Posts

Update on the 0.7% (£4bn for the poor) 2020-12-19T01:39:14.186Z
£4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% 2020-11-30T15:50:01.883Z
When setting up a charity, should you employ a lawyer? 2020-10-19T18:04:01.943Z
TIO: A mental health chatbot 2020-10-12T20:52:28.105Z
No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? 2020-10-02T20:40:37.731Z
We're (surprisingly) more positive about tackling bio risks: outcomes of a survey 2020-08-25T09:14:22.924Z
Climate change donation recommendations 2020-07-16T21:17:57.720Z
The Nuclear Threat Initiative is not only nuclear -- notes from a call with NTI 2020-06-26T17:29:48.736Z
EA and tackling racism 2020-06-09T22:56:44.217Z
Projects tackling nuclear risk? 2020-05-29T22:41:10.331Z
Call notes with Johns Hopkins CHS 2020-05-20T22:25:13.049Z
The best places to donate for COVID-19 2020-03-20T10:47:26.308Z
Conflict and poverty (or should we tackle poverty in nuclear contexts more?) 2020-03-06T21:59:40.219Z
Microcredit may sometimes be effective, but perhaps shouldn’t be funded by donations 2020-02-19T15:30:25.623Z
Climate discounting: How do you value one tonne of CO2eq averted today versus (say) 30 years from now? 2020-02-12T16:41:21.092Z
Clean cookstoves may be competitive with GiveWell-recommended charities 2020-02-10T18:00:57.512Z
Update on CATF's plans for 2020 2019-12-24T09:21:45.875Z
Why we think the Founders Pledge report overrates CfRN 2019-11-04T17:54:13.171Z
Older people may place less moral value on the far future 2019-10-22T14:47:39.330Z
Could the crowdfunder to prosecute Boris Johnson be a high impact donation opportunity? 2019-06-05T23:43:10.114Z
Please use art to convey EA! 2019-05-25T10:46:08.885Z
Why you should NOT support Aubrey de Grey's work on ageing. (maybe) 2019-02-24T23:43:29.690Z
Why we have over-rated Cool Earth 2018-11-26T02:29:41.731Z
Nudging donors towards high-impact charities (a request for funding for SoGive) 2018-01-13T10:06:16.605Z
Medical research: cancer is hugely overfunded; here's what to choose instead 2017-08-05T15:41:06.692Z

Comments

Comment by sanjay on £4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% · 2020-12-21T22:37:26.493Z · EA · GW

There is a low cost to signing the petition, so no harm in doing so.

However a petition will have minimal upside too.

No MP will be surprised to know that some people are in favour of maintaining the 0.7%, but they will largely imagine those people to lefties who would never vote for a Conservative MP anyway.

Emails to your MP are more valuable because they help to bring you, an aid supporter, to life.

Comment by sanjay on £4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% · 2020-12-21T22:00:25.526Z · EA · GW

Thanks Matt. One of our team is in close contact with Oxfam. Thank you.

Comment by sanjay on Update on the 0.7% (£4bn for the poor) · 2020-12-20T15:06:41.571Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your message sindirella.

Our approach came about as a result of conversations with people who know generally what works best in influencing lawmakers/lobbying, and specifically in the UK.

Agreed with alexrjl re opinion polls. Implementing a poll/survey is straightforward for us (I used to run a research team when I was a strategy consultant). The reason we're not doing it is that our discussions with experts suggest that there is not much value in doing this.

Comment by sanjay on Update on the 0.7% (£4bn for the poor) · 2020-12-19T10:46:56.889Z · EA · GW

Great question! We want to do this, but there are a few practicalities we are working through. Also I think your experience would be really valuable for us -- I'll ping you a message.

Comment by sanjay on £4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% · 2020-12-05T12:49:33.962Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the suggestion. 

We reached out to that MP and several other MPs and parliamentarians in the days immediately after the announcement, and are also in conversation with several NGOs active in this space, and other groups.

Comment by sanjay on £4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% · 2020-12-05T12:34:18.722Z · EA · GW

Thanks for asking OHR. One idea is set out in the comment which starts "Thank you very much Will K and Id25 for asking how you can help."

However a group of us have had our first meeting and in practice we have all been thinking through the connections and communities we belong to and working out ways to activate and work with them.

If anyone has the capacity to help, it would be great to have you involved. Ping me an email on sanjay_joshi { a t } hotmail.co.uk. 

Comment by sanjay on £4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% · 2020-12-01T14:12:27.139Z · EA · GW

Thank you very much Will K and Id25 for asking how you can help.

Based on the conversations I've had with people thus far, I think the gap is for organisers/liaisers. I.e.

  • we will run some social media ads
  • most ads viewers will do nothing, some of the ad viewers will send an email to their MP (as requested), some will want to engage more
  • For those who want to engage more, we'll need people to talk with them -- these are the organisers/liaisers. We don't know yet how many of these people will be needed.

At the time I wrote this post, I thought there might be a gap for analysis, but I suspect that gap might not exist after all.

