Posts

Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous 2021-12-09T21:27:42.387Z
Examples of Successful Selective Disclosure in the Life Sciences 2021-08-19T18:38:24.582Z
tessa's Shortform 2021-05-30T03:41:54.856Z
Retrospective on Catalyst, a 100-person biosecurity summit 2021-05-26T13:10:22.942Z
A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List 2021-03-14T02:30:48.814Z
How to run a high-energy reading group 2021-03-01T02:38:35.050Z
What are your top papers of the 2010s? 2019-10-22T22:08:59.410Z
Evidence Action – We’re Shutting Down No Lean Season, Our Seasonal Migration Program: Here’s Why 2019-06-16T16:42:18.103Z
Will splashy philanthropy cause the biosecurity field to focus on the wrong risks? 2019-04-30T16:03:20.884Z
Scott Alexander – Axiology, Morality, Law 2016-08-28T15:00:02.241Z
Minding Our Way – Dive In 2016-06-13T14:52:43.075Z
Minding Our Way – Deliberate Once 2016-05-23T13:47:58.760Z
Minding Our Way – Conviction without self-deception 2016-05-08T13:56:16.841Z
Scott Alexander – Nobody Is Perfect, Everything Is Commensurable 2014-12-19T16:02:59.908Z
Carl Shulman – How migration liberalization might eliminate most absolute poverty 2014-05-27T19:50:04.215Z
Paul Christiano – Machine intelligence and capital accumulation 2014-05-15T00:10:33.714Z
Carl Shulman – What portion of a boost to global GDP goes to the poor? 2014-01-24T01:15:56.276Z
Brian Tomasik – Reasons to Be Nice to Other Value Systems 2014-01-17T00:28:12.101Z
Brian Tomasik – Differential Intellectual Progress as a Positive-Sum Project 2013-10-23T23:31:23.470Z
Carl Shulman — How are brain mass (and neurons) distributed among humans and the major farmed land animals? 2013-09-10T23:22:55.680Z

Comments

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Bad Omens in Current Community Building · 2022-05-13T23:25:04.477Z · EA · GW

a rhetorical move that introduces huge moral stakes into the world-view in order to push people into drastically altering their actions and priorities

What is the definition you'd prefer people to stick to? Something like "being pushed into actions that have a very low probability of producing value, because the reward would be extremely high in the unlikely event they did work out"?

The Drowning Child argument doesn't seem like an example of Pascal's Mugging, but Wikipedia gives the example of:

"give me five dollars, or I'll use my magic powers from outside the Matrix to run a Turing machine that simulates and kills 3 ↑↑↑↑ 3"

and I think recent posts like The AI Messiah are gesturing at something like that (see, even, this video from the comments on that post: Is AI Safety a Pascal's Mugging?).

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Hypertension is Extremely Important, Tractable, and Neglected · 2022-05-13T18:07:48.186Z · EA · GW

I haven't looked into this in detail (honest epistemic status: saw a screenshot on Twitter) but what do you think of the recent paper Association of Influenza Vaccination With Cardiovascular Risk?

Quoting from it, re: tractable interventions:

The effect sizes reported here for major adverse cardiovascular events and cardiovascular mortality (in patients with and without recent ACS) are comparable with—if not greater than—those seen with guideline-recommended mainstays of cardiovascular therapy, such as aspirin, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, β-blockers, statins, and dual antiplatelet therapy.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Bad Omens in Current Community Building · 2022-05-13T12:40:42.244Z · EA · GW

Minor elaboration on your last point: a piece of advice I got from someone who did psychological research on how to solicit criticism was to try to brainstorm someone's most likely criticism of you would be, and then offer that up when requesting criticism, as this is a credible indication that you're open to it. Examples:

  • "Hey, do you have any critical feedback on the last discussion I ran? I talked a lot about AI stuff, but I know that can be kind of alienating for people who have more interest in political action than technology development... Does that seem right? Is there other stuff I'm missing?"
  • "Hey, I'm looking for criticism on my leadership of this group. One thing I was worried about is that I make time for 1:1s with new members, but not so much with people that have been in the group for more than one year..."
  • "Did you think there was there anything off about our booth last week? I was noticing we were the only group handing out free books, maybe that looked weird. Did you notice anything else?"
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Request for proposals: Help Open Philanthropy quantify biological risk · 2022-05-13T11:49:24.286Z · EA · GW

Some recent-ish resources that potential applicants might want to check out:

David Manheim and Gregory Lewis, High-risk human-caused pathogen exposure events from 1975-2016, data note published in August 2021.

