Comment by saulius on Climate Change Is, In General, Not An Existential Risk · 2019-01-11T23:37:05.770Z · score: 26 (15 votes) · EA · GW

Also see Is climate change an existential risk? by John Halstead. He gave a talk about it at EAG London 2018 as well.

Comment by saulius on List of possible EA meta-charities and projects · 2019-01-11T08:21:29.169Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

https://www.effectivegiving.nl is also working on it. They are (or were) organising a weekend for them.

Comment by saulius on List of possible EA meta-charities and projects · 2019-01-10T21:47:26.955Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hmmm, it would be interesting to organise another event like this where we brainstorm about possible new EA cause areas. Maybe I will do it sometime :-) Or someone else could do it.

List of possible EA meta-charities and projects

2019-01-09T11:28:29.773Z · score: 51 (31 votes)
Comment by saulius on EA Survey 2018 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics · 2018-09-22T09:56:13.211Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

The majority of people who took the survey reported being male (68%), while 26% of respondents reported that they were female, and 13% described themselves as other or declined to self-identify

That adds up to more than 100%. I am confused.

Comment by saulius on Is it better to be a wild rat or a factory farmed cow? A systematic method for comparing animal welfare. · 2018-09-18T16:46:39.806Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I tried to do something similar when deciding where to donate. The most significant difference was step 4. I used neuron count as a multiplier. For example, according to http://reflectivedisequilibrium.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-is-brain-mass-distributed-among.html, cows on average have 13.6 times more neurons than chickens. So in my model, one minute of cow's life was 13.6 times more important than one minute of chicken's life of comparable quality. I've seen some people comparing the square root of neuron count instead. http://ethical.diet/ makes it easy to make these kinds of comparisons for farm animals.

Comment by saulius on Is it better to be a wild rat or a factory farmed cow? A systematic method for comparing animal welfare. · 2018-09-18T08:49:59.895Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Also, I think the link "WAS research had a great summary" does not link to where you intended.

Comment by saulius on Is it better to be a wild rat or a factory farmed cow? A systematic method for comparing animal welfare. · 2018-09-18T08:45:24.447Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you for tackling a very important problem. But currently I feel I’d be lost when trying to apply this model because there is more explanation needed for many factors. For example, how does the cortisol level weight against the dopamine level? And what levels are good? How to measure and weight various listed factors to assess anxiety? Etc.

Some examples of this model being applied would be very helpful for understanding the model. Is that the next step in your research?

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-13T11:24:40.717Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not sure how to look into this more. Note that the 1.17 billion figure is from the U.S. Goverment report so that should be dependable, at least for the lower bound. I think some more information could be gained by going to a baitshop, looking around and asking some questions (how many fish average person buys, is the industry on the decline, etc.). I myself can not do that because I'm not in the U.S.

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-11T20:03:10.435Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks. I encountered the 6 billion figure by accident when doing research about fish farmed for food for ACE. I wonder if there are other areas like this where a huge number of animals are hurt that animal activists are unaware of.

I don’t have good answers to your questions, but I'm going to do a bit of a brain dump here and answer them to the best of my knowledge, in case someone would find it valuable.

what percentage of bait fish will be replaced by artificial baits vs animals? If you used worms or other animals as bait, would you have to use more bait, or would it be a 1-1 replacement?

Artificial baits seem to already be more popular. E.g. see http://www.anglersurvey.com/files/2012/10/AS3-1.png (“live bait” here means live baitfish, worms leeches, frogs, etc.). Although one text I read said that internet is biased towards artificials baits because they are used by people who take fishing more seriously (and therefore talk about it on internet more). So the survey might have a selection bias as well. I have a hunch that people who use baitfish would be more likely to switch to other types of life bait, rather than artificial bait. Also, if farming of live bait was banned, some would catch live batfish for themselves. That is probably better than farming though.

