbors often like them--makes the nieghborhood aesthetic and a joy to live in. They would have less joy if they spent less on those, and relieved the 'suffering' among people who live a few blocks away who can't afford heat, water, food or electricity by giving it to them. Often they also do not support government services such as 'welfare' or 'rent subsidies', except perhaps police protection --because that means they have to pay more taxes.

Also many go to church, so if they do give to charity, its their church. A few churches do 'help the needy' using donations, though often the help they give is a small fraction of the donations they get---which often goes for good salaries spent on nice clothes and cars and so on for the church staff. Of course the people who make those cars and clothes benefit as well --provides them a job, especially if they like the job. If its not a '3rd world sweatshop' maybe they feel relativiely happy.

Comment by ishi on What areas of maths are useful across disciplines? · 2019-11-19T07:36:54.226Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

It may not be especially useful if you want to get a job or even a math degree The applications of that field are few and far between , only other way you can get a job in that is if you have a degree at PhD level. Or if you can write software you can be slightly involved in that field.

Many if not most or all modern fields of science use some variant of that formalism.

Comment by ishi on What areas of maths are useful across disciplines? · 2019-11-18T23:30:38.256Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm biased towards some versions of graph / network theory , dynamical systems and multiobjective optimization theory. Since you are into neural nets and multivariable calculus it sounds like you are already doing a version of these. (I was in an interdisplinary field and took a fair amount of applied math and physics, many of the details of which i never used or really remember--i can look them up--my applied interests were in between very technical and 'fermi' (back of the envelope) problems and i usually tried to phrase them both ways---one solvable. and the other intractable.

I never had a class in statistics but i studied it a bit on my own (partly because one area i did use a bit was statistical physics, though alot of that does not like what you see in a statistics text thoughn they overlap, and also newer texts sometimes sort of have both fields---neural nets to an extent can be viewed as analogous or closely related to statistical physics (sometimes almost the same formalism). .

since i was into applications (and usually not the ones i was assigned to do which were more in biochemsitry and biotech--fields that don't really interest me even though formally they can be phrased in analogy to ones i was interested in, i never could really get into the research (felt they were not problems of high priority to solve, or at least were 'aesthetically' inintersting---just alot of tecnique. its like music--i'm more into forms of modern pop/underground 'Fermi' music, rather than (tecnical) classical, thogh they can overlap. ).

Comment by ishi on Applying EA to climate change · 2019-11-18T23:06:45.850Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

That looks like an interesting attempt to answer a question many others have tried to answer . (These are also being discussed in an AAAS forum where people try to figure out what, can, and should be done---i have seen quite a few analyses and reccomendations of varying technical sophistication, and while they overlap, its overwhelming and beyond my competency to do more than just see which looks best.

Your top 5 causes all look good to me, as well as your larger list in the 'green box' in your diagram.

I would probably have 10-15 causes all ranked about same level. Also, I might have causes 'geographically' clustered, ie people should work on ones nearby, however defined.

I tend to thijnk transportation may be underranked, as well as clean energy, though I may be wrong. I wonder if transportation includes all the road building, airports, and energy used to make cars, planes,ships, shipping containers etc. --'life cycle analyses. Aslo , transportation has indirect effects--sprawl, lifestyles, etc. Resorts, casinos, convention centers are buldings, but exist partly due to transportation. Alot more could be said.

if you google 'food loss and waste USFDA ' they have some numbers and reports that appear to go through the details---they say there is loss every step of the way. I remember my own stores used to throw away what seemed to be immense amount of fruit and vegetables, and things like yogurt and cheese, and bread and pastry. Now i can't tell because they have locked the dumpsters to keep people from getting free food, there is some organized collection of unused food, and also they do the trash now at times I am not around.

I tend to think alot small things like diet, food loss, and transportation actually could add up and also be 'easily implemented' in the short term, while the more difficult ones requiring engineering/technolopgy would be done as they became feasible.

But as anyone familiar with things like addiction , cigaerette use, obesity, diet change to even a low meat diet (i forget the term), views on issues like religion, evolution, sex, politics, economics , etc even 'easy things to change' (behavior, or ideas) sometimes is no faster than making technological advances.

Comment by ishi on A Semester-Long Course In EA · 2019-11-18T22:44:00.871Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I looked at that article because i saw that a 'self designed course' was also possible which would also have some supervision --the kind of thing I like, and also to see what the curricula was, where it was, and if it had an online 'MOOC' style or distance learning version. I noticed its at Brown, where i went, and see you can even course credit for taking the course--at Brown i did partially self-design a few courses which had supervisors or 'mentors', but wish i had done designed my entire major rather than take the 'easy route' and just take a predesigned one . I ended up taking alot of courses I would have taken anyway, but as result my credential actually makes it look like I prepared for a field i actually studied relatively little and prepared me for jobs i neither want nor am qualified for. Oh well. I'm somewhat familar with most topics (since they are in the EA literature i've read, and discussed elsewhere as well).

MOst likely this isn't for me even if logicstics existed. I would probably would want a self-designed EA course, and perhaps might ot even call it EA. I'll add some comments anyway.

My favorite source on EA is the one about ' prospecting for gold' by Owen-Barrett ( video) --mentioned above. The Atlantic article by Derek Thompson did not impress me (nor does the Atlantic in general for similar reasons). I've seen a few papers mostly in economics which were mathematically interesting , and like alot of EA stuff overlap with discussions by people who don't identify as EAs -- though in their work, donations, or life some would also basically say they try to figure out how to allocate resources to help others the most. Others just do research in math, physics, etc. similar to that done by EAs. (Its possible that is EA, because for some people research is their most useful contribution.)

For others it can art, family, education, even if EAs dont tend to mention those as causes.)

