How many EAs are there? 2021-03-16T20:27:04.090Z
Second Citizenships, Residencies, and/or Temporary Relocation 2021-02-16T19:23:50.745Z
[Meta] Up and down voting should be added next to the circles with the scores (to the left of this title), like on Reddit 2015-12-06T19:41:28.166Z
To Grow, Hit the Brakes (Why Conversion Rate Matters So Much and Means EA is Not Doing Anywhere Close to as Well as We Think) 2015-09-07T17:12:08.796Z
Announcing the Doing Good Better Giveaway 2015-07-06T00:02:19.303Z


Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Getting a feel for changes of karma and controversy in the EA Forum over time · 2021-04-08T00:01:32.512Z · EA · GW

We can use this mean monthly karma to scale all our posts by simply dividing the karma every post has by the mean karma of the month it was published. This allows us to determine which posts received the most praise in relation to how active the forum was at the time it was published.

I expect that the variance has fluctuated over time. If this were true, something like standard deviation away from the mean would be significantly more informative than simple adjustment on the basis of the mean.

FWIW, I also expect that the point made in this comment is valid, and therefore it may be ~impossible (unless the timing of votes is preserved) to understand reception at-the-time.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on What are your main reservations about identifying as an effective altruist? · 2021-03-31T16:35:16.500Z · EA · GW

I'm bothered by a certain type of way I observe a significant number of EAs orienting toward the non-EA world. To me, it feels like there can be a lack of understanding, appreciation, and respect for the work/thoughts/opinions/accomplishments/culture of non-EAs that I sometimes find particularly naive and alienating. These experiences in particular drive me to have hesitance in self-identifying  as an EA.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on EA for Jews - Proposal and Request for Comment · 2021-03-28T23:24:44.522Z · EA · GW

FWIW, the three mentioned names to me point to different focuses:

EA for Jews: Seems to imply a customized form of EA more tailored to Jews; makes me think of donation opportunities in Israel, or Jewish giving groups, or something.

Effective Tzedakah: Feels all about affecting Jew's donations to be more effective and less about things like research or careers. It does seem, of these three, the most accessible to non-EA Jews you may hope to attract, but possibly not beyond donations.

 Jews in EA: Points to being an affinity group of EAs who want to get together with other Jews. Doesn't seem like a recruitment organization, but (mainly) a group for those already in EA.

I do think any of these names can be used for the entire multitude of goals this initiative may have, but the focus and first-interpretation of the name seems likely to be understood quite differently.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on How many EAs are there? · 2021-03-16T21:25:02.771Z · EA · GW

Thanks, I was unfamiliar with their estimates for the proportion of the community they estimate.

"We estimate there are around 2315 highly engaged EAs and 6500 (90% CI: 4700-10,000) active EAs in the community overall."

That source also provides some other sources for estimates.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Second Citizenships, Residencies, and/or Temporary Relocation · 2021-02-19T22:20:05.360Z · EA · GW

I've just realized today (~5 days after posting) my footnotes did not transfer from the Google Docs draft. If you are returning to this post after previously reading it, you may want to take a brief look at the footnotes, as there are some potentially valuable resources linked in them.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Second Citizenships, Residencies, and/or Temporary Relocation · 2021-02-17T19:50:23.666Z · EA · GW

There's some discussion of this in the comments on LessWrong, including identification of some inaccuracies in this post, that you may want to check out.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Apply now for EA Global: Reconnect (March 20-21) · 2021-02-10T17:39:49.203Z · EA · GW

It's unclear to me if my application was successfully submitted. I hit 'submit' (eventually multiple times) and did not see a confirmation message nor did the page change. There may be a bug in the submission of the form.

(Edit: I did receive an email confirmation of my application, however)

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Money Can't (Easily) Buy Talent · 2021-01-27T00:53:31.812Z · EA · GW

I am not trying to claim that EA orgs do not meet basic living thresholds, but rather that "There are many organizations offering amounts that many likely find greatly constraining to living off of."

