Strong +1 for the kalzumeus blog post, that was very helpful for me.
In general, stocking programmes aim at supporting commercial fisheries.
I’m a little confused by this, since it seems hugely economically inefficient to go to all the effort of raising fish, only to release them and then recapture them. Am I missing something, or is this basically a make-work program for the fishing industry?
Note that your argument here is roughly Ben Pace’s position in this post which we co-wrote. I argued against Ben’s position in the post because I thought it was too extreme, but I agree with both of you that most EAs aren’t going far enough in that direction.
Excellent post, although I think about it using a slightly different framing. How vetting-constrained granters are depends a lot on how high their standards are. In the limit of arbitrarily high standards, all the vetting in the world might not be enough. In the limit of arbitrarily low standards, no vetting is required.
If we find that there’s not enough capability to vet, that suggests that either our standards are correct and we need more vetters, or that our standards are too high and we should lower them. I don’t have much inside information, so this is mostly based on my overall worldview, but I broadly think it’s more the latter: that standards are too high, and that worrying too much about protecting EA’s reputation makes it harder for us to innovate.
I think it would be very valuable to have more granters publicly explaining how they make tradeoffs between potential risks, clear benefits, and low-probability extreme successes; if these explanations exist and I’m just not aware of them, I’d appreciate pointers.
Another startup contacted at least 4 grantmaking organisations. Three of them deferred to the fourth.
One “easy fix” would simply be to encourage grantmakers to defer to each other less. Imagine that only one venture capital fund was allowed in Silicon Valley. I claim that’s one of the worst things you could do for entrepreneurship there.
I agree that all of the things you listed are great. But note that almost all of them look like “convince already-successful people of EA ideas” rather than “talented young EAs doing exceptional things”. For the purposes of this discussion, the main question isn’t when we get the first EA senator, but whether the advice we’re giving to young EAs will make them more likely to become senators or billion-dollar donors or other cool things. And yes, there’s a strong selection bias here because obviously if you’re young, you’ve had less time to do cool things. But I still think your argument weighs only weakly against Vishal’s advocacy of what I’m tempted to call the “Silicon Valley mindset”.
So the empirical question here is something like, if more EAs steer their careers based on a Silicon Valley mindset (as opposed to an EA mindset), will the movement overall be able to do more good? Personally I think that’s true for driven, high-conscientiousness generalists, e.g. the sort of people OpenPhil hires. For other people, I guess what I advocate in the post above is sort of a middle ground between Vishal’s “go for extreme growth” and the more standard EA advice to “go for the most important cause areas”.
Is this not explained by founder effects from Less Wrong?
One other thing that I just noticed: looking at the list of 80k’s 10 priority paths found here, the first 6 (and arguably also #8: China specialist) are all roles for which the majority of existing jobs are within an EA bubble. On one hand, this shows how well the EA community has done in creating important jobs, but it also highlights my concern about us steering people away from conventionally successful careers and engagement with non-EAs.
This just seems like an unusually bad joke (as he also clarifies later). I think the phenomenon you’re talking about is real (although I’m unsure as to the extent) but wouldn’t use this as evidence.
Hi Michelle, thanks for the thoughtful reply; I’ve responded below. Please don’t feel obliged to respond in detail to my specific points if that’s not a good use of your time; writing up a more general explanation of 80k’s position might be more useful?
You’re right that I’m positive about pretty broad capital building, but I’m not sure we disagree that much here. On a scale of breadth to narrowness of career capital, consulting is at one extreme because it’s so generalist, and the other extreme is working at EA organisations or directly on EA causes straight out of university. I’m arguing against the current skew towards the latter extreme, but I’m not arguing that the former extreme is ideal. I think something like working at a top think tank (your example above) is a great first career step. (As a side note, I mention consulting twice in my post, but both times just as an illustrative example. Since this seems to have been misleading, I’ll change one of those mentions to think tanks).
However, I do think that there are only a small number of jobs which are as good on so many axes as top think tanks, and it’s usually quite difficult to get them as a new grad. Most new grads therefore face harsher tradeoffs between generality and narrowness.