I'm not sure I consider myself an EA because while I agree in part with their methodology --eg Impact/neglectedness/Tractability criteria --and some of their reccomendations (best charities) alot of what I see I am not sure about (and wonder if one can even call it a part of 'effective altruism' if it appears that its not a good use of resources (including time) to even discuss these things--it might be an 'innective use of time'. Some EA people seem to come up with view completely opposite to mine)

Sometimes EA appears to be more like a cult or religion with its own language and theology. Of course often different religions coexist and share similar goals, and permit visitors from outside the faith. Thats what i may be.

I come many times to different conclusions about cause prioritization, and some causes i think are important are basically ignored or 'neglected' in my opinion. I also think the INT formalism, while a first start, is 'underspecified' and may lead to 'poorly posed problems' (and priority rankings) , which is why I often disagree with what i see on EA.

(This is common in sciences of courses---people can use same scientific method and come to different conclusions---sometimes this means one scientific field basically splits into 2 or more. I could see this happening with EA as well, if it hasn't already.

I've never posted anything but comments on EA sites--some of which got many - votes, while others got a few + votes--- and I wonder what would happen if i did post my own article. I sometimes wonder if some of these '- votes' are part of a 'vendetta'. I'm in a science online group which has a few members with 'extreme' views (eg are far right' in politics, 'global warming denialists', people who think "einstein was wrong', etc.---basically 'cranks' or ideologues who do not belong in a science group) who will post a negative reply anytime these issues are discussed by people with mainstream scientific views, or are perceived as 'leftists'.

Other times scientists with somewhat old but mainstream views will sort of try to make anyone discussing less mainstream and newer ideas which they don't like, look like they don't know what they are talking about, and the issues are settled. (These are usually 'arguments from authority' , and are a form of gatekeeping, and can be effective at maintaining authority--people with less knowledge will tend to believe them.

Most likely if I had or was in a 'GISP' it might have as a curricula 1/3rd of what is in the above one (the other 2/3rds would be viewed as supplementary material for people who time and interest), and 2/3rds other things, mostly in math/logic, social science (including semiotics) and complexity theory--though avoiding getting too deep into technical details because its easy to get stuck on an intractable problem, and hence become paralyzed. (I view those as most useful for figuring out what is 'effective'. ) Ideally it would have arts, political, and applied education aspects (ie 'each one teach one'---a 'community service ' requirement) but in a sense these can be included informally or implicitly. An ideal GISP would have a mix of people with different histories, competencies and interests.

Comment by ishi on The illusion of science in comparative cognition · 2019-11-04T15:14:48.885Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think I remember reading a book or paper by Noam Chomsky which said that chimpanzees don't have minds because they beg for food usually directly facing a human, but if that doesn't work they will use the same strategy and beg behind the human. He says this proves chimpanzees dont know what a human is---they view humans as food dispensers. My interpretation was if you are going to beg, maybe display subserviance--ask from the back, nor face to face. (Chomsky if i recall also said something like this in 2 lectures on linguistics i attended (along with many other things like 'language did not evolve for communication'--his view was language first evolved to talk to yourself (he has a 'technical term' for this called 'I(nternal) language', which was then later found to have a slight evolutionary use for communication ('E-language') --eg Amazon books found it valuable. ).

Chomsky's view is not what is found in my limited study of social biology, sociobiology, ethology (R Hinde had a reasonable book on this if i recall), etc. (Chomsky has written a few reasonable things, but also many which seem 'off the wall').

While i tend to think animals of all sorts have various forms of cognition, as noted with the 'ant' example, these often will be quite different. (Chomsky has also said the only animal language even close to human language is 'bee language' --none of the other animals like birds or non-human primates have language in his view. I guess this is how you become the most famous public intellectual--Chomksy said it, i beleive it, and that is all there is to it. Chomsky related language to recursion---which as many have noted, he basically did not define until the 2000's. Animals use recursion all the time in my experience. Squirrels know exactly where their acorns are and can point to them. )

Many if not most studies of animal cognition (and human) are flawed or imperfect--not really well thought out, but there is a bias to publish something. Sometimes they seem to be on the right track, and sometimes not.

Comment by ishi on The (un)reliability of moral judgments: A survey and systematic(ish) review · 2019-11-02T11:43:43.353Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

My brief take (for what its worth---I can imagine its better not to give a 'rapid response' as opposed to a well thought out one): That seems to me to be a 'tour de force' even though I mostly skimmed it, and skipped some parts--its the kind of thing I would print out if I had a working printer. I am only slightly familiar with psychological literature and measures (eg 'Cohen's d') though I read (or glance at at some of it), and am often skeptical of the results claimed to be found. (People often do something like a poll, or give some sort of test, without looking at things like context, wording, ordering of questions, etc.--but these lead to alot of publications)

The 'procedure section' for me was the first clue that was going to be a well thought out discussion.

The various tables on different studies I couldn't really understand but from the discussion I felt I got the drift.

When the 'drift-diffusion equation' and 'biased random walk' appeared, I felt like I was walking on firm ground again (even if it was what is called in biology or complexity theory a 'rugged fitness landscape'--its firm ground, not a swamp, just rugged and complex, like climbing a mountain.)

The discussion of culture and socioeconomic status, personality, genes, and social embededness seemed 'spot on'---especially because the work of Boyd and Richerson was cited (although I cannot claim to be an expert, I view their books and papers to be basically the current theory of evolution--they are to Darwin what Einstein was to Newton, though B&R's gene-culture evolution theory might be more analogous to Einstein's special relativity---a slight modification of Newtonian dynamics---than to General Relativity which has a much more intricate math apparatus and wide applicability. B&R were preceded by qualitative discussions by several people, and a mathematical one by E O Wilson and C J Lumden ('genes , mind and culture') which used nonlinear diffusion equations---but EOW and CJL seemed to later agree that while the math in the book was correct (which came from statistical physics) their interpretation was not--B&R I think is the standard or (closer to) correct one (though in what i read they used discrete dynamical systems and evolutionary game theory rather than de's).

I am familiar with some of the references (Tooby and Cosmides, Plomin, Heinrich , and more).

