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Nick_Beckstead comments on The EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds Lack Transparency and Accountability - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Nick_Beckstead 23 July 2018 07:53:59PM *  41 points [-]

Thanks for sharing your concerns, Evan. It sounds like your core concerns relate to (i) delay between receipt and use of funds, (ii) focus on established grantees over new and emerging grantees, and (iii) limited attention to these funds. Some thoughts and comments on these points:

  • I recently recommended a series of grants that will use up all EA Funds under my discretion. This became a larger priority in the last few months due to an influx of cryptocurrency donations. I expect a public announcement of the details after all grant logistics have been completed.

  • A major reason I haven’t made many grants is that most of the grants that I wanted to make could be made through Open Phil, and I’ve focused my attention on my Open Phil grantmaking because the amount of funding available is larger.

  • I am hopeful that EA Grants and BERI will provide funding to new projects in these areas. CEA and BERI strike me as likely to make good choices about funding new projects in these areas, and I think this makes sense as a division of labor. EA Grants isn’t immediately available for public applications, but I’m hopeful they’ll have a public funding round soon. BERI issued a request for proposals last month. As these programs mature, I expect that most of what is seen as funding gaps in these areas will be driven by taste/disagreement with these grantmakers rather than lack of funding.

For now, I don’t have any plans to change the focus or frequency of my grantmaking with these funds from what was indicated in my April 2018 update.

I think it’s probably true that a fund manager who has more time to manage these funds would be preferable, provided we found someone with suitable qualifications. This is a possibility that’s under consideration right now, but progress toward it will depend on the availability of a suitable manager and further thinking about how to allocate attention to this issue relative to other priorities.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 24 July 2018 11:03:43PM 6 points [-]

Hey Nick,

I'm excited to hear you've made a bunch of grants. Do you know when they'll be publicly announced?

Comment author: SamDeere 30 July 2018 09:42:36PM *  13 points [-]

The grant payout reports are now up on the EA Funds site:

Note that the Grant Rationale text is basically the same for both as Nick has summarised his thinking in one document, but the payout totals reflect the amount disbursed from each fund

Comment author: JoshYou 01 August 2018 11:11:47PM 11 points [-]

It seems that Nick has not been able to leverage his position as EA fund manager to outperform his Open Phil grants (or at least meaningfully distinguish his EA fund grants from his Open Phil grants). This means that we can think of donating to the far future and community funds as having similar cost-effectiveness to individual donations to Open Phil earmarked for those causes. This seems like a problem, since the best individual donations should be able to outperform Open Phil, at least when you account for the benefits of not centralizing donations on too few decisionmakers. I don't see anyone calling for Open Phil to accept/solicit money from small donors.

The case for finding another manager seems pretty strong. EA funds is a fundamentally sound idea - we should be trying to consolidate donation decisions somewhat to take advantage of different levels of expertise and save small donors' time and mental energy, but this doesn't seem like the best way to do it.

Comment author: Jon_Behar 01 August 2018 01:43:18PM 5 points [-]

Nick says these latest grants "disburse all the EA Funds under my management." However, the grant amounts are ~10-15% less than the available cash the funds were reported as holding at the end of March, and the funds have presumably raised more money since then. Can Nick or someone from CEA please clarify?

Comment author: MarekDuda 02 August 2018 05:18:40PM 7 points [-]

Hi Jon, yes this is due to the numbers reported in March including the accounts payable - money not yet held in cash but expected to come in. We later realised that some of the transactions we were expecting to come in were not real donations, but rather several people making large 'testing' donations which then did not get paid. We have resolved these issues, and will be reporting Fund balances in cash terms going forward, however it did mean that the March numbers ended up being inflated.

We will be publishing a post in the coming weeks going into detail on the work we have been doing in the back end of Funds and releasing an update to the site which automatically pulls the Fund balances from our accounting system.

Comment author: Jon_Behar 03 August 2018 05:36:15PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for clarifying!

Looking forward to seeing the upcoming post, it would be great if it could include a chart/table of donations (in cash terms) to each fund over time.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 01 August 2018 03:05:28AM 14 points [-]

Below is a comment I received an anonymous request to post on behalf of an EA community member regarding these grant payout reports.

When I read the perfunctory grant rationale for the Long-Term Future Fund and Community Fund grants, I wondered whether this was a joke or a calculated insult to the EA community.

