Comment author: MichaelPlant 10 July 2017 09:43:16PM 0 points [-]

Sure. But in that case GWWC should take the same sort of line, presumably. I'm unsure how/why the two orgs should reach different conclusions.

Comment author: HowieL 14 July 2017 06:24:04PM 1 point [-]

I obviously can't speak for GWWC but I can imagine some reasons it could reach different conclusions. For example, GWWC is a membership organization and might see itself as, in part, representing its members or having a duty to be responsive to their views. At times, listeners might understand statements by GWWC as reflecting the views of its membership.

80k's mission seems to be research/advising so its users might have more of an expectation that statements by 80k reflect the current views of its staff.

Comment author: HowieL 07 June 2017 10:10:48PM 10 points [-]

Just wanted to mention that I thought this was a really good post. I think it did a good job of asking for community input at a time where it's potentially decision relevant but where enough considerations are known that some plausible options can be put forth.

I think it also did a good job of describing lots of considerations without biasing the reader strongly in favor/against particular ones.

Comment author: HowieL 21 December 2016 01:23:44AM *  12 points [-]

I'll add two more potential traps. There's overlap with some of the existing ones but I think these are worth mentioning on their own.

9) Object level work may contribute more learning value.

I think it's plausible that the community will learn more if it's more focused on object level work. There are several plausible mechanisms. For example (not comprehensive): object level work might have better feedback loops, object level work may build broader networks that can be used for learning about specific causes, or developing an expert inside view on an area may be the best way to improve your modelling of the world. (Think about liberal arts colleges' claim that it's worth having a major even if your educational goals are broad "critical thinking" skills.)

I'm eliding here over lots of open questions about how to model the learning of a community. For example: is it more efficient for communities to learn by their current members learning or by recruiting new members with preexisting knowledge/skills?

I don't have an answer to this question but when I think about it I try to take the perspective of a hypothetical EA community ten years from now and ask whether it would prefer to primarily be made up of people with ten years' experience working on meta causes or a biologist, a computer scientist, a lawyer, etc. . .

10) The most valuable types of capital may be "cause specific"

I suppose (9) is a subset of (10). But it may be that it's important to invest today on capital that will pay off tomorrow. (E.G. See 80k on career capital.) And cause specific opportunities may be better developed (and have higher returns) than meta ones. So, learning value aside, it may be valuable for EA to have lots of people who invested in graduate degrees or building professional networks. But these types of opportunities may sometimes require you to do object level work.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 August 2016 04:17:38AM *  4 points [-]

Although whoever carried this out would have to make sure it stayed a list of projects that failed to fundraise or else it'll just become a big pitch bank.

Why is this a failure mode? What if someone deliberately created a big pitch bank for the purpose of collecting these kind of statistics? ("Kickstarter/AngelList for effective nonprofits." Edit: It seems that AngelList does allow nonprofits to list, but the EA community might also have unique funding needs, as described in this post.) This could solve some of the data collection issues, since you're giving people an incentive to put their info in your database. And potentially work to address issues related to time spent fundraising/ease of pitching new projects without requiring any new charitable funds (beyond those required to create the pitch bank itself). Heck, it even might eliminate the need for people to have their failure to fundraise analyzed publicly, if a more liquid market solves the original problem of matching supply and demand better.

I know this is kind of what Effective Altruism Ventures was. I'm not entirely clear on why it's no longer in operation. Kerry mentioned difficulty finding both quality projects and generous donors--apparently resources for EAV were allocated towards other projects that were doing better. So maybe this is something that only starts to be worth the overhead once the community reaches a certain size.

Comment author: HowieL 27 August 2016 03:17:45PM 1 point [-]

Oh - in the long run a pitch bank could definitely be good. It might be more valuable than the project I was suggesting. Although it would also, I think, take substantially more work to do well. You'd need to keep it updated, create a way to get in touch with potential grantees, etc.

The reason I think it would corrupt the data is because if the list included lots of projects that are still fundraising (and perhaps only recently started fundraising) then it would no longer help someone figure out today which projects are actually on the margin. It would make for interesting data in a year or so once we could see which projects from the list were still fundraising.

Comment author: HowieL 26 August 2016 01:59:38PM *  18 points [-]

[Speaking just for myself here, not for my employer, the Open Philanthropy Project, which is housed at GiveWell]

UPDATED 8/27/16. I added the name of my employer to the top of the post because Vipul told me offline that he thinks "my financial and institutional ties . . . could be construed as creating a conflict of interest" in this post.

