Posts

Changes in funding in the AI safety field 2017-02-03T13:09:58.217Z · score: 28 (28 votes)
Donations to Global Priorities Project matched for just two more weeks 2016-01-18T14:04:25.519Z · score: 6 (10 votes)
CEA is launching a winter fundraising round 2015-12-09T16:39:19.984Z · score: 11 (15 votes)
New UK aid strategy – prioritising research and crisis response 2015-12-02T19:38:12.585Z · score: 10 (10 votes)
CEA is Hiring! Applications due by 18th October 2015-09-24T13:18:03.391Z · score: 4 (6 votes)
Effective Altruism is a Big Tent 2015-08-24T11:52:19.218Z · score: 12 (14 votes)
We're hiring an AI Senior Policy Fellow 2015-07-02T16:10:13.343Z · score: 5 (5 votes)
Global Priorities Project Interns - applications by May 10th 2015-04-21T11:51:50.676Z · score: 2 (2 votes)
We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! 2015-03-17T15:59:12.529Z · score: 11 (11 votes)
Why averting a DALY through deworming may be better than through malaria nets 2015-03-16T13:51:29.799Z · score: 8 (8 votes)

Comments

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Changes in funding in the AI safety field · 2017-02-04T10:59:06.739Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This is a really good point, and I'm not sure that something exists which was written with that in mind. Daniel Dewey wrote something which was maybe a first step on a short form of this in 2015. A 'concrete-problems' in strategy might be a really useful output from SAIRC.

http://globalprioritiesproject.org/2015/10/three-areas-of-research-on-the-superintelligence-control-problem/

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Changes in funding in the AI safety field · 2017-02-04T10:49:42.893Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

All the data can be found here.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/15evxDZN_HRdzjMTEk5C7y5JmleZh0t8Ov1kECUHbtns/edit#gid=0

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Should you start your own project now rather than later? · 2016-02-25T10:19:29.153Z · score: 11 (10 votes) · EA · GW

Often (in EA in particular) the largest cost to a failed started project isn't to you, but is a hard-to-see counterfactual impact.

Imagine I believe that building a synth bio safety field is incredibly important. Without a real background in synth bio, I go about building the field but because I lack context and subtle field knowledge, I screw it up having reached out to almost all the key players. They would now are be conditioned to think that synth bio safety is something that is pursued by naive outsiders who don't understand synth bio. This makes it harder for future efforts to proceed. It makes it harder for them to raise funds. It makes it harder for them to build a team.

The worst case is that you start a project, fail, but don't quit. This can block the space, and stop better projects from entering it.

These can be worked around, but it seems that many of your assumptions are conditional on not having these sorts of large negative counterfactual impacts. While that may work out, it seems overconfident to assume a 0% chance of this, especially if the career capital building steps are actually relevant domain knowledge building.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Effective Altruism Prediction Registry · 2016-02-02T23:04:58.419Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Prediction markets benefit a lot from liquidity. Making it EA specific doesn't seem to gain all that much. But EAs should definitely practice forecasting formally and getting rewarded for reliable predictions.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Donations to Global Priorities Project matched for just two more weeks · 2016-01-19T14:37:50.147Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not very confident on this estimate, but I'd hazard that between 5-50 causally connected groups will have made a recommendation related to the balance of research vs direct work in global health as part of the DfID budget (in either direction).

That's maybe a 75% confidence interval.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Donations to Global Priorities Project matched for just two more weeks · 2016-01-19T14:29:52.535Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yes this is absolutely not a thing that just GPP did - which is why I tried to call out in this post that several other groups were important to recommending it! (And also something I emphasised in the facebook post you link to.)

I don't know how many groups fed into the overall process and I'm sure there were big parts of the process I have no knowledge about. I know of two other quite significant entities that have publicly made very similar recommendations (Angus Deaton and the Centre for Global Development) as well as about half a dozen other entities that made similar but slightly narrower suggestions (many of which we cited). The general development aid sector is clearly enormous, but the field of people proposing this sort of thing is smaller.

Assigning causal credit for policy outcomes is very complicated. It obviously matters to us to assess it, so that we can tell if it's worth doing more work in an area. What we do is just talk to the people we made recommendations to and ask them how significant a role our recommendation played. Usually people prefer we don't share their reflections further, which is unfortunate but inevitable.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2016-01-01T18:54:35.951Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

At the moment most of the orgs within CEA target 12 months reserves (though some have less and, in particular, they sometimes fall quite low at some point in the course of the year because we avoid on-going fundraising).