The one paragraph and 4 bullet points to justify the disbursement of over $1,000,000 to 5 organisations from across the two funds seems like it could have been written up in 3 minutes, with nothing more than a passing knowledge of some of the most well known EA(ish) orgs. This, coming after months of speculation about what the Grant Evaluator entrusted with EA funds for the long term future and the EA community might actually be doing, gives the impression that they weren't actually doing anything.

Perhaps what is most disappointing is the desultory explanation that all these funds are disbursed in the vague hope that the >$1million might "subsidiz[e] electronics upgrades or childcare" for the charity's staff or pay them higher salaries and "increase staff satisfaction" and that this might boost productivity. This seems a clear signal, among other things, that the funding space in this area is totally full and grant manager can't even manage to come up with plausible sounding explanations for how their funds they are disbursing to EA-insiders might increase impact.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 01 August 2018 09:16:21PM *  6 points [-]

Here is my own response to these comments.

  • All the organizations involved definitely are self-identified effective altruism organizations. Both MIRI and CFAR have origins in the rationality community and LessWrong, with a focus on AI safety/alignment, predating their significant involvement with EA. But AI safety/alignment has been a priority focus area within EA since its inception, and as flagship organizations which have both benefited from an association within EA and have stuck with it through trials, for the purposes of this discussion MIRI and CFAR should be thought of as EA organizations, unless a representative steps forward to clarify these organizations' relationship(s) to the EA movement.

  • That the $1 million might subsidize electronics upgrades or childcare or pay them higher salaries doesn't necessarily strike me as a bad thing. If someone prioritizes anti-malarial bednets, the number of children who could have received treatment with that $1 million looks really bad when it's being casually used to make office jobs comfier. But there are already outside critics of the EA movement who malign how global poverty interventions can look bad, and most of those criticisms fall flat. So if we're going to make mountains out of molehills on every issue, no progress will ever be made in EA. Additionally, it's unrealistic to think what 'effectiveness' looks like at every organization and in every area at EA will or should be the same as the Against Malaria Foundation with extremely low overhead. The AMF is essentially a supply and distribution chain management organization run full-time by a founder who doesn't need to take a salary from running the organization. But most of the time, effective altruists come from more typical backgrounds where most of us can't do something like that. We're also human. Staff at EA organizations are usually talented people who by working in a small non-profit sector are forgoing career and personal opportunities they otherwise would have had, working on what to the outside world are all niche causes that don't attract much attention. So that salaries and benefits for staff at EA organizations go up over time like they do at any regular organization at other NPOs and in other economic sectors makes sense. Additionally, due to the nature of the work as based on a cumulative research base, to keep talent whose value for the important work EA organizations do only grows as they advance the organization's mission is also important.That relative to many other projects in this space that might have received seed funding, expanding benefits and salaries for existing staff and well-established EA organizations they could have fundraised more themselves, is another question entirely. However I would stress when doing so, we remember we're talking about real people with real needs, and to act outraged at effective altruists not living up to some image we had of them as ascetics would be only unfair and damaging.

  • Regarding Nick's response, it appears there was at least some miscommunication within the CEA regarding how the EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds would be disbursed. While there was a public update in April from Nick regarding the funds, the discrepancy with how the funds were initially presented to the community and donors, and Nick's way of running the funds, has not been addressed. I intend to follow up to find out more.

  • What several others have mentioned by now, and I agree, is that it's not necessarily apparent there is no room for more funding in these areas. Having worked on EA projects myself, I'm well aware of a few organizations working both on EA project development and are focused on the long-term future, respectively, that are seeking to expand. As Nick Beckstead mentioned, he hopes in the near future the EA Grants will be able to fill this role. It's unclear when the EA Grants might open for applications again.

Comment author: Dunja 01 August 2018 12:41:09PM *  0 points [-]

Couldn't agree more. What is worse, (as I mention in another comment) university grants were disqualified for no clear reason. I don't know which university projects were at all considered, but the underlying assumption seems to be that irrespective of how good they would be, the other projects will perform more effectively and more efficiently, even if they are already funded, i.e. by giving them some more cash.

I think this a symptom of an anti-academic tendencies that I've noticed on this form and in this particular domain of research, which I think would be healthy to discuss. The importance of the issue is easy to understand if we think of any other domain of research: just imagine that we'd start arguing that non-academic climate research centers should be financed instead of the academic ones. Or that research in medicine should be redirected from academic institutions towards non-academic ones. I'd be surprised if anyone here would defend such a policy. There are good reasons why academic institutions --with all their tedious procedures, peer-review processes, etc.-- are important sources of reliable scientific knowledge production. Perhaps we are dealing here with an in-group bias, which needs an open and detailed discussion.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 01 August 2018 10:52:07PM 16 points [-]

I'm Head of Operations for the Global Priorities Institute (GPI) at Oxford University. OpenPhil is GPI's largest donor, and Nick Beckstead was the program officer who made that grant decision.

