## Posts

Non-itemizing US taxpayers can deduct \$300 of their 2020 donations 2021-01-04T19:04:38.268Z

Comment by mike_mclaren on AMA: Ajeya Cotra, researcher at Open Phil · 2021-02-03T00:31:43.789Z · EA · GW

I see, thank you!

Comment by mike_mclaren on AMA: Ajeya Cotra, researcher at Open Phil · 2021-02-01T22:36:59.558Z · EA · GW

Hi Ajeya, thanks for doing this and for your recent 80K interview! I'm trying to understand what assumptions are needed for the argument you raise in the podcast discussion on fairness agreements that a longtermist worldview should have been willing to trade up all its influence for ever-larger potential universe. There are two points I was wondering if you could comment on if/how these align with your argument.

1. My intuition says that the argument requires a prior probability distribution on universe size that has an infinite expectation, rather than just a prior with non-zero probability on all possible universe sizes with a finite expectation (like a power-law distribution with k > 2).

2. But then I figured that even in a universe that was literally infinite but had a non-zero density of value-maximizing civilizations, the amount of influence over that infinite value that any one civilization or organization has might still be finite. So I'm wondering if what is needed to be willing to trade up for influence over ever larger universes is actually something like the expectation E[V/n] being infinite, where V = total potential value in universe and n = number of value-maximizing civilizations.

Comment by mike_mclaren on CHOICE - Creating a memorable acronym for EA principles · 2021-01-08T00:11:09.132Z · EA · GW

I have very little skin in the game here, as I don't personally have a strong desire for an acronym...but my 2 cents are that "Reasoning carefully" can be shortened to "Reasoning" (or "Reason") for this purpose with no loss - the "careful" part is implied. And I think I identify more with the idea of using careful reasoning than rationality. "Reason(ing)" also matches an existing short definition of EA as "Using reason and evidence to do the most good" (currently the page title for effectivealtruism.org)

Comment by mike_mclaren on Theory Of Change As A Hypothesis: Choosing A High-Impact Path When You’re Uncertain · 2020-11-29T12:47:03.770Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the post! This is just the type of thinking I wanted to do this morning, and I'm finding it and the spreadsheet template a useful motivator.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Theory Of Change As A Hypothesis: Choosing A High-Impact Path When You’re Uncertain · 2020-11-29T12:12:20.538Z · EA · GW

The given "Dive In" link is broken; I think the correct one is http://mindingourway.com/dive-in-2/

Comment by mike_mclaren on Crucial questions for longtermists · 2020-09-27T21:12:41.677Z · EA · GW

This is why I explicitly noted that here I was using MVP in a sense focused only on genetic diversity. To touch on the other "aspects" of MVP, I also have "What population size is required for economic specialisation, technological development, etc.?"

It seems fine to me for people to also use MVP in a sense referring to all-things-considered ability to survive, or in a sense focused only on e.g. economic specialisation...

This all makes sense, but sounds to me like to be at risk of leaving out the population/conservation biology perspective (beyond genetic considerations). A large part of what motivated me to write my original post is that I do think it is indeed valuable to use frameworks from population and conservation biology to study human extinction risk - but it is important to include all factors identified in those fields as being important; namely, environmental and demographic stochasticity, as well as habitat fragmentation and degradation, which could pose much greater risks than inbreeding and genetic drift.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Crucial questions for longtermists · 2020-09-19T21:17:35.251Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this post! I enjoyed looking over these, many of which I have also been puzzling about.

What’s the minimum viable human population (from the perspective of genetic diversity)?

After seeing this question picked up here I thought I would share some quick thoughts from the perspective of a person with a population biology/evolution background. I think this is a reasonable question to ask, but I suspect is not as important as the other factors that go into the broader question of what is the minimum population size from which humanity is likely to recover, period. Genetics are just one factor and probably not the most important when we consider the probability of recovery after a severe drop in global population.

Suppose that after some catastrophic event the population of humanity has suddenly dropped to a much smaller and more fragmented global population, e.g. 10000 individuals scattered in ~100 groups of 100 each across the globe. While the population size is small, it will be particularly susceptible to going extinct due to random fluctuations in population size. The population size could remain stationary or gradually decline, until eventually a random event causes extinction. Or it could start increasing, until eventually it is large enough to be robust to extinction from a random event.

The idea of a minimum viable population size (MVP) from a purely genetic perspective is that, since small populations are predicted to have lower average genetic fitness due to an increase in the expression of recessive deleterious mutations ("inbreeding depression"), an increased fixation of deleterious mutations in the population, or a lack of genetic variation that would allow adaptation to environment, there is in theory a population size small enough where a population would decline and go extinct due to low genetic fitness.

