Posts

Consider a wider range of jobs, paths and problems if you want to improve the long-term future 2020-06-29T14:48:55.111Z · score: 120 (57 votes)
Eleven recent 80,000 Hours articles on how to stop COVID-19 & other pandemics 2020-04-08T21:40:11.355Z · score: 22 (9 votes)
Podcast with Ben Todd covering the key ideas of 80,000 Hours (2h 57m) 2020-03-09T18:48:27.200Z · score: 23 (5 votes)
Attempted summary of the 2019-nCoV situation — 80,000 Hours 2020-02-03T22:37:44.413Z · score: 37 (19 votes)
Upcoming interviews on the 80,000 Hours Podcast 2019-07-01T14:08:39.735Z · score: 25 (10 votes)
Giving What We Can is still growing at a surprisingly good pace 2018-09-14T02:34:11.214Z · score: 37 (35 votes)
Do Prof Eva Vivalt's results show 'evidence-based' development isn't all it's cut out to be? 2018-05-21T16:28:27.239Z · score: 17 (19 votes)
Rob Wiblin's top EconTalk episode recommendations 2017-10-19T00:08:06.199Z · score: 20 (18 votes)
How accurately does anyone know the global distribution of income? 2017-04-06T04:49:45.335Z · score: 21 (20 votes)
In some cases, if a problem is harder humanity should invest more in it, but you should be less inclined to work on it 2017-02-21T10:29:01.945Z · score: 9 (12 votes)
Philosophical Critiques of Effective Altruism by Prof Jeff McMahan 2016-05-03T21:05:28.852Z · score: 33 (33 votes)
Why don't many effective altruists work on natural resource scarcity? 2016-02-20T12:32:14.584Z · score: 12 (14 votes)
Let's conduct a survey on the quality of MIRI's implementation 2016-02-19T07:18:55.158Z · score: 11 (17 votes)
The most persuasive writing neutrally surveys both sides of an argument 2016-02-18T08:42:38.857Z · score: 14 (22 votes)
How you can contribute to the broader EA research project 2016-02-17T09:23:26.227Z · score: 13 (13 votes)
If tech progress might be bad, what should we tell people about it? 2016-02-16T10:26:05.764Z · score: 20 (20 votes)
Should effective altruists work on taxation of the very rich? 2016-02-15T12:42:41.292Z · score: 16 (10 votes)
The Important/Neglected/Tractable framework needs to be applied with care 2016-01-24T15:10:55.665Z · score: 20 (20 votes)
Notice what arguments aren't made (but don't necessarily go and make them) 2016-01-24T13:52:45.111Z · score: 12 (16 votes)
If you don't have good evidence one thing is better than another, don't pretend you do 2015-12-21T19:19:54.464Z · score: 34 (38 votes)
What if you want to have a big social impact and live in a poorer country? 2015-12-20T16:58:33.276Z · score: 12 (12 votes)
How big a deal could GWWC be? Pretty big. 2015-12-20T00:46:45.843Z · score: 11 (13 votes)
An under-appreciated observation about giving now vs later 2015-12-19T22:26:19.482Z · score: 12 (11 votes)
What is a 'broad intervention' and what is a 'narrow intervention'? Are we confusing ourselves? 2015-12-19T16:12:49.618Z · score: 10 (9 votes)
Threads on Facebook worth being able to refer back to 2015-12-19T15:09:24.619Z · score: 3 (5 votes)
The most read 80,000 Hours posts from the last 3 months 2015-12-18T18:16:13.552Z · score: 3 (7 votes)
No, CS majors didn't delude themselves that the best way to save the world is to do CS research 2015-12-15T17:13:38.977Z · score: 19 (19 votes)
Two observations about 'skeptical vs speculative' effective altruism 2015-12-15T14:06:03.863Z · score: 6 (6 votes)
Saying 'AI safety research is a Pascal's Mugging' isn't a strong response 2015-12-15T13:48:27.186Z · score: 13 (19 votes)
Six Ways To Get Along With People Who Are Totally Wrong* 2015-02-24T12:41:43.096Z · score: 46 (42 votes)
Help a Canadian give with a tax-deduction by swapping donations with them! 2014-12-16T00:05:45.810Z · score: 3 (3 votes)
Generic good advice: do intense exercise often 2014-12-14T17:21:38.322Z · score: 8 (8 votes)
How can you compare helping two different people in different ways? 2014-12-11T17:08:02.170Z · score: 9 (9 votes)
Ideas for new experimental EA projects you could fund! 2014-12-02T02:47:04.545Z · score: 9 (9 votes)
Should we launch a podcast about high-impact projects and people? 2014-12-01T16:52:41.206Z · score: 9 (9 votes)
The Centre for Effective Altruism is hiring to fill five roles in research, operations and outreach 2014-11-25T13:48:36.283Z · score: 6 (6 votes)
Why it should be easy to dominate GiveWell’s recommendations 2013-07-17T04:00:46.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes)

Comments

Comment by robert_wiblin on AMA or discuss my 80K podcast episode: Ben Garfinkel, FHI researcher · 2020-07-14T15:27:50.858Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · EA · GW

There's often a few months between recording and release and we've had a handful of episodes that took a frustratingly long time to get out the door, but never a year.

