The Impact you can (and can't) Make in an Hour 2014-12-26T02:07:13.504Z · score: 9 (9 votes)


Comment by ruthie on Should I be vegan? · 2015-05-19T21:21:15.486Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

It changed for medical reasons, so unrelated to how I felt the policy was working for me in terms of balancing temptation with my reasons for doing it. I'd like to go back to it, or something like it, but I don't know how to do it without spending a lot more energy thinking about food than I want to right now.

Comment by ruthie on Should I be vegan? · 2015-05-17T14:20:46.756Z · score: 9 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I was 95% vegetarian for about 5 years and found it worked pretty well, even without specific rules.

In general, I ate meat at major family holiday gatherings, when I was traveling and there were no filling vegetarian options, occasionally when there was particularly ethical meat available, and when the meat in question was clearly headed to the trash can if I didn't eat it. I think overall I ate meat about once a month, but I didn't keep close track, and the times I ate meat were pretty clustered, so it's hard to estimate. I certainly felt that I was achieving my goals in being vegetarian.

One thing that helped me not decide that every friend's birthday was a special occasion was that I just told everyone around me that I was vegetarian. Since upsetting people's expectations makes me uncomfortable, I would only very rarely eat meat in social settings.

Comment by ruthie on Tech job Q&A · 2015-03-20T05:04:21.995Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I don't know what the bare minimum to get hired anywhere is, but I know that most medium-sized and up places that you might want to work will hire an entry level employee who looks smart but has a very small amount of actual experience.

A good applicant can write a simple program on a white board and has a project on github, or a past internship, or a dynamic website that they run, to point at. If you think you're on the edge now, these accomplishments shouldn't be too far away.

Comment by ruthie on EA Diversity: Unpacking Pandora's Box · 2015-02-01T02:26:23.891Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I really like the suggestion of encouraging people from minority groups to host events and do outreach. In general, making these people more visible might help combat the perception that they are absent from EA, so it might make sense to encourage them to, for instance, blog, post on the forum, or speak at EA events they aren't hosting.

Comment by ruthie on Many winding roads: an EA origin story · 2015-01-29T19:13:27.584Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! Your journey seems unusual and interesting in comparison to other narratives I've heard.

I'm especially interested in your experience with volunteering and activism. I read a lot on this forum about giving money to other organizations which help and not very much about how we can help people directly. I'd love to hear more about what you think the impact of your volunteer activities and professional work are and where you think good ones are available to others.

Comment by ruthie on January Open Thread · 2015-01-22T01:07:00.070Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I can totally sympathize. Job seeking sucks, especially if you're not feeling like an awesome person who everyone would obviously want to employ. I also know from experience that telling you you're awesome (I don't know you, but you're probably awesome) doesn't necessarily make you feel that way.

I am not a career counselor, but this is the advice I would give you:

  • Don't go to grad school unless you're really sure you want to. Grad school is a really crummy job, and the payoff in terms of career capital is dubious. Most other jobs you can get are better than grad school, even if they're not in your field.

  • It's not too late for a career change. You sound not excited to enter CS, but if you decided that was your best option, coding bootcamps are a thing, and they seem pretty good at turning STEM oriented people into employable coders. There are a lot of other places you could go, and a lot of jobs that don't have much more qualification than some college degree.

  • Earning to give is not the only EA career option. If it won't make you happy, you'll probably just get burnt out on it and maybe resent EA for making you feel like you had to do that. has a list of career ideas that aren't earning to give, and it's extremely incomplete.

  • Also don't feel like you have to be passionate about the first job you take (or the second or the third). If you don't know what you want to do, you try things until something works. I also think that a lot of people start jobs that they don't feel passionate about, and then grow passionate about them over time, so not feeling like there's anything exciting for you right now doesn't mean that you'll never have a job you're excited about.

  • Lots of people graduate without a job or a plan. As long as you have some savings or someone you can stay with for a while, waiting until you're out of school and have time and space to think about your life is a totally reasonable plan.

I'm happy to talk more or help you brainstorm ideas besides grad school or industry in something your not excited over PM if you think that will help.

hugs and good luck!

Comment by ruthie on The perspectives on effective altruism we don't hear · 2014-12-31T19:43:08.993Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

There are also intelligent, thoughtful people outside of LW.