But in reality, the population seems more likely to go extinct because of poor environmental conditions, random environmental fluctuations, loss of cultural knowledge (which, like genetic variation, goes down in small populations), or lack of physical goods and technology, none of which have much to do with genetic variation.

Another way in which the concept of a MVP is too simplistic is that it is defined with respect to a genetic "equilibrium" - it assumes that conditions have been stable enough that there is a constant level of genetic variation in the population. However, after a sudden population decline, we would be far from equilibrium - we would still have lots of genetic variation from the time the population was large. This variation would start to decay, but as different local populations become fixed for different variants, much of this variation would be maintained at the global level and could be converted back into local variation by small amounts of migration. Such considerations are not usually included in MVP considerations. (Some collaborators and I have written about this last point at it relates to conserving endangered species here)

Perhaps we should keep the term "minimum viable population size" but use a broader definition based on likelihood to survive, period. I see that Wikipedia uses a broad definition that includes extinction due to demographic and environmental stochasticity, but often MVP is used as in the OP to refer just to extinction due to genetic reasons, so it is important to clarify terms.

Comment by mike_mclaren on What posts do you want someone to write? · 2020-04-05T11:58:47.800Z · EA · GW

I see, thanks for the explanation!

Comment by mike_mclaren on What posts do you want someone to write? · 2020-04-04T12:12:14.185Z · EA · GW

I'd be really interested in reading an updated post that makes the case for there being an especially high (e.g. >10%) probability that AI alignment problems will lead to existentially bad outcomes.

My understanding is that Toby Ord does just this in his new book The Precipice (his new AI x-risk estimate is also discussed in his recent 80K podcast interview about the book), though it would still be good to have others weigh in.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Quantifying lives saved by individual actions against COVID-19 · 2020-03-07T23:11:15.871Z · EA · GW

This version that has been making the rounds on twitter makes the point even plainer: source

The syntax for embedding images is `![alt text](url)`. For this and other forum formatting issues, try googling along the lines of "markdown insert image" or "markdown cheatsheet" (still what I do despite using markdown regularly)

Comment by mike_mclaren on Linch's Shortform · 2020-03-05T11:31:01.082Z · EA · GW

We recorded some of the talks and intend to edit + upload them, we're writing a "how to organize a conference" postmortem / report, and one attendee is planning to write a magazine article

That all sounds useful and interesting to me!

Would another post like this be helpful?

I think multiple posts following events on the personal experiences from multiple people (organizers and attendees) can be useful simply for the diversity of their perspectives. Regarding Catalyst in particular I'm curious about the variety of backgrounds of the attendees and how their backgrounds shaped their goals and experiences during the meeting.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Linch's Shortform · 2020-03-01T15:29:31.732Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your report! I was interested but couldn't manage the cross country trip and definitely curious to hear what it was like.

Comment by mike_mclaren on The Intellectual and Moral Decline in Academic Research · 2020-02-11T01:51:59.717Z · EA · GW

Can you clarify the point you're trying to make with the reference to spurious correlations, Will? I don't think the author is trying to make any deep claim about causation here, but just pointing out that a growing amount of taxpayer money is wasted due to retractions. (I appreciate the point from other commenters that this is still presumably a small fraction of the total funding though and so might not be as big a concern as the author suggests.)

Comment by mike_mclaren on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-01-28T21:23:49.081Z · EA · GW

Just a note that the reproduction number can decrease for other reasons; in particular if and as the disease spreads you might expect greater public awareness, CDC guidance, travel bans, etc leading to greater precaution and less opportunity for infected individuals to infect others.

Comment by mike_mclaren on "Altruism-driven research" (EA meets... plant pathology?) · 2019-12-18T11:50:01.786Z · EA · GW

Small suggestion to include the full citation at the top of the post along with the link; The article and journal titles in particular are useful context.

Garrett KA, Alcala-Briseno R, Andersen KF, Brawner J, Choudhury R, Delaquis E, Fayette J, Poudel R, Purves D, Rothschild J, Small I, Thomas-Sharma S, Xing Y. 2019. Effective altruism as an ethical lens on research priorities. Phytopathology PHYTO-05-19-0168-RVW. DOI: 10.1094/PHYTO-05-19-0168-RVW.

12 of 14 of authors (including first and last authors) are at the University of Florida and one is at Louisiana State University, both major universities in the US Southeast, and one author is at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Laos.