If you are interested in helping out, please send me a message via the EA Forum or directly to sanjay_joshi { a t } hotmail.co.uk

Comment by sanjay on £4bn for the global poor: the UK's 0.7% · 2020-12-01T14:06:36.985Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much!

  • Timeline -- fairly urgent. There will be a bill going to parliament to change the law, and I don't think anyone knows exactly when that will be, but it can't be this side of Christmas (nothing works that quickly) and it will probably be before April (which is when the financial year starts). Given that they want it to go through and may anticipate opposition, I would guess late January.
  • Plan: which Tory MPs are relevant: for those which are bound to follow the whip (either because they always follow the whip, or because they are dead against international development) we don't touch them -- there's no point. For those who are more on the fence, probably still little value, as the whip is probably fairly strong (I haven't investigated that last claim very closely, so if anyone has opposing opinions I would be interested to hear them). For those who are against, but who might only abstain rather than rebel (which is what mostly happened when the Conservative party wanted the right to break international law), influencing them to rebel instead of abstain will help. The ask: I think we have two asks: (1) vote against reducing the 0.7% (2) An amendment to the bill so that if it does go ahead, it is written into the Bill that it should be temperary (which is what Rishi said anyway).  Budget: as we're using google/facebook ads (and not hiring people) there aren't any "chunked-up" elements of spend -- it's all smoothly spendable. In other words, the more the merrier. If we have only a few thousand, we can use it. If we have a bit more or a lot more, we can use it.
  • Will the government win: I have discussed this with a few people and heard differing opinions. I don't have a strong opinion on how likely this is.
  • Lessons from previous campaigns: I haven't studied previous campaigns, but I've spoken to some NGOs working in this space and the thinking that they have outlined is pretty similar to the plan I set out above. So their implicit learning from previous campaigns is supportive
Comment by sanjay on Net value of saving a child's life from a negative utilitarian perspective? · 2020-10-31T10:22:18.371Z · EA · GW

I don't think they do. I seem to remember that this topic was debated some time back and GiveWell clarified their view that they don't see it this way, but rather they just consider the immediate impact of saving a life as an intrinsic good. (although I would be more confident claiming that this is a fair representation of GiveWell's views if I could find the place where they said this, and I can't remember where it is, so apologies if I'm misremembering)

Comment by sanjay on Net value of saving a child's life from a negative utilitarian perspective? · 2020-10-29T13:55:58.549Z · EA · GW

How I think of the impact of saving a life (by donating to the likes of AMF):

  • a life is saved, and the grief caused by that death is averted
  • the person whose life is saved lives the rest of their life
  • Total fertility rates reduce because of lower child mortality
  • In terms of total number of lives lived, the saving-lives effect and the reducing-fertility rates effect probably roughly cancel each other out in places were the current fertility is high (source: David Roodman on GiveWell blog)

So saving the life helps us, one life at a time, to transition to a world where people have fewer children and are able to invest more in each of them (and averts plenty of bereavement grief along the way)

I am glad you are seriously considering the implications of your philosophical beliefs -- this is laudable. I very much hope you don't conclude it's bad to save children's lives.

Comment by sanjay on The Vegan Value Asymmetry and its Consequences · 2020-10-25T14:49:11.314Z · EA · GW

Sorry if I misunderstood, but does this rest on the assumption that farmed animal welfare is net negative? More on this here: http://interestingthingsiveread.blogspot.com/2018/12/veganism-may-be-net-negative-but-we.html

Comment by sanjay on How can we improve online EA social events? · 2020-10-21T21:08:16.037Z · EA · GW

I've tried using gather town, and it's fine except for the minor detail that the tech often fails! Another platform called mingle space seems to have enough of the same good features, and seems to work more robustly.

Comment by sanjay on Technology Non-Profits I could volunteer for? · 2020-10-21T21:05:40.298Z · EA · GW

If it's not too self-serving for me to mention this, the mental health chatbot that I run is in need of volunteers: more info here https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/yWGaezWTuPY6LcJ4f/tio-a-mental-health-chatbot

I also run SoGive, an organisation with an exciting mission to expand our analysis to a broad range of charities. We need help with updating our website, so coders, especially those with frontend experience, would be great!

Comment by sanjay on TIO: A mental health chatbot · 2020-10-17T16:33:00.634Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much Kris, I'm very pleased that you're interested in this enough to write these comments.

And as you're pointing out, I didn't respond to your earlier point about talking about the evidence base for an entire approach, as opposed to (e.g.) an approach applied to a specific diagnosis.

The claim that the "evidence base for CBT" is stronger than the "evidence base for Rogerian therapy" came from psychologists/psychiatrists who were using a bit of a shorthand -- i.e. I think they really mean something like "if we look at the evidence base for CBT as applied to X for lots of values of X, compared to the evidence base for Rogerian therapy as applied to X for lots of values of X, the evidence base for the latter is more likely to have gaps for lots of values of X, and more likely to have poorer quality evidence if it's not totally missing".

It's worth noting that while the current assessment mechanism is the question described in Appendix 1f, this is, as alluded to, not the only question that could be asked, and it's also possible for the bot to incorporate other standard assessment approaches (PHQ9, GAD7, or whatever) and adapt accordingly.