Also some of the literature on 'universal moral grammar' (papers by John Mikhail, Marc Hauser, etc.) and Chomskyian linguistics and 'poverty of the stimulus'. (I agree with the connectionists that while Chomsky and people like S Pinker are correct that humans are not 'blank slates', both of them (along with evolutionary psychologists like Cosmides and Tooby, and J Fodor) go too far from proposing there is a 'language organ' , or 'instinct', or 'module' , nor are there ones for morality. Babies are not smartphones which have 'apps' such as a dictionary, calculator, political platform, religious text , 10 commandments, '12 rules for living', or even 'universal grammar ' genetically coded in them as part of their 'god given' hardware. Boyd and Richerson i think have a better take on what people are born with. (And some more recent work sort of adds some of what C Geertz (anthropology) called 'thick detail' about 'social embededness'-ie people aren't born with video games in their heads.

There are many papers critiquing Chomsky's 'poverty of the stimulus' argument e.g. None of these however contradict the conclusions in the above paper about the unreliability of moral judgements. You don't need a plane built with inherint design flaws to crash---planes with no such flaws can crash anyway due to human error, maintenance problems, or the weather.

Comment by ishi on A wealth tax could have unpredictable effects on politics and philanthropy · 2019-11-02T10:20:43.407Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I looked at the entire Vox article. I sort of dreaded what it was going to say, given that so many wealthy people have contributed to making alot of what I and others have benefited from, in varying extents. The Sackler gallery for example, and the Sackler's also fund a scientific conference (PNAS). They are also being sued for their role in the creation of the 'opiate epidemic' which has made death from drug overdoses more common than from car crashes and guns combined. The Rockefellers created Rockefeller U, Carnegies and Mellons created CMU, Bloomberg funds JHU medical school (where Ben Carson ---of Trump admin) worked; and Rockefellers also own a whole lot of land they keep mostly in 'wilderness' state. (One of the Rockefellers also was governer of WV for many years, and I think he was relatively progressive for that state, and knowing WV, its likely his wealth helped him stay in power.)

But JHU med school uses to an extent the poverty stricken population of drug addicts in Baltimore as paid 'guinea pigs' for clinical trials, so its not all 'bread and roses'. Ben Carson may not be the best choice for heading HHS (or whatever its called)---there is also some dispute over whether he was a genius neurosurgeon, or just a very competent one. Universities also tend to produce results with mixed values---only some people can go to the best ones, and then they (like Gates) can walk off with tax funded research and use it to make billions$. (The Gates Foundation wok on African agriculture has been criticized for its emphasis on GM crops, and though they changed their policy, their earlier work on malaria if i recall also was criticized as being misprioritized (they spent most of it on research at U Wash theoretically on vaccine development, but labs often work on more than one thing).

Henry Ford brought us the Ford , and some argue that all these cars and related highways and suburban sprawl lead to issues like 'climate crisis', air pollution (said to be bad for your IQ), biodiversity loss, etc. ---a mixed blessing.

U's are now bringing us AI , and we already have FB and WWW, which again may be mixed blessings --alot of people now say limit your time using these (especially children ). (I now my 'quality of life' (as low as it was) sort of wnet into free fall once i started using WWW---i thought it would be a useful tool because it was for others, but not for me. (Its more like a 'hamster wheel' ---better than nothing but not like being outside and free to wander like a wild mouse. I likely just dont know how to use it--and instead waste time writing stuff like this. My previous quality of life was actually reasonably high, though it was 'materially' low--i just didn't have much besides reasonable health and alot of free time ).

My area has tons of art and other museums, and U's , which have been funded by billionaires (including Arab Sheiks from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere) , but there are plenty of people around here who basically don't have access to them ---sometimes because they don't feel comfortable going to a free museum. For U's, often they can't get in because despite going to the local school system, for various reasons they aren't prepared for the better U's.

The article starts with Larry Summers ---well known for his comments at Harvard on something like 'there are few women in the sciences because they prefer housekeeping for their husbands'. He also had a 'beef' with Cornel West (though on that i was slightly sympathetic because West's 'rap album' was a crime against humanity; West is also a 'public intellectual' basically (this class includes Sam Harris, S Pinker now (at one time he did a tiny bit of science, 50% of which is now known to somewhat incorrect but that's science) , J Peterson, etc.). Public intellectuals are a step above journalists, and 2 steps above gossip columnists, talk show and podcast hosts. (The step above them actually leads to 2 stairways --one is called 'science and scholarly research'; the other is called 'fake science and scholarship'. They are almost indistinguishable to most people--its like asking a dog or a baby to decide whether a holy text is 'the truth', or a book on quantum theory is.)

Summers, though related in various ways to some good economists---eg P Samuelson (flawed but amongst the best) --doesn't seem to be a chip off the same block in economics. He did 'normal' or 'generic ' economics, nothing special. His policies (i think he may have been in involved in NAFTA) have been criticized for not being 'well thought out' . (The author of the OP has an interview with an expert on AI , who says the risk with that is that if it works it can be like a very efficient factory which produces good products but in the process kills everyone who works there as part of the algorithm. Alot of applied economic theory of the kind Summers used-- 'IS-LM' etc.-- is like that. They get a result, just not a desirable one. This is partly why there is a 'drug epidemic' and 'immigration crisis' in USA (and even Europe--world bank and imf likely helped that along) , and Mexico has 20-40,000 homicides a year. )

I sort of think Summer's reasoning could be taken to its asymptotic limits. For example, as anarcho-capitalists argue (eg Caplan at GMU, and Heumer at U Colo) things like taxes---all of them, not just wealth taxes---are inerintly distortionary, and a form of theft of private property , and should be abolished (except perhaps the taxes used to fund those people salaries at public U's). Public education should similarily be abolished except maybe trade schools. Smarter people will be able to buy private education to develop robots, better babies, and AI.

Also considered what might have happenned if in 1776 or before USA or its precolonial form decided to ban slavery---which i view as a form of a wealth tax. Taking people's private property---Jefferson might not have been able to help write the constitution , etc. We might not even have Dave Chappelle, Jay-Z, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Beatles, etc. We wouldn't have best selling books about the civil war, or films like 'incident at owl creek bridge' (my favorite civil war short film).