Comment by mike_mclaren on "Altruism-driven research" (EA meets... plant pathology?) · 2019-12-18T11:41:06.525Z · EA · GW

Thanks for posting this! Very interesting to see effective altruism being directly discussed in this context. I was curious whether EA had been discussed in other academic biology journals. Entering "effective altruism" into the Pubmed search bar brings up four articles,

1. Funding Conservation through an Emerging Social Movement. Freeling BS, Connell SD. Trends Ecol Evol. 2019 Oct 12. pii: S0169-5347(19)30276-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2019.09.002. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving. Berman JZ, Barasch A, Levine EE, Small DA. Psychol Sci. 2018 May;29(5):834-844. doi: 10.1177/0956797617747648. Epub 2018 Apr 16.

3. Effective altruists ought to be allowed to sell their kidneys. Tonkens R. Bioethics. 2018 Mar;32(3):147-154. doi: 10.1111/bioe.12427. Epub 2018 Jan 25.

4. Framework for integrating animal welfare into life cycle sustainability assessment. Scherer L, Tomasik B, Rueda O, Pfister S. Int J Life Cycle Assess. 2018;23(7):1476-1490. doi: 10.1007/s11367-017-1420-x. Epub 2017 Nov 20.

The last three fall into categories I might have expected -- psychology, ethics, and animal welfare. But I find #1 particularly notable because it is going to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution (also known as TREE), which is a high impact review journal that is widely read within ecology and evolution. I suspect this TREE article will be more widely seen by scientists than the Phytopathology article in the OP, though perhaps the title of the article will only appeal to the subset of TREE readers working in conservation biology.

Comment by mike_mclaren on EA Giving Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019: Instructions for Donors · 2019-11-30T12:51:26.543Z · EA · GW

After doing a 5\$ practice donation, I re-examined the instructions at https://www.eagivingtuesday.org/instructions/us-500-or-more and understood you are suggesting get to the "confirm donation page" before the 8am start time. But I think if the recommendation to start the donation prior to 8am was in the "In a nutshell" section I would have figured it out sooner. You might consider editing the third sentence in the first bullet of the "In a nutshell" section to something like "We recommended starting the donation process prior to the official match start so that you are able to click the final "Donate" button within the first second after the match start time of December 3rd, 2019, at 08:00:00am EST (05:00:00am PST)."

I think part of my (slight) confusion might be captured in your language "We're recommending donating within the first second"; by "donating" you mean click the final Donate button whereas I naturally interpret this as meaning do the entire donation process.

Comment by mike_mclaren on EA Giving Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019: Instructions for Donors · 2019-11-26T21:01:36.317Z · EA · GW

It seems basically impossible to reliably execute a newly-learned many-step task within one second.

Since this also seemed hopeless to me after my test donation took me 20 seconds, I thought I'd reiterate the key part of AviNorowitz's reply even more plainly: What the EA Giving Tuesday team's instructions recommend is that you do all of the steps except the last one prior to 8AM. So you only need to do one step (a single mouse click) in one second.

Comment by mike_mclaren on A bunch of new GPI papers · 2019-10-26T17:35:58.138Z · EA · GW

For the record, you can see all of GPI's papers at https://globalprioritiesinstitute.org/papers/, and seminars by the authors presenting some of these papers can be seen on GPI's YouTube channel.

(and thanks to the OP for helping bring them to my attention!)

Comment by mike_mclaren on New study in Science implies that tree planting is the cheapest climate change solution · 2019-10-22T18:36:41.720Z · EA · GW

Last week, Science published four responses to the original article,

along with a reply to the responses from the original authors,

(hat tip to the Future Perfect newsletter)

Comment by mike_mclaren on Bioinfohazards · 2019-10-05T17:04:12.889Z · EA · GW

Just wanted to say thanks to both Gregory and Spiracular for their detailed and thoughtful back and forth in this thread. As someone coming from a place somewhere in the middle but having spent less time thinking through these considerations, I found getting to hear your personal perspectives very helpful.

Comment by mike_mclaren on The Germy Paradox – The empty sky: How close did we get to BW usage? · 2019-09-28T01:24:48.801Z · EA · GW

The link to the previous post is broken

Comment by mike_mclaren on Countering imposter syndrome · 2019-08-28T12:40:15.792Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this and posting it here on the forum. Beyond the helpful suggestions, I feel that both managers and those experiencing imposter syndrome need reminders that many people experience this, likely including many who they themselves view as highly competent. I imagine that imposter syndrome also affects many people not working at EA organizations but who are working towards applying to an EA org or taking another form of career move for EA reasons, especially for orgs or cause areas that are high-profile within the community. (It certainly affects me in this way.) Regarding therapy options for anxiety related to imposter syndrome or more generally---if you're currently in college or graduate school then you likely have easy access to cheap/free therapy through your university's student health services.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Defining Effective Altruism · 2019-07-22T13:16:01.257Z · EA · GW

As a scientist, I consider science a way of learning about the world, and not what a particular group of people say. I think the article is fairly explicit about taking a similar definition of "science-aligned":

(i) the use of evidence and careful reasoning to work out...

