Comment by michaelchen on What are some low-information priors that you find practically useful for thinking about the world? · 2020-08-07T22:28:51.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

With 50% probability, things will last twice as long as they already have. By this you mean that if something has lasted x amount of time so far, with 50% probability the total amount of time it will have lasted is at least 2x (i.e., it will continue to last at least another x years)?

Comment by michaelchen on [Stats4EA] Uncertain Probabilities · 2020-05-31T23:37:09.475Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

What is the meaning of a higher-order probability, like a 20% chance of a 30% chance of x happening—especially if x is something like the extinction of humanity, where a frequentist interpretation doesn't make sense? I asked a question related to this

Comment by michaelchen on Be the Match: a volunteer list for bone marrow donation · 2019-10-28T01:26:46.657Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

The probability of being an HLA match might be a lot lower than 1/20,000. Say that half the potential 16,000,000 donors would renege on donating if they were called, so we actually have 8,000,000 available members. A 1 in 20,000 chance implies that the chance that a given patient has no matches would be , when in reality the chance of having a match (probably with a donor who is willing to donate?) is at least 0.01. Maybe 1 in 2 million is more reasonable?

Comment by michaelchen on Be the Match: a volunteer list for bone marrow donation · 2019-10-28T00:58:48.004Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Some additional statistics that might be helpful for determining the counterfactual impact:

  • “1 in 300 will be selected as the best possible donor for a patient. These potential donors will have an information session with their donor center representative to learn more about the donation process. Due to changes in the patient's condition, not all donors who are selected as the best match will donate.”¹
  • “About 1 in 430 members will actually donate.”¹
  • “Because of the continuing growth and increasing ethnic diversity of the Be The Match Registry, an overwhelming percentage of patients who need an unrelated donor transplant will have a suitably matched, available donor or a CBU with an adequate cell dose on the Be The Match Registry. A 2014 study found that depending on a searching patient's ethnic background, this match likelihood is between 91-99%.”⁴
  • “about 93 percent of Caucasians will find a donor through the registry, Chell says, compared with 73 percent of Asian Americans and 67 percent of African Americans.”²
  • has some stats on the chance that someone of a certain ethnic background will find a matched donor (presumably of the same race). Does increased compatibility improve outcomes, or just the chance that the transplant will work out?
  • “Some 6,000 people donate bone marrow and stem cells for transplant each year through Be the Match, a Minneapolis-based registry that connects donors to ailing recipients. But there is an equal number of people who sign up to donate but decline or don’t respond when actually asked to do so. This 50-50 “commitment rate” has frustrated leaders of the National Marrow Donor Program, which operates the registry, and caused it to revamp the way it recruits donors as of next year.”³


Comment by michaelchen on Problems in effective altruism and what to do about them · 2019-10-19T10:09:23.439Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA · GW

The EA Syllabus is not an academic syllabus for the course, and "Why I'm Not a Negative Utilitarian" is not a journal-published academic paper (although it sure looks like one given the citations and structures, but is listed on Ord's website as an "unpolished idea"). Knutsson thinks that since it's directed toward the general public and not an academic audience, it's even more important that it represent all academic views fairly instead of just what the author believes. I think that it might be good to do that, but it's not unacceptable to not do that, as we can't apply academic standards to something that's not academic.

Comment by michaelchen on Problems in effective altruism and what to do about them · 2019-10-19T09:44:25.525Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Why I'm Not a Negative Utilitarian was published in 2013, not 2003.

Comment by michaelchen on Movement Collapse Scenarios · 2019-09-08T16:50:24.884Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Placing a bounty for writing criticisms casts doubt on whether those criticisms are actually sincere, or whether they're just bs-ing and overstating certain things and omitting other considerations to write those most compelling criticism they can. It's like reading a study written by someone with a conflict of interest – it's very easy to dismiss it out of hand. If CEA were to offer a financial incentive for critiques, then all critiques of CEA become less trustworthy. I think it would be more productive to encourage people to offer the most thoughtful suggestions on how to improve, even if that means scaling up certain things because they were successful, and not criticism per se.

Comment by michaelchen on English as a dominant language in the movement: challenges and solutions · 2019-09-08T16:12:14.129Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

If you're a non-native speaker, one way to improve your pronunciation is to make sure you know how the word is written in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Wiktionary is a good resource for this, and maybe also Lexico or Cambridge Dictionary. It's very difficult to correctly guess the pronunciation of an English word based on its spelling. Many non-native speakers don't do enough vowel reduction and overpronounce vowels that are actually /ə/.

