Mentorship, Management, and Mysterious Old Wizards 2021-02-24T21:58:52.241Z
Morality as "Coordination" vs "Altruism" 2020-12-29T02:38:32.187Z
Healthy Competition 2019-11-02T19:50:24.508Z
Raemon's EA Shortform Feed 2019-06-19T22:12:48.966Z
What's the median amount a grantmaker gives per year? 2019-05-04T00:15:57.178Z
You Have Four Words 2019-03-07T00:57:29.273Z
Dealing with Network Constraints (My Model of EA Careers) 2019-02-28T01:34:03.571Z
Earning to Save (Give 1%, Save 10%) 2018-11-26T23:47:58.384Z
"Taking AI Risk Seriously" – Thoughts by Andrew Critch 2018-11-19T02:21:00.568Z
Earning to Give as Costly Signalling 2017-06-24T16:43:25.995Z
What Should the Average EA Do About AI Alignment? 2017-02-25T20:07:10.956Z
Building Cooperative Epistemology (Response to "EA has a Lying Problem", among other things) 2017-01-11T17:45:48.394Z
Meetup : Brooklyn EA Gathering 2015-04-13T00:07:47.159Z


Comment by Raemon on Proposed Longtermist Flag · 2021-03-27T03:35:48.111Z · EA · GW

Oh man, this is pretty cool. I actually like the fact that it's sort of jagged and crazy.

Comment by Raemon on What I learned from working at GiveWell · 2021-03-10T05:28:19.066Z · EA · GW

This was among the most important things I read recently, thanks! (Mostly via reminding me "geez holy hell it's really hard to know things.")

Comment by Raemon on Mentorship, Management, and Mysterious Old Wizards · 2021-02-25T22:05:45.558Z · EA · GW

That is helpful, thanks. I've been sitting on this post for years and published it yesterday while thinking generally about "okay, but what do we do about the mentorship bottleneck? how much free energy is there?", and "make sure that starting-mentorship is frictionless" seems like an obvious mechanism to improve things.

Comment by Raemon on Dealing with Network Constraints (My Model of EA Careers) · 2021-02-24T22:08:59.091Z · EA · GW

Comment by Raemon on AMA: Elizabeth Edwards-Appell, former State Representative · 2021-01-11T08:10:05.044Z · EA · GW

In another comment you mention:

(One example would be the high levels of self-censorship required.)

I'm curious what the mechanism underlying the "required-ness" is. i.e. which of the following, or others, are most at play:

  • you'd get voted out of office
  • you'd lose support from your political allies that you need to accomplish anything
  • there are costs imposed directly on you/people-close-to-you (i.e. stress)

A related thing I'm wondering is whether you considered anything like "going out with a bang", where you tried... just not self-censoring, and... probably losing the next election and some supporters in the meanwhile but also heaving some rocks through the overton window on your way out. 

(I can think of a few reasons that might not actually make sense, for either political or personal reasons, but am suddenly curious why more politicians don't just say "Screw it I'm saying what I really think" shortly before retiring)

Comment by Raemon on Morality as "Coordination" vs "Altruism" · 2020-12-29T20:00:56.993Z · EA · GW

The issue isn't just the conflation, but missing a gear about how the two relate.

The mistake I was making, that I think many EAs are making, is to conflate different pieces of the moral model that have specifically different purposes.

Singer-ian ethics pushes you to take the entire world into your circle of concern. And this is quite important. But, it's also quite important that the way that the entire world is in your circle of concern is different from the way your friends and government and company and tribal groups are in your circle of concern.

In particular, I was concretely assuming "torturing people to death is generally worse than lying." But, that's specifically comparing within alike circles. It is now quite plausible to me that lying (or even mild dishonesty) among the groups of people I actually have to coordinate with might actually be worse than allowing the torture-killing of others who I don't have the ability to coordinate with. (Or, might not – it depends a lot on the the weightings. But it is not the straightforward question I assumed at first)

Comment by Raemon on An argument for keeping open the option of earning to save · 2020-09-03T00:38:57.998Z · EA · GW

Just wanted to throw up my previous exploration of a similar topic. (I think I had a fairly different motivation than you – namely I want young EAs to mostly focus on financial runway so they can do risky career moves once they're better oriented).

tl;dr – I think the actual Default Action for young EAs should not be giving 10%, but giving 1% (for self-signalling), and saving 10%. 

