Comment by petermccluskey on Long Term Future Fund: April 2019 grant decisions · 2019-04-11T16:37:52.375Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I assume that by "cash-flow positive", you mean supported by fees from workshop participants?

I don't consider that to be a desirable goal for CFAR.

Habryka's analysis focuses on CFAR's track record. But CFAR's expected value comes mainly from possible results that aren't measured by that track record.

My main reason for donating to CFAR is the potential for improving the rationality of people who might influence x-risks. That includes mainstream AI researchers who aren't interested in the EA and rationality communities. The ability to offer them free workshops seems important to attracting the most influential people.

Comment by petermccluskey on $100 Prize to Best Argument Against Donating to the EA Hotel · 2019-04-01T20:01:50.476Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

>which means that what everyone else is doing doesn't matter all that much

Earning to give still matters a moderate amount. That's mostly what I'm doing. I'm saying that average EA should start with the outside view that they can't do better than earning to give, and then attempt some more difficult analysis to figure out how they compare to average.

And it's presumably possible to matter more than the average earning to give EA, by devoting above-average thought to vetting new charities.

Comment by petermccluskey on $100 Prize to Best Argument Against Donating to the EA Hotel · 2019-04-01T19:51:43.167Z · score: 20 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I'm unimpressed by the arguments for random funding of research proposals. The problems with research funding are mostly due to poor incentives, rather than people being unable to do much better than random guessing. EA organizations don't have ideal incentives, and may be on the path to unreasonable risk-aversion, but they still have a fairly sophisticated set of donors setting their incentives, and don't yet appear to be particularly risk-averse or credential-oriented.

Unless something has changed in the last few years, there are still plenty of startups with plausible ideas that don't get funded by Y Combinator or anything similar. Y Combinator clearly evaluates a lot more startups than I'm willing or able to evaluate, but it's not obvious that they're being less selective than I am about which ones they fund.

I mentioned Nick Bostrom and Eric Drexler because they're widely recognized as competent. I didn't mean to imply that we should focus more funding on people who are that well known - they do not seem to be funding constrained now.

Let me add some examples of funding I've done that better characterize what I'm aiming for in charitable donations (at the cost of being harder for many people to evaluate):

My largest donations so far have been to CFAR, starting in early 2013, when their track record was rather weak, and almost unknown outside of people who had attended their workshops. That was based largely on impressions of Anna Salamon that I got by interacting with her (for reasons that were only marginally related to EA goals).

Another example is Aubrey de Grey. I donated to the Methuselah Mouse Prize for several years starting in 2003, when Aubrey had approximately no relevant credentials beyond having given a good speech at the Foresight Institute and a similar paper on his little-known website.

Also, I respected Nick Bostrom and Eric Drexler fairly early in their careers. Not enough to donate to their charitable organizations at their very beginning (I wasn't actively looking for effective charities before I heard of GiveWell). But enough that I bought and read their first books, primarily because I expected them to be thoughtful writers.

Comment by petermccluskey on $100 Prize to Best Argument Against Donating to the EA Hotel · 2019-03-31T17:35:27.126Z · score: 39 (13 votes) · EA · GW

Speaking for why I haven't donated, this is close to the key question:

>Then the question is (roughly) whether, given £60,000, it makes more sense to fund 1 researcher who's cleared the EA hiring bar, or 10 who haven't (and are in D).

My intuition has been that if those 10 are chosen at random, then I'm moderately confident that it's better to fund the 1 well-vetted researcher.

EA is talent-constrained in the sense that it needs more people like Nick Bostrom or Eric Drexler, but much less in the sense of needing more people who are average EAs to do direct EA work.

I've done some angel investing in startups. I initially took an approach of trying to fund anyone who has a a good idea. But that worked poorly, and I've shifted, as good VCs advise, to looking for signs of unusual competence in founders. (Alas, I still don't have much reason to think I'm good at angel investing). And evaluating founder's competence feels harder than evaluating a business idea, so I'm not willing to do it very often.

