Is there evidence that recommender systems are changing users' preferences? 2021-04-12T19:11:42.306Z
Two Nice Experiments on Democracy and Altruism 2020-12-30T18:56:27.745Z
How Much Does New Research Inform Us About Existential Climate Risk? 2020-07-22T23:47:35.409Z
Do Long-Lived Scientists Hold Back Their Disciplines? 2019-08-12T18:33:29.139Z
Who Supports Animal Rights? 2019-07-29T10:58:19.231Z
Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood 2019-07-09T09:18:03.704Z
How Much Do Wild Animals Suffer? A Foundational Result on the Question is Wrong. 2019-06-24T21:51:08.132Z
[Question] Pros/Cons of Donor-Advised Fund 2019-04-22T00:56:00.840Z
Be Careful About a Stubborn Attachment to Growth 2018-12-20T02:34:02.840Z
[Link] "Would Human Extinction Be a Tragedy?" 2018-12-17T17:50:41.085Z
Should Effective Charities Prepare for a Recession? 2018-11-29T00:02:18.455Z
What I Learned from a Year Spent Studying How to Get Policymakers to Use Evidence 2018-09-04T15:55:33.514Z
Updates Thread: How Have You Changed Your Mind This Year? 2017-12-20T03:53:43.456Z
The Hidden Cost of Shifting Away from Poverty 2017-10-09T15:58:02.154Z
Institutional Change in Animal Rights vs. Global Poverty 2016-05-10T23:05:36.032Z
The Poor Meat Investor Problem 2016-04-21T21:17:08.793Z
Announcing ImpactMatters: Auditing Charity Impact across Causes 2015-12-11T17:21:22.365Z
A Note on Framing Criticisms of Effective Altruism 2015-07-24T13:17:28.778Z
That UMD Extra Credit Question 2015-07-13T23:23:51.741Z
Collective Action and Individual Impact, Part II 2015-06-19T13:11:37.358Z
Collective Action and Individual Impact 2015-05-28T03:12:24.347Z


Comment by zdgroff on Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI · 2021-08-30T21:14:04.708Z · EA · GW

Let me note that on top of all your concrete accomplishments, you're just a very sweet and caring person, which has got to help a lot in building this vibrant community. I'm happy to know you!

Comment by zdgroff on Towards a Weaker Longtermism · 2021-08-08T17:57:16.521Z · EA · GW

There is nothing special about longtermism compared to any other big desideratum in this regard.


I'm not sure this is the case. E.g. Steven Pinker in Better Angels makes the case that utopian movements systematically tend to commit atrocities because this all-important end goal justifies anyting in the medium term. I haven't rigorously examined this argument and think it would be valuable for someone to do so, but much of longtermism in the EA community, especially of the strong variety, is based on something like utopia.

One reason why you might intuitively think there would be a relationship is that shorter-term impacts are typically somewhat more bounded; e.g. if thousands of American schoolchildren are getting suboptimal lunches, this obviously doesn't justify torturing hundreds of thousands of people. With the strong longtermist claims it's much less clear that there's any sort of upper bound, so to draw a firm line against atrocities you end up looking to somewhat more convoluted reasoning (e.g. some notion of deontological restraint that isn't completely absolute but yet can withstand astronomical consequences, or a sketchy and loose notion that atrocities have an instrumental downside). 

Comment by zdgroff on What are the long term consequences of poverty alleviation? · 2021-07-13T22:42:25.026Z · EA · GW

I think the persistence studies stuff is the best bet. One thing to note there is that the literature is sort of a set of existence proofs. It shows that there are various things that have long-term impacts, but it might not give you a strong sense of the average long-term impact of poverty alleviation.

Comment by zdgroff on Welfare Footprint Project - a blueprint for quantifying animal pain · 2021-06-27T17:59:08.159Z · EA · GW

This is really impressive work. I've been looking for something like this to cite for economics work on animal welfare, and this seems well-suited for that.

