Posts

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: 7 (11 votes)
Philosophical Critiques of Effective Altruism by Prof Jeff McMahan 2016-05-03T21:05:28.852Z · score: 32 (32 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: 18 (9 votes)
The Important/Neglected/Tractable framework needs to be applied with care 2016-01-24T15:10:55.665Z · score: 18 (19 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: 7 (9 votes)
What is a 'broad intervention' and what is a 'narrow intervention'? Are we confusing ourselves? 2015-12-19T16:12:49.618Z · score: 8 (8 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: 40 (40 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: 7 (7 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: 1 (1 votes)

Comments

Comment by robert_wiblin on Assumptions about the far future and cause priority · 2019-11-12T12:02:15.872Z · score: 4 (3 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: 13 (6 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: 13 (8 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: 32 (12 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: 2 (1 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: 30 (11 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: 32 (15 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: 8 (5 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: 26 (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.

Comment by robert_wiblin on SHOW: A framework for shaping your talent for direct work · 2019-03-12T21:18:08.588Z · score: 56 (27 votes) · EA · GW

This is great. One thing I'd add is 'Demonstrate'. (Or dare I say.... Show.)

If you think your skills are better than people can currently measure with confidence, you need to find a way to credibly signal how capable you are, while demanding as little time as possible from senior people in the process.

You can do that in a lower level role, or by pulling off some impressive, scrutable and visible project. Or getting a more classic credential. Maybe other things as well.

One reason so many prominent EAs have been writers in the past is not only that it's a very broadly useful skill. It's also a skill which is unusually public and easy for others to evaluate you on. It also gives you a chance to demonstrate your general reasoning ability, which is one of the most widely valued characteristics.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Introducing GPI's new research agenda · 2019-03-05T04:33:02.428Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Can you put up a plain text version of this? PDFs aren't absorbed nicely by other software (e.g. Facebook for sharing, Instapaper for saving to read later, etc.)

Comment by robert_wiblin on EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday · 2019-01-22T23:15:04.672Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Do people who try to give huge amounts run the risk of the transaction being rejected by their bank (as fraudulent), and then not giving in time to be matched?

Comment by robert_wiblin on EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday · 2019-01-22T23:15:03.047Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · EA · GW
Comment by robert_wiblin on Giving more won't make you happier · 2018-12-12T02:20:35.880Z · score: 16 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I don't know if it's more or less reliable than past research suggesting a lower satiation point, but taking the paper Jebb et al. 2018 at face value, this is the effect of a 160% increase in income, from $40k to $105k:

In North America, life satisfaction goes from 7.63 to 8.0. Zero effect on positive affect (effects on positive affect/happiness are always lower and it's the measure I think is more reliable, which is why we chose the term happiness in that quote). Negative affect-free goes from 0.7 to 0.74.

Effects in Western Europe are a touch smaller.

Whether this counts as "extra income continuing to affect happiness quite a bit" or "extra income not affecting happiness that much" I guess is for readers to judge.

For myself, I would regard those gains to be sufficiently small that I would think it irrational for an egoist to focus much of their attention on earning more money at that point, rather than fostering strong relationships, a sense of purpose, or improving their self-talk.

Personally, I also expect even those correlations are overestimates of the actual effect of higher income on happiness, because we know the reverse is also happening: for various reasons happiness itself causes people's incomes to rise. On top of that, things like health also cause both happiness and higher incomes, increasing the correlation without increasing the causation. (Though as I describe in my income and happiness article, if you have a different causal diagram in mind, you could also try arguing that it's an underestimate.)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Giving more won't make you happier · 2018-12-11T19:06:29.968Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, much appreciated Milan! :)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Giving more won't make you happier · 2018-12-10T23:52:25.355Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

While that piece on income and happiness seems solid, Milan might not like the vibe of this section in our article No matter your job, here’s 3 evidence-based ways anyone can have a real impact. I've just tinkered with the wording to make it harder for anyone to misunderstand what we're claiming:

"How much sacrifice will this involve?