Note that IPA in dictionaries is almost always phonemic and not phonetic, which means that it will not represent things like:

  • In American English, /p, t, tʃ, k/ are aspirated as [pʰ, tʰ, tʃʰ, kʰ] at the beginning of a stressed syllable, and unaspirated otherwise.† /p, t, k/ are aspirated after /s/ /t/ is often pronounced as [ɾ] between vowels (intervocalically, often even across word boundaries)‡ and as [ʔ] at the end of a syllable, except sequences like /st/ and /kt/ have [t] or [tʰ]. When the speaker is trying to speak quite formally, they may pronounce it as [tʰ], though that sounds a bit stilted to me.
  • I'm not sure about British English, but I believe that it is similar to American English except that intervocalic /t/ is pronounced [tʰ] or more casually as [ʔ], and never as [ɾ].
  • In American English, /d/ is also pronounced as [ɾ] between vowels except when beginning a stressed syllable. Again, speakers may sometimes pronounce it as [d] when trying to speak particularly formally or clearly.
  • "Vowels are [slightly] shortened when followed in a syllable by a voiceless (fortis) consonant. This is known as pre-fortis clipping. Thus in the following word pairs the first item has a shortened vowel while the second has a normal length vowel: 'right' /raɪt/ – 'ride' /raɪd/; 'face' /feɪs/ – 'phase' /feɪz/." For American English, "writer" and "rider" are both pronounced [ˈɹaɪɾɚ] but the /aɪ/ is pronounced longer in "rider", because /t/ is a voiceless consonant.
  • "In many accents of English, tense vowels undergo breaking before /l/, resulting in pronunciations like [pʰiəl] for peel, [pʰuəl] for pool, [pʰeɪəl] for pail, and [pʰoʊəl] for pole." (Wikipedia)
  • Some dictionaries for American English treat [ʌ] and [ə] as allophones of /ə/. In those dictionaries, /ə/ in stressed syllables should be pronounced [ʌ].
  • Some (even weirder) dictionaries write /e/ when they really mean /ɛ/ or /eɪ/, and /o/ when the mean /oʊ/.
  • Many speakers of American English drop the /t/ in unstressed /nt/. E.g., they might pronounce "center" as [ˈsɛnɚ] instead of [ˈsɛntʰɚ].
  • In American English, /aʊ/ is pronounced /æʊ/
  • I feel like /aɪ, eɪ, oʊ, aʊ/ are actually pronounced [ai, ei, əu, au].
  • British English is mostly non-rhotic, but inserts a /ɹ/ between vowels, even across word boundaries.
  • There's also Australian English, but I really don't understand the phonetic rules for that.
  • /ə/ is sometimes pronounced /ɪ/ in some contexts in American English; see

There are lots of other phonetic rules such as dark vs light /l/, but as a speaker of American English I don't really understand them.

† One exception (from Wikipedia): When the consonants in a cluster like st are analyzed as belonging to different morphemes (heteromorphemic) the stop is aspirated, but when they are analyzed as belonging to one morpheme the stop is unaspirated. For instance, distend has unaspirated [t] since it is not analyzed as two morphemes, but distaste has an aspirated middle [tʰ] because it is analyzed as dis- + taste and the word taste has an aspirated initial t. ‡ However, unstressed /tən/ is pronounced /ʔən/. "Curtain" is pronounced as [ˈkʰɚʔən], not [ˈkʰɚɾən], and "button" is pronounced [ˈbʌʔən], not [ˈbʌɾən].

Now that you know the phonetic representation, it's time to learn how to pronounce the phonemes/phones! /ɹ, ð, θ, ɑ, æ, ɪ, ɛ, ʊ, ʌ/ can be particularly difficult. I would personally focus on /ʌ/ as it's quite common and pronouncing it as /a/ sounds weirder than common approximations for other phonemes.

Also be sure to know which syllable of the word is stressed. Also note that some words are pronounced or stressed differently depending on whether it is a noun or a verb (see

Honestly though, I've felt that speaking with perfect pronunciation isn't as important as having the intonation (variation in pitch of the words of a sentence) similar to a native speaker's. I think the only way to learn a native-sounding intonation is to hear English often.

Comment by michaelchen on English as a dominant language in the movement: challenges and solutions · 2019-09-08T14:49:58.968Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

What are some examples of unusual collocations? I wonder if some commonly used collocations, such as "get over", "prefer x₁ over x₂", "end up", "break the ice", and "come up with" might be more confusing to non-native speakers than expressions that are less commonly used or involve more complicated words but are more literal. I was surprised to hear that a non-native speaker friend of mine did not understand the construction "out of x₁, x₂ is the best".

