Comment author: BenHoffman 08 May 2017 03:59:55PM *  4 points [-]

Kerry,

I think that in a writeup for the two funds Nick is managing, CEA has done a fine job making it clear what's going on. The launch post here on the Forum was also very clear.

My worry is that this isn't at all what someone attracted by EA's public image would be expecting, since so much of the material is about experimental validation and audit.

I think that there's an opportunity here to figure out how to effectively pitch far-future stuff directly, instead of grafting it onto existing global-poverty messaging. There's a potential pitch centered around: "Future people are morally relevant, neglected, and extremely numerous. Saving the world isn't just a high-minded phrase - here are some specific ways you could steer the course of the future a lot." A lot of Nick Bostrom's early public writing is like this, and a lot of people were persuaded by this sort of thing to try to do something about x-risk. I think there's a lot of potential value in figuring out how to bring more of those sorts of people together, and - when there are promising things in that domain to fund - help them coordinate to fund those things.

In the meantime, it does make sense to offer a fund oriented around the far future, since many EAs do share those preferences. I'm one of them, and think that Nick's first grant was a promising one. It just seems off to me to aggressively market it as an obvious, natural thing for someone who's just been through the GWWC or CEA intro material to put money into. I suspect that many of them would have valid objections that are being rhetorically steamrollered, and a strategy of explicit persuasion has a better chance of actually encountering those objections, and maybe learning from them.

I recognize that I'm recommending a substantial strategy change, and it would be entirely appropriate for CEA to take a while to think about it.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 08 May 2017 05:33:28PM 3 points [-]

Hey, Ben. Just wanted to note that I found this very helpful. Thank you.

Comment author: BenHoffman 28 April 2017 02:48:27AM 1 point [-]

The featured event was the AI risk thing. My recollection is that there was nothing else scheduled at that time so everyone could go to it. That doesn't mean there wasn't lots of other content (there was), nor do I think centering AI risk was necessarily a bad thing, but I stand by my description.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 28 April 2017 05:58:28PM *  4 points [-]

We didn't offer any alternative events during Elon's panel because we (correctly) perceived that there wouldn't be demand for going to a different event and putting someone on stage with few people in the audience is not a good way to treat speakers.

We had to set up an overflow room for people that didn't make it into the main room during the Elon panel, and even the overflow room was standing room only.

I think this is worth pointing out because of the proceeding sentence:

However, EA leadership tends to privately focus on things like AI risk.

The implication is that we aimed to bias the conference towards AI risk and against global poverty because of some private preference for AI risk as a cause area.[1]

I think we can be fairly accused of aiming for Elon as an attendee and not some extremely well known global poverty person.

However, with the exception of Bill Gates (who we tried to get), I don't know of anyone in global poverty with anywhere close to the combination of a) general renown and b) reachability. So, I think trying to get Elon was probably the right call.

Given that Elon was attending, I don't see what reasonable options we had for more evenly distributing attention between plausible causes. Elon casts a big shadow.

[1] Some readers contacted me to let me know that they found this sentence confusing. To clarify, I do have personal views on which causes are higher impact than others, but the program design of EA Global was not an attempt to steer EA on the basis of those views.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 27 April 2017 08:56:51PM 6 points [-]

Two years ago many attendees at the EA Global conference in the San Francisco Bay Area were surprised that the conference focused so heavily on AI risk, rather than the global poverty interventions they’d expected.

EA Global 2015 had one pannel on AI (in the morning, on day 2) and one talk tripplet on Global Poverty (in the afternoon, on day 2). Most of the content was not cause-specific.

People remember EA Global 2015 as having a lot of AI content because Elon Musk was on the AI pannel which made it loom very large in people's minds. So, while it's fair to say that more attention ended up on AI than on global poverty, it's not fair to say that the content focused more on AI than on global poverty

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 27 April 2017 08:35:57PM *  6 points [-]

But the right thing to do, if you want to persuade people to delegate their giving decisions to Nick Beckstead, is to make a principled case for delegating giving decisions to Nick Beckstead.

I just want to note that we have tried to make this case.

The fund page for the Long-Term Future and EA Community funds includes an extensive list of organizations Nick has funded in the past and of his online writings.

In addition, our original launch post contained the following section:

Strong track record for finding high-leverage giving opportunities: the EA Giving Group DAF

The initial Long-Term Future and Effective Altruism Community funds will be managed by Nick Beckstead, a Program Officer at the Open Philanthropy Project who has helped advise a large private donor on donation opportunities for several years. The donor-advised fund (DAF) Nick manages was an early funder of CSER, FLI, Charity Entrepreneurship and Founders Pledge. A list of Nick’s past funding is available in his biography on this website.