I can't speak for other universities, but I agree with his assessment that Oxford's regulations make it much more difficult to use donations get productivity enhancements than it would be at other non-profits. For example, we would not be able to pay for the child care of our employees directly, nor raise their salary in order for them to be able to pay for more child care (since there is a standard pay scale). I therefore believe that the reason he gave for ruling out university-based grantees is the true reason, and one which is justified in at least some cases.

Comment author: Dunja 02 August 2018 09:56:05AM *  -2 points [-]

But what about paying for teaching duties (i.e. using the finding to cover the teaching load of a given researcher)? Teaching is one of the main issues when it comes to time spent on research, and this would mean that OU can't accept the funding framework within quite common ERC grants that have this issue covered. This was my point all along.

Second, what about the payment for a better equipment? That was another issue mentioned in Nick's post.

Finally, the underlying assumption of Nick's explanation is that the output of non-academic workers will be better within the given projects than the output of the non-academic workers, which is a bold claim and insufficiently explicated in the text he provided. Again: I don't know which projects we are assessing here and without that knowledge we cannot make an adequate assessment. Anything else would be a mere speculation. I am just making a plea for higher transparency given the complexity of these issues.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 01 August 2018 03:20:56PM *  6 points [-]

Given that Nick has a PhD in Philosophy, and that OpenPhil has funded a large amount of academic research, this explanation seems unlikely.

Disclosure: I am working at OpenPhil over the summer. (I don't have any particular private information, both of the above facts are publicly available.)

EDIT: I don't intend to make any statement about whether EA as a whole has an anti-academic bias, just that this particular situation seems unlikely to reflect that.

Comment author: Dunja 01 August 2018 05:34:29PM *  -2 points [-]

Thanks for the input! But I didn't claim that Nick is biased against academia - I just find the lack of clarity on this point and his explanation of why university grants were disqualified simply unsatisfactory.

As for your point that it is unlikely for people with PhDs to be biased, I think ex-academics can easily hold negative attitudes towards academia, especially after exiting the system.

Nevertheless, I am not concluding from this that Nick is biased (nor that he isn't) - we just don't have evidence for either of these claims, and at the end of the day, this shouldn't matter. The procedure for grants awarding should be robust enough to prevent such biases to kick in. I am not sure if any such measures have been undertaken in this case though, which is why I raising this point.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 01 August 2018 09:28:22PM *  1 point [-]
  • My guess would be because EA is still a niche community favouring unpopular causes, and existing effective altruists outside academia will be more willing to pursue effective ideas within uncommon areas EAs favour, while university projects typically have more opportunity for funding outside EA, it makes sense to prioritize funding non-academic projects. Of course, that's only heuristic reasoning. These aren't the most solid assumptions for EA as a movement to make. I agree this should be addressed with more open and detailed discussion on this forum.

  • Arguably life extension or anti-ageing research institutions are doing medical research outside academia. Indeed it's the case most organizations in this space I've heard effective altruists tout are either for-profit companies, or NPOs, to which they donate, such as SENS and the newly opened Longevity Research Institute. So while I don't know about climate research centres, there are in fact a lot of people in EA who might defend a policy of redirecting resources for medical research towards non-academic institutions.

  • Nick Beckstead stated why he didn't pay as much attention to the EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds is because they were redundant with grants he would have already made to the Open Philanthropy Project. Of course that still raises the question of why the EA Funds were presented differently to donors and the community, and why this wasn't better addressed, which I intend to follow up on with the CEA. Regarding the long-term future, I'm aware Nick is correct the Open Philanthropy Project has been making many smaller grants to many small academic projects in AI safety/alignment, biosecurity and other areas. I expect this trend will only increase in the near future. Having looked into it myself, and talked to academics in EA who know the area from the inside better than I, there are indeed fewer opportunities for academic research on effective 'EA Community-Building' than there will be for other areas EAs focus on. But projects run by effective altruists working at universities have received grants from EA Grants to build bridges into academia, such as the Effective Thesis Project jointly run the Czech EA Foundation, and the Effective Altruists of Berkeley, at the University of California, Berkeley.

