In response to Open Thread #36
Comment author: Larks 20 March 2017 02:21:42AM 5 points [-]

Meta: If you want to make an open-thread and seed it with topics, you should make a top-level comment about that topic to collect the discussion. Otherwise the discussion ends up scattered over many top-level comments, which makes it hard to discuss other topics - even though that is surely the point of an open thread!

Comment author: Larks 07 March 2017 02:16:36AM *  0 points [-]

Julia Wise: I work as Community Liaison at CEA, trying to help the effective altruism community thrive. Because I work at CEA, my role is of course not to give an outside view but to present issues that CEA wants input on, and to incorporate the panel’s feedback into CEA decision-making.

Claire Zabel: Claire is a research analyst at Open Philanthropy Project and serves on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators. She is a moderator of the Effective Altruism Facebook group.

Julia is also an EA facebook group moderator?

Comment author: RomeoStevens 24 February 2017 02:27:03AM *  5 points [-]
  1. sharing more things of dubious usefulness is what I advocate.
  2. I am not advocating transparency as their main focus. I am advocating skepticism towards things that the outside view says everyone in your reference class (foundations) does specifically because I think if your methods are highly correlated with others you can't expect to outperform them by much.
  3. I think it is easy to underestimate the effect of the long tail. See Chalmers' comment on the value of the LW and EA communities in his recent AMA.
  4. I also don't care about optimizing for this, and I recognize that if you ask people to be more public, they will optimize for this because humans. Thinking more about this seems valuable. I think of it as a significant bottleneck.
  5. Disagree. Closed is the default for any dimension that relates to actual decision criteria. People push their public discourse into dimensions that don't affect decision criteria because [Insert Robin Hanson analysis here].

I'm not advocating a sea change in policy, but an increase in skepticism at the margin.

Comment author: Larks 02 March 2017 06:29:11AM 2 points [-]

See Chalmers' comment on the value of the LW and EA communities in his recent AMA.

link

In response to Why I left EA
Comment author: Julia_Wise 20 February 2017 06:34:12PM 14 points [-]

Hi Lila,

Since you've indicated you're not interested in a debate, please don't feel that this is directed at you. But as a general point:

I think extreme ideas get disproportionate attention compared to the amount of action people actually take on them. EAs are a lot more likely than other people to consider whether invertebrates matter, and to have thought about Pascal's-muggging type situations, but I think mainstream EAs remain pretty unsure about these. In general I think EAs appear a lot weirder because they're willing to carefully think through and discuss weird ideas and thought experiments, even if in the end they're not persuaded.

Ideas like "being willing to cause harm to one person to benefit others" sound bad and weird until you consider that people do this all the time. We have fire departments even though we know some fire fighters will die in the line of duty. Emergency room staff triage patients, leaving some to die in order to save others. I wash my toddler's hair even though she dislikes it, because the smell will bother people if I don't. It's hard to imagine how societies would work if they weren't willing to do things like these.

I think EA has work to do on making clear that we're not a philosophical monolith, and emphasizing our commonalities with other value systems.

In response to comment by Julia_Wise on Why I left EA
Comment author: Larks 20 February 2017 11:23:59PM 6 points [-]

Ideas like "being willing to cause harm to one person to benefit others" sound bad and weird until you consider that people do this all the time. We have fire departments even though we know some fire fighters will die in the line of duty. Emergency room staff triage patients, leaving some to die in order to save others. I wash my toddler's hair even though she dislikes it, because the smell will bother people if I don't.

None of these seem to get at the core part of Lila's objection. The firemen volunteered to do the job, understanding the risks. The emergency room might not treat everyone, but that's an omission rather than an act - they don't inflict additional harm on people. People generally think that parents have a wide degree of freedom to judge what is best for their kids, even if the kids disagree, because the parents know more.

However, what Lila is talking about (or at least a Steelman version, I don't want to put words into her mouth) is actively inflicting harm, which would not have occurred otherwise, on someone who has the capacity to rationally consent, but has chosen not to. Utilitarians have a prima facie problem with cases like secretly killing people for their organs. Just because utilitarianism gives the same answer as conventional ethics in other cases doesn't mean there aren't cases where it widely diverges.

Comment author: Larks 11 February 2017 12:44:02AM 3 points [-]

It seems strange to have the funds run by people who also direct money from on behalf of big grant-making organizations. Under what circumstances will the money end up going somewhere different? I can see the motivation for having EA funds if they were managed by someone independent - say Carl or Paul - but the current incarnation seems to be basically equivalent to just giving GiveWell or OPP money with a cause-based restriction.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 09 February 2017 09:22:26PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for the feedback!

Two thoughts: 1) I don't think the long-term goal is that OpenPhil program officers are the only fund managers. Working with them was the best way to get an MVP version in place. In the long-run, we want to use the funds to offer worldview diversification and to expand the funding horizons of the EA community.

2)

There's a part of me that keeps insisting that it's counter-intuitive that Open Phil is having trouble making as many grants as it would like, while also employing people who will manage an EA fund.