I think it's quite common for EA job offers to be in the $40-$55k range (there are also many well above this range), with multiple instances of being significantly lower than that (e.g. $30k).

I believe that there are many that find these potential salaries to be greatly constraining.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Money Can't (Easily) Buy Talent · 2021-01-25T08:03:51.295Z · EA · GW

People don't value money

This section, in order to apply to people, seemingly assumes something like "beyond meeting their basic needs" or "beyond meeting some threshold amount."

I believe that there's a very good chance that many EA orgs are not meeting the threshold amount of many people whom they are targeting. There are many organizations offering amounts that many likely find greatly constraining to living off of.

I think this section would be more applicable if the market you were commenting on largely paid well; instead I think it is highly variable with a sizable constituency of poorly paying jobs.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on What would an EA do in the american revolution? · 2021-01-10T09:24:47.551Z · EA · GW

It's worth noting that a large part of the argument there (but far from all of it) would not apply to this question unless you were in such an influential position that you could have a meaningful effect on whether or not the war took place at all.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Long-Term Future Fund: April 2019 grant recommendations · 2020-11-01T04:29:48.867Z · EA · GW

1) There are a number of plausible (>1% probability) scenarios in the next hundred years that would result in a "civilizational collapse", where an unprecedented number of people die and key technologies are (temporarily) lost.

Are you saying here that you believe the scenarios add up to a greater than 1% probability of collapse in the next hundred years, or that you believe there are multiple scenarios that each have greater than 1% probability?

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on I Want To Do Good - an EA puppet mini-musical! · 2020-10-08T22:41:05.465Z · EA · GW

This was fun to watch, and I'm sure to produce. For the most part I really liked it!

There was one part that struck me as off-base, around 1:22, where it says "Where otherwise they'd likely die!". There were a few reasons I found these few seconds problematic:

1. I felt that it implied TLYCS charities help save the lives of people who will otherwise die... e.g. it made me picture life-saving surgeries for people in critical care units. While there are many TLYCS charities that I'm unfamiliar with, no typically recommended EA global development organizations that I'm aware of prevent likely death. Rather, those that do save lives, help prevent disease, and as far as I know in no case the percent likelihood of death of an individual anywhere near 50% or greater without the intervention.

2. It felt like it was making light of the issue at that point as well. I think it would have been easy to continue the playful tone with a sad face and a bit of quietness at that time, with a slow ramp up of the volume later. Instead, it just breezed past it in a way that felt upbeat to me. FWIW, I also think that what felt to me a bit like making light of death made the video less credible to me.

Other, more minor, feedback:

1. I think it would likely have been better if shorter, or otherwise somehow more dynamic to justify the length. While there were a lot of great parts, I found it a bit repetitive and lost interest a bit.

2. I imagine the majority of the audience is American, and therefore I imagine the video would be better received, on average, if the main actor had an American accent rather than one of another country. An alternative could be to have the lyrics incorporated into the video to help with listening comprehension.

3. At 1:54, I was surprised by some of the icons. I'm not sure if there's a drinking water charity TLYCS suggests or not, but that's a less typical intervention for EAs to endorse. I also thought the mosquito would look better with a red circle and line over it or something.

I'm curious if there's a deployment strategy? I see the number of views is relatively low (currently 1.5k).

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Are there any other pro athlete aspiring EAs? · 2020-09-11T07:19:51.654Z · EA · GW

The founders of attended the 2015 EAG and expressed a very similar goal. I'm not sure what's happened since; it looks like they were either unsuccessful or there may have been some value drift.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Donor Lottery Debrief · 2020-08-07T01:17:56.294Z · EA · GW
With that in mind it was an easy call for me to make, and I committed the remaining $23,500 from the donation lottery, as well as some personal funds on top of that. Notably, EpiFor is now conducting its next funding round, and I continue to suspect that more donations may have a substantial (though high variance) impact—particularly since funding is currently affecting which opportunities they pursue.

