Along with my co-founder, Marcus A. Davis, I run Rethink Priorities. Previously, I was a professional data scientist.
Yes, I think all the things you mentioned are projects that are “within the scope” of RP (not that we would necessarily do them). We see our scope as being very broad so that we can always do the highest impact projects.
Yeah, our broader theory of change is mostly (but not entirely) based on improving the output of the EA movement, and having the EA movement push out from there.
Just want to say that Rethink Priorities is committed to being able to successfully integrate remote Australians and we’d be excited to have more APAC applicants in our future hiring rounds!
Hey EdoArad, it looks like you posted a lot of these questions twice and the questions have been answered elsewhere.Here are some answers to the questions I don’t think were posted twice:
These categories seem to have some overlapping but different research methodologies and needed skillsets in use. Say, work that more estimation based on gathering quantitative evidence, philosophical work that draws from academic moral philosophy or building world-models from pieces of qualitative evidence. Do you have a model for a categorization for different types of research?
We do not currently have a model for that.
How do you expect work on “Big considerations” to propagate? e.g, in the case of invertebrate sentience, did you have an explicit audience in mind and a resulting ToC?
In the case of invertebrate sentience, our audience would be the existing EA-aligned animal welfare movement and big funders, such as Open Philanthropy and the EA Animal Welfare Fund. I hope that if we can demonstrate the cause area is viable and tractable, we might be able to find new funding opportunities and start moving money to them. The EA Animal Welfare Fund has already started giving money to some invertebrate welfare projects this year and I think our research was a part of those decisions.
I’m not sure what other groups you have in mind, but I’ll answer this with regard to longtermism-oriented EA-affiliated research groups.
We’ve collaborated a lot with the Future of Humanity Institute and the Forethought Foundation and have even shared staff and research projects with them on occasion. We have also talked some with people at Global Priorities Institute and other organizations.
I’d guess right now the biggest bottleneck is just finding ways to get more researchers working on these most important questions. There’s a lot more talent out there than there are spots open. More funding would help, but we also need more management and mentorship capacity.
I’m optimistic that our internship program will be a help for this, but it is still funding constrained.
I’m not really sure what is included in the scope of “prioritization research”. One thing we definitely do not do and very likely will never do, and that I am glad others do is technical AI safety research.
Other than that, I think pretty much anything in longtermism could be fair game for Rethink Priorities at some point.
I think it would always be good to have more senior researchers, but they seem rather hard to find. Right now, my personal view is that the best way to build senior researchers is to hire and train mid-level or junior-level researchers. We hope to keep doing this with our past hires, existing hires, and our upcoming intern program.
If you’re interested in funding researcher talent development, I think funding our intern program is a very competitive opportunity.
This is not a satisfying answer but right now I think the longtermist effort with the highest expected value is spending time trying to figure out what longtermist efforts we should prioritize.
I also think we should spend a lot more resources on figuring out if and how much we can expect to reliably influence the long-term future, as this could have a lot of impact on our strategy (such as becoming less longtermist or more focused on broad longtermism or more focused on patient longtermism, etc.).
I don’t have a third thing yet, but both of these projects we are aiming to do within Rethink Priorities.
Hi Jonas,Since we last posted our longtermism budget, we’ve raised ~$89,500 restricted to longtermism for 2021 (with the largest being the grant recommendation from the Survival and Flourishing Fund). This means we will enter 2021 with ~$121K restricted to longtermism not yet spent. Overall, we’d like to raise an additional $403K-$414K for longtermist work by early 2021.For full transparency—note that, if necessary, we may also choose to use unrestricted funds on longtermism and that this is not factored into these numbers. We currently have ~$273K in unrestricted funds, though we will likely have non-longtermism things we will need to spend this money on.Given that we are currently just raising money to cover the salaries of our existing longtermist staff (including operations support) as well as start an longtermism intern program, we expect we will be able to deploy longtermist money quickly. We also have a large talent pool of longtermist researchers we likely could hire this year if we ended up with even more longtermism money.
What kind of research do you plan on doing to answer these questions?
I will be working on both of these projects with David Moss. Our plan is to run surveys of the general public that describe EA (or longtermism) and ask questions to gauge how people view the message. We’d then experimentally change the message to explore how different framings change support, with the idea that messages that engender more support on the survey are likely to be more successful overall. For EA messaging, we’d furthermore look at support broken down by different demographics to see if there are more inclusive messages out there. We did a similar project we did for animal welfare messaging on live shackle slaughter, which you can look at to get a sense of what we do. We also have a lot of unpublished animal welfare messaging work we’re eager to get out there as soon as we can.~
Did you consider other areas of EA movement building apart from messaging before choosing this one, and if so how did you narrow down your options?
