Posts

Effective animal advocacy bottlenecks surveys 2021-01-13T13:38:52.491Z
Technical research for animal product alternatives skills profile 2020-11-30T15:56:08.880Z
Animal product alternatives for-profit roles spot-check 2020-11-19T07:31:35.113Z
Jamie_Harris's Shortform 2020-10-17T07:00:08.848Z
A Brief Overview of Recruitment and Retention Research 2020-10-06T14:21:17.332Z
Careers advising calls and an online course about impact-focused animal advocacy 2020-09-18T13:37:20.832Z
Careers (to help animals) in politics, policy, and lobbying 2020-08-30T10:37:13.870Z
Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review 2020-07-24T16:21:08.754Z
Social Movement Lessons from the US Prisoners' Rights Movement 2020-07-22T12:10:39.884Z
What Interventions Can Animal Advocates Use To Build Community In Their Country? 2020-07-17T17:42:29.040Z
Animal Advocacy Careers advice 2020-07-06T12:56:05.867Z
The Effects of Animal-Free Food Technology Awareness on Animal Farming Opposition 2020-05-16T07:30:35.987Z
Which institutional tactics can animal advocates use? 2020-04-29T14:11:22.174Z
Effective Animal Advocacy Nonprofit Roles Spot-Check 2020-03-31T15:22:36.283Z
Research on developing management and leadership expertise 2020-03-05T16:57:42.422Z
Introducing the Sentience Institute Podcast 2019-12-05T18:12:44.012Z
Survey data on the moral value of sentient individuals compared to non-sentient environmental systems 2019-10-27T07:00:00.000Z
A short survey on bottlenecks in effective animal advocacy from nine attendees of Effective Altruism Global London 2019-10-24T07:00:00.000Z
Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity? 2019-06-11T20:33:50.415Z
How tractable is changing the course of history? 2019-05-22T15:29:49.195Z
A case study for animal-focused local EA movement building: Effective Animal Altruism London 2019-01-23T22:09:32.308Z
Event Review: EA Global: London (2018) 2018-12-17T22:29:35.324Z
Book Review: The End of Animal Farming (Jacy Reese, 2018) 2018-12-17T22:26:34.669Z

Comments

Comment by jamie_harris on How do EA researchers decide on which topics to write on, and how much time to spend on it? · 2021-01-03T18:43:42.756Z · EA · GW

For me, the short answer is that I follow this process!

Comment by jamie_harris on What areas are the most promising to start new EA meta charities - A survey of 40 EAs · 2020-12-23T16:08:13.632Z · EA · GW

Thanks! A lot of these tradeoffs are closer to a 50/50 split than I would have expected.

I'd be interested in any info you're able to share about who was actually asked -- but I'm guessing you've already shared as much info as you feel you are able to about that.

I'd also be interested in what the numerical scores are based on?

Comment by jamie_harris on How high impact are UK policy career paths? · 2020-12-19T17:58:37.977Z · EA · GW

I don't think I have much to offer on all-things-considered views of how civil service roles compare to lobbying, politics, earning to give, etc. But since you expressed interest in anecdotes, you might be interested in Animal Advocacy Careers' skills profile on politics, policy, and lobbying (https://www.animaladvocacycareers.org/skills-profiles). You can read the interviews in full on a spreadsheet off that profile -- two of the interviewees were UK civil servants.

Comment by jamie_harris on What skills would you like 1-5 EAs to develop? · 2020-12-16T09:49:26.684Z · EA · GW

I'd like to see a small number of people connecting EA to each of these... Social movements (eg Fair Trade, Black Lives Matter, drug reform/prison reform movements)

If you still hold this view, I'd be interested in why you'd like to see people "connecting EA to each of these." What are the benefits you expect? Is it for recruitment (i.e. getting them to switch causes), shared strategic knowledge, or something else? (If you don't still hold this view, I'd be interested in why not?)

I ask because I'm just finishing up a social movement case study on the Fair Trade movement; hence why I stumbled across this post from a year and a half ago.

Comment by jamie_harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-12-14T22:53:43.151Z · EA · GW

That's a good point -- my intention was that it would be the same individual in each instance, just with or without the training, but I didn't word the survey question clearly to reflect that.

Comment by jamie_harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-12-13T20:56:07.007Z · EA · GW

Oops, I meant "the further they got"

Psychology, sociology, (history), (political science). I imagine that that's an unusually broad range to be considering, but I didn't want to rule anything out prematurely. My undergraduate was in history but my research in nonprofits has been much more social science-y, and a bit more quantitative.

I imagine that there's a very broad range that could be on the table. I haven't thought about this question in general that much for "EA / longtermist" research orgs. For effective animal advocacy research organisations, my main guesses would be the same as the list above, plus economics. But there could be others that I haven't thought about, related to those options, or an unusually good fit for some individuals etc.

Comment by jamie_harris on Coaching: An under-appreciated strategy among effective altruists · 2020-12-13T20:47:40.169Z · EA · GW

Thank you! Great points. Based on your post, this comment, and some brief additional reflection, I've booked an intro call with Lynette.

Comment by jamie_harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-12-13T09:58:59.037Z · EA · GW

The value of graduate training for EA researchers: researchers seem to think it is worthwhile

Imagine the average "generalist" researcher employed by an effective altruist / longtermist nonprofit with a substantial research component (e.g. Open Philanthropy, Founders' Pledge, Rethink Priorities, Center on Long-Term Risk). Let's say that, if they start their research career with an undergraduate/bachelor's degree in a relevant field but no graduate training, each year of full-time work, they produce one "unit" of impact.

In a short Google Form, posted on the Effective Altruism Researchers and EA Academia Facebook groups,  I provided the above paragraph and then asked: "If, as well as an undergraduate/bachelor's degree, they start their research career at EA nonprofits with a master's degree in a relevant field, how many "units" of impact do you expect that they would produce each year for the first ~10 years of work?"* The average response, from the 8 respondents, was 1.7. 

I also asked: "If, as well as an undergraduate/bachelor's degree, they start their research career at EA nonprofits with a PhD in a relevant field, how many "units" of impact do you expect that they would produce each year for the first ~10 years of work?"* The average response was 3.9. 

I also asked people whether they were a researcher at a nonprofit, in academia, or neither, and whether they had graduate training themselves or not.** Unsurprisingly, researchers in academia rated the value of graduate training more highly than researchers in nonprofits (2.0 and 4.3 for each year with a master's and a PhD, respectively, compared to 1.2 and 1.7), as did respondents with graduate training themselves, relative to respondents without graduate training (2.0 and 5.2 compared to 1.2 and 1.7).

I asked a free-text response question: "Do you think that the value of graduate training would increase/compound, or decrease/discount, the got further into their career?" 4 respondents wrote that the value of graduate training would decrease/discount the got further into their career, but didn't provide any explanations for this reasoning. This was also my expectation; my reasoning was that one or more years' of graduate training, which would likely only be partly relevant to the nonprofit work that you would be doing, would become relatively less important later on, since your knowledge, skills, and connections would have increased through your work in nonprofits. 

However, two respondents argued that the value of graduate training would increase/compound. One added: "People without PhDs are sadly often overlooked for good research positions and also under-respected relative to their skill. If they don't have a PhD they will almost never end up in a senior research position." The other noted that it would "increase/compound, particularly if they do things other than anonymous research, e.g. they build an impressive CV, get invited to conferences because of their track record. If one doesn't have a PhD, the extent of this is limited, mostly unless one fits a high-credibility non-academic profile, e.g. founded an organization."