Thanks for sharing Tim. If anyone would like to discuss a potential donation of $5,000 or more, please feel free to reach out to me at

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on What are examples of EA work being reviewed by non-EA researchers? · 2020-03-27T05:06:18.699Z · EA · GW

As someone who has sometimes made a similar claim, I find a lot of assessments of others' work, not just that of EAs, tends to be informal, off-the-record, and discussion-based. I in fact think that EAs with some frequency miss out on a wealth of knowledge due to a widespread and often insistent requirement that knowledge be citable in order to be meaningful. There are very strong reasons to greatly prefer and put greater weight on citable knowledge, but there is A LOT of intelligence that people do not share in recorded formats for a variety of reasons, such as effort and reputational risks.

So I believe some lack of answers to this may be due to critiques of EA work being shared e.g. verbally, rather than more formally. Personally, I've discussed EA work with at least 4 quite prominent economists, at least 2 of whom I believed had reviewed some significant aspect of EA research and perspective thoroughly, but I have not really shared these accounts. To be sharable, I'd likely require more time and attention of these economists than I'm easily able to get, in order to ensure I provided both full and proper explanation and sufficient guarantee of anonymity.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Ubiquitous Far-Ultraviolet Light Could Control the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Pandemics · 2020-03-20T21:55:49.372Z · EA · GW

One other mention of this idea:

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Ubiquitous Far-Ultraviolet Light Could Control the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Pandemics · 2020-03-20T21:52:24.247Z · EA · GW

This seems well-researched and examined, and it may be neglected, important and even has some level of tractability. Given the timeliness of the topic, I'm quite surprised this is not much more upvoted; it feels like one of the better posts on the EA Forum I've seen. Thanks for writing!

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Be the Match: a volunteer list for bone marrow donation · 2019-11-13T07:03:16.207Z · EA · GW
That probability is not 1, because they might have been saved by someone else instead, and you would want to adjust the cost-effectiveness based on this probability.

In many, many instances, a donation extends a life in expectation only a small amount vs. not receiving a donation. It isn't "saving a life" in many cases with donation, and for many it's a positive update for their condition, but not a "necessity".

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Be the Match: a volunteer list for bone marrow donation · 2019-10-28T01:04:36.967Z · EA · GW

As an FYI, the expected benefit here is largely dependent on your ethnicity, and to a lesser extent, age:

1. White Americans/Europeans have very strong chances of finding a match (or many matches), so registering with that background means that you're likely less unique to the existing donor pool. Replaceability can often be high with this sort of background.

2. Those with other ethnic backgrounds can have much more difficulty finding matches. The less common your background (e.g., if you are mixed race, or from a less common background as found in the US, UK, and Germany (the countries which have the most donors)), the more likely it is that you'll be providing a donor where there is not otherwise a good candidate to be found, and thus actually sort of 'saving a life'.

3. Males under the age of 26 are typically considered the best donors, so you should more strongly consider this if you're a young, and/or male (although certainly many donors are used that don't match that criteria). If you're over 65, have a blood disorder, have received radiation, etc. you'll likely be told you're ineligible to donate to non-relatives.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on A Framework for Assessing the Potential of EA Development in Emerging Locations · 2019-08-28T16:14:26.540Z · EA · GW

As an FYI, I doubt the source for [1] is reliable, and it may be that there were more groups earlier than 2 years ago than now... groups have been forming and shutting down with some regularity.

Establish advisory board for further work on EA in Asia

Please be very, very careful with this. I claim EA has made many significant mistakes as its Western-based members have tried to engage with other cultures. It's not easy to do well.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Announcing: " High-Impact Crowdfunding campaigns" & "Let's Fund #1: A (small) scientific Revolution" · 2018-10-28T16:19:19.925Z · EA · GW

I haven't reviewed this in depth, but this strikes me as exactly the right type of thing that EAs should now be funding in the space of international development. There is much more potential in the meta- space that hasn't been explored, and this example being supported, and Hauke's experience, seem promising in that direction.