If we had something like 3 months of reserves for all costs unrestricted it would give us either greater financial security or the ability to cut the size of restricted overall reserves to, say, 7 months while keeping similar stability. This would free up EA capital for other projects.

It's a little unclear what the right level of reserves ought to be. In the US it's common for charities to have very large endowments (say 20 years). I think the 12 months at all times target we have right now is about appropriate, given the value of capital to EA projects, but would expect that number to drift upwards as the EA community matures.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-30T07:43:52.857Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

You're quite right, they are different. At the moment, we are planning to use marginal unrestricted funds to invest in shared services. Partly this aims to increase the autonomy of the shared services function and reduce the extent they feel they need to ask for permission to all the orgs to do useful things.

Past that level though, unrestricted funding would help us build a small reserve of unrestricted money that would provide us with financial stability. Right now, each organisation needs to keep a pretty significant independent runway because virtually all our reserves are restricted. If we had a bigger pool of funds that could go to any org, we could get the same level of financial security with smaller total reserves.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-30T07:40:54.211Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

GPP's total budget for 2016 will be roughly £220,000 which is roughly what our minimum target is. The reason there's a discrepancy between this figure and the £95k figure is that the £95k figure presented in the overall CEA budget includes only sums that flow through CEA and doesn't include any shared services. However, GPP is a joint project with FHI, so in 2016 a significant portion of the total costs will be funded via FHI rather than CEA. In addition, we are expecting to hire a seconded civil servant whose salary will be partly funded by the state. This is not counted as part of the CEA budget but is counted as part of the GPP budget.

You can find lots more detail on GPP here

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-30T07:21:11.015Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

CEA shared services are the parts of CEA that are not linked to just one specific organisation. This includes parts that are funded straight from org contributions and parts that we are trying to fundraise for separately. Not quite exhaustively the part funded straight from org contributions includes office costs, legal, finance, HR, and my salary. The part funded from unrestricted donations will be more discretionary projects that we think are likely to benefit CEA as a whole in the longer term. This will include hiring a marketing expert, EA strategy researcher and potentially a fundraising expert (though we did not end up hiring for that position this winter).

The shared services budget is going up quite a lot partly because it has been held artificially low (we haven't had enough capacity and had large amounts of volunteer or intern work), partly because we're expanding to the US and partly because we'll offer the orgs new services like full-stack marketing help. It's staying roughly constant as a proportion of total expenditure. There are some downward pressures. For example, Tara has secured a pro bono deal where we can outsource our accounting for free once we upgrade to a more sophisticated platform.

I'm sorry, it was confusing to split out shared services here when we normally show all the costs distributed to the orgs. In the future, when not all of the shared services budget will come through the orgs, the new layout of the information is likely to make more sense.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on An under-appreciated observation about giving now vs later · 2015-12-21T12:48:44.953Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

With Owen's even more detailed version here http://globalprioritiesproject.org/2015/02/give-now-or-later/

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-11T16:50:54.959Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · EA · GW

The EA community, broadly defined, donates a huge amount of money. GiveWell moved more than $20m (excluding GoodVentures) in 2015, source and credits effective altruism as motivating a substantial part of this. Giving What We Can moved more than $3m. FLI committed grants worth about $7m. Leverhulme Foundation granted $15m for existential risk research. This is far from exhaustive, but we're looking at something on the order of magnitude of $50m fairly easily.

Relative to this, CEA's $1.8m does not seem nearly as large. I think one of the sources of intuitive surprise is just that the EA movement as a whole seems to be roughly doubling or a bit more in size every year which means that the heuristics we have for thinking about size become out of date very quickly. Relative to EA as a whole, CEA may be shrinking slightly since we have been growing a little slower than doubling.

Most of the projects have significant non-EA funding, but this is something we're trying to grow (for example by recruiting for a development manager who could expand our non-EA donor base). 80k got a lot of funding through YCombinator and associated leads. GWWC gets a substantial amount from people with a strong interest in development and giving but less in effective altruism itself. GPP gets significant funding from grant sources that wouldn't otherwise fund EA work. Even EAO got at least $50k from people who have not typically given to EA charities, which is surprising for an organisation focused so heavily on the EA community itself. I've gone over our numbers and think 80k may have gotten more than half its budget outside the EA community recently. GPP gets around 40%. This is pretty loose stuff though, because it's so hard to define what counts as EA money and we don't have good access to the counterfactuals. Ben also makes a really important point about the donors who move from giving to us to supporting other EA projects.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-11T11:49:41.521Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

You can find the detailed calculations here.