I did some simple modelling / back of the envelope calculations to estimate the value of different pathways, accounting for 1) the multipliers on the value of your output as discussed in the questions on the form and 2) the time lost on graduate education.*** Tldr; with the multiplier values suggested by the form respondents, graduate education clearly looks worthwhile for early career researchers working in EA nonprofits, assuming they will work in an EA research nonprofit for the rest of their career. It gets a little more complex if you try to work it out in financial terms, e.g. accounting for tuition fees.

For my own situation (with a couple of years of experience in an EA research role, no graduate training), I had guessed multipliers of 1.08 and 1.12 on the value of my research in the ~10 years after completing graduate training, for a master's and PhD, respectively. For the remaining years of a research career after that, I had estimated 1.01 and 1.02. Under these assumptions, the total output of a nonprofit research career with or without a master's looks nearly identical for me; the output after completing a PhD looks somewhat worse. However, with the average values from the Google form then the output looks much better with a master's than without and with a PhD than with just a master's. Using the more pessimistic values from other EA nonprofit researchers, or respondents without graduate training, the order is still undergrad only < master's < PhD, though the differences are smaller. In my case, tuition fees seem unlikely to affect these calculations much (see the notes on the rough models sheet).

Of course, which option is best for any individual also depends on numerous other career strategy considerations.  For example, let's think about "option value." Which options are you likely to pursue if research in EA nonprofits doesn't work out or you decide to try something else? Pursuing graduate training might enable you to test your fit with academia and pivot towards that path if it seems promising, but if your next best option is some role in a nonprofit that is unrelated to research (e.g. fundraising), then graduate education might not be as valuable.

I decided to post here partly in case others would benefit, and partly because I'm interested in feedback on/critiques of my reasoning, so please feel free to be critical in the comments!

*For both questions, I noted: "There are many complications and moderating factors for the questions below, but answering assuming the "average" for all other unspecified variables could still be helpful.)" and "1 = the same as if they just had a bachelor's; numbers below 1 represent reduced impact, numbers above 1 represent increased impact."
**These questions were pretty simplified, not permitting people to select multiple options.
*** Here, for simplicity,  I assumed that: 
- You would produce no value while doing your graduate training, which seems likely to be false, especially during (the later years of) a PhD. 
- The value of 1 year after your graduate education was the same as 1 year before retirement, which seems likely to be false.

Comment by jamie_harris on Coaching: An under-appreciated strategy among effective altruists · 2020-12-07T11:32:41.795Z · EA · GW

This is very impressive when compared to effects observed in psychology (figure, full; if it's helpful, this effect size is similar to the gain in height American girls experience between 14 and 18 years of age).

Would you be able to share where you got this analogy from? I often  read research that deals with effect sizes like standardised mean difference, hedges G, Cohen's d and so on, but I don't have a very good intuition for what those effect sizes mean. I'd love to see more examples like this that helps to build my intuition.

Comment by jamie_harris on Coaching: An under-appreciated strategy among effective altruists · 2020-12-06T15:37:44.350Z · EA · GW

I'm convinced that investing time and resources in improving productivity (especially early in your career where the gains might last for longer), including perhaps via coaching, will often be worthwhile. But when I have looked at coaching sites, they seem to be phrased in terms of addressing pre-existing issues.

E.g. from your site: "swift behavioral changes to increase productivity, decrease procrastination and anxiety, and remove paralyzing stress (if present)". I have no problems with procrastination, anxiety, or stress. I think I'm pretty productive already, I'm just hoping to get better.

Would you still recommend reaching out to coaches and having the free calls, even if 1) I'm not sure what I'd gain from their coaching, 2) I don't match up very well with some/all of the examples described on their site? Why/why not?

Comment by jamie_harris on Animal Welfare Fund: November 2020 grant recommendations · 2020-12-05T08:13:52.469Z · EA · GW

The resulting project, ModernFerma, seeks to become a credible, trusted partner that can convince producers, policymakers, and other influential Russian agriculture stakeholders of the economic case for reforms... It may also be an especially promising approach in Russia's more difficult political environment, just as similar approaches have had success in other locations with similar environments.

Huh, I wonder what this is referring to? I'd be keen to see examples of that.

Comment by jamie_harris on The Comparability of Subjective Scales · 2020-12-05T07:45:22.729Z · EA · GW

Interesting! I would have thought you could test this empirically? For example, though it wouldn't tell you the answer to this question, it would be informative if someone:

  • Created vignettes about people in various conditions (e.g. with certain diseases) and asked people to rate those people's "happiness, life satisfaction" etc. Ask people in different countries and check for systematic differences by country. Ask the same people at different time points to see how much variation there is in the answers from time to time.
  • (Less useful?) Showed people vignettes about people in various conditions or about different events and stories, didn't ask any questions about those vignettes, but then asked participants (in different countries or at different time points) to rate their own "happiness, life satisfaction" etc. The test here is whether the effect of external stimuli on these ratings is similar in different cultures and across time, or whether the effects vary systematically.
  • Asked people  questions about their own "happiness, life satisfaction" etc, then asked them to qualitatively describe what 1 and 10 would look like. Do some sort of content analysis of the answers.

(I've only read your summary and I'm not familiar with the literature, so apologies if people already talk about this sort of thing or have run these sorts of studies.)

Comment by jamie_harris on Learnings about literature review strategy from research practice sessions · 2020-11-23T20:45:13.687Z · EA · GW

"Searching smartly is often more effective than going down the citation trail" I'd love more detail / clarification on this if you're happy to share? I think I pretty much exclusively go down the citation trail.

Relatedly, what's the benefit of having "a pile of papers ready to look at" before you start reading them? Unless you're trying to be systematic and comprehensive (in which case you might as wel gather them all first), it seems to me that reading through papers as you go helps you realise if you need to adjust your search terms or add new ones, or if you're just hitting diminishing returns on the review generally. I pretty much just Google Scholar search and start reading the first item that comes up.

Comment by jamie_harris on Please Take the 2020 EA Survey · 2020-11-19T19:37:27.159Z · EA · GW

Looking forward to seeing the results!  

Minor comment: there was a question that asked for "up to 1" response in each column, where I wasn't sure if this was a typo (and should have said row); I couldn't really make sense of it either way, with the two columns that were available.

Comment by jamie_harris on List of EA-related organisations · 2020-10-24T07:27:58.317Z · EA · GW

Cool list! I'm surprised there aren't more organisations on this list that meet at least one of your three criteria.

Some comments below and further examples that focus mostly on animal advocacy, because it's the area I'm most knowledgeable about, but could probably be applied similarly to other cause areas. I'm partly sharing these comments because we use similar criteria to work out which organisations to focus Animal Advocacy Careers' research on (e.g. our spot-check of nonprofit roles, and we have a survey we're going to send out in the next few weeks), and I'm interested in feedback.

 

I don’t think this is a useful or even possible distinction to make, since many organisations lie on a continuum of commitment to EA values.

Agreed. It get's pretty messy, whichever criteria you use, because all are subjective. I tend to think of the two main criteria as: 

(1) Explicit identification and alignment with the goals and principles of effective altruism.

(2) High cost-effectiveness.

Are currently recommended by GiveWell or Animal Charity Evaluators

This is one group's judgement on goal (2). For Animal Advocacy Careers, I've been using the slightly looser definition of any organisations  that are currently or formerly "Top Charities" or "Standout charities." This would add quite a few to your list.