The time between the first recording and release for this one was actually 9 months. The main reason was Howie and Ben wanted to go back and re-record a number of parts they didn't think they got right the first time around, and it took them a while to both be free and in the same place so they could do that.

A few episodes were also pushed back so we could get out COVID-19 interviews during the peak of the epidemic.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Study results: The most convincing argument for effective donations · 2020-07-01T11:25:49.177Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for doing this research, nice work.

Could you make your figure a little larger, it's hard to read on a desktop. It might also be easier for the reader if each of the five arguments had a one-word name to keep track of the gist of their actual content.

"As you can see, the winner in Phase 2 was Argument 9 by a nose. Argument 9 was also the winner by a nose in Phase 1, and thus the winner overall."

I don't think this is quite right. Arguments 5 and 12 are very much within the confidence interval for Argument 9. Eyeballing it I would guess we can only be about 60% confident that argument 9 would do better again if you repeated the experiment.

I would summarise the results as follow:

  • All five arguments substantially outperformed the control, on average increasing giving by around 45%.
  • We also had some evidence that Arguments 5, 9 and 12 all outperformed Arguments 3 and 14, perhaps having about 30% more impact.
Comment by robert_wiblin on Problem areas beyond 80,000 Hours' current priorities · 2020-06-22T21:20:30.211Z · score: 15 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Tobias — thanks for the ideas!

Invertebrate welfare is wrapped into 'Wild animal welfare', and reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors is partially captured under 'S-risks'. We'll discuss the other two.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books? · 2020-06-17T14:37:38.354Z · score: 24 (11 votes) · EA · GW

For future reference, next time you need to look up the page number for a citation, Library Genesis can quickly let you access a digital copy of almost any book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_Genesis

Comment by robert_wiblin on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-04T14:15:09.774Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I didn't mean to imply that the protests would fix the whole problem, obviously they won't.

As you say you'd need to multiply through by a distribution for 'likelihood of success' and 'how much of the problems solved'.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Will protests lead to thousands of coronavirus deaths? · 2020-06-04T11:01:53.448Z · score: 58 (38 votes) · EA · GW

I think a crux for some protesters will be how much total damage they think bad policing is doing in the USA.

While police killings or murders draw the most attention, much more damage is probably done in other ways, such as through over-incarceration, petty harassment, framing innocent people, bankrupting folks through unnecessary fines, enforcing bad laws such a drug prohibition, assaults, and so on. And that total damage accumulates year after year.

On top of this we could add the burden of crime itself that results from poor policing practices, including a lack of community trust in police due to their oppressive behaviour and lack of accountability.

Regardless of where a consequentialist analysis would come down, it is a tragedy that people feel they need to choose between missing an opportunity to fix a horrible system of state violence, and not spreading a dangerous pandemic.

Comment by robert_wiblin on How can I apply person-affecting views to Effective Altruism? · 2020-05-06T12:47:58.632Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA · GW

If I weren't interested in creating more new beings with positive lives I'd place greater priority on:

  • Ending the suffering and injustice suffered by animals in factory farming
  • Ending the suffering of animals in the wilderness
  • Slowing ageing, or cryonics (so the present generation can enjoy many times more positive value over the course of their lives)
  • Radical new ways to dramatically raise the welfare of the present generation (e.g. direct brain stimulation as described here)

I haven't thought much about what would look good from a conservative Christian worldview.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Eleven recent 80,000 Hours articles on how to stop COVID-19 & other pandemics · 2020-04-12T23:07:30.598Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hi PBS, I understand where you're coming from and expect many policy folks may well be having a bigger impact than front-line doctors, because in this case prevention is probably better than treatment.