As a way to better understand the risk of Global Catastrophic Biological Risks due to human activities, rather than natural sources, this paper reports on a dataset of 71 incidents involving either accidental or purposeful exposure to, or infection by, a highly infectious pathogenic agent.

Filippa Lentzos and Gregory D. Koblentz, Mapping Maximum Biological Containment Labs Globally, policy brief published in May 2021 part of the Global Biolabs project.

This study provides an authoritative resource that: 1) maps BSL4 labs that are planned, under construction, or in operation around the world, and 2) identifies indicators of good biosafety and biosecurity practices in the countries where the labs are located.

2021 Global Health Security Index, https://www.ghsindex.org/.

If you click through to the PDFs under each individual country profile, they have detailed information on the country's biosafety and biosecurity laws! (Example: the exact laws aren't clear from https://www.ghsindex.org/country/ukraine/ but if you click through to the "Country Score Justification Summary" PDF (https://www.ghsindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/Ukraine.pdf) it has like 100 pages of policy info.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Request for proposals: Help Open Philanthropy quantify biological risk · 2022-05-13T11:37:44.431Z · EA · GW

One now-inactive past project in this space that I would highlight (since I would very much like something similar to exist again) is The Sunshine Project. Quoting its (sadly very short) Wikipedia page:

The Sunshine Project worked by exposing research on biological and chemical weapons. Typically, it accessed documents under the Freedom of Information Act and other open records laws, publishing reports and encouraging action to reduce the risk of biological warfare. It tracked the construction of high containment laboratory facilities and the dual-use activities of the U.S. biodefense program.

Some more on Edward Hammond's work/methods show up in this press article on The Worrying Murkiness of Institutional Biosafety Committees:

In 2004, an activist named Edward Hammond fired up his fax machine and sent out letters to 390 institutional biosafety committees across the country. His request was simple: Show me your minutes.

...

The committees “are the cornerstone of institutional oversight of recombinant DNA research,” according to the NIH, and at many institutions, their purview includes high-security labs and research on deadly pathogens.

...

When Hammond began requesting minutes in 2004, he said, he intended to dig up information about bioweapons, not to expose cracks in biosafety oversight. But he soon found that many institutions were unwilling to hand over minutes, or were struggling to provide any record of their IBCs at all. For example, he recalled, Utah State was a hub of research into biological weapons agents. “And their biosafety committee had not met in like 10 years, or maybe ever,” Hammond said. “They didn’t have any records of it ever meeting.”

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA and the current funding situation · 2022-05-11T17:51:14.785Z · EA · GW

I logically acknowledge that: "In some cases, an extravagant lifestyle can even produce a lot of good, depending on the circumstances... It’s not my preferred moral aesthetic, but the world’s problems don’t care about my aesthetics."

I know that, but... I care about my aesthetics.

For nearly everyone, I think there exists is a level of extravagance that disgusts their moral aesthetics. I'm sure I sit above that level for some, with my international flights and two $80 keyboards. My personal aesthetic disgust triggers somewhere around "how dare you spend $1000 on a watch when people die of dehydration". Giving a blog $100,000 isn't quite disgusting, yet, ew?

The post I've read that had the least missing mood around speculative philanthropy was probably the So You Want To Run A Microgrants Program retrospective on Astral Codex Ten, which included the following:

If your thesis is “Instead of saving 300 lives, which I could totally do right now, I’m gonna do this other thing, because if I do a good job it’ll save even more than 300 lives”, then man, you had really better do a good job with the other thing.

I like the scenario this post gives for risks of omission: a giant Don't Look Up asteroid hurtling towards the earth. I wouldn't be mad if people misspent some money, trying to stop it, because the problem was so urgent. Problems are urgent!

...yet, ew? So many other things look kind of extravagant, and they're competing against lives. I feel unsure about whether to treat my aesthetically-driven moral impulses as useful information about my motivations vs. obviously-biased intuitions to correct against.

(For example, I started looking into donating a kidney a few years ago and was like... man, I could easily save an equal number of years of life without accruing 70+ micromorts, but that's not nearly as rad? Still on the fence about this one.)

