The Moral Obligation to Organize

This post is coauthored with Sophie Hermanns, PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge and a visiting fellow at Harvard University   Effective altruists are very interested in moral obligations and have developed a set of norms mainly focused on charitable giving and the use of our careers. For example,... Read More
Comment author: scottweathers 10 May 2016 04:48:43PM 1 point [-]

Love that you do this, Gleb!

This past month, I finalized my internship at the WHO. I'll also be traveling to the World Health Assembly this May for my current job. Over the summer, I'll be working on cost-effectiveness research at the WHO, alongside my current job.

Gleb interviewed me for his "Everyday Heroes of Effective Giving" series, which is a really awesome thing that makes me sound way more badass than I really am! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFCWuRB-pYA

I've also been doing a lot of the Humane League's "Fast Action Network" items - these are things like emailing / tweeting at major companies to go cage-free. I think these are very small things that have extremely high expected value. I'd encourage anyone interested in animal welfare to sign up and participate! http://www.thehumaneleague.com/fast-action-network/

Finally, I took a much needed vacation to Panama. Rest is important!

Comment author: scottweathers 24 March 2016 04:16:07PM 0 points [-]

Hey, Eric! This is a great project. I'm most likely headed to Harvard next year for a Masters degree - let's stay in touch, I'd love to help out.

Comment author: scottweathers 22 March 2016 03:05:30PM 4 points [-]

This is really excellent work, Joey! It seems like replicating your research / providing feedback on interventions is fairly high in expected value terms. If there are any EAs that have helpful knowledge on this, I'd encourage them to do so.

Comment author: zackrobinson 17 March 2016 08:35:01PM *  4 points [-]

Hi Scott. I've had one paper published in philosophy, and I've had several others accepted to conferences. I'm certainly not as credentialed as Will, but I might be able to give some tips. My guess is that many of these are not particularly unique to philosophy. First, it's always good to reference other relevant philosophical work. We all know what hedonistic utilitarianism is, but if you're going to write a paper about the implications of effective altruism for a hedonistic utilitarian, you should still clearly define the concept and cite major works on the topic. Second, clear writing is always preferred over convoluted writing. Sometimes people think philosophers want to sound smart and intentionally use complicated language, but the reverse is true. Sure, philosophy sometimes does legitimately require an understanding of technical terms, but good philosophical writing aims to be as clear as possible. Third, a good format to follow is abstract, introduction, argument, conclusion. Abstracts are extremely useful because they allow people to get the gist of your argument very quickly. Fourth, it is often better to make a genuine contribution to a narrow problem than to not really contribute anything to a broad topic. Finally, a good practice is probably to just read some published philosophy work. That is the best way to get an idea of the writing quality and organizational nature of publishable papers. I believe Will has some of his papers posted on his site. I've read some of his work, and I think it's a good example of clear writing. That's probably a good place to start.

Most CFPs request papers that have been prepared for blind review as well, so be sure to do that.

Comment author: scottweathers 22 March 2016 02:13:24PM 0 points [-]

Thanks, Zack!

Comment author: scottweathers 17 March 2016 05:46:32PM 2 points [-]

Thanks, Will!

I have several ideas in mind but wouldn't feel confident submitting right now, because I don't know the norms of philosophy publication. I'd love to have someone who's written for philosophy journals (preferably an EA) provide a guide to EAs who might want to submit articles. Is there anyone who might be able to address these kinds of questions?

Comment author: scottweathers 06 March 2016 11:18:42PM 17 points [-]

Again, I love this, Gleb!

1) I wrote a response piece in openDemocracy defending EA that got 218 shares on Facebook. I also reached out to Lisa, who wrote the original article, and we had a good chat - definitely friendly and I think the debate helped both of us advance our goals/interests.

2) I finally published an article on the EA forum covering the "meat eater problem" that I've been trying to publish for ages. This represents a ton of hard work and thinking that I've done over the last several months. I intend to follow it up with another blog post on many of the questions that I still don't have answers to.

3) The Reach Every Mother and Child Act, the bill I'm working on, just reached 100 co-sponsors! This is a major achievement - many of the co-sponsors were added on after I met with representatives' staffers.