At the same time I can see why we don't clap for them in that way, because they're not taking on a particularly high risk of death and injury in the same way the hospital staff are right now. I appreciate both, but on a personal level I'm more impressed by people who continue to accept a high risk of contracting COVID-19 in order to treat patients.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Toby Ord’s ‘The Precipice’ is published! · 2020-03-09T18:32:05.830Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I've compiled 16 fun or important points from the book for the write-up of my interview with Toby, which might well be of interest people here. :)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Who should give sperm/eggs? · 2020-02-13T11:20:38.883Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Khorton — yes as I responded to Denise, it appears the one year thing must have been specific to the (for-profit) bank I spoke with. They pay so many up-front costs for each new donor I think they want to ensure they get a lot of samples out of each one to be able to cover them.

And perhaps they were highballing the 30+ number, so they couldn't say they didn't tell you should the most extreme thing happen, even if it's improbable.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Who should give sperm/eggs? · 2020-02-12T23:00:00.385Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Hmmmm, this is all what I was told at one place. Maybe some of these rules — 30 kids max, donating for a year at a minimum, or the 99% figure — are specific to that company, rather than being UK-wide norms/regulations.

Or perhaps they were rounding up to 99% to just mean 'the vast majority'.

I'd forgotten about the ten family limit, thanks for the reminder.

Like you I have the impression that they're much less selective on eggs.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Who should give sperm/eggs? · 2020-02-12T21:24:09.348Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · EA · GW

In some ways the UK sperm donation process is an even more serious commitment than egg donation.

From what I was told, the rejection rate is extremely high — close to 99% of applicants are filtered out for one reason or another. If you get through that process they'll want you to go in and donate once a week or more, for at least a year. Each time you want to donate, you can't ejaculate for 48 hours beforehand.

And the place I spoke to said they'd aim to sell enough sperm to create 30 kids in the UK, and even more overseas.

The ones born in the UK can find out who you are and contact you once they turn 18. With so many children potentially resulting, there's a good chance that a number will do so. It would be worth thinking ahead of time how you'd respond, and whether that's something you'll want in your life in ~20 years' time.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Attempted summary of the 2019-nCoV situation — 80,000 Hours · 2020-02-08T18:51:37.931Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I know 2 working in normal pandemic preparedness and 2-3 in EA GCBR stuff.

I can offer introductions though they are probably worked off their feet just now. DM me somewhere?

Comment by robert_wiblin on Attempted summary of the 2019-nCoV situation — 80,000 Hours · 2020-02-06T14:28:19.755Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the detailed feedback Adam. :)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals? · 2020-02-06T14:27:59.009Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Part of the issue might be the subheading "Space colonization will probably include animals".

If the heading had been 'might', then people would be less likely to object. Many things 'might' happen!

Comment by robert_wiblin on Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals? · 2020-02-05T19:39:51.382Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA · GW

80% seems reasonable. It's hard to be confident about many things that far out, but:

i) We might be able to judge what things seem consistent with others. For example, it might be easier to say whether we'll bring pigs to Alpha Centauri if we go, than whether we'll ever go to Alpha Centauri.

ii) That we'll terraform other planets is itself fairly speculative, so it seems fair to meet speculation with other speculation. There's not much alternative.

iii) Inasmuch as we're focussing in on (what's in my opinion) a narrow part of the whole probability space — like flesh and blood humans going to colonise other stars and bringing animals with them — we can develop approaches that seem most likely to work in that particular scenario, rather than finding something that would hypothetically works across the whole space.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Should Longtermists Mostly Think About Animals? · 2020-02-04T00:07:02.352Z · score: 52 (25 votes) · EA · GW

I apologise if I'm missing something as I went over this very quickly.

I think a key objection for me is to the idea that wild animals will be included in space settlement in any significant numbers.

If we do settle space, I expect most of that, outside of this solar system, to be done by autonomous machines rather than human beings. Most easily habitable locations in the universe are not on planets, but rather freestanding in space, using resources from asteroids, and solar energy.

Autonomous intelligent machines will be at a great advantage over animals from Earth, who are horribly adapted to survive a long journey through interstellar space or to thrive on other planets.

In a wave of settlement machines should vastly outpace actual humans and animals as they can travel faster between stars and populate those start systems more rapidly.

If settlement is done by 'humans' it seems more likely to be performed by emulated human minds running on computer systems.

In addition to these difficulties, there is no practical reason to bring animals. By that stage of technological development we will surely be eating meat produced without a whole animal, if we eat meat at all. And if we want to enjoy the experience of natural environments on Earth we will be able to do it in virtual reality vastly more cheaply than terraforming the planets we arrive at.

If I did believe animals were going to be brought on space settlement, I would think the best wild-animal-focussed project would be to prevent that from happening, by figuring out what could motivate people to do so, and pointing out the strong arguments against it.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Concerning the Recent 2019-Novel Coronavirus Outbreak · 2020-02-03T19:34:13.663Z · score: 14 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Howie and I just recorded a 1h15m conversation going through what we do and don't know about nCoV for the 80,000 Hours Podcast.