More importantly, in order to help others as much as we can, we really need to both work on the world’s most pressing problems and find what inputs are most needed in order to make progress on them. While this will describe a huge range of roles in a wide variety of areas, it will still be the minority of jobs.
I guess my core argument is that in the past, EA has overfit to the jobs we thought were important at the time, both because of explicit career advice and because of implicit social pressure. So how do we avoid doing so going forward? I argue that given the social pressure which pushes people towards wanting to have a few very specific careers, it’s better to have a community default which encourages people towards a broader range of jobs, for three reasons: to ameliorate the existing social bias, to allow a wider range of people to feel like they belong in EA, and to add a little bit of “epistemic modesty”-based deference towards existing non-EA career advice. I claim that if EA as a movement had been more epistemically modest about careers 5 years ago, we’d have a) more people with useful general career capital, b) more people in things which didn’t use to be priorities, but now are, like politics, c) fewer current grads who (mistakenly/unsuccessfully) prioritised their career search specifically towards EA orgs, and maybe d) more information about a broader range of careers from people pursuing those paths. There would also have been costs to adding this epistemic modesty, of course, and I don’t have a strong opinion on whether the costs outweight the benefits, but I do think it’s worth making a case for those benefits.
We’ve updated pretty substantially away from that in favour of taking a more directed approach to your career
Looking at this post on how you’ve changed your mind, I’m not strongly convinced by the reasons you cited. Summarised:
1. If you’re focused on our top problem areas, narrow career capital in those areas is usually more useful than flexible career capital.
Unless it turns out that there’s a better form of narrow career which it would be useful to be able to shift towards (e.g. shifts in EA ideas, or unexpected doors opening as you get more senior).
2. You can get good career capital in positions with high immediate impact
I’ve argued that immediate impact is usually a fairly unimportant metric which is outweighed by the impact later on in your career.
3. Discount rates on aligned-talent are quite high in some of the priority paths, and seem to have increased, making career capital less valuable.
I am personally not very convinced by this, but I appreciate that there’s a broad range of opinions and so it’s a reasonable concern.
It still seems to be the case that organisations like the Open Philanthropy Project and GiveWell are occasionally interested in hiring people 0-2 years out of university. And while there seem to be some people to whom working at EA organisations seems more appealing than it should, there are also many people for whom it seems less appealing or cognitively available than it should. For example, while the people on this forum are likely to be very inclined to apply for jobs at EA organisations, many of the people I talk to in coaching don’t know that much about various EA organisations and why they might be good places to work.
Re OpenPhil and GiveWell wanting to hire new grads: in general I don’t place much weight on evidence of the form “organisation x thinks their own work is unusually impactful and worth the counterfactual tradeoffs”.
I agree that you have a very difficult job in trying to convey key ideas to people who are are coming from totally different positions in terms of background knowledge and experience with EA. My advice is primarily aimed at people who are already committed EAs, and who are subject to the social dynamics I discuss above—hence why this is a “community” post. I think you do amazing work in introducing a wider audience to EA ideas, especially with nuance via the podcast as you mentioned.
I quite like this idea, and think that the unilateralist’s curse is less important than others make it out to be (I’ll elaborate on this in a forum post soon).
Just wanted to quickly mention https://lets-fund.org/ as a related project, in case you hadn’t already heard of it.
I also think there’s a lot of value to publishing a really good collection the first time around
The EA handbook already exists, so this could be the basis for the first sequence basically immediately. Also EA concepts.
More generally, I think I disagree with the broad framing you’re using, which feels like “we’re going to get the definitive collection of essays on each topic, which we endorse”. But even if CEA manages to put together a few such sequences, I predict that this will stagnate once people aren’t working on it as hard. By contrast, a more scalable type of sequence could be something like: ask Brian Tomasik, Paul Christiano, Scott Alexander, and other prolific writers, to assemble a reading list of the top 5-10 essays they’ve written relating to EA (as well as allowing community members to propose lists of essays related to a given theme). It seems quite likely that at least some of those points have been made better elsewhere, and also that many of them are controversial topics within EA, but people should be aware of this sort of thing, and right now there’s no good mechanism for that happening except vague word of mouth or spending lots of time scrolling through blogs.