Comment author: Dunja 02 August 2018 10:17:10AM *  0 points [-]

Hi Evan, Here's my response to your comments (including another post of yours from above). By the way, that's a nice example of an industry-compatible research, I agree that such and similar cases can indeed fall into what EAs wish to fund, as long as they are assessed as effective and efficient. I think this is an important debate, so let me challenge some of your points.

Your arguments seem to be based on the assumption that EAs can do EA-related topics more effectively and efficiently than a non-explicitly EA-affiliated academics (but please correct me if I've misunderstood you!), and I think this is a prevalent assumption across this forum (at least when it comes to the topic of AI risks & safety). While I agree that being an EA can contribute to one's motivation for the given research topic, I don't see any rationale for the claim that EAs are more qualified to do scientific research relevant for EA than non-explicit-EAs. That would mean that, say, Christians are a priori more qualified to do research that goes towards some Christian values. I think this is a non sequitur.

Whether a certain group of people can conduct a given project in an effective and efficient way shouldn't primarily depend on their ethical and political mindset (though this may play a motivating role as I've mentioned above), but on the methodological prospects of the given project, on its programmatic character and the capacity of the given scientific group to make an impact. I don't see why EAs --as such-- would qualify for such values anymore than an expert in the given domain can, when placed within the framework of the given project. It is important to keep in mind that we are not talking here about a political activity of spreading EA ideas, but about scientific research which has to be conducted with a necessary rigor in order to make an impact in the scientific community and wider (otherwise nobody will care about the output of the given researchers). This is the kind of criteria that I wished would be present in the assessment of the given grants, rather than who is an EA and who not.

Second, by prioritizing a certain type of group in the given domain of research, the danger of confirmation bias gets increased. This is why feminist epistemologists have been arguing for diversity across the scientific community (rather than for the claim that only feminists should do feminist-compatible scientific research).

Finally, if there is a worry that academic projects focus too much on other issues, the call for funding can always be formulated in such a way that it specifies the desired topics. In this way, academic project proposals can be formulated having EA goals in mind.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 06 August 2018 06:24:11AM -1 points [-]

Your arguments seem to be based on the assumption that EAs can do EA-related topics more effectively and efficiently than a non-explicitly EA-affiliated academics (but please correct me if I've misunderstood you!), and I think this is a prevalent assumption across this forum (at least when it comes to the topic of AI risks & safety). While I agree that being an EA can contribute to one's motivation for the given research topic, I don't see any rationale for the claim that EAs are more qualified to do scientific research relevant for EA than non-explicit-EAs. That would mean that, say, Christians are a priori more qualified to do research that goes towards some Christian values. I think this is a non sequitur.

I think it's a common perception in EA effective altruists can often do work as efficiently and effectively as academics not explicitly affiliated with EA. Often EAs also think academics can do some if not most EA work than a random non-academic EA. AI safety is more populated with and stems from the rationality community. On average it's more ambivalent towards academia than EA. It's my personal opinion there are a variety of reasons why EA may often have a comparative advantage of doing the research in-house. There are a number of reasons for this.

One is practical. Academics would often have to divide their time doing EA-relevant research with teaching duties. EA tends to focus on unsexy research topics, so academics may be likelier to get grants for focusing on irrelevant research. Depending on the field, the politics of research can distort the epistemology of academia so it won't work for EA's purposes. These are constraints effective altruists working full-time at NPOs funded by other effective altruists don't face, allowing them to dedicate all their attention to their organization's mission.

Personally, my confidence in EA to make progress on research and other projects for a wide variety of goals is bolstered by some original research in multiple causes being lauded by academics as some of the best on the subject they've seen. Of course, these are NPOs focused on addressing neglected problems in global poverty, animal advocacy campaigns, and other niche areas. Some of the biggest successes in EA come from close collaborations with academia. I think most EAs would encourage more cooperation between academia and EA. I've pushed in the past for EA making more grants to academics doing sympathetic research. Attracting talent with an academic research background to EA can be difficult. I agree with you overall EA's current approach doesn't make sense.

I think you've got a lot of good points. I'd encourage you to make a post out of some of the comments I made here. I think one reason your posts might be poorly received is because some causes in EA, especially AI safety/alignment, have received a lot of poor criticism in the past merely for trying to do formal research outside of academia. I could review a post before you post it to the EA Forum to suggest edits so it would be better received. Either way, I think EA integrating more with academia is a great idea.