I agree that if you'd asked me five years ago what one could expect in a fundraising ratio I would have been surprised by estimates like 100:1. Most charitable fundraising is in the ballpark of 10:1. Nevertheless, the folks at GWWC are very methodical about gathering huge amounts of data and processing it carefully and transparently. If you have any specific suggestions for the methodology I'd be very open to exploring them.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-10T16:15:15.083Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · EA · GW

It's a good question, and one that we ask ourselves a lot. If we thought we were worse than AMF and that wasn't likely to change, we would close up shop. I am fairly confident that we produce more value than AMF, partly because our activities raise more for AMF than they take away. However, I think it's right to be uncertain about this and Owen makes some good points.

In addition, I think most of the value of CEA's activities comes from long term potential of our projects and EA as a whole - as Ben discusses here.

Our positive effect on AMF is clearest at Giving What We Can which has a return of roughly 100:1 in high-value donations (counterfactually adjusted and time-discounted, but not all to AMF). Even if you assume that not a single member of GWWC gives another penny ever, the ratio is still 5:1. It is unclear if the marginal return on a donation to GWWC is higher or lower than the average return. It would be higher if we thought that GWWC could still realise increasing economies of scale. It would be lower if we thought most of the value comes from the idea itself and not execution on it. I tend to think marginal funds are more effective than average funds, but I'm very uncertain. A fuller discussion is here (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/ql/giving_what_we_can_needs_your_help_this_christmas/)

At 80k, the metrics are less directly comparable. At the last review we estimated it cost £1,670 to achieve a significant plan change (and these costs have been coming down every review cycle, indicating we are getting more cost-effective). It's unclear how much each plan change is worth - but it seems very likely that getting someone to earn-to-give or move to do valuable direct work will be worth far more than £1,670 to AMF even within one year.

GPP impact is extremely hard to estimate because idea change and policy-work are chaotic and complex. In order to get a lower bound, we can focus on just one policy that we advocated which was successfully implemented - increasing the research budget for treatment and vaccines for malaria, TB, and NTDs and pandemic prevention by £2.5bn over 5 years. If our calculations are correct this move was worth $1.5bn-$30bn in donations to AMF. Even if we are only responsible for a very small part of this, it isn't hard to imagine our 2015 budget outperformed a donation to AMF. (See discussion here http://globalprioritiesproject.org/2015/12/new-uk-aid-strategy-prioritising-research-and-crisis-response/)

EA Outreach is probably hardest to compare directly against AMF-type charities because much of our estimate of its value depends on the fact that we think effective altruism and its ideas have huge upside potential. Any attempt to calculate the direct impact within the first year of its running in terms of money to AMF would short-change the value of the work.

Because most of the money that goes to CEA has a huge counterfactual positive impact on funding for AMF, I'm quite confident in recommending giving to CEA.

With respect to your question about growth in costs - I think Owen has some good thoughts here. It seems, however, that the unit costs of CEA outputs are stable or decreasing so the growth in costs represents expanding outputs rather than decreasing marginal returns.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-09T23:52:51.706Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Sorry, document is now linked to in post.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on CEA is launching a winter fundraising round · 2015-12-09T23:52:04.120Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Not quite, our total budget for 2016 is about £1.2m, about $1.8m (detailed breakdown on page 12 of the prospectus).

The sum of the funding targets is greater than our budget because at the moment many of our organisations have quite small reserves and need to raise more than they plan to spend this year in order to have healthy reserves at the end of the year. That would allow us to only fundraise once per year, which is a much more efficient use of staff time. General advice is for charities to have roughly 6-18 months of reserves at all times.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on New UK aid strategy – prioritising research and crisis response · 2015-12-07T17:28:19.460Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

(For the benefit of others interested, I can share a little bit but not very much in person/on phone.)

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We care about WALYs not QALYs · 2015-11-16T12:27:50.085Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This is a mega-important point.

