3417 karmaJoined Dec 2018Working (6-15 years)


Strategy Fellow — cFactual

Principal — Good Structures

I previously co-founded and served as Executive Director at Wild Animal Initiative, and served as the COO of Rethink Priorities from 2020 to 2024.


Topic contributions

I didn't know the answer, so asked one of the authors. The short answer is that they are significantly harder to detect using visualization techniques and sequencing the genome is just a lot easier, and requires way fewer insects to do so.

The longer answer is that the way we'd "see" these ion channels in insects is basically creating a fluorescent dye with a molecule that binds to only the specific ion channel you were trying to measure (e.g. cold detection might be different from mechanical injury). Then, you'd take many cross sections of the insect's body, and hope that one of them intersected with the dyed molecule in the right position in the nociceptor. You'd have to come up with individual molecules that bind with each kind of nociceptor you were trying to detect, and not other ones. Also, there is a strong chance this doesn't work, so you'd have to do it on many different insects and hope that one produces a good result.

It sounds like for smaller insects, there are some other techniques that allow you to more directly look at these proteins, but mantid bodies are too large for them to work. And, even if looking at them directly, you're looking at them in a densely clustered surface with moving parts (animal tissue), and hundreds or thousands of other proteins, etc, so it wouldn't necessarily be easy to differentiate them.

But, sequencing and assembling a genome of an insect is fairly easy - you theoretically only need one individual (though in practice it might be more), and the rest of the process is fairly straightforward and reliable.

The paper wasn't trying to assess insect sentience, but was evaluating welfare considerations for crickets due to the potential risk of cricket sentience from a precautionary principle perspective. So it doesn't go into detail on cricket sentience, and primarily refers to this paper as a primer on why we might take insect pain as a potential reality.

For a more thorough background on insect sentience, I recommend Rethink Priorities Invertebrate Sentience series, and Moral Weight Project (though neither looked at crickets specifically).

Edited to remove my comment since it is off topic. I'm happy to talk about this though if people want to in other contexts! I definitely think this is a pretty important question, and looking into how fiscal sponsorship arrangements are working in reality is important, as I imagine there is high variance in how effective oversight mechanisms are (though I think RP has done this well).


(writing as the COO of Rethink Priorities).

Nonlinear is not, and has never been fiscally sponsored by Rethink Priorities. RP has never had a legal or financial connection to Nonlinear.

In the grant round you cite, it looks like the receiving charity is listed as Rethink Charity. RP was fiscally sponsored by RC until 2020, but is no longer legally connected to RC. RC is a separate legal entity with a separate board. RP and RC do not have a legal connection anymore, and have not since 2020.

Not Peter, but looking at the last ~20 roles I've hired for, I'd guess that during hiring, maybe 15 or so had an alternative candidate who seemed worth hiring (though perhaps did worse in some scoring system). These were all operations roles within an EA organization. For 2 more senior roles I hired for during that time, there appeared to be suitable alternatives. For other less senior roles there weren't (though I think the opposite generally tends to be more true).

I do thing one consideration here is we are talking about who looked best during hiring. That's different than who would be a better employee - we're assuming our hiring process does a good job of assessing people's fit / job performance, etc., and we know that the best predictors during hiring are only moderately correlated with later job performance, so it's plausible that often we think there is a big gap between two candidates, but they'd actually perform equally well (or that someone who seems like the best candidate isn't). Hiring is just a highly uncertain business, and predicting long-term job performance from like, 10 hours of sample work and interviews is pretty hard — I'm somewhat skeptical that looking at hiring data is even the right approach, because you'd also want to control for things like if those employees always meet performance expectations in the future, etc, and you never actually get counterfactual data on how good the person you didn't hire was. I'm certain that many EA organizations have hired someone who appeared to be better than the alternative by a wide margin, and easily cleared a hiring bar, but who later turned out to have major performance issues, even if the organization was doing a really good job evaluating people.

The main out of context bit is that Elizabeth's comment seemed to interpret Marcus as only referring to salary, when the full comment makes it very clear that it wasn't just about that, which seemed like a strong misreading to me, even if the 10x factor was incorrect.

I suspect the actual "theoretically maximally frugal core EA organization with the same number of staff" is something like 2x-3x cheaper than current costs, if salaries moved to the $50k-$70k range.

That doesn't seem quite right to me - Longview and EG don't strike me as being earning to give outreach, though they definitely bring funds into the community. And Founders Pledge is clearly only targeting very large donors. I guess maybe to be more specific, nothing like massive, multi-million dollar E2G outreach has been tried for mid-sized / every day earning to give, as you're definitely right that effort has gone into bringing in large donors.

I think that one thing I reflect on is how much money has been spent on EA community building over the last 5 years or so. I'm guessing it is several 10s of millions of dollars. My impression (which might not be totally right) is that little of that went to promoting earning to give. So it seems possible that in a different world, where a much larger fraction was used on E2G outreach, we could have seen a substantial increase. The GWWC numbers are hard to interpret, because I don't think anything like massive, multi-million dollar E2G outreach has been tried, at least as far as I know.

I think broadly, it would be healthy for any organization of RP's size to not have a single funder giving over 40% of their funding, and ideally less. I assume the realistic version of this that might be possible is something like an $10M org. having $4M from one funder, maybe a couple of $500k-$1M donors, a few more $20k-$500k donors, and a pretty wide base of <$20k donors. So in that world, I'm guessing an organization would want to be generating something like 15%-20% of it's revenue from these mid-size donors? So definitely still a huge lift.

But, I think one thing worth considering is that while ideally there might be tens of thousands of $20k donors in EA, doing the outreach to get tens of thousands of $20k donors, if successful, will probably also bring in hundreds of <$100k donors, and maybe some handful of <$1M donors. This might not meet the ideal situation I laid out above, but on the margin seems very good.

Yeah, I think there is an open question of whether or not this would cause a decline in the impact of what's funded, and this reason is one of the better cases why it would.

I think one potential middle-ground solution to this is having like, 5x as many EA Fund type vehicles, with more grant makers representing more perspectives / approaches, etc., and those funds funded by a more diverse donor base, so that you still have high quality vetting of opportunities, but also grantmaking bodies who are responsive to the community, and some level of donor diversity possible for organizations.

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