It crucially doesn’t ensure that the rewarded content will continue to be read by newcomers 5 years after it was written… New EAs on the Forum are not reading the best EA content of the past 10 years, just the most recent content.
This sentence deserves a strong upvote all by itself, it is exactly the key issue. There is so much good stuff out there, I’ve read pretty widely on EA topics but continue to find excellent material that I’ve never seen before, scattered across a range of blogs. Gathering that together seems vital as the movement gets older and it gets harder and harder to actually find and read everything.
I can imagine this being an automatic process based on voting, but I have an intuition that it’s good for humans to be in the loop. One reason is that when humans make decisions, you can ask why, but when 50 people vote, it’s hard to interrogate that system as to the reason behind its decision, and improve its reasoning the next time.
I think that’s true when there are moderators who are able to spend a lot of time and effort thinking about what to curate, like you do for Less Wrong. But right now it seems like the EA forum staff are very time-constrained, and in addition are worried about endorsing things. So in addition to the value of decentralising the work involved, there’s an additional benefit of voting in that it’s easier for CEA to disclaim endorsement.
Given that, I don’t have a strong opinion about whether it’s better for community members to be able to propose and vote on sequences, or whether it’s better for CEA to take a strong stance that they’re going to curate sequences with interesting content without necessarily endorsing it, and ensure that there’s enough staff time available to do that. The former currently seems more plausible (although I have no inside knowledge about what CEA are planning).
The thing I would like not to happen is for the EA forum to remain a news site because CEA is too worried about endorsing the wrong things to put up the really good content that already exists, or sets such a high bar for doing so that in practice you get only a couple of sequences. EA is a question, not a set of fixed endorsed beliefs, and I think the ability to move fast and engage with a variety of material is the lifeblood of an intellectual community.
It’s very cool that you took the time to do so. I agree that preserving and showcasing great content is important in the long term, and am sad that this hasn’t come to anything yet. Of course the EA forum is still quite new, but my intuition is that collating a broadly acceptable set of sequences (which can always be revised later) is the sort of thing that would take only one or two intern-weeks.
Isn’t all the code required for curation already implemented for Less Wrong? I guess adding functionality is rarely easy, but in this case I would have assumed that it was more work to remove it than to keep it.
Agreed that subforums are a good idea, but the way they’re done on facebook seems particularly bad for creating common knowledge, because (as you point out) they’re so scattered. Also the advantage of people checking facebook more is countered, for me, by the disadvantage of facebook being a massive time sink, so that I don’t want to encourage myself or others to go on it when I don’t have to. So it would be ideal if the solution could be a modification or improvement to the EA forum—especially given that the code for curation already exists!
Thanks for the comment! I find your last point particularly interesting, because while I and many of my friends assume that the community part is very important, there’s an obvious selection effect which makes that assumption quite biased. I’ll need to think about that more.
I think I disagree slightly that there needs to be a “task Y”, it may be the case that some people will have an interest in EA but wont be able to contribute
Two problems with this. The first is that when people first encounter EA, they’re usually not willing to totally change careers, and so if they get the impression that they need to either make a big shift or there’s no space for them in EA, they may well never start engaging. The second is that we want to encourage people to feel able to take risky (but high expected value) decisions, or commit to EA careers. But if failure at those things means that their career is in a worse place AND there’s no clear place for them in the EA community (because they’re now unable to contribute in ways that other EAs care about) they will (understandably) be more risk-averse.
Ironically enough, I can’t find the launch announcement to verify this.
Toby Ord gives a good summary of a range of arguments against negative utilitarianism here.
Personally, I think that valuing positive experiences instrumentally is insufficient, given that the future has the potential to be fantastic.