Maximizing is usually a bad idea.
I looked up CRPS and kidney stones, and it looks like both of them have relatively mild symptoms in most cases. Are you sure that this isn’t a case of conflating the pain of the most extreme cases and the prevalence of all cases?
You’re right about the 8% figure for chronic severe pain, though.
I wonder if we sufficiently understand the psychological dynamics of chronic or extreme pain. The existence of the bullet ant glove ritual makes me wonder to what extent the cultural context of pain influences our remembered perception of its quality, intensity, and meaning.
It seems helpful to distinguish between meaningless, “I would’t wish this on my worst enemy” pain, which probably accounts for the vast majority of extreme pains, “a little pain is necessary to toughen you up” pain, and “this is a sacred extreme-pain ritual.”
Glad you liked it :) I added a sentence about indirect effects in the first paragraph. I see your point about the title but I chose to leave it as it is because:
I think that people don’t expect cost-effectiveness estimates to take all the indirect effects into account anyway. That said, I am afraid of it being misinterpreted as an estimate of what an additional donated dollar would achieve.
However, anyone who would make important decisions based on this estimate would hopefully read more than just the title anyway.
I wanted to grab the attention of some EAs who would not consider helping welfare reforms otherwise (and hence wouldn’t open an article called “Cost-effectiveness estimate of corporate animal welfare campaigns”).
I wanted the result to be prominently featured because I’d rather the common knowledge within EA would be “it affects 9-120 years per dollar but there are many complications and indirect effects” rather than “it’s unclear what the cost-effectiveness is”. The former at least let’s people compare the scale of the effects with other interventions.
I don’t want to change the title now because it could confuse some forum readers, and make it more difficult to find for readers who remember the old title.
Why not just use Glassdoor?
This post got me wondering whether there should be Glassdoor for EA.
I was asked to comment here. As you know, I did a data science internship at Impossible Foods in late 2016. I’m mostly jotting down my own experiences, along with some anonymized information from talking to others.
NB: “Tech” below refers to jobs that are considered mainstream tech in Silicon Valley (software, data science, analytics, etc), while “science” refers to the food science/biochemistry/chemistry work that is Impossible’s core product.
Highly mission-driven. Many people were vegetarian or vegan (all the food the company served was vegan by default), and people there seemed fairly dedicated to the cause of replacing farmed animals with plants (less than I would expect from a EA or AR nonprofit)
Diversity. The gender ratio in the main office was slightly more women than men, and there was a lot of representation from different countries that I usually don’t see in Silicon Valley (though this could just be because biology/biochemistry draws from a different population than CS).
Niceness. People seemed really nice to each other a lot, and there wasn’t a lot of the assholish personalities I sometimes associate with startups.
Interesting problems. My subjective sense is that tech there is usually used to support scientific pursuits rather than eg, tech as a product or business development, and is more interesting in a broader sense than most big company or startup work.
Lots of opportunities to grow. People who’re up for the challenge often take on quite impressive challenges at low levels of seniority.
Benefits. I didn’t use them much, but my impression is that the company seemed quite progressive about things like vacation days and paternity leave(?).
Reasonable work-life balance. This seemed true of the tech people I knew, however the scientists seemed a little overworked and the business development people seemed a lot overworked. I don’t know how this compares to other startups.
The CEO (Pat Brown) appeared highly competent and clearly thoughtful. From my relatively brief interactions with him, there’s a reasonable chance he would have been at home in Stanford EA if he was much younger. Eg, he talks about quantitative cause prioritization and had a short rant at one point about selection bias in business advice.
Low pay. I feel like there’s a large mission/salary tradeoff that the company makes because it knows it could hire enough True Believers. My intern pay was substantially below market, and this seemed true of the other interns I talked to, as well as full-timers I talked to in broadly “tech” roles. I don’t know if this has changed by 2019. Another caveat is that I didn’t ask about equity, and Impossible’s valuation ~quadrupled in the last 3 years, so it’s quite possible full-timers were actually well-compensated even if they didn’t perceive it that way at the time. A final caveat is that I’m comparing with other for-profit companies, and maybe a better point of comparison is (EA) nonprofits or academia, and my guess is that Impossible pays better.
Subpar conflict resolution. I was pretty shielded from the politics as an intern, but I hear more bad stories from others than I would expect from a company of its size (caveat: I have a very poor understanding of the actual base rate of bad conflicts at successful companies). Possibly because of the niceness? I feel like people leave on bad terms more than I would guess.
Technical mentorship. Because tech is not the main product, you’ll get less senior mentorship or guidance than a primarily tech company. (Obviously, the opposite is true if you’re a food scientist or biochemist).