Comment by Raemon on You have more than one goal, and that's fine · 2020-09-02T05:50:59.141Z · EA · GW

I recently chatted with someone who said they've been part of ~5 communities over their life, and that all but one of them was more "real community" like than the rationalists. So maybe there's plenty of good stuff out there and I've just somehow filtered it out of my life.

Comment by Raemon on Dealing with Network Constraints (My Model of EA Careers) · 2020-05-10T01:52:54.910Z · EA · GW

Alas, I started writing it and then was like "geez, I should really do any research at all before just writing up a pet armchair theory about human motivation."

I wrote this Question Post to try to get a sense of the landscape of research. It didn't really work out, and since then I... just didn't get around to it.

Comment by Raemon on Dealing with Network Constraints (My Model of EA Careers) · 2020-03-10T00:10:28.985Z · EA · GW

Currently, there's only so many people who are looking to make friends, or hire at organizations, or start small-scrappy-projects together.

I think most EA orgs started out as a small scrappy project that initially hired people they knew well. (I think early-stage Givewell, 80k, CEA, AI Impacts, MIRI, CFAR and others almost all started out that way – some of them still mostly hire people they know well within the network, some may have standardized hiring practices by now)

I personally moved to the Bay about 2 years ago and shortly thereafter joined the LessWrong team, which at the time was just two people, and is now five. I can speak more to this example. At the time, it mattered that Oliver Habryka and Ben Pace already knew me well and had a decent sense of my capabilities. I joined while it was still more like "a couple guys building something in a garage" than an official organization. By now it has some official structure.

LessWrong has hired roughly one person a year for the past 3 years.

I think "median EA" might be a bit of a misnomer. In the case of LessWrong, we're filtering a bit more on "rationalists" than on EAs (the distinction is a bit blurry in the Bay). "Median" might be selling us a bit short. LW team members might be somewhere between 60-90th percentile. (heh, I notice I feel uncomfortable pinning it down more quantitatively than that). But it's not like we're 99th or 99.9th percentile, when it comes to overall competence.

I think most of what separates LW team members (and, I predict, many other people who joined early-stage orgs when they first formed), was a) some baseline competence as working adults, and b) a lot of context about EA, rationality and how to think about the surrounding ecosystem. This involved lots of reading and discussion, but depended a lot on being able to talk to people in the network who had more experience.

Why is it rate limited?

As I said, LessWrong only hires maybe 1-2 people per year. There are only so many orgs, hiring at various rates.

There are also only so many people who are starting up new projects that seem reasonably promising. (Off the top of my head, maybe 5-30 existing EA orgs hiring 5-100 people a year).

One way to increase surface area is for newcomers to start new projects together, without relying on more experienced members. This can help them learn valuable life skills without relying on existing network-surface-area. But, a) there are only so many projects ideas that are plausibly relevant, b) newcomers with less context are likely to make mistakes because they don't understand some important background information, and eventually they'll need to get some mentorship from more experienced EAs. Experienced EAs only have so much time to offer.

Comment by Raemon on Volunteering isn't free · 2020-02-05T22:30:04.443Z · EA · GW

I expect to want to link this periodically. One thing I could use is clearer survey data about how often volunteering is useful, and when it is useful almost-entirely-for-PR reasons. People often are quite reluctant to think volunteering isn't useful will say "My [favorite org] says they like volunteers!". (My background assumption is that their favorite org probably likes volunteers and needs to say so publicly, but primarily because of long-term-keeping-people-engaged reasons. But, I haven't actually seen reliable data here)

Comment by Raemon on Announcing the 2019-20 Donor Lottery · 2020-02-04T02:00:34.000Z · EA · GW


Comment by Raemon on Announcing the 2019-20 Donor Lottery · 2019-12-29T02:25:41.885Z · EA · GW

I just donated to the first lottery, but FYI I found it surprisingly hard to navigate back to it, or link others to it. It doesn't look like the lottery is linked from anywhere on the site and I had to search for this post to find the link again.

Comment by Raemon on Why and how to start a for-profit company serving emerging markets · 2019-11-12T01:40:25.224Z · EA · GW

The book The Culture Map explores these sorts of problems, comparing many cultures' norms and advising on how to bridge the differences.