The basic idea of the OP in Vox i agree with--a wealth tax needs to be 'well considered' (though that is difficult because its a political, not only logical problem--the logic i think is easy, but that is only in the ideal world without humans--if you try to include the logic of humans in your model, its more difficult, and almost intractable. ) A small wealth tax i think might just be like having a small 'gas guzzler (or carbon) tax' or 'sin taxes' (eg on cigarettes), or even a 'meat tax', 'McMansion tax', 'commuting tax'---you have to pay for big roads and environmental devastation , etc.

The problems with FDR's 'new deal' (SSI, etc.) and LBJ's 'great society' and civil rights legislation (eg recent suit by Asian americans against Harvard for discrimination) shows how difficult it is to figure out what is the best policy. (In economics, one also has the issue of tarrifs, energy and climate change, and so on.)

Comment by ishi on [Link] "Progress Update October 2019" (Ought) · 2019-10-30T15:02:39.848Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I am an amateur and generalist , but this is fascinating---especially the GP-2 system. (I skimmed some of the links in the original post.) My limited background is in theoretical biology, including 'natural intelligence and language learning' so I am more familiar with issues in animal behavior and linguistics (eg debates between Chomskyian linguists and connectionists ---eg ).

I have actually been working on trying to formulate an analog of what the GP-2 system does but as a 'fermi problem' or 'estimate'---something you can do by hand with a piece of paper, and maybe a calculator. This was partly inspired by some questions raised in an EA affiliated group---EE--effective environmentalism, but these questions occur throughout the sciences--multiobjective optimization, pattern recognition. (My approach could be called 'deep learning for dummies').

I don't really know what 'factored generation' and 'evaluation' are, but these sound like 'inverse problems' (e.g. integer factorization, versus generating an integer from factors like prime numbers). I view these also as 'matching' or 'search' problems.

I was vaguely aware of how far AI had evolved , but the gp-2 system makes me wonder whether some online discussions i have (mostly on science lists about things like climate change) are actually with 'bots' rather than scientists. The OpenAI ethics statement i agree with, but these are not enforcable at present. I sort of wonder what this project is geared towards , and also what this implies for people like me who have few of the skills required to do this kind of research. I'll just keep trying to do my 'fermi problem' approach---until everything is automated there may still be a few places on earth for simple minds.

Comment by ishi on Older people may place less moral value on the far future · 2019-10-26T08:32:55.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm on an AAAS ( am assn adv scis) forum (AAAS has over 100,000 members but just a small fraction of them participate in the forum) , which has discussions on issues like climate change. I've noticed there are many 'emereti professors' some with very good credentials (eg worked at CalTech) who comment, and 2/3rds of them think people who worry about climate change ( eg Greta T) are 'alarmists'. They advocate 'do nothing' because its beyond human control--i think they simply do not want to change any aspect of their lifestyle. To the contrary 1/3rd of the people say the issue may be partly within human control and you can change a few things (even eat less meat, don't drive everywhere by yourself when you can walk or carpool, etc.) . The non-emereti seem divided between 'don't care' and 'do something'.

Many older people do seem to care about their own children and grandchildren, and financially help them out, but not those who are not their kinfolk. Many also say they support AAAS (ie are members which has a yearly fee with a sliding scale) as a 'charity' because its a nonprofit, and they want to support rationality and scientific methodology.

In think in USA, churches are the charities which receive the most donations. (And some or a large part of those donations just go for salaries--sometimes large salaries) or maintaining the church. ) Environmental groups (or charities), and some poverty focused NGOs , also get some support, along with civil liberties groups --human rights watch, ACLU, though those groups also have their critics).

I listen to the radio and one thing i hear are ads for 'fertility clinics' --alot of people want a baby but can't get one 'naturally'. I wonder how that can be calculated as a present value or future value. (Also some people value children while they are young, but if they 'turn out bad' they abandon them. )

Comment by ishi on Altruistic equity allocation · 2019-10-18T17:57:34.605Z · score: 0 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I only skimmed this and am not familiar much with investing, but the issues seem to me whether people are investing to make money, or investing to make 'social impact' (for the greater good) on goals they support. and also whether the investment actually will 'pay off' in terms of either making money, having social impact, or both. I think forecasting 'impact' is the hardest one. Some venture capital firms succeed , others fail.

My view is if impact predictions are correct then any 'dilution' effects on shareholder value will be temporary. In a sense current shareholders are loaning some of their shares to others to invest in the project in the hope its a good investment. (I think in a way what is called MMT--popular in some economics circles---is a version of this idea).

Comment by ishi on The evolutionary argument against cognitive enhancement research is weak · 2019-10-18T17:40:15.971Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

My semi-educated guess is the arguments for either case are both weak at present. Its unknown. I'd say same for 'designer babies' and other reproductive technologies (which i hear advertized on the radio all the time--eg infertility clinics--mostly used by affluent people , and often womyn over age 40. In India they have 'baby farms'--eg people in USA hire some poor womyn in India to be a surrogate mother , so they don't have to deal with pregnancy --whcih they view as a chore--- because they want to keep their career but want a baby).

Comment by ishi on Ineffective Altruism: Are there ideologies which generally cause there adherents to have worse impacts? · 2019-10-18T17:30:28.769Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I come from a background of what could be called liberals (in USA, democrats--but these range from establishment types (eg Hilary Clinton) to 'anti-establishment' establishement liberal (Bernie Sanders, Elizabett Warren , and many other democratic presidential candidates) . But my parents also had backgrounds in some of what could be called 'radical ideological views' (war resistors, civil rights protests, small farmers who were anti-big business, etc.). Other relatives had some 'right wing ' views.