Regardless of which career you choose, you can donate 10% of your income.

Normally when we think of doing good with our careers, we think of paths like becoming a teacher or charity worker, which often earn salaries as much as 50% lower than jobs in the private sector, and may not align with your skills or interests. In that sense, giving 10% is less of a sacrifice.

Moreover, as we saw in an earlier article, once you start earning more than about $40,000 a year as an individual, any extra income won’t affect your happiness that much, while acts that help others like giving to charity probably do make you happier.

To take just one example, one study found that in 122 of 136 countries, if respondents answered “yes” to the question “did you donate to charity last month?”, their life satisfaction was higher by an amount also associated with a doubling of income.5 In part, this is probably because happier people give more, but we expect some of the effect runs the other way too.

(Not persuaded? Read more on whether giving 10% is better or worse for your happiness than not donating at all.)"

Comment by robert_wiblin on Giving more won't make you happier · 2018-12-10T23:20:08.742Z · score: 46 (20 votes) · EA · GW

My own view here is:

i) Like Greg I've only ever seen the claim that donating some can be better for one's own welfare, compared to a baseline of not giving at all - not that the EA approach to giving is actually the optimal for happiness (!).

Giving small amounts regularly to a variety of emotionally appealing causes is more likely to be optimal for one's selfish welfare, at least if you don't have an EA mindset which would render that dissatisfying. As you say, 'give 10% once a year to the most effective charity' is likely worse than that.

ii) Unfortunately I don't have time to look into whether your source on income satiation points is better than the older one I used in my article. Personally, I think a focus on a 'satiation point' at which income yields literally zero further welfare gain is the wrong way to think about this. I am skeptical that the curve ever entirely flattens out, let alone turns back around. Rather I'd expect logarithmic returns (or perhaps something a bit sharper), up into the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of income. Given the difficulty of measuring satisfaction, especially in the upper tail of income, I would trust this more common sense model over empirical measurements claiming otherwise. Above ~$100,000, additional gains in welfare are probably just too small for our survey methods to pick up.

For this reason 80,000 Hours use more modest language like "any extra income won’t affect your happiness that much", rather than claiming the effect is nothing.

Nonetheless, at high levels of income, further raising one's income gradually becomes a minor issue, before it becomes an entirely unmeasurable one. At that point, many people will better accomplish their life goals by focussing on improving the world - thereby giving themselves more community, higher purpose, sense of accomplishment, and indeed actual accomplishment - rather than eking out what limited returns remain from higher earnings, and this seems important to point out to people.

iii) So, while I say from an egoist perspective 'give 10% once a year to the most effective charity' is probably dominated by a 'fuzzy-hacking' approach to charity, that's not completely obvious.

Giving larger amounts, and giving them to the best charities one can find, often becomes a core part of people's identity, probably raising their sense of purpose / satisfaction with their work at all times, rather than just via a warm glow immediately after they donate a small sum. I don't think any of the evidence we've looked at can address this issue, except the observational studies, which are hopelessly confounded by other things.

Furthermore, being part of effective altruism or Giving What We Can can provide participants with a community of people who they feel some connection to, which many people otherwise lack, and which seems to have a larger effect on happiness than money. Finally, giving to the best charities allows people to show off to themselves about their uncommon intelligence and sophistication as a giver, which can also contribute to a positive self-conception.

We know that involvement in a religious community is correlated with large gains in welfare, and involvement in any philosophical community like effective altruism seems likely to bring with it some - though not all - of the same benefits.

Of course there are downsides too. In the absence of any actual data, I would remain agnostic, and act as though this were more or less a wash for someone's happiness. I wouldn't want someone to start being altruistic expecting it to make their life better, but I'd also want to challenge them if they were convinced it would make their life worse.

