EA Boston 2018 Year in Review 2019-02-05T20:15:23.216Z


Comment by Taymon on Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021 · 2021-09-26T22:10:46.148Z · EA · GW

I think it would be good for CEA to provide a clear explanation, that it (not LW) stands behind as an organization, of exactly what real value it views as being on the line here, and why it thinks it was worthwhile to risk that value.

Comment by Taymon on Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021 · 2021-09-26T20:39:01.120Z · EA · GW

Correction: The annual Petrov Day celebration in Boston has never used the button.

Comment by Taymon on Forecasting transformative AI: what's the burden of proof? · 2021-08-18T00:56:10.948Z · EA · GW

Since you're (among other things) listing reference classes that people might put claims about transformative AI into, I'll note that millennarianism is a common one among skeptics. I.e., "lots of [mostly religious] groups throughout history have claimed that society is soon going to be swept away by an as-yet-unseen force and replaced with something new, and they were all deluded, so you are probably deluded too".

Comment by Taymon on Some quick notes on "effective altruism" · 2021-03-25T07:08:47.845Z · EA · GW

Reading this thread, I sort of get the impression that the crux here is between people who want EA to be more institutional (for which purpose the current name is kind of a problem) and people who want it to be more grassroots (for which purpose the current name works pretty okay).

There are other issues with the current name, like the thing where it opens us up to accusations of hypocrisy every time we fail to outperform anyone on anything, but I'm not sure that that's really what's driving the disagreement here. Partly, this is because people have tried to come up with better names over the years (though not always with a view towards driving serious adoption of them; often just as an intellectual exercise), and I don't think any of the candidates have produced widespread reactions of "oh yeah I wish we'd thought of that in 2012", even among people who see problems with the current name. So coming up with a name that's better than "effective altruism", by the lights of what the community currently is, seems like a pretty hard problem. (Obviously this is skewed somewhat by the inertia behind the current name, but I don't think that fully explains what's going on here.) When people do suggest different names, it tends to be because they think some or all of the community is emphasizing the wrong things, and want to pivot towards right ones.

"Global priorities community" definitely sounds incompatible with a grassroots direction; if I said that I was starting a one-person global priorities project in my basement, this would sound ridiculously grandiose and like I'd been severely Dunning-Krugered, whereas with an EA project this is fine.

For what it's worth, I'd prefer a name that's clearly compatible with both the institutional and the grassroots side, because it seems clear to me that both of these are in scope for the EA mandate and it's not acceptable to trade off either of them. The current name sounds a little more grassroots than I'd like, but again, I don't have any better ideas.

At one point I pitched Impartialist Maximizing Rationalist-Empiricist-Epistemological Welfarist-Axiological Ideology, or IMREEWAI for short, but for some strange reason nobody liked that idea :-P

Comment by Taymon on Where are you donating in 2020 and why? · 2020-12-05T00:56:46.590Z · EA · GW

Do you think the Biden campaign had room for more funding, i.e., that your donation made a Biden victory more likely on the margin (by enough to be worth it)? I am pretty skeptical of this; I suspect they already had more money than they were able to spend effectively. (I don't have a source for this other than Maciej Cegłowski, who has relevant experience but whom I don't agree with on everything; on the other hand, I can't recall ever hearing anyone make the case that U.S. presidential general-election campaigns do have room for more funding, and I'd be pretty surprised if there were such a case and it was strong.)

"Neglectedness" is a good heuristic for cause areas but I think that when donating to specific orgs it can wind up just confusing things and RFMF is the better thing to ask about.

I'm less certain about the Georgia campaign but still skeptical there, partly because it's a really high-profile race (since it determines control of the Senate and isn't competing for airtime with any other races) and partly because I think substantive electoral reform is likely to remain intractable even if the Democrats win. But I'd be interested to see a more thorough analysis of this.

Comment by Taymon on Where are you donating in 2020 and why? · 2020-11-25T22:38:07.372Z · EA · GW

Alcor claims on their brochure that membership dues "may be" tax-deductible. It's not clear to me how they concluded that. Somebody should probably ask them.

