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[LINK] How to calibrate your confidence intervals 2013-04-25T06:26:05.454Z
What are your questions about making a difference? 2012-08-12T23:14:51.247Z

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Comment by benjamin_todd on Why are Harvard's alumni so wealthy? · 2015-06-06T21:19:20.908Z · LW · GW

You need to add in the endowments of the colleges as well. The richest college at Cambridge (Trinity) has an endowment of about $1.5bn; whereas the richest college at Oxford has only about $300m.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Why are Harvard's alumni so wealthy? · 2015-06-06T21:17:20.791Z · LW · GW

What are the chances of being a billionaire or getting $30m plus if you go to Harvard rather than an elite uni?

And then what about HBS rather than Harvard?

Comment by benjamin_todd on Finance as a career option · 2014-02-13T12:19:29.942Z · LW · GW

Agree - Glassdoor is mainly designed to appeal to job seekers. The way they get their data is by only granting access if you reveal your salary. So the salary data ends up tilted towards the people who are seeking jobs.

There's also a sampling problem. Google has ~10,000 engineers, but there's probably only ~100 who earn $1mn+. Large companies normally only have a couple of responses, so even if you sampled everyone randomly, you'd only get ~1 top earner in the sample.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Finance as a career option · 2014-02-13T02:03:23.779Z · LW · GW

Hi Jonah,

Great posts.

I agree these figures show it's plausible that the value of donations in finance are significantly larger than the direct economic contribution of many jobs, though I see it as highly uncertain. When you're working in highly socially valuable sectors like research or some entrepreneurship, it seems to me that the two are roughly comparable, with big error bars.

However, I don't think this shows it's plausible that earning to give is likely to be the path towards doing the most good. There are many careers that seem to offer influence over budgets significantly larger than what you could expect to donate. For instance, the average budget per employee at DfiD is about $6mn per year, and you get similar figures at the World Bank, and many major foundations. It seems possible to move this money into something similarly effective or better than cash transfers. We've also just done an estimate of party politics showing that the expected budget influenced towards your preferred causes is 1-80mn if you're an Oxford graduate over a career, and that takes account of chances of success.

You'd expect there to be less competition to influence the budgets of foundations for the better than to earn money, so these figures make sense.

(And then there's all the meta things, like persuading people to do earning to give :) )

One point to note with Carl's 30x figure - that's only when comparing the short-run welfare impact of a GDP boost with a transfer to GiveDirectly. If you also care about the long-run effects, then it becomes much less clear.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Finance as a career option · 2014-02-13T00:50:45.529Z · LW · GW

Glassdoor rarely properly includes the top paid employees (those people don't fill out the survey). According to Goldman's own figures, mean compensation per employee (across all employees) is ~$400k. It'll be significantly higher if you're in front office. Your expected earnings from a Goldman job are roughly the mean earnings multiplied by the expected number of years you'll stay at the firm.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Donating to MIRI vs. FHI vs. CEA vs. CFAR · 2013-12-30T22:31:14.959Z · LW · GW

I think both research and advocacy (both to governments and among individuals) are highly important, and it's very unclear which is more important at the margin.

It's too simple to say basic research is more important, because advocacy could lead to hugely increased funding for basic research.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Donating to MIRI vs. FHI vs. CEA vs. CFAR · 2013-12-30T21:07:26.149Z · LW · GW

We've collated a list of all the approaches that seem to be on the table in the effective altruism community for improving the long-run future. There's some other options, including funding GiveWell and GCRI. This doc also explains a little more of the reasoning behind the approaches. If you like more detail on how 80k might help reduce the risk of extinction, drop me an email at ben@80000hours.org.

In general, I think the question of how best to improve the long-run future is highly uncertain, but has high value of information, so the most important activities are: (i) more prioritisation research (ii) building flexible capacity which can act on whatever turns out to be best in the future.

MIRI, FHI, GW, 80k, CEA, CFAR, GCRI all aim to further these causes, and are mutually supporting, so are particularly hard to disentangle. My guess is that if you buy the basic picture, the key issues will be things like 'which organisation has the most pressing room for more funding at the moment?' rather than questions about the value of the particular strategies.

Another option would be to fund research into which org can best use donations. There's a chance this could be commissioned through CEA, though we'll need to think of some ways to reduce bias!