Especially re 2, whenever I use QALY as an example I immediately follow it up by talking about the difficulty of comparing QALYs to other things that are really good to increase, like improved education or better access to political institutions for marginalised people. This helps undermine both the 'you only care about QALYs' attack as well as the 'you don't care about systemic change' attack. It makes it clear we do care about those things, even if we don't have great ways to assess effectiveness there yet.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Effective Altruism is a Big Tent · 2015-08-25T11:28:54.070Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

That's right. It would seem extremely unlikely that one should have a multi-billion dollar industry with no-one thinking about what happens if it succeeds at its aim.

It's very important for EAs to recognise that there probably isn't a single best cause (and that even if there is, the uncertainties are too big to allow us to identify it). Even if there was an identifiable best cause, it is likely to change, so it's bad for EAs to identify too strongly with any one cause.

There's a broader risk in focusing on marginal cost-effectiveness - that it leads to local rather than global optimisation. It's a good heuristic, but bad to rely on too much.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-25T11:32:19.958Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Generally announced the week in advance, with some extra coverage in the FB group. But feel free to drop me a PM if you have any other questions!

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T22:43:54.830Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, Ryan, and thanks to everyone who asked a question. Owen and I will be coming back here every now and then this week to answer any more questions that come up.

If you have any further thoughts or questions you can also PM me or email me at seb[at]prioritisation-dot-org

Goodnight!

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T22:40:21.484Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

If a reader wants to help GPP, what should they do?

At the moment GPP is funding constrained. We have an enormous pipeline of work - at one end we have literally hundreds of ideas we would love to pursue, but we also have several person-years of work on the table which is simply adapting our existing research to a particular audience to have impact. Anyone who is either able to donate or knows someone who might be able to would be enormously helpful. Based on the experience of other EA organisations, it is possible that we will become talent-constrained within the next year or two.

Beyond that, we continue to value introductions to individuals in governments or foundations. We also have more of these introductions available than we can currently pursue all of, but this is something where variety and quality of the lead is important. Knowing we could access a particular type of individual is useful, even when we do not pursue the lead immediately. We have a good system for tracking these opportunities to pursue later. We would also love to be able to help academics focus their research directions with an eye to impact. Introductions to academics who may be receptive and are in a position to choose their research direction would therefore be great.

Lastly, we really value challenge to our ideas. This AMA has already thrown up some questions that will change how we plan and think about our work. Anyone is welcome to send me critiques either as a PM or emailing seb[at]prioritisation-dot-org. I have had some extremely productive follow-on conversations with EAs who sent me feedback like that.

What would you do with a) £2,000 b) £10,000 c) £20,000?

At the moment, additional funding goes towards making sure we have a sustainable foundation for the organisation. Best-practice is to have 12 months of reserves, which at this point means raising an additional £20-25k (this is a rough number and does not include some pledged donations not yet received). Once we have raised that level, we would like to hire an additional member of staff. We expect, counting overhead costs like office space, HR, finance etc. that an additional staff member would cost us £35-40k. In order to offer credible job-security to a new hire, we would like to have at least a full year of reserves set aside to fund that hire.

All this means that, in order to comfortably hire a new staff member in the next CEA recruitment cycle we are raising towards a target of £100,000.

A picture of the historical unit costs of some of our outputs (to be distinguished from outcomes) is available in our strategy document, although these are very rough estimates. You can also find more details of our funding needs.

What do you think your room-for-more-funding is?

I think we could comfortably absorb £150,000 (which would build 12 months of reserves and allow us to hire two researchers, and possibly an intern). Funds beyond that could be put to creative use (for example, hiring researchers qua the University is more expensive, but might let us get better talent) but might be better directed at other organisations.

You're based in the UK - there's about to be an election, then five years of a new government. How does that affect your plans?

At the moment, individuals in government are largely distracted by the upcoming elections, so we have deprioritised outreach to UK policy-makers. We plan to spend the time until the election (May 7th) preparing policy briefs and fundraising so that we can focus on policy outreach in the months following the election. Conventional wisdom is that this is the best time to pursue policy objectives.

We have probably not devoted enough resources to developing contacts in the Opposition. The election is too close to call, so this may not end up being a problem, but we are open to pursuing strong leads in this period despite the attention of politicians being elsewhere.

Who are the key decision-makers/stakeholders in your area? Have you mapped them out - how they relate, what their responsibilities are? What Government Departments are you mainly interested in? Which are you monitoring? Are there any consultations open at the moment that you are submitting to? Same question for Parliamentary Committees.

