Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 04 June 2018 03:39:39PM *  5 points [-]

Thanks for writing a summary of your progress and learnings so far, it's so useful for the EA community to share its findings.

A few comments:

You might consider making the website more targeted. It seems best suited to undergraduate theses, so it would be useful to focus in on that. For example, it might be valuable to increase the focus on learning. During your degree, building career capital is likely to be the most impactful thing you can do. Although things like building connections can be valuable for career capital, learning useful skills and researching deeply into a topic are the expected goals a thesis and so what most university courses give you the best opportunity to do. Choosing a topic which gives you the best opportunity for learning could mean, for example, thinking about which people in your department you can learn the most from (whether because the best researchers, or because they are likely to be the most conscientious supervisors), and what topic is of interest to them so that they'll be enthusiastic to work with you on it.

People in academia tend to be sticklers wrt writing style, so it could be worth getting someone to copy edit your main pages for typos.

Coming up with a topic to research is often a very personal process that happens when reading around an area. So it could be useful to have a page linking to recommended EA research / reading lists, to give people an idea of where they could start if they want to read around in areas where ideas are likely to be particularly useful. For example you might link to this list of syllabi and reading lists Pablo compiled.

Comment author: Halstead 29 May 2018 01:34:38PM *  2 points [-]

Here are my less rushed thoughts on why this line of thought is mistaken. Would have been better to do this as a comment in the first place - sorry about that.

This is a shorter and less rushed version of the argument I made in an earlier post on counterfactual impact, which could have been better in a few ways. Hopefully, people will find this version clearer and more convincing.

Suppose that we are assessing the total lifetime impact of two agents: Darren, a GWWC member who gives $1m to effective charities over the course of his life; and GWWC, which, let’s assume in this example, moves only Darren’s money to effective charities. If Darren had not heard of GWWC, he would have had zero impact, and if GWWC had not had Darren as a member it would have had zero impact.

When we ask how much lifetime counterfactual impact someone had, we are asking how much impact they had compared to the world in which they did not exist. On this approach, when we are assessing Darren’s impact, we compare two worlds:

Actual world: Darren gives $1m to GWWC recommended charities.

Counterfactual worldD: Darren does not exist and GWWC acts as it would have if Darren did not exist.

In the actual world, an additional $1m is given to effective charities compared to the Counterfactual WorldD. Therefore, Darren’s lifetime counterfactual impact is $1m. Similarly, when we are assessing GWWC’s counterfactual impact, we compare two worlds:

Actual world: GWWC recruits Darren ensuring that $1m goes to effective charities

Counterfactual worldG: GWWC does not exist and Darren acts as he would have done if GWWC did not exist.

In the actual world, an additional $1m is given to effective charities compared to the Counterfactual WorldG. Therefore, GWWC’s lifetime counterfactual impact is $1m.

This seems to give rise to the paradoxical conclusion that the lifetime counterfactual impact of both GWWC and Darren is $2m, which is absurd as this exceeds the total benefit produced. We would assess the lifetime counterfactual impact of both Darren and GWWC collectively by comparing two worlds:

Actual world: GWWC recruits Darren ensuring that $1m goes to effective charities
Counterfactual worldG&D: GWWC does not exist and Darren does not exist.

The difference between the Actual world and the counterfactual worldG&D is $1m, not $2m, so, the argument goes, the earlier method of calculating counterfactual impact must be wrong. The hidden premise here is:

Premise. The sum of the counterfactual impact of any two agents, A and B, taken individually, must equal the sum of the counterfactual impact of A and B, taken collectively.

In spite of its apparent plausibility, this premise is false. It implies that the conjunction of the counterfactual worlds we use to assess the counterfactual impact of two agents, taken individually, must be the same as the counterfactual world we use to assess the counterfactual impact of two agents, taken collectively. But this is not so. The conjunction of the counterfactual worlds we use to assess the impact of Darren and GWWC, taken individually, is:

Counterfactual worldD+G: GWWC does not exist and Darren acts as he would have done if GWWC did not exist; and Darren does not exist and GWWC acts as it would have done if Darren did not exist.

This world is not equivalent to Counterfactual worldD&G. Indeed, in this world Darren does not exist and acts as he would have done had GWWC not existed. But if GWWC had not existed, Darren would, ex hypothesi, still have existed. Therefore, this is not a description of the relevant counterfactual world which determines the counterfactual impact of both Darren and GWWC. This shows that you cannot unproblematically aggregate counterfactual worlds, it does not show that we assessed the counterfactual impact of Darren or GWWC in the wrong way.