One of the things that makes this decision so hard for anybody considering ETG to fund relatively small projects that staffed foundations might miss is that projects that receive funding get way more visibility than projects that do not.

This makes it incredibly hard to figure out what the right margin is and how many projects are at that margin (particularly important when you know lots of others are making the same decision at the same time). Unless they do an incredible amount of research, a potential ETGer can mostly see examples of projects they support that that WERE funded and then speculate on whether they were close to not being funded. You can also look at projects that are currently fundraising but, again, it's hard to tell in advance how many of them will actually struggle to get support

If I were CEA/80k and wanted to make progress on this question, I think the first project I'd try would be to create a list of people willing to disclose projects that they tried and failed to fundraise for over the last year or two. Ideally, they'd also give some sense of their own opportunity cost - what they ended up doing instead (this is especially important if it included projects pitched by medium/large EA orgs where staff that didn't get funding for one thing may have ended up just working on a different priority which is pretty different from somebody who wanted to quit their job to start something and couldn't).

There are all kinds of reasons this would be imperfect. It wouldn't be a complete survey. It wouldn't account for the potential growth of the community. It wouldn't capture all of the effects of a bigger funding pool - e.g. projects happening faster, less time wasted fundraising, people feeling more confident pitching projects in the first place because their odds are higher. But I think it'd be a lower bound with fairly high information content. If I were 80k and advising lots of people on whether to ETG at the same time, I'd like to see something like this.

A survey of EAs would probably identify a bunch of projects and CEA could also ask ETGers and people who see lots of pitches (e.g. EAV, Carl, Nick) if they can ask rejected people whether they'd be willing to disclose. Presumably 80k also knows of advisees who considered starting an organization but couldn't get funded. It's a bit embarrassing to admit failure but it'd be worth it for some people as it might also give them another shot at funding. Although whoever carried this out would have to make sure it stayed a list of projects that failed to fundraise or else it'll just become a big pitch bank.

Comment author: HowieL 27 August 2016 03:13:15PM 6 points [-]

This post initially didn't disclose the name of my employer (Open Phil, which is housed at GiveWell) at the top of this post. I'd be interested in feedback on whether that was a mistake and whether anybody feels like there's a conflict they wish I'd disclosed. Context is that Vipul told me he thinks there could be one offline.

My main reason for not disclosing is that I didn't consciously think much about it and was being kind of lazy bc I wrote the comment on my phone on BART. "Speaking just for myself here, not for my employer" is shorter.

I always explicitly disclose who I work for when something that closely touches on our work is being discussed. In this particular case I don't actually see the conflict and I'm actually not even sure what direction my financial/institutional interests point. But here are some other factors:

1) Even if I say I'm not speaking for GiveWell/Open Phil, I think prominently mentioning their name in all of my comments creates a stronger association between my views and Open Phil's and makes it more likely that people will confuse my own views with my employers. I think this is a pretty big risk because some people could make big decisions based on their predictions of Open Phil's actions. This concern (and the general friction caused by needing to think about it) has frequently stopped me from publicly commenting on things.

2) I worry that flagging all my posts with the name of my employer, which is high status in this community, uses their credibility to artificially inflate my own. In general, I think it would be bad for EA if it feels like Open Phil/GW is throwing their weight around.

3) I mostly thought about this as a suggestion to Will/80k/CEA all of whom know me well and know where I work. I email them with suggestions fairly frequently and am used to giving them thoughts w/o needing to disclose.

Curious about what others think.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 26 August 2016 10:08:23PM 1 point [-]

J. Scott Armstrong's paper's have been useful.

Comment author: HowieL 26 August 2016 11:38:14PM 0 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 26 August 2016 11:33:10AM *  7 points [-]

It seems like there's a disconnect between EA supposedly being awash in funds on the one hand, and stories like yours on the other. I know Open Phil has struggled with the issue of whether to fill up the room for more funding of the groups it does choose to fund. I wonder what would happen if they just said screw it and fully funded all the groups they had confidence in. This would push smaller donors towards evaluating and funding niche opportunities like EAF. Let tigers hunt buffalo and bobcats hunt rodents.