Comment by michaelchen on English as a dominant language in the movement: challenges and solutions · 2019-09-08T14:28:24.663Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I didn’t know Google Assistant was able to understand words spoken in other languages! By the way, “gratis” is an adjective or adverb that means “without charge”. I think you meant to express “free” as in “to liberate”, which would be “emancipar”, “soltar”, or “liberar”. I'm not a native Spanish speaker; I looked up the words in Wiktionary and SpanishDict to double-check their definitions.

Comment by michaelchen on ACE Call for External Reviewers · 2019-08-28T19:35:52.318Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Why does the form have Email address, Name, then Email address (again)?

Comment by michaelchen on Movement Collapse Scenarios · 2019-08-28T01:01:47.700Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Can you give some examples of attempts to politicise the movement? I can make some guesses as to what you're referring to but I'm not sure.

Comment by michaelchen on How do you decide between upvoting and strong upvoting? · 2019-08-25T21:33:43.687Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

There was a question a while ago on motivations behind downvoting:

Comment by michaelchen on Global basic education as a missing cause priority · 2019-08-25T21:21:00.595Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Indeed, development does not have intrinsic value. EAs who support global health and development do so generally because they believe it is effective for reducing suffering (and possibly increasing autonomy, etc.)

What kinds of education do you think are most valuable? Is precalculus equally valuable as ethics philosophy? Or is it whatever that particular person feels most interested in? Is the astonishingly high rate at which students forget the material after the course ends something that should be ameliorated with spaced repetition, or is it better to spend the time learning new material? Should mindfulness and sports education be considered education and thus intrinsically valuable? Are there things that aren’t generally taught that should be?

Comment by michaelchen on Global basic education as a missing cause priority · 2019-08-19T01:08:55.410Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

It seems to me that you don't value education intrinsically so much as valuing it as a tool to increase ability to contribute economically, ability to contribute intelligently to public discourse, and ability satisfy basic needs like food and health. Twelve years of public schooling like what is currently taught might not be the best way of improving those things.

Comment by michaelchen on EA-aligned podcast with Lewis Bollard · 2019-08-19T00:44:31.487Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

The episodes "Tiffany Cabán's Election Mini-analysis" and "(Cabán for Queens District Attorney Re-release) […]" feel since

  • the election is over, so there's no need to have an re-release episode to encourage people to vote for a particular candidate
  • "Tiffany Cabán's Election Mini-analysis" speaks as if Cabán would win, but that did not happen (unfortunately)
  • I was expecting the podcast to be about interviews and I wasn't expecting this level of personal political endorsements. The vast majority of the minutes are still interviews, but the political endorsements feel sorta out of place.

It might be odd to redact the podcast at this point, however.

Anyway, I'm impressed that you already have 11 episodes out in just three months, and I'm excited to listen to it!

Side note: why did I think the h word was going to be "humane"?

Comment by michaelchen on Why has poverty worldwide fallen so little in recent decades outside China? · 2019-08-19T00:20:16.357Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Does it really explain anything to say that poverty rates are stagnant outside of China because those countries have a lack of economic growth? I guess it suggests that changes in foreign aid or in income inequality aren't the culprit, but this explanation still feels like a dormitive principle.

Comment by michaelchen on The Moral Circle is not a Circle · 2019-08-18T23:57:43.083Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I don't think people don't not care about digital minds just because they are digital. Watching the first episode of Black Mirror, it's hard not to feel sympathy for the simulated people. It would probably be a very unsuccessful show if the audience had no emotional investment in what happens to the simulated people.

Some objections to target when trying to increase moral concern for digital minds might be:

  • they don't exist, and feel much more hypothetical than "future generations"
  • it feels unclear what could be done to help them (them specifically, as opposed to helping future generations in general)
  • it feels hard to determine whether a digital mind (that is not just a human or animal consciousness upload) is sentient and what they would feel as positive or negative valence
Comment by michaelchen on The morality of having a meat-eating pet · 2019-08-18T22:55:48.158Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW has a pretty good list of relevant papers. Having a vegan cat is definitely something that would need to be done carefully and close monitoring on urine pH and other things.

Comment by michaelchen on Information security careers for GCR reduction · 2019-08-02T15:15:16.016Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Seems like is perfectly legit.