I think any ideology can make 'hits and misses' regarding promoting well being. (I sort of include religion and science in the class of ideology, though of a different kind.--both of those also seem to have hits and misses--Catholics introduced the transatlantic slave trade to north america---partly because they wanted to stop the oppression of indigneous americans and thought africans wouldn't suffer so much. The Catholic priest who suggested that later regretted his decision. Scientists invented nerve gas and Xyklon B (for holocaust) Nuclear energy and fossil fuel based economies (eg plastic, climate change ) seem to have some mistakes; as may GMO foods, factory farms, gun rights and weapons industry (eg what is called 'realism' in international politics--or mutually assured destruction. ). Time may tell.

I tend to be anti-religion (i call myself agnostic and just object to religious ritual and its common tendency to claim its truth) and pro-science , but i see many religious people who basically are descent and it works for them, and i also object to a fair amount of modern science (and many scientists share my views --although all scientists basically agree with the 'scientific method', they often come to different conclusions.Condensed matter physics objected to spending all money on particle physics. )

Perhaps ideologies should be viewed as 'algorithms'. Many algorithms generate good results for some cases, but perhaps all of them will repeatably make worse decisions than neccesary. This is one reason i see proposals for algorithms that are to a large part essentially random. They 'typical algiorithm' is as good as experts at times, and other times as bad as any worst performing algorithm, but on average may be 'typical' (be correct 50% of the time---but this is a moving average --humans may make as many mistakes as our evolutionary precursors, but different ones.

I have seen arguments in EA forums that with regarding donating to charities, many of them (large or small) actually may be fairly equally effective though its hard to kow; sometimes you can determine ones which very innefective (ie just squander donations)..

Comment by ishi on Shapley values: Better than counterfactuals · 2019-10-18T16:52:48.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

P.S. I just re-skimmed your article and see you dealt in Scenario 6 with 'tragedy of the commons' which i view as an n-person variant of the 2 -person prisoner's dillema.

also your example 2 (Newton and Leibniz ) is an example which is sort of what i was thinking. The theorem i was thinking of would add to the picture and have something like a 'god' who would create either Newton, Leibniz, or both of them. Shapley value would be the same in all cases. (unless 2 calculus discoveries are better than 1----in sciences sometimes this is seen as true ('replication'), or having 'multiple witnesses' in law as opposed to just an account by one (who is the victim and may not be believed )).

(its also the case for example that the 3 or 4 or even 5 early versions of quantum mechanics-- schrodinger, heisenberg, dirac, feynman, bohm---though some say debroglie anticipated bohm , and feynman acknolwedged that he found his idea in a footnote in a book by Dirac--although redundant in many ways, each have unique perspectives . the golden rule also has many formulations i've heard)

(In my scenario, with 'god' , i think the counterfactual value of either newton or leibniz would be 1---because without either or both there would be no calculus with shapley value 1. god could have just created nothing---0 rather than 1).

In a way what you seem to be describing is how to avoid the 'neglectedness' problem of EA theory. This overlaps with questions in politics---some people vote for people in a major party who may win anyway, rather than vote for a 'minor party' they may actually agree with more. This might be called the 'glow effect' ---similarily some people will support some rock or sports star partly just to be in the 'in crowd'. So they get 'counterfactual value' even if the world is no better off-voting for someone who will win any way is no better than voting for one who will lose --or rather they actually get additional Shapley value because they are 'happier' being in the 'in crowd' rather than being a less favored minority--but this involves a different calculation for the Shapley value, including 'happiness' and not just 'who won'. But, some people are happier being in 'minorities', so thats another complication in the calculations.

(eg the song by Beck 'i'm a loser' comes to mind. pays to be a loser some times or support an unpopular cause because its actually a neglected one---people just didn't know its actual or Shapley value. )

Comment by ishi on Shapley values: Better than counterfactuals · 2019-10-18T16:07:59.483Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

As I said I'm skating on thin ice, but the theorem says you can convert any positive or negative sum game into a zero sum game. (its due to von Neumann or nash, but i think i saw it in books on evolutionary game theory . i think there are analogs in physics , and even ecology, etc. ).

Again, i think that may be related to the counterfactual/shapley conversion i 'see' or think exists, but can't prove it----i'd have to look at the definitions again.

To possibly fall through more holes in the ice , i think the prisoner's dillema might be the simplest example.

(I'm just not fluent in the definitions since i didn't learn them when i was studying some game theory; but i looked at many game theory texts where they did occur--mostly for more complex situations than i was dealing with.

Also the term 'counterfactual' i only learned from a history book by Niall Ferguson (not a big hero of mine but had what seemed like worthwhile ideas--- he wrote 'counterfactual history'---eg 'what would be state of the world if Germany had won WW2?' )

as noted , i also find examples which use 'vignettes' or 'scenarios', fractions, whole numbers like '7 EA candidates', '60 million$ ' , along with the names of countries (India) and organizations, make it difficult (or time consuming for me) to process. but this is just a stylisitic or personal issue.

I wonder if you think an excercize trying to compare the shapley vs counterfactual value of the 2 cases for WW2 is meaningful---ie would money spent by UK/USA/etc fighting the war have been better spent another way?

i may even put this question to myself to see if its meaningful in your framework. i spend a bit of time on questionable math/logic problems (some of which have solutions, but i try to find different proofs because i dont understand the existing ones, and occasionaly do. Many theorems have many correct proofs which look very different and use different methods, and often have been discovered by many people on different continents at the same time (eg the renormalization group in physics was discovered by Feynman and Nambu (japan) about the same time) . I wish i had a study group who shared my interests in various problems like this one; the few aquaintances i have who work on math/logic basically work on problems that interest them, and don't find mine interesting or relevant. )

Comment by ishi on Shapley values: Better than counterfactuals · 2019-10-14T18:06:57.044Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I'm skating on thin ice, but I think

1) the discussion is basically correct

2) similar problems have been discussed in evolutionary game theory, chemical reaction/economic/ ecological networks, cooking, and category theory.