(...)

• Science-aligned. The best means to figuring out how to do the most good is the scientific method, broadly construed to include reliance on careful rigorous argument and theoretical models as well as data.

There is usually a vast body of existing relevant work on a topic across various fields of research. Trying to seriously engage with existing work is part of being scientific; and the opinions or consensus of researchers in the field are a form of data one should not ignore. You can disagree after serious consideration without being unscientific. Simply coming to your own conclusions without engaging with existing work, or acting based on emotion or gut feelings acquired without ever thinking about them critically would be unscientific.

A part of being scientific is also being open to and trying to learn from critiques of your work. It is true that scientists often make bad critiques for bad (unscientific) reasons, and it can take quite a lot of effort to understand the social and historical reasons behind consensus opinions in particular fields on particular issues. I don't think most EAs would think having a certain degree of support from a particular group of scientists is the relevant criterion.

A possible reason for the downvote is that your initial question 'What does it mean to be "pro-science"?' is explicitly answered in the article and it's not immediately clear that you are acknowledging that and really asking, isn't everything science-aligned under this definition?

Comment by mike_mclaren on Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers · 2019-07-08T12:01:45.032Z · EA · GW

Reading this paper carefully actually left me feeling quite skeptical about how species population monitoring is conducted and reported. ... So the conclusions have to be pessimistic if all the studies you have to review focus on monitoring species with the highest risk of extinction.

I haven't read the paper, but did listen to a More or Less episode about the paper. The episode discusses the poor quality of the available data and left me feeling similarly. The radio episode also highlights a potential bias in search strategy used by the authors in their meta-analysis that would favor finding an overall population decline. If I recall correctly, it was something along the lines of the authors searching with keywords related to "declining populations", so they would naturally tend to be including papers that found declines and excluding papers that found population increases. This idea squares with your interpretation that the -2.5% number shouldn't be interpreted as a projection for total insect biomass or numbers.

Comment by mike_mclaren on I find this forum increasingly difficult to navigate · 2019-07-07T13:27:43.029Z · EA · GW

Regarding the breakdown by subject, I agree that this would be very valuable, but that having a bunch of subforums probably isn't the answer. To me, the obvious solution is having keyword/tag support, where authors and/or mods set the keywords for their article, and users can view all posts with a given tag. This feature is built into popular blog-building platforms like Hugo (through Hugo "taxonomies"); I have no idea how hard it would be to implement in the LW/EA forum software. But the ability to filter to posts relating to AI, wild-animal suffering, community building, cause prioritization, etc. seems to be an important feature for making forum posts on a given topic remain relevant long after they have fallen off the Latest Posts list.

Comment by mike_mclaren on [Link] Book Review: The Secret Of Our Success | Slate Star Codex · 2019-06-08T13:25:04.571Z · EA · GW

Thanks for posting this. Posts introducing books or other bodies of work not explicitly about EA or an EA cause area, but that introduce or explain relevant ideas from disparate disciplines, seem valuable and I would like to see more.

Comment by mike_mclaren on My Q1 2019 EA Hotel donation · 2019-04-11T11:32:57.879Z · EA · GW

Thanks for clarifying! Perhaps clicking the "Blog post" button could autofill a standard note for this, that one could choose to delete. That way new users will be able to understand how this works right away. (Unless the idea is to phase out / discourage / remove this feature)

Comment by mike_mclaren on My Q1 2019 EA Hotel donation · 2019-04-08T16:22:43.334Z · EA · GW

+1 thanks to Vipul for writing this. But I also want to balance the second part of Aaron's comment by saying that I would like to see more posts explaining personal donations in general, and don't think that will happen if the average level of quality and time has to hit this level. Please share your donation reasonings even if you don't feel super confident about them and don't have time to make a carefully researched and written post! I had originally thought "Blog posts" would be a good venue for such less-well-crafted posts, but I see now that attempting to make a new blog post simply takes you to the new post page.

Comment by mike_mclaren on SHOW: A framework for shaping your talent for direct work · 2019-03-21T12:05:38.022Z · EA · GW

Regarding applying to EA organizations, I think we can simply say that the applicants are doing good by applying. Many of the orgs have explicitly said they want lots of applicants---the applicants aren't wasting the orgs' time, but helping them get better candidates (in addition to learning a lot through the process, etc).

