Thanks for the detailed comment, Geoffrey!
First off, there is a point worth clarifying here. Scope insensitivity makes it impossible to have feelings that adequately scale with the number of beings affected, and I don't think that there is much that can be done here (sidenote: this Wait But Why post and its sequel are the best ways I'm aware of to try to get an intuitive sense for the magnitude of large numbers). On the other hand, we can get a very good sense for the intensity of suffering in situations that are presented to us, which is what you point out as being the problematic part.
My sense is that it would be a really bad idea to try to get people to have a very intuitive grasp of intense suffering, for all of the problems you point out. I think that maybe the idea here is to try to give people some sense for it, but in a very small dose, which is sufficient to allow people to relate to other's suffering but not nearly enough to cause them harm. Of course, there isn't a right level for everyone (I think that watching the White Christmas/Black Museum episodes of Black Mirror was an adequate level of this for me, in that sense), but I think that a small enough dose here would be beneficial, and my claim is that this dose can be higher than simply "hundreds of thousands of people die of malaria every year". Make-a-Wish does make some effort into describing the children's situation, but they don't go as far as describing the details of their suffering in a way that could be traumatizing, even though that's possible to do in many cases.
And yes, there are definitely ways to frame this in a more positive and inspirational way, which I strongly favor!
The possibility of confusion is the worst thing about me using the term "local priorities research" to refer so something that was used in a broader sense before. My hunch is that it's worth it, because it seems to me to be by far the most accurate description of what I call LPR. I really hope this won't prove to be too confusing, and I wouldn't want to trouble those who have written before to make changes in response to this. But I think that in a number of cases the term was used to refer to both LPR and CR, in an ambiguous way.
My guess is that the best thing to do (if people agree with the distinction I've made) is to use LPR in the narrower sense from now on, and maybe making an edit or adding a comment explaining the usage of the term in past posts when authors see fit.
I also like it!
Thanks again for your comments, Sjir! Both of your points are great, and the second one which has led me to think LPR is more important than I thought before.
I still stand by the approach to doing LPR that I propose in the post. Given that there are cases where LPR is highly likely to be effective, I believe that starting with these cases, learning from them, and subsequently determining the best strategy for other situations is a great compromise between the risks and benefits involved. That said, I do think that LPR has the potential to be really successful and get a lot of people involved.
Addressing the specific advantages of LPR you outlined:
- On the first two points, my intuition is that local groups could learn enough about that without getting anywhere near the work required for charity recommendations. Alejandro's analysis is an example of the type of research that I believe moves in this direction, though a more comprehensive exploration is likely warranted.
- On the last point, this could indeed be one of the main benefits of LPR. However, prioritization research based on geographic location is not the only way to train people for GPR charity evaluation. Some examples, which I consider to be GPR, include replicating GiveWell's work, or identifying the best donation opportunities from a non-welfarist perspective (such as those that promote justice).
On the "contextualization research" term, I think I'm a bit more satisfied with it than you are, but I also recognize that it isn't the ideal name. Suggestions for a better alternative are welcome!
I want that doc to be shareable outside the EA community, but I appreciate people posting related links here!
This is a great post, thanks for writing this up!
I agree with the main point, and 80,000 Hours' webpage does make it clear that their top career recommendations (and the specific jobs in these areas that are highly concentrated in a few organizations) are pretty competitive, and most people on the EA movement are not going to be able to get into one of those. When planning my career, I factor in this possibility, but one problem I face is that I don't feel I know enough about these other possibilities, and so there is a lot of uncertainty when I think about what should I do outside of the top career paths and top organizations.
I don't think the solution to this problem is for 80,000 Hours to try to discuss other problem areas and mention other EA-aligned organizations in more detail, because that would take a lot of effort. One thing that could be helpful, though, is to emphasize more the process people should go through when planning their careers, with more guidance on how to tackle problem areas that haven't been explored in much detail, how to explore areas that an EA think might be relevant but hasn't been explored at all, how to find organizations to work for in the problem areas they are interested in, and what to do if you can't get a job at an organization you really want to work for in the long term.
I believe it would also help to share the trajectories of people in the EA community who have done some innovative work, or people who managed to find jobs at EA-aligned organizations that the movement was previously unaware of, emphasizing how they approached the task. Facilitating networking between people in a certain problem area could also prove really helpful.
I'm not saying there isn't any content in these topics, just that in my experience writing up and improving my own career plan over a few years I found it much easier to find EA material on why should I take a certain career path than on how to do it more concretely (besides working at top career paths and organizations), and that based on my experience I believe emphasizing more these aspects could go a long way into helping people structure better career plans.
Agreed! I think our views on the issue are quite similar then :)
I wouldn't necessarily think investing in the marketing of EA orgs is a no-brainer. The comparative advantage of EA orgs is that they are effective, but overall they don't fare very well when it comes to emotional appeal. Investing more explicitly in emotionally appealing marketing could help them somewhat, but the biggest and more well funded traditional charities already optimize to a large extent in appealing to people, so I think it would be very hard for EA non-profits to compete in that front. Therefore, even with this kind of marketing, I doubt it would be able to make these orgs get significantly more funding from non-EAs.
What I think could be the main advantage of EA non-profits spending money on emotionally appealing marketing is that it could help people who are already interested in effectiveness to get more motivated for the cause. This includes both non-EAs who are interested in EA ideas, but it could also include people who are members of the movement, because this emotional connection could have a boosting effect on their motivation that volunteers of traditional charities usually already have. In turn, if what we are proposing in the post is successful, it could be the case that this gain in motivation by EAs and EA-aligned people would lead them be more eager to learn more about EA, donate more, and maybe even change their career plans to work on EA cause areas.