For example, other meta ideas I'd expect to be highly valuable:

  1. Working to get IPA/J-PAL to mandate pre-registration and published results for their studies
  2. Quantifying and breaking down ODA to the extent possible across organizations, sectors, geographies, etc.
  3. Advocating for more CEA within IGOs, better ODA spends
  4. Supporting builds and integrations of tools/techniques that improve research (e.g. falsification detection)
  5. Advocacy for more studies in key interventions (deworming, others that are promising but haven't been sufficiently studied), currently somewhat addressed by GiveWell's IDinsight partnership.
  6. Supporting AidGrade
  7. Increasing the quality-basis of key GW assumptions (external validity of various studies that are highly relied upon)
  8. Creating a fully comprehensive charity dataset focused on gathering key indicators of cost-effectiveness for every 501(c)3


Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on How to have cost-effective fun · 2018-07-01T16:58:40.760Z · EA · GW

I appreciate this. A lot of smart ideas.

I know this isn't meant to be universal, but just a note that for me, eating out is one of the best activities on the fun-per-dollar scale.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Applying EA Measures to Peacebuilding and Violent Conflict · 2018-04-20T20:15:03.012Z · EA · GW
  1. Why should this be considered tractable? Why should we think your approach is specifically tractable?

  2. I find this visualization to be likely deceptive. The 'cost of violence' most often includes a many types of violence (domestic, community, crime, etc.) that are unaddressed by 'peacekeeping' interventions. Is my read, that your visualization is comparing a huge category with a specific part of its spend, correct?

  3. Why should we focus on peacekeeping, the effect of which is very difficult to measure, instead of scaling or improving interventions on community violence, some of which already show significant promise in cost-effectiveness?

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Finding and managing literature on EA topics · 2017-11-13T21:02:32.626Z · EA · GW

This looks great! Looking forward to doing a more detailed read when I have more time, but I already see some resources and techniques I wasn't aware of or have failed to fully implement thus far, so this will serve as added motivation and a nice reference.

I find that the archive of Data Is Plural is a great source for data on a wide variety of topics:

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Talent gaps from the perspective of a talent limited organization. · 2017-11-06T22:21:50.370Z · EA · GW

What was the communication of this like? As someone who I believe has monitored CS pretty closely, I can't remember a time a salary approaching $50k was communicated.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Talent gaps from the perspective of a talent limited organization. · 2017-11-03T18:56:29.430Z · EA · GW

I see you didn't call Charity Science 'talent constrained' but rather 'talent limited'. Was this intentional? Because it does seem Charity Science is an org that would get much better access to talent with more funds for salaries.... and that that is a likely major factor in your talent shortage.

Comment by joshjacobson on [deleted post] 2017-10-30T18:52:31.623Z

(x-post from FB, so phrasing is written more directly as a comment to Scott)

I think this is mostly spot on. There's one or two additional things I might have included based on my experience (would probably emphasize warm introductions more and mention the value in getting on their radar early).

Also just noting that I think the email could have been improved upon, but I'm interested in whether you share this belief. Top suggestion would have been to have one of the key attention-grabbing names in the subject line of the email, and to prioritize brevity a bit more.

I'm glad you wrote this... I do get questions in this vein a lot and expect it to be a helpful resource for many.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on 5 Types of Systems Change Causes with the Potential for Exceptionally High Impact (post 3/3) · 2017-10-23T16:43:00.287Z · EA · GW

I can't imagine why. Even all 3 together are shorter than many posts on here. And they really don't have much standalone value IMHO (i.e. the first).

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on 5 Types of Systems Change Causes with the Potential for Exceptionally High Impact (post 3/3) · 2017-10-23T14:00:23.429Z · EA · GW

I don't think there was any reason for this to be split into 3 posts? It'd be better to condense it into one.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on The AIDS/malaria puzzle: bleg · 2017-09-26T22:55:16.455Z · EA · GW

The vast majority of large institutional spending is somewhat static. When there have been major shifts, it is usually in response to the combination of highly successful marketing campaigns and new events.

Malaria has been largely ongoing, without much newsworthiness (to regular media outlets) or specific press. It's funding therefore is likely to have stayed at a somewhat static level in most organizations.