Comment by zdgroff on "Existential risk from AI" survey results · 2021-06-06T19:18:19.647Z · EA · GW

I just wanted to give major kudos for evaluating a prediction you made and very publicly sharing the results even though they were not  fully in line with your prediction.

Comment by zdgroff on Is there evidence that recommender systems are changing users' preferences? · 2021-04-14T00:32:45.377Z · EA · GW

Thanks. I'm aware of this sort of argument, though I think most of what's out there relies on anecdotes, and it's unclear exactly what the effect is (since there is likely some level of confounding here).

I guess there are still two things holding me up here. (1) It's not clear that the media is changing preferences or just offering [mis/dis]information. (2) I'm not sure it's a small leap. News channels' effects on preferences likely involve prolonged exposure, not a one-time sitting. For an algorithm to expose someone in a prolonged way, it has to either repeatedly recommend videos or recommend one video that leads to their watching many, many videos. The latter strikes me as unlikely; again, behavior is malleable but not that malleable. In the former case, I would think the direct effect on the reward function of all of those individual videos recommended and clicked on has to be way larger than the effect on the person's behavior after seeing the videos. If my reasoning were wrong, I would find that quite scary, because it would be evidence of substantially greater vulnerability to current algorithms than I previously thought.

Comment by zdgroff on Is there evidence that recommender systems are changing users' preferences? · 2021-04-12T21:30:33.087Z · EA · GW

Right. I mean, I privilege this simpler explanation you mention. He seems to have reason to think it's not the right explanation, but I can't figure out why.

Comment by zdgroff on Is there evidence that recommender systems are changing users' preferences? · 2021-04-12T19:17:10.655Z · EA · GW

BTW, I am interested in studying this question if anyone is interested in partnering up. I'm not entirely sure how to study it, as (given the post) I suspect the result may be a null, which is only interesting if we have access to one of the algorithms he is talking about and data on the scale such an algorithm would typically have.

My general approach would be an online experiment where I expose one group of people to a recommender system and don't expose another. Then place both groups in the same environment and observe whether the first group is now more predictable. (This does not account for the issue of information, though.)

Comment by zdgroff on I scraped all public "Effective Altruists" Goodreads reading lists · 2021-03-24T17:21:02.544Z · EA · GW

It seems that dystopian novels are overrepresented relative to their share of the classics. I'm curious for others' thoughts why that is. I could imagine a case that they're more action-relevant than, e.g., Pride and Prejudice, but I also wonder if they might shape our expectations of the future in bad ways. (I say this as someone currently rereading 1984, which I adore...)

Comment by zdgroff on Two Nice Experiments on Democracy and Altruism · 2020-12-31T18:14:47.338Z · EA · GW

Links should be fixed! Thanks for pointing this out.

Comment by zdgroff on Two Nice Experiments on Democracy and Altruism · 2020-12-31T18:14:27.792Z · EA · GW

Thanks for pointing this out. It should work now.

Comment by zdgroff on A case against strong longtermism · 2020-12-30T18:46:14.529Z · EA · GW

Sorry—you're right that this doesn't work. To clarify, I was thinking that the method of picking the color should be fixed ex-ante (e.g. "I pick red as the color with 50% probability"), but that doesn't do the trick because you need to pool the colors for ambiguity to arise.

The issue is that the problem the paper identifies does not come up in your example. If I'm offered the two bets simultaneously, then an ambiguity averse decision maker, like an EU decision maker, will take both bets. If I'm offered the bets sequentially without knowing I'll be offered both when I'm offered the first one, then neither an ambiguity-averse nor a risk-averse EU decision-maker will take them.  The reason is that the first one offers the EU decision-maker a 50% chance of winning, so given risk-aversion its value is less than 50% of $1. So your example doesn't distinguish a risk-averse EU decision-maker from an ambiguity-averse one.

So I think unfortunately we need to go with the more complicated examples in the paper. They are obviously very theoretical. I think it could be a valuable project for someone to translate these into more practical settings to show how these problems can come up in a real-world sense.

Comment by zdgroff on A case against strong longtermism · 2020-12-26T23:41:50.356Z · EA · GW

Thanks! Helpful follow-ups.

