Comment author: casebash 19 September 2017 04:49:48AM *  2 points [-]

I strongly agree with you that the kinds of qualities required to think of a good idea are very different from the kinds of qualities that are required to put that idea into action. I think this would be a very interesting experiment.

One of the main challenges is that it is often hard to separate an idea from its implementation. For example, suppose I have a broad idea to spread EA-style thinking within the global warming community in order to increase their effectiveness and also, hopefully, make it more likely that some of them get involved in EA.

There are a lot of questions that come immediately to mind:

  • What kind of organisation are we talking about? Are we thinking of publishing papers in environmental journals or building a website to convince people on a grassroots level or running a seminar?

  • What organic attempts have there been to spread such thinking and why have they failed or not succeeded completely, ect?

  • Where will I get the necessary funds, volunteers and advice from?

Some of these questions will end up being questions highly contingent on local situations. Some of these questions are best approached via trial and error. Some of these questions will lead different people to come to different conclusions so that even if someone has mostly the same general idea, they are likely to discard or not make use of much of your work because it is contingent on an assumption that they reject (ie. that you should reach out to the grassroots rather than to the leaders).

So there are all of these challenges, but nonetheless, I'd love to see someone try this experiment.

Comment author: astupple 21 September 2017 12:39:32AM 0 points [-]

Interesting. It sounds like you're possibly suggesting there's a taxonomy of ideas. Some ideas warrant simple experiments (in this case, a simple experiment would be to review the various EA threads and simply enter proposed ideas in a table online), others warrant further research (like some of the questions begot by your global warming example), etc. Am I describing this right? I'm guessing this must have been done- any ideas on where to look.

Perhaps it's worthwhile to review the analysis of- "What are productive ideas?" Ultimately, this could result in a one-pager about what a good idea is, how to develop it, and how (when, and to whom) to pitch it.

Comment author: gworley3  (EA Profile) 20 September 2017 05:54:27PM 1 point [-]

Maybe I'm arguing that we should develop recruiting ideas?

Yep :-)

Also- any suggestions for good formal discussions of the philosophy and sociology of ideas (beyond the slightly nauseating pop business literature)? "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson is excellent, but not philosophically rigorous.

I don't but I suspect some folks around here do. Talk to Malcolm Ocean maybe?

Comment author: astupple 21 September 2017 12:39:25AM 0 points [-]

Malcolm Ocean- fantastic! thanks!

Comment author: gworley3  (EA Profile) 19 September 2017 07:09:25PM 1 point [-]

I'm going to try to explain here why I am suspicious of the need for this.

People who do things are not, in general, idea constrained from what I can tell. Lots of people have lots of ideas about what they could do and there are already people making arguments for and against these ideas in public forums. People who choose to act do so based in part of how these discussions of ideas influence their thinking, but filtered through the lens of experience at making stuff happen.

Additionally, we already have a lot of ideas people recognize as being worth implementing that no one is working on or work being done on them has not yet come to fruition. It doesn't take long, relative to the effort that will be invested to do something, to read and think enough to decide what to do, so it seems more likely to me that on the margin we need more desire to do than more curation of ideas about what to do.

All this said, if you want to do something I think there is something to be done in terms of curating the list of ideas/projects you want to see people know about and promoting the existence of that list. Or writing about specific ideas/projects you think people should work on and trying to convince folks they should work on those. But an idea directory of the sort you propose sounds to me like a lot of make-work to see only slightly more clearly the landscape doers are already navigating.

Comment author: astupple 20 September 2017 02:08:19AM 1 point [-]

While I completely see what you're saying, at the risk of sounding obtuse, I think the opposite of your opener may be true.

"People who do things are not, in general, idea constrained"

The contrary of this statement may be the fundamental point of EA (or at least a variant of it): People who do things in general (outside of EA) tend to act on bad ideas. In fact, EA is more about the ideas underlying what we do than it is about the doing itself. Millions of affluent people are doing things (going to school, work, upgrading their cars and homes, giving to charity), without examining the underlying ideas. EA's success is its ability to convert doers to adopt its ideas. It's creating a pool of doers who use EA ideas instead of conventional wisdom.