Some disadvantages: "find and fund a niche effective giving opportunity" is a weaker call to action than "donate to AMF and save kids in Africa". I also suspect people who evaluate charities professionally for e.g. Open Phil are better at it than random members of the EA community working in their spare time. But I'm not very confident in this... check out this excerpt from Thinking Fast and Slow on the kind of things it's possible for a person to develop expertise in. There's a pretty interesting case for radical skepticism to be made here. (Also, since we're talking about smaller amounts of money, it's less important for the donations to be thoroughly considered?)

Related to the expertise point: I've been told that there's a decent size literature on how to make accurate forecasts that the EA community is mostly ignoring. (Tetlock being the most visible forecasting researcher, but definitely not the only one.)

Comment author: HowieL 26 August 2016 04:02:48PM 1 point [-]

"(Tetlock being the most visible forecasting researcher, but definitely not the only one.)"

Is there anybody in particular other than Tetlock that you think EAs are neglecting?

Comment author: HowieL 26 August 2016 01:59:38PM *  18 points [-]

[Speaking just for myself here, not for my employer, the Open Philanthropy Project, which is housed at GiveWell]

UPDATED 8/27/16. I added the name of my employer to the top of the post because Vipul told me offline that he thinks "my financial and institutional ties . . . could be construed as creating a conflict of interest" in this post.

One of the things that makes this decision so hard for anybody considering ETG to fund relatively small projects that staffed foundations might miss is that projects that receive funding get way more visibility than projects that do not.

This makes it incredibly hard to figure out what the right margin is and how many projects are at that margin (particularly important when you know lots of others are making the same decision at the same time). Unless they do an incredible amount of research, a potential ETGer can mostly see examples of projects they support that that WERE funded and then speculate on whether they were close to not being funded. You can also look at projects that are currently fundraising but, again, it's hard to tell in advance how many of them will actually struggle to get support

If I were CEA/80k and wanted to make progress on this question, I think the first project I'd try would be to create a list of people willing to disclose projects that they tried and failed to fundraise for over the last year or two. Ideally, they'd also give some sense of their own opportunity cost - what they ended up doing instead (this is especially important if it included projects pitched by medium/large EA orgs where staff that didn't get funding for one thing may have ended up just working on a different priority which is pretty different from somebody who wanted to quit their job to start something and couldn't).

There are all kinds of reasons this would be imperfect. It wouldn't be a complete survey. It wouldn't account for the potential growth of the community. It wouldn't capture all of the effects of a bigger funding pool - e.g. projects happening faster, less time wasted fundraising, people feeling more confident pitching projects in the first place because their odds are higher. But I think it'd be a lower bound with fairly high information content. If I were 80k and advising lots of people on whether to ETG at the same time, I'd like to see something like this.

A survey of EAs would probably identify a bunch of projects and CEA could also ask ETGers and people who see lots of pitches (e.g. EAV, Carl, Nick) if they can ask rejected people whether they'd be willing to disclose. Presumably 80k also knows of advisees who considered starting an organization but couldn't get funded. It's a bit embarrassing to admit failure but it'd be worth it for some people as it might also give them another shot at funding. Although whoever carried this out would have to make sure it stayed a list of projects that failed to fundraise or else it'll just become a big pitch bank.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 23 August 2016 06:48:20PM 4 points [-]

The third email has the sender name of "[fname] [lname] via EAG" but with hello@eaglobal.org as the email address.

Comment author: HowieL 23 August 2016 06:58:40PM 0 points [-]

Thanks. That's what I thought.

Comment author: HowieL 23 August 2016 06:27:22PM 3 points [-]

Agree with most of what you said here. But I had a different interpretation of the facts with respect to the "via EAG" issue than you did.

Your impression is that:

if I recommended (e.g.) Kit to EAG and he doesn't reply a couple of times, he gets an email with 'greetings from Greg' or similar in the subject heading

My impression is that "Greg Lewis (via EAG)" would appear in the "from" line. (In the way that email clients often replace the sender's email address with their name.

If I understand correctly then the practice strikes me as much more likely to deceive a recipient.

Comment author: HowieL 23 August 2016 06:42:27PM 3 points [-]

@Kerry_Vaughan:

It'd be helpful if you could clear this up. If I was confused and you actually just put "Greetings from FirstName LastName" in the subject line or some such, I'd have a substantially weaker reaction.

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