Because we are trying to appeal to such a broad range of communities and enable comparison between them, there are a very large number of stakeholders. Within the UK government, we have the most to say to similarly broad organisations (Cabinet Office and Treasury) as well as departments like DFID or DoH (similarly PHE) where we have specific interests that overlap. Similarly, within foundations, we see many existing metacharity organisations as stakeholders to engage with (including GiveWell, Copenhagen Consensus, DCP, WHO and others).

Consultations and parliamentary committees are an excellent point - this is something that I’ve been monitoring since I joined the team. In that period (just under two months) we have not seen any for which we felt we had sufficiently valuable things to contribute (which were also a priority for us). It is too early to say, though, whether that avenue will prove effective in the long run.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T22:26:35.853Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

How many people have read your most popular content?

One of the many reasons we moved to our new website is that our analytics set up when we were using part of the FHI page was not everything we could have wanted. This makes it hard to give a confident answer to your question. Our top post got around 1000 page views over the last year, but some of our high-quality material such as the report on Unprecedented Technological Risks, was released as pdf and we do not have tracking numbers.

However, it is worth noting that monthly traffic to our website is up 5x between the month to today and the previous month, which makes the historic numbers less relevant. This is mostly because we now have a dedicated website, a mailing list, a facebook page, and a twitter account. As we continue to build up the base of subscribers, we expect this to grow.

What are your next few marginal hires?

Answered above

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T21:36:14.011Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I couldn’t agree more with Seth’s emphasis on the importance of stakeholder engagement. I would add, and I’m sure he would agree, that one of the most important parts of it is to learn from stakeholders. Everyone’s background offers insights that are really hard to imagine from other perspectives. One doesn’t just want to understand which of one’s ideas they can convinced to implement - they should be part of the process of developing the ideas. They should also be part of picking the questions.

Stakeholder engagement is something that GPP has set itself a particularly tough challenge on. Because we are trying to be a ‘broad’ cause comparison organisation, we do not slot naturally into an existing community of decision-makers. At the moment, this means that we have the capacity to build a small number of strong relationships in many different communities. This makes us good at the learning part of stakeholder engagement. It might end up making us too weak to push new policy on our own. That is why, for example, our current strategy for pushing specific policies is to sell focused policy to organisations that focus on that space and let them carry the idea forward. It remains to be seen how well this will work. It may be that the difficulty of stakeholder engagement with such a broad range of activities will force us to narrow our work, but this is also a factor which we think may make the area neglected.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T21:12:42.324Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

How many people work full-time and part-time on GPP? What are sustainable growth predictions?

I and Owen effectively work full-time on GPP (Owen has some teaching commitments as well). Toby Ord, Rob Wiblin, and Niel Bowerman all contribute irregularly to GPP projects, averaging a couple hours a week each. We aim to hire 1-2 new staff this year depending on fundraising.

Do you model yourself as a think-tank?

Somewhat, although think tanks have a wide variety of models and the type is not that well-defined (some have barely any staff while others have hundreds; some mostly lobby while others mostly do research). We are similar to many think tanks in that our goal is to influence policy and academic work without being a formal part of either system. Some of the future models of GPP look less like a think-tank.

What think-tanks have you looked at, spoken to, or modelled yourself upon?

We’ve spoken to people at a few think tanks, about specific issues like fundraising rather than their general approach, but have not modelled ourselves on any particular one. I think this is a good point though, and we may have underinvested in this area. Would be great to have a conversation with you about this some time.

Have you reached out to e.g. RUSI, BASIC, etc? Do you plan to?

We have not and do not currently have plans to, although it might make sense in the future. Our current focus has been less on topics related to defense (our current work in existential risk, for example, is focused on civilian biosafety risks).

What are your plans for the next a) 6 months b) year c) 5 years?

For the next 6 months we plan to test out models for impact. At around that point we aim to use what we’ve learned to focus our work onto the model which appears most effective, while continuing to evaluate and explore options. We plan to review that decision periodically with the possibility of future ‘pivots’ (drawing on the best-practice start-up literature). Some of our work has natural timescales which are shorter than other parts, so we will be able to reach conclusions earlier.

Models we are considering have strong commonalities and build off of our skills and current work, but might look different operationally. They include, for example, a focused policy think-tank, a policy evaluation think-tank, a policy evaluation consultancy, an academic organisation trying to seed ‘prioritisation’ as an academic discipline, or a cause comparison meta-charity organisation.