Disclaimer: I'm the Executive Director of 80,000 Hours, which is part of CEA.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Donating to MIRI vs. FHI vs. CEA vs. CFAR · 2013-12-30T20:26:52.167Z · LW · GW

Note that Toby is a trustee of CEA and did most of his government consulting due to GWWC, not the FHI, so it's not clear that FHI wins out in terms of influence over government.

Moreover, if your concern is influence over government, CEA could still beat FHI (even if FHI is doing very high level advocacy) by acting as a multiplier on the FHI's efforts (and similar orgs): $1 donated to CEA could lead to more than $1 of financial or human capital delivered to the FHI or similar. I'm not claiming this is happening, but just pointing out that it's too simple to say FHI wins out just because they're doing some really good advocacy.

Disclaimer: I'm the Executive Director of 80,000 Hours, which is part of CEA.

Comment by benjamin_todd on A critique of effective altruism · 2013-12-05T14:59:46.694Z · LW · GW

Read the response to poor cause choice and inconsistent attitude toward rigor as "while some EAs might be donating without enough thought, lots of others are investing most of their resources in doing more research"

The monoculture problem is something we often think about how to fix at 80k. We haven't come up with great solutions yet though.

I also argued that the decline in the FB group is not obviously important. And if it's difficult to avoid, but many movements started by a small group of smart people nevertheless go on to achieve a lot, that's also evidence that it's not important.

Comment by benjamin_todd on A critique of effective altruism · 2013-12-03T20:00:55.609Z · LW · GW

Hi Ben,

Thanks for the post. I think this is an important discussion. Though I'm also sympathetic to Nick's comment that a significant amount of extra self-reflection is not the most important thing to EA's success.

I just wanted to flag that I think there are attempts to deal with some of these issues, and explain why I think some of these issues are not a problem.

Philosophical difficulties

Effective altruism was founded by philosophers, so I think there's enough effort going into this, including population ethics. (See Nick's comment)

Poor cause choices

There's a lot being done on this front:

  • GiveWell is running Labs, and Holden has said he expects to find better donation opportunities in the next few years outside of global health
  • CEA is an advocate of further cause prioritisation research, and is about to hire Owen Cotton-Barratt, to work full-time on it.
  • 80k is about to release a list of recommended causes, which will not have global health at the top.

Non-obviousness

I think the more useful framing of this problem is 'what's the competitive advantage that has let us come up with these ideas rather than anyone else?' I think more work on this question would be useful. This also deals with the efficient markets problem. If you don't have an answer to this question, I agree you should be worried.

I've thought about it in the context of 80k, and have some ideas (unfortunately I haven't had time to write about them publicly). I now think the bigger priority is just to try out 80k and see how well it works. More generally, we try to take our disagreements with elite common sense very seriously.

I don't think recency is a problem. It seems reasonable that EA could only develop after we had things like the internet, good quality trial data of different interventions, and Singer's pond argument (which required a certain level of global inequality and globalization), which are all relatively recent.

Inconsistent attitude toward rigor

I think this is mainly because people use the best analysis that's out there, and the best analysis for charity is currently much more in-depth than it is for these other issues. We're trying to make progress on the other issues at 80k and CEA.

Poor psychological understanding

My impression is that people at CEA have worried about these problems quite a bit. At 80k, we try to work on this problem by highlighting members who are really trying rather than rationalising what they want, which we hope will encourage good norms. We'll also consider calling people out, but it can be a delicate issue!

Monoculture

I'm worried about this, but it's difficult to change. All we can do is try to make an active effort to reach out to new groups.

Community problems

I don't see the decline in quality of the FB group as a problem. EA was started by some of the smartest, most well meaning people I have ever met. It's going to be almost impossible to avoid a decline in quality of discussion as the circle is widened.

I'll also push back against equating the community with the FB group. There are efforts by other EA groups to build better venues for the community e.g. the EA Summit by Leverage. We don't even need a good FB group so long as there are other ways for people to form projects (e.g. speak to 80k's careers coaches) and get good information (read GiveWell's research).

Comment by benjamin_todd on I am switching to biomedical engineering and am looking for feedback on my strategy and assumptions · 2013-11-27T14:33:11.150Z · LW · GW

Hi, I'd like to clarify that we prioritise people who are optimising around positive impact, not earning to give. If someone takes earning to give seriously, then we view that as a good indicator, but we speak to lots of people who aren't considering earning to give careers.