[crosspost from my twitter]

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-05-04T16:15:52.606Z · EA · GW

You might be interested to know that iGEM (disclosure: my employer) just published a blog post about infohazards. We currently offer biorisk workshops for teams; this year we plan to offer a general workshop on risk awareness, a workshop specifically on dual-use, and potentially some others. We don't have anything on general EA / rationality, though we do share biosecurity job and training opportunities with our alumni network.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2022-05-02T22:22:13.294Z · EA · GW

On passive technologies, I imagine the links from Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists would be informative. The areas highlighted there under "physical protection from pathogens" are:

  • Improving personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Suppressing pathogen spread in the built environment
  • Improving biosafety in high-containment labs and clinics
  • Suppressing pathogen spread in vehicles

For spread in vehicles and the built environment, my sense (based on conversations with others, not independent research) is that lots of folks are excited about about upper-air UV-C systems to deactivate viruses. I don't know the best reading on that so here's a somewhat random March 2022 paper on the subject: Far-UVC (222 nm) efficiently inactivates an airborne pathogen in a room-sized chamber

(For all of these comments, take these resources as a lower-intensity recommendation than other things on this list, since these are selected based on the criteria of "things that seem relevant to this topic" rather than "things I found particularly interesting".)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2022-05-02T22:13:43.841Z · EA · GW

On cyberbiosecurity:

(For all of these comments, take these resources as a lower-intensity recommendation than other things on this list, since these are selected based on the criteria of "things that seem relevant to this topic" rather than "things I found particularly interesting".)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on A Biosecurity and Biorisk Reading+ List · 2022-05-02T17:00:12.373Z · EA · GW

Under Solutions to deal with misinformation, Tara Kirk Sell at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has done a bunch of related work (her list of publications includes things like a National Priorities to Combat Misinformation and Disinformation for COVID-19 and Future Public Health Threats: A Call for a National Strategy and Longitudinal Risk Communication: A Research Agenda for Communicating in a Pandemic). She was also interviewed for the 80,000 Hours podcast in May 2020, though I suspect her thinking has evolved since then.

(For all of these comments, take these resources as a lower-intensity recommendation than other things on this list, since these are selected based on the criteria of "things that seem relevant to this topic" rather than "things I found particularly interesting".)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Nathan Young's Shortform · 2022-05-02T13:50:48.440Z · EA · GW

I have strong "social security number" associations with the acronym SSN.

Setting those aside, I feel "scale" and "solvability" are simpler and perhaps less jargon-y words than "impact" and "tractability" (which is probably good), but I hear people use "impact" much more frequently than "scale" in conversation, and it feels broader in definition, so I lean towards "ITN" over "SSN".

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Project: bioengineering an all-female breed of chicken to end chick culling · 2022-04-28T21:11:20.950Z · EA · GW

Thank you for highlighting this opportunity, which seems like the sort of cool research that this community is into funding (including me, I chipped in a little bit), as well as for doing so much investigation of the project in order to write up this report.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics · 2022-04-13T17:50:47.202Z · EA · GW

Man, I find it so difficult (on, like, an emotional level) to think clearly about the dollar value of an hour of my time (I feel like it is overvalued?? because so many people make so much less money than me, a North American???) but I agree that adopting some kind of clear heuristic here is good, and that I should more frequently be doing explicit trades of "I will spend up to 2 hours on trying to find a cheaper option, because I think in expectation that's worth $60".

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics · 2022-04-13T17:45:26.352Z · EA · GW

I wonder if it might be possible to get volunteers to help find some of opportunities to save money, in the genre of

putting students up in cheaper hotels, booking flights further in advance, or selecting cheaper flights where inconvenience is minimal (rather than treating money as no object).

I am not confident that this is true, because coordinating with volunteers is a lot of work and coordination-time is limited, but I could imagine a world where you could be like "here is my BATNA for booking flights for these speakers, if someone can improve upon this in the next 12 hours, I will donate the difference in money to the charity of their choice".

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics · 2022-04-13T17:39:45.765Z · EA · GW

+1, the frugality options seem like a nice way to "make the opportunity cost of funding more salient" without necessarily requiring huge changes from event organizers.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Announcing the EU Tech Policy Fellowship · 2022-03-30T10:22:08.600Z · EA · GW

This project sounds great! You said this is focused on "high-priority emerging technologies, especially AI and cybersecurity". My network is mostly composed of synthetic biologists, would this also be an appropriate opportunity for them?