  • Animal Equality
  • Compassion in World Farming USA
  • Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations
  • Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection Campaign
  • L214
  • Mercy For Animals
  • New Harvest
  • Nonhuman Rights Project
  • ProVeg International
  • Sinergia Animal
  • Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira
  • Vegan Outreach

If you wanted to broaden/loosen the criteria a bit further (but still use evaluations by external groups, rather than your own judgement), the next steps might be:

  • Including any groups that have received grants by Open Philanthropy (we're planning to include this criterion for our survey, notwithstanding a couple of other exclusion criteria)
  • Including any groups that have received grants by other highly EA-aligned grant-making bodies, e.g. ACE, EA Funds (we're not using this criterion, in part because both of these groups tend to make more speculative bets, including to smaller organisations, and in part just because it would probably give us a really long list of organisations to contact for the survey)
  • Something we umm and arr about is whether to include any/all groups who participate in the (The Humane League-coordinated) Open Wing Alliance. (Not including in our forthcoming survey.)

Have explicitly aligned themselves with EA

Similar to my (1) but your definition is a bit narrower, I think. I think that there are a large number of organisations that would fit this criterion to some extent. Groups from your list who fit this, in my opinion:

  • Veganuary
  • Sentience Politics
  • Global Food Partners
  • Aquatic Life Institute
  • 50by40
  • Credence Institute
  • Farmed Animal Funders

But also, most of the organisations on the list above of ACE current or former top or standout charities (perhaps especially Mercy For Animals, Animal Equality, and ProVeg). Again, many of the orgs in the Open Wing Alliance arguably fit this criterion.

Were incubated by Charity Entrepreneurship

Interesting. I guess this is a proxy for both my (1) and (2)? Credence Institute fit this criterion.

Have engaged with the EA community (e.g. by posting on the EA Forum or attending EA Global)

This seems veeeery broad and I imagine there are lots that would be added by this criterion. Personally I  wouldn't use it. Some that I can remember off the top of my head that fit this:

  • Pour l'Égalité Animale
  • Compassion in World Farming
  • Veganuary (again)

But I'm sure there are many more, I just haven't been tracking it.

 

Lower importance comment: Given that both 80,000 Hours and Animal Charity Evaluators are in "Infrastructure," I'd put Animal Advocacy Careers in that category too. Maybe also WANBAM and CEEALAR. I'd also reclassify Sentience Institute as "Far future" since that is our focus, even if our work to date has mostly focused on animal advocacy(e.g.s of two exceptions); we have forthcoming work on artificial sentience, for example.

Comment by jamie_harris on What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies · 2020-10-22T21:34:17.088Z · EA · GW

Seems like we agree on a lot! I don't think I wrote my summaries and your re-phrasings seem to me to be very similar to what I intended.

I agree that looking at causes and factors influencing "beneficial outcomes" is interesting and useful, just a slightly different purpose from looking at the causes and factors influencing the successes of ally-based movements.

<<I'd also love to hear other constructive feedback/advice for doing better historical work in the future, if you have any off the top of your head.>>

I'm no expert and am hoping to start doing some more synthesis / comparison of our case studies so far soon, which is where some of these methodological considerations will come into play. Ive written about some of the methodological considerations here in some depth. https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/blog/what-can-the-farmed-animal-movement-learn-from-history

Some more "practical" tips which may or may not be useful and may or may not be obvious:

  • a few times I've come across numerous people asserting that a particular change was highly influential or that that X led to Y, but the citations trace back to inference from chronological order of events and maybe one or two supporting anecdotal comments. I'm generally pretty hesitant to make strong causal claims or to repeat causal claims made by others.
  • typing in the name of the movement you're looking at plus the word "history" into Google Scholar and then going through the results seems to be a decent way to start.
  • I think you'll often hit pretty rapidly diminishing returns on time invested after the first 2-5 books/articles you read on a particular topic, but you'll keep finding useful information (of strategic importance) and occasionally changing your view on something you were quite confident about earlier for quite a long time after that.
  • sometimes research gets a little siloed by discipline, but historians, legal scholars, sociologists, political scientists, and economists often each have something to add to the understanding of a particular movement or case study.
Comment by jamie_harris on What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies · 2020-10-20T20:01:21.111Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much for doing this work. I’m glad to see other people taking an interest in historical evidence to inform questions about global priorities and to inform strategies for moral circle expansion.

I think this is an Impressive overview to have created in a short period of time. And I like the efforts to explicitly assess causation, resisting the ever-present temptation to tell a chronological narrative and assume causal relationships where there is little evidence to suggest them.

Most of Sentience Institute’s case studies to date have focused primarily on one country, or a comparison between two countries. I found the big picture, international consideration interesting. In general, I’m updating slightly towards the importance of international pressure in causing further change and a strategy of, as you suggest, concentrating resources in particular promising locations so that representatives of those countries might sooner become international advocates. I was finding tentative evidence for similar claims in my case study of the US anti-death penalty movement, which includes some comparison to Europe (and briefer comparison to the wider international situation). If you haven’t read that, you may find that interesting.

One other  thing I was quite excited about is the following comment:

Political short-termism usually works against future generations, but it can work for future generations if politicians’ and lobbyists’ concern with the short term keeps them from strongly opposing commitments to one day care about future generations... For future generations, this might look like advocating for policies, such as committees or funds for future generations, that will not be implemented for a decade or more.

I wasn’t quite sure how this followed from the historical evidence that you examine, but I thought it was a cool argument, and something I hadn’t thought about explicitly in terms of how longtermist moral circle expansion efforts might look different from neartermist work on animal advocacy or other cause areas that relate to MCE. If we care about, say, maximising the chances that factory farming ends, rather than helping animals as much as possible within the next 10 (or 100) years, then we might be able to effectively trade immediacy for increased radicalism (or durability or some other key priority).

————

Of course, with a post of this size, there are a lot of nitpicks and comments it’s tempting to offer. But I’ll avoid those and focus on what I think is my most substantial concern. Also, I'll note that I read this post spread over several evenings, so if this is a little incoherent or inaccurate at times, I apologise!

It seems like you’re pursuing two separate goals in this research:

  1. Identifying/assessing factors influencing the success of ally-based social movements (i.e. social movements whose intended beneficiaries are not the same as the advocates) in order to draw strategic implications for advocacy for future generations, which is an ally-based social movement,
  2. Identifying/assessing factors that affect the interests of future generations. 

Ideally, I don’t think you would mix these, e.g. in the inclusion criteria (i.e. the selection of the case studies), e.g. in creating a single model that blurs the two goals.

In line with goal (1), you have included several ally-based social movements: anti-slavery (mostly free people advocating for / deciding on the fate of slaves) and environmentalism (present-day humans advocating for / deciding on the fate of the environment). However, you also include movements that are not ally-based — oppressed peoples seeking to empower themselves through democratisation and people advocating for regulations on genetic engineering in order to protect themselves and human society more broadly. Since no justification was provided for the inclusion of democratisation, I was initially confused by this choice, but some clarity was offered by the justification for the inclusion of genetic engineering:

The governance of genetic engineering has reduced a significant threat to future generations: certain engineered pathogens could bring about human extinction, keeping future generations from existing.

Hence, I infer that goal (2) influenced the case study selection. This is supported by the justification for the inclusion of the environmentalism movement, which seems to mix (1) and (2):

environmental advocates have achieved significant successes for future generations, as well as other entities that have no direct political power: ecosystems.

I think this critique of the methodology is quite important, because it directly bears on one of the main arguments you advance in this research: "inclusive values" were not that important in driving change, which suggests that further MCE is not as likely as a simple extrapolation from the trend towards expanded moral circles in the past few centuries might imply.

Including a focus on movements that have only accidentally benefited future generations and then noting that the changes occurred mainly because they benefited powerful groups (present humans) rather than because people intended to help future generations seems tautological. (I think this might be a pretty uncharitable interpretation of your intentions; apologies if so, but hopefully it helps to make the point.) Hence, I think it's more valuable to evaluate movements by  their own goals, or at least by their effects on their intended beneficiaries (e.g. the environment rather than future generations for the environmentalism movement, e.g. present generations for genetic engineering).