In Senegal people seem less comfortable by default expressing disagreement with someone above them in the hierarchy. (As a funny example, I've had a few colleagues who I would ask yes-or-no questions and they would answer "Yes" followed by an explanation of why the answer is no.)

Some advice it gives for this particular example (at least in several 'strong hierarchy' cultures), is instead of a higher-ranking asking direct questions of lower-ranking people, the boss can ask a team of lower-ranked people to work together to submit a proposal, where "who exactly criticized which thing" is a bit obfuscated.

Comment by Raemon on Does 80,000 Hours focus too much on AI risk? · 2019-11-03T23:14:43.150Z · EA · GW

Tying in a bit with Healthy Competition:

I think it makes sense (given my understanding of the folk at 80k's views) for them to focus the way they are. I expect research to go best when it follows the interests and assumptions of the researchers.

But, it seems quite reasonable if people want advice for different background assumptions to... just start doing that research, and publishing. I think career advice is a domain that can definitely benefit from having multiple people or orgs involved, just needs someone to actually step up and do it.

Comment by Raemon on Healthy Competition · 2019-11-03T22:53:00.528Z · EA · GW

Nod. I had "more experimentation" as part of what I meant to imply by "diversity of worldviews" but yeah it's good to have that spelled out.

Comment by Raemon on The Future of Earning to Give · 2019-10-26T02:38:12.350Z · EA · GW

This certainly seems like a viable option. I agree with the pros and cons described here, and think it'd make sense for local groups to decide which one made more sense.

Comment by Raemon on The Future of Earning to Give · 2019-10-15T05:07:14.413Z · EA · GW
My intuition is that the EA Funds are usually a much better opportunity in terms of donation impact than donor lotteries and having one person do independent research themself (instead of relying almost entirely on recommendations)

My background assumption is that it's important to grow the number of people who can work fulltime on grant evaluation.

Remember that Givewell was originally just a few folk doing research in their spare time.

Comment by Raemon on The Future of Earning to Give · 2019-10-15T05:06:01.955Z · EA · GW

My understanding (not confident) is that those people (at least Nick Beckstead) are more something like advisors acting as a sanity check or something (or at least that they aren't the ones putting most of the time into the funds)

Comment by Raemon on The Future of Earning to Give · 2019-10-14T01:21:57.599Z · EA · GW

I also think there's some potential to re-orient the EA pipeline around this concept. If local EA meetups did a collective donor lottery, then even if only one of them ends up allocating the money, they could still solicit help from others to think about it.

My experience is that EA meetups struggle a bit with "what do we actually do to maintain community cohesiveness, given that for many of us our core action is something we do a couple times per year, mostly privately." If a local meetup did a collective donor lottery, than even if only one person wins the lottery, they could still solicit help from others to evaluate donor targets, and make it a collective group project. (while being the sort of project that's okay if some people flake on)

Comment by Raemon on The Future of Earning to Give · 2019-10-14T01:21:13.738Z · EA · GW

(edit: whoops, responded to wrong comment)

Comment by Raemon on The Future of Earning to Give · 2019-10-14T01:19:44.313Z · EA · GW

My take: rank-and-file-EAs (and most EA local communities) should be oriented around donor lotteries.

Background beliefs:

  • I think EA is vetting constrained
  • Much of the direct work that needs doing is network constrained (i.e. requires mentorship, in part to help people gain context they need to form good plans)
  • The Middle of the Middle of the EA community should focus on getting good at thinking.
  • There's only so much space in the movement for direct work, and it's unhealthy to set expectations that direct work is what people are "supposed to be."

I think the "default action" for most EAs should be something that is:

  • Simple, easy, and reasonably impactful
  • Provides a route for people who want to put in more effort to do so, while practicing building actual models of the EA ecosystem.

I don't think it's really worth it for someone donating a few thousand dollars to put a lot of effort into evaluating where to donate. But if 50 people each put $2000 into a donation lottery, then they collectively have $100,000, which is enough to justify at least one person's time in thinking seriously about where to put it. (It's also enough to angel-invest in a new person or org, allowing them to vet new orgs as well as existing ones)

I think it's probably more useful for one person to put serious effort into allocating $100,000, than 50 people to put token effort into allocating $2000.

This seems better than generic Earning to Give to me (except for people who make enough for donating, say, $25,000 or more realistic)

Comment by Raemon on Survival and Flourishing Fund grant applications open until October 4th ($1MM-$2MM planned for dispersal) · 2019-10-01T06:28:56.775Z · EA · GW

I asked Critch about this today and he said it seemed fine.