Also, while I agree that keeping the tone among EAs thoughtful, I would be extremely sad if we didn't encourage particular people or groups from being interested in EA because they aren't "intelligent enough."

Comment by ruthie on The perspectives on effective altruism we don't hear · 2014-12-31T03:48:37.008Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Do you remember any of the questions/reactions you got from the non-EA students at those dinners?

Comment by ruthie on The Impact you can (and can't) Make in an Hour · 2014-12-28T19:32:45.825Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Ryan!

My estimate of the value of a marginal hour in tech was based on my experience and pretty general reasoning, and I have pretty low confidence in it, so I think there's plenty of room for disagreement. However, it's still my best guess, and I have considerable certainty that a marginal hour in tech is worth less than an average hour. One place my intuition comes from is this: if I work 80 hours a week instead of 40 (or invest in career capital for that long), do I expect my lifetime expected earnings to double? This seems pretty unlikely to me. A typical senior software engineer salary is around $150K, so if I can get there working 40 hours a week, I would need to be earning at least $300K at the end of my 80 hours a week career (and probably more to make up for not immediately earning twice a typical junior salary now). Very few tech workers (or people who started their careers as tech workers) earn that much, and although working 80 hours a week may increase your probability of getting there, it certainly doesn't increase that probability all the way to 1. That doesn't prove that your 41st hour isn't worth more than your 40th, but you have to hit diminishing returns at some point.

In general though, my main point is that marginal pay works differently from average pay, so you need to actually evaluate what you think a marginal hour of work is worth. Your right that for some people a marginal hour is worth more than the average hour, and for some people it happens to be basically the same, but that's not true for most people. If you think that your marginal hour is worth the same as your average hour, you should by all means use that number when deciding how to use your time.

Comment by ruthie on The Impact you can (and can't) Make in an Hour · 2014-12-28T04:36:55.624Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for pointing out the broken links! They should be fixed now.

The relevant sentence from the first example:

There is this very, very old puzzle/observation in economics about the lawyer who spends an hour volunteering at the soup kitchen, instead of working an extra hour and donating the money to hire someone to work for five hours at the soup kitchen.

There's some discussion between me and some others on the kidney donation post that I think is also pretty clear.

I read both of these as discussing average salaries, although you're right no one says so explicitly. If everyone is already thinking on the margin and occasionally writing in unclear ways, then great.

Comment by ruthie on The Impact you can (and can't) Make in an Hour · 2014-12-28T04:17:39.998Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

That's reasonable-- I think some teachers probably can do this as a part-time thing on top of teaching. Keep in mind though, that tutoring work is highly variable by time of year, not very available in some places (I knew zero students with private tutors of any kind in my hometown in Kansas), and can have high transportation overheads. Another way to look at is that if an option that good were available to all teachers, you'd never see teachers getting food service jobs.

In either case, my main point is that the way someone earns marginal income can be completely different than the way they earn their average dollar.

Comment by ruthie on Figuring Good Out - Launch Thread · 2014-12-24T23:32:03.250Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

My contribution is here:

Comment by ruthie on What should an effective altruist be committed to? · 2014-12-20T18:50:41.982Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

For better or for worse, I think it may be difficult to "police the door" on who should and shouldn't call themselves an effective altruist. For example, a whole lot of people call themselves environmentalists, even if they're doing little or nothing for the environment besides holding opinions positive to environmentalism. On the flip side, there are people doing more for the environment than the typical environmentalist.

In practice, I think that what words people use to describe themselves has more to do with what words their friends use to describe themselves. This applies to me too-- like Peter, I'm a GWWC member, but I don't self-identify as effective altruist, and I think this is because I don't feel very connected to the community.

I think this works in reverse too. "Queer" is a word that naively seems well defined to exclude some people, but I know people who self-identify as queer even though they are both straight and cisgender. I'm not criticizing--these people are also usually careful to communicate clearly about what this means. I say this to point out how difficult it can be to clearly define group membership.

GWWC has a well defined criterion for membership, and there could be other similar organizations with well defined criteria, but I'm not sure that we could give the movement itself a well defined criterion even if we wanted to.

Comment by ruthie on What should an effective altruist be committed to? · 2014-12-20T18:26:42.682Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I have a different reason for thinking this is true, which involves fewer numbers and more personal experience and intuition.

