Comment author: mhpage 24 February 2017 10:59:22AM 13 points [-]

and I wonder how the next generation of highly informed, engaged critics (alluded to above) is supposed to develop if all substantive conversations are happening offline.

This is my concern (which is not to say it's Open Phil's responsibility to solve it).

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 25 February 2017 06:37:47AM 0 points [-]

and I wonder how the next generation of highly informed, engaged critics (alluded to above) is supposed to develop if all substantive conversations are happening offline.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 23 February 2017 10:25:12PM *  10 points [-]

I'm skeptical. The trajectory you describe is common among a broad class of people as they age, grow in optimization power, and consider sharp course corrections less. They report a variety of stories about why this is so, so I'm skeptical of any particular story being causal.

To be clear, I also recognize the high cost of public discourse. But part of those costs are not necessary, borne only because EAs are pathologically scrupulous. As a result, letting people shit talk various thing without response causes more worry than is warranted. Naysayers are an unavoidable part of becoming a large optimization process.

There was a thread on Marginal Revolution many years ago about why more economists don't do the blogging thing given that it seems to have resulted in outsize influence for GMU. Cowen said his impression was that many economists tried, quickly 'made fools of themselves' in some minor way, and stopped. Being wrong publicly is very very difficult. And increasingly difficult the more Ra energy one has acquired.

So, three claims.

  • Outside view says we should be skeptical of our stories about why we do things, even after we try to correct for this.
  • Inability to only selectively engage with criticism will lead to other problems/coping strategies that might be harmful.
  • Carefully shepherding the optimization power one has already acquired is a recipe for slow calcification along hard to detect dimensions. The principles section is an outline of a potential future straightjacket.
Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 23 February 2017 11:16:43PM *  9 points [-]

I don't find the view that publishing a lot of internal thinking for public consumption and feedback is a poor use of time to be implausible on its face. Here are some reasons:

  1. By the time you know enough to write really useful things, your opportunity cost is high (more and better grants, coaching staff internally, etc).
  2. Thoughtful and informative content tends to get very little traffic anyway because it doesn't generate controversy. Most traffic will go to your most dubious work, thereby wasting your time, other people's time and spreading misinformation. I've benefitted greatly from GiveWell/OpenPhil investing in public communication (including this blog post for example) but I think I'm in a small minority that arguably shouldn't be their main focus given the amount of money they have available for granting. If there are a few relevant decision-makers who would benefit from a piece of information, you can just quickly email it to them and they'll understand it without you having to explain things in great detail.
  3. The people with expertise who provide the most useful feedback will email you or meet you eventually anyway - and often end up being hired. I'd say 80% of the usefulness of feedback/learning I've received has come from 5% of providers, who can be identified as the most informed critics pretty quickly.
  4. 'Transparency' and 'engaging with negative public feedback' are applause lights in egalitarian species and societies, like 'public parks', 'community' and 'families'. No one wants to argue against these things, so people who aren't in senior positions remain unaware of their legitimate downsides. And many people enjoy tearing down those they believe to be powerful and successful for the sake of enforced egalitarianism, rather than positive outcomes per se.
  5. The personal desire for attention, and to be adulated as smart and insightful, already pushes people towards public engagement even when it's an inferior use of time.

This isn't to say overall people share too much of the industry expertise they have - there are plenty of forces in the opposite direction - but I don't come with a strong presupposition that they share far too little either.


In some cases, if a problem is harder humanity should invest more in it, but you should be less inclined to work on it

One criteria in the 80,000 Hours problem framework is 'solvability'. All else equal, it is more effective to dedicate yourself to a problem if a larger percentage of the problem will be solved by each additional person working on it. So far so good. However, this can lead to something counterintuitive. Here is an... Read More
Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 17 February 2017 12:12:10AM *  6 points [-]

I broadly agree with this and am often pleased to see people go into party politics, government bureaucracies or advocacy on particular policy areas. The skills and connections they gain will hopefully be useful in the long term.

The interesting questions remaining to me here are: i) how much leverage do you get through political engagement vs direct work, aiming to include in your sample people who try and fail; ii) how worrying is it to find yourself working on a controversial issue, both because you'll have to fight against opponents and because you might be on the wrong side. Tough questions to answer!

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 15 February 2017 08:57:05PM 7 points [-]

Always pleased to see people collating information like this!

