AG

Aaron Gertler

19075 karmaJoined San Diego, CA, USA

Bio

I ran the Forum for three years. I'm no longer an active moderator, but I still provide advice to the team in some cases.

I'm a Communications Officer at Open Philanthropy. Before that, I worked at CEA, on the Forum and other projects. I also started Yale's student EA group, and I spend a few hours a month advising a small, un-Googleable private foundation that makes EA-adjacent donations.

Outside of EA, I play Magic: the Gathering on a semi-professional level and donate half my winnings (more than $50k in 2020) to charity.

Before my first job in EA, I was a tutor, a freelance writer, a tech support agent, and a music journalist. I blog, and keep a public list of my donations, at aarongertler.net.

Sequences
9

Part 7: What Might We Be Missing?
Part 8: Putting it into Practice
Part 6: Emerging Technologies
Part 5: Existential Risk
Part 4: Longtermism
Part 3: Expanding Our Compassion
Part 2: Differences in Impact
Part 1: The Effectiveness Mindset
The Motivation Series

Comments
1883

Topic contributions
273

Again, I’m aware that concrete, impactful projects and people still exist within EA. But in the public sphere accessible to me, their influence and visibility are increasingly diminishing, while indirect high-impact approaches via highly speculative expected value calculations become more prominent and dominant.

This has probably been what many people experienced over the last few years, especially as the rest of the world also started getting into AI.

But I think it's possible to counteract by curating one's own "public sphere" instead.

For example, you could follow all of your favorite charities and altruistic projects on Twitter. This might be a good starting point. For inspiration, you could also check the follow lists of places like Open Phil (my employer; we follow a ton of our grantees) or CEA's "official EA" account. Throw in Dylan Matthews and Kelsey Piper while you're at it; Future Perfect publishes content across many cause areas. And finally, at the risk of sounding biased, I'll note that Alexander Berger has one of the best EA-flavored research feeds I know of.

If you mostly follow concrete, visibly impactful projects, Twitter will start throwing more of those your way. I assume you'll start seeing development economists and YIMBYs working on local policy — at least, that's what happened to me. And maybe some of those people have blogs you want to follow, or respond when you comment on their stuff, and suddenly you find yourself floating peacefully among a bunch of adjacent-to-EA communities focused on things that excite you.

 

The Forum also lets you filter by topic pretty aggressively, hiding or highlighting whatever tags you want. You just have to click "Customize feed" at the top of the homepage...

...and follow these instructions. (You might be familiar with this, but many Forum users aren't, so I figured I'd mention it.)

 

Of course, it's not essential for anyone to follow a bunch of "EA content" — your plan of donating to and supporting projects you like is a good one. But if you previously enjoyed reading the Forum, and find it annoying as of late, it may be possible to restore (or improve upon!) your earlier experience and end up with a lot of stuff to read.

I'd have benefited from that kind of nudge myself! I was aware of 80K for years but never even considered coaching.

From a consequentialist perspective, I think you're better off sticking to digital — it takes a lot of time to sell things online, and you could be using that time for some combination of work and fun that would leave everyone better off (unless you place a very high value on physical manga).

Low-confidence idea: It might help to find some small ritual/mantra that you can use when you donate (or invest, etc.) the money you would have spent on physical manga — something along the lines of "I'm making the right decision" or "this is better for everyone".

Thanks for sharing your views!

Have you written anything about your own take on the project, and how it compares to other donation options you were considering?

Open Philanthropy has published a summary of the conflict of interest of policy we use. (Adding it as another example despite the age of this thread, since I expect people may still reference the thread in the future to find examples of COI policies.)

I think of EA as a broad movement, similar to environmentalism — much smaller, of course, which leads to some natural centralization in terms of e.g. the number of big conferences, but still relatively spread-out and heterogenous in terms of what people think about and work on. 

Anything that spans GiveWell, MIRI, and Mercy for Animals already seems broad to me, and that's not accounting for hundreds of university/city meetups around the world (some of which have funding, some of which don't, and which I'm sure host people with a very wide range of views — if my time in such groups is any indication).

That's my way of saying that SMA seems at least EA-flavored, given the people behind it and many of the causes name-checked on the website. At a glance, it seems pretty low on the "measuring impact" scale, but you could say the same of many orgs that are EA-flavored. I'd be totally unsurprised to see people go through an SMA program and end up at EA Global, or to see an SMA alumnus create a charity that Open Phil eventually funds.

(There may be some other factor you're thinking of when you think of breadth — I could see arguments for both sides of the question!)

Hi Vasco,

Thanks for asking these questions.

I work on Open Phil's communications team. Regarding how Open Phil thinks about allocating between human and animal interventions, this comment from Emily (the one you linked in your own comment) is the best summary of our current thinking.

I'm glad to hear you liked the piece! Best of luck with everything.

When I started Yale's student EA group in 2014, we tried a bit of this (albeit with pharmacies, not grocery stores). IIRC, we got as far as a meeting with CVS's head of corporate social responsibility (CSR), plus a few other conversations.

The companies we spoke to were choosing large, well-known charities. This was partly because of their branding (easier to pick up positive associations from charities people have actually heard of), partly because big charities tend to have highly appealing missions (e.g. St. Jude's, which has used its "free care for children with cancer" pitch to become America's fourth-largest charity), and partly (I'd guess) because the charities were easy to work with thanks to their size and staff capacity. 

I also suspect, from these and other CSR-related interactions I've had, that changing a charity choice is hard once it's been made. The professionals I meet tend to form relationships with the charities and staffers they work with, and it's hard to tell someone you've fired them for a more effective charity (forgive the link, it was too easy a joke to make).

We don't currently have concrete plans for this, but it's something we might consider doing in the future; if we do, we'll post about it on the Forum.

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