Comment by michaelchen on A Happiness Manifesto: Why and How Effective Altruism Should Rethink its Approach to Maximising Human Welfare · 2019-07-30T20:41:37.709Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Diener et al. (2019) makes some statements that suggest that life satisfaction isn't a great proxy for subjective well-being:

In the current article, we review evidence from the first representative sample of humanity, the Gallup World Poll, and include many more nations that are very poor and troubled. We find that the majority of people are above neutral in affect balance but not life satisfaction.

people around the globe are more likely to score in the negative zone on judgment measures of life satisfaction than on experiential measures—life satisfaction versus affect balance. We found more negative scores for life satisfaction than for affect balance. This might be because affect balance tends to depend more on the meeting of universal needs, such as for social support, and societies on the whole have developed reasonably good methods for meeting these needs, even when poverty or even conflict are present. In contrast, life satisfaction depends on comparing one’s life to standards that change to some degree with culture and expectancies. Thus, many people in our sample might have scored low on life satisfaction because they desire the material life they perceive in wealthy nations, and conclude that they fall far short of this standard. It could be that life satisfaction is more influenced by movable standards compared with affect, and this means that even after substantial progress, people may believe that they fall short of their goals (Graham & Pettinato, 2006). The divergent patterns of the results for life satisfaction and for affect balance highlight the importance of measuring multiple aspects of SWB (Diener, 1984).

It also suggests that lacking material needs and lacking social support have a large impact on happiness, so it might be worthwhile to look into improving that in addition to working on mental illness:

Are there circumstances in which most people are no longer happy? To answer this question, we selected the respondents who had experienced five adverse events during the past year: (a) had been assaulted, (b) had property or money stolen, (c) had health problems, (d) did not have enough money for food, and (e) did not have enough money for shelter. In this group, only 26% of respondents (n = 796) evaluated their life as above 5, and only 51% (n = 1,567) reported more positive than negative affect. Thus, life circumstances may override the natural coping responses that most mentally healthy people possess. Finally, we examined people who had the above five adverse life events but also two other negative social circumstances—(a) nobody they could call on for support in an emergency and (b) feeling that they were not respected.4 Thus, this group had experienced physical and material problems during the past year as well as lack of social support. In this group of unfortunate individuals, only 20% had a positive affect-balance score (n = 72), 10% had a neutral score (i.e., they experienced the same number of positive and negative feelings, n = 37), and 70% had a negative score (n = 257).

For life satisfaction, only 12% (n = 43) had a score above neutral, 14% (n = 51) were at the neutral point, and 74% (n = 271) were below the neutral point. Thus, we found that most individuals who experienced very negative life events and lacked social support were far from happy. Although most people in the globe were happy, those who experienced physical, financial, and interpersonal problems were not.

Diener, E., Diener, C., Choi, H., & Oishi, S. (2018). Revisiting “Most People Are Happy”—And Discovering When They Are Not. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(2), 166–170.

Comment by michaelchen on Why do you downvote EA Forum posts & comments? · 2019-05-30T01:57:38.168Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I downvote posts when I disagree with them, they rely on an argument that is obviously faulty to me, and I think the current score is too high. I feel much freer to downvote if the current score is higher, and often ignore the second condition if it is particularly high.

I like having the vast majority of posts have a positive score, with only spam or name calling having a negative score, as it is on the EA Forum, but I don't really see an issue with yay/boo voting. It's hard not to interpret scores as a combination of agreement and good argumentation.

Comment by michaelchen on What exactly is the system EA's critics are seeking to change? · 2019-05-30T01:34:26.097Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Exploiting others makes you less virtuous, and singing the praises of rich philanthropists without acknowledging that paints an incomplete picture. If we don't acknowledge it, it's reasonable for leftists to assume that we don't know or don't care.

It might not hurt to repeat some of that economic and historical literature in an EA venue. The mere existence of books on a topic doesn't give any indication of EAs' opinions on those books.

Comment by michaelchen on There's Lots More To Do · 2019-05-30T01:07:19.959Z · score: 42 (13 votes) · EA · GW

I think the post is more fundamentally flawed; there is a substantial funding gap under Benjamin's assumptions, even if we were to ignore GiveDirectly and other cause areas, and even if we were unwilling to save a life for any more than $5,000.

According to the 2017 Global Burden of Disease report, around 10 million people die per year, globally, of "Communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases.”* This is roughly the category that the low cost-per-life-saved interventions target. If we assume that all of this is treatable at current cost per life saved numbers - the most generous possible assumption for the claim that there's a funding gap - then at $5,000 per life saved (substantially higher than GiveWell's current estimates), that would cost about $50 Billion to avert.