Comment author: Dunja 07 August 2018 08:25:57AM *  0 points [-]

Hey Evan, thanks for the detailed reply and the encouragement! :) I'd love to write a longer post on this and I'll try to do so as soon as I catch some more time! Let me just briefly reply to some of your worries concerning academia, which may be shared by others across the board.

  1. Efficiency in terms of time - the idea that academics can't do research as much as non-academic due to teaching duties is not necessarily the case. I am speaking here for EU, where in many cases both pre-docs and post-docs don't have much (or any) teaching duties (e.g. I did my PhD in Belgium where the agreement was that PhDs focus only on research). Moreover, even if you do have teaching dutues, it may often inform your research and as such it's usually not a "wasted time" (when it comes to research results). As for professors, this largely depends on a country, but there are many examples of academics with a prof. title whose productivity is super high in spite of the teaching duties.

  2. Focusing on sexy topics - there is this misconception that sexy topics won't pass through academia, while actually the opposite is the case: the sexier your topic is, the more likely it is that your project gets funded. The primary issue with any topic, whatsoever, is that the project proposal shows how the topic will be investigated, i.e. the basic methodology. I don't know where exactly this myth comes from, to be honest. I work in philosophy of science, and the more relevant your topic is for real-world problems, the more attractive your project proposal will be (at least in the current funding atmosphere). One reason why this myth is so entrenched among EAs could be the experience of EAs within research projects which already had pre-determined goals and so each researcher had to focus on whatever their boss asked them to. However, there are numerous possibilities across EU to apply for one's own project proposals, in which case you will do precisely what you propose. Another reason could be that EAs don't have much experience with applications for funding, and have submitted project proposals that don't seem convincing in terms of methodology (writing projects is a skill which needs to learned like any other), leading them to conclude that academics don't care about the given topics.

  3. Using public funding for EA purposes - this point relates to what you mention above and I think it would be really great if this direction could be improved. For instance, if academics within EA formed a sort of counseling body, helping EAs with their project proposals, choice of a PhD supervisor, etc. This would be a win-win situation for all kinds of reasons: from integrating EA relevant research goals into academia, to using public funding sources (rather than EA donations) for research. This could proceed e.g. in terms of real-life workshops, online discussions, etc. I'd be happy to participate in such a body so maybe we should seriously consider this option.

Comment author: MarkusAnderljung 01 August 2018 09:51:52AM 2 points [-]

There are links missing from the EA Community Fund post to the OpenPhil writeups on 80k and CEA.

Comment author: MarekDuda 02 August 2018 09:20:31AM 1 point [-]

Fixed. Thanks, Markus!

Comment author: MarekDuda 25 July 2018 03:58:32PM 6 points [-]

Hi Peter, should be in the next few days, we're just finalising the details on CEA side.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 25 July 2018 10:32:48PM 0 points [-]

Perfect, thanks!

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 23 July 2018 08:50:29PM 3 points [-]

provided we found someone with suitable qualifications.

Could you sketch out what "suitable qualifications" for the fund manager role look like, roughly?

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 25 July 2018 10:44:24AM *  16 points [-]

I don't know what others think about the qualifications needed/desired for this, but as a donor to these EA Funds, some of the reasons I'm enthusiastic to give to Nick's funds are:

  • His full-time day job is working out which organisations will do the most good over the long run (especially of those seeking to grow the EA movement), and how much funding they need.

  • He does that alongside extremely smart, well-informed colleagues with the same aims, giving him lots of opportunities to test and improve his views

  • He has worked formally and informally in this area for coming on for ten years

  • He's consistently shown himself to be smart, well-informed and to have excellent judgement.

I've been very grateful to be able to off-load where/when/how to donate optimally to him, and hope if/when a new fund manager is found, they share at least some of the above qualities.

[Disclaimer: I used to work for CEA]

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 01 August 2018 05:50:31AM 7 points [-]

Hi Nick. Thanks for your response. I also appreciate the recent and quick granting of the EA Funds up to date. One thing I don't understand is why most of the grants you wanted to make could have been made by the Open Philanthropy Project, is why:

  • the CEA didn't anticipate this;
  • gave public descriptions of how the funds you managed would work to the contrary;
  • and why, if they learned of your intentions contrary to what they first told the EA community, they didn't issue an update.

I'm not aware of a public update of that kind. If there was a private email list for donors to the EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds, and they were issued a correction to how they were prior informed the money in the funds would be granted, I'd like to know. (I'm not demanding to see that update/correction published, if it exists, as I respect the privacy inherent in that relationship. If any donor to these funds or someone from the CEA could inform me if such an update/correction exists, please let me know.)