Perhaps there are two classes of doers, those already in the EA community who "get it," and those outside who are just plugging away at life. When I think of filling talent gaps, I think that can be filled by (A) EA community members developing skills, and (B) recruiting skilled people to join the community. Group A probably doesn't need good ideas because they've already accepted the ideas of our favorite thinkers etc. The marginal benefit of even better ideas is small. Instead, group A is better off if it simply gets down to the hard work of growing talent. But group B is laboring under bad ideas, and for many, it might not take much at all to get them to substitute bad ideas for EA-ideas. My guess is that, to grow talent, it is easier to convert doers from group B than to optimize doers in group A (which is certainly not to say group A shouldn't do the hard work of optimizing their talent).

There is an odd circularity here- I think I just argued myself out of my original stance. I seem to have just concluded that we shouldn't focus on the ideas of the EA community (which was my original intention) and instead should focus on methods of recruiting.

Maybe I'm arguing that we should develop recruiting ideas?

Also- any suggestions for good formal discussions of the philosophy and sociology of ideas (beyond the slightly nauseating pop business literature)? "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson is excellent, but not philosophically rigorous.

Comment author: RyanCarey 19 September 2017 12:09:30AM 4 points [-]

Would a transparent idea directory enable refinement of good ideas into great ones, help great ideas find a team, all the while reducing the overall burden of transaction costs associated with considering new ideas?

A transparent idea of proposals should have some effect in this direction. I've asked for a transparent directory of projects for months; it's something I'd like to see funders like EA Grants and thought-leaders like 80,000 work on. However, we need to be cautious because pure ideas are not very scarce. They may be 20% of the bottleneck but 80% is getting talented people. So new project proposals should be presented in such a way that founders will see these ideas and notice if they are a good fit for them.

I- Ready for implementation. These are extremely well considered ideas that support EA principles and have/will contribute good evidence for effectiveness. II- Worth refining. These are promising ideas that can be upgraded to type I with more background research, adjustments in strategy, etc. III- Back to the drawing board. These are well intentioned but miss the mark in an important way, perhaps an over-reliance on intuition or misinformation.

I guess that (II-III) are more like forum posts and should usually be filtered out without need for formal review. I think even most proposals in category (I) are too weak to be likely to suceed. I would use a more stringent checklist e.g. (a) funding may be available (b) part of a founding team is available (c) there is some traction demonstrated.

Too many ideas and not enough doers increases the likelihood that doers will settle on weak ideas... if the number of doers is saturated, they only gum up the works.

There are forces in both directions. If more high-quality ideas are shared, then doers may be less likely to settle on weak ideas.

Finally, the main goal of a transparent idea directory is to reduce the unavoidable transaction costs of new ideas.

Then the focus of such a project should not just be to archive ideas, it should be to have more ideas turned into action.

General thought: I think the quality of ideas is far more important than quantity here. I would much rather see two ultra-high-quality proposals online in a system like this than ten mid-range quality ones. It would be good if people could be encouraged to solicit line-by-line feedback by putting their proposals in google docs, and also if there was a requirement for authors to allow anonymous private feedback. Proposals that are substantially downvoted should perhaps disappear for redrafting. Perhaps team-members should be able to submit themselves as candidates for future projects, awaiting a suitably matched project, IDK. It seems like an important space!

Comment author: astupple 19 September 2017 03:27:47AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, agree almost completely, particularly your closing points.

My main quibble is the comparison of talent vs ideas as a bottleneck, where you say talent is 80% of the problem compared to ideas at 20%. I certainly agree that lots of weak ideas pose problems, but the trouble with with this comparison is that the first step to recruiting more talent will be an idea. So, in a sense, the talent gap IS an idea gap. In fact, aside from blind luck, every improvement on what we have will first be an idea. Perhaps we shouldn't think of ideas in opposition to anything, but instead work to maximize them (and keep the bad ones out of the way). Every gap has an idea component, essentially waiting for a better idea for how to close it.

