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I think it would be especially valuable to see to which degree they reflect the individual judgment of decision-makers.

The comment above hopefully helps address this.

I would also be interested in whether they take into account recent discussions/criticisms of model choices in longtermist math that strike me as especially important for the kind of advising 80.000 hours does (tldr: I take one crux of that article to be that longtermist benefits by individual action are often overstated, because the great benefits longtermism advertises require both reducing risk and keeping overall risk down long-term, which plausibly exceeds the scope of a career/life).

We did discuss this internally in slack (prompted by David's podcatst https://critiquesofea.podbean.com/e/astronomical-value-existential-risk-and-billionaires-with-david-thorstad/). My take was that the arguments don't mean that reducing existential risk isn't very valuable, even though they do imply it's likely not of 'astronomical' value. So e.g. it's not as if you can ignore all other considerations and treat "whether this will reduce existential risk" as a full substitute for whether something is a top priority. I agree with that.

We do generally agree that many questions in global priorities research remain open — that’s why we recommend some of our readers pursue careers in this area. We’re open to the possibility that new developments in this field could substantially change our views.

I think there would be considerable value in having the biggest career-advising organization (80k) be a non-partisan EA advising organization, whereas I currently take them to be strongly favoring longtermism in their advice. While I feel this explicit stance is a mistake, I feel like getting a better grasp on its motivation would help me understand why it was taken.

We're not trying to be 'partisan', for what it's worth. There might be a temptation to sometimes see longtermism and neartermism as different camps, but what we're trying to do is just figure out all things considered what we think is most pressing / promising and communicate that to readers. We tend to think that propensity to affect the long-run future is a key way in which an issue can be extremely pressing (which we explain in our longtermism article.)

?I think it would be valuable to include all the additional notes which are not on your website. As a minimum viable product, you may want to link to your comment.

Thanks for your feedback here!

Your previous quantitative framework was equivalent to a weighted-factor model (WFM) with the logarithms of importance, tractability and neglectedness as factors with the same weight, such the sum respects the logarithm of the cost-effectiveness. Have you considered trying a WFM with the factors that actually drive your views?

I feel unsure about whether we should be trying to do another WFM at some point. There are a lot of ways we can improve our advice, and I’m not sure this should be at the top of our list but perhaps if/when we have more research capacity. I'd also guess it would still have the problem of giving a misleading sense of precision, so it’s not clear how much of an improvement it would be. But it is certainly true that the ITN framework substantially drives our views.

I agree that it might be worthwhile to try to become the president of the US - but that wouldn't mean it's best for us to have an article on it, especially highly ranked. that takes real estate on our site, attention from readers, and time. This specific path is a sub-category of political careers, which we have several articles on. In the end, it is not possible for us to have profiles on every path that is potentially worthwhile for someone. My take is that it's better for us to prioritise options where the described endpoint is achievable for at least a healthy handful of readers.

No, we have lots of external advisors that aren't listed on our site. There are a few reasons we might not list people, including:

  • We might not want to be committed to asking for someone's advice for a long time or need to remove them at some point.

  • The person might be happy to help us and give input but not want to be featured on our site.

  • It's work to add people, and we often will reach out to someone in our network fairly quickly and informally, and it would feel like overkill / too much friction to get a bio, and get permission from them for it, on our site for them because we asked them a few questions.

  • Also, there are too many people we get takes from over the course of e.g. a few years to list in a way that would give context and not require substantial person-hours of upkeep. So instead we just list some representative advisors who give us input on key subject matters we work on and where they have notable expertise.

This is a good question -- we don't have a formal approach here, and I personally think that in general, it's quite a hard problem who to ask for advice.

A few things to say:

  • the ideal is often to have both.

  • the bottleneck on getting more people with domain expertise is more often us not having people in our network with sufficient expertise, that we know about and believe are highly credible, and who are willing to give us their time, rather than their values. People who share our values tend to be more excited to work with us.

  • it depends a lot on the subject matter we are asking about. e.g. if it's an article about how to become a great software engineer, we don't care so much about the person's values; we care about their software engineering credentials. If it's e.g. an article about how to balance doing good and doing what you love, we care a lot more about their values

Answer by ArdenlkDec 20, 202341

Hey Vasco —

Thanks for your interest and also for raising this with us before you posted so I could post this response quickly!