I started writing a response, but decided it would be better to summarise my general thoughts on degree choice and post them on our blog. So see our latest thoughts on how to pick a degree.

Insofar as this particular situation goes, I haven't thought about it much, so take this with a pinch of salt. My gut reaction is that CompSci is slightly more impressive than bio engineering, and if it helps you learn to program better, then the skills will be more generally useful. You also say that bio engineering is a major time sink, which I'd see as a count against it. So, my highly uncertain impression is that I'd prefer CompSci. On the other hand, if you'll find it easier and more motivating to study bio engineering and you'll get better grades, then I'd rate that pretty highly (especially if aiming to continue into research).

Comment by benjamin_todd on Introducing Effective Fundraising, a New EA Org · 2013-09-16T18:29:32.076Z · LW · GW

FYI: There has been a discussion on 80,000 Hours (started by me) about the value of this project and how to maximise it.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Should you work at 80,000 Hours? · 2013-08-11T21:44:40.099Z · LW · GW

Hey John, we discuss this quite a bit in the interview (esp 1st and 2nd questions). Happy to take further more specific questions here though.

Comment by benjamin_todd on The Rebuttal Repository · 2013-08-11T20:34:07.484Z · LW · GW

People might prefer this pair:

Peter Buffett and Zizek on why philanthropists do more harm than good and Will MacAskill's response on Qz.com

Comment by benjamin_todd on [LINK] How to calibrate your confidence intervals · 2013-05-01T05:38:30.037Z · LW · GW

Sorry Luke, I didn't want to bother you so didn't ask, but I should have guessed you would have found this :)

Comment by benjamin_todd on Responses to questions on donating to 80k, GWWC, EAA and LYCS · 2012-11-23T14:45:17.419Z · LW · GW

Hi Luke,

This is certainly really important for 80k - it's on our list of strategic considerations to investigate.

We haven't looked into it in depth already, beyond knowledge of some relevant psychology literature (e.g. being primed by images of money has been found to make people more selfish in a couple of (probably dodgy) studies).

We've put a couple of measures in place which seem like they might help to mitigate the types of drift that don't involve updating on new information. First, making a public commitment to make the world a better place in an effective way encourages people not to drift towards being non-altruistic (while is also sufficiently broad not to commit people to moral beliefs they might well want to change e.g. that animal suffering doesn't matter), because people want to be consistent. Second, participating in the 80k community could help to counteract destructive social pressure from workplace communities. It remains to see how well these measures work - we'll be keeping a close eye.

Ben

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-17T19:17:46.877Z · LW · GW

Givewell is effectively attempting to work out which charities most increase human welfare for dollar. So, a charity 'fails' if it becomes clearly less effective than the next best.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-17T02:43:23.136Z · LW · GW

Heh almost, but the argument only seems to apply to xrisk. I don't see much reason to think EA movement building is the most effective way to fight global poverty.

Comment by benjamin_todd on Let's be friendly to our allies · 2012-08-16T20:52:50.766Z · LW · GW

that sounds about right!

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:47:11.087Z · LW · GW

There must be some, and it we'd certainly like to investigate which areas of industry are the most harmful. But in general, it's pretty hard for a career to result in the deaths of 600 people, which is a lower bound for what you could do with $1m (you could also fund SI for 1-2 years...). The most common harmful careers seem to inflict economic damage, and since the average dollar is spent on stuff which produces much less welfare than malaria nets or catastrophic risk research, you have to do a lot of it to outweigh your donations, like maybe 1-2 orders of magnitude more. Of course, doing lots of harm with your career might still be ethically impermissible. There's also some tricky questions regarding the long term compounding benefits of economic growth.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:38:38.366Z · LW · GW

That's a fairly common and very interesting question. Carl's got some thoughts on it, which we'll hopefully get written up. It's closely linked to two big and controversial issues: how good is economic growth and how good is technological progress? It's a case of weighing your contribution to that against the extra donations you can make.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:36:09.451Z · LW · GW

Quite a few 80k members are interested in entrepreneurship. We'd definitely like to investigate these kinds of questions. But haven't found anyone yet.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:27:45.911Z · LW · GW

that's a good one. It's going on the list. We have an upcoming series about happiness and career choice. The first (and one of the upcoming posts) are partially relevant. Drethelin's suggesting a good general strategy. If spending's the problem, you could also consider giving up on altruism in that domain, and making a difference in some other way. This is an example of macrooptimisation