In contrast, HIV/AIDS was emergent in previous decades. It went from nothing to being highly prominent in a short time period. Relatively large budgets were allocated against it because:

  1. It showed a pattern of significant growth, and there was significant fear that not containing it could lead to runaway growth.

  2. It emerged from 0 cases to being prominent, which was highly newsworthy.

  3. There was a strong coordinated marketing campaign to get governments and IGOs to strongly address it.

HIV/AIDS funding came at a relatively high level as a result, and because funding is largely static and the problem remains, it has stayed that way.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on What do DALYs capture? · 2017-09-21T14:46:09.590Z · EA · GW

I only skimmed this, but I think the majority of EAs don't actually look into the how and why of GiveWell's recommendations. And even less go into the processes and publications that lead to the numbers that GiveWell eventually uses. An indirect result is that GiveWell doesn't get as much feedback as it could likely benefit from, and too many EAs can't speak to M&E professionals in international development at a meaningful level.

What's explained here, and alluded to here, as well as the criticisms, is important basic info for many EAs who are unfamiliar with it. The various methodologies for costing and discounting (both included here and others), in particular, are definitely worth investigating further for those who haven't.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on EA Survey 2017 Series: Cause Area Preferences · 2017-09-12T14:59:16.296Z · EA · GW

I haven't looked there yet, so I'm flagging that my comment was not considering the full context.

(I think that the end links didn't come up on mobile for me, but it could also have been an oversight on my part that there was supporting documentation, specifically labelled methodology.)

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on EA Survey 2017 Series: Cause Area Preferences · 2017-09-11T15:03:53.254Z · EA · GW

I think it's quite misleading to present p-values and claim that results are or aren't 'statistically significant', without also presenting the disclaimer that this is very far from a random sample, and therefore these statistical results should be interpreted with significant skepticism.

Comment by joshjacobson on [deleted post] 2017-07-11T04:06:02.069Z

What's the range for amounts of money that are most appropriate for you to manage?

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Changes to the EA Forum · 2017-07-04T22:58:04.313Z · EA · GW

EDIT: It's been over a week, and it seems particularly important that CEA answer this.

I see some significant disadvantages to this, to the point that it should be reconsidered. is designed around making EA welcoming and appealing to newcomers. The EA Forum is quite the opposite... it is in depth, can involve controversial ideas and discussions, and can sometimes have a less welcoming tone in the content and comments.

They're really polar opposites in terms of EA, and by bringing the two together in the same domain and with the same front-end you're closely associating them. This violates Marketing 101, bringing two things together that are positioned so differently.

By sharing the same domain, they two will be closely associated in search, and by changing the front-end the association will be much stronger.

Is the intention for the forum to have more newcomers on it? I fear it will become like the Effective Altruism Facebook page in depth of content and usefulness.

Or alternatively if the forum content doesn't change, it will turn off newcomers and detract from the utility of the main site.

I'd like to further understand the plan for bringing these quite different things together, and how you might mitigate the dilution of the forum.

Small side note: has some SEO disadvantages (v., and the way you implement this transition from a technical standpoint will also affect SEO significantly, so I urge you to consult with somebody about proper ways to do so.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Can we apply start-up investing principles to non-profits? · 2017-07-04T15:08:55.482Z · EA · GW

To me the biggest thing missing from this is recognition of different incentive structures. The markets are very, very different because in this analysis:

  • 99%+ of investors are selecting for-profits based on their financial return, and 99%+ of for-profits are optimizing for their financial return

  • <1% of donors are selecting non-profits based on their statistical impact, and <1% of non-profits are optimizing for statistical impact

As part of the <1% of donors, you're examining a sector that largely is not trying to optimize for your goals, which creates significant differences relevant to nearly all aspects of this discussion.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Projects I'd like to see · 2017-06-13T07:16:07.359Z · EA · GW

Can you address the unanswered question in the announcement thread regarding EA Ventures?