Additionally, having high-yield, impactful ideas on hand that will make a difference could attract talent that might otherwise see EA as a bunch of airy headed idealists. Finally, if talent rather than ideas is the true bottleneck, then it's all the more important to make sure talent gets connected with the best ideas.

Minor point- Regarding weak ideas, I think there is some value for people to see (a) what makes bad ideas bad and (b) whether or not a particular idea has already been floated, thereby cutting down on redundancy.


Can a Transparent Idea Directory reduce transaction costs of new ideas?

Would a transparent idea directory enable refinement of good ideas into great ones, help great ideas find a team, all the while reducing the overall burden of transaction costs associated with considering new ideas? Ideas are a resource, like money, skills and time. If EA is more talent constrained than funding constrained, and better mechanisms for coordinating... Read More
Comment author: astupple 08 September 2017 07:46:57PM 4 points [-]

Like me, I suspect many EA's do a lot of "micro advising" to friends and younger colleagues. (In medicine, this happens almost on a daily basis). I know I'm an amateur, and I do my best to direct people to the available resources, but it seems like creating some basic pointers on how to give casual advice may be helpful.

Alternatively, I see the value in a higher activation energy for potentially reachable advisees- if they truly are considering adjusting their careers, then they'll take the time to look at the official EA material.

Nonetheless, it seems like even this advice to amateurs like myself could be helpful - "Give your best casual advice. If things are promising, give them links to official EA content."

Comment author: astupple 06 September 2017 04:51:18PM 2 points [-]

1- The Singularity is Near changed everything for me, made me quit my job and go to med school. I've since purchased it for many people, but I no longer do. Instead, I have been sending people copies of Home Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. Broader scope, more sociology, psychology and ethics. 2- The Selfish Gene (I think this moored me to reality closer than Steven Pinker's work) 3- The Black Swan (Thinking Fast and Slow, Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational etc are probably better explications of irrationality, while Taleb is a pretty clear victim of his own criticisms, but Taleb's style really shook me and I think it is the best for changing minds.) 4- Waking Up (A careful reading of Ken Wilber has been most influential for me, but I don't recommend it because it needs a very skeptical eye. I've been lucky. Waking Up does most of the same work, but doesn't get lost in the rabbit hole.) 5- Doing Good Better (not a shocker, but it really is an accessible slam dunk)

In response to comment by William_S on Open Thread #38
Comment author: arushigupta 29 August 2017 05:38:33AM 1 point [-]

I've been thinking about this as well lately, specifically in terms of reducing hatred and prejudice (racism, sexism, etc). For example, this is anecdotal, but one (black) man named Daryl Davis says that he has gotten more than 200 KKK members to disavow the group by simply approaching them and befriending them. Over time they would realize that their views were unfounded, and gave up their KKK membership of their own volition. This is an interview with Davis: and I think there is also a documentary about him.

This is a great Vox article about a study that discusses ways to reduce people's biases: The article title is about reducing racism, though the study discussed is about views on transgender people. It suggests that just a 10-min, open conversation can significantly reduce people's biases, and that these changes persist.

And lastly, another anecdotal story on how Derek Black, the godson of David Duke, and the son another very prominent figure in the alt-right, ended up leaving the alt-right after a group of diverse college classmates befriended him, and he slowly abandoned his previous views over the course of months.

While two of these links are to anecdotal stories, I think they are important in showing that even those with really extreme prejudice (KKK members and a young alt-right leader!) can let go of their prejudices when approached in the right way.

It definitely seems like an intervention that would require lots of grassroots, individual action, I suspect it could be very hard to measure the benefits of it - the amount of lives lost to this kind of prejudice and polarization is pretty low (at least in the US), and the other benefits that would arise are hard to measure. If someone else has good estimates on how impactful this would be, I'd love to hear them! Regardless I'm very excited to see some interventions in reducing prejudice and hatred that do seem to actually work, though more study into this is definitely necessary!