Comment by Raemon on Kerry_Vaughan's Shortform · 2019-09-24T01:23:43.997Z · EA · GW

This was quite an interesting point I hadn't considered before. Looking forward to reading more.

Comment by Raemon on Survival and Flourishing Fund grant applications open until October 4th ($1MM-$2MM planned for dispersal) · 2019-09-20T21:15:47.994Z · EA · GW

My understanding is that it's currently focused on nonprofits (in large part because it's much more logistically and legally complicated to send money to individuals)

Comment by Raemon on Effective Altruism and Everyday Decisions · 2019-09-20T20:56:18.517Z · EA · GW
Believing that my time is really valuable can lead to me making more wasteful decisions. Decisions like: "It is totally fine for me to buy all these expensive ergonomic keyboards simultaneously on Amazon and try them out, then throw away whichever ones do not work for me." Or "I will buy this expensive exercise equipment on a whim to test out. Even if I only use it once and end up trashing it a year later, it does not matter."
The thinking in the examples above worries me. People are bad at reasoning about when to make exceptions to rules like "try to behave in non-wasteful ways", especially when the exception is personally beneficial. And I think each exception can weaken your broader narrative about what you value and who you are.

I was brought up in a family that was very pro-don't-waste, and I've had an a lengthy shift towards "actually, 'not wasting'" just isn't very important. It's more of a carry-over from a time when a) humanity had a lot less ability to produce stuff, b) humanity had worse landfill technology than we have now."

Insofar as we do produce too much waste, it's mostly at a corporate/organizational level than something that makes sense for individuals to prioritize.

It's not that I think people should be making exceptions to rules like 'try to behave in non-wasteful ways', it's that I mostly now think that 'don't be wasteful' wasn't that useful a core-rule in the first place.

(Among my cruxes here are a belief that landfill technology has improved since the era when 'don't waste' and 'recycle' memes took off, as well as a shift towards 'thinking broadly about having a high impact is much more important than individual local decisions.'

Past me (and perhaps you) might be suspicious of the 'landfill technology is actually good enough that this isn't that big a deal', perhaps rightly so because it's a kinda suspiciously-convenient belief. I don't have arguments-at-the-ready that'd have convinced past me, so mostly just laying out my current reasoning without expecting it to be that persuasive at the moment)

Comment by Raemon on Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts · 2019-09-19T23:01:46.909Z · EA · GW

Just wanted to say I super appreciated this writeup.

Comment by Raemon on 'Longtermism' · 2019-07-26T00:01:24.389Z · EA · GW

I suspect the goal here is less to deconfuse current EAs and more to make it easier to explain things to newcomers who don't have any context.

(It also seems like good practice to me for people in leadership positions to keep people up to date about how they're conceptualizing their thinking)

Comment by Raemon on I find this forum increasingly difficult to navigate · 2019-07-13T22:20:09.357Z · EA · GW

Quick note that if you set All Posts to "sort by new" instead of "sort by Daily" there'll be 50 posts. (The Daily view is a bit weird because it varies a lot depending on forum traffic that week)

Comment by Raemon on Extinguishing or preventing coal seam fires is a potential cause area · 2019-07-07T20:39:09.722Z · EA · GW

I don't have much to contribute but I appreciated this writeup – I like it when EAs explore cause areas like this.

Comment by Raemon on I find this forum increasingly difficult to navigate · 2019-07-05T23:36:24.562Z · EA · GW

For the record I'm someone who works on the forum and thought the OP was expressed pretty reasonably.

Comment by Raemon on I find this forum increasingly difficult to navigate · 2019-07-05T23:28:38.720Z · EA · GW

Strong upvoted mostly to make it easier to find this comment.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-07-03T07:59:03.280Z · EA · GW

The Middle of the Middle of the funnel is specifically people who I expect to not yet be very good at volunteering, in part because they're either young and lacking some core "figure out how to be helpful and actually help" skills, or they're older and busier with day jobs that take a lot of the same cognitive bandwidth that EA volunteering would require.