Regarding my concerns as you outlined them:

(i) delay between receipt and use of funds, (ii) focus on established grantees over new and emerging grantees, and (iii) limited attention to these funds.

That's an accurate breakdown.

Based on how the other two EA Funds have provided more frequent updates and made more frequent grants in the last year, I expect a lot of donors or community members would find it unusual the EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds granted all the money all at once. But in April you did give an update to that effect.

However, donors to the EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds were initially given the impression new and emerging grantees would be the target over established grantees. This was an impression of the EA Funds initially given by the CEA, not yourself as fund manager. But the CEA itself never corrected that. While based on the updates donors could have surmised the plan had changed, I would have expected a clearer update. Again, if such was privately provided to donors to these funds in some form, that would be good to know. Also, based on the redundancy of the EA Funds as you intended to manage them regarding your other role as a program officer at Open Phil, it seems clear you didn't expect you'd have to pay much attention to either of these funds.

However, it appears again donors were given the different impression by the CEA more attention would be afforded to the EA Funds. Had donors been given the rationale for why there were less frequent updates from the two funds you've been managing earlier, that would have been better. To receive updates on what amount of attention the EA Funds would receive was a suggestion on how to improve the EA Funds from Henry Stanley's last EA Forum post on the subject.

That's great news about BERI. I haven't had a chance to look over everything BERI has done up to date, but based on their early stuff I've looked at and the people involved, that sounds promising. Unfortunately, information on the EA Grants has been scarce. I know others have asked me about the EA Grants, and I've seen others share concerns regarding the uncertainty of when public applications will open again.

It appears at least there was a communication breakdown from the CEA initially and publicly told the EA community (which I imagine would include most of those who became donors to the funds), and, at a later stage, how you intended to manage them. Regarding this, and: * further questions regarding the EA Grants; * the possibility of (an) additional fund manager(s); I will try following up with the Centre for Effective Altruism more directly. I can't think of anything else I have to ask you at this time, so thanks for taking the time to respond and provide updates regarding the EA Funds.

Comment author: Nick_Beckstead 02 August 2018 06:24:06PM 17 points [-]

Hi Evan, let me address some of the topics you’ve raised in turn.

Regarding original intentions and new information obtained:

  • At the time that the funds were formed, it was an open question in my mind how much of the funding would support established organizations vs. emerging organizations.
  • Since then, the things that changed were that EA Grants got started, I encountered fewer emerging organizations that I wanted to prioritize funding than expected, and Open Phil funding to established organizations grew more than I expected.
  • The three factors contributed to having fewer grants to make that couldn’t be made in other ways than was expected.
  • The former two factors contributed to a desire to focus primarily on established organizations.
  • The third opposes this, but I still see the balance of considerations favoring me focusing on established organizations.

Regarding my/CEA’s communications about the purposes of the funds: It seems you and some others have gotten the impression that the EA Funds I manage were originally intended to focus on emerging organizations over established organizations. I don’t think this is communicated in the main places I would expect it to be communicated if the fund were definitely focused on emerging organizations. For example, the description of the Long-Term Future Fund reads:

“This fund will support organizations that work on improving long-term outcomes for humanity. Grants will likely go to organizations that seek to reduce global catastrophic risks, especially those relating to advanced artificial intelligence.”

And “What sorts of interventions or organizations might this fund support?” reads:

"In the biography on the right you can see a list of organizations the Fund Manager has previously supported, including a wide variety of organizations such as the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Future of Life Institute and the Center for Applied Rationality. These organizations vary in their strategies for improving the long-term future but are likely to include activities such as research into possible existential risks and their mitigation, and priorities for robust and beneficial artificial intelligence."

The new grants also strike me as a natural continuation of the “grant history” section. Based on the above, I'd have thought the more natural interpretation was, "You are giving money for Nick Beckstead to regrant at his discretion to organizations in the EA/GCR space."

The main piece of evidence that these funds were billed as focused on emerging organizations that I see in your write-up is this statement under “Why might you choose not to donate to this fund?”:

“First, donors who prefer to support established organizations. The fund manager has a track record of funding newer organizations and this trend is likely to continue, provided that promising opportunities continue to exist.”

I understand how this is confusing, and I regret the way that we worded it. I can see that this could give someone the impression that the fund would focus primarily on emerging organizations, and that isn’t what I intended to communicate.