Comment author: astupple 31 August 2017 10:26:13PM 0 points [-]

I bet a more neglected aspect of polarization is the degree to which the left (which I identify with) literally hates the right for being bigots, or seeming bigots (agree with Christian Kleineidam below). This is literally the same mechanism of prejudice and hatred, with the same damaging polarization, but for different reasons.

There's much more energy to address the alt-right polarization than the not-even-radical left (many of my friends profess hatred of Trump voters qua Trump voters, it gives me the same pit of the stomach feeling when I see blatant racism). Hence, addressing the left is probably more neglected (unsure how you'd quantify this, but it seems pretty evident).

The trouble I find is that the left's prejudice and hatred seems more complex and harder to fix. In some ways, the bigots are easier to flip toward reason (anecdotes about befriending racists, families changing when their kids come out etc). Have you ever tried to demonstrate to a passionate liberal that maybe they've gone too far in writing off massive swaths of society as bigots? Just bringing it up literally challenges the friendship in my experience.

I think polarization is incredibly bad, there are neglected areas, but neglectedness seems to be outweighed by intractability.

In response to Open Thread #38
Comment author: astupple 30 August 2017 09:43:37PM *  1 point [-]


I would love some feedback on what I'm calling an "EA Idea Sounding Board"

I'm thinking of a call-in show and/or a message board, where EA's suggest ideas to someone with experience in the EA landscape, perhaps an advisor at 80,000 Hours. It might go something like this:

An 80,000 Hours advisor takes calls from EA's who essentially pitch their ideas for anything EA related: an idea for a donation drive, for a new cause area, for a startup. The advisor hears out the idea and reframes and refines it to show both how it is promising and in what ways it seems to miss the mark. At the end, they work an assessment and plan. The overall assessment might fall into categories, like: -"Back to the Drawing Board" (Rethink/research these major limitations: _) -"Worth Pursuing" (You're onto something here, develop these parts: _) -"Ready for Prime Time" (Well researched/planned, concrete next steps: )

These calls could be recorded with the option to be edited and distributed as a podcast episode. I see lots of potential value: - Showcasing good ideas - Demonstrate rationality in progress - Highlight limitations of cognitive biases - Demonstrate the general principles/values of EA - Offer updates on latest EA topics - Enhance networking.

Not every call would be broadcast, only the very best ones. Part of the incentive for developing a good idea is to see if you can generate an interesting enough discussion to get published. However, maybe the best part is that even weak ideas might be very valuable to publish because they would demonstrate loose thinking and be good examples of constructive criticism.

Alternatively, this could be distributed on a message board or forum of some kind. Perhaps after the discussion with the 80,000 Hours advisor, the person pitching the idea would write up a summary of the dialog, highlighting the original idea, the general principles, the cognitive biases or weak elements, the strengths of the idea, and the final assessment. This summary could be posted for the community to review. To streamline this, a template could be created ahead of time which forms the basis of the idea discussion. After the discussion, the template is edited to reflect the content of the discussion and made ready for posting. Certain tags could be added, such as a request for someone to weigh in if they know of research in this area, or someone to fund the idea. The 80,000 Hours advisor could affix an overall rating of how promising they think this idea is and what needs to be done to make it more promising.

Comment author: astupple 29 August 2017 05:51:06PM 0 points [-]

I love this idea, so many spin-offs come to mind, though as you describe, reaching the scale to reliably quantify the impact appears difficult.

I wonder if a way to boost followup and engagement could be to ask the recipients to donate the value of the book itself to an effective charity? "This book cost $15, if you find it interesting, can you give $15 to AMF?"

It's still a bit tricky to track actual donation... maybe setting up a simple webpage for book recipients to donate to AMF. You could create two groups, one that gets the book and the website link, the other that gets the book and a specific ask to donate at least the value of the book.

Another thought is having a book fair, or tabling at an event. You could have a stack of free books, and have an internet device where they could donate on the spot in exchange for the book. You could compare numbers who took the book for free vs. took and donated.

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