From this perspective, articles saying that giving or other acts of altruism are not as detrimental to someone's welfare as one might naïvely anticipate, seem to me to be advancing a reasonable point of view, even if future research may yet show them to be mistaken.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Giving more won't make you happier · 2018-12-10T22:10:26.178Z · score: 28 (12 votes) · EA · GW

"EA sometimes advocates that giving effectively will increase your happiness. Here’s an 80,000 Hours article (a) to that effect. ... This line of argument confuses the effect of donating at all with the effect of donating effectively."

This article you link to (by me) does not mention giving large amounts, or the effectiveness of charities, or advocate for giving to charity, so it's hard to see how it could be confusing that issue. I would appreciate if you could edit the article to clarify that.

It also doesn't claim that giving necessarily makes you happier than spending the money on yourself, only that in a given case it is possible - which it certainly is - and that giving likely provides more satisfaction than not having the money in the first place:

"Giving some money to charity is unlikely to make you less happy, and may well make you happier. ... donating money could easily make you happier than spending it on yourself... there’s good reason to think that giving away money will lower your subjective well-being significantly less than not having it in the first place."

In fact, the article only tangentially discusses donations at all. Nonetheless, I have added some further text to clarify my view.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Burnout: What is it and how to Treat it. · 2018-12-07T03:08:44.397Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think the link here has been 'miscopied' and goes to a different unrelated article:

"80,000 hours goes into the multitude of reasons you should do this here"

I expect you meant to link to this one:

Why even our readers should save enough to live for 6-24 months by Ben Todd

Comment by robert_wiblin on Earning to Save (Give 1%, Save 10%) · 2018-12-07T02:54:57.706Z · score: 8 (7 votes) · EA · GW

I largely agree with this though 12-36 months is perhaps a bit high. When I've told newcomers to save more and donate less, I've usually gotten the response that they really want to donate now because it makes them feel happier and more fulfilled. That's because they want to do good, but don't see an opportunity to contribute through 'direct work' yet, so giving is their main way to feel useful.

Inasmuch as the goal of giving now is to make someone feel good about themselves and motivated to continue, my objection is weaker. Though perhaps they should try to get that sense of accomplishment some other way while they save.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Why we have over-rated Cool Earth · 2018-12-07T02:45:24.645Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'll just add that I always read it as a highly tentative recommendation that you'd expect to be overturned if serious resources were put into investigating climate change charity - though I'm unusually in-the-know.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-12T23:30:45.565Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I wrote 'most relevant' to contrast that group with people who know they'll never be able to do direct work at the organisations surveyed, for whom those figures are largely irrelevant. As you say, they're still not quite right for that group because you're only part way through the process (I think by the time you're offered a job, about half the costs have been paid, though that depends on whether you had a trial period).

They would be even more relevant to someone considering quitting - but as they can talk to their colleagues, they probably wouldn't be using this survey.

The costs of hiring makes applying to join a project look worse, but it also makes earning to give to fund the salaries of new staff look worse too. If you're expecting to donate hoping the money will be used to fund new hires, it seems like it should cancel out.

The three ways around bearing those costs that I can see at first glance are i) earning to give to prevent a group from laying off staff for lack of funding, ii) earning to give to buy capital goods rather than hire people, iii) staying in your current direct work job rather than switching.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Many EA orgs say they place a lot of financial value on their previous hire. What does that mean, if anything? And why aren't they hiring faster? · 2018-10-12T21:20:10.720Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · EA · GW

Hey Peter - it's partly for you, but also many other people who have the same questions.

I can comment on the choice of question in the survey as I'm the one who wrote it.

The reason we went for an ex post assessment rather than an ex ante one was that we thought people would be able to more reliably assess how they feel about a previous hire today, than remember how they felt about a previous hire in the past.

Asking people to remember what they thought before runs the risk that they will substitute a hard question (what they thought months ago before they knew how someone would work out) for an easy question (what do they think given what they know now). Then we'd get a similar answer, but it would look ex ante when it actually isn't.

It also seemed quite difficult for organisations to forecast how much they’ll value a typical hire in the future because, among other reasons, it’s difficult to anticipate how successful future searches will be.