We've also compiled a bunch of links to the best resources on the topic that we're aware of which you can get on this page.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Growth and the case against randomista development · 2020-01-20T15:20:27.201Z · score: 3 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I've guessed this is the case on 'back of the envelope' grounds for a while, so nice to see someone put more time into evaluating it.

It's not true to say EAs have been blindly on board with RCTs — I've been saying economic policy is probably the top priority for years and plenty of people have agreed that's likely the case. But I don't work on poverty so unfortunately wasn't able to take it further than that.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Making decisions under moral uncertainty · 2020-01-20T15:13:10.823Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Will's book, 'Moral Uncertainty', is coming out next month for those who are interested in the topic: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moral-Uncertainty-William-MacAskill/dp/0198722273

Comment by robert_wiblin on I'm Michelle Hutchinson, head of advising at 80,000 Hours, AMA · 2020-01-17T12:33:13.508Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I Jessica, IIRC the main problem you'll likely encounter is that some naïve cost-effectiveness estimates will give you a really low figure, like donating $1 to corporate campaigns is as effective as being vegan a whole year. (Not exactly, but that order of magnitude.)

Given that I'm inclined to just make it the lowest amount that feels substantial and like it would actually plausibly be enough to make someone else veg*n for a year — for me that means about $100 a year.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Assumptions about the far future and cause priority · 2019-11-12T12:02:15.872Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Yes it needs to go in an explanation of how we score scale/importance in the problem framework! It's on the list. :)

Alternatively I've been wondering if we need a standalone article explaining how we can influence the long term, and what are signs that something might be highly leveraged for doing that.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Assumptions about the far future and cause priority · 2019-11-11T17:07:34.914Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW

As a first pass the rate of improvement should asymptote towards zero so long as there's a theoretical optimum and declining returns to further research before the heat death of the universe, which seems like pretty mild assumptions.

As an analogy, there's an impossibly wide range of configurations of matter you could in theory use to create a glass from which we can drink water. But we've already gotten most of the way towards the best glass for humans, I would contend. I don't think we could keep improving glasses in any meaningful way using a galaxy's resources for a trillion years.

Keep in mind eventually the light cone of each star shrinks so far it can't benefit from research conducted elsewhere.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Assumptions about the far future and cause priority · 2019-11-11T14:43:57.281Z · score: 15 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Having settled most of the accessible universe we'll have hundreds of billions or even trillions of years to try to keep improving how we're using the matter and energy at our disposal.

Doesn't it seems almost certain that over such a long time period our annual rate if improvement in the value generated by the best configuration would eventually asymptote towards zero? I think that's all that's necessary for safety to be substantially more attractive than speed-ups.

(BTW safety is never 'infinitely' preferred because even on a strict plateau view the accessible universe is still shrinking by about a billionth a year.)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-11-07T12:01:42.963Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · EA · GW

"changes outlook towards life, makes married life less unequal for women, increases self-respect, self-confidence, allows for better participation in society"

I agree these are all benefits, but I class them as instrumental benefits, and imagine most others here do as well.

They are benefits inasmuch as they go on to improve people's well-being.

"the human development index, it includes education as an outcome, valuable for its own sake"

The HDI also includes GDP which presumably nobody thinks is valuable for its own sake (i.e. widgets are only useful inasmuch as they make people better off when they're used not valuable merely for existing). In my opinion education is good to have in the HDI as a proxy for all of the many instrumental benefits it provides people.

Most people here place great weight on a welfarist theory of value: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/ . If you disagree with welfarism then it would pay to set education aside for a minute and go back and discuss more fundamental issues in moral philosophy.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-11-06T15:26:42.643Z · score: 33 (13 votes) · EA · GW

You quote GiveWell as saying:

"We do not place much intrinsic value on increasing time in school or test scores"

But you cut off the quote in a very misleading way indeed:

We do not place much intrinsic value on increasing time in school or test scores, although we think that such improvements may have instrumental value.

Unless you think spending time in school is very useful even if it has no other benefits to kids (i.e. they don't learn anything they use later in life), GiveWell is surely right here that the benefits are mostly instrumental.

It is wrong to quote others in a way that misrepresents their view like this.

You also say:

"Exactly zero dollars went to education ... The overall importance given to education is zero."

