Comment author: HowieL 21 December 2016 01:23:44AM *  11 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.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 23 August 2016 06:09:06PM *  6 points [-]

[Edited for some corrections and conciseness.]

I was unfortunately unable to go to EAG this year due to work commitments. By all accounts I missed out - additionally, I had less exposure to the EAG marketing than others - I mostly ignored the promotional material as I knew I was unavailable.

I confess I find these practices pretty shady, and I am unpleasantly surprised that EAG made what I view to be a fairly large error of judgement on appropriate marketing tactics. (I am pleasantly unsurprised in the straightforward and open manner with which this criticism has been received). On the issues raised by Kit above.

If I recommended (e.g.) Kit to EAG and he doesn't reply a couple of times, he gets an email 'from Greg via EAG', despite: 1) I'm not sending it, 2) none of the content is written by me, 3) I'm not asked whether I consent to this message being sent 'on my behalf', and 4) I'm not told it happens unless the recipient gets back to me.

Although uncharitable, this looks like ventriloquism or arrogation - and such an impression may well occur in cases where do not read the body of the message. Perhaps the most accurate account is: 'Greg's social tie with Kit is leveraged (without Greg's knowledge and consent) in a misleading subject line to get Kit to click on the last ditch sales pitch', which I think should be avoided.

Especially given in this case Kit is receiving emails he did not solicit on Greg's say so. I might think Kit might value knowing about the opportunity, but I might also have a sufficiently high view of his powers of judgement that he can decide after the first email whether he's interested or not. When he gets a third such email, ostensibly with my approbation and/or involvement, he might start feeling irritation towards me. If I really want Kit to attend EAG so much I'd send him multiple emails, I can send these myself; if instead I think the costs of 'pushing it' to whatever social tie we have outweigh the increased likelihood of another email prodding him to EAG, I definitely do not want it being done ostensibly 'on my behalf' without asking - and especially without telling - me. (The same concerns apply to my implicit endorsement of whatever this email actually says).

[This paragraph is mistaken, and remains just so people can follow the thread of discussion] The worry with 'rolling deadlines' is if the deadline isn't really a deadline for those in the earlier waves. The threat of missing out is scares them to commit early to help you, but after the 'sham deadline' passes, the mask drops, and you are happy for them to confirm etc. Although often just akrasia or poor organisation, people may have good reason for waiting if they are weighing up other ways to spend their time, and there's an (admittedly remote) risk getting them to commit to tickets earlier than they need to deprives them of other opportunities. I confess I'm still not entirely clear what the rolling deadlines entailed, so please disregard if it is inapposite to what EAG's deadlines represented.

I think the 'looking through the attendee database' also sails too close to the wind. I think the impression that evokes is something like, "I was checking our list of attendees, and I suddenly realised you hadn't got a ticket (!) Given your high status and reputation, I realised your non-attendance would be a great shame, so I thought I'd take the trouble to reach our personally". What actually happened, I assume, is the list of non-ticket buying attendees are pulled via a query on 1-2 Booleans from the database, a stock email is constructed, and a mail merge is performed.

These less than wholly candid approaches weren't necessary: one could have sent a final reminder without anyone's name - if one thought social proof was really key, one could have asked the nominators if they were happy for this email to be sent, or prodded the nominators to reach out to the nominees, module suggestions or even an email template. One could genuinely pre-commit to treating early deadlines as deadlines and making this clear, or simply urge people to sign up earlier to help the logistics. "Our records show" or similar is strictly more accurate than "I was looking through our database".

I agree there is likely a trade off between candour and efficacy: the alternatives are probably less persuasive, entail more overhead, or both. I think this should be unsurprising on reflection - to whatever degree marketing is subterfuge, or trying to encourage as much 'buying' as possible, good marketing strategies can be hindered by frank honesty of the objective merits. Yet I aver one should take candour as all-but-lexically prior to efficacy concerns, as this is much consonant with EA norms (whatever exactly they are).

It is a common refrain to object to overblown empirical claims about (e.g.) how many lives you can save for a dollar, and to insist it is important to see how the world really works to understand how to best improve it. I think the sample principles should apply to our interactions with one another: groups shouldn't 'oversell' their impact, and we should not mislead other EAs into our own designs. We should counter-signal many marketing gimmicks in the same way we (try to) countersignal shoddy empirical work.

There is both a commons problem and an increasingly common problem. The costs of increasing marketing and other behaviours (one of the other commonly remarked upon is how frequently EAG posts were shared to all EA related fb groups) are external to the group itself, who are likely much more sensitive to their own efficacy. They will have a skewed impression of the true exchange between these goods: I got the impression - correct me if I'm wrong - that EAG was at times struggling to secure the anticipated attendance, and in such situations high-handed and often unobserved restraint are unappealing. There have also been deeply regrettable behaviours of a particular EA org which will likely be described on this forum soon. Although I stress these are far, far more egregious, they are not a million miles away from stuff mentioned by Kit above.

Relying on all officers for EA orgs to have the resilience of Penelope refuting endless suitors in fealty to the ideal of extremely honest communication is perhaps utopian. Inculcating a general norm across the community to view this stuff poorly may work better. I'd suggest that marketing techniques mentioned by Kit are not used in future by anyone (plus maybe other behaviours - Kit mentioned these were 'highlights'). I would also recommend caution and circumspection before adopting anything that even treads into the penumbra of the duplicitous - Caesar's wife principles would be good to internalize. I hope to encourage the wider EA ecosystem to uphold an ethos along these lines, and robustly challenge mistakes - as, happily, Kit exemplified above.

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: stephenmorvai 23 August 2016 03:40:11PM *  2 points [-]

I would like to offer a contrasting view point from our experiences at EA McGill. Our members seem to be more often in subjects like Economics and International Development and since McGill has a high female to male ratio, they also tend to be women.

I actually happen to be one of the few CS students. From what I can tell this difference is primarily due to the founder effect, as our founders were in more economics like subjects, and due to the different demographic make ups of Berkeley and McGill.

Comment author: HowieL 23 August 2016 04:02:58PM 0 points [-]

Huh! Does economics at McGill have more women than men?

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