3) I find it difficult to wade through examples (ie stories about AMF and gates foundations, or EA hiring) --these remind me of many 'self help' psychology books which explain how to resolve conflicts by going through numerous vignettes involving couples, families, etc--i can't remember all the 'actors' names and roles.

4) i think a classic theorem in game theory (probably by john von neumman, but maybe by john nash) shows you can convert shapley value to counterfactual value very easily. the same issue applies in physics--which can be often thought of as a 'continuous game'.

5) time ordering invariance is not really a problem (except technically)---you can include a time variable as is done in evolutionary game theory. (mathematically its a much more difficult problem but not conceptually).

Comment by ishi on Behind the Scenes at a GiveDirectly Call Center · 2019-10-14T16:36:08.083Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for info. Its possible his village would be eligible for participation in the cash transfer program, but that is really a larger scale and different kind of project.

Comment by ishi on The ITN framework, cost-effectiveness, and cause prioritisation · 2019-10-10T14:58:41.105Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think you identified the same problem i saw. If you have a small problem, then there no reason to call it 'neglected' if you put enough resources into solving that small problem. You have to put all problems into context--no reason to spend alot of resources to 100% solve a small problem when you put no resources into trying to solve a big problem. This is like spending alot of money to give sandwiches to solve temporary hunger problem for a few people, while 'neglecting ' the entire issue of global hunger or food scarcity.

Comment by ishi on The ITN framework, cost-effectiveness, and cause prioritisation · 2019-10-10T14:51:05.965Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think this is on the right track --though as you say its a bit clumsy. There is a similar formalism called the 'Kaya identity' (see google--its well known) with the same issues. i'm trying to develop a slightly different and possibly more useful formalism or formula (but i may not succeed)

Comment by ishi on The ITN framework, cost-effectiveness, and cause prioritisation · 2019-10-07T12:33:34.441Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This is an interesting (or 'thought provoking') article, and it linked to other articles (mostly on 80,000 hours) which in turn linked to others (e.g. B Tomasik's blog), as well as the TEDTalk by MacAskill. I had skimmed some of the 80,000 hours articles before, but skimming them again I found clarified some issues, and I realized I had missed some points in them before .

(One point I had missed was the article by Tomasik on why many charities may not differ all that much in terms of their effectiveness. I think some cases can be distinguished --for example a 'corrupt charity' (which spends most of its money on salaries and fundraising--there have been many in my area and they make up data about how much good they have done; or some which do research on interventions that are 'way out of the scientific mainstream' ---and which typically are often not peer reviewed by other scientists even if they claim to be scientific approaches. There also cases of large charities which spend alot of money on 'disaster releif' often if foreign countries (i'm in US) , but on review , one cannot find out how most of the money was spent.

This is why my limited charity given mostly goes to small projects I'm somewhat familiar with; also big charities often have alot more resources and ways tio generate revenue, so even if they do reasonable work and could use more resources, i spread my donations --partly because of my study of ecology.)

So far, I don't see a really succint formula which can capture the complexity of these issues (apart from the very basic ones in the paper --ie using INT framework you end up with Effectiveness = good done/$ spent).

I often hear ideas like its better to spend alot of money on issues like malaria or deworming because these appear to have 'good' returns in terms of QALYs, and also by saving the lives of alot of people you may then have some 'potential Einsteins' or 'Newtons' or 'Hawkings' or some other famous genius who may help save alot of future humanity. Bu then others say it would be better to spend the same amount of money on someone on the planet right now to fund their research on how to stop an asteroid from causing the extinction of all humanity.

It might cost as much to fund 5 people doing the research on asteroid hazards, as it would be to fund 1000s of people (i.e. 'giving as consumption') to avoid death in infancy, so its hard to calculate both scale and neglectedness , as well as tractability.

(e.g. the TEDtalk while discussing impressive gains over time in Human development indicators, sort of glosses over some 'complicated issues'---such as the fact that while 'democratization' has increased, many democracies and semi-democracies (places with elections) such as Venezuela, Brazil, even USA and UK and rest of EU, Israel Kenya, Brazil, South Africa, India, Russia, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, etc. seem far from ideal. Also while life expectancy (and populations ) have gone up, these also cause demographic and environmental problems --including ethnic conflict, biodiversity loss, etc. )

So there appears to be some more research on this problem --I'm even working on my own model (and related research is being done by many people), though I don't know if this is 'effective' (though at least its relatively low cost--some very powerful ideas were produced on a shoestring budget).

Comment by ishi on Are you working on a research agenda? A guide to increasing the impact of your research by involving decision-makers · 2019-09-25T15:42:07.855Z · score: -4 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I may have to agree to disagree agreeably. This is about making a 'pitch' or 'research proposal' that will be looked on favorably and hence funded by 'decision makers'. They will like to see a 'spreadsheet presentation' usually because they can't understand anything else at a higher level. These spreadsheet approaches are similar to mathematicians trying to model how a baby or animal knows how to walk or run---babies and animals are way ahead of the mathematicians--they can do that in their heads. Math people should work on other project--such as EA format of SNT (scale, negletedness, tractability) and also U (urgency). The probability of that happening i see as low.

Comment by ishi on Effective Altruism and Everyday Decisions · 2019-09-24T07:24:38.803Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I can sort of relate to this, but its a very complex situation. I remember growing up in an opld house in need of repairs it was often decided 'we would to the work ourselves' rather than hire someone (ie save some money and that helped pay for my college education, some trips to the country, etc). But it would take us 3 days to fix something (eg electrical, plumbing, concrete, roofing) which an expert could do in 1/2 a day.

Also at times very small amounts of savings are a major difference. If you decide to spend more money on some electronic or musical device ( i'm somewhat into music so i often have to decide whether to try to fix what i have or buy something new) you then may not have busfare. So then since you have to walk you will get an 'adventure' --might have to go through some bad weather or dangerous areas.

(I have noticed many good quality modern electrical appliances are both cheap on energy use, and sturdy; but sometimes if you save a little money and get a lower quality one , they break in a short period so you need a new one).