Additionally, is the money already raised for this? That was the major shortcoming with the previous iteration.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Announcing Effective Altruism Grants · 2017-06-13T07:14:52.749Z · EA · GW

Have you already raised the funds for this? EA Ventures failed a while back primarily because there was not the money, and those in charge of it found that they had a much more difficult time raising funds than they expected.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Advisory panel at CEA · 2017-03-08T16:54:58.064Z · EA · GW

"We want to get input from people who have different viewpoints from our staff and can provide us with an outside view."

This group feels quite far from assembled to provide an 'outside' view. Is there a reason that these provide a different perspective? Perhaps you need some less-insider-type people on this if it is to accomplish the goals you foresee?

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on How many hits does hits-based giving get? A concrete study idea to find out (and a $1500 offer for implementation) · 2016-12-16T01:17:27.359Z · EA · GW

I strongly support this, especially with regard to the approach described by: "As another example, if you took an objective criterion like "top 10 biggest foundations 1975-2000" and looked at all the biggest hits over those 25 years and divided it by all the money over those 25 years, would the cost-effectiveness justify all that spending?"

I think the more general, detailed approach first described is most likely to not have sufficiently meaningful data.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Saving expected lives at $10 apiece? · 2016-12-15T01:01:11.008Z · EA · GW

I haven't previously engaged with your writing on this topic; I appreciate your calling attention to the promise of this as a cause area, and your persistent, rational engagement with the topic.

First of all, I was thrilled to see an acknowledgment of the inconsistency of the VSL with the underfunding of global charities. I myself have considered writing a paper specifically on this topic and the implications with regard to CEA/CBA.

Second, looking at the paper, it seems that the conclusions in the final table are without discounting future lives saved. If you were to apply discounting, how are your CEA conclusions affected? Would be interested in seeing the sensitivity analysis there.

Third, which component of the 1% risk would you find most questionable / possibly affecting the overall CEA conclusion? I generally buy that number, and that this is a promising cause area, but I'd like to investigate it a bit more myself, and your writing thus far implies that your response would be trustworthy on this.

With regard to your main question in this post: "How to communicate the cost-effectiveness to EAs and the general public. The charity we are starting would not only do the direct work to get prepared, but it would also hopefully motivate additional funding."

You are doing the right things to communicate to EAs. You are taking a statistical, skeptical, researched approach. The next steps would just be to make a stable, promising organization in this space with a solid plan for people to engage with and then move beyond just the forum and work on directly engaging with the meta charities and EA donors yourself.

I doubt that communicating with the general public should be a goal of yours. Instead, you most likely intend to communicate with those who are outside the EA community but are interested in food security, ag issues, and global risks. Many of them will already be predisposed to agree with your conclusion and many of its components, though they often will not be as quantitatively adept and engaged. Case-studies can be quite appealing to this audience; referring to regional and global food shortages of the past and the inadequacy of current preparation can be compelling.

In general it's easier to provide feedback on established messaging, such as a website, fundraising prospectus, or mission statement, which I'd be happy to do. Will also be happy to discuss future plans and steps for moving forward if helpful; I do believe I could help with regard to organizing, founding, and messaging.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on EA Global 2017 Update · 2016-12-09T00:36:11.183Z · EA · GW

Can you provide further background on why you've decided to make each summit so tightly themed? I imagine most of us will only be able to choose to go to one, and I at least would like to be at a summit that touched on all these questions, rather than just one.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on CEA is Fundraising! (Winter 2016) · 2016-12-08T21:40:34.693Z · EA · GW

Well more transparency and EA Forum posts don't have to be correlated. For example, I have read much of the updates posted on Charity Science web properties, and I think that's a fine place for many of them to continue to live.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on CEA is Fundraising! (Winter 2016) · 2016-12-07T22:20:23.276Z · EA · GW

Perhaps the top-level comment is more intended to convey the belief that monthly update posts ought to live on CEA's website, rather than the forum, and it is not specific to this (different type of) post.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on CEA is Fundraising! (Winter 2016) · 2016-12-07T22:16:30.149Z · EA · GW

I find it difficult to evaluate CEA especially after the reorganization, but I did as well beforehand.