I think the *End* of the Middle of the funnel is more of where "volunteer at EA orgs" makes sense. And people in the Middle of the Middle who think they have the "figure out how to be helpful and help" property should do so if they're self-motivated to. (If they're not self motivated they're probably not a good volunteer)

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-07-03T07:56:25.875Z · EA · GW

My claim is just that "volunteer at an org" is not a scalable action that it makes sense to be a default thing EA groups do in their spare time. This isn't to say volunteers aren't valuable, or that many EAs shouldn't explore that as an option, or that better coordination tools to improve the situation shouldn't be built.

But I am a bit more pessimistic about it – the last time I checked, many of the times someone had said "huh, it looks like there should be all this free labor available by passionate people, can't we connect these people with orgs that need volunteers?" and tried to build some kind of tool to help with that, it turned out that most people aren't actually very good at volunteering, and that it requires something more domain specific and effortful to get anything done.

My impression is that getting volunteers is about has hard as hiring a regular employee (much cheaper in money, but not in time and management attention), and that hiring employees is generally pretty hard.

(Again, not arguing that ALLFED shouldn't look for volunteers or that EAs shouldn't volunteer at ALLFED, esp. if my experience doesn't match yours. I'd encourage anyone reading this who's looking for projects to give ALLFED volunteering a look.)

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-30T21:49:44.967Z · EA · GW


A membrane is a semi-permeable barrier that things can enter and leave, but it's a bit hard to get in and a bit hard to get out. This allows them to store negentropy, which lets them do more interesting things than their surroundings.

An EA group that anyone can join and leave at a whim is going to have relatively low standards. This is fine for recruiting new people. But right now I think the most urgent EA needs have more do with getting people from the middle-of-the-funnel to the end, rather than the beginning-of-the-funnel to the middle. And I think helping the middle requires a higher expectation of effort and knowledge.

(I think a reasonably good mixed strategy is to have public events maybe once every month or two, and then additional events that require some kind of effort on the part of members)

What happens inside the membrane?

  • First, you meet some basic standards for intelligence, good communication, etc. The basics you need in order to accomplish anything on purpose.
  • As noted elsewhere, I think EA needs to cultivate the skill of thinking (as well as gaining agency). There are a few ways to go about this, but all of them require some amount of "willing to put in extra effort and work." Having a space where people have the expectation that everyone there is interested in putting that effort is helpful for motivation and persistence.
  • In time, you can develop conversation norms that foster better-than-average thinking and communication. (i.e. make sure that admitting you were wrong is rewarded rather than punished)

Membranes can work via two mechanisms:

  • Be more careful about who you let in, in the first place
  • Be willing to invest effort in giving feedback, or being willing to expel people from the group.

The first option is easier. Giving feedback and expelling people is quite costly, and painful both for the person being expelled from a group (who may have friends and roots there), as well as the person doing the expelling (which may involve a stressful fight with people second-guessing you).

If you're much more careful about who you let in, an ounce of prevention can be more valuable than a pound of cure.

On the other hand, if you put up lots of barriers, you may find your community stagnating. There may also be false positives of "so-and-so seemed not super promising" but if you'd given them a chance to grow it would have been fine.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-30T21:49:19.547Z · EA · GW

Notes from a "mini talk" I gave to a couple people at EA Global.

Local EA groups (and orgs, for that matter) need leadership, and membranes.

Membranes let you control who is part of a community, so you can cultivate a particular culture within that community. They can involve barrier to entry, or actively removing people or behaviors that harm the culture.

Leadership is necessary to give that community structure. A good leader can make a community valuable enough that it's worth people's effort to overcome the barriers to entry, and/or maintain that barrier.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-30T21:22:56.806Z · EA · GW

Part of the problem is there are not that many volunteer spots – even if this worked, it wouldn't scale. There are communities and movements that are designed such that there's lots of volunteer work to be done, such that you can provide 1000 volunteer jobs. But I don't think EA is one of them.

I've heard a few people from orgs express frustration that people come to them wanting to volunteer, but this feels less like the orgs receive a benefit, and more than the org is creating a training program (at cost to themselves) to provide a benefit to the volunteers.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-27T23:05:54.487Z · EA · GW

Updated the thread to just serve as my shortform feed, since I got some value out of the ability to jot down early stage ideas.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-27T00:24:41.741Z · EA · GW

I’m not yet sure that I’ll be doing this more than 3 months, so I think there’s a bit more value to focus more on generating value in that time.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-23T07:38:25.449Z · EA · GW

I think the actions that EA actually needs to be involved with doing also require figuring things out and building a deep model of the world.