What I wanted to communicate was that I might fund many emerging organizations, if that seemed like the best idea, and I wanted to warn donors about the risks involved with funding emerging organizations. Indeed, two early grants from these funds were to emerging orgs: BERI and EA Sweden, so I think it's good that some warning was here. That said, even at the time this was written, I think “likely” was too strong a word, and “may” would have been more appropriate. It’s just an error that I failed to catch. In a panel discussion at EA Global in 2017, my answer to a related question about funding new vs. established orgs was more tentative, and better reflects what I think the page should have said.

I also think there are a couple of other statements like this on the page that I think could have been misinterpreted in similar ways, and I have regrets about them as well.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 04 August 2018 05:38:08AM -1 points [-]

[Part I of II]

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

  • At the time that the funds were formed, it was an open question in my mind how much of the funding would support established organizations vs. emerging organizations.
  • Since then, the things that changed were that EA Grants got started, I encountered fewer emerging organizations that I wanted to prioritize funding than expected, and Open Phil funding to established organizations grew more than I expected.
  • The three factors contributed to having fewer grants to make that couldn’t be made in other ways than was expected.
  • The former two factors contributed to a desire to focus primarily on established organizations.
  • The third opposes this, but I still see the balance of considerations favoring me focusing on established organizations.

As far as I'm concerned, these factors combined more than exonerate you from aspersions you were in acting in bad faith in the management of either these funds. For what it's worth, I apologize you've had to face such accusations in the comments below as a result of my post. I hoped for the contrary, as I consider such aspersions at best counterproductive. I expect I'll do a follow-up as a top-level post to the EA Forum, in which case I'll make abundantly clear I disbelieve you were acting in bad faith, and that, if anything, it's as I expected: what's happened is a result of the CEA failing to ensure you as a fund manager and the EA Funds were in sufficiently transparent and regular communication with the EA community, and/or donors to these funds.

Personally, I disagree with a perspective the Long-Term and EA Community Funds should be operated differently than the other two funds, i.e., seeking to fund well-established as opposed to nascent EA projects/organizations. I do so while also agreeing it is a much better use of your personal time to focus on making grants to established organizations, and follow the cause prioritization/evaluation model you've helped develop and implement at Open Phil.

I think one answer is for the CEA to hire or appoint new/additional fund managers for one or both of the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds to relieve pressure on you to do everything, both dividing your time between the Funds and your important work at Open Phil less than now, and to foster more regular communication to the community regarding these Funds. While I know yourself and Benito commented it's difficult to identify someone to manage the funds both the CEA and EA community at large would considered qualified, I explained my conclusion in this comment as to why I think it's both important and tractable for us as a community to pursue the improvement of the EA Funds by seeking more qualified fund managers.

What I've learned from the responses to my original post in the last week, more than I expected, was many effective altruists indeed, not as a superficial preference, but based on an earnest conviction think it would be more effective for the EA Funds to be focused on funding smaller, newer EA projects/organizations at a stage of development prior to when Open Phil might fund them. This appears true among EAs regardless of cause, and it happens to be the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds being managed differently which brought this to the fore.

At a first glance among both existing and potential donors to the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds, the grantees being MIRI; CFAR; 80k; CEA; and the Founders Pledge are leaving the community nonplussed (example) because those are exactly the charities EA donors could and would have guessed are targets for movement-building and long-term future donations by default. The premise of the EA Funds was the fund managers, based on their track records, could and would identify targets for donations within these focus areas with time and analysis the donors could not themselves afford. This was an attempt to increase the efficiency of donation in EA, and reduce potentially redundant cause prioritization efforts in EA.

But it's become apparent to many effective altruists in the wake of my post, beyond any intention I had, combined with other dissatisfaction with the EA Funds in the last year, that didn't happen. Given donors to the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds would likely not have identified donation targets like EA Sweden and BERI that you mentioned, I consider it unlikely the money from the two funds you manage would have ended up this year at charities much different than the ones you're disbursing the EA Funds to as of August 8th.

So I don't think the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds were a waste of money. What it did quantitatively waste was a lot of time as: (i) the donors' to the EA Funds could've either donated to one of the Funds' new grantees earlier, thus presumably benefiting the organization in question more; or, (ii) they could have taken a bit of time to do their own analysis which, however inadequate compared to what they at one point expected from the EA Funds, would leave them more satisfied than the current outcome.

Although it's qualitative and symbolic, I maintain the most consequential outcome of how differences the EA community at large has had with how the EA Funds are being administered as a project of the CEA is the shock it causes to the well of trust and good will between EA organizations, and effective altruists as individuals and as a whole.