I think I agree with you. However, since the OpenPhil program officers know what OpenPhil is funding it means that the funds should provide options that are at least as good as OpenPhil's funding. (See Carl Shulman's post on the subject.) The hope is that the "at least as good as OpenPhil" bar is higher than most donors can reach now, so the fund is among the most effective options for individual donors.

Let me know if that didn't answer the question.

Comment author: Larks 09 February 2017 11:18:08PM *  3 points [-]

However, since the OpenPhil program officers know what OpenPhil is funding it means that the funds should provide options that are at least as good as OpenPhil's funding. (See Carl Shulman's post on the subject.) The hope is that the "at least as good as OpenPhil" bar is higher than most donors can reach now, so the fund is among the most effective options for individual donors.

The article you link (quote below) suggests the opposite should be true - individual donors should be able to do at least better than OpenPhil.

Risk-neutral small donors should aim to make better charitable bets at the margin than giga-donors like the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) and Good Ventures using donor lotteries, and can do at least as well as giga-donors by letting themselves be funged

Comment author: Larks 04 February 2017 05:38:45PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for taking the time to produce this!

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 29 January 2017 12:50:09AM *  10 points [-]

It seems to me that your basic argument is something like this

1) Working on highly political topics isn't very effective 2) The charities recommended by 80K are highly political 3) Therefore, the charities recommended by 80K aren't very effective.

Maybe I've missed it, but the only support I see for 1) is this allusion to Hanson:

There are standard arguments, for example this by Robin Hanson from 10 years ago about why it is not smart or "effective" to get into these political tugs-of-war if one wants to make a genuine difference in the world.

But, the evidence from that quote and from Hanson's post, doesn't provide enough support for the premise. I don't think Hanson is saying that all cases of highly political topics are ineffective, and if he were, it seems clear that the general heuristic is nowhere near strong enough to support such a conclusion.

Instead, he's saying that we ought to be skeptical of highly political causes. Fair enough. One way to resolve our initial skepticism would be to have a trusted expert in the field recommend a highly political intervention. This is exactly what we have here.

It could be that 80K shouldn't recommend highly political charities even if they're effective. If so, that seems like a PR/communication problem which could be fixed by distancing themselves from the recommendations. They seem to have already done this, but could do it further by making it as clear as possible that they've outsourced this recommendation to OpenPhil.

The fact that they let Cosecha (and to a lesser extent The Alliance for Safety and Justice) through reduces my confidence in 80,000 hours and the EA movement as a whole. Who thought it would be a good idea to get EA into the culture war with these causes, and also thought that they were plausibly among the most effective things you can do with money? Are they taking effectiveness seriously? What does the political diversity of meetings at 80,000 hours look like? Were there no conservative altruists present in discussions surrounding The Alliance for Safety and Justice and Cosecha, and the promotion of them as "beneficial for everyone" and "effective"?

This is needlessly hyperbolic. Criminal Justice Reform is one among many causes 80K mentions as options in their research. They outsourced this recommendation to an expert in the field. Maybe they did a poor job of outsourcing this, but inferring some widespread problems seems entirely unjustified.

Instead of writing this like some kind of expose, it seems you could get the same results by emailing the 80K team, noting the political sensitivity of the topic, and suggesting that they provide some additional disclaimers about the nature of the recommendation.

So basically, Chloe likes organizing, and she likes Carlos.

I would expect significantly more detailed analysis. Why does Chloe like organizing? What type of organizing does she like? What evidence is there it work? What has Cosecha done in the past? How much money did they spend? How strong is the evidence of policy impact? How strong is the evidence for the desirability of the policies? What are the negative effects? What are the relevant counterfactuals?

@Larks: The recommendation is not intended to be a full-fledged write-up of the organization's effectiveness. It's a quick note of support from an expert in the field. We could debate whether 80K should trust this kind of quick recommendation, but asking that Chloe explores the issue in significantly more details seems unfair given the context.

So basically, Chloe likes organizing, and she likes Carlos.

This is pretty unfair. She provides quite a few lines of evidence in favor of this particular organizer. Liking him is not the root cause of recommending him here.

Disclosure: I work for CEA which houses 80K. I also know nearly everyone on the 80K team.

Comment author: Larks 29 January 2017 04:20:09PM 2 points [-]

It could be that 80K shouldn't recommend highly political charities even if they're effective. If so, that seems like a PR/communication problem which could be fixed by distancing themselves from the recommendations. They seem to have already done this, but could do it further by making it as clear as possible that they've outsourced this recommendation to OpenPhil.

They could also not include them in a document titled "The effective altruism guide to donating this giving season", a title which implies a high level of endorsement from the movement.

Comment author: Kerry_Vaughan 29 January 2017 12:50:09AM *  10 points [-]

It seems to me that your basic argument is something like this

1) Working on highly political topics isn't very effective 2) The charities recommended by 80K are highly political 3) Therefore, the charities recommended by 80K aren't very effective.

Maybe I've missed it, but the only support I see for 1) is this allusion to Hanson:

There are standard arguments, for example this by Robin Hanson from 10 years ago about why it is not smart or "effective" to get into these political tugs-of-war if one wants to make a genuine difference in the world.