This is already well within the capacity of funds available to the Gates Foundation alone, and the Open Philanthropy Project / GiveWell is the main advisor of another multi-billion-dollar foundation, Good Ventures. The true number is almost certainly much smaller because many communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases do not admit of the kinds of cheap mass-administered cures that justify current cost-effectiveness numbers.

Of course, that’s an annual number, not a total number. But if we think that there is a present, rather than a future, funding gap of that size, that would have to mean that it’s within the power of the Gates Foundation alone to wipe out all fatal communicable diseases immediately, a couple times over - in which case the progress really would be permanent, or at least quite lasting. And infections are the major target of current mass-market donor recommendations.

The Open Philanthropy Project started out with $8.3 billion in 2011, and presumably has less now. The Gates Foundation has an endowment of $50.7 billion as of 2017. They wouldn't be able to sustain $50 billion of annual donations for very long. As such, I think the first and second paragraphs are essentially invalid.

It sounds dubious that we could wipe out communicable diseases in a few years and have that be permanent without any further investment. The 2017 Global Burden of Disease lists some communicable diseases as follows: HIV/AIDS, syphilis, chlamydia, gonococcal infection, tuberculosis, other respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, typhoid, salmonella, malaria, schistosomiasis, dengue, rabies, other neglected tropical diseases, ebola, zika, meningitis, measles, hepatitis, tetanus, and so on.

My understanding is that rather few of these have been permanently eliminated, even in high income countries. Distributing condoms and PrEP for a few years isn't going to permanently eliminate HIV. Bed nets and seasonal chemoprevention aren't going to eliminate malaria. Measles needs ongoing vaccinations. Etc.

There are of course more permanent solutions that we can use, but these are probably much more expensive and it's unclear whether the two foundations would be able to fully fund them. In the late 1940s, the US substantially reduced malaria by draining swamps and spraying mosquito spray.¹ There's gene drives of course, but we probably need more research at this point before we can safely try to eliminate mosquitoes with that. Ending worms, diarrheal disease, or typhoid would probably require incredible improvements to the water supply. Still, HIV and respiratory infections would probably not be possible to eliminate without substantial improvements in medicine.

Also, the Gates Foundation is not particularly EA, and we should not expect it to put all its money into global health. (Nor would we assume Open Phil to do so, because it also cares about other cause areas.) In any case, even if they could fill the gap, that's not a relevant counterfactual unless they would fill the gap.

All of the above is using Benjamin's charitable, optimistic assumption that we can save a life for $5,000 up to $50 billion per year. If we consider just the room for more funding of all the top GiveWell charities better than GiveDirectly, is that low enough that Open Phil and the Gates Foundation can completely fill it? Possibly, in which case I will defer to the argument Jeff Kaufman's post.

Comment by michaelchen on EA Survey 2018 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics · 2019-05-16T23:44:22.099Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Super late response, but it's hella cool that you're doing all that!

EA Johns Hopkins looks inactive based on its Facebook page, unfortunately. It doesn't look like there's a general EA Baltimore meetup group either. Still, there are always online places like Discord and Reddit.

It can be frustrating that social activities often revolve around spending money, especially if your friends aren't accommodating about your frugality. There might be Meetup groups in your area about doing things for cheap, or you can suggest some free events to your friends. Overall though, I think that if you can afford it, it might be worthwhile spending a bit of money to hang out with your friends, if that's something you'd enjoy – it should help with your mental health, and investing in relationships could plausibly boost your earnings enough to compensate for what you're spending.

Comment by michaelchen on EA Still Needs an Updated and Representative Introductory Guidebook · 2019-05-15T00:35:15.953Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

"it seems like [updating the EA Handbook] would be less work than updating DGB" → do you mean that updating the EA handbook would be more work? That would make more sense given the rest of your comment.

Comment by michaelchen on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-05-13T20:09:48.305Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think EAs focus on the survival of the human species above that of nonhumans because nonhumans can't prevent astronomical waste the way a flourishing, advanced human (or posthuman) civilization can. (That, or they don’t think nonhumans lower than chimpanzees are sentient, though I think that is a minority view.) I agree that biodiversity is good, but only in terms of its impact on the welfare of humans and animals. Although not many EAs seem to value biodiversity for its own sake in the way deep ecologists do, many EAs are concerned about wild animal welfare. There is a lot of suffering experienced by wild animals, either due to nature or from human activity, such as starvation, predation, disease, or infant mortality or r-selection. It’s very difficult to have interventions with an expected positive impact for much of this – for instance, if you eradicate a parasite or disease from a species, might that contribute to overpopulation, and consequently starvation and infant mortality instead? As such, WAW organizations like to focus on things like humane insecticides.