On the first point, I think your intuition does capture the information aversion here, but I still think information aversion is an accurate description. Offered a bet that pays $X if I pick a color and then see if a random ball matches that color, you'll pay more than for a bet that pays $X if a random ball is red. The only difference between these situations is that you have more information in the latter: you know the color to match is red. That makes you less willing to pay. And there's no obvious reason why this information aversion would be something like a useful heuristic.

I don't quite get the second point. Commitment doesn't seem very relevant here since it's really just a difference in what you would pay for each situation. If one comes first, I don't see any reason why it would make sense to commit, so I don't think that strengthens the case for ambiguity aversion in any way. But I think I might be confused here.

Comment by zdgroff on A case against strong longtermism · 2020-12-24T20:23:47.780Z · EA · GW

Yeah, that's the part I'm referring to. I take his comment that expectations are not random variables to be criticizing taking expectations over expected utility with respect to uncertain probabilities.

I think the critical review of ambiguity aversion I linked to us sufficiently general that any alternatives to taking expectations with respect to uncertain probabilities will have seriously undesirable features.

Comment by zdgroff on A case against strong longtermism · 2020-12-23T00:04:46.897Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this. I think it's very valuable to be having this discussion. Longtermism is a novel, strange, and highly demanding idea, so it merits a great deal of scrutiny. That said, I agree with the thesis and don't currently find your objections against longtermism persuasive (although in one case I think they suggest a specific set of approaches to longtermism).

I'll start with the expected value argument, specifically the note that probabilities here are uncertain and therefore random valuables, whereas in traditional EU they're constant. To me a charitable version of Greaves and MacAskill's argument is that, taking the expectation over the probabilities times the outcomes, you have a large future in expectation. (What you need for the randomness of probabilities to sink longtermism is for the probabilities to correlate inversely and strongly with the size of the future.) I don't think they'd claim the probabilities are certain.

Maybe the claim you want to make, then, is that we should treat random probabilities differently from certain probabilities, i.e. you should not "take expectations" over probabilities in the way I've described. The problem with this is that (a) alternatives to taking expectations over probabilities have been explored in the literature, and they have a lot of undesirable features; and (b) alternatives to taking expectations over probabilities do not necessarily reject longtermism. I'll discuss (b), since it involves providing an example for (a).

(b) In economics at least, Gilboa and Schmeidler (1989) propose what's probably the best-known alternative to EU when the probabilities are uncertain, which involves maximizing expected utility for the prior according to which utility is the lowest, sort of a meta-level risk aversion. They prove that this is the optimal decision rule according to some remarkably weak assumptions. If you take this approach, it's far from clear you'll reject longtermism: more likely, you end up with a sort of longtermism focused on averting long-term suffering, i.e. focused on maximizing expected value according to the most pessimistic probabilities. There's a bunch of other approaches, but they tend to have similar flavors. So alternatives on EU may agree on longtermism and just disagree on the flavor of it.

(a) Moving away from EU leads to a lot of problems. As I'm sure you know given your technical background, EU derives from a really nice set of axioms (The Savage Axioms). Things go awry when you leave it. Al-Najjar and Weinstein (2009) offer a persuasive discussion of this (H/T Phil Trammell). For example, non-EU models imply information aversion. Now, a certain sort of information aversion might make sense in the context of longtermism. In line with your Popper quote, it might make sense to avoid information about the feasibility of highly-specific future scenarios. But that's not really the sort of information non-EU models imply aversion to. Instead, they imply aversion to info that would shift you toward the option that currently has a lot of ambiguity about it because you dislike it based on its current ambiguity.

So I don't think we can leave behind EU for another approach to evaluating outcomes. The problems, to me, seem to lie elsewhere. I think there are problems with the way we're arriving at probabilities (inventing subjective ones that invite biases and failing to adequately stick to base rates, for example). I also think there might be a point to be made about having priors on unlikely conclusions so that, for example, the conclusion of strong longtermism is so strange that we should be disinclined to buy into it based on the uncertainty about probabilities feeding into the claim. But the approach itself seems right to me. I honestly spent some time looking for alternative approaches because of these last two concerns I mentioned and came away thinking that EU is the best we've got.