In retrospect I think the framing we chose was probably a mistake, because the two assessments are much more different than most readers understand them to be. I agree with your suggestions for improvements and, indeed, we concluded our blog post with our plans to ask new questions next year or else interview a smaller number of people in more depth.

Hopefully a different approach next year will help us avoid this confusion going forward.

As for the article being misleading, we've:

i) Commented that these roles are hard to fill at the point when these figures are first mentioned.

ii) Explained the ex post, ex ante distinction in the relevant section, and now added a link to this post.

iii) Noted we don't have much confidence in the answers to that question and would not recommend that people update very much based on it.

Comment by robert_wiblin on Survey of EA org leaders about what skills and experience they most need, their staff/donations trade-offs, problem prioritisation, and more. · 2018-10-10T20:32:10.172Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Tackling just one part of this:

"It may be worth having a separate survey trying to get opinions considering talent gaps in priority areas whether they are led by people involved in EA or not."

Ultimately our goal going forward is to make sure that we and our readers are highly informed about our priority paths (https://80000hours.org/articles/high-impact-careers/). About six out of ten of our current priority paths get direct coverage in this survey, while four do not.

I agree in future we should consider conducing different surveys of other groups - including people who don't identify as part of the EA community - about opportunities they're aware of in order to make sure we stay abreast of all the areas we recommend, rather than just those we are closest to.

Comment by robert_wiblin on EA Survey 2018 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics · 2018-09-22T00:24:35.958Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

"Most people selected the “Other (please specify)” option (14%)." --> "The single most common answer was “Other (please specify)” (14%)." :)

Comment by robert_wiblin on Giving What We Can is still growing at a surprisingly good pace · 2018-09-15T17:55:39.095Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

If you look at these graphs ending in January 2017 I think you'll agree that a polynomial of degree 3 (cubic) seems like the best fit: https://imgur.com/a/9SlFZd9 .

If that's right we would expect something like 5,000 members by now.

It occurs to me now that all of these trend-lines are a bit biased towards forecasting rapid growth, as they finish right at the end of the 2016 holiday campaign which absorbed substantial resources. This was the highest period of growth, and likely not sustainable. It might be more reasonable to put the end-date in ~April and then we can fit the trend-line to a less cyclical curve.

Comment by robert_wiblin on EA Funds - An update from CEA · 2018-08-08T21:29:35.147Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · EA · GW

The effort required to set up a non-profit trading account, go through KYC, make it secure, teach everyone in the org how it works, and do the necessary legal, budgetary and accounting compliance each year make this much more than a few minute job. Things that are easy for individuals are often less straightforward for organisations.

Comment by robert_wiblin on New research on effective climate charities · 2018-07-13T20:00:47.497Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I can second this. I prefer to download long pieces of text to my phone to read on Pocket/Instapaper. In addition, putting this report up as a web page will make it much more likely to be passed around on social media, Reddit, Hacker News, and so on.

Comment by robert_wiblin on How to have cost-effective fun · 2018-07-13T19:16:47.199Z · score: 11 (10 votes) · EA · GW

The unifying insight behind many of the examples is that what many people including me really enjoy is spending time with friends. A lot of expensive activities - like going out for drinks and food or weekends away - are 80% about getting to socialise, which can be done at much lower cost if you want.

Comment by robert_wiblin on How to have cost-effective fun · 2018-07-13T19:13:41.366Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Interestingly, the folks at Netflix and HBO don't seem to mind people sharing accounts:

""We love people sharing Netflix," CEO Reed Hastings said Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show here in Las Vegas. "That's a positive thing, not a negative thing.""

Presumably because i) it makes more people subscribe because they get more value for money by sharing, and ii) eventually people get their own accounts if they like it.

More comments on what the various services think about password sharing here: https://www.thesimpledollar.com/is-it-ok-to-share-your-netflix-account-the-lowdown-on-log-in-sharing-at-nine-popular-services/