Before I read Peter Singer, I used to fish with my father. From experience, I can tell that if they switched to worms, many more worms and maggots would be used than baitfish. E.g. see the amounts in https://www.wormsdirectuk.co.uk/acatalog/dendrobaena.html. We would keep maggots in the fridge, sometimes would hook several of them and would buy more than needed just to be safe. I might write a separate article about worms and maggots as bait some time later. I do think that they suffer less (both, because they live shorter lives before being used, and they are less sentient). But it could be that they are very stressed in those containers. So yes, it’s possible that counterfactual is even worse.

By the way, maybe some questions like this can be answered by just going to a nearby fishing or bait store and asking some questions. E.g. how many fish and how many worms do people usually buy? I wish I could’ve done that while writing this, but I don’t live in the U.S.

I'd also love to see some analysis about how existing laws came to exist. Who lobbied for these policies? Were they easy to pass, or were they controversial?

Some of the links that I put in the article partly answer this question, especially for Scotland. It seems that these laws are always controversial, fishermen don’t want restrictions and people who care about ecology want them. E.g. see this 90 page risk report about ecological risks of importing one species of baitfish from Arkansas to Minnesota- https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/aboutdnr/reports/legislative/2018-minnow-import-report.pdf The length tells me that it is an important issue for some people. In North America, a lot of rules were implemented after an outbreak of viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) in Great Lakes and some other waters in 2005-06. Some details about regulation changes can be seen at this website https://www.outdoornews.com/search/baitfish+rule It seems that regulations are always done at state level and institutions like “Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board” are responsible for them.

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-10T10:39:19.742Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · EA · GW

If there is some kind of info that you need, let me know. I'd be eager to help and I may know where to find it (because I spent some time reading about the subject).

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-09T15:44:12.097Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

in https://www.iceshanty.com/ice_fishing/index.php?topic=246812.0 an angler asks in a forum how many minnows should she buy for her fishing trip. The most common answer is 2-3 dozens.

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-09T13:54:43.642Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Possible. It could be that the industry inflates the numbers because they want to seem bigger than they are. Note that baitfish is not even the most popular type of bait.

One thing to consider though is how many baitfish people take per fishing trip. After a brief search, I haven't found exact numbers but this website is advising:

Request a discount when purchasing in bulk. Injured minnows may be sold at a discounted rate, but fish that are injured rarely thrive after a change in environment. Instead, request a free dozen for every 10 dozen that you purchase.

So I imagine that fishermen who do buy baitfish, buy a lot of it. I also read that they often don't use them all and throw the rest into a lake, even though that causes ecological issues and everyone is asking fishermen not to do it.

In general, I understand your intuition and I will probably think about this more later.

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-09T10:07:35.215Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

great, please tell how it goes!

Comment by saulius on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-08T23:40:12.551Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I've just noticed that my text looks weird on mobile phone. I wrote it in google docs and pasted to EA forum. Is there any quick way to fix it? In case anyone has trouble reading it, you can also read it here.

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-07-24T12:09:16.634Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

It went well, I asked ~8 people for feedback and it was all positive, almost everyone said that they liked it better than a regular social. One person said that it made them less socially anxious than regular socials. I think we'll organise these every other month or something like that (in addition to socials).

We first quickly presented what topics each of us would most want to talk about, then we paired people up, based on that (though a lot of pairings were random). Each person had three one on ones and then we all had a picnic. I'm not sure how well it would work if the weather was less nice and we couldn't do it in a park (or a building with many breakout rooms like at the EA weekend).

Comment by saulius on Open Thread #40 · 2018-07-17T00:02:27.185Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting. It's strange that I've never heard anyone talking about decreasing animal suffering by decreasing food waste before. I wonder if anyone investigated such possibilities, I couldn’t find anything by googling. I happened to talk with an ACE researcher today and he didn’t know about any such research either. I think it's possible that there are some effective interventions in this area. Because there are many ways to reduce waste. For example:

  • Vacuum-packaging meat products. They can extended the life of some products by up to 9 days when compared to conventional packaging.
  • Getting rid of ‘buy one get one free’ promotions at groceries
  • Helping with redistribution of surplus food

It can be complicated though. For example, it's possible some people don’t by eggs because they look at the “Sell by” date and think that they will expire soon.