I'd note, finally, that I take the utopianism point well and wold like to see more discussion of this. Utopian movements have a sordid history, and Popper is spot-on. Longtermism doesn't have to be utopian, though. Avoiding really bad outcomes, or striving for a middling outcome, is not utopian. This seems to me to dovetail with my proposal in the last paragraph to  improve our probability estimates. Sticking carefully to base rates and things we have some idea about seems to be a good way to avoid utopianism and its pitfalls. So I'd suggest a form of longtermism that is humble about what we know and strives to get the least-bad empirical data possible, but I still think longtermism comes out on top.

Comment by zdgroff on If you like a post, tell the author! · 2020-10-08T17:13:53.467Z · EA · GW

This this this! As a PhD student in economics, I'm always pushing for the same thing in academia. People usually think saying nice job is useless, because it doesn't help people improve. It's important for people to know what they're doing right, though. It's also important for people to get positive reinforcement to keep going down a path, so if you want someone to keep persevering (which I hope we generally do), it's good to give them a boost when they do a good job.

Comment by zdgroff on Are there superforecasts for existential risk? · 2020-07-07T17:25:18.671Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this. I've had similar questions myself.

I think the incentives issue here is a big one. One way I've wondered about addressing it is to find a bunch of people who forecast really well and whose judgments are not substantially affected by forecasting incentives. Then have them forecast risks. Might that work, and has anyone tried it?

Comment by zdgroff on Some promising career ideas beyond 80,000 Hours' priority paths · 2020-06-26T17:55:50.850Z · EA · GW

I'm excited to see this! One thing I'd mention on the historian path and its competitiveness is you could probably do a lot of this sort of work as an economic historian with a PhD in economics. Economic historians study everything from gender roles to religion and do ambitious if controversial quantitative analyses of long-term trends. While economists broadly may give little consideration to historical context, the field of economic history prides itself on actually caring about history for its own sake as well, so you can spend time doing traditional historian things, like working with archival documents (see the Preface to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History for a discussion of the field's norms).

The good thing here is it probably allows for greater outside options and potentially less competitiveness than a history PhD given the upsides of an economics PhD. You could also probably do similar work in political science.

>> Our impression is that although many of these topics have received attention from historians (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), some are comparatively neglected within the subject, especially from a more quantitative or impact-focused perspective.

I'd also note that some of these cites I don't think are history—2 and 4 are written by anthropologists. (I think in the former case he's sometimes classified as a biologist, psychologist, or economist too.)

I really do hope we have EAs studying history and fully support it, and I just wanted to give some closely related options!

Comment by zdgroff on EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization · 2020-06-22T00:51:41.521Z · EA · GW

Great post, and thanks for writing it. One note: if polarization is defined as "more extreme views on each issue" (e.g. more people wanting extremely high or extremely low taxes), then it does not seem to be happening according to some research. The sort of polarization happening in the U.S. is more characterized as ideological sorting. That is, views on any particular issue (abortion, affirmative action, gun control) don't have more mass on the extremes than before, but the views in each political party are less mixed.

This is nonetheless important, and I don't think it radically changes much of what you said. Affect toward the opposite party is still much more negative than before. But it might suggest we should be more concerned about the conflict between the parties itself (e.g. abusing constitutional norms, cancellation) and less concerned about their policies per se.

Comment by zdgroff on How to Measure Capacity for Welfare and Moral Status · 2020-06-01T17:35:33.226Z · EA · GW

Great post, and I'm excited to see RP work on this. I have great confidence in your carefulness about this.

A concern I have with pretty much every approach to weighting welfare across species is that it seems like the correct weights may depend on the type of experience. For example, I could imagine the intensity of physical pain being very similar across species but the severity of depression from not being able to move to vary greatly.

Is there a way to allow for this within the approach you lay out here?