Links (floating formatting bar doesn’t show up on iPad sorry):

Comment by michaelchen on EA Still Needs an Updated and Representative Introductory Guidebook · 2019-05-13T11:39:23.315Z · score: 25 (9 votes) · EA · GW

I don't have issues with the EA Handbook's emphasis on the far future, but I do think Doing Good Better is much more beautifully written and emotionally compelling, so I'd probably still recommend it over the EA Handbook.

Here are some comments I have on individual articles in the EA Handbook:

  • Introduction to Effective Altruism:
    • Places too much emphasis on "tested solutions," which seems to advocate against high risk high reward interventions.
    • Overall, covers a lot of topics pretty decently.
  • Efficient Charity – Do Unto Others:
    • Written in 2010 (although the EA Handbook says 2013), so it has out-of-date cost-effectiveness figures. There is a note at the top which says that and recommends looking at GiveWell, but I think it'd be better to just directly edit the article, so that people who don't look up GiveWell's figures don't walk away with the impression that $5,000 to save a life is ineffective, or that we can save a life from fatal tuberculosis with $100 if we can't. In addition, while the article claims that it costs $5,000 to save a life from diarrheal disease, I haven't seen any figures from GiveWell which could provided an updated view.
      • SHIC uses the following lines in their excerpt of "Efficient Charity": "According to the World Bank’s analysis, immunising children for dengue fever saves one child’s life for $25,000, but we know that by donating to malaria prevention we could save about five lives for the same cost. If you want to save children, donating bed nets instead of immunising against dengue fever is the objectively right answer, the same way buying a nice car instead of a broken-down one for the same price is the right answer."
    • I really like this article though and I think it does well in terms of emotional impact. It might be good to put this before Introduction to Effective Altruism to get readers hooked.
  • Prospecting for Gold:
    • Feels kind of long-winded, and at some points the gold metaphor is a slog to read through rather than an actually helpful metaphor. I feel like it's a lot better for watching as a presentation than reading. We might be able to rewrite this to make it more succinct.
    • Cites data from DCP2, which has some pretty unreliable figures, and there's a DCP3 now which we can use instead. I don't think this point is too important though.
    • This does cover some important concepts like long-tailed distributions, marginal utility, and comparative advantage.

I'm not going to read/review the rest of the EA Handbook right now, but I think overall, lightly edited transcripts of talks don't make for great reading material, and we'd want to edit them a lot more to be more succinct and easier to read.

Comment by michaelchen on High School EA Outreach · 2019-05-07T23:25:16.533Z · score: 10 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I was a SHIC ambassador at my high school, which is fairly selectie, in contrast to Jessica's "[high schoolers] will usually just believe you and accept what you say," I felt that the students at my high school were much more skeptical than I expected. Even some of the eighth graders were like if you decrease your demand for factory farmed products, won't that just make it cheaper and have no net effect on supply? What about that fish farm that I visited in Israel where the fish seemed to be doing pretty great? With my actual club, one person raised the issue of harms caused by farming plants, and I wasn't able to navigate that very well. (I'm not a great presenter, fyi. Also, the Cognitive Quirks level didn't work out very well, since for the 2-4-8 they were like what about -3? π? and it turns out that they're not actually scope-insensitive.)

Of course, it's great to have a critically thinking audience, but it raises the risk of getting into thorny issues that you're not fully prepared to explain well and so your presentation falls apart.

Comment by michaelchen on Is preventing child abuse a plausible Cause X? · 2019-05-05T17:53:32.289Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It's by Jiwoon Hwang, and it's also posted on his blog: . He hasn't posted anything later on the EA Forum. There are three usernames on the current EA Forum containing the word "Jiwoon", but they seem to be deleted.

I like to make the following taxonomy of cause areas:

  • near-term humans: global poverty, mental health, child abuse?
  • near-term animals: factory farming, wild animals
  • long-term future: AI alignment, biosecurity, nuclear weapon security, alternative foods, s-risks
Comment by michaelchen on Is preventing child abuse a plausible Cause X? · 2019-05-05T03:41:48.044Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

This was posted on the EA Forum about a year and a half ago: (not sure why non-archived link brings up "Sorry, we couldn't find what you were looking for." now).

Comment by michaelchen on Reasons to eat meat · 2019-04-23T11:59:19.993Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I thought the “moral nonrealism, therefore egoism” part was purely satire. (I felt like the other points, besides the cultural value one, actually seems seemed quite serious.) I’m not really sure how moral nonrealism works, but I haven’t seen it used within EA to argue for maximizing your personal pleasure and for nothing else mattering. I think it’s very unlikely you’d be an EA if you believed that.