I use a similar approach with donating to early-stage charities, expecting to see many teams with decent ideas, but expecting the top 5% to be more than 10 times as valuable than the average. And I'm reluctant to evaluate more pre-track-record projects than I'm already doing.

With the hotel, I see a bunch of little hints that it's not worth my time to attempt an in-depth evaluation of the hotel's leaders. E.g. the focus on low rent, which seems like a popular meme among average and below average EAs in the bay area, yet the EAs whose judgment I most respect act as if rent is a relatively small issue.

I can imagine that the hotel attracts better than random EAs, but it's also easy to imagine that it selects mainly for people who aren't good enough to belong at a top EA organization.

Halffull has produced a better argument for the EA Hotel, but I find it somewhat odd that he starts with arguments that seem weak to me, and only in the middle did he get around to claims that are relevant to whether the hotel is better than a random group of EAs.

Also, if donors fund any charity that has a good idea, I'm a bit concerned that that will attract a larger number of low-quality projects, much like the quality of startups declined near the peak of the dot-com bubble, when investors threw money at startups without much regard for competence.

Comment by petermccluskey on Bayesian Investor proposes you can predictably beat the market by ~3% following a simple and easy strategy · 2019-03-24T17:32:32.840Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Here are a few examples of strategies that look (or looked) equally plausible, from the usually thoughtful blog of my fellow LessWronger Colby Davis .

This blog post recommends:
- emerging markets, which overlaps a fair amount with my advice
- put-writing, which sounds reasonable to me, but he managed to pick a bad time to advocate it
- preferred stock, which looks appropriate today for more risk-averse investors, but which looked overpriced when I wrote my post.

This post describes one of his failures. Buying XIV was almost a great idea. It was a lot like shorting VXX, and shorting VXX is in fact a good idea for experts who are cautious enough not to short too much (alas, the right amount of caution is harder to know than most people expect). I expect the rewards in this area to go only to those who accept hard-to-evaluate risks.

This post has some strategies that require more frequent trading. I suspect they're good, but I haven't given them enough thought to be confident.

Comment by petermccluskey on Bayesian Investor proposes you can predictably beat the market by ~3% following a simple and easy strategy · 2019-03-17T17:32:00.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hi, I'm Bayesian Investor.

I doubt that following my advice would be riskier than the S&P 500 - the low volatility funds reduce the risk in important ways (mainly by moving less in bear markets) that roughly offset the features which increase risk.

It's rational for most people to ignore my advice, because there's lots of other (somewhat conflicting) advice out there that sounds equally plausible to most people.

I've got lots of evidence about my abilities (I started investing as a hobby in 1980, and it's been my main source of income for 20 years). But I don't have an easy way to provide much evidence of my abilities in a single blog post.

Comment by petermccluskey on -0.16 ROI for Weight Loss Interventions (Optimistic) · 2019-03-17T16:35:42.379Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm a little confused by this reply. Did you think I was complaining that you over-estimated the costs of weight loss? Let me emphasize that I was complaining about the actual resources devoted to weight loss, not your estimates of it. I'll guess that you under-estimated those costs, by focusing on money spent, rather than trying to evaluate the psychological costs.

My main point is that we should focus more on getting people to switch from typical weight loss approaches to ones that are easier and more effective.

I'm unsure what to infer from your weight satisfaction evidence. It might mean that some people notice that obesity is harming them (via sleep apnea? romantic problems?) and that's what causes them to worry. Or it might mean they're just more responsive to peer pressure, and it's the peer pressure, not the obesity, that's harmful.

Comment by petermccluskey on -0.16 ROI for Weight Loss Interventions (Optimistic) · 2019-03-11T19:25:00.385Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I suspect you underestimate the cost of obesity.

But there's something seriously wrong with the cost of the typical weight loss approach, and your ROI estimate might be close to the right answer for that.

I believe it's possible to adopt a much better than average approach to weight loss, by focusing more on switching to healthier foods (based on the Satiety Index, or on high fiber content), and/or some form of intermittent fasting.

