RogerAckroyd's Shortform 2021-01-09T15:12:18.641Z


Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-05-29T09:36:51.538Z · EA · GW

Professor Abigail Marsh writes in NYT that individualism promotes altruism:

I have not made any attempt to vet the study, and for studies of this kind you don't expect one study to be more than a small piece of evidence but it is clearly an interesting research question. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-05-09T08:40:46.155Z · EA · GW

Thank you for those links. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-05-08T08:38:48.649Z · EA · GW

Sometimes when I see people writing about opposition to the death penalty I get the urge to mention Effective Altruism to them, and suggest it is borderline insane to think opposition to capital punishment in the US is where a humanitarian should focus their energies. (Other political causes don't cause me to react in the same way because people's desire to campaign for things like lower taxes, feminism or more school spending seems tied up with self-interest to a much larger degree, so the question if it is the most pressing issue seems irrelevant.) I always refrain from mentioning EA because I think it would do more harm then good, so I will just vent my irrational frustation here. 


Comment by RogerAckroyd on Ending The War on Drugs - A New Cause For Effective Altruists? · 2021-05-08T08:14:46.882Z · EA · GW

I would think associating the EA "brand" with drug legalisation would cause a negative reaction among at least as many people who would appreciate it because it shows concern for systemic change. I also don't see how it more of an example of systemic change than changing animal welfare laws to ban a lot of current practices, or regulating AI, to cite two political goals that some EA pursue. 

I also think the fact that it is non-neglected means that anyone who thinks this is the most good they can do could easily find a current organisation to join and campaign with. I think figuring out which campaigning methods are most effective is something where EA methodology does not have much advantage anyway, so little reason to think an EA-aligned organisation would be unusally effective. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Consciousness research as a cause? [asking for advice] · 2021-04-30T17:11:25.041Z · EA · GW

Research into the human brain and mind does not seem neglected. I am skeptical of our ability to make much progress into the question of consciousness and in particular I don't think we will ever be able to be confident which animals and AI are conscious. But to whatever extent we can make progress on these questions it seems it will come from research areas that are not neglected. Of course, if you are passionate about the area you might think that going into it and donating part of your salary is the best decision overall. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on How do you compare human and animal suffering? · 2021-04-30T14:45:06.414Z · EA · GW

We can't measure suffering of course across species. (Really, we can barely measure it among humans.) So we have to rely on extrapolation from our own experience, which in a way amounts to extrapolating from one datapoint. My intuition says that non-humans animals don't have a full consciousness by humans standards, and that their moral value is correspondingly less. I feel relatively confident in that judgement. But given scale of factory farming, how neglected the issue is among the general public, and that it intuitively it feels like at least chickens and mammals have some consciousness I still focus my support for EA causes on animal welfare ones. 

I think that if you simply make a point estimate of the scale of human and animal suffering you could end up with them being comparable, (see eg here but you could also easily end up with human suffering or animal suffering being much larger. One major reason the EA movement works on both causes is I think a form of risk-aversion, not because it is what an expected value calculation suggests. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on What are your questions for World Malaria Day with Rob Mather (AMF), Maddy Marasciulo (Malaria Consortium), and Alekos Simoni (Target Malaria)? · 2021-04-20T12:50:18.013Z · EA · GW

What are the chances of a vaccine against malaria? 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Ramiro's Shortform · 2021-04-17T13:05:32.963Z · EA · GW

Does your feeling that the default state is positive also apply to farm animals? Their reward system would be shaped by aritifical selection for the past few generations, but it is not immediately clear to me if you think that would make a difference. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-04-17T09:02:37.142Z · EA · GW

Sometimes the concern is raised that caring about wild animal welfare is seen as unituitive and will bring conflict with the environmental movement. I do not think large-scale efforts to help wild animals should be an EA cause at the moment, but in the long-term I don't think environmentalist concerns will be a limiting factor. Rather, I think environmentalist concerns are partially taken as seriously as they are because people see it as helping wild animals as well. (In some perhaps not fully thought out way.) I do not think it is a coindince that the extinction of animals gets more press than the extinction of plants. 

I also note that bird-feeding is common and attracts little criticism from environmental groups. Indeed, during a cold spell this winter I saw recommendations from environmental groups to do it. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior · 2021-04-17T08:27:19.410Z · EA · GW

Thank you for writing this, this is indeed concerning. I will acknowledge that I have a bias against the social justice movement, for many different reasons, but if I want to be altruistic I have to also see if it has good sides. 