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on We're announcing a $100,000 blog prize · 2022-03-09T10:15:01.844Z · EA · GW

I just want to pipe in to say that I think this is a cool example; the structure of "extremely small prize for doing the thing at all" seems like a nice way to build up the funnel of new blogs in a more even-handed way.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-03-07T13:13:32.872Z · EA · GW

Screen and record all DNA synthesis 
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

Screening all DNA synthesis orders for potentially serious hazards would reduce the risk that a dangerous biological agent is engineered and released. Robustly recording what DNA is synthesized (necessarily in an encrypted fashion) would allow labs to prove that they had not engineered an agent causing an outbreak. We are interested in funding work to solve technical, political and incentive problems related to securing DNA synthesis.

 

Meta note: there are already some cool EA-aligned projects related to this, such as SecureDNA from the MIT Media Lab and Common Mechanism to Prevent Illicit Gene Synthesis from NTI/IBBIS. Also, this one is not an original idea of mine to an even greater extent than the others I've posted.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-03-07T13:01:48.670Z · EA · GW

yeah, to expand upon this:

Best practices for assessment and management of dual-use infohazards
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe, Values and Reflective Processes

Lots of important and well-intended research, including research into AI alignment and pandemic prevention, generates information which may be hazardous if misused. We would like to better understand how to assess and manage these hazards, and would be interested in funding expert elicitation studies and other empirical work on estimating information risks. We would also be interested in funding work to make organizations, including research labs, publishers and grantmakers, better equipped to handle dual-use through offering training and incentives to follow certain best practices.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Concrete Biosecurity Projects (some of which could be big) · 2022-03-07T12:42:29.589Z · EA · GW

One interesting and somewhat-related story here: an airport spa chain called XPresSpa launched a COVID-testing service called XpresCheck and have been working alongside Concentric by Ginkgo on airport biosurveillance for specific countries:

“For the past 3 months, XpresCheck and their testing partner, Concentric by Gingko, demonstrated that a traveler-based SARS-CoV-2 viral genomic surveillance program can help detect emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States,” said Dr. Cindy R. Friedman, chief of CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch. “In fact, following the rapid expansion over the Thanksgiving break, the program detected the first documented U.S. cases of Omicron sub-lineage BA.2 and BA.3,” added Friedman.

I think Concentric is aiming to continue running airport biosurveillance; the idea of working from airport waste (rather than needing to directly sample travellers) is super interesting!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Concrete Biosecurity Projects (some of which could be big) · 2022-03-07T12:32:47.813Z · EA · GW

Hi, I work on biosecurity at iGEM, can confirm we care quite a lot about it. A lot of these projects don't seem obviously best solved through synthetic biology (cf. Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists) but iGEMers often surprise me! 

I think many teams are already motivated to work on medical countermeasures, though I maybe see a somewhat greater number of exciting diagnostics projects than therapeutics projects (for example, two of the winners of the 2020 competition worked on rapid point-of-care diagnostics (https://2020.igem.org/Team:Leiden/Description, https://2020.igem.org/Team:TAS_Taipei). I would guess this is because it's easier to measure the success of a prototype diagnostic over a few months than it is to figure out a relevant assay for treating a disease.

Last year we tried to incentivize more direct work on technical advances in biosecurity via giving out 5 microgrants (https://2021.igem.org/Teams/Grants/Safety) and doing more to promote and spotlight our award for Safety and Security (https://video.igem.org/w/nkrCA4EaFGEuefUtbmLijN). We'll be iterating on that program this year, though I don't know exactly what form it will take; I'm definitely taking inspiration from the ideas here and in the Future Fund ideas thread, though.
 

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-03-04T23:27:43.510Z · EA · GW

Continuous sampling for high-risk laboratories
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

We would be excited to fund efforts to test laboratory monitoring systems that would provide data for biosafety and biosurveillance. The 1979 Sverdlovsk anthrax leak happened because a clogged air filter had been removed from the bioweapons laboratory's exhaust pipe and no one informed the night shift manager. What if, by default, ventilation ducts in high-containment laboratories were monitored to detect escaping pathogens? Establishing a practice of continuous sampling would also support efforts to strengthen the biological weapons convention; it would become easier to verify the convention we had a baseline data signature for benign high-containment work. 