Comment by zdgroff on Wild Animal Welfare Meetup (Spring 2020) · 2020-04-24T16:55:32.462Z · EA · GW

I found this informative:

Are you more funding- or talent-constrained?
Oscar: There are lots of researchers out there who would work on this if we offered them funding to do so.
Michelle: Wild Animal Initiative is primarily funding-constrained. Hiring can also be challenging, but not as much.
Peter: Funding-constrained. We have had to turn away talented people we didn’t have the funds to hire.

Given that most of the messaging in the EA community for a couple years has been that human capital constraints are greater than funding constraints, I was surprised to see this. I know there have been objections that this messaging is focused on longtermist and movement-building work and less representative of farmed animal advocacy, for example, but this is an update for me.

Comment by zdgroff on CEA's Plans for 2020 · 2020-04-24T04:58:04.029Z · EA · GW

I had not read through the CEA mistakes page before (linked in your post), and I am very impressed with it. I wanted to note that I'm pleased and kind of touched that the page lists neglect of animal advocacy in the 2015 and 2016 EAGs. I was one of the advocates who was unhappy, and I was not sure whether there was recognition of this, so it was really meaningful to see CEA admit this and detail steps that are taken.

Comment by zdgroff on How hot will it get? · 2020-04-23T00:20:13.166Z · EA · GW

Very interesting! I wanted to note that this further supports Will's comment on his recent post that understanding prior-setting better could be very high-impact.

Comment by zdgroff on [deleted post] 2020-03-31T23:33:47.674Z

Yeah, I agree the facile use of "white supremacy" here is bad, and I do want to keep ad hominems out of EA discourse. Thanks for explaining this.

I guess I still think it makes important enough arguments that I'd like to see engagement, though I agree it would be better said in a more cautious and less accusatory way.

Comment by zdgroff on [deleted post] 2020-03-31T20:35:16.584Z

I think the concerns about utopianism are well-placed and merit more discussion in effective altruism. I'm sad to see the post getting downvoted.

Comment by zdgroff on Introducing Good Policies: A new charity promoting behaviour change interventions · 2019-11-22T15:40:21.031Z · EA · GW

Not posting this because I agree with it but rather because I think it's one of the more influential econ papers actually dealing with the reality of addiction: Bernheim and Rangel 2004 those suffering from addiction have no control and are poorer (even then people of the same ex ante income), and for those not suffering from addiction it's not obvious why they are irrational.

I think the conclusion is almost certainly wrong, but why it's wrong is a bit subtle and hard to pin down, so I thought it might be a helpful thing to be aware of going into this. It's published in the AER so it's sort of an influential enhancement of Larks's comment.

(Also full disclosure that Bernheim is my advisor. That mostly just makes me more perplexed by this paper.)

Comment by zdgroff on The Economic Lives of the Poor · 2019-11-22T15:29:26.965Z · EA · GW

A nice, similar writeup along these lines is the book Portfolios of the Poor. Check it out if you want to go a bit more in-depth specifically on finances and how they affect daily life.

Comment by zdgroff on Institutions for Future Generations · 2019-11-20T22:02:35.683Z · EA · GW

I obviously am a fan of this post! A few thoughts.

  1. I don't think sin taxes is the best phrase here. Sin taxes usually refer to internalities like cigarettes, but this is an externality more like a climate tax.

  2. I like the soft institutions like research commissions and cabinet members but suspect the harder institutions like a veto or additional legislator or even a court will get captured and perverted. Almost all of these institutions rely on norms to actually care about future generations, and norms collapse every so often when there's a reason to subvert them. Maybe this is just me looking at the current political moment, bit since we are talking about long time horizons, moments like this will recur, and I think it takes longer to salvage norms than it does to erode them. For example, claims I could see being made to justify any particular political agenda:

"We need to preserve our religious values for the sake of future generations" "We need to do [insert radical policy] to address the present crisis so that our civilization survives for future generations" "We must completely halt resource usage to preserve the earth for future generations" "We must maximize resource usage so that we grow as much as possible for future generations"


  1. For things like term lengths there's a real literature on things like that in political economy that could help get a pretty good sense of expected impact.
Comment by zdgroff on Are you working on a research agenda? A guide to increasing the impact of your research by involving decision-makers · 2019-09-26T04:26:58.556Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! I was curious if you had research or particular observations that led you to the above approach. Last year I researched evidence-based policy somewhat, and I came away thinking that the focus on crafting research for what decision-makers wanted is in general over-rated. That may not always be the case, granted, and when research is already aimed at a specific decision-maker, it's worth doing it right, but I guess I would highlight that I think a lot of especially foundational research has an impact in a more indirect way.