By comparison, in selecting Sentience Institute’s case studies, we have focused on ally-based movements (with a secondary important consideration being chronological proximity). Hence, our case studies have been: Antislavery, anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and prisoners’ rights (though the latter turned out to be less “ally-based” than I was expecting). I’ve also got one on the Fair Trade movement underway. These were chosen principally for comparability with the farmed animal movement but are similarly if not equally applicable to advocacy for future generations.

Although I see this concern as weakening the case that you put forward, I do think weak evidence is useful, and I’ve still updated my views a little away from the tractability of changing the course of history and likelihood of further MCE.

Thanks again for this very cool research!

Comment by jamie_harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T10:57:59.157Z · EA · GW
Have you identified the key difference(s) between your calculation and John's calculation that leads to the different result? It might be helpful to call this out

No, I haven't gone through and done that. Actually, John's calculations still come out in favour of buying from a financial perspective, albeit by a much smaller margin than in my calculations; I think he was put off for other reasons.

Pretty minor point, but the 3.5% discount rate should decline over time and it doesn't seem you've factored this in (it shouldn't really change much though as you're not looking over a very long time scale)

I'm probably doing the maths completely wrong on that bit... suggestions for correct formula to use are welcome. Commenting on the sheet is currently on if you want to comment on directly.

It could actually be higher or lower depending on an individual's preferred cause area/underlying ethical views. The general point that you're making that buying a house only provides access to money when older, and therefore that this becomes subject to discounting is a very useful one though

Yeah I haven't got my head very thoroughly round the various arguments on this, so thanks for sharing. My impression was also that using 3.5% didn't make much sense and should probably either go lower than that (for "patient" reasons) or much higher (if you think opportunities for cost-effective giving will diminish rapidly for various reasons.


Some relevant context I probably should have added to the post was that I did this calculation because I was very surprised at John's overall conclusion and wanted to check it, and, despite this not being very thorough or anywhere near my research "expertise", I thought other people might benefit from these rough and ready efforts, so decided to share.

Comment by jamie_harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T10:50:13.721Z · EA · GW

No, I didn't list the "other" pros and cons, this is just the financial perspective.

I don't have a good sense of how difficult it is to move houses. But my guess is that a decision to move for work or not wouldn't be that dependent on selling a house. E.g. you either want to stay, come what may, because of reasons like friends, family, partners etc, or you're personally happy to move, and wouldn't mind selling then renting?

Comment by jamie_harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T07:00:09.235Z · EA · GW

Buying a house will probably save you lots of money, which you can later donate, but it might not make much difference (and may work out as negative) in terms of your ability to do good.

It seems like common sense that buying a house saves you from wasting money on rent and works out better, financially, in the long term. But earlier this year, John Halstead wrote a blogpost providing a bunch of reasons not to buy a house.

I had another look at John's calculations. I kept the basic calculations the same, but added a few considerations and re-checked the appropriate numbers for London (where I live). I also added various different tabs of the spreadsheet to compare things like variations in interest rates, property prices, timeframes for buying and selling, and other costs. In every scenario, unless there's a housing crash shortly after you buy, it looks like buying comes out as far, far better, from a financial perspective. In the best guess, realistic scenario, buying came out as about £550,000 better after 10 years. John has also had another look at his calculations since his post and seems more optimistic about buying. I haven't looked at figures and costs for countries other than the UK, but the differences are so large that I'd quite surprised if investing and renting came out as more favourable in (m)any countries.

This doesn't address the concerns about buying in John's blog post (e.g. that you will only be able access the money when you're older). But if you're interested in patient philanthropy, and are happy to donate more accumulated wealth in several decades' time (when you downsize or die) rather than having a strong preference for donating less sooner, then buying a house looks better. (For discussion, see "Giving now vs giving later" and "How becoming a ‘patient philanthropist’ could allow you to do far more good")

Despite the large raw difference between buying vs. renting and investing, these differences might mean surprisingly little, in terms of ability to do good in the world, if you apply a discount to the value of future money to calculate its net present value. If you apply a high discount rate, then the gains are practically zero. Indeed, some EA orgs express a strong preference for money sooner rather than later. I haven't worked this bit out properly, but if you take these numbers literally (and reject patient philanthropy) it might be better to just donate sooner rather than to save up for a deposit.

Comment by jamie_harris on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-10-10T11:21:50.106Z · EA · GW

You (the OP) could also think of collaborating with an existing platform as a lower cost test of the idea. If it works well in that situation and you later realise that the lack of a tailored platform is a barrier to scaling up, you could seek to create one at that point.

Another thought on the lower cost test idea: try to get buy-in from Republicans before spending as much time on outreach to Democrats. If you're failing to get interest from Republicans, the idea might not work.

(Also, like Sanjay, I really like the idea in principle.)

Comment by jamie_harris on A Brief Overview of Recruitment and Retention Research · 2020-10-07T20:58:14.398Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much! The seemingly low importance of salary to recruitment and retention was one of my main updates from tbis project. I don't have a lot to add beyond that and what's in the post (If you're interested, I'd encourage reading the summaries of the relevant studies on the spreadsheet and maybe reading the full studies.)

Comment by jamie_harris on What actually is the argument for effective altruism? · 2020-09-27T20:47:09.283Z · EA · GW

"The greater the degree of spread, the more you’re giving up by not searching." This makes sense. But I don't think you have to agree with the "big" part of premise 1 to support and engage with the project of effective altruism, e.g. you could think that there are small differences but those differences are worth pursuing anyway. The "big" part seems like a common claim within effective altruism but not necessarily a core component?

(You didn't claim explicitly in the post above that you have to agree with the "big" part but I think it's implied? I also haven't listened to the episode yet.)

Comment by jamie_harris on How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year? · 2020-09-19T20:36:26.641Z · EA · GW

Exactly the same for me, minus the bit about people moving away.

Comment by jamie_harris on Asking for advice · 2020-09-05T13:40:22.718Z · EA · GW

+1 for writing a concise document outlining your needs. +1 for personally liking knowing someone is taking notes on what you're saying.

I find it's helpful to be especially clear about the stage of completion that something is. E.g. I've given detailed feedback on draft documents beforehand, only to realise by the end that the document was intended more as an incomplete brainstorm than a finished product. And I've failed to make that clear to others before and received unnecessarily specific feedback.

Comment by jamie_harris on Cause/charity selection tradeoffs · 2020-08-28T22:54:19.628Z · EA · GW

Here is a bunch of tradeoffs that affect animal advocacy. This post provides others in EA more widely. (Apologies, this is kind of the opposite to what you asked for, but I thought it was worth leaving them here anyway just in case it was helpful.)

Comment by jamie_harris on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-17T07:49:33.409Z · EA · GW
It also seems that the report somewhat under-emphasizes the idea of lobbying equilibria where marginal increases by one side would be quickly countered, which would make it look like additional money could be effective when in effect it is not.

Thanks for sharing this. I'd be interested if you're aware of empirical evidence of this effect/reaction happening? Or is this largely a theoretical concern?

Comment by jamie_harris on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-17T07:44:36.399Z · EA · GW
Groups that spend more relative to their opposition on a given policy are likelier to win... Although Baumgartner et al conduct an observational study, the size of their (to me, convincingly representative) sample to me suggests that if such an effect exists, it should be observable as a correlation in their analysis. The association they observe is pretty small.

I just skimmed this thread, so apologies if I missed a comment on this. But Baumgartner et al. don't argue that money doesn't matter. They believe that the reason there's little evidence in their study that money affects outcomes is because “the status quo already reflects the distribution of power in previous rounds of the policy process." I.e. they don't see large changes during their 4 year study period, because the situation at the start of their study period tended to favour the resource-rich groups.