I wonder what could be next steps to increase the probability that someone looks into this. It could be added to http://effectivethesis.com/ but that would have a low probability of changing anything. EA Animal Welfare Fund may want to fund such research if there was someone to do it, but a more concrete topic would be needed.

Comment by saulius on Open Thread #40 · 2018-07-15T11:15:37.202Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I wanted to ask what kind of conclusions this line of reasoning leads you to make. But am I right to think that this is a very short summary of your series of posts exploring consequentialist cluelessness (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1hh/what_consequences/)? In that case the answer is in the last post of the series, right?

Comment by saulius on Open Thread #40 · 2018-07-15T10:44:53.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Another way of saying it is “Sometimes pulling numbers out of your arse and using them to make a decision is better than pulling a decision out of your arse.” It's taken from http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/05/02/if-its-worth-doing-its-worth-doing-with-made-up-statistics/ which is relevant here.

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-07-12T10:58:14.872Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

People were free to talk about anything they want. I'm pretty sure we told that using the questions was optional. I changed the post slightly to make it more clear. Personally, I didn't use the questions in any of my 1 on 1s. I know some people used the questions and they said that the first two questions ("When did you know that you wanted to be altruistic and why?" and "When did you realise you care about effectiveness and why?") resulted in long and not very productive conversations. So I moved them to the end in the questions document. I think that the list of questions has a lot of room for improvement. Maybe next time I will say that if they want to use the questions, they should look through the list and decide which question they are the most curious about.

We paired people up ourselves. We tried to pair up people who don't know each other well and have something in common (e.g. both are excited about the same cause area). We considered letting people pair themselves up but had reservations because some people might get upset if no one wants to talk with them. However, at the end of the first day we told people that if there is someone they'd like to be paired up with on the second day, they can write it on a piece of paper and put it in the box (so that only we could see their preference). But very few (2-4) people did that.

Btw, we will run an event that is all about 1 on 1s (https://www.facebook.com/events/330349444169839/) to see if it is a good stand-alone event (because it could be that it works only in the context of a weekend/conference/retreat). I'll write here about how it went, if I'll remember to do it :)

Comment by saulius on Open Thread #40 · 2018-07-08T23:25:32.070Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

It seems that what we need in this forum is categories/subforums. What we currently have is one subreddit. Conceptually, there’s little difference between https://www.reddit.com/r/EffectiveAltruism/ and this forum, people just use them differently. What I think we need is a whole new website like https://www.reddit.com/ that would have subreddits like “AI policy” and “Community building”. Your homepage would be customised based on subreddits you subscribed to. Maybe there could even be subreddits like "Newcomer questions" and "Editing & Review" at the same website that do not contain novel thoughts like posts on this forum. And there would be a subreddit “Old EA forum” that would contain all posts in the current forum but no new posts. Perhaps that is too complicated, maybe we just need few categories that you could filter by (and webpage would remember you user’s filter). I haven’t thought much about this, these are just my first thoughts.

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-06-13T20:03:27.080Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I don't know, we simply didn't talk about that at all. My guess is that 4 days is not too long. EA globals sometimes last 3 days, if you include the social on Friday. I believe that a recent group organisers' retreat lasted an entire week. An AI camp lasted 10 days. These latter two events are not quite the same, but I guess you could ask Remmelt Ellen whether they felt too long, I believe he was present in both of them. Hmm, the fact that your event is during winter could matter a bit though, because going outside is usually a refreshing change of atmoshpere during such things.

By the way, this was not a retreat, we did it in an office in London and people slept elsewhere.

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-06-13T19:24:22.989Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

oh, I didn't notice that there was a question about circling as well. There are circling meetups where I did circling with strangers and it was great. So it's not necessary to be close with people before, though the experience is quite different if you are. I imagine that many people will find circling awkward no matter what but in this case I think we simply did not have enough time to get into it. We only allocated 1 hour for it (and I'm not sure even that is enough) and then we decided to do it in the park but walking to the park took much more time than expected. It was the lowest rated activity (3.7) but I didn't include it in the table of the article because I believe that it wasn't given a fair chance.