Comment by Taymon on Plan for Impact Certificate MVP · 2020-10-04T18:41:27.516Z · EA · GW

The second point there seems like the one that's actually relevant. It strikes me as unlikely that doing this with blockchain is less work than with conventional payment systems even if the developers have done blockchain things before, and conventional payment systems are even faster and more fungible with other assets than Ethereum. I'm reading the second point there as suggesting something like, you're hoping that funding for this will come in substantial part from people who are blockchain enthusiasts rather than EAs, and who therefore wouldn't be interested if it used conventional payment infrastructure?

(I agree that the "relics" idea is, at best, solving a different problem.)

Comment by Taymon on Factors other than ITN? · 2020-09-29T21:00:45.705Z · EA · GW

Wait, where's the N in the good-per-dollar-by-definition formula?

Comment by Taymon on The Hammer and the Dance · 2020-03-21T09:24:04.475Z · EA · GW

The post seems relatively optimistic. I'm worried that this may be motivated reasoning, and/or political reasoning (e.g., that people won't listen to anyone who isn't telling them that we can solve the crisis without doing anything too costly). Mind you, I'm not any kind of expert, I'm just suspicious-by-default given that most other analysis I've seen seems less optimistic (note that there are probably all kinds of horrible selection biases in what I'm reading and I have no idea what they are). Also, the author isn't an expert; they seem to have consulted experts for the post, but this still reduces my confidence in its conclusions, because those experts could have been selected for agreeing with a conclusion that the author came up with for non-expert-informed reasons.

Comment by Taymon on Advice for getting the most out of one-on-ones · 2020-03-21T09:20:07.858Z · EA · GW

I'm more likely to do this if there's a specific set of data I'm supposed to collect, so that I can write it down before I forget.

Comment by Taymon on Should you familiarize yourself with the literature before writing an EA Forum post? · 2019-10-10T05:43:44.287Z · EA · GW

Yeah, I should have known I'd get called out for not citing any sources. I'm honestly not sure I'd particularly believe most studies on this no matter what side they came out on; too many ways they could fail to generalize. I am pretty sure I've seen LW and SSC posts get cited as more authoritative than their epistemic-status disclaimers suggested, and that's most of why I believe this; generalizability isn't a concern here since we're talking about basically the same context. Ironically, though, I can't remember which posts. I'll keep looking for examples.

Comment by Taymon on Should you familiarize yourself with the literature before writing an EA Forum post? · 2019-10-08T05:00:00.112Z · EA · GW

"Breakthroughs" feel like the wrong thing to hope for from posts written by non-experts. A lot of the LW posts that the community now seems to consider most valuable weren't "breakthroughs". They were more like explaining a thing, such that each individual fact in the explanation was already known, but the synthesis of them into a single coherent explanation that made sense either hadn't previously been done, or had been done only within the context of an academic field buried in inferential distance. Put another way, it seems like it's possible to write good popularizations of a topic without being intimately familiar with the existing literature, if it's the right kind of topic. Though I imagine this wouldn't be much comfort to someone who is pessimistic about the epistemic value of popularizations in general.

The Huemer post kind of just felt like an argument for radical skepticism outside of one's own domain of narrow expertise, with everything that implies.

Comment by Taymon on Should you familiarize yourself with the literature before writing an EA Forum post? · 2019-10-08T04:58:58.935Z · EA · GW

It seems clear to me that epistemic-status disclaimers don't work for the purpose of mitigating the negative externalities of people saying wrong things, especially wrong things in domains where people naturally tend towards overconfidence (I have in mind anything that has political implications, broadly construed). This follows straightforwardly from the phenomenon of source amnesia, and anecdotally, there doesn't seem to be much correlation between how much, say, Scott Alexander (whom I'm using here because his blog is widely read) hedges in the disclaimer of any given post and how widely that post winds up being cited later on.

Comment by Taymon on Information security careers for GCR reduction · 2019-09-27T22:34:08.762Z · EA · GW

This post caused me to apply to a six-month internal rotation program at Google as a security engineer. I start next Tuesday.

Comment by Taymon on What would EAs most want to see from a "rationality" or similar project in the EA space? · 2019-09-15T17:26:55.489Z · EA · GW

I would like to see efforts at calibration training for people running EA projects. This would be useful for helping to push those projects in a more strategic direction, by having people lay out predictions regarding outcomes at the outset, kind of like what Open Phil does with respect to their grants.

Comment by Taymon on [Link] The Optimizer's Curse & Wrong-Way Reductions · 2019-04-14T03:11:36.425Z · EA · GW

Can you give an example of a time when you believe that the EA community got the wrong answer to an important question as a result of not following your advice here, and how we could have gotten the right answer by following it?