Incrementalist work. Impossible always had a vision of being the eventual replacement of all animal-based products, however when I joined in 2016, it was very much at the tail end of experimentation and the beginning of being laser-focused on beef, which seems less intellectually and altruistically interesting. My impression is that this was much more true as of 2018, however they seemed to have developed pork and fish replacements recently? 
The company seems fairly high-prestige in the public eye. It’s extremely well-known for its size, and people are often excited to talk to me about the work there (in a way that I’ve never experienced before or since). This seems good for career capital, and well-being, however I want to caution against seeing this as a clear positive. It’s easy to fall into prestige traps, and people should introspect about this before they apply. (Also local prestige matters more than global prestige for most job pivots, so public opinion is a poor proxy for how much future employers care).
Environmentalism. People at Impossible are much more likely to be environmentalists than animal welfare people. Personally I find Deep Ecology views to be philosophically untenable, but obviously other EAs have different philosophical views. I write this so people can make an informed decision self-selecting in.
On balance, I don’t think I’m informed enough to judge whether working at Impossible is better than a typical reader’s alternatives. My gut instinct is that if you have other altruistic options that can make full use of your skillsets (clean meat seems especially exciting), then it’s more impactful to do more early-stage work than being at Impossible, but I’m very uncertain about this opinion and it’s confounded by a lot of details on the ground.
Additional Note 2019/7/20: Rereading this, I think people are usually biased against applying, and I think it’s still worthwhile for people who consider farmed animal welfare their top (or close to top) cause area to apply to Impossible.
I’m a big fan of this report and will probably recommend it to interested people as the best of the cost-effectiveness models I have seen on corporate welfare commitments.
I’m very glad for the”Ways this estimate could be misleading” section. I think its very important to make these wider considerations clear; they have not been so clear in previous cost-effectiveness estimates. I also like that you make it clear how you think that these considerations weigh up with the pluses and minuses system.
It’s great that this information on various uncertainties is included and yet you are still able to provide a useable estimate of cost-effectiveness (that excludes these indirect effects). I would probably lean towards making this result less prominent in the write-up, e.g. not including it in the title. I do think that, despite your clarity on the uncertainties, it is easy for readers to pick up and focus on the final estimate and then disregard the rest of the post.
What does it mean to be “pro-science”? In other words, what might a potential welfarist, maximizing, impartial, and non-normative movement that doesn’t meet this criterion look like?
I ask because I don’t have a clear picture of a definition that would be both informative and uncontroversial. For instance, the mainstream scientific community was largely dismissive of SIAI/MIRI for many years; would “proto-EAs” who supported them at that time be considered pro-science? I assume that excluding MIRI does indeed count as controversial, but then I don’t have a clear picture of what activities/causes being “pro-science” would exclude.
edit: Why was this downvoted?
I looked into a dozen or so interventions for preventing firestorm given nuclear war. I estimated that some of them could be cost effective only looking at saving lives of US citizens. However, I abandoned the project once I realized that some of the ideas were around in the Cold War, and they were still not implemented, so it was very unlikely we would implement them now.
If one side believes they are being attacked and launches weapons, there would not be a period of tension before the attack. Even if there is a period of tension like the Cuban missile crisis, I don’t believe that caused people to evacuate cities, though of course the attack could not have occurred as quickly as it could now.
I’m not sure if your proposed diet has the required essential oils. These tend to go rancid, though they might still be safe to eat.
(b), perhaps with a dash of (a) too
Very minor point—in the table in Appendix A, a value of “Likely small (3)” is shown, where I imagine that should be “Likely small (1)”. (This is for “The Us, France, and the UK all keep their nuclear weapons…”) I imagine fixing this would then also change the overall “score” from −1.5 to −0.5, because the multiplication for that row would change from −0.5 * 3 to −0.5 * 1.
Thanks for this series—it’s very interesting so far.
Whether a counterforce second strike by Russia would actually cause fewer deaths than a first strike is conditional on 1) the US striking first, 2) Russia choosing not to launch on warning, and 3) Russia being substantially under-prepared for a first strike. My best guess is that the probability of all three of these being the case is fairly low. If we naively assume that the probability that the US strikes first is 50%, the probability that Russia chooses not to launch on warning is also 50%, and that the US counterforce strike destroyed the ‘center value’ of the range for the number of nuclear weapons that might be destroyed (870), or 79% of the number of warheads I expect Russia would use against the US during a counterforce _first _strike (1,100), I would expect that about 5% fewer deaths would be caused by a Russian second strike than by a Russian first strike (0.50.50.21).
There’s a good chance I’m just misunderstanding this, but shouldn’t that be 19.75% fewer deaths in expectation? 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.79 (=0.1975), rather than 0.5 * 0.5 * 0.21 (=0.0525), because the number of weapons used (and thus the number of deaths, if we stick with your assumption of linearity) would go down by 79%, to 21%, rather than going down by 21%. (Again, it’s very possible I’m misunderstanding the maths here.)