In my spare time for entertainment i try to come up with simple mathematical formalisms ('fermi calculations') to handle these cost/benefit calculations , but i rapidly realize to really handle them you need something like tensor analyses or modern variants (category theory) since you dealing with so many variables.

Comment by ishi on Model-free and model-based cognition in deontological and consequentialist reasoning · 2019-09-24T07:09:19.032Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This is somewhat unrelated, but I once did a little research on the problem of how DNA gets translated into proteins---I (and some others) viewed DNA as a 4 letter code (nucleotides) or 'syntax' , while proteins were words using a 26 letter (amino acids) 'word' with a 'semantics'---it meant something or had a functional use. I took what is perjoratively called a 'fact free science' approach (associated with SFI/complexity approach) , which meant the idea was to see if one could figure out if there were any patterns in the DNA code (using as little biochemical information as possible --experimentalists dealt with that detail) which could be used to predict which ones might be 'coding regions' for proteins . This is analagous to trying to figure out from some randomly selected 'text' whether its just a randomly generated set of (nonsensical) 'words' , or actually is a meaningful 'book' (maybe shakespeare).

It was assumed that the 'reinforcement history' was actually hidden in the DNA code --i.e. there were dependencies between the 'letters' (nucleotides) so they were not randomly distributed (any more than letters in a book are).

Comment by ishi on Behind the Scenes at a GiveDirectly Call Center · 2019-09-24T06:38:46.537Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This is quite interesting ( I have met quite a few people who have done aid work in Africa--Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast and more) , and I sometimes wonder about political instability and conflict in some of these areas--its not everywhere, but does exist in other areas.

I am in contact with a person who basically is director of a small educational/permaculture (agriculture, tree planting) center in a village in Malawi (mostly focusing on orphans and girls) --he is part of a FB group I'm on (which has to do with ecology, sustainability and complex systems theory). He does ask for donations to his project (and they were hit hard by floods earlier this year, and operate on a 'shoestring budget' according to what I have read--they usually need donations for building materials, sometimes seeds, bicycles or a motorcycle , a computer and printer, internet connection, etc ).

I wonder if this project would be eligible for funding from Givedirectly. They tend to need small amounts (sometimes they operate on 5$/day). I also don't really know if these campaigns (there are others on that FB page --eg one in Burundi) are 'real' . Others in the FB group have vetted them so I accept that view.

The person in that campaign told me over internet that he hasn't heard of this Givedirectly project, and also that Mzuzu is far from his village.

Comment by ishi on [Link] Research as a Stochastic Decision Process · 2019-09-23T06:02:21.130Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I just noticed your question, since I've only recently started looking at EA forums, and I mostly look at the discussions on science, economics, climate change, and on EA methodology and practice (eg the recent one about basic income projects in Malawi by Givedirectly or some other similarily named group). This is one reference . I am mostly self-educated in stochastic processes, but this is a standard topic in texts. It basically means if you are doing a search --or many searches -- you try to estimate how much time/resources you will spend pursuing one search (or allocate time and resources among several alternative searches), before you will call it a success, or a failure, and give up.

I sort of know this 'intuitively' from hiking in mountains---i sometimes have had to check out several different paths to get to where i want to go, so you try following one for a while, and then decide whether to keep going because it seems to going the right place, or you go back and repeat the search on other trails. (It has been the case that at times all the trail options turned out to 'fail' (headed to cliffs that were impassable to me) so you end up going nowhere at least for awhile.

Multiobjective optimization is another standard topic --utility maximization in economics is one example (often solved via calculus of variations, or for more complex problems via computer algorithms). Intuitively for me this is like a hike where have several attractive choices to go to (different scenic high spots, waterfalls, valleys, or areas with special kinds of flora and fauna --I'm a sort of amateur naturalist) , and usually you can't go everywhere (especially with time constraints) , so have to select some subset which is 'optimal' (and maybe save the ones you missed for another day).

Since my math skills are 'suboptimal' I have been trying to develop my own formalism, which is a 'toy model' (like many in stochastic processes---eg random walks, urn models, etc.) but may capture essence of more complex ones. Its a 'labor of love' and may go nowhere and is sort out of the mainstream. Also its an attempt to make these tropes of problems relativley simple so you dont need a PhD to get the idea, and maybe even apply it. The analogy might be a GPS on your phone or in your car--give you directions on where to go and what to do. .

I have been trying off and on to find people interested in this model---possibly as collaborators (but the few people I've talked either work on their own models, or else work using standard heavy duty computational or high level math formalisms). Also few of them work on applications of the kind I am interested in (which are close to some EA proejcts) --more often they are into investing, sometimes product development, or on allocating resources to best find terrorist cells and such.

Comment by ishi on [Link] Research as a Stochastic Decision Process · 2019-09-15T14:38:10.625Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · EA · GW

My own approach i describe as multiobjective optimization but more based on simulated annealing/statistical mechanics) and deals with 'stopping times' rather than 'fail rates' though they are closely connected. I think maybe many EA affiliated people will not go through that whole paper--at least the few i've met. (I was told to get a CS degree either at UCSF where i had a job in theoretical biology or stanford, so i chose the 'stopping time' or 'fail rate'. I was pretty succesful at failing. Completed failing at 4 projects in 4 months. Condoleeza Rice also teaches at Stanford now---she helped win the war in Afghanistsan, Iraq, etc. No, good deed goes unrewarded.

Comment by ishi on Existential Risk and Economic Growth · 2019-09-05T17:18:41.533Z · score: 0 (3 votes) · EA · GW

That's an interesting and the little i skimmed was somewhat straight forward if you can get through the dialect or notation, which is standard in econ papers ---which i'd call neoclassical. ( I got up to about page 20 -- discussions of effects of scientists/workers switching to safety production rather than consumption production).

This raises to me a few issues. you have probably seen Given debates about risks of other envirojmental risks like GMOs and nuclear energy, its even unclear what is 'safety' or 'precautionary' versus consumption production. Its also unclear how much 'science can come to the rescue' (discussed many places like AAAS).