Additional note:  the OSINT data sources mentioned in the Strengthening the Bioweapons convention project (publication records, job specs, equipment supply chains) are also a form of continuous monitoring, but it seemed useful to carve this out as a separate technical priority.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Future Fund’s Project Ideas Competition · 2022-03-03T17:13:38.531Z · EA · GW

Reducing risks from laboratory accidents
Biorisk and Recovery from Catastrophe

Some life sciences research, such as gain-of-function work with potential pandemic pathogens, poses serious risks even in the absence of bad actors. What if we could eliminate biological risks from laboratory accidents? We'd like to see work to reduce the likelihood of accidents, such as empirical biosafety research and human factors analysis on  laboratory equipment. We'd also like to see work that reduces the severity of accidents, such as warning systems to inform scientists if a pathogen has not been successfully deactivated and user-friendly lab strains that incorporate modern biocontainment methods.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists · 2022-01-31T21:50:57.142Z · EA · GW

You might find some answers in the question on computational biology thesis topic suggestions or some ideas in this post on project ideas in biosecurity, but/and I second Will's idea of moving this into its own question post if you want to solicit more suggestions.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Should GMOs (e.g. golden rice) be a cause area? · 2022-01-31T18:02:40.423Z · EA · GW

I think you're right that the human-health-via-nutrition case for GMOs is pretty weak. Advocating for non-GMO food fortification (e.g. the work of the Food Fortification Initiative, who have been written up by GiveWell but are not a top charity) seems more tractable than pushing for GMOs.

Your "Other use cases of GMOs" section focuses on addressing other nutritional deficits. My (not deeply researched) sense is that the major benefits of agricultural GMOs are probably more about reduced famine via:

*  ability to survive climate extremes
* resistance to pest insects (cf. Bt Binjal, which is approved in Bangladesh)
* resistance to plant diseases (e.g. work to make plantains resistance to banana streak virus)

There also seem to be some GMOs that allow for a reduction of pesticide use (e.g. GM cotton in China) which I (non-confidently) suspect has human and environmental health benefits. Do you have any  thoughts on how advocacy for these uses of GMOs stacks up against the nutritional case?

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on The Bioethicists are (Mostly) Alright · 2022-01-07T22:23:34.824Z · EA · GW

This:

it is worth some eyebrow-raising if it turns out that the ingroup defense is something along the lines of “well, by bioethicists, we mean research ethicists, and by research ethicists we mean research bureaucrats, and by research bureaucrats, we mean research bureaucracy.”

has been roughly my impression of the curious EA bioethics hate, which I have tried to push back on when I've seen my friends expressing it. I liked the Rob Bensinger piece Thirty-three randomly selected bioethics papers that you linked.

My sense is that there are institutions making  dubious, hyperconservative, and omission-biased "ethical" judgments for reasons that are more to do with liability than ethics. I think many USA-based researchers don't really interact with "bioethics" except when asked to fill out extremely onerous forms for their institution (e.g. "what are the risks of asking people to look at differently-coloured triangles on a computer screen?", where an insufficiently-detailed response means your project can't go ahead).

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Comments for shorter Cold Takes pieces · 2021-12-31T21:23:57.839Z · EA · GW

I haven't read The Culture series but/and I really enjoyed this meta piece about it: Why The Culture Wins: An appreciation of Iain M. Banks for a really excellent discussion of meaning-seeking within a post-scarcity utopia. An excerpt:

In fact, modern science fiction writers have had so little to say about the evolution of culture and society that it has become a standard trope of the genre to imagine a technologically advanced future that contains archaic social structures. ... Such a postulate can be entertaining, to the extent that it involves a dramatic rejection of Marx’s view, that the development of the forces of production drives the relations of production (“The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.”). Put in more contemporary terms, Marx’s claim is that there are functional relations between technology and social structure, so that you can’t just combine them any old way. Marx was, in this regard, certainly right, hence the sociological naiveté that lies at the heart of Dune. Feudalism with energy weapons makes no sense – a feudal society could not produce energy weapons, and energy weapons would undermine feudal social relations.

...

One interesting consequence of this process [of globalized cultural evolution] is that the competition between cultures is becoming defunctionalized. The institutions of modern bureaucratic capitalism solve many of the traditional problems of social integration in an almost mechanical way. As a result, when considering the modern “hypercultures” – e.g. American, Japanese, European – there is little to choose from a functional point of view. None are particularly better or worse, from the standpoint of constructing a successful society. And so what is there left to compete on? All that is left are the memetic properties of the culture, which is to say, the pure capacity to reproduce itself.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Why do you find the Repugnant Conclusion repugnant? · 2021-12-18T15:32:50.201Z · EA · GW

Is this necessary? I feel like many people judge their lives as worth living even though their day-to-day experiences contain mostly pain. I wonder if we're imagining different definitions  for "barely-net-positive". Maybe you mean "adding up the magnitude of moment-to-moment negative or positive qualia over someone's entire life" (hedonistic utilitarianism) whereas I am usually imagining something more like "on reflection, the person judges their life as worth living" (kinda preference utilitarian).

