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Showing posts with the label effective altruism

Democracy and Altruism (Toward Non-Voters)

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Does democracy help people who don't get to vote? Democracy has a strong track record of peace and prosperity, but it's not obvious that it would help those who, as a class, do not participate in the political process, such as future generations and nonhuman animals. Two nice economics experiments suggest that democracy may help those who don't vote. (Specifically, elections help relative to everyone deciding for themselves.) The first is Hauser et al. (2014), "Cooperating with the Future" (I'm working with the first author on a new project): What mechanisms can maintain cooperation with the future? To answer this question, we devise a new experimental paradigm, the ‘Intergenerational Goods Game’. A line-up of successive groups (generations) can each either extract a resource to exhaustion or leave something for the next group. Exhausting the resource maximizes the payoff for the present generation, but leaves all future generations empty-handed. Here we show

Expected Utility and the Case Against Strong Longtermism [Technical]

For my readers who are particularly interested in effective altruism and longtermism , Vaden Masrani makes "A Case Against Strong Longtermism" : Mathematicians tend to think of expected values the way they think of the pythagorean theorem - i.e. as a mathematical identity which can be useful in some circumstances. But within the EA community, expected values are taken very seriously indeed. 4 One reason for this is the link between expected values and decision making, namely that “under some assumptions about rational decision making, people should always pick the project with the highest expected value”. Now, if my assumptions about rational decision making lead to fanaticism , paradoxes , and cluelessness , I might revisit the assumptions. and Near the end of Conjectures and Refutations, Popper criticizes the Utopianist attitude of those who claim to be able to see far into future, who claim to see distant far away evils and ideals, and who claim to have knowledge that ca

Donation-Splitting

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Why did Lucas and I split our donations, as I discussed in my post last week ? To some people this might be a dumb question—why not split? In fact I think it's generally best to allocate everything to the highest-impact option. See here , here , and  here  for arguments as to why, but essentially you can think of it in this way. If you're donating for altruistic reasons, you're trying to improve others' wellbeing. The first dollar and the last dollar you donate shouldn't have different effects unless you give a large amount of money, so large that the organization receiving it has less use for the last dollar than the first. Nevertheless, we split our donations this year, as he and I have in the past. I think in the past my donation-splitting was somewhat driven by making myself feel good. This year, though, I thought through it more, and I figured my reasoning could be helpful to others. 1. We donated to Animal Charity Evaluators and Mercy for Animals in the spir

Donor-Advised Fund: First Donations!

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When we got married, Lucas and I set up a donor-advised fund. We did this because we plan to donate a large portion of our lifetime earnings, and we think that to a first-order approximation, it's best to save and donate later. (See Phil Trammell's persuasive argument for this in paper form  or on the 80,000 Hours podcast .) Nevertheless, we plan to donate a portion of our projected lifetime earnings each year, around 1% or so. This is essentially because of a mix of diminishing returns and the small chance that now could be an exceptionally important time. In line with that, we made our first grants from our donor-advised fund this year, and some donations that would have come from it except that we donated directly on Facebook to try to get matched. (We'll see what happens on that score.) I'm excited to announce our donations and encourage others to support these excellent organizations! First, we made an unusual donation for us to the Register 2 Vote fund at Block Po

Do Long-Lived Scientists Hold Back Their Disciplines?

That's the question suggested by a new paper in the American Economic Review. Here's the abstract: We study the extent to which eminent scientists shape the vitality of their areas of scientific inquiry by examining entry rates into the subfields of 452 academic life scientists who pass away prematurely. Consistent with previous research, the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases precipitously after the death of a star scientist. In contrast, we find that the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases by 8.6% on average. These additional contributions are disproportionately likely to be highly cited. They are also more likely to be authored by scientists who were not previously active in the deceased superstar's field. Intellectual, social, and resource barriers all impede entry, with outsiders only entering subfields that offer a less hostile landscape for the support and acceptance of “foreign” ideas. Overall, our results suggest that on

Who Supports Animal Rights?