There are definitely a lot of figures (either empirical or subjective) which EAs disagree about, and so there’s a lot of variation in people’s beliefs of what’s most impactful to work on.

Founders Pledge did some research into effective climate change charities (see Report - Climate Change.pdf), and it estimates that $100 to Coalition for Rainforest Nations averts “~857 tonnes of CO2e with a range of ~138 tonnes to ~4,600 tonnes”. For reference, apparently the average person in the US has a footprint of 16 tons, but I’m not sure if that’s CO2-equivalents or just CO2. Now, how valuable is averting a ton of CO2? The WHO had an old figure of 5,000 tons/DALY, but apparently that’s not reliable anymore ( If anyone has a better figure, please post a comment.

Comment by michaelchen on EA Forum Prize: Winners for February 2019 · 2019-04-10T23:03:11.937Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Makes sense. FYI, I'm not currently interested in writing such a post, so if anyone else wants to, please do!

Comment by michaelchen on EA Forum Prize: Winners for February 2019 · 2019-04-06T22:32:44.896Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Does sharing personal experiences that contribute to better guidelines about whether to pursue direct work, or counterbalancing an excessive emphasis on work at an EA organization, not further the objectives of EA? It’s certainly at a more meta level, but hey, meta EA is still one of the “four cause areas” and one of the EA Funds. I’m not saying it necessarily is more valuable than the winners of the prize, but I don’t think it should disqualified on that basis.

I also don’t think we should shy away from incentivizing posts that reflect disagreements within EA or are critical of EA as it is. That’s not too far off from disincentivizing disagreement (something like if you write about that topic you have zero chance of winning the prize), and that feels wrong on an open forum.

Comment by michaelchen on Impact of US Strategic Power on Global Well-Being (quick take) · 2019-03-24T00:07:09.319Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I'm confused by what the World Values Survey means when it says that secular-rational societies see suicide as relatively acceptable. Aside from the case of terminal illnesses that cause great suffering, saying that suicide is okay would definitely be a fringe view. My steelperson would be that it's saying that while traditional societies see it as personally damaging to one's reputation and their family, secular-rational societies see it as an issue with society – but I'm not sure that it is saying that.

I would encourage you to expand on your point "I feel that people whose attitudes fall below common Western baselines of tolerance are less deserving of wealth and prosperity." It reads to me as something like ethnocentric or parochial, and it seems to run counter to the common EA principle that everyone is equally deserving of welfare, at least before we take into account instrumental effects. While we might want to incentivize greater tolerance, I wouldn't phrase it as that people who are less tolerant are less deserving of prosperity.

Comment by michaelchen on Candidate Scoring System, Second Release · 2019-03-22T01:58:28.562Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Just donated! For others' convenience, the link is

Comment by michaelchen on Should Global Poverty Donors Give Now or Later? An In-Depth Analysis · 2019-01-24T16:57:49.661Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I was going to link to EA Concepts: The Meat Eater Problem, as I thought it had been successfully argued that the meat eater problem was not much of a issue, but after re-reading those posts, it does seems that the meat eater problem is a reasonable concern so as long as farm animals have on expectation net negative lives.

Comment by michaelchen on Is it better to be a wild rat or a factory farmed cow? A systematic method for comparing animal welfare. · 2018-12-20T16:48:18.752Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Having read much of Brian Tomasik's work, I think the idea that wild animals have net negative lives is plausible, and I don't think habitat destruction would be ludicrous. However, that does seem to be a more extreme position than most wild animal welfare organizations are willing to commit to, and I suggest that the framework proposed here is not well-suited for answering those sorts of questions.

Comment by michaelchen on Is it better to be a wild rat or a factory farmed cow? A systematic method for comparing animal welfare. · 2018-12-07T00:00:35.597Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

To clarify, are you asserting that wild rats, fish, and bugs have net negative lives, on the order of half of the suffering of a factory farmed animal? That seems like a fairly controversial point, since it suggests that, e.g., habitat destruction is a good thing wherever the damage to the ecosystem would not be catastrophic.