In what ways are you experimenting and iterating?

In our work-plan we divide activities around impact strategies. For example, one work-stream is to produce a really focused policy proposal worked through at a very detailed level and to get lobby groups in that field to push it forward. Another is to engage with an existing policy evaluation framework and suggest specific improvements. Once we do one, for example by producing a ‘topic primer’ on Unprecedented Technological Risks, we deprioritise similar activities to try to get more information about other routes to impact. By doing this, and evaluating the impact of each approach, we plan to focus down to a small number of effective and synergistic mechanisms for impact.

We are very aware that some of our approaches will have a high intrinsic variance, and are trying to correct for that in how we assess progress. Clearly, however, this will not be easy since we can never get a satisfactory sample size.

We are also ramping up the work we do to measure impact, both by getting better at tracking our inputs and by asking for more feedback on our outputs. Our recent push to increase engagement with our work is also partly in order to increase the quality of the feedback we get from producing it.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T20:34:26.633Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

We currently want to hire a researcher or policy specialist with skills complementary to those of Owen and me. We had some very strong expressions of interest when we invited them in December, and expect to be able to hire excellent staff. We are looking to build an impressive team - and are open to flexing our work-plan in order to get good people.

Experience drafting policy or working on policy evaluation framework would be very helpful, as would a background in welfare economics. Our next employee will need to be able to do independent research, but also to communicate that research to non-technical audiences. We are also interested in hiring a researcher with expertise relevant to the history of technology and technology forecasting as a separate project (as mentioned in other answers).

We are also looking for volunteers. We have a couple projects where we have chunks of fairly repeatable work which can be easily split over multiple workers. Most of these require strong research skills, because they involve critiquing other work, but limited time commitment. We would also be interested in volunteers with journalism experience.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T20:31:50.786Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

There are a lot of different audiences. Political decision-makers, the public at large, and academics are three.

Decision-makers in government are often (at least in the UK) very well intentioned and keen to use the right models and assumptions. But they are also very busy and have little time to do research and learn. We believe the best way to influence them is to engage with their work, understand what they are struggling with, and then produce really concise and useable frameworks for them. It’s really important to physically get paper copies into their offices. This is the approach we used while engaging with the National Risk Assessment, and one we will continue to use. For example, a contact in central government has suggested that, despite extensive academic work on the topic, decision-makers still do not really understand discount rates and could use a very clear ‘how-to’ note that can be passed around.

Influencing the public at large is going to take interaction with journalists and branding experts. It is a regrettable accident that the EA movement so far has been light on these skills - we hope that will change and are reaching out to journalists, marketing experts and PR workers (I spoke yesterday with a worker at a PR agency for academic public impact).

EAs may want to influence academics. Potential routes for this include doing impressive direct work (publishing, attending conferences etc.) to encourage others to build on the work. But an alternative strategy is to ‘pull side-ways’ (by offering prizes, hosting conferences, persuading top researchers etc.).

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on We are Seb Farquhar and Owen Cotton-Barratt from the Global Priorities Project, AUsA! · 2015-03-17T20:14:45.786Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

This is a really important topic that we aren’t discussing enough in the EA community. At the moment, Owen is working on a paper on modelling the marginal value of different research topics. It seems very likely that we will build on that paper by estimating the marginal value of a range of promising technology areas to compare against each other (a DCP for technology, as it were). This work wouldn’t address sequencing issues, and those are really important and something we should address as a society. Owen has some preliminary ideas in this direction and GPP may investigate this further. This work is, however, part of a very full pipeline of other work.

This highlights another important point - we aren’t the first to face these issues. People have been dealing with, and making predictions about, radical future-changing technologies for centuries. GPP has already applied for funding to hire a researcher to investigate the historical track record of such predictions, and predictions of mitigation strategies, to make us smarter about estimating which sorts of ex-risks and future challenges we are best placed to act to mitigate. We’ve also had interest from some donors to part-fund such activities. If anyone is interested in matching that contribution we may be able to speed up that hire.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Why averting a DALY through deworming may be better than through malaria nets · 2015-03-16T18:34:50.442Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks, fixed.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on March Open Thread · 2015-03-03T14:32:23.980Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I think it's not so much that it's crowded as that it's often unclear what the actual thing you'd lobby for is: is more research funding better research funding? Maybe. What exactly would better patent law be? Better education? These are all things where it is easy to come to views, and even to be quite confident about them, but where the realities are often much more complicated than they seem.