Having a high standard--either you make major changes in your life or your not an effective altruist--will probably fail because people aren't used to or willing to make big, sudden changes in their lives. It's hard to imagine donating half your income from the point of view of someone currently donating nothing; it's much easier to imagine doing that if you're already donating 20% or 30%. When I was first exposed to EA, I found it very weird and vaguely threatening, and I could definitely not have jumped from that state to earning to give. Not that I have since gone that far, but I do donate 10% and the idea of donating more is at least contemplatable. Even if you mostly care about the number of people who end up very highly committed, having low or medium standards gives people plausible first steps on a ladder towards that state.

As an analogy, take Catholics and nuns. There are many Catholics and very few nuns, and even fewer of those nuns were people who converted to Catholicism and then immediately became nuns. If there was no way to be Catholic except being a nun, the only people who could possibly be nuns would be the people who converted and then immediately became nuns.

Comment by ruthie on Open thread 5 · 2014-11-18T19:50:14.328Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

There are more things to add to the benefits list:

  • When I talk to friends about how to vote I get to exhibit some of the ways I think about policy which may influence their thinking in the future
  • Becoming educated about local political issues helps you look educated and gain respect among other local people
  • Learning about public policy might be enjoyable

Overall, though, none of this seems to justify either not voting if you want to vote, or voting if you don't want to vote.

Comment by ruthie on Kidney donation is a reasonable choice for effective altruists and more should consider it · 2014-11-17T19:46:07.027Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I think Ben's criticism is fair, in that a perfectly rational altruist wouldn't make it. That is, if you are willing to give up three weeks of income to donate a kidney, you should be willing to work for three weeks and donate all of your income, not just whatever percentage you donate normally. This is not to say that it's an unreasonable decision in all cases-- taking three weeks off of work to donate a kidney has all sorts of other consequences (you probably get to do a lot of reading while you're stuck in bed), but from a first order altruistic standpoint, at the income level I mentioned it still wouldn't make sense.

Comment by ruthie on Kidney donation is a reasonable choice for effective altruists and more should consider it · 2014-11-17T03:41:55.690Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

$2K in a couple of weeks is only the case for very high-earning people. With a more typical income, donating a kidney is probably worth the lost income.

It seems like by donating, you expect to lose a few weeks of life and a few weeks of work (which may or may not be paid, depending on your situation). I'm not sure I correctly remember the QALY/"life saved" ratio, but what I remember is 35 QALYs/saved life, which seems reasonable. If you're making $55,000 and donating 10% of your income, it would take a little less than two months of lost income to make that much. It seems like you're still ahead with the kidney donation at that rate.

Comment by ruthie on Kidney donation is a reasonable choice for effective altruists and more should consider it · 2014-11-15T19:09:59.669Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that diversification would be good for the movement, and I'm excited to see a compelling suggestion of something EAs can do besides donate money. Thanks!

I think that there are potential EAs out there for whom the earning to give model is very costly or unrealistic (people who would have to develop unrelated new skillsets and/or move to new cities). For example, a schoolteacher is probably in a poor position to earn to give (although they can certainly donate money), but they could donate a kidney over their long summer break with no lost earnings.

Comment by ruthie on How can people be persuaded to give more (and more effectively)? · 2014-10-14T19:54:04.255Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! I think we could use a lot more discussion of how to turn people who aren't EAs or regular donors into EAs or regular donors. I especially like your point about letting people take their time changing their minds. I find a lot of my excuses for myself wear down over time, so I'm more likely to decide to donate more a month or two after someone tries to convince me than during the conversation.

I have one addition and one caution.

My addition is that one of the best techniques of persuasion I know is to present your own excitement about what you're doing. A dry conversation or talk about moral obligations with numbers of lives saved is a lot less likely to cause people to change than one where you talk about how happy you are to be doing what you're doing. This post ( does a good job of this, and I love this letter ( and honestly particularly the title that Ben Kuhn wrote in the Harvard Crimson.