Comment by jamie_harris on EA Forum feature suggestion thread · 2020-08-16T11:42:35.840Z · EA · GW

I like listening to articles on "Voice aloud reader." I think that the easiest way to use this is to open a PDF file. So some method of converting forum posts into PDF's might be useful, even if it stripped out images, graphs etc.

(Pretty low priority, feel free to ignore if not common. It's also possible I just haven't played around with Voice Aloud Reader and similar software enough)

Comment by jamie_harris on Animal Welfare Fund Grants – August 2020 · 2020-08-16T11:33:54.670Z · EA · GW

Good to see this reasoning! I had assumed that another reason was essentially that it enables lower-cost tests of the promise of particular ideas? I.e. EA Funds can support a number of small organisations to scale up slightly; if it goes well, then they might be candidates for funding from Open Philanthropy or other sources of larger grants.

Comment by jamie_harris on The extreme cost-effectiveness of cell-based meat R&D · 2020-08-16T10:53:30.626Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this! I had considered attempting some sort of back of the envelope calculation like this myself so I'm glad to see your effort.

I also found it interesting to see some of your guesses/assumptions, like "Suppose without cell-based meat, humans will use farm animals for another 10.000 years at 10^11 animals per year." I think that, if a more rigorous cost-effectiveness analysis was attempted, it would be good to survey experts on their intuitions on some big questions like that.


This sort of modelling is definitely not my forte, so apologies if I'm misunderstanding. Am I right in saying that the model currently assumes *no* diminishing returns? I.e. that the 100 millionth dollar donating to cultivated meat R&D is equal to the 1st dollar? I think that the value of additional contributions on the margin is the important (and difficult) thing to estimate.

Animal Charity Evaluators estimates a cost-effectiveness of around 10 farm animals spared per euro donated to its top recommended charities. This is an order 10 lower than cell-based meat R&D.

I'm not sure that ACE's CEAs should really be compared to your CEA. The methodologies are very different. E.g. ACE's CEAs exclude any uncertain, medium-term effects, whereas your CEA is essentially entirely based on those sorts of medium-term effects (I say medium-term to distinguish effects on farmed animals in the next few centuries from effects on other future sentient beings such as artificial sentience).


A couple of lower importance comments, for the main thrust of your post:

Based only on the responses of non-vegans who answered that they reduced their animal product consumption, it requires roughly 1000 leaflets for one equivalent conversion to veganism.

ACE's meta-analysis provides less reason for optimism than the study you refer to.

We can also estimate the overall cost-effectiveness of animal advocacy campaigns. The US population has an order of magnitude 10^8 people. Suppose meat consumption is decreased by 10% due to people becoming reducetarians, vegetarians or vegans. Suppose 10% of this reduction is due to animal advocacy campaigning... This means cell-based meat R&D is about 1000 times more effective than average animal advocacy.

I think that this misses most of the impact of most animal advocacy campaigning. I don't see the main effect of animal advocacy campaigning as being to cause diet change in the short-term. Apart from the indirect positive effects for future sentient beings such as artificial sentience (which could apply similarly to cultured meat R&D success and animal advocacy success), I see the main effects as being:

  • Attitude change (among decision-makers and/or the public), which makes transformative change in laws and regulations more likely. I.e. this brings the abolition of factory farming closer, and increases the likelihood that it will ever be abolished.
  • Wider momentum for further animal advocacy campaigning and moral circle expansion.
  • In the short term, there may also be a reduction of animal suffering from welfare reforms, which your model and comparison hasn't accounted for, even though most animal welfare organisations seem to see this as the main positive outcome.
Comment by jamie_harris on Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review · 2020-08-16T07:20:41.224Z · EA · GW

Yes to the first part! (I was also thinking something like: If you had read some of the other available evidence but not the historical case studies and had 70/30% credence, then reading the historical case studies might update your views to 30/70%. But that's a bit messier.)

And got it with the second; I think we mostly agree there.

Comment by jamie_harris on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-09T17:10:49.818Z · EA · GW

Thank you for this review! Ever since I did a literature review of mostly political science literature on "Is the US Supreme Court a Driver of Social Change or Driven by it?" I've been interested in comparable reviews of legislative tactics.

I especially appreciate the summary of the empirical research. Some of those findings seem really impressive to me and that has increased my optimism about lobbying. I look forward to reading through your spreadsheet with summaries of other papers.

(80%) Well-resourced interest groups are no more or less likely to achieve policy success, in general, than their less well-resourced opponents.

I was very surprised by this claim... it was part of what spurred me to read the piece immediately rather than save it to my reading list. But I don't recall seeing evidence for the claim in the post. What has encouraged this high confidence in this claim (which seems very counterintuitive to me)? Apologies if I just missed it.

Yet in some cases there simply is no organized opposition, and a relatively small investment can meaningfully alter wording, put a policy on the agenda, or cause a bill to become law.

The suggestion for the spending strategy in the "Effective lobbying" section seems to rest on this claim. But again, I don't recall seeing much empirical support in the review; does this rest on the theoretical discussions that you summarise? Actually, Baumgartner et al. provide some contrary evidence to this hypothesis:

"The table [table 3.1, page 58] shows that a surprisingly large number of issues (seventeen cases) consist of a single side attempting to achieve a goal to which no one objects or in response to which no one bothers to mobilize. Ironically, the lack of countermobilization is a good predictor of failure. Many of these reflect efforts to put an issue on the agenda, but these efforts are either too early in the process for anyone yet to have reacted or they are clearly not moving so others have not gotten involved in the issue."

They discuss this a little more on the following pages. They note that 17 cases had only one side -- 15 of these were 1 opposing the status quo, none defending it. Unfortunately, from a quick look back, I can't see the proportion of these 15 cases that did result in a policy change.

Comment by jamie_harris on Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review · 2020-08-08T19:31:12.073Z · EA · GW
However, at least to my understanding of the current methods, they cannot provide causal identification, thus vastly limiting the magnitude of that update. (In my mind, to probably <10%.)

Interesting. Let's imagine a specific question that we might be interested in, e.g. do incremental improvements (e.g. on welfare of animals or prisoners) encourage momentum for further change or complacency? ~10% sounds about right to me as an upper limit on an update from a single case study. But a case study will provide information on far more questions of interest than this single question. And as we look at several case studies and start to compare between them, then I can imagine an update of more like ~40% from historical social movement evidence in general on any single question of interest.

One intuition pump might be that the health behavior literature undoubtedly contains scores of cross-sectional studies, which themselves could be construed as each containing hundreds of case studies

That may be so, but they would be providing evidence on very different types of cause and effect relationships. E.g. the effects of motivational interviews on dietary behaviour, vs the effects of incremental improvements (e.g. on welfare of animals or prisoners) on a movement's momentum for further change. When I'm thinking about the value of social movement case studies compared to RCTs, I'm also thinking about their ability to provide evidence on the questions that I think are most important.

Comment by jamie_harris on Social Movement Lessons from the US Prisoners' Rights Movement · 2020-08-05T20:37:13.400Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the comments! It's great to see what was interesting / useful / confusing etc for people, and generally quite hard to get detailed feedback, so I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply.


I would not say that either of these are more "fundamental" than the other.

Sure. This might just be a semantics/phrasing thing, or it might reflect a whole number of different assumptions we have.

I think you are saying that activists focused on the welfare of prisoners over the absolute number of prisoners, and that perhaps this was a mistake.

Yes! Another caveat is that it's very unclear whether focusing more on the "more fundamental political and systemic issues" would actually have been a more cost-effective way to help prisoners. (It could have just been intractable to affect those changes, for example)

But it sounds like maybe you don't think the evidence there is strong?