To reiterate this point, when we assess Darren’s lifetime counterfactual impact, we ask: “what would have happened if Darren only hadn’t existed?” When we assess Darren and GWWC’s lifetime counterfactual impact, we ask “what would have happened if Darren and GWWC hadn’t existed?” These questions inevitably produce different answers about what GWWC would have done: in one case, we ask what GWWC would have done if Darren hadn’t existed, and in another we are assuming GWWC doesn’t even exist. This is why we get surprising answers when we mistakenly try to aggregate the counterfactual impact of multiple agents.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 31 May 2018 10:35:57AM 2 points [-]

I agree with you that impact is importantly relative to a particular comparison world, and so you can't straightforwardly sum different people's impacts. But my impression is that Joey's argument is actually that it's important for us to try to work collectively rather than individually. Consider a case of three people:

Anna and Bob each have $600 to donate, and want to donate as effectively as possible. Anna is deciding between donating to TLYCS and AMF, Bob between GWWC and AMF. Casey is currently not planning to donate, but if introduced to EA by TLYCS and convinced of the efficacy of donating by GWWC, would donate $1000 to AMF.

It might be the case that Anna knows that Bob plans to donate the GWWC, and therefore she's choosing between a case of causing $600 of impact or $1000. I take Joey's point not to be that you can't think of Anna's impact as being $1000, but to be that it would be better to concentrate on the collective case than the individual case. Rather than considering what her impact would be holding fixed Bob's actions ($1000 if she donates to TLYCS, $600 if she gives to AMF), Anna should try to coordinate with Bob and think about their collective impact ($1200 if they give to AMF, $1000 if they give to TLYCS/GWWC).

Given that, I would add 'increased co-ordination' to the list of things that could help with the problem. Given the highlighted fact that often multiple steps by different organisations are required to achieve particular impact, we should be thinking not just about how to optimise each step individually but also about the process overall.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 24 May 2018 10:18:05PM *  0 points [-]

Ah, I wondered if anyone was going to spot this Easter egg! Yeah, the list isn't public. This might sound outrageously petty, but having spend so long compiling it, I feel strange about giving it away or making it freely available for other people to copy.

I've trying to work out what to do with it and the rest of the algorithm I designed. If I wasn't so un-enthused about start ups I'd want to build something that just randomly gave you one of the suggestions (the suggestions are just text) as that seems to be the easiest version to do. Maybe that will happen at some point. Honestly I'm not sure what to do.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 25 May 2018 10:13:54AM 0 points [-]

If you want to make something to randomise the text suggestions, you might be able to do it pretty quickly and easily with Guided Track. Personally, I think I would find it more helpful looking at the whole list than being given a random suggestion from it. If you wanted to give people that option without making it publicly available for free, you could put the list on the private and unsearchable Facebook group EA self help, with a request not to share.

Comment author: Benito 05 April 2018 12:52:10AM *  5 points [-]

Note: EA is totally a trust network - I don't think the funds are trying to be anything like GiveWell, who you're supposed to trust based on the publicly-verifiable rigour of their research. EA funds is much more toward the side of the spectrum of "have you personally seen CEA make good decisions in this area" or "do you specifically trust one of the re-granters". Which is fine, trust is how tightly-knit teams and communities often get made. But if you gave to it thinking "this will look like if I give to Oxfam, and will have the same accountability structure" then you'll correctly be surprised to find out it works significantly via personal connections.

The same way you'd only fund a startup if you knew them and how they worked, you should probably only fund EA funds for similar reasons - and if the startup tried to make its business plan such that anyone would have reason to fund it, the business plan probably wouldn't be very good. I think that EA should continue to be a trust-based network, and so on the margin I guess people should give less to EA funds rather than EA funds make grants that are more defensible.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 08 April 2018 10:14:15PM 3 points [-]

This strikes me as making a false dichotomy between 'trust the grant making because lots of information is made public about its decisions' and 'trust the grant making because you personally know the re-granter (or know someone who knows someone etc)'. I would expect this is instead supposed to work in the way a lot of for profit funds presumably work: you trust your money to a particular fund manager because they have a strong history of their funds making money. You don't need to know Elie personally (or know about how he works / makes decisions) to know his track record of setting up GW and thereby finding excellent giving opportunities.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 05 February 2018 02:48:52PM 2 points [-]

