Donor-Advised Fund: First Donations!

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 Trump rallies spread COVID-19?

It looks like the answer is yes. It's been a while, but I'm back, and with a new paper with Doug Bernheim, Nina Buchmann, and Seba Otero : We investigate the effects of large group meetings on the spread of COVID-19 by studying the impact of eighteen Trump campaign rallies. To capture the effects of subsequent contagion within the pertinent communities, our analysis encompasses up to ten post-rally weeks for each event. Our method is based on a collection of regression models, one for each event, that capture the relationships between post-event outcomes and pre-event characteristics, including demographics and the trajectory of COVID-19 cases, in similar counties. We explore a total of 24 procedures for identifying sets of matched counties. For the vast majority of these variants, our estimate of the average treatment effect across the eighteen events implies that they increased subsequent confirmed cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents. Extrapolating this f

The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2019

It's time for my annual picks for Best Picture. This year (unlike in previous years), two of my picks are nominated, but my top one is not: The Farewell was in my view the best film of the year. The story was riveting, touching on hu man relations with a complexity that goes beyond words. It was provocative, sad, even funny at times, but what I think some may miss is that the camerawork was gorgeous too. (The beautifully-composed closing shot, above, is far from the most remarkable. Staircases, even medical machines receive a visually poetic treatment throughout.) My next-two favorites are, luckily, apparently top Best Picture contenders. First is 1917 . Some people thought the (illusory) one-shot visuals were a gimmick, but for my money they fit the story very well and captured the unrelenting intensity of trench warfare.  The actors and script did a solid job sustaining attention over that length of time. That's basically tied in my mind with Parasite , which had an

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

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.

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