Comment by zdgroff on Existential Risk and Economic Growth · 2019-09-04T20:13:00.936Z · EA · GW

I think this is an extremely impressive piece of work in economics proper not to mention a substantial contribution to longtermism research. Nice going.

Comment by zdgroff on Consumer preferences for labgrown and plant-based meat · 2019-08-09T13:45:54.694Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this! This is good to see and somewhat dispiriting. A few things about this piece that are raise questions for me:

1) The consumers opposing use of the word "beef" for non-cow-based products seems presumably intended to yield evidence on the labeling laws in several states, but I would guess consumers would react differently to, e.g., "burger" or "nugget."

2) The labels on products seem to involve more than just the brand recognition because the farm-raised beef label has an image of a cow seemingly out on pasture. (This may not be inaccurate in the case of cows, but if applied to the case of chickens, pigs, or fish, such an image would be misleading.)

3) I'd be curious for the results with a term other than lab-grown.

4) The result that males prefer plant-based or clean meat is surprising and out of line with every other data source I've seen, e.g.

Comment by zdgroff on Who Supports Animal Rights? · 2019-08-09T11:24:18.197Z · EA · GW

The wealth thing matches other data I've seen. I think Veganomics mentioned that. Not sure where else I've seen it but I think the result is fairly robust.

Comment by zdgroff on Four practices where EAs ought to course-correct · 2019-07-31T16:14:44.773Z · EA · GW

Great, thanks!

Comment by zdgroff on Four practices where EAs ought to course-correct · 2019-07-30T17:12:41.080Z · EA · GW
This post suggested the rather alarming idea that EA's growth is petering out in a sort of logistic curve.

Is this the right link? I don't see that claim in the post, but maybe I'm missing it.

Comment by zdgroff on "Why Nations Fail" and the long-termist view of global poverty · 2019-07-19T16:25:31.117Z · EA · GW

As I've been doing research this summer, I've become a bit more tentative and wary of acting like we know much, but my general intuition is that (a) our focus should not be on saving animals now but on securing whatever changes save future animals, so ethical changes and institutional changes; (b) I think institutional changes are the most promising avenue for this, and the question is which institutional changes last longest; (c) we should look for path dependencies.

It's unclear to me what advocacy changes this means, but I think it makes the case for, e.g., the Nonhuman Rights Project or circus bans stronger than they are in the short term. I think this is a crucial area of research though.

For path dependencies, the biggest one right now I think is whether clean and plant-based meat succeed. The shift from longtermism here I think is that rather than trying to get products to market the fastest, we should ask what in general makes industries most likely to succeed or fail and just optimize for the probability of success. As an example, this makes me inclined to favor clean meat companies supporting regulations and transparency.

Comment by zdgroff on Six-month update and summer fundraiser at Wild Animal Initiative · 2019-07-17T17:00:28.817Z · EA · GW

I'm so impressed and excited by all that you are up to, and I'm really glad about the Executive Director decision. Keep up the good work.

Comment by zdgroff on "Why Nations Fail" and the long-termist view of global poverty · 2019-07-16T14:51:48.869Z · EA · GW

I really applaud this! Longtermism seems to me a compelling idea across cause areas. I've thought about what it means in the context of animal advocacy, and I think there too it would recommend a shift of focus. I'm glad to see someone bring this up in the context of poverty. I've seen many people over the years support development after hearing arguments for longtermism because of vague long-term flow-through effects, and actually researching long-term poverty alleviation is important if we want to actually support it.