4) I was accepted into global health masters programs at Harvard and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine! I haven't decided which program to do yet, but that's probably what I'll be doing next year :)

Comment author: scottweathers 03 March 2016 02:37:36PM 4 points [-]

This is an excellent article, Joey. Every single non-profit could learn a ton about transparency, measurement, and estimating impact from the approach you've taken. I'm impressed by Charity Science's impact, but far more impressed by your approach to figuring out the marginal value your organization adds. I'm going to send this article to organizations in the future.

Full disclosure, I'm an advisor to Charity Entrepreneurship's project and have been very impressed by the approach they're taking on that project as well.

Comment author: Gleb_T  (EA Profile) 01 March 2016 10:03:48PM 0 points [-]

Really interesting article, thanks for writing it! I'm especially intrigued by the concept of the possible + net utility of certain forms of factory farming, as this is an idea I have not encountered before, and have updated based on it.

It’s also plausible that interventions that raise incomes, like deworming, have a lower impact on meat consumption because they don’t raise the overall number of humans that would be eating meat over their entire lifetime.

I'm a bit concerned with this argument. There's research showing that people in developing countries eat more meat as their income increases. So if the goal is to optimize for lower meat consumption, it is beneficial to keep people's incomes lower.

Now, I am not saying that we should keep people's incomes lower. In fact, I'm a strong supporter of GiveDirectly and other organizations that increase people's incomes in developing countries. However, we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that the consequence of increasing people's incomes is an increase in meat consumption, and we have to count that as a variable in the cost-benefit analysis.

Let’s work more in India

While in a way that makes sense, we have to remember that in India, beef and pork meat are rarely eaten for religious reasons (Hindus don't eat beef, Muslims don't eat pork). So chicken meat is going to be eaten more there. This is a concern that we need to include in our calculations.

EA could probably stand to give a much higher proportion of its money to animal charities

As someone concerned with movement-building from the perspective of how the EA movement looks to outsiders, we should consider the costs and benefits from a PR perspective of this move. I'm not saying it's a bad or good move, just raising it as an issue to consider.

Overall, very good article, upvoted!

Comment author: scottweathers 02 March 2016 09:25:04PM 0 points [-]

Thanks, Gleb! I definitely struggle with the PR aspect of this - it's certainly a weird topic but one that I think matters a lot.

Definitely think that we should include increased meat consumption in our cost-effectiveness analysis for interventions that increase income. My guess is that this amount is much smaller than for interventions that save lives, like bed nets, but that's certainly an open question.

I agree with Brian's remarks on chicken consumption in India - it didn't seem the case when I looked at the data.

Comment author: zackrobinson 02 March 2016 07:23:50AM *  1 point [-]
  1. This problem generalizes to other areas as well: increasing human populations almost certainly mean increased environmental strain, for example. I don't want to digress into that too much, but I will say that I think you brought up a good response to this sort of critique: we shouldn't assume too much about future causal chains. There is a great deal of awareness at the moment of both factory farming and climate change, and it is entirely possible that the effects of one additional human will be far lower than current states would project them to be.

  2. Off the top of my head, I believe there are about 8-10 billion factory farmed animals consumed every year in the US -- roughly 35 per person. Most of these are chickens, and I think we can say they lead net-negative lives (I simply do not believe non-breeder chickens are at a 4). There is no doubt that increasing the size of the US population would substantially increase the number of factory farmed animals, and an increase of 35 factory farmed animals per human is far from trivial. However, the good news is that the vast majority of lives extended by EAs are not in the US, and thus the increase in meat consumption their longer lives will produce is likely going to be sourced from animals with lives that are probably worth living.

  3. I absolutely agree regarding animal charities. The potential is quite large simply due to the number of animals involved in factory farming and the quite poor conditions many of them live in. There are probably a relatively small number of humans who are actually living net negative lives. There are undoubtedly billions of animals who are living such lives. This alone should probably be a very important consideration for EAs.

Overall, great article!

Comment author: scottweathers 02 March 2016 09:20:51PM 0 points [-]

Thanks, Zach! Point 3 seems especially important to me and something that I may highlight more in future articles.

I wanted to dive more into point 1 about environmental stress, but it's so difficult! I genuinely don't know whether eating beef is unethical or not - Compassion by the Pound's welfare numbers are pretty positive for cows but their climate impact is much larger than chickens/pigs. I think it's fairly clear that veal is bad, but hamburgers? It's one question I'd like to see someone dive into.

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