Also, wouldn’t it actually be that a Russian counterforce strike in general (not a Russian counterforce second strike) would cause 19.75%* fewer deaths in expectation, given that the second strike may involve fewer nuclear weapons? Put another way, would it actually be that a Russian counterforce second strike would cause 39.5% (two times 19.75%) fewer deaths in expectation than a Russian counterforce first strike? I ask this because the first multiplication by 0.5, to represent a 50% chance of the US striking first, seems to account for you taking the half of the possible worlds in which Russia strikes second, and thus to not to be needed if you’re discussing a Russian second strike anyway. This seems relevant because, if both that and the above are the case, then in the model of the total number of deaths expected from both side’s weapons in an exchange should be adjusted to reduce the deaths from Russian weapons by 19.75%. (As opposed to just reducing it by 9.875%, which you’d do if the 19.75% represented the reduction in weapons used conditional on Russia striking second, rather than in general.)
Apologies if I haven’t explained that very clearly or I’m misunderstanding your reasoning.
*Or ~5%, if my calculations to get 19.75% are mistaken.
I don’t have any advice but just wanted to say that I think it’s really cool that you asked for advice here.
I keep thinking about this post.
How many EA would I like to see in the clergy? Not zero. I pretty much agree with the “portfolio approach” to careers—I think there are likely unexpected benefits of having EAs in a bunch of different careers, even ones that don’t jump out as having obviously EA applications, and it’s good to have some spread.
But who would I like to see in those not-obviously-EA careers? 8 years ago, nobody (including me) thought we needed social workers in EA. But I stayed with social work because it was basically the only thing I could imagine doing. It fit with so many of my interests and skills. Later it turned out that there was a useful way to apply those skills to EA. But if 8 years ago someone had said, “We should get some social workers in EA,” I wouldn’t have wanted random people saying, “Well, I don’t feel all that interested in social work, but if that’s the thing we need I guess I’ll do it.” I don’t think that would have been good either for them or for EA.
So my best guess as to which EAs should enter the clergy is the ones who can’t imagine doing anything else, or at least ones who feel pretty excited about it. If that’s not you, you shouldn’t try to force yourself into that mold.
Among the companies I’ve spoken with, technical positions seem to be a huge bottleneck, so I’d imagine those being the highest impact. In this industry, I’m considering technical positions to generally have titles like food scientist, research/process associate, bioprocess engineer, food technologist/developer, etc. This bottleneck seems especially intense among clean meat companies, so if you have a relevant background, I’d strongly encourage you to apply.
Beyond that, it’s hard for me to guess exactly which positions are highest impact.
I answer these questions and go over the methodology in detail in the video. A working paper will be coming soon, but for now all of the details are in the video.
In that case, it seems plausible that you (and your coworkers) will do more and better work if you’re not just ascetically grinding away for decades (and if they aren’t spending time around someone like that). Perhaps, a good next step is to shadow/intern with/talk to people currently doing these jobs to learn what they look like day to day?
I super agree with the title, but I think the text actually really undersells it! Runway not only increases your flexibility to not earn, but also reduces your stress and removes all sorts of psychologically difficult power dynamics that come with having a boss or otherwise being beholden to external factors for your well being (Yes, you may still have a boss or external factors, but now you won’t need their continued approval or success to pay bills, and that makes all the difference). Also, frugality enables you to really splurge without worrying when it really counts. Additionally, If you do not have any large and expensive possessions, tend to live in low cost apartments, and don’t have any dependents, you can move to whatever location it is most productive for you to be in with little to no overhead—whether that be across town or across the globe. Frugality in an urban context also forces close living situations (housemates) which can dramatically increase your social network. Further, you end up building scrappy skills and habits (e.g. negotiating apartments, meal planning, knowledge of public services, biking) which can really come in handy even when you’re not being frugal.
If you have the privilege to be in circumstances where you are able to make money without spending most of it, it’s good to take advantage of this if you can. Don’t feel bad about it if you can’t—it’s not always simple or possible for everyone. But if you feel like it would be pretty easy for you to be frugal and you’re choosing not to because you think spending a lot more makes you more productive, I strongly suggest reconsider.
Another point worth considering is that if you are sufficiently frugal, and if “productivity” is truly your goal here, you can “increase your productivity” by taking that money and hiring a second person to work on your project with you. Can all your time saving expenses increase your productivity more than a whole second person? (I’m sure there are some circumstances for which the answer is yes, but I imagine that is rare.)
What temperature change does this assume? How do excess deaths scale with different degrees of warming?