We think this represents a strong track record, although the Open Philanthropy Project’s recent involvement in these areas may make it harder for the fund to find promising opportunities in the future.

Donors can give to the DAF directly by filling out this form and waiting for Nick to contact you. If you give directly the minimum contribution is $5,000. If you give via the EA Funds there is no minimum contribution and you can give directly online via credit/debit card, ACH, or PayPal. Nick's preference is that donors use the EA Funds to contribute.

Disclaimer: Nick Beckstead is a trustee of CEA. CEA has been a large recipient of the EA Giving Group DAFs funding in the past and is a potential future recipient of money allocated to the Movement Building fund.

My guess is that you feel that we haven't made the case for delegating to Nick as strongly or as prominently as we ought to. If so, I'd love some more specific feedback on how we can improve.

Comment author: ChristianKleineidam 23 April 2017 07:30:23AM 2 points [-]

As the number of funders increases, it becomes increasingly easy for the bad projects to find someone who will fund them.

I'm not sure that's true. There are a lot of venture funds in the Valley but that doesn't mean it's easy to get any venture fund to give you money.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 23 April 2017 07:32:52PM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure that's true. There are a lot of venture funds in the Valley but that doesn't mean it's easy to get any venture fund to give you money.

I don't have the precise statistics handy, but my understanding is that VC returns are very good for a small number of firms and break-even or negative for most VC firms. If that's the case, it suggests that as more VCs enter the market, more bad companies are getting funded.

Comment author: Fluttershy 22 April 2017 08:20:20PM 4 points [-]

In one view, the concept post had 43 upvotes, the launch post had 28, and this post currently has 14. I don't think this is problematic in itself, since this could just be an indication of hype dying down over time, rather than of support being retracted.

Part of what I'm tracking when I say that the EA community isn't supportive of EA Funds is that I've spoken to several people in person who have said as much--I think I covered all of the reasons they brought up in my post, but one recurring theme throughout those conversations was that writing up criticism of EA was tiring and unrewarding, and that they often didn't have the energy to do so (though one offered to proofread anything I wrote in that vein). So, a large part of my reason for feeling that there isn't a great deal of community support for EA funds has to do with the ways in which I'd expect the data on how much support there actually is to be filtered. For example:

  • the method in which Kerry presented his survey data made it look like there was more support than there was
  • the fact that Kerry presented the data in this way suggests it's relatively more likely that Kerry will do so again in the future if given the chance
  • social desirability bias should also make it look like there's more support than there is
  • the fact that it's socially encouraged to praise projects on the EA Forum and that criticism is judged more harshly than praise should make it look like there's more support than there is. Contrast this norm with the one at LW, and notice how it affected how long it took us to get rid of Gleb.
  • we have a social norm of wording criticism in a very mild manner, which might make it seem like critics are less serious than they are.

It also doesn't help that most of the core objections people have brought up have been acknowledged but not addressed. But really, given all of those filters on data relating to how well-supported the EA Funds are, and the fact that the survey data doesn't show anything useful either way, I'm not comfortable with accepting the claim that EA Funds has been particularly well-received.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 23 April 2017 07:24:54PM 2 points [-]

It also doesn't help that most of the core objections people have brought up have been acknowledged but not addressed.

My sense (and correct me if I'm wrong) is that the biggest concerns seem to be related to the fact that there is only one fund for each cause area and the fact that Open Phil/GiveWell people are running each of the funds.

I share this concern and I agree that it is true that EA Funds has not been changed to reflect this. This is mostly because EA Funds simply hasn't been around for very long and we're currently working on improving the core product before we expand it.

What I've tried to do instead is precommit to 50% or less of the funds being managed by Open Phil/GiveWell and give a general timeline for when we expect to start making good on that committment. I know that doesn't solve the problem, but hopefully you agree that it's a step in the right direction.

That said, I'm sure there are other concerns that we haven't sufficiently addressed so far. If you know of some off the top of your head, feel free to post them as a reply to this comment. I'd be happy to either expand on my thoughts or address the issue immediately.

Comment author: AGB 22 April 2017 11:20:50PM 2 points [-]

I'm concerned with the framing that you updated towards it being correct for EA Funds to persist past the three month trial period. If there was support to start out with and you mostly didn't gather more support later on relative to what one would expect...

In the OP Kerry wrote:

The donation amounts we’ve received so far are greater than we expected, especially given that donations typically decrease early in the year after ramping up towards the end of the year.