The most significant reason is that I feel CEA has been exceedingly slow to embrace metrics regarding many of its activities, as an example, I'll speak to outreach.

Big picture metrics: I would have expected one of CEA's very first activities, years ago when EA Outreach was established, to begin trying to measure subscription to the EA community. Gathering statistics on number of people donating, sizes of donations, number that self-identify as EAs, percentage that become EAs after exposure to different organizations/media, number of chapters, size of chapters, number that leave EA, etc.

Obviously, some of these are difficult, and others involve assumptions, gaining access to properties other organizations run, or gathering data yourselves, but I would expect to see a concerted effort to do so, at least in part. The community has embraced Fermi Estimates where appropriate, and these metrics could be estimated with much more information than those often require.

So a few years in, I find it a bit mindblowing that I'm unaware of an attempt to do this by the only organization that has had teams dedicated specifically to the improvement and growth of the movement. Were these statistics gathered, we'd be much better able to evaluate outreach activities of CEA, which are now central to its purpose as an organization.

With regard to metrics on specific CEA activities, I've also been disappointed by the seeming lack of measurement (though this may be a transparency issue, more on this later). For example, there have been repeated instances where outreach has actively turned people off in ways that I've been told have been expressed to CEA. Multiple friends who applied to the Pareto Fellowship felt like it was quite unprofessionally run and potential speakers at EA Global mentioned they'd found some of the movement's actions immature. In each instance, I'm aware of them becoming significantly less engaged as a result.

At times concerns such as these have been acknowledged, but given the level of my (admittedly highly anecdotal) exposure to them, it feels like they have mostly not been examined to see if they were at a magnitude that should give pause. It would be nice to see them fully acknowledged through quantification, so we could understand if these were a small minority (which does matter of course regardless) or actually of great concern. Quantification could involve, for example, getting feedback on the process from all of those who applied to the Pareto Fellowship or EA Global or all of those who considered them. I do believe that some satisfaction measurements for EAGx and EA Global did in fact come out recently; I was glad to see those and also hope that they are just seen as starting points rather than as representing the majority of CEA’s growth in measurement.

Other examples of where quantification could be helpful is in the relative prominence of various communication vehicles. The cause prioritization tool, for example, is quite prominently shared, but has its success been measured? Have any alternatives been considered? Measuring and sharing this could be beneficial both for CEA’s decision making as well as for the community understanding what works best for their own outreach activities.

The second most significant reason I find CEA tough to evaluate, which is interconnected to much of what I said regarding the first, is that I feel transparency, especially around decision making, is lacking. I feel that other EA organizations better document why they are pursuing much of what they do, but CEA too often feels like a collection of projects without central filtering / direction. I do believe the reorganization may have been to target a similar feeling, but new projects such as EA Concepts, after the reorganization have similarly seemed to come out of nowhere and without justification of their resourcing. It'd be quite helpful to better understand the set of projects CEA considers and how its decision making leads to what we observe. So many of us have been exposed to the book giveaway… what was the decision making behind doing it? Should taking such a proactive action make us update that CEA has found a quite effective promotion vehicle, or was it a trial to determine effects of distribution?

CEA has taken initial steps toward improvement, with the monthly updates, and I'd like to see them greatly expand and specifically address decision making.

Could CEA speak to its planned approach to growing measurement and transparency moving forward?

I have many additional strong feelings and beliefs in favor of CEA as a donation target, had many strong anecdotal experiences, and have a few beliefs that give me great pause as well. But I think measurement and transparency could do a great deal toward putting those in proper context.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Ask MIRI Anything (AMA) · 2016-10-12T05:54:03.463Z · EA · GW

What would be your next few hires, if resources allow?

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Fundraiser: Political initiative raising an expected USD 30 million for effective charities · 2016-10-07T16:47:48.184Z · EA · GW

I agree with Stefan here, as someone who has worked on political campaigns and marketing.

I find it very difficult to have much information without polling.