Having said that, I'd say that this on its own doesn't feel revolutionary to me. What really does seem revolutionary is that, with the right scale, I might be able to say: This client said XYZ to me, if I had responded with ABC or DEF, which of those would have given me a better response, and be able to test something as granular as that and get a non-tiny sample size.

Comment by sanjay on TIO: A mental health chatbot · 2020-10-15T21:33:01.597Z · EA · GW

Thank you for your comment Kris.

I'm unclear why you are hesitant about the claim of the potential to revolutionise the psychology evidence base. I wonder if you perhaps inadvertently used a strawman of my argument by only reading the section which you quoted? This was not intended to support the claim about the bot's potential to revolutionise the psychology evidence base.

Instead, it might be more helpful to refer to Appendix 2; I include a heavily abbreviated version here:

The source for much of this section is conversations with existing professional psychiatrists/psychologists.
Currently some psychological interventions are substantially better evidenced than others.
<SNIP>
Part of the aim of this project is to address this in two ways:
(1) Providing a uniform intervention that can be assessed at scale
<SNIP>
(2) Allowing an experimental/scientific approach which could provide an evidence base for therapists
<SNIP>
Crucially, TIO is fundamentally different from other mental health apps -- it has a free-form conversational interface, similar to an actual conversation (unlike other apps which either don’t have any conversational interface at all, or have a fairly restricted/”guided” conversational capability). This means that TIO is uniquely well-positioned to achieve this goal.

To expand on item (2), the idea is that when I, as someone who speaks to people in a therapeutic capacity, choose to say one thing (as opposed to another thing) there is no granular evidence about that specific thing I said. This feels all the more salient when being trained or training others, and dissecting the specific things said in a training role play. These discussions largely operate in an evidence vacuum.

The professionals that I've spoken to thus far have not yet been able to point me to evidence as granular as this.

If you know of any such evidence, please do let me know -- it might help me to spend less time on this project, and I would also find that evidence very useful.

Comment by sanjay on TIO: A mental health chatbot · 2020-10-14T20:32:20.761Z · EA · GW

Thank you very much for taking the time to have a look at this.

(1) For links to the bot, I recommend having a look at the end of Appendix 1a, where I provide links to the bot, but also explain that people who aren't feeling low tend not to behave like real users, so it might be easier to look at one of the videos/recordings that we've made, which show some fictional conversations which are more realistic.

(2) Re retention, we have deliberately avoided measuring this, because we haven't thought through whether that would count as being creepy with users' data. We've also inherited some caution from my Samaritans experience, where we worry about "dependency" (i.e. people reusing the service so often that it almost becomes an addiction). So we have deliberately not tried to encourage reuse, nor measured how often it happens. We do however know that at least some users mention that they will bookmark the site and come back and reuse it. Given the lack of data, the model is pretty cautious in its assumptions -- only 1.5% of users are assumed to reuse the site; everyone else is assumed to use it only once. Also, those users are not assumed to have a better experience, which is also conservative.

I believe your comments about hypotheticals and "this will be the next facebook" are based on a misunderstanding. This model is not based on the "hypothetical" scenario of people using the bot, it's based on the scenario of people using the bot *in the same way the previous 10,000+ users have used the bot*. Thus far we have sourced users through a combination of free and paid-for Google ads, and, as described in Appendix 4a, the assumptions in the model are based on this past experience, adjusted for our expectations of how this will change in the future. The model gives no credit to the other ways that we might source users in the future (e.g. maybe we will aim for better retention, maybe we will source users from other referrals) -- those would be hypothetical scenarios, and since I had no data to base those off, I didn't model them.

(3) I see that there is some confusion about the model, so I've added some links in the model to appendix 4a, so that it's easier for people viewing the model to know where to look to find the explanations.

To respond to the specific points, the worst case scenario does *not* assume that the effect lasts 0.5 years. The worst case scenario assumes that the effect lasts a fraction of day (i.e. a matter of hours) for exactly 99.9% of users. For the remaining 0.1% of users, they are assumed to like it enough to reuse it for about a couple of weeks and then lose interest.

I very much appreciate you taking the time to have a look and provide comments. So sorry for the misunderstandings, let's hope I've now made the model clear enough that future readers are able to follow it better.

Comment by sanjay on Crowdfunding platform tips? · 2020-10-13T08:38:32.445Z · EA · GW

We used kickstarter when we did one. I think we were swayed by the possibility that Kickstarter might recognise how wonderful our project was and we might be selected as one of the projects that people see when they arrive on the main page. If you get this, it's essentially hugely valuable free publicity.

In retrospect, I think this was naive, and probably a mistake. Kickstarter takes (if I remember correctly) 5% of the funds, which is quite a bit.

Comment by sanjay on What types of charity will be the most effective for creating a more equal society? · 2020-10-12T22:42:31.656Z · EA · GW

This question appears to be unpopular -- at time of writing it has a karma of -6.

However I'd like to defend/steelman this question.