I think you are asking about the first of these, but I'm going to include a few notes on the 2nd and 3rd too as well just in case, as there's a way of hearing your question as about them. 

  1. What is the internal process by which these rankings are produced and where do you describe it? 
  2. What are problems and paths being ranked by? What does the ranking mean?
  3. Where is our reasoning for why we rank each problem or path the way we do? 

We've written some about these things on our site. We’re on the lookout for ways to improve our processes and how we communicate about them (e.g. I updated our research principles and process page this year and would be happy to add more info if it seemed important. If some of the additional notes below seem like they should be included that'd be helpful to hear.) 

Here's a summary of what we say now with some additional notes:

On (1):

Our "Research principles and process" page is the best place to look for an overview, but it doesn't describe everything. 

I'll quote a few relevant bits here:

> Though most of our articles have a primary author, they are always reviewed by other members of the team before publication.

> For major research, we send drafts to several external researchers and people with experience in the area for feedback.

> We seek to proactively gather feedback on our most central positions — in particular, our views on the most pressing global problems and the career paths that have the highest potential for impact, via regularly surveying domain experts and generalist advisors who share our values.

> For some important questions, we assign a point person to gather input from inside and outside 80,000 Hours and determine our institutional position. For example, we do this with our list of the world’s most pressing problems, our page on the top most promising career paths, and some controversial topics, like whether to work at an AI lab. Ultimately, there is no formula for how to combine this input, so we make judgement calls [...] Final editorial calls on what goes on the website lie with our website director. [me, Arden]

> Finally, many of our articles are authored by outside experts. We still always review the articles ourselves to try to spot errors and ensure we buy the arguments being made by the author, but we defer to the author on the research (though we may update the article substantively later to keep it current).

Here are some additional details that aren't on the page:

To reply to your specific question about aggregating people's personal rankings: no, we don't do any formal sort of 'voting' system like that. The problems and paths rankings are informed by the views of the staff at 80,000 Hours and external advisors via surveys where I elicit people's personal rankings, and lots of ongoing internal discussion, but I am the "point person" for ultimately deciding how to combine this information into a ranking. In practice, this means my views can be expected to have an outsized influence, but I put a lot of emphasis on takes from others and aim for the lists to be something 80,000 Hours as an organisation can stand behind. Another big factor is what the lists were before, which I tend to view as a prior to update from, and which were informed by the research we did in the past and the views of people like like Ben Todd, Howie Lempel, and Rob Wiblin.

Our process has evolved over the years, and, for example, the formal "point person" system described above is recent as of this year (though it was informally something a bit like that before). I expect it'll continue to change, and hopefully improve, especially as we grow the team (right now we have only 2 research staff).

Sometimes it's been a while since we've looked at a problem or path, and we decide to re-do the article on it. That might trigger a change in ranking if we discover something that changes our minds.

More often we adjust the rankings over time without necessarily first re-doing the articles, often in response to surveys of advisors and team members, feedback we get, or events in the world. This might then trigger looking more into something and adding or re-doing a relevant article. 

The rankings are not nearly as formal or quantitative as, e.g. the cost-effectiveness analyses that GiveWell performs of its top charities. Though previous versions of the site have included numerical weightings to something like the problem profiles list, we’ve moved away from that practice. We didn’t think the BOTECs and estimations that generated these kinds of numbers were actually driving our views, and the numbers they produced seemed like they suggested a misleading sense of precision. Ranking problems and career paths is messy and we aren't able to be precise. We discuss our level of certainty in e.g. the problem profiles FAQ and at the end of the reserach principles page and try to reflect it in the language on the problems and career path pages. 

As you noted, when we make a big change, like adding a new career path to the priority paths, we try to announce it in some prominent form, though we don't always end up thinking it's worth it. E.g. we sent a newsletter in April explaining why we now consider infosec to be a priority path. We made a similar announcement when we added AI hardware expertise to the priority paths. Our process for this isn't very systematic.

