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Ben_Todd comments on Thoughts on the "Meta Trap" - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 21 December 2016 10:18:30PM 0 points [-]

First, the person would have to say they made the pledge "due to 80k".

Yes, I'm predicting that they would say that almost always (over 90% of the time).

this already assumes only 30% is additional, once counterfactually adjusted.

That does make quite a difference. It seems plausible then that impact is mostly undercounted rather than overcounted. This seems more like an artifact of a weird calculation (why use GWWC's counterfactual instead of having a separate one)? And you still have the issue that impact may be double counted, it's just that since you tend to undercount impact in the first place the effects seem to cancel out.

That's a little uncharitable of me, but the point I'm trying to make is that there is no correction for double-counting impact -- most of your counterarguments seem to be saying "we typically underestimate our impact so this doesn't end up being a problem". You aren't using the 30% counterfactual rate because you're worried about double counting impact with GWWC. (I'm correct about that, right? It would a really strange way to handle double counting of impact.)

Nitpick: This spreadsheet suggests 53%, and then adds some more impact based on changing where people donate (which could double count with GiveWell).

Third, you can still get the undercounting issue I mentioned. If someone later takes the pledge due to the local group, but was influenced by 80k, 80k probably wouldn't count it.

I agree that impact is often undercounted. I accept that impact is often undercounted, to such a degree that double counting would not get you over 100%. I still worry that people think "Their impact numbers are great and probably significant underestimates" without thinking about the issue of double counting, especially since most orgs make sure to mention how their impact estimates are likely underestimates.

Even if people just donated on the basis of "their impact numbers are great" without thinking about both undercounting and overcounting, I would worry that they are making the right decision for the wrong reasons. We should promote more rigorous thinking.

My perspective is something like "donors should know about these considerations", whereas you may be interpreting it as "people who work in meta don't know/care about these considerations". I would only endorse the latter in the one specific case of not valuing the time of other groups/people.

What would you estimate is the opportunity cost of student group organiser time per hour?

The number I use for myself is $20, mostly just made up so that I can use it in Fermi estimates.

How would it compare to time spent by 80k staff?

Unsure. Probably a little bit higher, but not much. Say $40?

(I have not thought much about the actual numbers. I do think that the ratio between the two should be relatively small.)

I also don't care too much that 80k doesn't include costs to student groups because those costs are relatively small compared to the costs to 80k (probably). This is why I haven't really looked into it. This is not the case with GWWC pledges or chapter seeding.

Comment author: Ben_Todd 22 December 2016 09:14:54PM 1 point [-]

I agree the double-counting issue is pretty complex. (I think maybe the "fraction of value added" approach I mention in the value of coordination post is along the right lines)

I think the key point is that it seems unlikely that (given how orgs currently measure impact) they're claiming significantly more than 100% in aggregate. This is partly because there's already lots of adjustments that pick up some of this (e.g. asking people if they would have done X due to another org) and because there are various types of undercounting.

Given this, adding a further correction for double counting doesn't seem like a particularly big consideration - there are more pressing sources of uncertainty.

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 23 December 2016 07:02:00PM 0 points [-]

Yes, I agree with this. (See also my reply to Rob above.)