  1. GiveWell just didn't think the very best giving opportunities they could support were in education — that doesn't mean they think it has no value. They also didn't buy people food, but presumably they don't think eating is a useless activity and people can safely starve themselves.
  2. GiveWell isn't all of EA. Some EAs probably have a very positive view of the value of education. There's a wide range of views on most issues.
Comment by robert_wiblin on Effective Altruism and International Trade · 2019-11-05T13:10:58.810Z · score: 22 (9 votes) · EA · GW

"If growth leads to education, then why is South Africa behind Jamaica and India, how about Bangladesh > Pakistan? Sri Lanka > Brazil"

Because it's not the only factor?

"Its very strange EA says education has no value"

'EA' does not say this, and I don't know anyone involved in EA who holds such a strong view.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Oddly, Britain has never been happier · 2019-10-24T19:21:11.061Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi bfinn, maybe have a listen to this episode of the Freakonomics podcast: http://freakonomics.com/podcast/new-freakonomics-radio-podcast-the-suicide-paradox/

It's one of the things that shaped my view that cross-country differences in suicide are best explained by culture rather than underlying happiness.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Oddly, Britain has never been happier · 2019-10-24T11:28:20.172Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I also don't trust mental health time series to show whether conditions are becoming more common, because it's equally or more likely that more people are coming forward as having, e.g. depression, as it becomes very acceptable to talk about it.

But suicide rates are hugely influenced by the social acceptability of suicide specifically, and easy access to suicide methods that allow you to successfully kill yourself on impulse (e.g. guns, which have become less accessible to people over time). So unfortunately I don't think suicide rates are a reliable way to track mental health problems over time either.

Comment by robert_wiblin on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-10-11T17:16:48.556Z · score: 37 (12 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for rewriting and republishing this. All very interesting.

On this new revised version, something that stood out to me was the truly extreme range between the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios you describe.

I think the relative cost-effectiveness range you've given spans fully ten orders of magnitude, or a range of 10,000,000,000x. Even by our standards that's a lot. If we're really this uncertain it seems we can say almost nothing. But I don't think we are that uncertain.

By choosing a value out in the tail for 4 different input variables all at once you've taken us way out into the extremes of the uncertainty bounds. It looks to me like for these scenarios you've chosen the 1st and 99th percentiles for SCC, η, cost of abatement, and gain from doing health, all at once.

If that's right you're ending up at more like 0.01 * 0.01 * 0.01 * 0.01 --> 0.000001th percentile on the cost-effectiveness output on either end (not really, because you can't actually combine uncertainty distributions like this, but you get my general point). That seems too extreme a value to be useful to me.

Maybe you could put your distributions for the inputs into Guesstimate, which will do simulations drawing from and multiplying the inputs, and then choose the 5th and 95th percentile values for the outputs? That would go a long way towards addressing this issue.

Hope this helps, let me know if I've misunderstood anything — Rob

Comment by robert_wiblin on Updated Climate Change Problem Profile · 2019-10-10T14:54:05.157Z · score: 20 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Hi mchr3k — thanks for writing this. I'm completely slammed with other work at 80,000 Hours just now (I'm recording 7 podcast interviews this month), so I won't be able to respond right away.

For what it's worth I agree with just posting this and emailing it to us, rather than letting us hold you up. Many people are going to be interested in what you're saying here and might have useful comments to add, not just 80,000 Hours. It's also an area where reasonable people can disagree so it's useful to have a range of views represented publicly.

Possibly letting us comment on a Google Doc first might have been helpful but I don't think people should treat it as a necessary step!

Comment by robert_wiblin on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-09-18T13:50:13.883Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Fair enough I haven't looked at the YouGov report.

I responding to the thrust of Tyler's quote at the top.

I doubt pre-2004 data will give us insight into modern loneliness. Facebook and Twitter didn't exist back then, for instance.

That data is especially precious because you need a 'before' measurement to see whether social media coincides with any change or loneliness staying the same as before!

But I agree many problems aren't increasing but are still well worth addressing!

Comment by robert_wiblin on Effective Altruism and Everyday Decisions · 2019-09-16T21:15:52.425Z · score: 24 (15 votes) · EA · GW

The amount of electricity consumed by some appliances these days is astonishingly low.

The LED lightbulb in my room for example uses 9 Watts. If I left it on maximum brightness constantly for a whole year this would come to:

9 Watts * 24 hours per day * 365 days / 1000 = ~79kWh.

That would cost me 79kWh * 14.714p/kWh = £12 in electricity for the year.

If supplied 100% by especially dirty coal this might produce 71kg of CO2.

This is a small amount which could be offset on the EU carbon trading market for about £1.80.