There are also the behavioral issues---even if your model (like the Kuznets curve) is basically correct and one can calculate 'effectively altruistic' policies, whether they will be supported by the public/government and entice scientists and other workers to switch to 'green jobs' (whether technical or, say organic farming ) is a sociopolitical issue.

(Its possible other sorts of models, or variants of yours using some behavioral data, might be able to assess both effects of policies as you do, and include factors describing the plausibility they will be adopted. (I googled you at Columbia and see you also studied public opinion spread via Twitter, etc. and that gives ideas about dynamics of behavioral variables. Presumably these are already implicit in your various parameters beta, epsilon, etc. I guess these are also implicit in the discount factors discussed by Nordhaus and others--but they may have their own dynamics, rather than being constants. )

Alot of current climate activists promote 'degrowth' and lifestyle change (diet, transport, etc.) (eg extinction rebellion) , partly because because they think that maybe more important than growth, and don't trust growth will be applied to 'safety' rather than activities that contribute to AGW risks. Also many of them don't trust economic models, and many if not most people do understand them much (I can can only get a rough understanding partly because going through the math details is both often beyond my competency, and I have other things to do (i'm trying to sketch more simple models that attempt to catch the main ideas which might be comprehensible to and useful for a wider audience. ) As noted, a variant of your model could probably include some of these sociopolitical issues.)

Anyway, thought provoking paper.

Comment by ishi on Best EA use of $500,000AUD/$340,000 USD for basic science? · 2019-08-31T18:33:11.173Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

My answer would be to split up the donation money into 2 parts---maybe 1/2, 1/2, or 1/3rd, 2/3rds---and give 1/2 or 2/3rds to established people or projects in universities/institutions which have a high probability of having an 'impact'., and allocate the remaining funds to several smaller 'startup' or 'incubator' type projects or people who are not in universities/institutions which are riskier but are neglected and may pay off. (the smaller donations should not be too small --e.g. not 1$ for each grantee--but rather should have some 'threshold level' sufficient to get the project up and running in '1.0' form. I could also see requiring or asking the 'startup' to find 'donation matching funds' as a form of peer review for some risky proposal---ie if you will give them say 5G$ or 10G $ , ask them to find the same amount from other sources (who think they have a good idea, and then you will match it.)

I'm biased to the view I see an overcontration of funding towards big and established institutions --'preferential attachement' as they say in network theory---rich get richer, poor get poorer, although the 'rich' sometimes say their research is devoted to helping the poor. To use an analogy (which may be offensive to vegans, but it can be phrased in vegan terms as well) , too often some well funded research is too weighted to figuring out how to give fish to starving people, rather than giving them a fishing line and hook so they can get their own fish. )

Comment by ishi on How Life Sciences Actually Work: Findings of a Year-Long Investigation · 2019-08-31T13:05:38.484Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

p.s. I just read the article (and comments) in more detail. Its 'spot on', though primarily appears be focused on lab researchers in biology. (its also a fairly long and detailed article with many references). the field of biology I was in is much smaller, though i think just about every biology department in a research university has a theoretical/mathematical biologist, or a few---especially in ecology and genetics. however, alot of people have never even heard of this area; and some biologists thinks it mostly irrelevant.

While i cannot claim to be (and am almost am not a genius) Every single 'bad habit' or 'trait' described in the section 'nobody cares if you are a genius' applies to me . Sometimes it only takes me once sentence to get 'downvoted' (or banned) by people i'm around---sometimes this is because i grew up and often am around people who speak 'dialect' (or non-pc speech---though my values are basically pc) and i say something that others find offensive. Also among some academics (and musicians--since that is another of my interests) if you mention the name of a scientist who actually is a sort of arch-rival to the scientist you are talking to, that's often the end of the conversation (the same is true in music--you better not say you like some musician that the musician you are talking to hates.)

last, to a certain extent its possible my own 'research program' is partly meaningless or useless. I know some projects i worked on but never published on (in biology and economics) were basically correct, and the problems were generating many confused papers at the time (and actually still do), but many people have published papers basically saying my points to a large degree (and sometimes with more technical detail--my math skills are not wht they should be for me to say what i want to say). my current project (which is on multiobjective optimization) may be a 'tangent' to the main work in that area (most of which involves algorithms). so it may just be a curiosity (i've seen papers in math and physics entitled things like 'my failed proof of the reimman conjecture', or fermat's last theorem , or 4 color problem. ) There are whole books on such failed proofs.

Another example of 'teams' (eg Feynman and Dyson) is Einstein--who needed someone expert in differential geometry--who he found. Ramanujan needed someone who knew how to turn notes into accepted mathematics and could deal with beurocracy (and he found G H Hardy to help write it up).

(I need someone who knows how to do some basic computer work (eg show me how to use google docs, create PDFs...) and ideally someone who knows a bit more number theory and computer programming than me (i learned C++, but python/R/netlogo may be more relevant and i'm too lazy and incomeptnt to learn them). While theoretical biology projects were mathematical, eventually you had to put them on a computer. My current project is like that.

From an EA view, one is really talking about 'transaction costs' and 'barriers and bounds to rationality' (name of a book by D Foley and P Albin). If one was a good mathematician this could be phrased in those terms (and Foley has affiliations with SFI and a few people there are familiar with some of the math formalism required.)

While i applied to Tyler Cowan's grant program (visions) and read some of his blog, papers and other things from Mercatus center (one person there collaborates with a person at SFI who i contacted but got no reply) i think my politics means they would never fund me. (Same with Templeton, and even some more 'left leaning ' organizations like IPS and ones in economics. They do fund redundant and incomplete, second rate work so long as the people have credentials, and can pack their books and papers with alot of data (numbers) which are basically meaningless to anyone who is not fluent in things like all the masses of the atomic elements and elementary particles, or exchange rate between dollars, pounds,s euros, yen and bitcoin).

If i was organized one project i have is to write a a reply to a paper from Mercatus .