I can certainly see a case that working with diversity and inclusion can have instrumental value for EA organisations, including animal advocacy ones. The idea that having representatives from diverse backgrounds can help to give a movement broad appeal seems very likely correct. The idea that this can also generate useful ideas internally is not so clear, but certainly possible. And coming out against diversity would generate bad PR.

But there are also numerous ways organisations could "over-optimize " for diversity. Efforts to make the working environment welcoming by policing micro-aggressions can certainly make people feel like they are living in fear of breaking arbitrary rules and impede normal human interaction. Efforts to increase diversity by affirmative action could impede hiring the best competence. And being too associated with one version of the American left, by adopting social justice jargon wholesale, is not very good PR either. Lots of people are skeptical of many parts of that movement, and that includes people it sees as marginalized. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Possible misconceptions about (strong) longtermism · 2021-03-10T09:24:17.373Z · EA · GW

It is not obvious that non-extinction is an attractor state. If there is some minimal background risk of extinction that we can not get below (whether due to asteroids, false vacuum decay, nuclear war,  everyone becoming a negative utilitarian and stops reproducing, whatever) then it is the nature of exponential discounting that the very long-term future can quickly become essentially unimportant. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Total Funding by Cause Area · 2021-03-08T09:00:04.503Z · EA · GW

Personally I give mostly to animal welfare, on the ground that it is comparitively neglected within the movement, and even more neglected in the larger philantropic world. Your data seems to confirm my intuition on that score.

 One could say thatlong-termism is also neglected, but I am not convinced of the effectiveness of long-termist charities. (I should say I have not looked deeply into it.) 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on What is the argument against a Thanos-ing all humanity to save the lives of other sentient beings? · 2021-03-07T18:19:54.595Z · EA · GW

You assume here that other wild animals have net-positive lives. It is also possible from a utilitarian viewpoint that their lives are net-negative, or that their lives are neutral since they lack conscioussness. I don't think there is any way, even in principle, of knowing which is true. I do feel comfortable saying however  that humans are both more intrinsically valuable than other animals, and have a higher potential to live a good life than other animals. 

It is definitely possible to reach the utilitarian conclusion that the extinction of humanity would be good because of our impact on other animals, but I don't think a utilitarian has to reach that conclusion. I think it is one of several issues where a utilitarian has to make some arbitrary choice of auxillary hypothesis if he wants to get clear utilitarian answer. 

Personally I am not a utilitarian. I value animals to some extent: I would love to see an end to factory farming, and in the future want us to spend som resources helping wild animals (in ways that seem unlikely to do harm whether you think their lives are net-positive or net-negative.) But I am not willing to value them above humanity.

Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-03-06T10:22:17.555Z · EA · GW

There is a well-known argument that rule utilatarianism actually collapses into act utilatarianism. I wonder if rule utilitarians are not getting at the notion of dynamic inconsistency. If might be better if utilitarians can pre-commit to following certain rules, because of the effect that has on society, even if after one has adopted the rules there are circumstances where a utilitarian would be tempted to make exceptions. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-02-14T12:37:44.510Z · EA · GW

I think there might be some interest among the EA community in recent social media discussions about Scott Alexander and SlateStarCodex. My impression is that among some committed leftists the movement will face suspiscion rooted in its support from rich people, its current demographic profile, because some leftists are suspiscious of rationality itself and because the movement might detract from the idea that the causes popular now among leftists are also objectively the most important issues facing the world. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Blameworthiness for Avoidable Psychological Harms · 2021-02-09T16:44:55.005Z · EA · GW

I agree that ignoring psychological harms completely is arbitrary. Many people would prefer moderate physical pain to public humiliation and this seems pretty hard-wired in our psychology.

 At the same time, in the current climate claims of psychological harm are clearly used strategically. People supposedly feel unsafe if a colleague has political views that they disagree with for example, which clearly is not some sort of universal fact of human psychology. Certain claims of emotional harm should be discounted not because they are necessarily false, but because indulging them leads to a bad equilibrium. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Killing the ants · 2021-02-08T15:23:09.418Z · EA · GW

The problems of feral cats seems to receive a fair amount attention among mainstream animal protection and animal rights groups. Eg there are campaigns to neuter them (humanely) to prevent over-population etc. Birds are fed by many humans but it is unclear to me whether that is net-positive in long run, much less an effective intervention. Rodents and bugs receive less attention, quite possibly rightly so. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Religious Texts and EA: What Can We Learn and What Can We Inform? · 2021-02-02T09:35:53.975Z · EA · GW

The religious texts I am familiar with contain calls for charity, but not much on making it effective. 

