Showing posts with the label effective altruism

On Animal Charity Evaluators' Review of the Save Movement

There’s been a back and forth for the past few years about Animal Charity Evaluators’ research, and I have sympathized, in most cases, with both camps. As I’ve said before I have tremendous respect for ACE. I think their promotion of impact and evidence has greatly benefited the movement, and some of the subsidiary conclusions, that we should focus on farmed animals or that we should think about counterfactuals, are totally correct. At the same time, I think their research has had flaws that critics have correctly pointed out. A further reason for my support is my sense that ACE is steadily improving, and for this reason I wanted to note that I think ACE missed an opportunity to really follow its own growing body of research with its review of and decision not to recognize the Save Movement.

The Save Movement is a collection of people around the world who organize vigils at slaughterhouses to bear witness to the animals killed there. I participated with Save from around June 2017 throu…

Should Effective Charities Prepare for a Recession?

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 growth.

That growth has occurred during the recovery from the Great Recession, a time when …

What I Learned from a Year Spent Studying How to Get Policymakers to Use 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 year was spent on delving into attempts to scale up specific pol…

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 attract a gre…

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

There are few books 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, though.) 
I've found it puzzling, then, that to coincide with the publication of his book Enlightenment Now, Pinker has been publishing multiplearticles criticizing altruists who are focused on addressing long-term risks, primarily from artificial general intelligence. Pinker disagrees wit…

Fooling Ourselves into Believing Things

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 ways, I've…

What I've Been Reading/Watching/Listening To

Here are some recent things I've been following and would recommend:

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.

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 why say an…

Why I am Donating to Wild Animal Suffering Research

This post discusses my donations, as part of a pledge to give 10% of my monthly income to highly effective charities. To learn why thousands of people have taken the pledge and to take it, visit

A dead turtle appeared on the shores of Playa Dorada in the Galapagos last month. The turtle, Benny, had died a few hours earlier, and his body was cold. Not too long ago Benny had been a baby with tiny little webbed hands and eyes that barely opened. You can see videos online of baby turtles just like Benny hatching and their little bodies moving oh-so-slowly as they meet the world for the first time. Benny had been one of them. Then he grew up and lived in the waters of the Galapagos–until one day, when he ate a jellyfish called "hielo," or ice, that poisoned him. Benny convulsed in severe pain until he suffered an abrupt death.
How did Benny die?
The species of the jellyfish that Benny eat is rapidly expanding thanks to the warming global climate.Benny could not …

Things I've Changed My Mind on This Year:

1) The importance of artificial general intelligence:

I'd previously been dismissive of superintelligence as being something altruists should focus on, but that was in large part motivated reasoning. I read books like Superintelligenceand Global Catastrophic Risks, and I knew their theses were right initially but would not admit it to myself. With time, though I came to see that I was resisting the conclusion that superintelligence is an important priority mostly because it was uncomfortable. Now I recognize that it is potentially the most important problem and want to explore opportunities to contribute.

2) The economic argument for animal welfare reforms:

One of the reasons often given for supporting animal welfare reforms to those who want to see fewer (read: no) animals tortured for food is that welfare reforms make the industry less profitable, cutting down on the numbers of animals raised. I did not think this effect was strong enough to be worth the effort activists put into …