First, let's try to understand those who appear not to like this post.

The post makes the claim that inequality is the "the root cause of most of society's ills", however it does not provide evidence for this claim.

I'm not going to try to defend this claim.

What I will say is that whether or not the claim is correct, I would like the Effective Altruism community to be able to help with the question raised by the original poster:

What types of charity will be the most effective for creating a more equal society?

EA ways of thinking *should* be a tool to enable people to answer practical ethical questions such as this, even if the link between a more equal society and all of society's ills is not clear.

For example, some may believe that equality is an intrinsic good.

So, having made the case that this community should be more supportive of this question, here are some brief thoughts.

Society can be made more equal by

(a) raising the wealth/standards for those on the bottom rung

(b) redistributing from the richest to the poorest

Also, most EA thinking tends to either focus on direct impacts work, which is typically required to have good cost-effectiveness, or hits-based work, which is required to have a potentially huge impact.

  • When helping the poor, the EA community tends to take a global perspective, because people in the developing world are typically much poorer and easier to help than those in the developed world.
  • A good choice of charity for a redistribution charity with a direct impact is GiveDirectly, which is recommended by GiveWell
  • For a more hits based approach, some have given consideration to Tax. I have seen a write-up on the EA Forum about this, however I have not reviewed it, and I neither endorse nor disavow it.

As for raising the wealth of the poorest people without simply giving people money, this has turned out to be surprisingly difficult. For example, microcredit does not appear to be particularly effective at this.

Apologies that this response is too brief to do justice to this complex question.

Thank you to Maksim for engaging with the EA community, and I hope you find the responses to your question useful.

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-12T20:51:42.838Z · EA · GW

Cool, I'd never heard of him, thanks!

Comment by sanjay on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-10-10T22:54:28.748Z · EA · GW

I would find it extremely surprising if compromising on charity choice led to you getting 10x more donations. Based on past experience, I'd surprised if it got you 10% more donations.

Many people would express preferences about where to donate if asked if they have preferences. However if they are going through a donation UX, every time they have one fewer click it's a win for them, and very few donors have preferences strong enough to overcome their desire for a clean UX. (I think this is intuitive for many non-EA people).

Hence my recommendation to focus on just one charity (or basket of high impact charities), but allow users the option to donate to anything if they don't like the default choice.

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-09T08:04:18.408Z · EA · GW

Allfed's work is very exciting, and I hope you all do great things and ensure we are all kept safe.

My intuition says that the No More Pandemics concept would resonate more with the voting population (and, perhaps as important, would seem to the typical political representative to resonate more with the voting population) than a backup plan concept. But I could be persuaded otherwise.

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-09T07:58:59.748Z · EA · GW

As far as I'm aware (and it might be worth finding/doing some research to verify this?)

  • The *response* to the pandemic is politicised, and more so in the US than elsewhere (or at least more so than the UK, and probably elsewhere too)
  • The view that pandemics are bad and we should prevent them if we can has bilateral support
  • Hence I think it's probably more straightforward for this group to be on the side of defeating pandemics, and not take sides politically

However that's lots that I don't know about politics, esp in the US, so if someone knows more than me about this I'm happy to hear alternative views.

Comment by sanjay on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-10-09T07:48:09.004Z · EA · GW

Re veterans' charities:

I don't have a strong opinion on this, because my experiences are more based on the UK than the US, which may be different.

However if your intuition said that veterans charities are more likely to appeal to Republicans than Democrats, Democrats might have the same intuition

What I can say is that veterans' charities (certainly in the UK, and probably in the US too) are rich with organisations whose impact enormously underperforms AMF. By several orders of magnitude. So if you did decide to include a veterans' charity, you would need a really good reason.

And if you need someone to assess the charities you're considering, let me know -- I can get someone from the SoGive analysis team to take a look.

Comment by sanjay on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-07T11:32:18.316Z · EA · GW

I am supportive of this. May I also suggest that there's more than one way to tell the author?

  • I have occasionally received a comment at the bottom of the post, saying something like "I liked this post", or "this was really interesting, thank you!". I have liked these comments.
  • Occasionally, people have taken the effort send a message via the EA Forum's messaging mechanism to tell me how much they like a post. This has been really lovely.
Comment by sanjay on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-10-06T11:16:16.610Z · EA · GW

What a beautiful idea! De-escalating the political campaigning spend arms race and redirecting the money to high-impact charity sounds lovely! I have some thoughts, not all encouraging.

(1) I suspect your platform might not actually generate much donations

Getting donors to actually navigate to a donation platform is notoriously hard.

My intuition says that the idea is cute enough that it will get some attention (including, perhaps, from the press) but not enough to move lots of money.

However that's just my intuition. Don't trust it. A better guide than my intuition is if you can find a constituency who is willing to promote your concept, and who has influence over political funders. Alternatively, if you have evidence (perhaps conduct some primary research, if necessary?) that people with opposing political views often talk to each other and lament the fact that they throw so much money away in a futile manner, then maybe some press attention could spark something.