While also not worth fussing much too about, at least heating systems and air conditioners do use a meaningful amount of energy! Get your house insulated and then don't sweat about the rest.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Does improving animal rights now improve the far future? · 2019-09-16T19:20:17.663Z · score: 36 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Evira — this is an incredibly hard figure to estimate and we haven't decided to deeply investigate the question, so this should basically be viewed as a guess informed by the views of other people involved in effective altruism.

It is also a pretty low figure (in my view), which reflects that we're also skeptical of the size of these effects. But here are some pathways to consider:

  • Animal organisations do sometimes campaign on the moral patienthood of non-humans, and persuade people of this, especially in countries where this view is less common;
  • Getting people to stop eating meat makes it easier for them to concede that the welfare of non-humans is of substantial importance;
  • Fixing the problem of discrimination against animals allows us to progress to other moral circle expansions sooner, most notably from a long-termist perspective, recognising the risks of suffering in thinking machines;
  • Our values might get locked in this century through technology or totalitarian politics, in which case we need to rush to reach something tolerable as quickly as possible;
  • Our values might end up on a bad but self-reinforcing track from which we can't escape, which is a reason to get to something tolerable quickly, in order to make that less likely;
  • Animal advocacy can draw people into relevant moral philosophy, effective altruism and related work on other problems, which arguably increases the value of the long-term future.
Comment by robert_wiblin on How to Make Billions of Dollars Reducing Loneliness · 2019-09-16T18:55:05.314Z · score: 8 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Loneliness may indeed be rising, but we don't yet have good evidence that that's the case:

"It's easy to find claims that loneliness is rising (for example, here's a recent Wall Street Journal article on that theme). But last summer the Social Capital Project run by the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress published "All the Lonely Americans?" (August 22, 2018) and found little evidence of such an increase. The report cites a broad array of claims and evidence, which you can check out for yourself. But here's a quick overview of some main points (with citations omitted for readability):

There are a few different but related questions that tend to get lumped into one general story about whether loneliness is on the rise in America, in part because of a lack of good data, and occasionally because of a failure to distinguish the two often distinct lines of psychological and sociological research. One question is whether Americans are increasingly alone (that is, have fewer social contacts, or have less social interaction). This question, which sociologists tend to study, is about objectively observable social networks or relationship characteristics. It is distinguishable from the second question, regarding the subjective experience of loneliness. This latter question—whether Americans are increasingly experiencing loneliness (`perceived social isolation')—has typically been the research purview of psychologists.

Correlations are lower than we might expect between the most common measures of loneliness and objective measures of social network characteristics, so these two questions are substantially though not wholly distinct from each other. ... However, it is not at all clear that loneliness has increased over the last several decades.

In his 2011 book, Still Connected: Family and Friends in America Since 1970, sociologist Claude Fischer puts a fine point on this question: `For all the interest in loneliness, there appears to be little national survey data that would permit us to draw trends.'

We looked for the strongest support for the claim that loneliness has risen, and the best we could find comes from polls by FGI. Between 1994 and 2004, the FGI polls indicate that the share of adults saying loneliness was a problem for them rose from roughly 25 percent to 30 percent. It is unclear, however, whether this five-point difference reflects a real shift or arises from chance differences in the people sampled in each year or in survey administration.

The remaining evidence suggests flat trends. ... The claim that loneliness has doubled—or even increased—since the 1980s (let alone the late 1960s) is simply unwarranted. ... It is entirely possible that loneliness has increased over time, but the available evidence does not appear to support that claim. It is just as possible that loneliness has stayed the same or even declined."

Comment by robert_wiblin on Are we living at the most influential time in history? · 2019-09-13T18:15:12.833Z · score: 38 (17 votes) · EA · GW

Great discussion here, top quality comments. To make one aspect of this a bit clearer I made this figure of different 'hingeiness' trajectories and their implications:

Will adds: "In this post I’m just saying it’s unlikely we’re at A2, rather than at some other point in that curve, or on a different curve, and the evidence we have doesn’t give us strong enough evidence to think we’re at A2.

But then yeah it’s a really good point that even if one thinks hinginess is increasing locally, and feels confident about that, it doesn’t mean we’re atop the last peak.

A related point from the graphs: even if hinginess is locally decreasing faster than the real rate of interest, that’s still not sufficient for spending, if there will be some future time when hinginess starts increasing or staying the same or slowing to less than the real rate of interest (as long as you can save for that long)."

Comment by robert_wiblin on [updated] Global development interventions are generally more effective than Climate change interventions · 2019-09-13T13:47:42.924Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Am I right that what we need to know is whether, when assessing the total global social cost of carbon:

i) they multiplied harms to the world's poorest people, measured in equivalent dollars of their income, by ~100x;

ii) they divided the harms to the world richest people, measured in equivalent dollars of their income, by ~100x;

iii) or something in between?