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Why do you find the Repugnant Conclusion repugnant? · 2021-12-17T15:50:15.616Z · EA · GW

In the maximally repugnant world, no one's life is all that good. I feel the sting of that. It's hard for me to get excited about a world in which all of the people I know personally have barely-net-positive lives full of suffering and struggle, even if that world contains more people.

The Wikipedia page you linked gives a pretty not-upsetting version of the paradox: 

From Wikipedia, the four situations, A, A+, B-, and B of the Mere Addition Paradox, illustrated as bars of different widths and heights with "water" between (in the case of A+ and B-), following Parfit's book Reasons and Persons, chapter 19.

whereas the thing that people find repugnant looks more like:
 

From the Stanford Encyclopedia page on the repugnant conclusion. 


I accept the conclusion, but it feels like I am biting a bullet when I say that World Z is worth fighting for.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous · 2021-12-16T20:31:18.248Z · EA · GW

Yeah, I think you're right that a possible takeaway here is "try to minimize your leisure time, but leave yourself generous slack", and I like the idea of building up a "motivational runway" that you can burn down when you need to push really hard on something.

I just still think that most people (sure, probably not Sam Bankman-Fried) are going to cause themselves needless pain by aiming for minimum leisure/fun/etc instead of prioritizing more important uses of a smaller number of impact-oriented hours.

To reverse your financial metaphor, I feel like I see a lot of people doing the equivalent of only buying beans and rice at the grocery store so they can donate more money to their local children's hospital and I'm like... hey, if you're interested in saving children's lives, you might want to consider buying bednets? Also, have you looked into whether you might be able to increase your earnings, rather than focusing on not spending? I worry that "minimize leisure time", like "minimize grocery bill", is a goal that feels easy to optimize for while both distracting from more important goals and potentially doing some health damage.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous · 2021-12-13T16:20:20.236Z · EA · GW

Thanks, I appreciate this detailed response! My advice for what to do in practice is something like "focus on output against priorities, not marginal hours". I no longer believe that, for most people, there is a real trade-off between hours spent on self-care*  and amount of impact. If someone is making themselves miserable, I think "put real effort into becoming less depressed" is a likely good short-term bet for increasing productivity, but this post is meant to be about a general pattern, not just advice for people struggling with their mental health.

* aside: I don't love "self-care" as a phrase, since it always conjures images of someone, like, reclining in a bubble bath whilst eating chocolates. Which is a fine thing to  do, obviously, but I would love a phrase that more clearly points to "taking the time and actions you need to feel okay doing your life".

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous · 2021-12-13T16:00:55.159Z · EA · GW

I'm also familiar with this school of thought, but I'm not sure it's empirically validated? 

In the case of Dominic Cummings, I believe you are referring to this post which describes running successful political campaigns. Those seem like they might be an outlier, in that they are an extremely time-bound competition where "do things faster than your opponent" is an obvious win? As Samuel noted, running a startup is also a case where a marginal month of delivery matters, since you likely have <1 year of runway to demonstrate to investors that you should continue being funded. The other examples you cite don't seem to be of people optimizing for impact.

Lynette Bye put some empirical research into the post How Long Can People Reasonably Work?, but found the literature pretty disappointing. Her top-level conclusions included:

First, as you work more hours, each hour becomes less productive. If I had to guess based on the research, I’d say there are steeply diminishing marginal value around 40-50 hours per week, and negative returns (meaning less total output for the day per additional hour) somewhere between 50 and 70 hours.
 
...
 
I’m fairly skeptical any of this research tells us how much to work (you can see more details below). I place more confidence on the anecdotal reports of productive people. It’s common for them to report three to five hours of deep work on a top priority each day, plus several hours more of lower energy or more “following curiosity”-type work (three more yet-to-be-released interviews also report in this range; one interview reports more). To be clear, I think they’re describing consistent, intense, “write a book chapter” levels of focus for those three to five hours. 

The hyperproductive people I know seem to score well on (1) working on important things and (2) being very focused while working, but vary in how many hours of work they do per week (I'd estimate 30-50).