I understand how this is confusing, and I regret the way that we worded it. I can see that this could give someone the impression that the fund would focus primarily on emerging organizations, and that isn’t what I intended to communicate.

What I wanted to communicate was that I might fund many emerging organizations, if that seemed like the best idea, and I wanted to warn donors about the risks involved with funding emerging organizations.

I in no sense any longer hold you personally responsible for the mismatch between how you thought and how much of the EA community, including donors to the EA Funds, thought you would manage the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds. Unfortunately, that does not to me excuse the failure to ensure the fidelity of communicating again. Again, I believe the fidelity model of spreading EA is one of the best that has come out for EA movement-building in years. But like with how miscommunication on the CEA's part has apparently undermined their ability to as a representative agency of the EA movement pursue their own mission and goals, it's very concerning when the CEA can't adhere to the movement-building model they prescribe for themselves, and would hope the rest of EA might also follow.

I don't even hold Sam Deere, Marek Duda, or JP Addison themselves particularly responsible for the failure to update or check the fidelity of your updates and thinking on how to manage the EA Funds to donors and the EA community. While that was their responsibility, what with the delays in the email responses, and their preoccupation with the important tasks of updating the EA Forum 2.0 and all other tech projects under the CEA umbrella, it would appear the CEA tech team wasn't afforded or led to believe they should prioritize clear and regular maintenance of the EA Funds online communications/updates relative to their other tasks. Obviously, this is in even starker contrast than what I expected when I made this post to what many effective altruists think about how much of a priority the CEA should have made of the EA Funds.

The difference between these outcomes, and other mistakes the CEA has made in the past; or the EA Funds, and other big funds in EA, is these Funds were made from the donations of individual effective altruists, either modestly or as a major, conscious shift among those earning to give, that faced skepticism from the beginning it would be more effective than how those donors would counterfactually donate their own money. The CEA assured EA community members that wouldn't be the case. And those community members who went on to donate to the EA Funds are now learning pessimistic forecasts on the potential greater effectiveness of the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds were correct. And this by the lights of the CEA as an organization lacking the self-awareness to know they were failing the expectations they had set for themselves, and on which grounds they asked for the trust of the whole EA movement.

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 04 August 2018 05:38:43AM 1 point [-]

[Part II of II]

In the week since I made my original post, Joey Savoie of Charity Science made this post, itself being rapidly upvoted, that how EA is represented, and how and who EA as a whole community ought trust to represent us, is receiving significant misgivings with how things have been going within EA. Whether it's part of a genuine pattern or not, the perception of the CEA (or any other organization representing EA) as failing to represent EA in accord with the what the EA movement as their supporters think tears the fabric of EA as a movement.

Indeed, two early grants from these funds were to emerging orgs: BERI and EA Sweden, so I think it's good that some warning was here. That said, even at the time this was written, I think “likely” was too strong a word, and “may” would have been more appropriate. It’s just an error that I failed to catch. In a panel discussion at EA Global in 2017, my answer to a related question about funding new vs. established orgs was more tentative, and better reflects what I think the page should have said.

I also think there are a couple of other statements like this on the page that I think could have been misinterpreted in similar ways, and I have regrets about them as well.

In my follow-up, I'll clarify misunderstanding about how the Long-Term Future and EA Community Funds would be allocated by both donors to the Funds, and other effective altruists, is a result of misinterpretation of ambiguous communications in hindsight should have been handled differently. To summarize my feelings here, if ultimately this much confusion resulted from some minor errors in diction, one would hope in an EA organization there would be enough oversight to ensure their own accountability such that minor errors in word choice would not lead to such confusion in the first place.

Ultimately, it was the responsibility of the CEA's Tech Team to help you ensure these regretted communications never led to this, and looking at the organization online, there is nobody else responsible than the CEA as a whole organization to ensure the Tech Team prioritizes that well. And if the CEA got what it identified as its own priorities relative to what of its own activities the rest of the EA community were most important to building and leading the movement so wrong, it also leads me to conclude the CEA as a whole needs to be more in touch with the EA movement as a whole. I don't know if there is any more to ask about why what's happened with not only the two EA Funds you manage, but the continued lagging of the CEA behind the community's and donors' realistic expectations to update them even as all the fund managers themselves had answers to provide. But one theme of my follow-up will to be asking how the CEA, including its leadership, and the EA movement can work together to ensure outcomes like this don't happen again.