Comment by petermccluskey on After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation · 2019-02-28T16:52:26.188Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I expect that good software engineers are more likely to figure out for themselves how to be more efficient than they are to figure out how to increase their work quality. So it's not obvious what to infer from "it's harder for an employer to train people to work faster" - does it just mean that the employer has less need to train the slow, high quality worker?

Comment by petermccluskey on How Can Donors Incentivize Good Predictions on Important but Unpopular Topics? · 2019-02-06T17:57:10.039Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Regulations shouldn't be much of a problem for subsidized prediction markets. The regulations are designed to protect people from losing their investments. You can avoid that by not taking investments - i.e. give every trader a free account. Just make sure any one trader can't create many accounts.

Alas, it's quite hard to predict how much it will cost to generate good predictions, regardless of what approach you take.

Comment by petermccluskey on Disentangling arguments for the importance of AI safety · 2019-01-24T05:58:34.145Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Drexler would disagree with some of Richard's phrasing, but he seems to agree that most (possibly all) of (somewhat modified versions of) those 6 reasons should cause us to be somewhat worried. In particular, he's pretty clear that powerful utility maximisers are possible and would be dangerous.

Comment by petermccluskey on Pursuing infinite positive utility at any cost · 2018-12-12T02:00:06.230Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think it's more appropriate to use Bostrom's Moral Parliament to deal with conflicting moral theories.

Your approach might be right if the theories you're comparing used the same concept of utility, and merely disagreed about what people would experience.

But I expect that the concept of utility which best matches human interests will say that "infinite utility" doesn't make sense. Therefore I treat the word utility as referring to different phenomena in different theories, and I object to combining them as if they were the same.


Similarly, I use a dealist approach to morality. If you show me an argument that there's an objective morality which requires me to increase the probability of infinite utility, I'll still ask what would motivate me to obey that morality, and I expect any resolution of that will involve something more like Bostrom's parliament than like your approach.

Comment by petermccluskey on Pursuing infinite positive utility at any cost · 2018-11-15T00:26:03.939Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

>For all actions have a non-zero chance of resulting in infinite positive utility.

Human utility functions seem clearly inconsistent with infinite utility. See Alex Mennen's Against the Linear Utility Hypothesis and the Leverage Penalty for arguments.

I don't identify 100% with future versions of myself, and I'm somewhat selfish, so I discount experiences that will happen in the distant future. I don't expect any set of possible experiences to add up to something I'd evaluate as infinite utility.

Comment by petermccluskey on Thoughts on short timelines · 2018-10-24T18:06:59.250Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I disagree with your analysis of "are we that ignorant?".

For things like nuclear war or financial meltdown, we've got lots of relevant data, and not too much reason to expect new risks. For advanced nanotechnology, I think we are ignorant enough that a 10% chance sounds right (I'm guessing it will take something like $1 billion in focused funding).

With AGI, ML researchers can be influenced to change their forecast by 75 years by subtle changes in how the question is worded. That suggests unusual uncertainty.

We can see from Moore's law and from ML progress that we're on track for something at least as unusual as the industrial revolution.

The stock and bond markets do provide some evidence of predictability, but I'm unsure how good they are at evaluating events that happen much less than once per century.

Comment by petermccluskey on A model of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute - Oxford Prioritisation Project · 2018-09-24T15:30:40.619Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm a little unclear on what you are asking.

How strictly do you mean when you say "provably safe"? That seems like an area where all AI safety researchers are hesitant to say how high they're aiming.

And by "have it implemented", do you mean fully develop it own their own, or do you include scenarios where they convey keys insights to Google, and thereby cause Google to do something safer?

Comment by petermccluskey on Open Thread #40 · 2018-07-17T15:13:02.230Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I don't trust the author (Lomborg), based on the exaggerations I found in his book Cool It.

I reviewed that book here.

Comment by petermccluskey on Open Thread #39 · 2018-05-30T01:09:45.099Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I suggest starting with MAPS.