I am not a hyperproductive person, so I'm not sure you should take productivity advice from me, but "try to do at least one thing I think is actually important per week" seems to give me better results than "try to work really hard", since the latter can lead to hyperfocused work on things that don't really matter.

Curious if you know of any sources that were missed in Lynette's post, or this response, though!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous · 2021-12-12T05:18:39.627Z · EA · GW

Thank you for your kind words! I do find it really useful to have time that is intentionally free from obligation. I do still track my time, but I have an "endorsed chill" category (which I absolutely did not circa 2018).

You might enjoy the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It's written in a standard business-psych tone, so expect lots of inspiring anecdotes of corporate success and bolded subheadings, but/and it has a number of useful strategies for prioritizing. It also frames a bunch of things I was deficient in― e.g. dropping unnecessary commitments, sleeping adequately, accepting trade-offs― as difficult skills that high-achieving people should master, which made cultivating those skills feel more appealing on an ego level.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Aiming for the minimum of self-care is dangerous · 2021-12-12T00:11:31.457Z · EA · GW

Fair enough! I have revised the title to include "self-care", which hopefully makes it clearer (the previous title, for later arrivals to this comment thread, was just "Aiming for the minimum is dangerous").

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates · 2021-12-09T07:00:18.280Z · EA · GW

+1, distinguishing between "No degree requirement", "Bachelors", "Masters" all would be helpful. You could borrow from the 80k board and separate out the "Academic Degree" requirements from the "Relevant Experience" requirements (e.g. "< 1 Year", "1-2 years", "2 or more years")
 

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Open Thread: Spring 2022 · 2021-12-08T15:06:18.515Z · EA · GW

If you're looking for resources on mental health, you might enjoy some of the upvoted posts under the self-care tag, including Mental Health Resources Tailored for EAs and Resources on Mental Health and Finding a Therapist.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review) · 2021-12-07T20:30:42.683Z · EA · GW

FYI for anyone else who might crosspost Brian Tomasik posts: I learned thanks to a crosspost of The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering that he doesn't like crossposting since it makes updating the content of posts more difficult. I have updated my crossposts from him to only include the summary paragraphs and a table of contents (with a caveat that the contents are as of the time of cross-posting).

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on AMA: Joan Rohlfing, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative · 2021-12-07T04:50:52.103Z · EA · GW

When NTI launched the Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative in 2018, five proposals were highlighted, which all seem to have translated into current initiatives:

I'd be curious to hear you answers to any of the recently-shared Hamming Questions for Project Planning for those initiatives. Copying the first three questions here:

  1. What are the most important problems for this project, and what is stopping you (/NTI) from working on them right now?
  2. What is the limiting factor on the project’s growth and progress?
  3. What problems in this project are the largest order of magnitude? What changes could you make that would result in a 100x or 1000x increase in this project’s positive impact?
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on AMA: Joan Rohlfing, President and COO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative · 2021-12-07T04:42:34.650Z · EA · GW

What do you think are the most important security (I'm especially interested in biosecurity) projects being done outside of the USA/UK? More generally, what are the organizations or projects you would suggest EAs based outside the USA or UK try to get involved with?

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Carl Shulman – What portion of a boost to global GDP goes to the poor? · 2021-12-06T22:40:15.428Z · EA · GW

Well, thanks for leaving feedback despite being unsure! I appreciate it since this is my first time doing a bunch of crossposts, and I'm trying to figure out a good format.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Carl Shulman – What portion of a boost to global GDP goes to the poor? · 2021-12-06T22:07:24.819Z · EA · GW

The EA forum team is going to back-date these posts to their original dates so they can be voted on in the review. Would you still have benefited from the note being at the beginning if this post's date indicated that it's from 2014?

(On my first few cross-posts, I placed the "hey, this is a crosspost" note as a header, but I noticed it was removed when the forum team backdated the posts; decided to try entering it as a footer instead for my latest batch of crossposts.)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates · 2021-12-06T03:37:39.084Z · EA · GW

I messed around making an Airtable of biosecurity-related early-career opportunities earlier this year, more or less for my own reference.

Here's a link, which might be of interest both from a data design perspective and because you might not have all of the internships listed there (though note that it lists a bunch of non-internship things as well): https://airtable.com/shr1WyRk3o9PdbbIl

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates · 2021-12-06T03:34:10.372Z · EA · GW

One thing that's a bit unclear to me from the form: is this more of a job board, or more of a list of regularly-occurring internships?