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:20:53.516Z · LW · GW

Good question. We tend to take our charity evaluation from Givewell (though we've started our evaluation in some areas). So, we wouldn't be able to easily answer this. I don't think we've ever come across a charity which openly states its terms of surrender. What I can say is that the charities that tend to get recommended have a very focused method (e.g. distributing malaria nets) with a measurable outcome (less malaria), so it's pretty obvious if their failing, and that would cause them to lose funding.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:12:08.402Z · LW · GW

It's not all about donating. What's different about us is that we really try to weigh up different career options in terms of how much difference they make. We understand 'making a difference' to mean 'making good stuff happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise.' So, we wouldn't just recommend working for a traditional NGO if someone was going to do that job equally well if you didn't take it. Or if it didn't seem to be particularly cost-effective. In carrying this out, we take an evidence-based approach, paying attention to heuristics and biases. We'd apply this to any career path. This is really different from normal careers guidance. More here. We're not, however, proposing new ways to end poverty. We're more about helping people choose within what's already out there.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-16T20:05:50.713Z · LW · GW

This seems to essentially be the question 'how can we best reduce xrisk?' We've got people ready to write about this in the fall, if not earlier. As a teaser, it seems like you can make a pretty good argument for EA movement building dominating most of the other approaches.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-15T20:41:19.353Z · LW · GW

(Just making this more visible.)

Don't read this until you've already thought about your questions!

But here's what we're already working on:

  1. Which people can have the most impact in research careers? When does working in research trump funding research?

    1. How should we factor our own happiness into career decisions? What leads to job satisfaction and how realistic is it to take jobs in industries we're not passionate about?

    2. Among the 'effective altruist' and xrisk organisations, which have the greatest need for more funding or skills of various sorts?

  2. What are the best funding and career opportunities within the cause of reducing animal suffering?

  3. Which biases and heuristics particularly affect altruistic career decisions? How can we make good career decisions?

  4. Now vs Later issues - should I invest in training in order to earn more in the future? should I give my money now or give it later?

  5. How many lives does someone typically save by becoming a doctor? How much can you earn as a doctor?

  6. What opportunities are there to increase the effectiveness of large budgets by becoming some kind of grant maker?

  7. What are the best careers tests out there? Which are based on evidence?

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-14T00:27:57.328Z · LW · GW

Apologies - I wasn't intending to hide the fact that I help to run 80k. If I were, hopefully I would have done a better job than using my real name. Point taken about it being a cross posting on the 80k blog, but I did think the content would be of special interest to LWers, and it hasn't been cross posted anywhere else.

Comment by benjamin_todd on What are your questions about making a difference? · 2012-08-14T00:16:10.730Z · LW · GW

This is the first post about 80k on LW by an 80k volunteer/staff member, and like Randaly says, the only two posts in the last 6 months to significantly feature 80k were about arguments for and against professional philanthropy.

Apologies for the 'collage of buzzwords' impression. I didn't include a detailed description of 80k and its purpose, like the THINK post, because I wasn't intending it to be an advert. Rather, I was intending it to be a survey. For this reason I also didn't include much detail about what our existing work is about, hoping not to bias people towards mentioning certain topics. That was obviously a bad idea.

For what it's worth. Here's the areas we're currently investigating. We'd be interested to hear which of these are of particular interest, and more interested to hear about similar types of question that you think are really important.

  1. Which people can have the most impact in research careers? When does working in research trump funding research?

  2. How should we factor our own happiness into career decisions? What leads to job satisfaction and how realistic is it to take jobs in industries we're not passionate about?

  3. Among the 'effective altruist' and xrisk organisations, which have the greatest need for more funding or skills of various sorts?

  4. What are the best funding and career opportunities within the cause of reducing animal suffering?

  5. Which biases and heuristics particularly affect altruistic career decisions? How can we make good career decisions?

  6. Now vs Later issues - should I invest in training in order to earn more in the future? should I give my money now or give it later?

  7. How many lives does someone typically save by becoming a doctor? How much can you earn as a doctor?

  8. What opportunities are there to increase the effectiveness of large budgets by becoming some kind of grant maker?

  9. What are the best careers tests out there? Which are based on good evidence?

Comment by benjamin_todd on [Link]: 80,000 hours blog · 2012-02-27T10:38:24.107Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the write up Larks. We're currently looking for people to get involved with writing and researching similar articles. If you might be interested, email me: ben@80000hours.org