Meanwhile... "sufficiently advanced thinking looks like doing", or something. At the early stages, running a question hackathon requires just as much ops work and practice as running some other kind of hackathon.

I will note that default mode where rationalists or EAs sit around talking and not doing is a problem, but often that mode, in my opinion, doesn't actually rise to the level of "thinking for real." Thinking for real is real work.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-20T19:48:02.587Z · EA · GW

So I actually draw an important distinction between "mid-level EAs", where there's three stages:

"The beginning of the Middle" – once you've read all the basics of EA, the thing you should do is... read more things about EA. There's a lot to read. Stand on the shoulders of giants.

"The Middle of the Middle" – ????

"The End of the Middle" – Figure out what to do, and start doing it (where "it" is probably some kind of ambitious project).

An important facet of the Middle of the Middle is that people don't yet have the agency or context needed to figure out what's actually worth doing, and a lot of the obvious choices are wrong.

(In particular, mid-level EAs have enough context to notice coordination failures, but not enough context to realize why the coordination failures are happening, nor the skills to do a good job at fixing them. A common failure mode is trying to solve coordination problems when their current skillset would probably result in a net-negative result)

So yes, eventually, mid-level EAs should just figure out what to do and do it, but at EAs current scale, there are 100s (maybe 1000s) of people who don't yet have the right meta skills to do that.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-20T19:23:48.276Z · EA · GW

What goals, though?

Comment by Raemon on Is preventing child abuse a plausible Cause X? · 2019-06-20T09:16:38.934Z · EA · GW

I didn't write a top level post but I sketched out some of the relevant background ideas here. (I'm not sure if they answer your particular concerns, but you can ask more specific questions there if you have them)

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-19T23:43:53.317Z · EA · GW

Integrity, Accountability and Group Rationality

I think there are particular reasons that EA should strive, not just to have exceptionally high integrity, but exceptionally high understanding of how integrity works.

Some background reading for my current thoughts includes habryka's post on Integrity and my own comment here on competition.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-19T23:41:35.677Z · EA · GW

A few reasons for I think competition is good:

  • Diversity of worldviews is better. Two research orgs might develop different schools of thought that lead to different insights. This can lead to more ideas as well as avoiding the tail risks of bias and groupthink.
  • Easier criticism. When there's only one org doing A Thing, criticizing that org feels sort of like criticizing That Thing. And there may be a worry that if the org lost funding due to your criticism, That Thing wouldn't get done at all. Multiple orgs can allow people to think more freely about the situation.
  • Competition forces people to shape up a bit. If you're the only org in town doing a thing, there's just less pressure to do a good job.
  • "Healthy" Competition enables certain kinds of integrity. Sort of related to the previous two points. Say you think Cause X is real important, but there's only one org working on it. If you think Org A isn't being as high integrity as you'd like, your options are limited (criticize them, publicly or privately, or start your own org, which is very hard. If you think Org A is overall net positive you might risk damaging Cause X by criticizing it. But if there are multiple Orgs A and B working on Cause X, there are less downsides of criticizing it. (Alternate framing is that maybe criticism wouldn't actually damage cause X but it may still feel that way to a lot of people, so getting a second Org B can be beneficial). Multiple orgs working on a topic makes it easier to reward good behavior.
    • In particular, if you notice that you're running the only org in town, and you want to improve you own integrity, you might want to cause there to be more competition. This way, you can help set up a system that creates better incentives for yourself, that remain strong even if you gain power (which may be corrupting in various ways)

There are some special caveats here:

  • Some types of jobs benefit from concentration.
    • Communication platforms sort of want to be monopolies so people don't have to check a million different sites and facebook groups.
    • Research orgs benefit from having a number of smart people bouncing ideas around.
  • This means...
    • See if you can refactor a goal into something that doesn't actually require a monopoly.
    • If it's particularly necessary for a given org to be a monopoly, it should be held to a higher standard – both in terms of operational competence and in terms of integrity.
    • If you want to challenge a monopoly with a new org, there's likewise a particular burden to do a good job.
    • I think "doing a good job" requires a lot of things, but some important things (that should be red flags to at least think about more carefully if they're lacking) include:
      • Having strong leadership with a clear vision
        • Make sure you have a deep understanding of what you're trying to do, and a clear model of how it's going to help
      • Not trying to do a million things at once. I think a major issue facing some orgs is lack of focus.
      • Probably don't have this be your first major project. Your first major project should be something it's okay to fail at. Coordination projects are especially costly to fail at because they make the job harder for the next person.
      • Invest a lot in communication on your team.
Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-19T23:40:49.383Z · EA · GW

Competition in the EA Sphere

A few years ago, EA was small, and it was hard to get funding to run even one organization. Spinning up a second one with the same focus area might have risked killing the first one.