Comment by mike_mclaren on After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation · 2019-03-04T13:17:19.335Z · EA · GW

~1h sounds like the time to make a CV and cover letter personalized for Charity Science starting from an at least semi-relevant CV and cover letter for a previous job application.

Comment by mike_mclaren on After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation · 2019-03-04T12:54:34.672Z · EA · GW

Something that seems to be missing from this (very valuable) conversation is that many people also spend months looking for non-EA jobs that they have a personal fit for. I'm mainly aware of people with science PhDs, either applying for industry jobs or applying for professorships. It is not uncommon for this to be a months long process with multiple 10s of applications, as being reported here for EA job searching. The case of where this goes faster in industry jobs tends to be because the applicant is well established as having a key set of skills that a company needs and/or a personal network connection with people involved in hiring at the company. Some academics get lucky just applying for a few professorships, but others apply to 50+ jobs, which easily takes 100+ hours, perhaps many more. And in both cases you spend lots of time over the preceding years learning about the job search process, how to write cover letters, teaching statements, etc.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Announcing EA Funds management AMAs: 20th December · 2018-12-24T20:57:04.594Z · EA · GW

For the record, the AMAs were mentioned as upcoming in the New EA Funds management thread and a few-day window was given on Dec. 5 in the December quick update thread

Comment by mike_mclaren on Effective Altruism in non-high-income countries · 2018-11-18T13:13:27.797Z · EA · GW

I like this idea as well. As a thread grows, it can also be useful for the OP to edit the thread to maintain a structured list of links to key posts, as in the textbook recommendation thread on LessWrong

Comment by mike_mclaren on Tiny Probabilities of Vast Utilities: Solutions · 2018-11-15T14:14:35.622Z · EA · GW

Small suggestion: I would find it helpful if you linked to the previous post(s) in the series in the beginning and, if the forum software allows it, to make references to individual sections (such as "Section 3 argued that") to be clickable links to those sections.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Crohn's disease · 2018-11-13T22:22:57.297Z · EA · GW

Interesting post, thanks for sharing. Although I am skeptical for some reasons I note below, the potential upside to such a cheap treatment for a very unpleasant disease seems highly worth pursuing. For context, I'm viewing this post as an academic biologist who develops methods for microbiome data analysis and collaborates with some clinicians, though my background is ecology and evolution rather than medicine.

While reading the post, I struck by how the referenced evidence for the author's (Martin Laurence) hypothesis is entirely from citations to his own papers and a short reply to a journal article (I don't think peer reviewed) about anecdotal observations from six IBD patients. The author's papers referenced take the form of reviews and argued hypotheses from research done by others, rather than original experiments, and seem to be about spondyloarthritis, prostate cancer and MS rather than Crohn's directly. Given that IBD and Crohns disease are popular research topics in biomedical research and specifically in microbiome research, I found this lack of reference to others in support of the main hypothesis suspicious, and it made me think the hypothesis is controversial or not well subscribed to in the field. That is not to say it is unfounded, but I would have expected some acknowledgement if this is an "out there" view and discussion of why that included some references to the mainstream view and coverage of the controversy. I would also expect that building further evidence that would convince other researchers and mainstream funders in the field would be the next step, rather than crowd funding a clinical trial, and so would have liked to see an explanation for why this strategy isn't being taken.

I also felt that the reasons under Neglectedness and Funding Gap didn't explain why other biomedical researchers aren't pursuing this, or why the author isn't soliciting funds through standard biomedical funding agencies. The lack of incentive for private drug companies mentioned does not explain why standard agencies and organizations aren't funding it. It is true that fungi are often neglected over bacteria in microbiome studies, but if there is good evidence that fungi are playing a role in Crohn's and they've been historically neglected, they I would expect researchers to be jumping on this hypothesis, and for standard biomedical funders to be glad to fund it, unless for reasons mentioned above.

After reading the FAQ on the author's website, I suspect the author is forgoing the mainstream route and soliciting small private donations because he is operating outside academia and lacks academic or hospital collaborators who can apply for the needed grants. But without these collaborators, I don't see how the proposed clinical trial could be orchestrated. This is not to say that I think the author is wrong in pursuing this work or not credible, but I feel that ignoring these issues makes the post seem less credible than it might otherwise be.

Comment by mike_mclaren on Open beta of the new EA Forum now available · 2018-10-19T11:12:50.079Z · EA · GW