(2) To justify your spend, you probably want to generate >$1m in the near to mid term

As a rough rule of thumb, fundraising spend should generate c4x as much as the fundraising cost itself. So if you're going to spend $250k, then you want to generate c$1m to justify the investment.

This is because you should get some reward for taking business risk.

If you believed that the political campaigning spend has some positive benefits (e.g. spreading useful information, or maybe you think that political engagement is an intrinsic good) then your threshold should be higher.

However you probably don't believe this, and given the amount of money spent on political campaigning, I think I agree.

If you believed that the campaign spend is actually harmful, then you could justify a lower target. However note that this would be a fairly convenient belief for you to have, so aim to have really good evidence before even considering this.

(3) Find ways to lower your costs, e.g. through collaboration

If my guesses are right, you have a problem: you need to generate c$1m of donations, and I don't think you will. So to help resolve this...

... I question the value of building your own donation platform.

There is already a plethora of donation platforms who have already spent c$250k in creating a platform. Collaborating with them could

  • lower your costs (and hence lower the $1m target)
  • allow you to expend more effort on getting donors and spreading your message

Downsides are:

  • you would probably have to accept some compromises about the nature of the donation platform

After all, if it hasn't been designed with your needs in mind, it probably won't be perfect.

However I expect that your project probably will achieve more impact through getting people to think about and talk about the problem, and less through the actual donations raised. If my expectations are right, then compromises on the details of the platform are OK.

Groups you could collaborate with:

  • SoGive runs a donation platform (Full disclosure: I founded and run SoGive)
  • Momentum might be a good fit for you (I can intro you if you wish)

(4) You want to "nudge" users to an apolitical, high-impact charity, such as AMF.

We at SoGive have seen some donors interact with this sort of campaign in the past. I suggest that you want to take the following approach:

  • As far as your donors are concerned, the money is going "to charity", which means that they aren't thinking too much about what that charity is, they will just assume that anything is good
  • You need to avoid anything political, because that would distract from the message. So no veterans charities, no climate change, nothing obviously political
  • Because your donors aren't thinking about what the charity is, suggesting something like AMF will work just fine. Feel free to include something on your website explaining the rationale (e.g. "careful analysis, bang for buck, etc etc"). Not many people will read it.
  • I also suggesting making this a "nudge"; i.e. allow users to donate to any charity, but make the default AMF. Not many users will depart from the default.

Good luck, and let me know if you want to talk further!

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-05T16:48:47.155Z · EA · GW

Thank you!

How long until the world risks under-reacting to a pandemic?

There's an uncertainty over how long we'll remain well-prepared for a future pandemic. For example, this study (conducted by my organisation SoGive) surveyed some biorisk orgs. To see the answers, I suggest looking at this comment, and reviewing the answers to the first question:

"Do you think that the world will handle future pandemics and bio risks better as a result of having gone through the current coronavirus pandemic?"

As can be seen, there were several pessimistic answers. I think we should expect there to be some selection effects and biases in these answers, but the concerns around overindexing do strike me as reasonable.

In any case, I agree that a lasting impact sounds valuable.

How to have a lasting impact?

Some of the policy proposals are designed to have a longer-term impact. For example, strengthening the BWC would hopefully last some decades (assuming that institutional inertia has the effect I'm hoping for, although I'm unclear how likely this is). Also, the funding commitment (similar to the 0.7% ODA commitment) is also intended to last a long time.

However it's far from clear that this would last for generations.

Your idea of remembrance days and memorials is really interesting, and something I hadn't thought of.

And it does strike me that the 1918 pandemic had huge societal impacts, but most of the world was oblivious to this pre-COVID.

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-04T21:35:17.804Z · EA · GW

Thanks Matt, this is very much appreciated.

I agree that exhorting government to just "do something" sounds clearly suboptimal, and possibly unhelpful.

Using the initial steps that I've taken thus far as a model, it's involved speaking to existing biosecurity experts closely to work out precisely what to ask for (a process which is still ongoing).

Considering exactly who is the right group to lobby does indeed make sense, thank you for raising this.

Comment by sanjay on Feedback Request on EA Philippines' Career Advice Research for Technical AI Safety · 2020-10-04T11:05:06.197Z · EA · GW

Good work Brian! I'm guessing it would be a good idea to cross-post this to the AI Alignment forum: https://www.alignmentforum.org/ (although I'm not mega familiar with the norms on that forum)

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-03T20:38:14.106Z · EA · GW

Thanks!

Comment by sanjay on No More Pandemics: a lobbying group? · 2020-10-03T20:37:55.124Z · EA · GW

This is very useful, thank you!

Comment by sanjay on What actually is the argument for effective altruism? · 2020-09-27T22:11:12.634Z · EA · GW

I don't think I would have the patience for EA thinking if the spread weren't big. Why bother with a bunch of sophisticated-looking models and arguments to only make a small improvement in impact? Surely it's better to just get out there and do good?

Comment by sanjay on Are there any other pro athlete aspiring EAs? · 2020-09-08T10:48:14.133Z · EA · GW

Hi Marcus, I think this sounds like a great idea.