It is also worth considering that the relation between the contents of religious texts and their adherents actual actions is kind of complicated. Very often even devout followers do not follow the prescriptions of their religious texts, but the content of religious texts clearly have some influence. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on What I believe, part 1: Utilitarianism | Sunyshore · 2021-01-11T12:07:46.677Z · EA · GW

I am attracted to utilitarianism, but also find some of the possible implications off-putting. But there are also some objections I have from first principles. 

One objection is that any numbers we use in practice just have to be made up. (This objection might be especially serious if we take animals into account, which I think we should.) So maybe utalitarianism  is the "correct" theory but if I don't have access to the correct utilities it is not clear whether I should use some made up numbers to do the expected utility calculations. One might compare with theorems saying that individual rational choice is equivalent to maximizing a von Neumann-Morgenstern utility function. Yet very few people, even economists, try to do that in practice and it is not clear that people would be less irrational in practice if they tried to do calculations with their expected utility in various circumstances. 

A second theoretical objection I have is that if we suppose there is any chance that humanity, or sentient life, will survive forever, then the universe will contain infinite amounts of pain and pleasure, all calculations become divergent, and the theory gives no guide at all. You might object that this is impossible with current scientific theories, but the conclusion goes through no matter how small the probability is. Surely there is a 1/Ackerman(1000) chance that our current understanding of physics is wrong? 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on How much (physical) suffering is there? Part II: Animals · 2021-01-10T14:41:56.751Z · EA · GW

The fish numbers for suffering only include farm fish, not wild-caught fish if I understand correctly? Regarding the elephant example, it seems a lot of the elephant neurons are in the cerebellum, not the celebral cortex. Humans apparently have three times more neurons in the cortex than elephants, explaining our superior cognitive capacities, and possibly indicating we have more capacity for pain and pleasure. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on RogerAckroyd's Shortform · 2021-01-09T15:21:47.519Z · EA · GW

On 80000 hours webpage they have a profile on factory farming, where they say they estimate ending factory farming would increase the expected value of the future of humanity by between 0.01% and 0.1%. I realize one cannot hope for precision in these things but I am still curious if anyone knows anything more about the reasoning process that went into making that estimate.  

Comment by RogerAckroyd on jackmalde's Shortform · 2021-01-09T15:17:02.242Z · EA · GW

I think of welfare reforms as being excellent complements to work on cultured meat. By raising prices, and drawing attention to the issue of animal welfare, they may increase demand for cultured meat when it becomes available. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on The Conflicted Omnivore · 2020-12-31T10:23:40.831Z · EA · GW

Like the author of the OP I am excited about the possibility of cultured meat to reduce animal cruelty. If we want people to switch to vegetarian diet on a large scale it seems the most realistic way. Now, I am perhaps more optimistic than the author about the possibility of humane farms. The country where I live has stronger animal welfare laws than the US, and indeed than almost all of the world, and I do think that a non-trivial portion of the meat eaten in my country has been ethically produced. In longer-term, to avoid back-sliding of the standards, cultured meat seems like clearly the best solution anyway. 

(In making that judgement I of course am saying that I think raising and killing animals for meat is morally acceptable in principle. I have given the matter some thought, and while I am not 100% convinced that is the case I certainly lean towards that view.) 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA) · 2020-12-15T17:00:36.018Z · EA · GW

Thank you. That is rather different from my view of sentience in some ways, I appreciate the clarification. 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA) · 2020-12-14T10:42:52.886Z · EA · GW

Conditional on invertibrates being sentient, I would upgrade my probability of other things being sentient. So maybe bivales are sentient, some existing robots, maybe even plants. I would take the case for hidden qualia in humans seriously as well. Do you agree, and if so, would this have any impact on good policies to pursue? 

Comment by RogerAckroyd on Open and Welcome Thread: December 2020 · 2020-12-14T10:29:37.379Z · EA · GW

Hello everybody, I have been lurking on the forum for a while and thought I would introduce myself. I encountered EA earlier this year and while I am not as altruistic as many of you, I have become more altruistic than I was before. I have increased my donations, and reprioritized them to hopefully more effecient causes. I have also become almost vegetarian, a lifestyle change I never thought I would attempt. 

I have no overaching moral theory. I am attracted to utilitarianism, but I also think there are lots of practical and theoretical problems with it so I am not going to pretend I am committed to it.  

I have been very struck by the arguments for the importance of animal welfare. I have a lot of moral uncertainy on the topic, since any attempt to formulate ethical rules involving animals raises difficult questions in the philosophy of consciousness, utilitarianism versus other ethical theories, the inter-individual comparison of utilities and population ethics. Still, my intuition says that industrial scale animal cruelty is bad, and nothing in my attempts to philosophize makes me think that intution is wrong.