There's a new paper out by political scientists on support for animal rights. It's in line with most of the data I'd seen but bears repeating. High correlations with support for human rights and being female, and not much of a connection with wealth, but if anything wealthy people are less supportive of animal rights. The abstract: In this article, we empirically test explanations for variation in support for animal rights at the individual level and across the United States. We draw on a combination of national public opinion surveys and cross-sectional data on animal rights laws from the fifty US states. We find a strong connection between recognition of human rights and animal rights both at the individual attitude level and at the US state policy level. Our results demonstrate that support for animal rights strongly links to support for disadvantaged or marginalized human populations, including LGBT groups, racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, and the poor.

Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood

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Effective altruism is now spending a great deal of time on improving prospects for the future. This is chiefly by avoiding extinction risks , but there are other strategies as well, e.g. moral circle expansion . In any case changing institutions looks like a promising way to improve the world. What are the longest-lasting institutions in the world? Certainly high among them is religion.  For this reason, it seems to me that expanding religions' moral circles (especially old religions with a tendency to grow) is a highly-neglected strategy for improving the world. I've seen posts in effective altruism (e.g. this one ) about outreach to religious groups, but I always saw them as a sort of diversity and inclusivity message: to grow a movement, you need to welcome all sorts of people. It's important to welcome and include people, of course, but this seems to be dramatically underselling the prominence of religion in virtually every society. The Catholic Church is around

How Much Do Wild Animals Suffer? A Foundational Result on the Question is Wrong.

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NOTE: I would like to clarify that the post below and the published paper show that a result from 1995 does not hold, but they do NOT make the case for the 1995 model being correct. There are many reasons the models in both papers are likely to be deeply flawed: path dependency, dynamic ecosystems, philosophical problems with the definition of suffering and enjoyment, and so on. The primary point here is to treat the 1995 result and other work on wild animal suffering with caution. In 1995, Yew-Kwang Ng wrote a groundbreaking paper, "Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering"  that explored the novel question of the wellbeing of wild animals as distinct from the conservation of species. As perceptive as it was innovative, the paper proposed a number of axioms about evolution and consciousness to study which animals are sentient, what their experiences are, and what might be done about it. Among the many results in the paper wa

A Simple Reason Why Vegan Options Can Have Increased While Veganism Did Not

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It's common knowledge in urban areas that the availability of vegan options has soared in the U.S. and around the world in recent years, and it's nearly equally common to think that veganism has become more common as well, but the data on this raises questions. Gallup has been estimating the number of vegans and vegetarians for years and has repeatedly found no change . At the same time, the number of vegan options is clearly increasing in supermarkets and restaurants.  It's far from clear that Gallup is right, because other, sketchier statistics have some hint of the numbers of vegans increasing. I can't find the original data, but  GlobalData  apparently found a 600% increase in the number of people identifying as vegan, and there's a bunch of figures like this bouncing around online. This seems likely to be driven by the fact that in surveys, more people identify as vegan and vegetarian than actually are based on self-reported food choices, but Gallup’s trend

Be Careful About a Stubborn Attachment to Growth

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Rob Wiblin interviewed economist Tyler Cowen on the 80,000 hours podcast (“the show about the world’s most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them”) and as I would expect, it was a consistently stimulating conversation. Cowen presented on his new book, Stubborn Attachments , which argues that we should place dramatic importance on economic growth because most of humanity’s expected value lies in the future, and economic growth is the most reliable help we can offer future generations. I think the thesis is largely correct, and I'm glad he's making such a strong case for creating an economically prosperous future. I want to contend, though, that growth as conventionally measured does not always do justice to the sort of growth that matters for the long-term future. Cowen makes a good case for providing future generations with as many resources as possible, but economic growth is a systematically imperfect measure of resources. In particular, it's n

Should Effective Charities Prepare for a Recession?