As you know, we do run the EA Survey and Local Groups Survey. Right now, our main goal is to stay within analysis of EA movement building rather than work to directly build the movement like other groups (e.g., CEA, 80K, GWWC, TLYCS) already do. We see these messaging studies as a good next step. However, we have not systematically compared opportunities yet as we don’t have the staff or funding right now to do such a search.~
Do you see general EA messaging as part of your longtermist focus, or is this a separate category?
We see these as separate projects in separate cause areas, though there will definitely be a lot of cross-cause learning. Note that we also do this for farmed animal welfare as well and may also do so in wild animal welfare in the near future. It is a very useful thing to do for all sorts of causes!~
Either ways, how do you figure out how to allocate resources to this movement building-related efforts?
Right now we just have allocated funding from restricted funding and a portion of our unrestricted funding. We will also likely fundraise for this work specifically from interested donors.
I also think having a co-Executive Director is great. As Marcus said, we complement each other very well—Marcus is more meticulous and detail-oriented than me, whereas I tend to be more “visionary”. I definitely think we need both.We also share responsibilities and handle disagreements very well, and we have a trusted tie-breaking system. We’ve thought a few times about whether this merits splitting into CEO / COO or something similar and it hasn’t ever made as much sense as our current system.
Hi Neel,We’d obviously be very excited to take 10x our budget if you’re offering ;)
Right now, 10x our budget would be ~$14M, which would still be 8x smaller than large think tanks like the Brookings Institution. I think if we had 10x the budget, the main thing we would do is expand our research staff as rapidly as non-financial constraints (e.g., management, operations, and team culture) allow.
There are definitely many more areas of research we could be working in, both within our existing cause areas (currently farmed animal welfare, wild animal welfare, invertebrate welfare, longtermism, and EA movement building) and other cause areas we aren’t working in yet. We’d also need more operations staff and management to facilitate this.
As for specific research questions, I think we have a much clearer vision of what we would do with 2x the money than 10x the money. I personally (speaking for myself not the rest of the org) would love to see us hire staff to work more directly on farmed animal welfare policy and to investigate meat alternatives, do much more to understand EA community health and movement building, do more fundamental research (e.g., like our work on moral weight and investigating well-being metrics), and potentially investigate new charities that could be launched (similar to CE’s work). But that is just a wishlist and it would change as I talk to more people.
We’re already working a lot to prioritize what questions we want to tackle—our longtermist and wild animal departments, for example, just recently expanded beyond one person and we’re in the process of making new research agendas, so it is hard to recommend ideas in those areas right now.
One benefit of hiring more people, though, is we’d have more people to do the important work of figuring out what it is we should do!
Hi Arushi,I am very hopeful the internship program will let us identify, take on, and train many more staff than we could otherwise and then either hire them directly or be able to recommend them to other organizations.While I am wary of recommending unpaid labor (that’s why our internship is paid), I otherwise think one of the best ways for a would-be researcher to distinguish themselves is writing a thoughtful and engaging EA Forum post. I’ve seen a lot of great hires distinguish themselves like this.Other than open more researcher jobs and internships, I think other EA orgs could perhaps contribute by writing advice and guides about research processes or by offering more “behind the scenes” content on how different research is. done.Lastly, in my personal opinion, I think we should also do more to create an EA culture where people don’t feel like the only way they can contribute is as a researcher. I think the role gets a lot more glamor than it deserves and many people can contribute a lot from earning to give, working in academia, working in politics, working in a non-EA think tank, etc.
Thanks for writing the post I wanted to have written
What crucial considerations and/or key uncertainties do you think the EA LTF fund operates under?
What do you think has been the biggest mistake by the LTF fund (at least that you can say publicly)?
What are you not excited to fund?
What are you excited to fund?
You may be interested in “Will the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons affect nuclear deproliferation through legal channels?” by Luisa Rodriguez, then at Rethink Priorities.
Rethink Priorities recently hired a new researcher, Michael Aird, who will resume work on looking into this treaty.
I’m optimistic that we at Rethink Priorities will be able to convince you that we have a “clear path from research to real world output” if you give us a chance over the next few weeks