Comment by petermccluskey on Against prediction markets · 2018-05-13T16:36:47.071Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think markets that have at least 20 people trading on any given question will on average be at least as good as any alternative.

Your comments about superforecasters suggest that you think what matters is hiring the right people. What I think matters is the incentives the people are given. Most organizations produce bad forecasts because they have goals which distract people from the truth. The biggest gains from prediction markets are due to replacing bad incentives with incentives that are closely connected with accurate predictions.

There are multiple ways to produce good incentives, and for internal office predictions, there's usually something simpler than prediction markets that works well enough.

Comment by petermccluskey on A case for developing Aldehyde Stabilized Cryopreservation into a medical procedure (1/4) · 2018-05-12T19:37:02.910Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I object to the idea that early stage Alzheimer's is incurable. See the book The End of Alzheimer's.

Comment by petermccluskey on Against prediction markets · 2018-05-12T16:59:59.436Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Who are you arguing against? The three links in your first paragraph go to articles that don't clearly disagree with you.

I’d also be curious about a prediction market in which only superforecasters trade.

I'd guess that there would be fewer trades than otherwise, and this would often offset any benefits that come from the high quality of the participants.

Comment by petermccluskey on [Draft] Fighting Aging as an Effective Altruism Cause · 2018-04-18T16:54:40.836Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

It is even known to extend the life of diabetics so they live longer than healthy people.

No, it is known to correlate with living longer. But some or all of that correlation seems to be due to the sickest diabetics being switched from metformin to other drugs.

Comment by petermccluskey on On funding medical research · 2018-02-23T23:04:43.098Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

It does seem like there are important areas where medical research is inadequate. I'll suggest that part of the problem is inadequate effort devoted to treatments that aren't protected by patents.

It looks like some unknown fraction of ME/CFS is caused by low thyroid hormone levels. "Subclinical" hypothyroidism has symptoms that are pretty similar to those of ME/CFS. They are usually distinguished by TSH tests. [TSH is the standard measure of thyroid levels; there are a number of other options, none of which are ideal].

Here's speculation that we should distrust TSH results. (There's a more detailed and very verbose version of that speculation here).

There's plenty of confusion about when it's wise to increase a patient's thyroid hormone. E.g. this small RCT study which gave a standard T4 dose, rather than adjusting the dose to achieve some measure of optimal hormone levels. The reported TSH levels of 0.66 in patients receiving T4 suggest that many patients got more than the optimal dose, and/or didn't convert T4 to T3 well.

In contract, two smaller uncontrolled studies (here00014-0/abstract) and here) reported good results from T3 treatment for treatment-resistant depression (H/T Sarah Constantin). Plus there are lots of anecdotal reports of benefits (see mine here).

There are real dangers from overdoses, and it's unclear how well researchers have measured the benefits, so it's easy to imagine that most doctors are erring on the side of inaction.

My intuition says that there's plenty of room for making protocols that more safely determine the optimal dose. I don't have enough expertise to estimate how tractable that is.

Another area where EAs might possibly provide an important benefit is Alzheimer's. There have been some recent claims that there are strategies which substantially prevent Alzheimer's or reverse it in early stages. As far as I can tell, these claims aren't prompting as much research as they deserve.

Some parts of those strategies are backed by small RCTs published in 2013 and 2012, and yet the first Google search result for Alzheimer's is still a page that says Alzheimer's "cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed".

I expect good research about Alzheimer's to be too expensive for EAs to fund directly, but it seem like we should be able to do something to nudge existing research funding into better directions.

Comment by petermccluskey on A model of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute - Oxford Prioritisation Project · 2017-05-23T19:11:03.918Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

colonisation of the Supercluster could have a very low probability.

What do you mean by very low probability? If you mean a one in a million chance, that's not improbable enough to answer Bostrom. If you mean something that would actually answer Bostrom, then please respond to the SlateStarCodex post Stop adding zeroes.

I think Bostrom is on the right track, and that any analysis which follows your approach should use at least a 0.1% chance of more than 10^50 human life-years.