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Source: https://peoplespostng.com/news/when-churches-become-fetish-ritual-dens/ I asked a number of people at effective altruism global in June a question that came to my mind: how would a recession affect charities aligned with effective altruism? A lot of people seemed to me to have concerns, and many people I talked to seemed to think their organizations did not have a plan for if a recession hits and donations decrease. I think that’s a problem worth some thought. The effective altruism movement has now been booming for several years, with many EA-aligned animal organizations multiplying in size and achieving a cascade of long-sought cage-free pledges. EA-oriented meta organizations and those working on the long-term future of humanity have gained significantly more esteem. Evidence-based global development organizations have continued to be dominant in that sphere, even though they are increasingly less connected to self-described EA organizations. There is unmistakable

What I Learned from a Year Spent Studying How to Get Policymakers to Use Evidence

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Source: http://cognitive-edge.com/blog/on-evidence/ The past year I was a senior research analyst at Northwestern University's Global Poverty Research Lab on a study of evidence-based policy. Specifically, our goal was to work on a question often on researchers' minds: how can I get my ideas acted upon? To do this, I dug through a number of bodies of evidence on how science influences policy. One area I looked at is what is called "implementation science" in medicine, which looks at how to get doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators to adopt evidence-based practice. Another was a series of papers by social scientist Carol Weiss and her students on how policymakers in government agencies claim to use evidence. There is also a small literature on how to implement evidence-based policy in public schools, and a little work on policymaker numeracy. I've included a bibliography below that should be helpful for anyone interested in this topic. Most of my yea

Cheers for Animal Charity Evaluators

Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) released a long-overdue report on protest effectiveness . I'm biased because I'm quoted there, but I thought I would take the occasion to note how much I think ACE has grown in the past few years. I'm tremendously grateful to ACE's founders, but when ACE started out (as "Effective Animal Advocacy"), its advice was rudimentary, based on little science, and made by a very small staff. I'm struck by the careful and nuanced conclusion the report reaches: Overall, we would like to see the animal advocacy movement invest slightly more heavily in protests. Protests currently receive a tiny portion of the movement’s resources and, given the limited evidence we do have, it’s plausible they are at least as cost-effective as interventions that receive much more of the movement’s resources, such as leafleting . Moreover, we think that the use of protests contributes to the diversity of tactics in the movement, which can help attrac

Why Can't Steven Pinker and AI Safety Altruists Get Along?

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There are few bo oks that have more influenced to my thinking than Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature . The book makes a powerful case for effective altruism by showing that much of what effective altruists try to spread—reason and empathy, chiefly—has led to a sweeping decline in virtually every form of human violence over the course of human history. At the same time, I think that Pinker's thesis and evidence in that book are compatible with an understanding that tail risks to human civilization, such as catastrophic risks, may have increased, and animal suffering, has clearly increased in recent history. (Humans' moral views on the latter do clearly seem to be improving , thoug h.)  I've found it puzzling, then, that to coincide with the publication of his book Enlightenment Now , Pinker has been publishing multiple articles criticizing altruists who are focused on addressing long-term risks, primarily from artificial general intelligence. Pinker

Fooling Ourselves into Believing Things

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A New York Times piece I'd had in my backlog writes about an issue most atheists struggle to understand: how does one come to believe something one does not believe? Can we make ourselves have faith? I was struck by the piece because as time has gone on, I've seen how real this phenomenon can be–and how it may even be something useful to rational people. I've experienced moments when I've thought of getting myself to believe something I did not believe or feel something I did not feel. Most saliently, as with most gay men, I tried to be straight. I took it a step further in college and did a program called the Vaad , which attempted to turn Yale students into Orthodox Jews. They were damn good at it, too, full of references to the surprisingly difficult fine-tuned universe argument and Kurt Vonnegut. Some people in the program did go on to go to Israel, study at Yeshiva, and so on, and from what I hear there are many others like that.  And of course, in some way

What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening To

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Here are some recent things I've been following and would recommend: Books: 1984 – It had been a while since I read this. In light of my experiences last year–the personal and the political–I dusted this off, and I am newly impressed by Orwell's world. Infinite Jest – Apparently one of the best novels of the 21st century, this book has been enjoyable to read so far (I'm about half-way through). It's the first book I've read in a while that's an intellectual puzzle with obscure references and a counter-intuitive structure that one has to piece together. Superforecasting – Social scientist Philip Tetlock discusses his forecasting tournaments, which set out to figure out how to predict the future–and do just that. It's both fascinating and important. Films: Call Me By Your Name – I loved this movie. From the music to the photography to the actors' playful banter, it's a beauty to behold. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – You've all seen this by now so