CEA's original expectation of donations could just have been wrong, of course. But I don't see a failure of logic here.

Re. your last paragraph, Kerry can confirm or deny but I think he's referring to the fact that a bunch of people were surprised to see (e.g.? Not sure if there were other cases.) GWWC start recommending the EA funds and closing down the GWWC trust recently when CEA hadn't actually officially given the funds a 'green light' yet. So not referring to the same set of criticisms you are talking about. I think 'confusion at GWWC's endorsement of EA funds' is a reasonable description of how I felt when I received this e-mail, at the very least*; I like the funds but prominently recommending something that is in beta and might be discontinued at any minute seemed odd.

*I got the e-mail from GWWC announcing this on 11th April. I got CEA's March 2017 update saying they'd decided to continue with the funds later on the same day, but I think that goes to a much narrower list and in the interim I was confused and was going to ask someone about it. Checking now it looks like CEA actually announced this on their blog on 10th April (see below link), but again presumably lots of GWWC members don't read that.

https://www.centreforeffectivealtruism.org/blog/cea-update-march-2017/

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 23 April 2017 07:01:03PM 2 points [-]

Kerry can confirm or deny but I think he's referring to the fact that a bunch of people were surprised to see (e.g.? Not sure if there were other cases.) GWWC start recommending the EA funds and closing down the GWWC trust recently when CEA hadn't actually officially given the funds a 'green light' yet.

Correct. We had updated in favor of EA Funds internally but hadn't communicated that fact in public. When we started linking to EA Funds on the GWWC website, people were justifiably confused.

I'm concerned with the framing that you updated towards it being correct for EA Funds to persist past the three month trial period. If there was support to start out with and you mostly didn't gather more support later on relative to what one would expect, then your prior on whether EA Funds is well received should be stronger but you shouldn't update in favor of it being well received based on more recent data.

The money moved is the strongest new data point.

It seemed quite plausible to me that we could have the community be largely supportive of the idea of EA Funds without actually using the product. This is more or less what happened with EA Ventures -- lots of people thought it was a good idea, but not many promising projects showed up and not many funders actually donated to the projects we happened to find.

Do you feel that the post as currently written still overhypes the communities perception of the project? If so, what changes would you suggest to bring it more in line with the observable evidence?

Comment author: vipulnaik 23 April 2017 12:21:13AM *  4 points [-]

Thanks again for writing about the situation of the EA Funds, and thanks also to the managers of the individual funds for sharing their allocations and the thoughts behind it. In light of the new information, I want to raise some concerns regarding the Global Health and Development fund.

My main concern about this fund is that it's not really a "Global Health and Development" fund -- it's much more GiveWell-centric than global health- and development-centric. The decision to allocate all fund money to GiveWell's top charity reinforces some of my concerns, but it's actually something that is clear from the fund description.

From the description, it seems to be serving largely as a backup to GiveWell Incubation Grants (in cases where e.g. Good Ventures chooses not to fund the full amount) and as additional funding for GiveWell top charities.

This fund will support charities that the fund manager believes may be better in expectation than those recommended by GiveWell, a charity evaluator focused on outstandingly effective giving opportunities. For example, by pooling the funds of many individual donors, the fund could support new, but very promising global health charities in getting off the ground (e.g. Charity Science Health or No Lean Season). These organizations may not be able to meet GiveWell’s rigorous evaluation criteria at the moment, but may be able to meet the criteria in the future. If no such options are available, the fund will likely donate to GiveWell for granting. This means we think there is a strong likelihood that the fund will be at least as good as donating in accordance with GiveWell’s recommendations, but could be better in expectation.

Both the cited examples are recipients of GiveWell Incubation Grants, and in the pipeline for evaluation by GiveWell for top charity status. Even setting aside actual grantees, the value of the fund, according to the fund manager, is in terms of its value to GiveWell (emphasis mine):

Nonetheless, donating to this fund is valuable because it helps demonstrate to GiveWell that there is donor demand for higher-risk, higher-reward global health and development giving opportunities.

The GiveWell-centric nature of the fund is fine except that the fund's name suggests that it is a fund for global health and development, without affiliation to any institution.

Even beyond the GiveWell-as-an-organization-centered nature of the fund, there is a sense in which the fund reinforces the association of global health and development with quantifiable-and-low-risk, linear, easy buys. That association makes sense in the context of GiveWell (whose job it is to recommend linear-ish buys) but seems out of place to me here. Again quoting from the page about the fund:

Interventions in global health and development are generally tractable and have strong evidence to support them.