There are a number of communities that have been created across the EA space which bring together people with a professional affiliation (I see Aaron has mentioned REG, which is likely the most similar to your concept). I don't believe this has been done with pro athletes before.

I founded and run a group called SoGive which raises funds and does analysis on charities.

I would be happy to connect with you and support you if that would help; I'll send you a direct message on the EA Forum.

Comment by sanjay on We're (surprisingly) more positive about tackling bio risks: outcomes of a survey · 2020-08-30T10:48:28.651Z · EA · GW

Thanks Soeren, this is a useful point to help to tease out the thinking more clearly:

  • Agree that major institutions/governments will invest better in pandemic preparedness for some (unknown) number of years from now (better than recently, anyway)
  • Also expect that this work will be inadequate, by (for example) overindexing/overfitting on what's happened before (flu with fatality rate of 2.5% or less, or another coronavirus), but not anticipating other possible pandemics (Nipah, Hendra, or man-made)
  • If you had asked me in (say) early April, I would have guessed that major institutions will get more funding, and that NGOs who are better at considering tail risks and x-risks and tackling these overfitting errors will also get more funding.
  • We now think that those major institutions will get more funding, but that the more existential-risk-focused NGOs aren't getting materially more funding, at the moment
Comment by sanjay on Risks from Atomically Precise Manufacturing · 2020-08-25T14:34:12.377Z · EA · GW

I raised a similar question on the Effective Altruism fb group last year.

Notable responses included the comment from Howie Lempel which reiterated the points in the Open Phil article about how it seemed unlikely that someone watching the field would fail to notice if there was a sudden increase in capabilities.

Also Rob Wiblin commented to ask to make it clear that 80,000 hours doesn't necessarily endorse the view that nanotech/APM is as high a risk as that survey suggests.

Comment by sanjay on What is a good answer for people new to EA that request advice on volunteering? · 2020-07-29T16:34:14.906Z · EA · GW

SoGive offers volunteering opportunities doing charity analysis. If you're interested, get in touch with me via sanjay [at] sogive.org

Comment by sanjay on Quotes about the long reflection · 2020-07-14T14:38:55.594Z · EA · GW

I'm slightly confused about the long reflection.

I understand it involves "maybe <...> 10 billion people, debating and working on these issues for 10,000 years". And *only after that* can people consider actions which may have a long term impact on humanity.

How do we ensure that

(a) everyone gets involved with working on these issues? (presumably some people are just not interested in thinking about this? Getting people to work on things they're unsuited for seems unhelpful and unpleasant)

(b) Actions that could have a long term impact on humanity could be taken unilaterally. How could people be stopped from doing that?

I think a totalitarian worldwide government could achieve this, but I assume that's not what is intended

Comment by sanjay on Sam Carter: Are cash transfers the best policy option? · 2020-07-10T11:51:28.114Z · EA · GW

Not sure if this is the best place to ask this question, but does anyone know where we could find more thinking on cash transfers and Dutch disease?

Comment by sanjay on Where is it most effective to found a charity? · 2020-07-06T10:22:03.723Z · EA · GW

My short answer is:

Your main reason for setting up a charity is probably to provide tax incentives for your donors. So the best jurisdiction is probably the jurisdiction where your donors are.

However there are some exceptions where this doesn't apply. For example, you may be setting up a charity solely or primarily to access Google Ad grants.

If this is the case, then "shopping" for the jurisdiction with the least regulatory overhead would make sense. It would also need to consider whether the process requires someone with an address in that country.

I don't know the answer to this, and given that it's something of an edge case, I don't know of anyone having done this comparison.

Comment by sanjay on New EA International Innovation Fellowship · 2020-06-28T13:43:22.356Z · EA · GW

Thank you for having the desire to encourage innovation. I'm confident that fellowships like these can be valuable.

From other such fellowships that I've seen, the successful ones typically have something that draws people to want to apply. This may include, for example, sponsorship from a high-profile individual.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Comment by sanjay on EA could benefit from a general-purpose nonprofit entity that offers donor-advised funds and fiscal sponsorship · 2020-06-28T00:16:34.741Z · EA · GW

I think the benefits of fiscal sponsorship were fairly clear from your post.

  • For the example in your first bullet point, it may be that there are enough donors to warrant creating a DAF, but that still wouldn't mean the option outperforms dealing with an existing DAF provider.
  • For your second bullet point, I hadn't appreciated this element of your post on first reading. I expect an existing DAF provider probably would be nervous about providing this service. And I could imagine people in the EA community benefiting from this. However it would make me nervous too -- it sounds like the sort of scheme that could be made to look really bad in the hands of the right (or wrong!) journalist. But maybe these risks are more surmountable than I realise.
Comment by sanjay on EA could benefit from a general-purpose nonprofit entity that offers donor-advised funds and fiscal sponsorship · 2020-06-28T00:02:26.196Z · EA · GW

" Are you referring to the DAF or FS side of things, or both? " Both

" My prior was that it would be fairly straightforward because there are UK DAFs in existence, and CEA does both DAF-like and FS-like things to a limited extent (sponsoring EA orgs and running EA funds). " This is a very reasonable, but incorrect line of thought. The Charity Commission is very clear about the fact that even if someone else has successfully applied for something in the past, it doesn't mean that someone else applying for exactly the same thing should be allowed it in the future.