HH's argument only goes through if it's the second of the three.

Comment by robert_wiblin on 'Longtermism' · 2019-08-02T14:23:51.966Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

it’s decidedly not a “new term”

While the word long-termism itself isn't new, it's a relatively new way of describing the school of thought in moral philosophy being discussed here — if only because that school of thought itself has been quite small until recently.

I think that is what Will meant by it being a 'new term'.

Comment by robert_wiblin on 'Longtermism' · 2019-08-01T14:44:35.950Z · score: 21 (11 votes) · EA · GW

The definitions of many words are fuzzy in practice, but that doesn't mean it's ideal for things to be that way. And I seriously doubt it's ideal in technical research fields like philosophy or engineering.

In those cases shared and precise meanings can speed up research progress, and avoid terrible mistakes, by preventing misunderstandings.

Establishing some consistency in our terminology, like a shared definition of longtermism, strikes me as highly worthwhile.

Comment by robert_wiblin on 'Longtermism' · 2019-07-31T13:49:35.765Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA · GW

"Aron Vallinder and I ran a survey on people’s attitudes on this issue…"

Hey Will — who was this a survey of?

Comment by robert_wiblin on Is EA Growing? EA Growth Metrics for 2018 · 2019-06-03T20:59:11.684Z · score: 31 (14 votes) · EA · GW

It's worth keeping in mind that some of these rows are 10 or 100 times more important than others.

The most important to me personally is Open Phil's grantmaking. I hadn't realised that the value of their non-GiveWell grants had declined from 2017 to 2018.

Fortunately if they keep up the pace they've set in 2019 so far, they'll hit a new record of $250m this year. In my personal opinion that alone will probably account for a large fraction of the flow of impact effective altruism is having right now.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil? · 2019-05-06T16:39:25.223Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I would reply to an email asking something like this about 75% of the time within 1-2 weeks, and suspect the same is true of most other orgs.

Admittedly the answer might be only a few sentences, and might be 'sorry I don't know try asking X.'

But it seems worth trying in the first instance. :)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil? · 2019-05-06T11:39:39.143Z · score: 22 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Any forum post absorbs hours of time and attention from the community, so I support there being a norm of getting questions answered by emailing the group that probably knows the answer, where doing so is possible.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Thoughts on 80,000 Hours’ research that might help with job-search frustrations · 2019-04-18T20:56:20.910Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

"The page itself doesn't seem to give any indication of that."

As I pointed out it says at the top:

"N.B. The results from this quiz were last reviewed in 2016 and the ranking may no longer reflect our current views. Your top results should be read as suggestions for further research, not recommendations. ... The quiz doesn’t tell you what you should do, but can give you ideas to research further."

We've been working to get it downgraded from the Google search results, but unfortunately we don't have full control over that.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Does climate change deserve more attention within EA? · 2019-04-18T18:05:03.037Z · score: 63 (18 votes) · EA · GW

I'll just respond to point 3 as it refers to my opinions directly. I don't think one should read me saying "Wow okay" as an off-the-cuff response to something someone says as much evidence that I've changed my mind, let alone that other people should. At that point I haven't had a chance to scrutinise the research, or reflect on its importance.

I suspect I said 'wow okay' because I was surprised by the claimed volatility of food supply in general, not the incremental effect of climate change.

Taking the figures Dave offers at face value, the increase is from 56% to 80% in the remainder of the century, which isn't surprisingly large to me. Not having looked at it, I'd also take such modelling with a pinch of salt, and worry that it exaggerates things in order to support advocacy on the topic.

There was a UK government study on this that estimated right now, it might be around 1% chance per year, but with the slow climate change... They were getting more like 80% chance of this century that something like that would happen.

N.B. (1-0.99^81 = 56%)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Thoughts on 80,000 Hours’ research that might help with job-search frustrations · 2019-04-18T15:44:17.361Z · score: 24 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Hi lexande —

Re point 1, as you say the career capital career guide article now has the disclaimer about how our views have changed at the top. We're working on a site redesign that will make the career guide significantly less prominent, which will help address the fact that it was written in 2016 and is showing its age. We also have an entirely new summary article on career capital in the works - unfortunately this has taken a lot longer to complete than we would like, contributing to the current unfortunate situation.

Re point 2, the "clarifying talent gaps" post and "why focus on talent gaps" article do offer different views as they were published three years apart. We've now added a disclaimer linking to the new one.

The "Which jobs help people the most?" career guide piece, taken as a whole, isn't more positive about earning to give than the other three options it highlights (research, policy and direct work).