There are two distinct senses in which the statement could be interpreted:

  • There is large enough room for more funding for interventions in global health that have a strong evidence base, so that donors who want to stick to things with a strong evidence base won't run out of stuff to buy (i.e., lots of low-hanging fruit)
  • There's not much scope in global health for high-risk but high-expected value investments, because any good buy in global health would have a strong evidence base

I'd agree with the first interpretation, but the second interpretation seems quite false (looking at the Gates Foundation's portfolio shows a fair amount of risky, nonlinear efforts including new vaccine development, storage and surveillance technology breakthroughs, breakthroughs in toilet technology, etc.). The framing of the sentence, however, most naturally suggests the second interpretation, and moreover, may lead the reader to a careless conflation of the two. It seems to me like there's a lot of conflation in the EA community (and penumbra) between "global health and development" and "GiveWell current and potential top charities", and the setup of this EA Fund largely reflects that. So in that sense, my criticism isn't just of the fund but of what seems to me an implicit conflation.

Similar issues exist with two of the other funds: the animal welfare fund and the far future fund, but I think they are less concerning there. With "animal welfare" and "far future", the way the terms are used in EA Funds and in the EA community are different from the picture they'll conjure in the minds of people in general. But as far as I know, there isn't so much of an established existing cohesive infrastructure of organizations, funding sources, etc. that is at odds with the EA community.* Whereas with global health and development, you have things like WHO, Gates Foundation, Global Fund, and even an associated academic discipline etc. so the appropriation of the term for a fund that's somewhat of a GiveWell satellite seems jarring to me.

Some longer-term approaches that I think might help; obviously they wouldn't be changes you can make quickly:

(a) Rename funds so that the names capture more specifically the sort of things the funds are doing. e.g. if a fund is only being used for last-mile delivery of interventions as opposed to e.g. vaccine development, that can be specified within the fund name.

(b) Possibly have multiple funds within the same domain (e.g., global health & development) that capture different kinds of use cases (intervention delivery versus biomedical research) and have fund managers with relevant experience in the domains. e.g. it's possible that somebody with experience at the Gates Foundation, Global Fund, WHO, IHME, etc. could do fund allocation in some domains of global health and development better for some use cases.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I'm not a contributor (or potential contributor, in the near term) to the funds, so take with appropriate amount of salt.

*It could be that if I had deeper knowledge of mainstream animal welfare and animal rights, or of mainstream far future stuff (like climate change) then I would find these jarring as well.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 23 April 2017 06:48:05PM 2 points [-]

Hey Vipul, thanks for taking the time to write this. I think I largely agree with the points you've made here.

As we've stated in the past, the medium-term goal for EA Funds to have 50% or less of the fund managers be Open Phil/GiveWell staff. We haven't yet decided whether we would plan to add fund managers in new cause areas, add fund managers with different approaches in existing cause areas, or some combination of the two. Given that Global Health and Development has received the most funding, there is likely room for adding funds that take a different approach to funding the space. Personally, I'd be excited to see something like a high risk, high reward global health and development fund.

I probably disagree with changing the name of the fund right now as I think the current name does a good job of making it immediately clear what the fund is about. Because the UI of EA Funds shows you all the available funds and lets you split between them, we chose names that make it clear what the fund is about as compared to what the other funds are about.

If we added a fund that was also in Global Heath and Development, then it might make sense to change the current name of the Global Health and Development fund to make it clear how the two funds are distinct from one another.

By the way, if you know of solid thinkers in Global Heath and Development funding who are unaffiliated with GiveWell please feel free to email their names to me at kerry@effectivealtruism.org.

Comment author: vipulnaik 22 April 2017 03:53:10PM 4 points [-]

I appreciate the information being posted here, in this blog post, along with all the surrounding context. However, I don't see the information on these grants on the actual EA Funds website. Do you plan to maintain a grants database on the EA Funds website, and/or list all the grants made from each fund on the fund page (or linked to from it)? That way anybody can check in at any time to see how how much money has been raised, and how much has been allocated and where.

The Open Philanthropy Project grants database might be a good model, though your needs may differ somewhat.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 22 April 2017 04:48:22PM 7 points [-]

We have an issue with our CMS which is making the grant information not show up on the website. I will include these grants and all future grants as soon as that is fixed.

Comment author: nonzerosum 20 April 2017 07:39:22PM 1 point [-]

Do you have any thoughts as to what the next funds added might be? Does the manager come first, or will you announce things you'd like to have funds in, where you don't yet have a manager?

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 21 April 2017 06:09:58PM 1 point [-]

Unfortunately, we don't have any details around this at the moment. We should have more to share once we devote more time to this question over the summer.

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