Comment by petermccluskey on A model of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute - Oxford Prioritisation Project · 2017-05-22T14:41:16.122Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Can you explain your expected far future population size? It looks like your upper bound is something like 10 orders of magnitude lower than Bostrom's most conservative estimates.

That disagreement makes all the other uncertainty look extremely trivial in comparison.

Comment by petermccluskey on Rational Politics Project · 2017-01-08T19:32:58.225Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

You claim this is non-partisan, yet you make highly partisan claims, such as "conservatives have relied much more on lies" (you cite Trump's lies, but treating Trump as a conservative is objectionable to many conservatives).

Comment by petermccluskey on Voter Registration As an EA Group Meetup Activity · 2016-09-18T17:06:34.412Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Measurability doesn't sound quite adequate to describe what this proposal is missing.

FHI and MIRI have major problems with measurability, yet have somewhat plausible claims to fit EA principles.

Voter registration has similar problems with estimating how it affects goals such as lives saved, but seems to be missing an analysis of why the expected number of lives saved is positive or negative.

Comment by petermccluskey on Voter Registration As an EA Group Meetup Activity · 2016-09-17T16:38:08.154Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

The obvious objection is that voters who would otherwise not vote are likely to be less informed than the average voter, so your effort causes election results to be less well informed.

You sound more concerned with whether your actions are socially approved than you are with evaluating the results.

Comment by petermccluskey on Political initiative: Fundamental rights for primates · 2016-08-12T23:31:42.329Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'll guess that the most important effects of this would be to influence which species get uploaded when, reducing the chances that the world will be ruled by uploaded bonobos, and increasing the chance of nonprimates ruling.

Comment by petermccluskey on Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity? · 2016-02-22T17:11:16.871Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

On the Nymex, they currently go out to Dec 2024. That contract appears to trade less than once a week.

There might be occasional contracts for more distant years traded between institutional investors that don't get publicly reported, but the low volume on publicly traded contracts suggests people just aren't interested in trading such contracts.

Comment by petermccluskey on Investment opportunity for the risk neutral · 2016-01-25T20:06:32.111Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Your use of the phrase "fair market value" is a large red flag.

I've been speculating in stocks for 35 years. One of the hardest lessons I needed to learn was to not believe that last year's prices were fairer than today's prices.

Betting on mean reversion occasionally makes sense, but I've learned to only do it after careful analysis of the fundamentals (earnings, book value, etc).

Comment by petermccluskey on Direct Funding Between EAs - Moral Economics · 2015-08-01T15:42:26.807Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

The goal of avoiding groupthink has the potential to be a very important reason for preferring direct funding. If the direct funding ends up substituting for donations to large, entrenched institutions, then I expect it to be valuable. But I expect that any groupthink associated with young charities that have a handful of employees comes from a broader community, not the specific institution.

Comment by petermccluskey on Direct Funding Between EAs - Moral Economics · 2015-08-01T15:20:16.503Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

One difference in cost comes from institutions such as Oxford requiring their employees to get prestigious wages. That makes the $75k average misleading. More obscure charities can hire employees much more cheaply.

Comment by petermccluskey on Veg*n recidivism seems important, tractable, and neglected · 2015-07-08T22:29:15.630Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

An average of seven years is consistent with the hypothesis that the problem is vitamin B12 deficiency. Our bodies store enough B12 that it takes anywhere from months to decades for symptoms of a severely deficient diet to become clear.

Comment by petermccluskey on When should an Effective Altruist be vegetarian? · 2014-11-27T02:16:46.818Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Eggs from pasture-raised chickens are not very hard to find in Berkeley. Their nutritional advantage over grain-fed eggs was enough for me to switch to them. Yes, they cost $8 to $10 per dozen.

Comment by petermccluskey on How a lazy eater went vegan · 2014-10-08T22:39:23.692Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Ambronite sounds healthier than any other vegan diet, although it's unclear whether the B12 in it is bioavailable.

I don't trust nutrition science enough to trust a fully vegan diet, but oysters and/or insects would add enough to make the diet seem safe enough for me.