Although you've said that a score of 0 is supposed to represent uncertainty about whether the animal's life is net positive or net negative, it doesn't seem to me that the metrics are well-designed for that. Most of them seem best for capturing negative utility, rather than positive. For instance, when a score of "5 to 15" is assigned to a death with "quick or low pain," I assume that doesn't mean that the act of dying itself has positive utility, so where does the positive utility come from? It seems you'd have to implicitly weigh the suffering from death with the lifespan of the animal and its welfare over the course of its life, but it seems wrong to include that all in a quality of death metric. For instance, if we had two groups of animals that were had the same scores on all of these metrics, including how painful their death was, but one had a much shorter lifespan than the other, then the shorter-lived group would have much more pain, even though their scores under this system would be equal. (This might be captured by the death rate figure – if so, could you explain what a "10%" or "50%" death rate means?)

Comment by michaelchen on Amazon Smile · 2018-11-22T20:36:15.830Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I'd add in a bit about browser extensions that automatically redirect you from Amazon to Amazon Smile, like Smile Always (Chrome) and Amazon Smiley (Firefox).

The impact is honestly depressing low: over the past years of Amazon shopping, I've only generated $4.27 (apparently after $854 of purchases).

Comment by michaelchen on Mind Ease: a promising new mental health intervention · 2018-10-24T02:24:23.156Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Just a few comments on the website:

  • Clicking on the "Feel better. Fast", "Science-based", or "Free & easy to use" link to a "/undefined" page, which leads to a 404 error.
  • The "Science" link the navigation bar scrolls down to "See how you're doing, develop over time", which isn't really about science.

Overall, claiming being "scientifically proven" without references to actual studies and the use of first name–only testimonials pattern-matches to the sample pseudoscientific websites that my Psych 101 textbook presents. If I had not read this post, I would be quite hesitant to try out the app. I think it would be helpful to have a page about the scientific support for meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, etc., and Mind Ease itself as you did here. It might be difficult to have quotes that are less anonymous (e.g., by providing their full name, photo, and occupation), given the stigma surrounding anxiety, but if it's feasible, I think it would increase the credibility.

Comment by michaelchen on Curing past sufferings and preventing s-risks via indexical uncertainty · 2018-09-29T13:42:28.807Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

If I were suffering intensely, it wouldn't be comforting to me that there are other people who were just like me at one point but are now very happy – that feels like a completely different person to me. I'd rather there be someone completely happy than someone who had to undergo unnecessary suffering just to be more similar to me. Insofar as I care about personal identity, I care about whether it is a continuation of my brain, not whether it has similar experiences as me.

Also, "saving" people using this method and having "benevolent AIs [...] distribute parts of the task between each other using randomness" seems indistinguishable from randomly torturing people, and that's very unappealing for me.

Comment by michaelchen on Near-Term Effective Altruism Discord · 2018-09-11T02:47:02.601Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

For what it's worth, I felt a bit alienated by the other Discord, not because I don't support far-future causes or that it was even discussing the far future, but because I didn't find the conversation interesting. I think this Discord might help me engage more with EAs, because I find the discourse more interesting, and I happen to like the way Thing of Thing discusses things. I think it's good to have a variety of groups with different cultures and conversation styles, to appeal to a broader base of people. That said, I do have some reservations about fragmenting EA along ideological lines.

Comment by michaelchen on Near-Term Effective Altruism Discord · 2018-09-11T02:36:40.073Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Comment by michaelchen on Awesome Effective Altruism - a curated list of EA resources · 2018-08-26T02:31:30.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Sheon Han made something called Awesome Effective Altruism about a year ago, although I don't see it anymore. Is this related to that?

EDIT: looks like someone made a copy of it at

Comment by michaelchen on How to have cost-effective fun · 2018-07-02T11:53:00.258Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

As long as you use a good adblocker (such as uBlock Origin) to get rid of any sketchy ads, I'm fairly confident that the site is pretty safe. If you're unsure if the file you downloaded is safe, you can upload it to If you're using Chrome and that's what's blocking the download, apparently you can go to your downloads list and click "Recover malicious file."

Comment by michaelchen on Visualising animal agriculture · 2018-06-17T06:30:15.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry, should have said that I was using Microsoft Edge. It works fine on Firefox and Chrome. On Internet Explorer it's just a blank white page, but that's because the entire domain ( is just a blank white page on IE.

Comment by michaelchen on Visualising animal agriculture · 2018-06-16T13:14:53.191Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I'm getting "Error: Unexpected call to method or property access." for the first two code snippets.

Comment by michaelchen on Why not to rush to translate effective altruism into other languages · 2018-03-21T23:29:20.892Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Are there new terms for EA and x-risk in Chinese besides 有效利他主义 and 生存危机, by the way?

Comment by michaelchen on Donor lottery details · 2017-07-23T02:08:01.087Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Are further results out yet? (e.g., where Tim Telleen-Lawton donated, or whether Michael Nielsen got the $60K)