But, the evidence from that quote and from Hanson's post, doesn't provide enough support for the premise. I don't think Hanson is saying that all cases of highly political topics are ineffective, and if he were, it seems clear that the general heuristic is nowhere near strong enough to support such a conclusion.

Instead, he's saying that we ought to be skeptical of highly political causes. Fair enough. One way to resolve our initial skepticism would be to have a trusted expert in the field recommend a highly political intervention. This is exactly what we have here.

It could be that 80K shouldn't recommend highly political charities even if they're effective. If so, that seems like a PR/communication problem which could be fixed by distancing themselves from the recommendations. They seem to have already done this, but could do it further by making it as clear as possible that they've outsourced this recommendation to OpenPhil.

The fact that they let Cosecha (and to a lesser extent The Alliance for Safety and Justice) through reduces my confidence in 80,000 hours and the EA movement as a whole. Who thought it would be a good idea to get EA into the culture war with these causes, and also thought that they were plausibly among the most effective things you can do with money? Are they taking effectiveness seriously? What does the political diversity of meetings at 80,000 hours look like? Were there no conservative altruists present in discussions surrounding The Alliance for Safety and Justice and Cosecha, and the promotion of them as "beneficial for everyone" and "effective"?

This is needlessly hyperbolic. Criminal Justice Reform is one among many causes 80K mentions as options in their research. They outsourced this recommendation to an expert in the field. Maybe they did a poor job of outsourcing this, but inferring some widespread problems seems entirely unjustified.

Instead of writing this like some kind of expose, it seems you could get the same results by emailing the 80K team, noting the political sensitivity of the topic, and suggesting that they provide some additional disclaimers about the nature of the recommendation.

So basically, Chloe likes organizing, and she likes Carlos.

I would expect significantly more detailed analysis. Why does Chloe like organizing? What type of organizing does she like? What evidence is there it work? What has Cosecha done in the past? How much money did they spend? How strong is the evidence of policy impact? How strong is the evidence for the desirability of the policies? What are the negative effects? What are the relevant counterfactuals?

@Larks: The recommendation is not intended to be a full-fledged write-up of the organization's effectiveness. It's a quick note of support from an expert in the field. We could debate whether 80K should trust this kind of quick recommendation, but asking that Chloe explores the issue in significantly more details seems unfair given the context.

So basically, Chloe likes organizing, and she likes Carlos.

This is pretty unfair. She provides quite a few lines of evidence in favor of this particular organizer. Liking him is not the root cause of recommending him here.

Disclosure: I work for CEA which houses 80K. I also know nearly everyone on the 80K team.

Comment author: Larks 29 January 2017 04:17:13PM 2 points [-]

One way to resolve our initial skepticism would be to have a trusted expert in the field recommend a highly political intervention.

This is a very low standard. It is easy to find any number of experts for many interventions. In order to have a reasonable chance of identifying the most cost-effective interventions, we need to demand higher standards than this. While we might disagree on what these standards might be, some possibilities might include:

  • Having done cost-benefit analysis
  • Providing references to RCTs
  • Providing a theoretical framework
  • Fairly considering opposing views

Yet none of these are present here.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 28 January 2017 11:59:16PM *  20 points [-]

Thanks for your interest in our work.

As we say in the post, on this and most problem areas 80,000 Hours defers charity recommendations to experts on that particular cause (see: What resources did we draw on?). In this case our suggestion is based entirely on the suggestion of Chloe Cockburn, the Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform at the Open Philanthropy Project, who works full time making grants on this particular problem area and knows much more than any of us about what is likely to work.

To questions like "does 80,000 Hours have view X that would make sense of this" or "is 80,000 Hours intending to do X" - the answer is that we don't really have independent views or goals on any of these things. We're just syndicating content from someone we perceive to be an authority (just as we do when we include GiveWell's recommended charities without having independently investigated them). I thought the article was very clear about this, but perhaps we needed to make it even more so in case people skipped down to a particular section without going through the preamble.

If you want to get these charities taken off of our article during next year's giving season, then you'd need to speak with Chloe. If she changes her suggestions - or another similar authority on this topic arises and offers a contrary view - then that would change what we include.

Regarding why we didn't recommend the Center for Criminal Justice Reform: again, that is entirely because it wasn't on the Open Philanthropy Project's list of suggestions for individual donors. Presumably that is because they felt their own grant - which you approve of - had filled their current funding needs.

All the best,

Rob

Comment author: Larks 29 January 2017 04:13:11PM 7 points [-]

If you want to get these charities taken off of our article during next year's giving season, then you'd need to speak with Chloe.

In general the EA movement has an admirable history of public cost-benefit analysis of different groups, which 80k has supported and should continue to do so. But in this instance 80k is instead deferring to the opinion of a single expert who has provided only the most cursory of justification. It's true that 80k isn't responsible for what Chloe says, but 80k is responsible for the choice to defer to her on the subject. And the responsibility is even greater if you present her work as representing the views of the effective altruism movement.

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