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-06-13T12:31:25.601Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I see, that is very different.

I only know about the feedback I already presented and the one hamming circle I myself participated in. In my circle all 3 of us were quite connected already. It may have helped but I'm not sure it was necessary. Both of them didn't know what to do with their careers so it was like a mini career-coaching session. It felt productive.

Comment by saulius on Review of CZEA "Intense EA Weekend" retreat · 2018-06-13T11:33:46.091Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I believe you meant to link to this comment of yours :)

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-06-12T15:32:34.890Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

3) Because of your question I added a link to the summary of the responses to the feedback form to the article. Here are responses I see that suggest different activities:

  • Perhaps a little more discussion about actual causes e.g. what should be done about AI
  • In addition to the 1-1s(which were really useful), the could have been some more structured socialising (eg having people come together in groups of 3 and talk about what they care about, what their problems are, etc and switch groups in eg 5 minute intervals)
  • Maybe one minute intros could be on a post it on a wall so that people coming a day late still know who does what.

We also had some event ideas ourselves that we decided not to include in the weekend:

  • Community health session (a discussion of ways to improve the health of the EA community, be that through more diversity, more mutual support etc.)
  • Self-care for the altruistic (discussion and support session)
  • Discussions/anti-debate on cause prioritisation
  • Watching a video of a talk together and then discussing it (vote on a talk to watch during the event)
  • Values session: discussing why we have certain moral values
  • Problem-solving circle (participants raise problems they have and others try to help them)
  • The Humane League Work Party (Encouraging companies to commit to improving conditions on farms - writing letters & emails, phone calls, petitions. Would have been an option throughout the event.)
  • Gathering and interpreting data relating to the impact of charities for SoGive
Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-06-12T14:44:42.253Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

2) I will ask the person who ran Hamming circles to explain it, I only participated in half of the event myself. You can get some idea from the slides (slides 21- 28).

Comment by saulius on A lesson from an EA weekend in London: pairing people up to talk 1 on 1 for 30 mins seems to be very useful · 2018-06-12T14:14:41.251Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

1) >"The numbers on how useful things are seem quite low to me..."

On the scale 1 was "Useless" and 10 was "Life-transforming". But just before asking for feedback, I made a change in the slides and added this meaning to the ratings of the events:

"3 - £100, 5 - £1,000, 8 - £10,000, 10 - £100,000 (e. g. career change)"

I explained it to people as well. This was... not smart. Because of this, some respondents gave low scores to all the events. E.g. someone said that the weekend was "Far more valuable (10-30x the counterfactual)" but did not gave any event a rating that is higher than 4. Others ignored the point and gave high ratings for all events.

That's why I weighted and normalised the ratings. If someone said that the weekend was "Vastly more valuable (>30x counterfactual)", I multiplied all their ratings by a constant so that their highest rating would be 10. If they rated the weekend as "Far more valuable (10-30x the counterfactual)", I multiplied all their ratings so that the highest rating would be 9. 8 for "Much more valuable", 7 for "Somewhat more valuable", and 6 for "About as valuable".

Comment by saulius on Open Thread #39 · 2018-06-12T12:47:54.667Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

see http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1d8/dpr/

Comment by saulius on UK Income Tax & Donations · 2018-06-01T09:04:52.983Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I knew a lot of this before donating but I still lost some money. I'll describe how. I got my first UK job in September 2015 for a company that did not have payroll giving scheme set up. I donated some money in January 2016 and May 2016 and I let the charity claim gift aid (25%) in both cases. Since I was a 40% tax payer, I was eligible to claim the difference between my tax rate and gift aid (40%-25%=15%) from the government. However, I was told that I could only claim this difference for my May 2016 donation because I didn't pay enough tax in the tax year that ended on April 2016.

If you call tax helpline (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/income-tax-enquiries-for-individuals-pensioners-and-employees), they generally can answer all the questions about your situation.