Correct!

I would be curious if you could give some kind of statement about how confident you are that this "legitimizing" consequence happened and/or how likely it is to happen in farmed animal welfare.

I could give some kind of statement on a number of things:

  • How confident I am that particular litigation in the prisoners' rights movement led to particular specific outcomes, e.g. that litigation in Costello v. Wainwright "encouraged prison construction, rather than improvement in the conditions of existing prisons."
  • How confident I am that, overall, the litigation in the prisoners' rights movement had some kind of entrenchment effect (regardless of whether it also had various positive effects)
  • How confident I am that, overall, the litigation in the prisoners' rights movement was positive or negative for advancing their goals, and some kind of ballpark guess at its net effects.
  • Comparable statements of confidence about social movements more broadly.
  • Comparable statements of confidence about the farmed animal movement specifically.

Because doing any or all of these things for any or all of the "strategic implications" i each case study could be very time consuming, I don't do it.

I'm hoping that at some point, I'll be able to do a bit more of a roundup / analysis post, where I look at some of the key themes and leanings from across several of our case studies. There might be more scope for making these sorts of claims or estimates in a post like that, though it still might not be worth the time. I'd be interested in your thoughts on that!

How receptive the legal system is to these challenges is clearly a crucial consideration for how effective they are, so I would be interested in thoughts/resources about the current legal climate.

I'm afraid I can't really help here. I did write "Is the US Supreme Court a Driver of Social Change or Driven by it? A Literature Review" and have interviewed Kevin Schneider of the Nonhuman Rights Project, but neither of these resources answer this very directly.

Comment by jamie_harris on Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review · 2020-08-05T20:17:16.611Z · EA · GW

Thanks Jacob! It's great to see what was interesting / useful / confusing etc for people, and generally quite hard to get detailed feedback, so I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply.

I'm sure we could debate these topics at length; that's a tempting prospect, but I'll just reply to some specific parts here.

I don't see reason to give up on trying to conduct high-quality studies

I still think RCTs have their uses. It's just that they can be limited in various ways and that other research methods have some advantages over them, as discussed in the "EAA RCTs v intuition/speculation/anecdotes v case studies v external findings" section you refer to.

To summarise my view update from this review in other terms:

Lots of money has gone into health behaviour research. I expected the health behaviour literature to come to some fairly strong conclusions about the value of some intervention types over others. This didn't seem to be the case, given various limitations and inconsistencies in the research. Hence, I'm less optimistic about the usefulness of conducting comparable research now, relative to other types of research that we could conduct.

It seems like social movement case studies are then limited generally, like most observational research, to understanding correlations and motivating causal theories about those correlations, rather than measuring causation itself.

I don't agree with this. I think that you can look for evidence that X caused Y in a particular case, rather than just that X preceded Y. (Of course, often the evidence is very weak or nonexistent that X caused Y.) I discuss that in more depth here. You then have the separate problems of How much weight should we place on strategic knowledge from individual historical cases? and/or How likely is it that correlations will replicate across movements? It's hard to describe answers to those questions in precise and unambiguous terms, but I'd answer them with something like "not a lot" and "quite likely," respectively.

have you considered the merits of regression discontinuity designs, instrumental variables estimation, propensity score matching and prospective cohort studies, for example

I have never heard of these things, let alone considered their merits! I don't think that invalidates the view update I describe above, though if I look into these things more, it might restore my confidence?

Comment by jamie_harris on Moral circles: Degrees, dimensions, visuals · 2020-07-25T11:10:04.113Z · EA · GW

You don't need to agree with premise 3 to think that working on MCE is a cost-effective way to reduce s-risks. Below is the text from a conversation I recently had, where alternating paragraphs are alternating between the two participants.

The brief conversation below focuses on the idea of premise 3, but I'd also note that the existing psychological evidence for the "secondary transfer effect" is relevant to premise 4. I think that you could make progress on empirically testing premise 4. I agree that this would be fairly high priority to run more tests on (focused specifically on farmed animals / wild animals / artificial sentience) from the perspective of prioritising between different potential "targets" of MCE advocacy, and also perhaps for deciding how important MCE work is within the longtermist portfolio of interventions. I can imagine this research fitting well within Sentience Institute. If you know anyone who could be interested in applying to our current researcher job opening (closing in ~one week's time), to work on this or other questions, please do let them know about the opening.

----

"I don't personally see value lock-in as a prerequisite for farmed animals -> artificial sentience far future impact... if the graph of future moral progress is a sine wave, and you increase the whole sine wave by 2 units, then your expected value is still 2*duration-of-everything, even if you don't increase the value at the lock-in point."

"It doesn't seem that likely to me that you would increase the whole sine wave by 2 units, as opposed to just increasing the gradient of one of the upward slopes or something like that."

"Hm, why do you think increasing the gradient is more likely? If you just add an action into the world that wouldn't happen otherwise (e.g. donate $100 to an animal rights org), then it seems the default is an increase in the whole sine wave. For that to be simply an increase in upward slope, you'd need to think there's a fundamental dynamic in society changing the impact of that contribution, such as a limit on short-term progress. But one can also imagine the opposite effect where progress is easier during certain periods, so you could cause >2 units of increase. There are lots of intuitions that can pull the impact up or down, but overall, a +2 increase in the whole wave seems like the go-to assumption."

"Presumably it depends on the extent to which you think there's something like a secondary transfer effect, or some other mechanism by which successful advocacy for farmed animals enables advocacy for other sentient beings. E.g. imagine that we have 100% certainty that animal farming will end within 1000 years, and we know that all advocates (apart from us) are interested in farmed animal advocacy specifically, rather than MCE advocacy. Then, all MCE work would be doing would be speeding up the time before the end of animal farming. But if we remove those assumptions, then I guess it would have some sort of "increase" effect, rather than just an effect on the slope. Both those assumptions are unreasonable, but presumably you could get something similar if it was close to 100% and most farmed animal advocacy efforts seemed likely to terminate at the end of animal farming, as oppose to be shifted into other forms of MCE advocacy."

"Yep, that makes sense if you don't think there's some diminishing factor on the flow-through from farmed animal advocacy to moral inclusion of AS, as long as you don't think there are increasing factors that outweigh it."

Comment by jamie_harris on Moral circles: Degrees, dimensions, visuals · 2020-07-25T10:50:44.949Z · EA · GW

Hey! As you probably know, I'd be keen to connect with them. Thanks!

Comment by jamie_harris on Retrospective on thinking about my career for a year · 2020-07-19T14:38:59.930Z · EA · GW

Nice post. I like some of the specific tips, such as searching LinkedIn for people who had done the course you were considering.

Unless I missed something, it seems like you only applied for 2 internships, 2 graduate programmes, and 2 jobs. This seems a surprisingly low number of opportunities to apply for, given the time you spent exploring this. I wonder if there was a particular reason for this. Did you not find the experience of applying useful for the applications you did make? Or was it just that there are few opportunities in the field(s) you were exploring?

Comment by jamie_harris on Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate · 2020-07-12T09:54:02.453Z · EA · GW

Thanks! And, of course, I understand that our lists look different in part because of the different cause areas that we've each spent more time thinking about. Glad we could complement each others' lists.

Focusing in on "I worry that they're too deep and rigorous and that this has drastically cut down the number of people who put the time into reading them" - do you think that that can't be resolved by e.g. cross-posting "executive summaries" to the EA Forum, so that people at least read those? (Genuine question; I'm working on developing my thoughts on how best to do and disseminate research.)