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 08 February 2017 05:47:15AM 3 points [-]

Looks spot on to me, nice work folks! :)

Comment author: Ben_Todd 06 February 2017 03:27:59PM 4 points [-]

We've considered wrapping it into the problem framework in the past, but it can easily get confusing. Informativeness is also more of a feature of how you go about working on the cause, rather than which cause you're focused on.

The current way we show that we think VOI is important is by listing Global Priorities Research as a top area (though I agree that doesn't quite capture it). I also talk about it often when discussing how to coordinate with the EA community (VOI is a bigger factor when considering the community perspective than individual perspective).

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 06 February 2017 06:49:25PM *  4 points [-]

The 'Neglectedness' criteria gets you a pretty big tilt in favour of working on underexplored problems already. But value of information is an important factor in choosing what project to work on within a problem area.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 29 January 2017 08:12:34PM *  8 points [-]

I don't see the merit of upbraiding 80k for aggregation various sources of 'EA philanthropic advice' because one element of this relies on political views one may disagree with. Not including Cockburn's recommendations whilst including all the other OpenPhil staffers also implies political views others would find disagreeable. It's also fairly clear from the introduction the post (at least for non-animal charities) was canvassing all relevant recommendations rather than editorializing.

That said, it is perhaps unwise to translate 'advice from OpenPhil staffers' into 'EA recommendations'. OpenPhil is clear about how it licenses itself to try and 'pick hits' which may involve presuming or taking a bet on a particular hot button political topic (i.e. Immigration, criminal justice, abortion), being willing to take a particular empirical bet in the face of divided expertise, and so forth. For these reasons OpenPhil are not a 'Givewell for everything else', and their staffer's recommendations, although valuable for them to share and 80k to publicise, should carry the health warning that they are often conditional on quite large and non-resilient conjunctions of complicated convictions - which may not represent 'expert consensus' on these issues.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 29 January 2017 10:22:36PM 2 points [-]

Note that we say when describing this source at the beginning of the post that:

"[We refer to] Open Philanthropy Project’s suggestions for individual donors. ... Though note that “These are reasonably strong options in causes of interest, and shouldn’t be taken as outright recommendations.”"

We then consistently throughout the post refer to these as 'suggestions' only, rather than 'recommendations', as for the other sources.

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.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 29 January 2017 05:02:55PM *  5 points [-]

Our process here involves deferring to the project officers of the Open Philanthropy Project in their area of expertise (unless we can find an equivalent authority in the area who disagrees). OpenPhil seems to have a good record for making grants in line with EA values, and we trust the people involved in that institution, so this seems like a good process.

It's true, we could carve out an exception in this one case based on our own opinions. But I'd rather stick with a sound survey process that is i) generally reliable (and avoids errors based on our ignorance), and ii) scales well as the number of authorities and problem areas being reviewed increases.

The superior solution here is just for those who disagree with one of OpenPhil's ideas to speak with the relevant staff and convince them to change their minds. OpenPhil directs far more in grants than that blog post will move in donations, so making sure they get it right is much more valuable. If the arguments are convincing to Chloe or another relevant staff member, then I'll edit the blog post to reflect their latest thinking. I don't really have a dog in this fight.

Comment author: the_jaded_one 29 January 2017 10:37:59AM 2 points [-]

based on a misconception about how we produced the list and our motivations.

I would disagree; to me it seems irrelevant whether 80,000 hours is "just syndicating content", or whether your organisation has a "direct view or goal".

It's on your website, as a recommendation. If it's a bad recommendation, it's your problem.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 29 January 2017 03:48:31PM 4 points [-]

Perhaps, but the article is peculiar because it's directed at 80,000 Hours rather than the ultimate source of the advice - when you just as easily could have addressed it to OpenPhil. It would be as though you had a problem with AMF and criticised 80,000 Hours over it (wondering what specifics could have caused us to recommend it), when you could just as easily direct it as GiveWell.

This leads you to speculation like "maybe [80,000 Hours] likes left-wing social justice causes". Had you reached out you wouldn't have had to speculate, and I could have told you right away that the list was designed to a follow a process that minimised the influence of my personal opinions. Had it been based on my personal views rather than a survey of experts and institutions, it probably wouldn't have included the Criminal Justice Reform category.

Anyway, I do think if you're writing a lengthy piece about a person or a group speaking with them to ask clarificatory questions is wise - it can save you from wasting time going down rabbit holes.

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