On (2): 

For problems: In EA shorthand, the ranking is via the ITN framework. We try to describe that in a more accessible / short way at the top of the page in the passage you quoted.

We also have an FAQ which talks a bit more about it.

For career paths it is slightly more complicated. A factor we weren't able to fit into the passage you quoted is: we also down-rank paths if they are super narrow/most people can't follow them (or don't write about them at all) – e.g. becoming a public intellectual (or to take an extreme example, becoming president of the US.)

On (3):

For the most part, we want the articles themselves to explain our reasoning – in each problem profile or career review, we say why we think it's as pressing / promising as we think it is. 

We also draw on surveys of 80k staff + external advisors to additionally help determine and adjust the ranking over time, as described above. We don't publish these surveys, but we describe the general type of person we tend to ask for input here.


Hi Nick —

Thanks for the thoughtful post! As you said, we’ve thought about these kinds of questions a lot at 80k. Striking the right balance of content on our site, and prioritising what kinds of content we should work on next, are really tricky tasks, and there’s certainly reasonable disagreement to be had about the trade-offs.

We’re not currently planning to focus on neartermist content for the website, but:

  • We just released a giant update to our career guide and re-centered it on our site. It is targeted at a broad audience, not just those interested in x-risk or similar causes, and it discusses many neartermist causes.
  • Our podcast often covers topics relevant to neartermist causes, including some episodes currently in the pipeline.
  • Our job board lists many roles in organisations that work on near-term cause areas.
  • Much of our website content is useful for readers whether or not they priorritise longtermist cause areas, and we're pretty dedicated to keeping it this way.

So I think we’re probably covering a lot (though not all) of the benefits we can get by being pretty “big tent” while also trying to (1) not to mislead people about the cause areas we think are most pressing (a reason you touch on above) and (2) focus our efforts where we they'll be as useful as possible. On the latter point: to be honest, much of this is ultimately about capacity constraints. For example, we think that we could do more to make our site helpful and appealing to mid-career people (it can be off-putting for them currently due to a vibe of treating the reader like a 'blank slate'), and my current guess is that our marginal resources would be better put there in the near future vs. doing more neartermist content.

Answer by ArdenlkSep 26, 202316

I think I've become substantially more hardworking!

I think I started from a middle-to-high baseline but I think I am now "pretty hard working" at least (I say as I write this at 8 am on a Tuesday, demonstrating viscerally my not-perfect work ethic).

the big thing for me was going from academic philosophy to working at 80k. Active ingredients in order of importance:

  1. Sense of importance of the work getting done and that if I don't do it, just less stuff I think is good will happen.
  2. Sense of competence and being valued.
  3. teammates to provide mix of accountability for and celebration of my getting stuff done.
  4. Having a manager vs. not
  5. Culture that values and celebrates hard work while also celebrating taking care of yourself and your mental health.
  6. Positive feedback cycle to my identity about being hardworking. when I started to succeed at working hard, started to feel like "I am a hardworking person" --> easier to work hard and feel psychological rewards for it.
  7. Systems and tools it made possible: e.g. for a long time I posted my to-do list each day in a public slack channel #daily-check-in, which enhanced (3) above.

Other things I can think of helping over the years:

  • Pomodoros with friends is huuuuuggge. doing them online is great. I have a few whatsapp groups with people for spontaneous poms, and we also do them at 80k. I hear focusmate is also great. sidenote that poms are also a good way to stay in touch with hardworking friends that live far away.
  • cold-turkying reddit in 2011.
  • spoiling myself vis a vis my working environment, which for me means not forcing myself to work in the office (or thinking back to student days, libraries), but rather wherever i most like to.

Copying from my comment above:

Update: we've now added some copy on this to our 'about us' page, the front page where we talk about 'list of the world' most pressing problems', our 'start here' page, and the introduction to our career guide.

That said, I basically agree we could make these views more obvious! E.g. we don't talk much on the front page of the site or in our 'start here' essay or much at the beginning of the career guide. I'm open to thinking we should.

Update: we added some copy on this to our 'about us' page, the front page where we talk about 'list of the world' most pressing problems', our 'start here' page, and the introduction to our career guide.

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