Comment by saulius on Empirical data on value drift · 2018-05-01T00:09:14.816Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Males having a “dating EAs only” rule is also dangerous (for the health of the community) when 70% of the community identifies as male and only 26% as female. It’d promote unhealthy competition. What is more, communities are not that big in many of the cities which for many people would make the choice very limited. Especially since we should probably avoid flirting with newcomers because that might scare them away.

Maybe the partner doesn't have to be an EA to prevent the value drift, maybe the important thing is that the partner is supportive of EA-type sacrifices. I'll put this as a requirement in my online dating profiles. I think that people who are altruistic (but not necessarily EAs) are especially likely to be supportive.

Comment by saulius on Empirical data on value drift · 2018-04-30T23:24:54.151Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I think that there should be no norm here and we should simply consider the fact that dating a non-EA may cause a value drift before making decisions. Being altruistic sometimes means making sacrifices to your happiness. If having less money, less time and no children can be amongst the possible sacrifices, I see no reason why limiting the set of possible romantic partners could not be one of possible sacrifices as well. People are diverse. Maybe someone would rather donate less money but abstain from dating non-EAs, or even abstain from dating at all. One good piece of writing related to the subject is http://briantomasik.com/personal-thoughts-on-romance/

Comment by saulius on Open Thread #39 · 2018-04-23T14:14:05.833Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Hi. Firstly, I want to say that many people within the movement differ in how risk averse they are and make decisions with that taken into account. For example, this flowchart on deciding which cause to work on http://globalprioritiesproject.org/2015/09/flowhart/ has a question “would you rather do something that has a 1% chance of saving 1,000 lives than save one life for sure?” I know some smart people who would answer that question with a “no” and behave accordingly.

However, many EAs think that the 1% chance option is better and many EAs spend entire life’s effort on causes like AI-safety even though it’ll almost surely have no impact because for them it’s not that important to make sure you have at least some impact, for them the small possibility of having a huge impact is just as motivating. I do share your feeling that having at least some impact is better, but personally I try to somewhat ignore it as a bias when making important decisions. To me, in some abstract sense, 1% chance of saving 1,000 lives is better than 100% chance of saving 1 life. In the same way that helping 10 people africa is in some abstract sense better than helping 1 person who lives in my country. And in the same way that helping 10 people who will live in million years is better than helping 1 person who is living now. Part of my brain disagrees but I choose to call that a bias rather than a part of my moral compass. Which IMO is a totally subjective choice.

Even if all of us were risk averse, it might still make sense for all of us to cooperate and put money into different risky causes, because then there’s a high probability that all of us combined will have a big positive impact. Instead of making sure that you yourself make a significant difference, you could think how EA community as whole (or humanity as a whole) could make a big positive difference. EA already supports many charities and maybe the risky charity that you donate to personally won’t have an impact, but if many people support different risky charities like you will, all of us combined will have a bigger impact with a high probability.

All that said, some EAs donate some money to causes that make sure that they have at least some impact and some money to risky causes with high expected value. More on this in https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/3p3CYauiX8oLjmwRF/purchase-fuzzies-and-utilons-separately

Comment by saulius on Comparative advantage in the talent market · 2018-04-12T19:22:39.604Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Interesting article. I see some practical issues though.

Finding a symmetrical trade partners would be very hard. If Allison has a degree from Oxford and Bettina from community college, the trade would not be fair.

A more easily implementable solution is to search for a donor willing to offset a cause area switch, i.e. make a donation to the cause area the talent will be leaving.

Would such a donation be made monthly or would it be one-time donation when the person does a switch? If it’s monthly, what happens when the donor changes her mind or doesn’t have funds anymore? The person who made the switch is left in an awkward career situation. If it’s a one time donation, what motivates the person who switched to stay in her job?

Maybe for compensation Allison could ask MIRI to pay her a salary AND donate some money to THL every month. Or she could simply ask MIRI pay her more and then donate the money herself. From MIRI's perspective that's probably similar to hiring a non-EA but this is the best way I see to avoid coordination problems.

Comment by saulius on Review of CZEA "Intense EA Weekend" retreat · 2018-04-07T14:58:01.151Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I partially agree with you but I'll focus on what I disagree with :)

“those who're enthusiastic about EA and/or willing to contribute in a certain way will do so anyway. For them online information, or a single talk may even be enough.”