Comment by zdgroff on Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood · 2019-07-14T14:14:45.962Z · EA · GW

This is all really interesting, and thank you all for chiming in. Liam, I'm curious—do you adopt EA tools within a Catholic moral framework, or do you practice Catholicism while adopting a different moral framework? I figure your participation in EA is some sort of anecdata.

Comment by zdgroff on If physics is many-worlds, does ethics matter? · 2019-07-14T11:58:34.404Z · EA · GW

The explainer doesn't seem to imply the choice is equivalent to a quantum split unless I'm missing something? I've had Jeff's reservation every time I've heard this argument. It seems like it would just be a huge coincidence for our decisions to actually correspond to splits. Subjective senses of uncertainty may not equal actual lack of determinism at the atomic level.

Comment by zdgroff on Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood · 2019-07-10T09:44:31.234Z · EA · GW
I think a big part of what makes reaching out to religious groups at least somewhat promising is that a lot of them are already trying to do good.

Really interesting point. I hadn't thought of this, but I agree. In college I lived with seven guys who I in some ways really struggle to relate to for the most part because they don't have a sense of purpose that drives them. I always related well to one of them who was a devout Christian, because even though our religious views were wildly distinct, we both had some rich view about what we ought to do.

Also, from anecdotal experiences from friends and ex-colleagues as well as my own personal experience, I know a lot of agnostic/atheists who are involved in religious groups

This is interesting. I know in many Jewish congregations atheists and agnostics are common, although still usually not overt (although I had a Rabbi once who described himself as an "agnostic on a good day"). I participate in Buddhist and Jewish events as an agnostic atheist. I guess I would still be surprised if this was that common in religions that emphasize faith more, but then again, I'm not as familiar with the actual practice there.

I used to be an organizer with an animal rights group (Direct Action Everywhere) that had a lot of unattractive qualities, but one thing I think that they did for some people was offer a lot of what religion can offer: community, sense of purpose, regular events. I think there is an opening to fill a gap in a lot of non-religious people's lives. It makes me think of the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam about the decline in social life in America.

Comment by zdgroff on How Much Do Wild Animals Suffer? A Foundational Result on the Question is Wrong. · 2019-07-04T09:57:12.318Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this comment. I think the model equally yields predictions on both. In no way does the model give any sense of scale or units. The only thing it's useful for at this stage is saying whether suffering exceeds enjoyment or vice versa, and that should be true on average if and only if it's true on the whole, unless I'm missing something.

Comment by zdgroff on Should we talk about altruism or talk about justice? · 2019-07-04T09:54:45.330Z · EA · GW

I lean toward effective altruism moving in the direction of "justice" for a few reasons.

1) I think Aaron is right that "justice-oriented arguments seem to have had a much greater chance of going "viral" than altruistic arguments", and I think the academic literature supports him. Van Zomeren and Postumes (2008) is, from what I understand, one of the better syntheses/reviews on the psychology of collective action, and it finds that an injustice framing promotes more participation.

2) I think the effect of the different terms on moral attitudes is ambiguous at worst. Most of your examples above seem to be on the fence. In the animal welfare case, you ask for help resolving this. I can't claim to be decisive and have a lot more doubt here than I used to, but I think "justice" is a better way to build alliances with other advocacy groups, the most promising of which are on the left, but possibly even on the right if part of a Christian justice view. (In Poland, there's major conservative support for animal welfare because of a kind of fondness for rural life that seems more in line with justice than altruism.) I think altruism calls to mind dietary change and leafleting sorts of approaches, which have somewhat fallen out of favor in animal advocacy. To my mind, the current tactics with the most EA support, namely corporate campaigns, undercover investigations, and clean and plant-based meat, are somewhat orthogonal to the altruism-justice consideration.

3) Trends in the EA movement over time suggest to me that the term altruism is more likely to bias us in the wrong direction than justice. Initially EAs focused substantially on earning to give, donating to poverty charities, and dietary change as I note above. Over time, there has been much more interest in policy (even for poverty, where immigration and climate policy seem to have more support in EA now). AI strategy and policy, for example, seems very pressing, and most EA animal advocates I know favor institutional change over individual change. Many of the judgments we have moved away from since the earlier days of EA seem to be cases where we did the sort of things "altruism" is evocative of, and increasingly we find ourselves doing the "justice" things.