" While CEA might have charitable purposes that seem restrictive, it doesn't seem like that's impacting their ability to try to do everything under the sun. " I don't think their purposes do seem restrictive. Under a careful reading, as I remember it, it's fairly clear that their objects are extremely broad. This was why my first bullet suggested that CEA could provide this service.

" You tried to create a trust to do this before, but it was rejected because the charitable objects were too broad? " No, sorry, I may not have been clear on this. The reason why I said that an unincorporated entity (i.e. a trust) could do this was that a trust *would* (I think!) get approved, even with broad objects. However an incorporated charity (a CIO, to use the jargon) was rejected for having too-broad objects, notwithstanding the long list of pre-existing precedents whose pattern I was following.

Note that using a trust has downsides. With a trust, I would recommend only funding individuals and non-charities with extreme caution.

Comment by sanjay on EA Forum feature suggestion thread · 2020-06-27T14:28:24.730Z · EA · GW

Could we have better help for those whose content has been (heavily) downvoted?

I often see people plaintively saying something like: "My comment has been heavily downvoted, but I have no idea why!" Can the forum be more helpful for this scenario?

Not sure what the best solution is, but here's an idea:

  • if someone's comment/post has been downvoted enough for it to have net negative status, the UI allows the user to ask for feedback (e.g. it's an option when you click on the three dots on the top right hand side)
  • if they ask for feedback, the forum contacts all those who downvoted it and also some high-karma people and links to the content and asks for feedback (which they don't have to give, and which would be anonymous)

The feature could perhaps incorporate additional features

  • to increase the probability that people provide feedback, they could be remunerated (this could an alternative use for the Forum prize money, if it was decided that forum prizes didn't incentivise people more than the existing karma system) (perhaps there would need to be some thought given to avoiding the perverse incentive for people to give downvotes too liberally)
  • the system could incorporate some mechanism to make sure that users don't overuse/abuse this feature (e.g. perhaps the user has to write out and submit to the forum what they will do differently in the future before they are allowed to use the feature again)
Comment by sanjay on The Nuclear Threat Initiative is not only nuclear -- notes from a call with NTI · 2020-06-27T11:55:34.300Z · EA · GW

Thanks for asking, and sorry it wasn't clear from the notes.

" Thousands of sites in more than 100 countries house radiological sources. These are usually sealed sources of radiation used to power batteries, industrial gauges or blood irradiation equipment. In what seems a cruel paradox, the very same isotopes used for life-saving blood transfusions and cancer treatments in hospitals also can also be used to build a radiological “dirty bomb.” "

If you want to read more, this is taken from NTI's website: https://www.nti.org/about/radiological/

Comment by sanjay on EA could benefit from a general-purpose nonprofit entity that offers donor-advised funds and fiscal sponsorship · 2020-06-27T11:54:03.467Z · EA · GW

I think there are real benefits to having an entity which can provide fiscal sponsorship.

For the Donor Advised Fund (DAF) side of things, I'm less convinced.

  • I doubt that there are many people who would benefit from having a DAF who can't already get the benefits that they need from existing DAF providers (i.e. I suspect it's not worthwhile to invest the c $15k to set this up for such a small number of people)
  • If there's more demand than I realise, then I think if we take evidence of that demand to an existing DAF provider, I believe they would be more than happy to provide those people with that service
Comment by sanjay on EA could benefit from a general-purpose nonprofit entity that offers donor-advised funds and fiscal sponsorship · 2020-06-27T11:45:15.604Z · EA · GW

Speaking about the UK, it would be hard (impossible?) to set up an entity which has broad enough objects to make this work, and which is also incorporated. Options include

  • CEA could provide this service (CEA was set up in the old days when this was easier)
  • A new unincorporated entity (a trust) could serve this purpose

I have tried to do this before, and the application was rejected.

Comment by sanjay on Dignity as alternative EA priority - request for feedback · 2020-06-25T19:50:31.473Z · EA · GW

Thank you for raising this topic.

I'm not sure yet whether I'm on board, and in order to know the answers I would need more information.

  • IMPACT: not only how widespread is the experience of not being treated with dignity, but also how bad is it? I feel that my bank treats me with indignity as a matter of course, so we need some way to factor in severity of indignity, and we shouldn't accidentally take the prevalence of all cases of indignity (severe or otherwise) and then multiply them by the most severe severity and end up with an overestimate
  • TRACTABILITY: "Dignity is also highly solvable <...> include potentially highly cost-effective interventions such as listening" I think the tractability claim needs more substantiation. Me choosing to listen more is cheap. However if I pay you to get corrupt officials in the developing world to be better active listeners, I would predict poor cost-effectiveness because it probably wouldn't work, I would guess.
  • NEGLECTEDNESS: Defining the interventions better will help us better assess neglectedness. However at first glance it seems that it's probably not neglected. If we survey lots of aid professionals and asked them "Do you want your colleagues and the aid sector as a whole to treat beneficiaries with respect" I predict that a very high proportion will say yes. However if I had a clearer picture of your action plan, I might conclude that your particular approach may well be neglected

Of these, I think the first (impact) is the most important. Any concerted effort on the topic of dignity will inevitably have opportunity costs, so we need to understand why it's more important than some other factors.