Personally, hanging out with EAs makes me A LOT more enthusiastic about EA and I work on my EA projects much more as a result. I basically forget about EA when I’m away from the community for long periods of time. I might be an outlier here but I’m sure that the same is true for others to a lesser degree. And it’s these kind of events that not only energise me but also help me find EA friends with whom I can hang out, co-work or even live. Which, by the way, makes such events more valuable when they are for people from one city.

Also, I know from first-hand experience that online information is not enough for cause prioritisation, making career decisions or deciding where to donate. I read a lot but when I started going to EA meetups some gaps in my knowledge and flaws in my thinking were soon exposed. Discussions hit diminishing returns after a while though.

But maybe both goals can be achieved with simple socials at a lesser cost.

Comment by saulius on Why I prioritize moral circle expansion over artificial intelligence alignment · 2018-02-27T01:01:56.364Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

But humanity/AI is likely to expand to other planets. Won't those planets need to have complex ecosystems that could involve a lot of suffering? Or do you think it will all be done with some fancy tech that'll be too different from today's wildlife for it to be relevant? It's true that those ecosystems would (mostly?) be non-naturogenic but I'm not that sure that people would care about them, it'd still be animals/diseases/hunger.etc. hurting animals. Maybe it'd be easier to engineer an ecosystem without predation and diseases but that is a non-trivial assumption and suffering could then arise in other ways.

Also, some humans want to spread life to other planets for its own sake and relatively few people need to want that to cause a lot of suffering if no one works on preventing it.

This could be less relevant if you think that most of the expected value comes from simulations that won't involve ecosystems.

Comment by saulius on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs · 2017-05-15T23:58:21.060Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thank you very much for writing this. Ironically, I did not do enough fact-checking before making public claims. Now I am not even sure I was right to say that everyone should frequently check facts in this manner because it takes a lot of time and it's easy to make mistakes, especially when it's not the field of expertise for most of us.

Trichiasis surgery then does seem to be absurdly effective in preventing blindness and pain. I am puzzled why GiveWell hasn't looked into it more. Well, they explain it here. The same uncertainty about "Number Needed to Treat".

I want to ask if you don't mind:

  • When literature says that surgery costs ~$20-60 or $7.14, is that for both eyes?
  • Do you think that it's fair to say that it costs say $100 to prevent trachoma-induced blindness? Or is there too much uncertainty to use such number when introducing EA?
Comment by saulius on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs · 2017-05-15T15:15:16.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

It's obviously impossible to enforce everyone to update figures all the time. If there is an old publication date, everyone probably understands that it could be outdated. I just think that the date should be always featured prominently. E.g. in this page it could be better. I think that flagging pages the way GiveWell does is a great idea. But featured pages that have no date should probably be checked or updated quite often. I mean pages like "top charities", "what we can achieve" and "myths about aid" in GWWC's case.

Comment by saulius on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs · 2017-05-14T10:57:35.563Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

agree :)

Comment by saulius on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs · 2017-05-13T14:01:41.004Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

EDIT: this comment contains some mistakes

To begin with, I want to say that my goal is not to put blame on anyone but to change how we speak and act in the future.

His figure for the cost of preventing blindness by treating trachoma comes from Joseph Cook et al., “Loss of vision and hearing,” in Dean Jamison et al., eds., Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries, 2d ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 954. The figure Cook et al. give is $7.14 per surgery, with a 77 percent cure rate.

I am looking at this table from the cited source (Loss of Vision and Hearing, DCP2). It’s 77% cure rate for trachoma that sometimes develops into blindness. Not 77% cure rate for blindness. At least that’s how I interpret it, I can’t be sure because the cited source of the figure in the DCP2’s table doesn’t even mention trachoma! From what I’ve read, sometimes recurrences happen so 77% cure rate from trachoma is much much more plausible. I'm afraid Toby Ord made the mistake of implying that curing trachoma = preventing blindness.