I don't mean that in a nihilistic way - I'm currently working on building a much more informed view of safe biological research funding in order to lobby for a specific policy - it's just that there's quite a lot of work to be done to be sure something is good before you advocate for it.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on March Open Thread · 2015-03-01T21:50:53.367Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, although engaging with existing policymakers too soon is a good way to lose credibility. There is definitely more room to talk to friendly policy experts though!

I'm not sure that doing lobbying 'just for practice' is a good idea. It would be fairly easy to accidentally lobby for something bad, and equally the reputational consequences of lobbying can be complicated if you don't know an area.

What do you mean by science/tech lobbying? Lobbying for what?

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on $10k of Experimental EA Funding · 2015-02-26T12:55:08.825Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

This is a very interesting idea!

I wonder about how the mechanism leads to behaviour-change though. In particular, each prize is relatively small compared to the cost of launching an activity - the expected value of the reward is significantly below start-up costs unless one was planning to basically do that anyhow. This means you might end up just funding the activities that were most effective in the last cycle but which would have happened anyway (which may be fine, they might be most likely to do well in the future with that money).

An opposite end of the spectrum would be to offer larger chunks that were big enough to motivate people to invest their own resources chasing it. I.e., an EA X-Prize. I think there will be some really cool lessons from varying the size of the award.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Tips on talking about effective altruism · 2015-02-25T11:43:37.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

"Ideally try to avoid telling people that they are obliged to do any particular action. Especially try not to tell people that what they are currently doing is bad."

A few of my non-EA friends have had similar experiences talking with EAs which backs this up. The most common is some variant of

"Have you considered doing something more effective than what you're doing now."

There may well be good ways and times to ask this question - but it's probably one for a close friend with a great deal of trust, not someone you just met.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on How can you compare helping two different people in different ways? · 2014-12-13T19:02:22.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This is a neat approach, Rob, and some form of it seems likely to be one of the best ways of thinking about this. I think the emphasis on putting yourself in the shoes of those you're trying to help rather than acting for yourself is particularly valuable. I think there is one extra difficulty that you haven't mentioned, though, which is to do with people having other preferences than yours.

Even if I'm able to work out that, given a random chance of being one of the participants I would prefer 2 to 3, it doesn't necessarily follow that 2 is preferable to 3 in an objective sense. It is interesting to imagine what the participants themselves would choose behind your veil (if they were fully informed about the tradeoffs etc.).

In many cases, one finds that people tend to think that their own condition is less bad than people who don't have the condition do. (That is, if you ask sighted people how bad it would be to be blind they say it would be much worse than blind people do when asked.) This suggests that, behind a veil of ignorance where self-interest is not at play, those at risk of malaria but not worms might regard treating worms as most important and those at risk of worms but not malaria would treat malaria. It seems hard to know whom to prioritise then.

There's also the eternal problem with imagining what one would choose - people often choose poorly. I assume you're making some sort of assumptions choosing under the best possible conditions. It may be, though, that your values depend on your decision-making conditions.

Of course, you still have to choose and like you say it's clear that 2 and 3 are both preferable to 1. I think this tool will get you answers most of the time, and can focus your mind on important questions, but there's a intrinsic uncertainty (or maybe indeterminateness) about the ordering.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on Effective Altruism Outreach needs your donations this Christmas! · 2014-12-13T18:26:01.782Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Peter. I'll be joining GPP in January. Niel and Rob have both said exactly what I'd say on the point of GPP. I'd perhaps add that GPP has been experimenting with a number of avenues towards impact using the outcome of its research. We'll be deciding exactly what approach seems most promising early in the new year, and that will be really important for shaping the organisation. My current hypothesis is that out biggest comparative advantage as an EA org is in tools for policy rather than for EAs, though obviously many things useful for one can be made useful for the other. From your comment it sounds like you had some specific ideas for things you thought GPP could be bringing to EAs, PM me and I'd love to chat about it.

Comment by sebastian_farquhar on The history of the term 'effective altruism' · 2014-03-11T14:38:00.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I remember one of my favourites for the name of CEA as the Federation for Effective Altruism Research. Or the Society for the Progress of Empathetic Consequentialism Through Reasoned Evaluation. I think the first may have been yours, Will. ;)