(If job board, some Boreal-summer internships I'd think to link will not be posted yet; if list of orgs / programs that regularly host internships, then the "Application Deadline" would be a time of year rather than a specific date.)

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Does anyone have a list of summer internship opportunities that are a particularly good fit for EAs? · 2021-12-06T03:23:40.437Z · EA · GW

Linking the recent post about this: EA Internship & Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review) · 2021-12-06T00:32:32.000Z · EA · GW

Thanks for taking the time to put together this list, this is great! I found that a few of these were on the forum already:

I have crossposted the following, and may crosspost more if I feel like it (and will add them to this list if I do:

Also, to my pleasant shock, if you copy-paste from one website into the EA Forum WYSIWYG editor, it formats tables and images correctly? This makes cross-posting way easier than I'd realized!

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Noticing the skulls, longtermism edition · 2021-12-05T18:18:22.571Z · EA · GW

I don't think I quite understand this reply. Are you saying that (check all that apply):

  1. In your experience, the people involved in discussions do embrace redistribution and fairness as core values, they are just placing more value on future people.
  2. Actual longtermists also advocate for near-term redistributive causes, so criticism about resource allocation within the movement away from the global poor and towards longtermism doesn't make sense (i.e. it's not zero-sum).
  3. Redistributive commitments are only one part of the "foundational values", and Toby and others in the longtermist camp are still motivated by the same underlying impartial utilitarianism, so pointing at less emphasis on redistribution is an unfair nitpick.
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Effective Altruism: The First Decade (Forum Review) · 2021-12-03T17:41:10.264Z · EA · GW

I'm willing to do a few more crossposts― are there pieces of object-level content that you'd really like to see crossposted?

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Evidence Action – We’re Shutting Down No Lean Season, Our Seasonal Migration Program: Here’s Why · 2021-12-03T17:30:16.365Z · EA · GW

I would recommend this post over the GiveWell one as a case study / postmortem on charity entrepreneurship.

While it covers similar ground, the GiveWell post (which is essentially a metacommentary on this one) seemed to be written partly with the intention of reassuring donors to GiveWell that they shouldn't update too negatively. This post felt like a more straightforward summary of Evidence Action's decision-making process about No Lean Season.

I think this post also more clearly emphasizes the various factors that contributed to the decision to shut down the program; not just uncertainty about its impact but also the need to relaunch with a new partner, such that:

Ultimately, we determined that the opportunity cost for Evidence Action of rebuilding the program is too high relative to other opportunities we have to meet our vision of measurably improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Importantly, we are not saying that seasonal migration subsidies do not work or that they lack impact; rather, No Lean Season is unlikely to be among the best strategic opportunities for Evidence Action to achieve our vision.

This conclusion is also expressed in the GiveWell post, but I found it more clear here.

Comment by Tessa (tessa) on tessa's Shortform · 2021-12-03T00:41:25.398Z · EA · GW

While making several of review crossposts for the Decade Review I found myself unhappy about the possibility that someone might think I had authored one of the posts I was cross-linking. Here are the things I ended up doing:

  1. Make each post a link post (this one seems... non-optional).
  2. In the title of the post, add the author / blog / organization's name before the post title, separated by an en-dash.
    • Why before the title? This ensures that the credit appears even if the title is long and gets cut off.
    • Why an en-dash? Some of the posts I was linking already included colons in the title. "Evidence Action – We’re Shutting Down No Lean Season, Our Seasonal Migration Program: Here’s Why" seemed easier to parse than "Evidence Action: We’re Shutting Down No Lean Season, Our Seasonal Migration Program: Here’s Why".
    • Other approaches I've seen: using colons, including the author's name at the end of the post in brackets, e.g. Purchase fuzzies and utilons separately (Eliezer Yudkowsky), using "on" instead of an en-dash, e.g. Kelsey Piper on "The Life You Can Save", which seems correct when excerpting rather than cross-posting.
  3. Add an italicized header (ETA: I think a footer works better) to the crosspost indicating that it's a crosspost and, where appropriate, adding a link to the author's EA Forum account.
Comment by Tessa (tessa) on Does anyone have a list of summer internship opportunities that are a particularly good fit for EAs? · 2021-12-02T19:16:29.294Z · EA · GW

You can filter the 80,000 Hours job board by "internship" roles that require an undergraduate degree or less.