I do worry, as someone in animal advocacy who has seen all the conflict in that movement, that the "justice" framing could have a perverse impact on discourse and civility. I think at the margin we could afford to move a bit more in that direction, though.

Comment by zdgroff on Announcing the Buddhists in EA Group · 2019-07-04T09:32:27.354Z · EA · GW

Thanks for creating this. This is awesome!

Also, to those who create and organize EA for Christians: count me as impressed. I had no idea there was such work going on in that space.

Comment by zdgroff on How Much Do Wild Animals Suffer? A Foundational Result on the Question is Wrong. · 2019-06-26T11:03:38.270Z · EA · GW

Thanks Brian. I agree that this sort of argument deserves relatively low epistemic weight and that the argument is very speculative, as I tried to emphasize in the paper but am worried that not everybody picked up. I'm definitely more uncertain than you on the topic, perhaps because of different views on suffering. Thanks for the comment.

Comment by zdgroff on Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity? · 2019-06-15T02:04:57.140Z · EA · GW

As someone in the EAA space, I'm curious how much value EAA movement-building brings relative to general animal advocacy movement-building. ACE has cited the latter as neglected. In general I think EAA movement-building may be somewhat narrower because of the conjunction of beliefs (animal advocacy and EA), which I would think makes it less tractable and potentially lower in scale.

Comment by zdgroff on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2019-05-04T05:36:13.163Z · EA · GW

I would think any direct impact would be quite small, as the products are all aimed at substituting for cow products now, and cows are basically a rounding error in the number of farmed animals. It seems like the main impact of Beyond Meat is to drive the plant-based industry further and to establish itself to be able to produce higher-impact replacements down the line.

Comment by zdgroff on Aging research and population ethics · 2019-04-30T05:04:14.473Z · EA · GW

One question I have about these discussions is that I'd read some arguments back when I took a class on environmental science that humanity was near the earth's carrying capacity, meaning there is not capacity on earth for a much larger population (and capacity is quite likely smaller). This term "carrying capacity" seems like a sketchy one that tacitly packs in normative and positive judgments, so I don't endorse it, but is there a chance that something like this is true, and so lengthening life will reduce the probability of others being born because it raises the probability of environmental problems that lower the sustainable population?

Comment by zdgroff on Interview with Jon Mallatt about invertebrate consciousness · 2019-04-30T04:58:19.402Z · EA · GW

Wow, this is incredible. Such a great write-up and so much here. Two questions:

1) Do you think there is a consensus that Jon Mallatt and Todd Feinberg are among the leading experts and their books among the best on the subject? Just trying to figure out how much to update based on this.

2) Jon Mallatt seems from the way he talks like the type of biologist who could be amenable to wild -animal welfare research. Has anyone reached out to him?

Comment by zdgroff on Terrorism, Tylenol, and dangerous information · 2019-03-23T03:00:55.730Z · EA · GW

In general, I think the degree of compliance with any social norm one typically observes should be surprising. I've long thought it's remarkable that people intent on harming others do not use cars as weapons of destruction as much as they have recently. So I think there's something disturbing and something encouraging about this, in that we see lots of facile ways to hurt others be far rarer than we would expect in the presence of perfect information.

Comment by zdgroff on Suggestions for EA wedding vows? · 2019-03-23T02:57:57.752Z · EA · GW

I'm getting married in September and November (he's Brazilian, and we want to celebrate in the U.S. and Brazil). Mostly following out of interest, but some things we've thought of:

1) I'm interested in doing a giving game in the bags we leave for guests at the hotel. Guests can vote on where to give money from a list of charities and descriptions.

2) Obviously try to direct gifts to donations.

3) We're animal advocates, and we got officiants on board with that and who will probably talk about all sentient beings in addition to our vows.