What is more, Toby Ord used the same DCP2 report that GiveWell used and GiveWell found major errors in it. To sum up very briefly:

Eventually, we were able to obtain the spreadsheet that was used to generate the $3.41/DALY estimate. That spreadsheet contains five separate errors that, when corrected, shift the estimated cost effectiveness of deworming from $3.41 to $326.43. [...] The estimates on deworming are the only DCP2 figures we’ve gotten enough information on to examine in-depth.

Regarding Fred Hollows Foundation, please see GiveWell’s page about them and this blog post. In my eyes these discredit organization’s claim that it restores sight for $25.

In conclusion, without further research we have no basis for the claim that trachoma surgeries can prevent 400, or even 40 cases of blindness for $40,000. We simply don't know. I wish we did, I want to help those people in the video.

I think one thing that is happening is that we are too eager to believe any figures we find if they support an opinion we already hold. That severely worsens already existing problem of optimizer’s curse.


I also want to add that preventing 400 blindness cases for $40,000 (i.e. one case for $100) to me sounds much more effective than top GiveWell's charities. GiveWell seem to agree, see citations from this page

Based on very rough guesses at major inputs, we estimate that cataract programs may cost $112-$1,250 per severe visual impairment reversed [...] Based on prior experience with cost-effectiveness analyses, we expect our estimate of cost per severe visual impairment reversed to increase with further evaluation. [...] Our rough estimate of the cost-effectiveness of cataract surgery suggests that it may be competitive with our priority programs; however, we retain a high degree of uncertainty.

We tell the trachoma example and then advertise GiveWell, showing that GiveWell’s top and standout charities are not even related to blindness and no one in EA ever talks about blindness. So people probably assume that GiveWell’s recommended charities are much more effective than surgery that cures blindness for $100 but they are not.

Because GiveWell’s estimates for cataract surgeries are based on guesses, I think we shouldn’t use those figures in introductory EA talks as well. We can tell the disclaimers but the person who hears the example might skip them when retelling the thought experiment (out of desire to sound more convincing). And then the same will happen.

Comment by saulius on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs · 2017-05-13T10:31:53.548Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

The article Vollmer cites says:

Singer’s idea about the relative value of guide dogs sets up a false dichotomy, assuming that you can fund guide dogs or fund medical prevention. In fact, you can do both.

In this case that seems to be the substance of the criticism. You can't anticipate every counter-argument one could make when talking to bigger audiences, but this one is pretty common. It might be necessary to say

if I have to decide where to donate my $ 100...

Not sure it would help, it could be that such arguments trigger bad emotions for other reasons and the counter-arguments we hear are just rationalizations of those emotions. It does feel like a minefield.

Therefore, when comparing any 2 charities while introducing someone (especially an audience) to EA, we must phrase it carefully and sensitively. BTW, I think there is something to learn from way Singer phrased it in the TED talk:

Take, for example, providing a guide dog for a blind person. That's a good thing to do, right? Well, right, it is a good thing to do, but you have to think what else you could do with the resources. It costs about 40,000 dollars...

Comment by saulius on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs · 2017-05-11T08:44:16.871Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · EA · GW

I think there is truth in what you said. But I also have disagreements:

"The only way to convince them is to ignore getting the numbers perfectly right and focus on the emotional impact"

That's a dangerous line of reasoning. If we can't make a point with honest numbers, we shouldn't make the point at all. We might fail to notice when we are wrong when we use bogus numbers to prove whatever opinion we already hold.

What is more, many people who become EAs after hearing such TED talks already think in numbers. They continue in believing the same numbers afterwards and are more likely to dismiss other cause areas because of it. I myself once mocked a co-worker for taking an effort to recycle when the same effort could do so much more impact for people in Africa. That's wrong in any case, but I was probably wrong in my reasoning too because of numbers.