You suggested starting a talk without telling your audience what your conclusion is. There's a tactic that fits this description, that I don't think is what you're describing, but that I think bothers a lot of people. Sometimes presenters will start a talk by presenting non-controversial premises, and then make an argument that these premises imply a controversial conclusion, insisting that since the audience accepted the premises, they have to accept the conclusion. This tends to annoy me more than it convinces me, and although I think some (extremely virtuous) people may not have this experience, I suspect that they're in the minority. If you're going to give a talk (or have a conversation) where the main point is to try to convince people to donate more to charity, you should make that clear from the start, even if the first few things you talk about aren't focused on your end goal.

Comment by ruthie on One month in - it's time for more introductions · 2014-10-14T15:03:51.448Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I'm Ruthie. I'm a software engineer. I'm a GWWC member, most interested in global poverty alleviation. I keep a blog, mostly not related to EA at I also do a lot of social dancing and I play fiddle.

Comment by ruthie on Open Thread 2 · 2014-10-07T20:14:26.724Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

That's a really good question, and as another 20-something in tech, I also definitely don't have all the answers. I have an in-progress draft of a post more generally on outreach, to be posted somewhere (not sure where), but I'll briefly list some of my thoughts directly related to making a wider variety of people feel welcome.

  • Expand our models of EA dedication beyond earning to give. This model doesn't fit most people well, but it's by far the most prominent idea of what living an EA life looks like.

  • People want to see people like them in communities they're part of (I don't endorse this state of affairs, but I think it's often true). This may seem discouraging, because it most obviously says "to get more of x type of people, you need to already have x type of people." I think it's not totally unactionable though-- if cultural minorities make themselves more visible by posting an commenting on the forum, coming to meetups, etc., new people in the same cultural minorities will see them and know they are welcome.

  • Do your best not to assume that people are in your cluster. The career advice example is good. Another example is to explain math or econ jargon when you use them in a post. I think this has an outsize effect. The experience of being in a community but having the content aimed at different sorts of people is a little like going to a social dance and having no one ask you to be their partner-- it's hard to believe that you're wanted, even when people keep telling you so. And it feels really crummy.

Note that I don't know anyone who has said that they were interested in EA but felt unwelcome there. I think at least part of it is that EA is something that very few people outside of this cluster have even heard of, much less have taken steps towards getting involved in.

Comment by ruthie on Open Thread 2 · 2014-10-07T02:44:45.484Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · EA · GW

I think this is what Ryan is saying, but I want to say it again and say more, because I feel strongly and because Ryan left a lot of inferential distance in his post.

I dislike the idea that EA is mostly attractive or mostly applicable to it's current dominant demographic of math/econ/tech interested people in their 20s. I think the core ideas of EA are compelling to a wide variety of people, and that EA can benefit from skills outside of it's current mainstream. It seems likely to me that the current situation is more the result of network effects than that EA is not interesting to people outside of this cluster.

Catering our "general" advice to only one sort of person makes it more likely that other types of people will feel lost or unwelcome and not pursue their interest in EA; I take it Erica has felt this way. While the statement Alex made in his last paragraph is reasonable as stated, we are not in the position of only being able to give one piece of advice.

Comment by ruthie on Brainstorming thread: ideas for large EA funders · 2014-09-28T22:45:25.052Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

To expand on that a little, the EA summit was expensive enough that I expect the price to turn away most people not already fairly involved in the movement, and that seems like a lost opportunity.

On the other hand, you can start to do this with an order of magnitude less money.

Comment by ruthie on Supportive Scepticism · 2014-09-21T21:33:06.644Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I personally spend a lot of time thinking about whether what I’m doing right now really is the best thing, or whether I could be doing something better.

I think there's an inherent problem that if you want to do the best possible thing, you'll never know that you've succeeded (you'll often no that you didn't), and therefore never get that satisfaction.

People earning to give seem to deal with this by setting goal amounts or income percentages. If they reach or exceed their goal, they've succeeded, even if they had some dollars that they could have donated but didn't.

This kind of trick is harder to use for something like choosing a thesis topic, but you could try something like it. You could have a goal that your thesis should "substantially further the goals of effective altruism" or maybe more usefully that it should relate to some aspect of EA like "international development" or "human truthseeking" that seems useful to investigate further. You can consider candidate topics that fit your goal and choose freely using any criteria you want, whether they include "looks higher value" or "looks like more fun," and as long as your topic meets your original goal you can count yourself as having succeeded.

But yeah, a supportive community also seems really important (-: