Comment author: MichaelPlant 17 August 2017 01:53:57PM 3 points [-]

This is sort of a meta-comment, but there's loads of important stuff here, each of which could have it's own thread. Could I suggest someone (else), organises a (small) conference to discuss some of these things?

I've got quite a few things to add on the ITN framework but nothing I can say in a few words. Relatedly, I've also been working on a method for 'cause search' - a ways of finding all the big causes in a given domain - which is the step before cause prio, but that's not something I can write out succinctly either (yet, anyway).

Comment author: Michael_PJ 17 August 2017 05:56:12PM 2 points [-]

I have a lot of thoughts on cause search, but possibly at a more granular level. One of the big challenges when you switch from an assessing to a generating perspective is finding the right problems to work on, and it's not easy at all.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 21 July 2017 12:28:45PM *  0 points [-]

Mea culpa. I was naively thinking of super-imposing the 'previous' axes. I hope the underlying worry still stands given the arbitrarily many sets of mathematical objects which could be reversibly mapped onto phenomenological states, but perhaps this betrays a deeper misunderstanding.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 22 July 2017 12:03:09AM 0 points [-]

If they're isomorphic, then they really are the same for mathematical purposes. Possibly if you view STV as having a metaphysical component then you incur some dependence on philosophy of mathematics to say what a mathematical structure is, whether isomorphic structures are distinct, etc.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 21 July 2017 11:58:20PM 5 points [-]

Interesting that you mention the "waterfall"/"bag of popcorn" argument against computationalism in the same article as citing Scott Aaronson, since he actually gives some arguments against it (see section 6 of In particular, he suggests that we can argue that a process P isn't contributing any computation when having a P-oracle doesn't let you solve the problem faster.

I don't think this fully lays to rest the question of what things are performing computations, but I think we can distinguish them in some ways, which makes me hopeful that there's an underlying distinction.

There's always going to be a huge epistemic problem, of course. The homomorphic encryption shows that there will always be computations that we can't distinguish from noise (I just wrote a blog post about this - curse Scott and his beating me to the punch by years). But I think we can reasonably expect such things to be rare in nature.

Comment author: Julia_Wise 10 July 2017 01:19:51PM 7 points [-]

Ben's right that we're in the process of updating the GWWC website to better reflect our cause-neutrality.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 12 July 2017 09:43:49AM 1 point [-]

Hm, I'm a little sad about this. I always thought that it was nice to have GWWC presenting a more "conservative" face of EA, which is a lot easier for people to get on board with.

But I guess this is less true with the changes to the pledge - GWWC is more about the pledge than about global poverty.

That does make me think that there might be space for an EA org that explicitly focussed on global poverty. Perhaps GiveWell already fills this role adequately.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 25 April 2017 10:51:38PM 6 points [-]

This looks pretty similar to a model I wrote with Nick Dunkley way back in the 2012 (part 1, part 2). I still stand by that as a reasonable stab at the problem, so I also think your model is pretty reasonable :)

Charity population:

You're assuming a fixed pool of charities, which makes sense given the evidence gathering strategy you've used (see below). But I think it's better to model charities as an unbounded population following the given distribution, from which we can sample.

That's because we do expect new opportunities to arise. And if we believe that the distribution is heavy-tailed, a large amount of our expected value may come from the possibility of eventually finding something way out in the tails. In your model we only ever get N opportunities to get a really exceptional charity - after that we are just reducing our uncertainty. I think we want to model the fact that we can keep looking for things out in the tails, even if they maybe don't exist yet.

I do think that a lognormal is a sensible distribution for charity effectiveness. The real distribution may be broader, but that just makes your estimate more conservative, which is probably fine. I just did the boring thing and used the empirical distribution of the DCP intervention cost-effectivenss (note: interventions, not charities).

Evidence gathering strategy:

You're assuming that the evaluator does a lot of evaluating: they evaluate every charity in the pool in every round. In some sense I suppose this is true, in that charities which are not explicitly "investigated" by an evaluator can be considered to have failed the first test by not being notable enough to even be considered. However, I still think this is somewhat unrealistic and is going to drive diminishing returns very quickly, since we're really just waiting for the errors for the various charities settle down so that the best charity becomes apparent.

I modelled this as the process as the evaluator sequentially evaluating a single charity, chosen at random (with replacement). This is also unrealistic, because in fact an evaluator won't waste their time with things that are obviously bad, but even with this fairly conservative strategy things turned out pretty well.

I think it's interesting to think what happens when model the pool more explicitly, and consider strategies like investigating the top recommendation further to reduce error.

Increasing scale with money moved:

Charity evaluators have the wonderful feature that their effectiveness scales more or less linearly with the amount of money they move (assuming that the money all goes to their top pick). This is a pretty great property, so worth mentioning.

The big caveat there is room for more funding, or saturation of opportunities. I'm not sure how best to model this. We could model charities as rather "deposits" of effectiveness that are of a fixed size when discovered, and can be exhausted. I don't know how that would change things, but I'd be interested to see! In particular, I suspect it may be important how funding capacity co-varies with effectiveness. If we find a charity with a cost-effectiveness that's 1000x higher than our best, but it can only take a single dollar, then that's not so great.

Comment author: RyanCarey 23 April 2017 11:08:18PM *  19 points [-]

Some feedback on your feedback (I've only quickly read your post once, so take it with a grain of salt):

  • I think that this is more discursive than it needs to be. AFAICT, you're basically arguing that you think that decision-making and trust in the EA movement is a over-concentrated in OpenPhil.
  • If it was a bit shorter, then it would also be easier to run it by someone involved with OpenPhil, which prima facie would be at least worth trying, in order to correct any factual errors.
  • It's hard to do good criticism, but starting out with long explanations of confidence games and Ponzi schemes is not something that makes the criticism likely to be well-received. You assert that these things are not necessarily bad, so why not just zero in on the thing that you think is bad in this case?
  • So maybe this could have been split into two posts?
  • Maybe there are more upsides of having somewhat concentrated decision-making than you lead on? Perhaps cause prioritization will be better? Since EA funds is a movement-wide scheme, perhaps reputational trust is extra important here, and the diversification would come from elsewhere? Perhaps the best decision-makers will naturally come to work on this full-time.

You may still be right, though I would want some more balanced analysis.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 24 April 2017 10:53:05PM 2 points [-]

I found the analogy with confidence games thought-provoking, but it could have been a bit shorter.

Comment author: BenHoffman 24 April 2017 04:06:11AM 9 points [-]

On (1) I agree that GiveWell's done a huge public service by making many parts of decisionmaking process public, letting us track down what their sources are, etc. But making it really easy for an outsider to audit GiveWell's work, while an admirable behavior, does not imply that GiveWell has done a satisfactory audit of its own work. It seems to me like a lot of people are inferring the latter from the former, and I hope by now it's clear what reasons there are to be skeptical of this.

On (3), here's why I'm worried about increasing overt reliance on the argument from "believe me":

The difference between making a direct argument for X, and arguing for "trust me" and then doing X, is that in the direct case, you're making it easy for people to evaluate your assumptions about X and disagree with you on the object level. In the "trust me" case, you're making it about who you are rather than what is to be done. I can seriously consider someone's arguments without trusting them so much that I'd like to give them my money with no strings attached.

"Most effective way to donate" is vanishingly unlikely to be generically true for all donors, and the aggressive pitching of these funds turns the supposed test of whether there's underlying demand for EA Funds into a test of whether people believe CEA's assurances that EA Funds is the right way to give.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 24 April 2017 10:51:54PM 7 points [-]

The point I was trying to make is that while GiveWell may not have acted "satisfactorily", they are still well ahead of many of us. I hadn't "inferred" that GiveWell had audited themselves thoroughly - it hadn't even occurred to me to ask, which is a sign of just how bad my own epistemics are. And I don't think I'm unusual in that respect. So GiveWell gets a lot of credit from me for doing "quite well" at their epistemics, even if they could do better (and it's good to hold them to a high standard!).

I think that making the final decision on where to donate yourself often offers only an illusion of control. If you're getting all your information from one source you might as well just be giving them your money. But it does at least keep more things out in the open, which is good.

Re-reading your post, I think I may have been misinterpreting you - am I right in thinking that you mainly object to the marketing of the EA Funds as the "default choice", rather than to their existence for people who want that kind of instrument? I agree that the marketing is perhaps over-selling at the moment.

Comment author: BenHoffman 24 April 2017 02:26:42PM 15 points [-]

It also seems to me that the time to complain about this sort of process is while the results are still plausibly good. If we wait for things to be clearly bad, it'll be too late to recover the relevant social trust. This way involves some amount of complaining about bad governance used to good ends, but the better the ends, the more compatible they should be with good governance.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 24 April 2017 10:42:40PM 2 points [-]

Yes, in case it wasn't clear, I think I agree with many of your concrete suggestions, but I think the current situation is not too bad.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 23 April 2017 11:33:33PM *  21 points [-]

1) I think you're missing one important way in which GiveWell and OpenPhil have demonstrated their credibility, which is by showing us many of the outputs of their decision-making processes and letting us judge their quality.

Having evidence that GiveWell's recommendations had a track record of high impact would give us an absolute recommendation: if you follow their advice, you can expect to do this well. Having evidence that they are good at making decisions (by whatever standard you subscribe to) gives you a relative recommendation: if you follow their advice, you can expect to do better than you would do yourself.

In this sense, GiveWell's confidence is not "loaned", it has been earned by continuing to provide evidence of (what the community thinks is) good decision making.

Of course, how well this works depends on how well we can recognize good decision-making. Only judging recommendations by whether they seem sensible to the community renders us vulnerable to groupthink, and untethers us from evidence. Good retrospectives on past recommendations would help us judge whether the decisions that are being made really are good, as well as being indicative of good tendencies within these organizations. So I think it would be great to do more of those (and, indeed, having the resources to run such retrospectives could be one of the advantages of having slightly more "centralised" institutions).

2) I do think that the pre-eminence of GiveWell and OpenPhil in the EA research space is a little unfortunate. Diversity of opinion is good, and in an ideal world I'd like to see several large institutions critiquing and evaluating each others' work. This is one of the reasons I was sad that GWWC stopped doing charity evaluation research. Even if they think that GiveWell simply does it better, having an independent set of opinions is quite valuable.

3) I don't quite see what now makes EA "self-recommending". Previously we said "give your money to these charities", now we say "give your money to this fund, and we'll give it to these charities". I don't see a significant difference there: in both cases we're claiming greater expertise than the donors, and asking them to defer to our judgement. It's just that one of them is more systematized.

What would be worrying is if we were advertising a fund as "the most effective way to donate" and then channeling all the money to EA orgs. That looks like a scam. But the EA Community fund is clearly separate from the others. If you donate to the Global Development fund, your money will be spent on Global Development.

4) It's good to keep us on our toes about how we sell things. It's always tempting to oversell, particularly with the recent increasing focus on outreach. But I think we can and should do better than that, so thanks for bringing this stuff up!

Comment author: Ben_Todd 26 March 2017 09:12:25PM 4 points [-]

Bear in mind that before we spent any money we had: been involved in 10-20 important plan changes that would already justify significant funding; built a website with thousands of views per month; and received top level press coverage.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 27 March 2017 04:37:46AM 3 points [-]


I think I'm thinking of funding even earlier than 80k got money, though. 80k had presumably had very many hours of volunteer labour before it got to that point - we might want to fund things earlier than that.

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