Huh, weird, I'm not sure why I didn't do that for either of the case studies I've done so far -- I've certainly done it for other projects. At some point, I was thinking that I might write some sort of summary post (a little like this one, for our tech adoption case studies) or do some sort of analysis of common themes etc, which I think would be much more easily readable and usable. I'd definitely post that to the Forum. I don't think posting to the forum would make a lot of difference though, for us. This is mainly because my impression / intuition is that people who identify with EA and are focused on animal advocacy use the EA Forum less than people who identify with EA and are focused on extinction risk reduction, so it wouldn't increase the reach to the main intended audience much over just posting the research to the Effective Animal Advocacy - Discussion Facebook group and our newsletter. But that concern probably doesn't apply to many of the suggestions in your initial list.

Perhaps the value of people who've done such history research won't entirely or primarily be in the write-ups which people can then read, but rather in EA then having "resident experts" on various historical topics and methodologies, who can be the "go-to person" for tailored recommendations and insights regarding specific decisions, other research projects, etc.

I think there's some value in that. A few concerns jump to mind:

  • Historical case studies tend to provide weak evidence for a bunch of different strategic questions. So while they might not single-handedly "resolve" some important debate or tradeoff, they should alter views on a number of different questions. So a lot of this value will just be missed if people don't actually read the case studies themselves (or at least read a summary).
  • While I think I'm pretty good at doing these case studies to a relatively high standard in a relatively short amount of time (i.e. uncovering/summarising the empirical evidence), I don't think I'm much better placed than anyone else to interpret what the evidence should suggest for individual decisions that an advocate or organisation might face.
  • In practice, I've hardly ever had people actually ask me for this sort of summary or recommendation. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two occasions where this has happened.

If you do end up making a top-level post related to your comment, please do comment about it here and on the central directory of open research questions.

Slight tangent from the discussion here, but you might like to add "and their summary of "Foundational Questions for Effective Animal Advocacy" after where you've listed SI's research agenda on that post. This is essentially a list of the key strategic issues in animal advocacy that we think could/should be explored through further research. Once I've published my literature review on artificial sentience, I'd be keen to add that too, since that contains a large list of potential further research topics.

Comment by jamie_harris on Some history topics it might be very valuable to investigate · 2020-07-11T13:06:31.465Z · EA · GW

I'm excited to see this post! Thanks for the suggestions. A few I hadn't considered. In general though, this is an area I've thought about in various ways, at various points, so here's my list of an additional "9 history topics it might be very valuable to investigate" (with some overlap with your list)!


I'll start with some examples of categories of historical projects we've worked on at Sentience Institute.

1. The history of past social movements

Some overlap with your categories 3 and 8. This is to inform social movement strategy. At Sentience Institute, we've been focusing on movements that are 1) relatively recent, and 2) driven by allies, rather than the intended beneficiaries of the movement. This is because we are focusing on strategic lessons for the farmed animal movement, although I've recently been thinking about how it is applicable to other forms of moral circle expansion work, e.g. for artificial sentience (I have a literature review of writings on this coming out soonish).

Conducted by SI:

Not conducted by SI, but highly relevant:

I've written a fuller post about "What Can the Farmed Animal Movement Learn from History" which discusses some methodological considerations; some of the discussion could be relevant to almost any "What can we learn about X from history" questions of interest to the EA movement. (As a talk here)


2. The history of new technologies, the industries around them, and efforts to regulate them.

This overlaps with your category 4. Sentience Institute's interest has been in learning strategic lessons for the field of cellular agriculture, cultured meat, and highly meat-like plant-based foods, to increase the likelihood that these technologies are successfully brought to market and to maximise the effects that these technologies have on displacing animal products.

Conducted by SI:


3. Assessing the tractability of changing the course of human history by looking at historical trajectory shifts (or attempts at them).

Covered briefly in this post I wrote on "How tractable is changing the course of history?" (March 12, 2019). I didn't do it very systematically. I was trying to establish the extent to which the major historical trajectory shifts that I examined were influenced by 1) thoughtful actors, 2) hard-to-influence indirect or long-term factors, 3) contingency, i.e. luck plus hard-to-influence snap decisions by other actors.

One approach could be to create (crowdsource?) a large list of possible historical trajectory shifts to investigate. Then pick them based on: 1) a balance of types of shift, covering each of military, technological, and social trajectory shifts, aiming for representativeness 2) a balance of magnitudes of the shifts, 3) time since the shift, 4) availability of evidence.

Some useful feedback and suggestions I had when I presented this work to a workshop by the Global Priorities Institute:

  • Gustav Arrhenius of Institute of Future Studies suggested to me that there was more rigorous discussion of grand historical theories than I was implying in that post. He recommended reading works by Pontus Strimling of the Institute of Future Studies, plus work by Jerry Cohen on Marxism plus by Marvin Harris on cultural materialism.)
  • Christian Tarsney (GPI) suggested that a greater case for tractability is in shaping the aftermath of big historical events (e.g. world wars) rather than in causing the those major events to occur.
  • William MacAskill (GPI) suggested that rather than seeking out any/all types of trajectory shifts, it might be more useful to look specifically for times where individuals knew what they wanted to change and then investigating whether they were able to do that or not. e.g. what's the "EA" ask for people at the time of the French Revolution? It's hard to know what would have been useful. There might be cases to study where people had a clearer ideas about how to shape the world for the better, e.g. in contributing to the writing of the bible.

Some other topics I've thought about much more briefly:


4. The history of the growth, influence, collapse, etc. of various intellectual and academic movements.

Overlaps with your category 3. I think of this as quite different to the history of social movements. Separately from direct advocacy efforts, EA is full of ideas of research fields that could be built or developed. The ones I'm most familiar with are "global priorities research," "welfare biology," and "AI welfare science" but I'm sure there are either more now, or there will be soon, as EAs explore new areas. For example, there were new suggestions in David Althaus and Tobias Baumann, "Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors" (April 29, 2020). So working out how to most effectively encourage the growth and success of research fields seems likely to be helpful


Various historical research to help to clarify particular risk factors for s-risks will materialise in the future

These could each be categories on their own. Examples include:

  • 5. To what extent have past societies prioritised the reduction of risks of high amounts of suffering and how successful have these efforts been?
  • 6. Historical studies of "polarisation and divergence of values."
  • 7. "Case studies of cooperation failures" and other factors affecting the "likelihood and nature of conflict" (some overlap with your category 5. This was suggested by CLR. I had a conversation with Ashwin Acharya who also seemed interested in this avenue of research)
  • 8. Study how other instances of formal research have influenced (or failed to influence) critical real-world decisions (suggested by CLR.)

9. Perhaps lower priority, but broader studies of the history of various institutions

The focus here would be on building an understanding of the factors that influence their durability. E.g. at a talk at a GPI workshop I attended, someone (Phillip Trammel? Anders Sandberg?) noted a bunch of types of institutions that have had some examples endure for centuries: churches, religions, royalty, militaries, banks, and corporations. Why have these institution types been able to last where others have not? Within those categories, why have some lasted where others have not.


