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Stefan_Schubert comments on Celebrating All Who Are in Effective Altruism - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 20 January 2016 05:23:54AM *  9 points [-]

I don't strictly disagree with the above piece, and I think it's actually quite reasonable (upvoted), but I have a number of reasons which tilt me in the opposite direction. I don't believe in shaming softcore EAs, and I don't think that anyone would, but here is a list of my countervailing reasons why I would strongly value efforts that would increase the involvement and motivation of existing EAs (and why I am less excited about getting more people lightly on board):

-I'm highly skeptical of the frequency and severity of "burnout" accounts, which are rare and often appear insignificant (thanks to Gleb for providing a solid one)

-The difference between donating, say, 10% of one's income and 20% of one's income is effectively just as good as adding another "10%'er" to the movement, but people seem to overlook the significance of this difference. Depending on career possibilities and income I'd guesstimate that a fully committed altruist usually accomplishes about as much as three to six people who do little beyond pledging

-I am wary of the risks of movement drifting and losing intellectual focus, and think that bringing too many non-aligned people on board can detract from our values and epistemic capabilities

-I think that broadcasting the appearance of being more strongly committed to altruism would have some secondary PR and image benefits by making the movement look stronger and more serious (to countervail against the negative PR which people already talk about)

-Tightness/loyalty norms have benefits for the in-group which shouldn't be underestimated; so do other close community ties and activities (EA houses etc) which are less achievable with people on the softcore side of the spectrum

-I'm highly skeptical/uncertain of the long run impact of most EA efforts, and think that adding more donors into the generic poverty alleviation pool is unlikely to make the world significantly better

-Conversely, I strongly value a smaller, more specific set of efforts, and some of these causes are unlikely to get funded by softcore EAs because they are "weird" whereas they are more likely to get funded by hardcore EAs who put more time and thought into their cause prioritization

Fortunately, efforts which extend 'sub-communities' such as GWWC's pledge and InIn's effective giving can spread the movement without actuating a tradeoff.

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 20 January 2016 01:35:24PM 4 points [-]

The difference between donating, say, 10% of one's income and 20% of one's income is effectively just as good as adding another "10%'er" to the movement, but people seem to overlook the significance of this difference.

I disagree with this. All pledgers are likely to increase the chances of new people taking the pledge. For instance, they might make their friends somewhat more likely to take the pledge. Also, I think that the mere fact that Giving What We Can can put one more pledge-taker on their site makes people more likely to take the pledge.

In short, social proof - one of Cialdini's six principles of persuasion - is likely to be much more dependent on the number of donors than on the amount each individual donor gives.

Comment author: Linch 21 January 2016 12:49:48PM 1 point [-]

Stefan: I think I mostly agree with your point, but not entirely.

"All pledgers are likely to increase the chances of new people taking the pledge. For instance, they might make their friends somewhat more likely to take the pledge." Yes, but I think this is also somewhat proportionate to how dedicated people are. In general, I would expect people who are obsessed with effective altruism to do more recruitment than people who are dedicated, but do not consider it to be the driving urge in their life, dedicated people to be better at recruitment than lightly interested people, etc. So expected donations isn't the only metric in which pouring more resources and mental bandwith into will have positive marginal returns (as you would expect!!) I think the bounds Kbog gave -- 3-6x for very dedicated vs. dedicated EAs -- is roughly reasonable for what I expect to be variance from person to person on the grounds of dedication alone (though as the other recent post noted, certain traits other than dedication, especially the ability to generate wealth, can extend the difference from person to person to somewhat beyond 6x).

"Also, I think that the mere fact that Giving What We Can can put one more pledge-taker on their site makes people more likely to take the pledge." Yes I think that's a point that belongs in the other thread as well. Quantity has a quality all on its own, and even anonymous social proof can be incredibly valuable. Anecdotally, a friend of mine is doing significant outreach at a large company mostly by persuading people that EA is a lot bigger than it actually is. :P

Comment author: kastrel  (EA Profile) 21 January 2016 12:56:39PM 4 points [-]

I don't know about dedicated people being better at recruitment. I have found my friends to be more receptive to me as a 'softcore EA' because we can relate to each others' lifestyles easily and they are more likely to make small changes than large ones. If I donated a really high proportion of my income (say 50%), I think I would not talk about that with them as they would find it instinctively off-putting to consider such a large change. I actually don't talk about the pledge at all with them unless they already seem keen for fear of sounding too 'hardcore'.

Of course, maybe if you're super dedicated you're going to try and recruit more often and with more people, so you may have better results. My point is just that I think 'softcore' may be more relatable for non EAs and that can be good to start conversations.

Comment author: Linch 22 January 2016 03:45:00AM *  1 point [-]

Congratulations on having friends who're receptive to you! And thank you so much for sharing, we definitely need more data points as the movement grows. :)

I wrote on Facebook before that I think while being normal and relatable is a good hook to get people interested in EA, I don't think it will actually make it more likely to make your friends interested than if you're very dedicated. In particular, I think there is a confusion between "emulatable" and "marketable" efforts:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/933455813377443/?comment_id=934292356627122&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R1%22%7D

Put another way, if Person A, who is truly obsessed with making the world a better place is just as good (or, it sometimes implied, worse) at persuading other people to make the world a better place than Person B, who is only moderately interested in doing so, then this should come across as a huge surprise. It should not be tacitly assumed. Rather, Person A is doing something Very Wrong, and figuring out ways to correct this mistake should become a huge priority in EA.

Comment author: Bernadette_Young 21 January 2016 12:09:46PM *  0 points [-]

Also, any new pledger has some non-zero chance of breaking the pledge (see the GWWC fundraising prospectus for their current estimates, though some people have argued these are under-estimates). The chance of different people is probably largely independent. If this is true, then at the margin, two 10% pledgers have a lower chance of both defaulting and would probably lead to more money being moved (ie narrower 95% confidence interval on the amount moved).

Comment author: Linch 21 January 2016 12:38:23PM 1 point [-]

"If this is true, then at the margin, two 10% pledgers have a lower chance of both defaulting and thus have a higher expected value."

I don't think this is true, at least not taken naively. Ie, 70%20%=70%10%*2. Decreasing variance isn't quite the same thing as expected value, and there are so many problems in the world that needs money that decreasing variance just isn't that important relatively to channeling as much (expected) income as possible to the most effective causes.