Comment by Taymon on Candidate Scoring System, Second Release · 2019-03-20T17:27:47.298Z · EA · GW

Links aren't working.

Comment by Taymon on How Can Each Cause Area in EA Become Well-Represented? · 2019-03-07T20:33:36.526Z · EA · GW

Apologies if this is a silly question, but could you give examples of specific, concrete problems that you think this analysis is relevant to?

Comment by Taymon on EAs and EA Orgs Should Move Cash from Low-Interest to High-Interest Options · 2019-02-24T00:50:27.308Z · EA · GW

Does your recommendation account for the staff-time costs of doing anything other than whatever an org's current setup is? Orgs like CEA have stated that this is why they don't do financial-optimization things like this.

Comment by Taymon on EAGx Boston 2018 Postmortem · 2019-02-24T00:47:53.943Z · EA · GW

I don't think there was necessarily anything wrong with it, I'd just encourage future organizers to consider more explicitly what the goal is and how to achieve it.

Comment by Taymon on EAGx Boston 2018 Postmortem · 2019-02-07T23:46:17.672Z · EA · GW

No one on the team knew the donor, though he had donated to EA causes in the past and was acquainted with relevant people at CEA. We offered him VIP tickets and then he put $2,000 in the pay-what-you-want box in our online ticketing system. I think it was primarily thought of as defraying conference costs, and indeed we came in less than $2,000 under budget.

The organizers included Matt Reardon (OP and lead organizer) from Harvard Law School, Jen Eason and Vanessa Ruales from Harvard College, Juan Gil from MIT, Rebecca Baron from Tufts, and myself (no institutional affiliation).

When writing this postmortem, we actually did devote a section of it to a discussion of how the content was received, including individual presentations. Because most of the speakers were invited guests, this section will not be made public. I can share a few overall conclusions.

Overall, reception of the content in aggregate was positive. Some attendees were surprised by, and in a few cases critical of, the proportion of it devoted to animal welfare. This was not by design; most of the conference organizers are interested in animal welfare, but not moreso than other EA focus areas. Rather, it was determined primarily by the availability of speakers (most notably keynote speaker Bruce Friedrich). A few talks were also criticized by some attendees for being overly technical or of narrow interest.

Most of the panels were moderated by members of the organizing team; I think it would have been better to have these be moderated by people with deeper knowledge of the respective topics.

The anti-debate was an interesting idea whose specific workings we kind of just made up ad-hoc. I'd like to see it tried again, but only after further refinement of the format and clarity on how exactly it is supposed to work.

Comment by Taymon on Why we have over-rated Cool Earth · 2018-11-27T02:33:34.869Z · EA · GW

I don't think nobody delved into the Cool Earth numbers because they assumed a bunch of smart people had already done it. I think nobody delved into the Cool Earth numbers because it wasn't worth their time, because climate change charities generally aren't competitive with the standard EA donation opportunities, so the question is only relevant if you've decided for non-EA reasons that you're going to focus on climate change. (Indeed, if I understand correctly the Founders Pledge report was written primarily for non-EA donors who'd decided this.)

Whatever's been going on with global poverty and AI risk, I think it's probably a different problem.

(And yes, Doing Good Better was part of what I was referring to with respect to nuance getting lost in popularizations. It's that problem specifically that I claim is difficult, not the more general problem of groupthink within EA.)

Comment by Taymon on Why we have over-rated Cool Earth · 2018-11-27T00:20:47.772Z · EA · GW

I don't think I would call this hubris. We all knew that the Cool Earth recommendation was low-confidence. But what else were we going to do? To paraphrase Scott Alexander from another recent community controversy, our probability distribution was wide but centered around Cool Earth.

I do think that that nuance occasionally got lost when doing outreach to people not already very informed about EA, but that's a different problem. We haven't solved it, but I feel like that's because it's hard, not because nobody's thought about it.

(One could also argue that outreach to mainstream audiences about EA shouldn't discuss climate change at all, given its place in the movement, but the temptation to make those mainstream audiences more receptive by talking about something they already care about is strong.)