Other comments and caveats:

  • Hopefully SI's work offers a second example of an exception to the "recurring theme" you note in that 1) SI's case studies are effectively a "deeper or more rigorous follow-up analysis" after ACE's social movement case study project -- if anything, I worry that they're too deep and rigorous and that this has drastically cut down the number of people who put the time into reading them, and 2) I at least had an undergraduate degree in history :D
  • On the "background in history" thing, my guess is that social scientists will usually actually be better placed to do this sort of work, rather than historians. (Some relevant considerations here)
  • Any of these topics could probably be covered briefly, with low rigour, in ~one month's worth of work (roughly the timeframe of my tractability post, for example), or could literally use up several lifetime's worth of work. It's a tough call to decide how much time is worth spending on each case study. Some sort of time capping approach could be useful.
  • Relatedly, at some point, you face the decision of how to aggregate findings and analyse across different movements. I think we're close to this with the first two research avenues I mention that we've been pursuing at SI. So if anyone reading this has ideas about how to pursue this further, I'd be interested in having a chat!
  • Many of the topics discussed here are relevant to Sentience Institute's research interests. If you share those interests, you could apply for our researcher opening at the moment.
  • To write this post I've essentially just looked back through various notes I have, rather than trying to start from scratch and think up any and all topics that could be useful. So there's probably lots we're both missing, and I echo the call for people to think about areas where historical research could be useful.
  • It's long been on my to-do list to go through GPI and CLR's research agendas more thoroughly to work out if there are other suggestions for historical research on there. I haven't done that to make this post so I may have missed things.
  • I was told that the Centre for the Governance of AI's research agenda has lots of suggestions of historical case studies that could be useful, though I haven't looked through this yet.
  • These topics probably vary widely in terms of the cost-effectiveness of time spent researching them. Of course, this will depend on your views on cause prioritisation.
  • Once I've looked into the above lists and thought about this more, I might improve this comment and make my own top-level post at some point. I was planning to do that at some point anyway but you forced my hand (in a good way) by making your own post.
  • I'm definitely interested in your interest in research for topic 10 on your list, so please keep me in the loop!
Comment by jamie_harris on Call for feedback and input on longterm policy book proposal · 2020-07-07T21:42:29.016Z · EA · GW

Admittedly I read Charlotte's comment before reading the full proposal but my main thoughts were: (1) Everything in the book looks really interesting and exciting and I'd be keen to read (or give more feedback on) the specifics in each chapter. (2) It didn't seem like the content of the different chapters was very clearly linked together. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since some books are structured like that (e.g. edited academic books, textbooks etc) but seems unusual for a short, self/co-authored books?

Comment by jamie_harris on Animal Advocacy Careers advice · 2020-07-06T18:58:08.380Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much! Yes, we have a draft profile on "Technical research for animal-free food tech skills profile" and another on "Government, policy, and lobbying skills profile," so hopefully the apparent nonprofit skew is temporary.

One factor influencing the decision about which skills profiles to produce first was the evidence we had that they were a bottleneck. We'd started with a quick survey of nonprofits and a nonprofit "spot-check" and I hope to do similar (perhaps better) versions of both of those things for plant-based / cultivated meat companies too. So at that point, we might have more reason to explore particular skillsets out of that.

M&L is an example of this -- "leadership" came up a lot in the survey, but when I've not really come across the idea of leadership being a major bottleneck for these companies (unless you count "entrepreneurship" which is overlapping but partly separate). In that sector, I much more frequently hear that companies are struggling to get scientists on board. But once we do that research, its possible we'll decide that for-profit companies should figure more prominently in a revised version of the M&L profile, for instance.

(This also just relates to a tradeoff we faced of just doing more / better research before we start putting out advice vs trying to get some content out and update / improve as we go along. It was unclear where the balance should be struck there.)

Comment by jamie_harris on What 80,000 Hours learned by interviewing people we respect 'anonymously' · 2020-06-28T11:44:44.641Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the bullet point list of recurring themes. I'd be interested in whether this series has led to substantial view updates among 80k's staff?

I find it hard to know how much weight to place on the advice without knowing something about the person's background, e.g. cause area they work in, organisation they work for, type of role they have, and engagement with EA.

Comment by jamie_harris on Space governance is important, tractable and neglected · 2020-06-26T08:48:50.145Z · EA · GW

I wanted to drop this link here as I just came across it and it seems highly relevant to this post: Marko Kovic, "Risks of space colonization" (2020). It too, was published in January 2020, so wasn't sure if you were aware of it or not..

Relevant extracts from the abstract and conclusion:

"In this article, I present an overview of some major risks of space colonization, categorized as prioritization risks, risks of inadvertent moral catastrophes, and security risks. These risks could result in enormous disvalue, putting into question the overall moral benefit of space colonization. In practice, however, the question of whether space colonization is a net benefit is probably irrelevant since colonization efforts are already underway."

"Space colonization is already the implicit goal of public as well as private space-related ventures and ambitions, and a scenario in which the global community decides to ban all space colonization activity is unrealistic, regardless of what a hypothetical eventual philosophical consensus on the question might look like. Instead, future efforts in the analysis of space colonization-related risks should be directed at or combined with efforts to create a meaningful governance framework aimed at mitigating the risks of space colonization. One potential approach for creating the conceptual foundation for such a governance framework is to reverse-engineer the rules and principles that lead to the best long-term future in terms of wellbeing and space colonization. Such an approach is possible in the case of space colonization because the general trajectory of successful, desirable space colonization that maximizes future wellbeing can be identified a priori."

Comment by jamie_harris on Announcing Effective Altruism Ventures · 2020-06-24T15:07:42.008Z · EA · GW

Thanks! "Celebrating Failed Projects" also nicely characterises my motivation for actually making this comment, rather than letting it slide.

Comment by jamie_harris on Announcing Effective Altruism Ventures · 2020-06-23T10:30:12.153Z · EA · GW

Possibly unimportant, but what happened to EA Ventures? I stumbled across this because a paper by Roman V. Yampolskiy notes: "The author is grateful to Elon Musk and the Future of Life Institute and to Jaan Tallinn and Effective Altruism Ventures for partially funding his work on AI Safety." The EA Ventures site now just redirects to CEA. There's also a subsequent thread about "EA Ventures Request for Projects + Update." Did it cease to exist after that? Why?

Comment by jamie_harris on Cullen O'Keefe: The Windfall Clause — Sharing the Benefits of Advanced AI · 2020-06-17T08:21:38.263Z · EA · GW

Apologies for nitpicking, but I just noticed that "s-risks" was explained here by the editor(s) as referring to "systemic risks". This should be "suffering risks", e.g. see here.

(I also double checked and the talk only uses the abbreviation s-risks and the paper itself doesn't mention "s-risks," "systemic risks," or "suffering." The transcript is also on effectivealtruism.org)

Comment by jamie_harris on Cause prioritization for downside-focused value systems · 2020-06-16T07:52:51.523Z · EA · GW
Note that no one should quote the above map out of context and call it “The likely future” or something like that, because some of the scenarios I listed may be highly improbable and because the whole map is drawn with a focus on things that could go wrong. If we wanted a map that also tracked outcomes with astronomical amounts of happiness, there would in addition be many nodes for things like “happy subroutines,” “mindcrime-opposite,” “superhappiness-enabling technologies,” or “unaligned AI trades with aligned AI and does good things after all.” There can be futures in which several s-risk scenarios come to pass at the same time, as well as futures that contain s-risk scenarios but also a lot of happiness (this seems pretty likely). 

I like this map! Do you know of anything that attempts to assign probabilities (even very vague/ballpark) to these different outcomes?

As someone who is not particularly "downside-focused," one thing I find difficult in evaluating the importance of prioritising s-risks vs extinction risks (and then different interventions that could be used to address them) is just not being able to get my head around which sorts of outcomes seem most likely. Given my lack of knowledge about the different risk factors, I mostly just treat each of the different possible outcomes on your map and the hypothetical "map that also tracked outcomes with astronomical amounts of happiness" as being roughly equal in probability.

Comment by jamie_harris on The Effects of Animal-Free Food Technology Awareness on Animal Farming Opposition · 2020-05-29T10:40:34.075Z · EA · GW

Thanks! GFI did some focus group research around the name cultivated meat, but as far as I know, didn't test it in any RCTs. ACE's RCT also only compared "clean" and "cultured." The differences are all pretty small though between name types. I'd be surprised if differences in the names of the products altered the sign of the effect of increased awareness about AFFT.