I think your characterisation of the process we suggest in the 'highest impact careers' article could give readers the wrong impression. Here's a broader quote:

When it comes to specific options, right now we often recommend the following five key categories, which should produce at least one good option for almost all graduates:

  1. Research in relevant areas
  2. Government and policy relevant to top problem areas
  3. Work at effective non-profits
  4. Apply an unusual strength to a needed niche
  5. Otherwise, earn to give

You say that that article 'largely contradicts' the 'clarifying talent gaps' post. I agree there's a shift in emphasis, as the purpose of the second is to make it clearer, among other things, how many people will find it hard to get into a priority path quickly. But 'largely contradicts' is an exaggeration in my opinion.

Re point 3, the replaceability blog post from 2012 you link to as contradicting our current position opens with "This post is out-of-date and no longer reflects our views. Read more."

Our views will continue to evolve as we learn more, just as they have over the last seven years, though more gradually over time. People should take this into account when following our advice and make shifts more gradually and cautiously than if our recommendations were already perfect and fixed forever.

Updating the site is something we’ve been working on, but going back to review old pages trades off directly with writing up our current views and producing content about our priority paths, something that readers also want us to do.

One can make a case for entirely taking down old posts that no longer reflect our views, but for now I'd prefer to continue adding disclaimers at the top linking to our updated views on a question.

If you find other old pages that no longer reflect our views and lack such disclaimers, it would be great if you could email those pages to me directly so that I can add them.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Thoughts on 80,000 Hours’ research that might help with job-search frustrations · 2019-04-18T15:13:22.908Z · score: 21 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Hi lexande, Habryka, Milan — As you note, the quiz is no longer current content. It has been moved way down in the site structure, and carries this disclaimer:

"N.B. The results from this quiz were last reviewed in 2016 and the ranking may no longer reflect our current views. Your top results should be read as suggestions for further research, not recommendations. ... The quiz doesn’t tell you what you should do, but can give you ideas to research further."

Comment by robert_wiblin on Is Modern Monetary Theory a good idea? · 2019-04-17T13:36:02.561Z · score: 17 (8 votes) · EA · GW

It makes sense as a different way to conceptualise the government's budget constraint - limited by inflation (or the maximum sustainable level of seignorage) rather than an ability to borrow per se.

I just think analysing matters that way won't show that the government can spend a significant amount more than it does today, without higher taxes. There isn't lots of latent productive potential in the economy right now that could be unleashed, if only there were more spending. If that's correct, that makes it a much less interesting idea.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Introducing GPI's new research agenda · 2019-03-31T00:11:20.722Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Wonderful, thank you! :)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Terrorism, Tylenol, and dangerous information · 2019-03-23T05:46:09.149Z · score: 44 (23 votes) · EA · GW

This is an interesting issue.

I remember commentators discussing the question of why we didn't see i) terrorists shooting people at shopping centres, ii) knifing them, iii) running pedestrians over with cars, etc, all the way back in 2001-2005.

I find it surprising that this obvious idea would occur to me and other random journalists and bloggers, but not to people who are actually trying to engage in terrorism. Regardless, pointing out these methods didn't have any noticeable effect at the time.

An alternative explanation might be that we saw this spate of terrorism - as far as I know all committed by people who are sympathetic to ISIS - because ISIS had a different ideology that regarded these attacks as more worthwhile. My impression is that ISIS was more motivated by pure bloodthirsty religious zealotry, with less of an emphasis on shifting the foreign policy of the US and countries in the Middle-East.

It wouldn't surprise me if ISIS - with its indiscriminate enthusiasm for all forms of murder - was pushing these methods aggressively, while Al-Qaida and other predecessor groups would have regarded running over a few pedestrians as an insufficient reason for one of its supporters to die. Perhaps because it's not striking enough, embarrassingly unimpressive compared to 9/11, not focussed on the right symbolic targets, or for some other practical reason.

The copy-cat explanation is also slightly different from giving people 'ideas'. ISIS supporters may not have been motivated by a blog post mentioning the method - only by seeing someone else actually pull it off. One might think of these methods not only coming to people's attention, but also becoming 'fashionable' among a particular group of fanatics.

ISIS, with its quasi-country status, may also simply have been unusually effective at attracting supporters in Europe or the US, and convincing them to attempt terrorist attacks. We would naturally see more experimentation of all kinds when 1,000 people are actively working to kill their fellow civilians than when only 100 are.

I agree with your conclusion though - saying things that are 'obvious' can absolutely speed up how many people notice them. If only because there are many many possible 'obvious' thoughts, but with one stream of consciousness, each of us only has time to stumble on a tiny fraction.