[Note: It is difficult to compare the cost effectiveness of developed country anti-smoking MMCs and developing country anti-smoking MMCs because the systematic review cited above did not uncover any studies based on a developing country anti-smoking MMC. The one developing country study that it found was for a hypothetical anti-smoking MMC. That study, Higashi et al. 2011, estimated that an anti-smoking MMC in Vietnam would result in one DLYG (discount rate = 3%) for every 78,300 VND (about 4 USD). Additionally, the Giving What We Can report that shows tobacco control in developing countries being highly cost effective is based on the cost-effectiveness of tobacco taxes, not the cost-effectiveness of anti-smoking MMCs, and the estimated cost-effectiveness of tobacco taxes is based on the cost to the government, not the cost to the organization lobbying for a tobacco tax.]

This report briefly discusses MMCs as well as tax increases. It mentions MMCs are likely to be much more effective than those in the UK, due to the comparatively far lower awareness of the harms of smoking in developing countries, and far higher incidences in smoking. I wonder if we could learn more about the potential efficacy of such campaigns by comparing them to campaigns to try to lower road traffic injury? My impression is that in the latter case there has been a bit more study done specifically in developing world contexts.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 16 January 2018 05:24:31AM 4 points [-]

Thank you, this is a really useful write up of what sounds like a great project.

Comment author: SiebeRozendal 18 December 2017 03:46:08PM *  2 points [-]

Very exciting to read about this, especially the research agenda! I will definitely consult it when deciding on a topic for my master's thesis in philosophy.

I have a few questions about the strategy (Not sure if this is the best medium for these questions, but I didn't know where else);

  • a) Are you planning to be the central hub of EA-relevant academics?
  • b) What do you think about the Santa Fe Institute's model of a core group of resident academics, and a larger group of affiliated researchers who regularly visit?
  • c) Are you planning on incorporating more fields in the future, such as behavioural economics or complexity theory, and how do you decide on where to expand in?
  • d) Where can I find more information about GPI's strategy, and are you planning on publishing it to the EA Forum?

Btw, on p. 26 of the agenda there's an unfinished sentence: "How important is the distinction between ‘sequence’ thinking and ‘cluster’ thinking? What’s "

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 21 December 2017 05:02:42PM *  3 points [-]

Glad to hear you're finding it useful!

a) Yes, that's the plan

b) We haven't decided on our model yet. Right now, we have a number of full-time academics, a number of research associates who attend seminars and collaborate with the full-time crew, and research research visitors coming periodically. Having researchers visit from other institutions seems useful for bringing in new ideas, getting to collaborate more closely than one could online, and having the visitors take back elements of our work to their home institutions. I would guess in future it would make sense to have at least some researchers who visit periodically, as well as people coming just as a one-off. But I couldn't say for sure at the moment.

c) Yes, we are. Behavioural economics is already something we've thought a little about. Our reason for not expanding into more subjects at the moment is the difficulty of building thoroughly interdisciplinary groups within academia. As a small example, GPI is based in the Philosophy Department at Oxford, which isn't ideal for hiring Economists, who would prefer to be based in the Economics department. Given that, and the close tie in the past between EA and philosophy, we see a genuine risk of GPI/EA being thought of as 'philosophy plus' rather than truly multi/interdisciplinary. For that reason, we're starting with just one other discipline, and trying to build strong roots there. At the same time, we're trying to remain cognisant of other disciplines likely to be relevant, and the work that's going on there. (As an example in psychology, Lucius Caviola has been publishing interesting work both on speciesism and on how to develop a better scale for measuring moral traits EAs might be interested in.)

d) The best source of information is our website. I do plan on putting occasional updates on the EA forum, but as our work output will largely be academic papers, we're unlikely to publish them on here.

Thanks for the heads up!

Comment author: sdspikes 16 December 2017 05:04:09AM 2 points [-]

It looks like these all require relocating to Oxford, is that accurate?

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 16 December 2017 09:12:41PM 1 point [-]

Yes, that's right. For the researcher roles, you would at least need to be in Oxford during term time. For the operations role, it would important to be there for essentially the whole period.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 14 December 2017 11:49:40PM 3 points [-]

This is all very exciting. Just fyi, the application links for the research fellow and senior research fellow that you mention in your last paragraph are broken.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 15 December 2017 12:15:53PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the heads up! I think this is a browser issue with the uni website. It actually works for me on Chrome and Edge, but others have found they don't work on Chrome, but do work on Safari. Would you mind trying a different browser and seeing if that works?


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