Comment by Taymon on Why we have over-rated Cool Earth · 2018-11-26T05:51:40.614Z · EA · GW

I suspect that it was widely recognized for quite some time that GWWC's analysis of Cool Earth was outdated enough not to be trustworthy. People donated to Cool Earth anyway because it was the only climate-change charity that we had any particular reason to believe was better than others. This, of course, has changed with the Founders Pledge report, and as such I predict that EA interest in Cool Earth will fade with time.

I looked a little to try to figure out why the criticisms of Cool Earth don't also apply to the Coalition for Rainforest Nations. It sounds like the primary reason is because CfRN influences nationwide policy, so the loggers can be displaced only to a different country, which is inconvenient enough that most would give up.

Comment by Taymon on Why we have over-rated Cool Earth · 2018-11-26T05:41:24.065Z · EA · GW

Also, the cases for contraception and female education as climate-change interventions seem much, much more speculative than the case for rainforest conservation, so much so that their respective cost-effectiveness numbers probably ought not to be directly compared.

Comment by Taymon on Getting past the DALY: different measures of "positive impact" · 2018-11-24T16:47:18.093Z · EA · GW

GiveWell doesn't directly use literal DALYs in their current cost-effectiveness estimates. They have a research page on them; the linked blog posts were originally published a long time ago, but were updated relatively recently, so they presumably still stand by them. See also this more recent post.

GiveWell's cost-effectiveness spreadsheet includes a tab on moral weights. You can make a copy of it, change the numbers to represent your preferred views on population ethics, and see what this does to the results.

Comment by Taymon on Towards Better EA Career Advice · 2018-11-24T03:55:50.318Z · EA · GW

I think the big problem with the narrow focus is that newbie EAs, especially if they're students, tend to get saturated with the message that the way to do good with your life is to go to 80,000 Hours and follow their career advice. Indeed, CEA's official advice for local group leaders says to heavily emphasize this. And they get this message relatively early in the sales funnel, long before they've gone through anything that would filter out the majority who aren't good candidates for 80,000 Hours's top priority paths. So it ought not to surprise anyone that a huge fraction of them come away demoralized.

There's an obvious sense in which this is still the impact-maximizing approach, in that the global utilitarian cost of demoralizing a bunch of people who weren't going to change the world anyway, is likely outweighed by the benefit of getting even one person who needed that extra push to start working on a priority program. But it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I feel as though, if EA is going to choose to be a community (as opposed to just a thing that some individuals happen to do), then it has at least some kind of responsibility to take care of its own, separate from its mission to maximize aggregate global utility. And there's a sense in which setting up expectations that most of us can't live up to constitutes a systematic failure to do that.

(Incidentally, I think most local group leaders don't want to send their members through the gauntlet like this. But even if they realize that there's a problem, it's still the accepted thing to do and they don't have any better ideas. EAs want to be doing something impactful, or else they wouldn't be EAs, and there aren't a lot of great alternative activities that groups of nonspecialists can do, especially now that fundraising for GiveWell top charities has (rightly) gone out of fashion.)

Comment by Taymon on Amazon Smile · 2018-11-21T03:49:24.583Z · EA · GW

I suspect that it is a bad idea to publicly advocate this (though using it is fine). I'm not worried so much about moral licensing; rather, I think the amount of money being moved in this way is so tiny, relative to the amount of attention required in order to move it, that in a genuinely impact-focused discussion of possible ways to do good it would not even come up. I fear that bringing it up in association with EA gives a misleading impression of what the EA approach to prioritization looks like.

Comment by Taymon on Additional plans for the new EA Forum · 2018-09-07T18:10:02.745Z · EA · GW

Is that form supposed to be accessible to outside CEA? Right now it's not.

Comment by Taymon on Would an EA world with limited money fund costly treatments? · 2018-03-31T19:47:35.754Z · EA · GW

Prior work on this topic [PDF]

Comment by Taymon on Personal thoughts on careers in AI policy and strategy · 2017-09-27T18:47:56.849Z · EA · GW

All of the endnote links are broken.

Comment by Taymon on EA Global 2017 Update · 2016-12-07T03:15:24.654Z · EA · GW

Is the nomination form supposed to have contact information? I just nominated a potential speaker who I'm connected to, but realized that you may have no way to get in touch with me.

Comment by Taymon on $250 donation for best EA intro essay - deadline: March 10 · 2016-02-11T20:34:32.632Z · EA · GW

So assuming you don't win, are you allowed to post your essay on your own blog? Or would this undermine CEA's ability to cannibalize bits of it?