Most popular initiatives seem to be launched without such polling (but there will be exceptions on the national level).

Why should this matter? That ballots succeed without measuring their potential and optimizing against it doesn't mean anything.

The vote outcome will not only depend on individual opinion, but also a lot on the official recommendations by parliament and government (and the media).

Of course. Having polls can allow you to:

  • Help influence parliament and the government by polling (and releasing the polls if favorable)
  • Prepare for the change in public opinion / likelihood of success based on the recommendations that come out

Direct conversations with politicians and charities seem similarly helpful for informing framings/communications at much lower cost.

How so? As a charity worker and former political staffer I think I'd have minimal information on a ballot initiative for something like this that I hadn't done polling on. Why would their expertise be helpful? What information do they have that you don't? Campaigners would only know about issues on which they've researched voting behavior.

at much lower cost.

This seems unlikely. Door-to-door polling could be done by one person with a car/public transit in one day. Calling could make this even easier/quicker. Contact randomly selected, dispersed households, give them the same info they'll see on the ballot, and ask how they'd vote. Your sample size can be quite small and still be informative.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Some Organisational Changes at the Centre for Effective Altruism · 2016-07-28T12:04:38.713Z · EA · GW

Fully in support of the majority of these changes. Well done taking such a big step!

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on The Effective Altruism Newsletter & Open Thread – July 2016 · 2016-07-13T05:54:35.213Z · EA · GW

These seem more likely to be effective as gifts to EAs, rather than from them.

Comment by Josh Jacobson (joshjacobson) on Guidelines on depicting poverty · 2016-03-28T20:20:47.582Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this and providing some guidelines, as well as sharing how some NGOs approach it. A tangentially related post by GiveWell that may be of interest to some:

A random few things:

  • I believe that effective altruism should be held to a higher standard than most, because I will go so far as to claim that we exhibit greater empathy than on-average by caring so much about effectiveness and knowing that we are truly making a difference.

  • I'd like to point out how your guidelines demonstrate that The Giving What We Can event listed above and the Live Below the Line fundraiser (mostly done by others, but also by Charity Science) fail in a number of ways. Oversimplication, gamification, and trivialization are just a few of these that apply to both. I wrote this critique, which itself falls prey to some of these, but also makes these errors more clear:

  • I don't think all images need to be like the three you conclude with. I find nothing wrong with the appropriate presentation of images that reflect reality, such as disease, lack of sanitation, or overall conditions of poverty. In fact, if we focus just on images like the final three, we'll be committing the error of trivialization. I've had many experiences where those in difficult situations want pictures taken that show the nature of that environment, if it has a chance of increasing or improving aid.

I haven't spent time thinking through guidelines, but the most important one that comes to mind is balance. This is of course impossible to truly achieve, but I think portraying a wide variety of images, in a way that those with experience in the community generally feel good about, is appropriate. (Of course many other guidelines are necessary, such as having the permission of the subjects.) In most cases, this will involve a greater portrayal of images like the final three, but in some truly desperate ones, those may be the minority.

  • And finally, easily the best 'hack' for this is to spend time in the places we often discuss and with the people we're describing. Guidelines are helpful, but there's no replacement for becoming great friends with a wide variety of people who have experienced all the things EAs try to alleviate, and learning who they truly are and what their lives are truly like.


I don't think this is a critical part of the post, but the part below should be qualified. People are poor judges of their own actions and yet the study cited is based off self-reporting. That said, it may be accurate in the long-term, but those results are unknown. Advertising results do in fact most often find that the images critiqued here do drive donations (short-term).

"These standardised representations of poverty can give the impression that the situation is hopeless. In 2012, Oxfam released the results of a 2,000-person survey showing that negative images of poverty had become so pervasive as to lose purpose. A full 75% of those surveyed described themselves as ‘completely desensitized’ to images showing hunger, drought and disease. While 75% did believe it was possible to end hunger in places like Africa, only 20% believed they could play an active role in achieving this outcome. This kind of paralysis is exactly what we want to avoid."