Thank you again for raising a fresh idea. The questions I'm raising are intended to be positive and encouraging.

Comment by sanjay on Impacts of rational fiction? · 2020-06-25T13:00:36.719Z · EA · GW

I toyed with this idea too. I imagined a world where people could remember their past lives, and maybe there was also some way of making this public (some way of linking facebook profiles of your current life with your previous lives?) This was partly interesting because of the implications it had for people's attitudes to animal welfare. (Hindu vegetarianism appears to have been unusually driven by a desire to promote animal welfare, as opposed to some other religious dietary restrictions which originated from human health needs).

However I think I preferred the world mentioned earlier in the post, where the same consequentialist utilitarian framework causes your appearance to update. It means that the feedback loops are faster. And I think people care more about being good-looking than they do having a nice time in their next life (even if they had good reason to believe that the next life were real).

The appearance-oriented idea is also a great mechanism for highlighting the fact that in the real world virtue and appearance are different (despite the fact that films and other art sometimes seem, horrifically, to confuse the two)

Comment by sanjay on How should we run the EA Forum Prize? · 2020-06-25T12:51:43.635Z · EA · GW

One specific point about the "first post" / "first comment" idea:

If someone asked me for advice on how to get good at writing EA Forum posts, the most succinct advice I could give is this:

write!

You get better by doing something by practicing, so I would encourage someone to produce more content.

Which seems to suggest that a first post/comment prize is bad because it holds people back from taking the first step, and therefore discourages people from getting better.

I appreciate that there's a counterargument to this (we don't want to flood the forum with bad content), but I don't feel like we have that a problem with this now, so I'm less worried about the counter.

Comment by sanjay on Impacts of rational fiction? · 2020-06-25T10:23:03.781Z · EA · GW

Fiction, at first glance, seems like a great way to reach people who prefer art over numbers.

However on second glance, fiction thrives on the individual, on the specific, on one person's story.

We want to convey that doing 100x more good is a great outcome. But how does focusing on one perspective help us to see that the other 100 lives that we're not seeing are each just as valuable?

Is fiction even suitable for communicating EA ideas at all?

I worried that the answer to this question might be no.

However, with a bit of creativity, I think these challenges can be overcome.

Here's my approach for generating creative EA fiction ideas

  • Identify the features of humanity that lead us to not do the most good. Example 1: our desire to do good is all about signalling, and optimising for signalling isn't the same as optimising for good. Example 2: our empathy is not scope-sensitive, aka the one-death-is-a-tragedy,-a-million-deaths-is-a-statistic effect.
  • Imagine a world which is "tweaked" so that those features are no longer true in some way

Examples of ideas:

  • Imagine a person whose empathy was scope sensitive. What would her life be like if every time she reads about the death toll in WW2, she feels 100,000,000x more empathy than at the thought of one person dying?
  • Imagine if every morning when you woke up, your appearance was tweaked to make you more attractive if you had done more good and less attractive if you had done less good? And that this followed a utilitarian calculus?

These ideas are just meant to be illustrative -- I hope that others can come up with much better ideas.

One problem from a fiction-writing perspective is that such tweaks could lead to a genuine utopia. And straightforward utopias don't make for good stories.

Unfortunately authors tend to resolve this by making the utilitarian/good-maximising behaviour a subterfuge for evil. Which is sad.

I think there are other better ways of still generating a good story. These include:

  • Imagine a world where just one person has this tweak and everyone else is normal. This helps us to question whether we (who don't have scope sensitive empathy, for example) are the weird ones.
  • Focus on the transition. If the world suddenly changed, and everyone's desire to signal was now perfectly aligned with doing the most good, what would it mean for the mild-mannered middle-class tobacco marketeer who is suddenly signaling to the world how much harm they have done?
  • Be inspired by other genres. What would a zombie novel that conveyed EA ideas look like?
Comment by sanjay on The EA movement is neglecting physical goods · 2020-06-19T11:51:40.621Z · EA · GW

I find this post confusing.

  • The title says that the EA movement is neglecting physical goods.
  • The first sentence of the post states that physical goods are central to GiveWell's recommendations, which seems to argue that physical goods are not at all neglected by the EA movement.

A later sentence in bold says that it's rare to see the people involved in physical goods giving talks and writing posts about what they do. But if physical goods are important because of (e.g.) their GiveWell recommendation, then aren't there actually loads of talks about malaria nets and deworming? And if they're important because of their relevance to coronavirus, I thought, again that facemasks and PPE get plenty of airtime?

I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm being difficult -- it's not meant that way. I just don't understand the arguments in favour of the claim that physical goods are neglected in EA.