Also, I'm afraid that some doctor will stand up during an EA presentation and say

You kids pretend to be visionaries, but in reality you don't have the slightest idea what you are talking about. Firstly, it's impossible to cure trachoma induced blindness. Secondly [...] You should go back to play in your sandboxes instead of preaching adults how to solve real world problems

Also, I'm afraid that the doctor might be partially right

Comment by saulius on Should you switch away from earning to give? Some considerations. · 2016-08-27T12:08:53.457Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Also more hardcore EAs are more likely to come to the conference. But these percentages don't mean much to me because people can't be easily categorized into EAs and non-EAs. There are varying degrees of EAness.

Comment by saulius on Should you switch away from earning to give? Some considerations. · 2016-08-27T11:59:12.188Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

In EA survey (https://eahub.org/sites/effectivealtruismhub.com/files/SurveyReport2015.pdf page 18) there was a question "What broad career path are you planning to follow?". Results: Direct charity / nonprofit work: 190; Earning to give: 512; Research: 362; None of these: 375; Didn't answer: 913.

Comment by saulius on Should you switch away from earning to give? Some considerations. · 2016-08-27T11:48:10.759Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Crazy to EAs or crazy to general population? If it's the latter, AI-safety research qualifies. If it's the former, EAF's wild animal suffering research might still qualify. If you disagree, tell an example of a crazy idea.

Comment by saulius on Lesswrong Diaspora survey · 2016-04-03T19:49:43.080Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

http://lesswrong.com/lw/nfk/lesswrong_2016_survey/

Comment by saulius on The great calculator · 2016-03-28T13:31:37.760Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Question "How much would you be willing to donate to save a human's life?" makes no sense to me. It all depends on how old the human is, how happy/miserable his future life is going to be and... how much meat he eats.

By saving non-vegan's life, you kill all the animals he is going to eat (well, in reality it's more complicated, with market elasticities, etc.). If we are going to be perfectly rational, we should first calculate whether we even want to save the life.

Comment by saulius on The great calculator · 2016-03-28T13:00:00.481Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I think you meant "avert 15 years of pig-life in industrial agriculture"

Comment by saulius on The most persuasive writing neutrally surveys both sides of an argument · 2016-02-19T00:45:13.328Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

If you are writing a summary of existing arguments, then yes. But if you have a new argument, then there is no reason to drown it in old arguments.

Comment by saulius on Support Promoting Effective Giving - Intentional Insights · 2015-12-28T20:47:08.564Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Just noticed that almost the same thoughts regarding 1A) were said in http://effective-altruism.com/ea/rr/the_big_problem_with_how_we_do_outreach/ You don't have to answer any of this if it's not new.

Comment by saulius on Support Promoting Effective Giving - Intentional Insights · 2015-12-28T17:55:26.934Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

1A) In my experience, typical people don't have strong desires to help people far away. They just don't care about them nearly as much as themselves and their relatives, especially children. It never seems to me when talking with such people that they are confused. It always seems that they just have different values. Actually, their values make more sense from evolutionary psychology POV. So if you ask a person "Being effective at altruism (towards people/animals that might be far away and you won't necessarily meet) is one of goals in your life, right?" and he disagrees (or agrees to seem good but then doesn't act on it), IMO most likely that person has different core values, which are usually very hard to change. If I am right, little will be donated by audience you gain by omitting that altruism is your goal. By omitting that you may also fail to attract some people who are interested in altruism and can be targeted more productively.

Not sure if people who e. g. donate to cancer charities because they recently lost their relative to cancer are usually confused. It could also be different values to some degree. IMO that could be a more productive target audience.

1B) If I was a non-EA fan of InIn and after a google search I found a sentence like "it won't be very beneficial to tell our non-EA audiences that we are trying to promote EA-themed effective giving idea through using emotional engagement and persuasion tactics on them", I would probably feel angry, manipulated and being treated as someone of a lower intellectual class. Not sure what percentage of people would feel in a similar way. If a journalist found such sentence when writting about InIn, he might see it as an opportunity for initiating a scandal. Stuff like that can never happen when you always say/write everything you are thinking that is important enough to be said: no lies, no "Not Technically Lying", no omissions. Just always trying to make maps in other brains closer to what you think is reality. This is what I call honesty. Spreading EA ideas seems like an admirable goal to many people so to me it's strange that you chose to hide that.