By now, I think we have the capacity (both financial, coordinational and human-talent) that that's less of a risk. Meanwhile, I think there are a number of benefits to having more, better, friendly competition.

I'm interested in chatting with people about the nuts and bolts of how to apply this.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-19T23:09:01.901Z · EA · GW

Some background thoughts on why I think the middle of the EA talent funnel should focus on thinking:

  • I currently believe the longterm value of EA is not in scaling up donations to well vetted charities. This is because vetting charities is sort of anti-inductive. If things are going well (and I think this is quite achievable – it only really takes a couple billionaires to care) charities should get vetted and then quickly afterwards get enough funding. This means the only leftover charities will not be well vetted.
    • So the longterm Earn-to-Give options are:
      • Actually becoming pretty good at vetting organizations and people
      • Joining donor lotteries (where you still might have to get good at thinking if you win)
      • Donating to GiveDirectly (which is maybe actually fine but less exciting)
  • The world isn't okay because the problems it faces are actually hard. You need to understand how infrastructure plugs together. You need to understand incentives and unintended consequences. In some cases you need to actually solve unsolved philosophical problems. You need object level domain expertise in whatever field you're trying to help with.
    • I think all of these require a general thinking skill that is hard to come by and really needs practice.

(Writing this is making me realize that maybe part of what I wanted with this thread was just an opportunity to sketch out ideas without having to fully justify every claim)

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-19T23:00:56.632Z · EA · GW

Mid-level EA communities, and cultivating the skill of thinking

I think a big problem for EA is not having a clear sense of what mid-level EAs are supposed to do. Once you've read all the introductory content, but before you're ready to tackle anything real ambitious... what should you do, and what should your local EA community encourage people to do?

My sense is that grassroots EA groups default to "discuss the basics; recruit people to give money to givewell-esque charities and sometimes weirder things; occasionally run EAGx conferences; give people guidance to help them on their career trajectory."

I have varying opinions on those things, but even if they were all good ideas... they leave an unsolved problem where there isn't a very good "bread and butter" activity that you can do repeatedly, that continues to be interesting after you've learned the basics.

My current best guess (admittedly untested) is that Mid-Level EAs and Mid-Level EA Communities should focus on practicing thinking. And a corresponding bottleneck is something like "figuring out how to repeatedly have things that are worth thinking about, that are important enough to try hard on, but where it's okay if to not do a very good job because you're still learning."

I have some preliminary thoughts on how to go about this. Two hypotheses that seem interesting are:

  • LW/EA-Forum Question Answering hackathons (where you pick a currently open question, and try to solve it as best you can. This might be via literature reviews, or first principles thinking
  • Updating the Cause Prioritization wiki (either this one or this one, I'm not sure if either one of them has become the schelling-one), and meanwhile posting those updates as EA Forum blogposts.

I'm interested in chatting with local community organizers about it, and with established researchers that have ideas about how to make this the most productive version of itself.

Comment by Raemon on Raemon's EA Shortform Feed · 2019-06-19T22:36:16.843Z · EA · GW

Grantmaking and Vetting

I think EA is vetting constrained. It's likely that I'll be involved with a new experimental grant allocation process. There are a few key ingredients here that are worth discussing:

  • Meta Process design. I have some thoughts on designing good grantmaking processes (at the meta level), and I'm interested in hearing from others about what seem like important process elements.
  • Evaluation approach. I haven't done (much) evaluation before, and would be interested in talking to people about what makes for good evaluation approaches.
  • Object level ideas about organizations worth funding. New orgs, old orgs. (Note: I am specifically interested in things that feed into the x-risk ecosystem somehow. Also, in the near future will only be able to consider organizations rather than individuals)
Comment by Raemon on There's Lots More To Do · 2019-06-14T23:13:21.340Z · EA · GW

I think if you've read Ben's writings, it's obvious that the prime driver is about epistemic health.