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Comment author: tjohnson314 26 March 2016 11:51:05PM 13 points [-]

It's probably too late to change this now, but I have a slight nitpick with some of the political questions.

Many of them use "No strong opinion" as the default between more and less. But I believe that leaves out those who have a strong opinion that the current level of, say, taxation is correct.

Comment author: Thrasymachus 02 August 2014 02:07:38AM 4 points [-]

There's also a related problem in that population substructures can give you multiple negatively correlated associations stacked beside each other in a positively correlated way (think of it like several diagonal lines going downwards to the right, parallel to each other), giving an 'ecological fallacy' when you switch between levels of analysis.

(A real-world case of this is religiosity and health. Internationally, countries which are less religious tend to be healthier, but often within first world countries, religion confers a survival benefit.)

Comment author: tjohnson314 09 June 2015 08:45:12PM 1 point [-]

Another example I've heard is SAT scores. At any given school, the math and verbal scores are negatively correlated, because schools tend to select people who have around the same total score. But overall, math and verbal scores are positively correlated.

Comment author: Fossegrimen 08 May 2015 07:28:23AM *  5 points [-]

Huh.

I did the same thing and came to the exact opposite conclusion and have been commuting by two-wheeler for 15 years now.

What swayed me was:

A huge proportion of the accidents involved really excessive speed.

A similarly huge proportion happened to untrained motorcyclists.

So: If I don't speed (much) and take the time to practice regularly on a track, preferably with an instructor, I have eliminated just about all the serious accidents. In actuality I have had zero accidents outside the track, and the "accidents" on the track has been to deliberately test the limits of myself and the bike. (and on a bike designed to take slides without permanent damage)

The cash savings are higher in Europe due to taxes on fuel and vehicles and the size of the bike is more appreciated in cities that are designed in the middle ages, so the upside is larger too, but it seems that we don't have anything like the same risk tolerance.

edit: also it is possible that motorcycling is a lot safer in Europe than the US? assuming you are from the US ofc.

Comment author: tjohnson314 14 May 2015 05:42:48PM 1 point [-]

I'm from California, where it's legal to split lanes. Most places don't allow that.

I could just decide not to, but the ability to skip traffic that way is probably the single largest benefit of having a motorcycle.

Comment author: tjohnson314 08 May 2015 12:04:43AM 7 points [-]

Here's one example of a change I've made recently, which I think qualifies as x-rationality. When I need to make a decision that depends on a particular piece of data, I now commit to a decision threshold before I look at the data. (I feel like I took this strategy from a LW article, but I don't remember where now.)

For example, I recently had to decide whether it would be worth the potential savings in time and money to commute by motorcycle instead of by car. I set a threshold for what I considered an appropriate level of risk beforehand, and then looked up the accident statistics. The actual risk turned out to be several times larger than that.

Had I looked at the data first, I would have been tempted to find an excuse to go with my gut anyway, which simply says that motorcycles are cool. (I'm a 23-year-old guy, after all.) A high percentage of motorcyclists experience a serious or even fatal accident, so there's a decent chance that x-rationality saved me from that.

In response to comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring
Comment author: Philip_W 02 January 2015 04:19:50PM 3 points [-]

I'll admit I don't really have data for this. But my intuitive guess is that ...

Have you made efforts to research it? Either by trawling papers or by doing experiments yourself?

students don't just need to be able to attend school; they need a personal relationship with a teacher who will inspire them.

Your objection had already been accounted for: $500 to SCI = around 150 people extra attend school for a year. I estimated the number of students that will have a relationship with their teacher as good as the average you provide at around 1:150.

But it seems like there's many things that matter in life that don't have a price tag.

That sounds deep, but is obviously false: would you condemn yourself to a year of torture so that you get one unit of the thing that allegedly doesn't have a price tag (for example a single minute of a conversation with a student where you feel a real connection)? Would you risk a one in a million chance to get punched on the arm in order to get the same unit? If the answer to these questions is [no] and [yes] respectively, as I would expect them to be, those are outer limits on the price range. Getting to the true value is just a matter of convergence.

Perhaps more to the point, though, those people you would help halfway across the world are just as real, and their lives just as filled with "things that don't have a price tag" as people in your environment. For $3000, one family is not torn apart by a death from malaria. For $3, one child more attends grade school regularly for a year because they are no longer ill from parasitic stomach infections. These are not price tags, these are trades you can actually make. Make the trades, and you set a lower limit. Refuse them, and the maximum price tag you put on a child's relationship with their teacher is set, period.

It does seem very much like you're guided by your warm fuzzies.

In response to comment by Philip_W on On Caring
Comment author: tjohnson314 05 January 2015 09:52:59PM 0 points [-]

Have you made efforts to research it?

This is based on my own experience, and on watching my friends progress through school. I believe that the majority of successful people find their life path because someone inspired them. I don't know where I could even look to find hard numbers on whether that's true or not, but I'd like to be that person for as many people as I can.

That sounds deep, but is obviously false... It does seem very much like you're guided by your warm fuzzies.

My emotional brain is still struggling to accept that, and I don't know why. I'll see if I can coax a coherent reason from it later. But my rational brain says that you're right and I was wrong. Thanks.

In response to comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring
Comment author: Philip_W 09 December 2014 01:49:28PM 0 points [-]

Empathy is a useful habit that can be trained, just as much as rationality can be.

Could you explain how? My empathy is pretty weak and could use some boosting.

In response to comment by Philip_W on On Caring
Comment author: tjohnson314 26 December 2014 06:46:56PM 0 points [-]

For me it works in two steps: 1) Notice something that someone would appreciate. 2) Do it for them.

As seems to often be the case with rationality techniques, the hard part is noticing. I'm a Christian, so I try to spend a few minutes praying for my friends each day. Besides the religious reasons, which may or may not matter to you, I believe it puts me in the right frame of mind to want to help others. A non-religious time of focused meditation might serve a similar purpose.

I've also worked on developing my listening skills. Friends frequently mention things that they like or dislike, and I make a special effort to remember them. I also occasionally write them down, although I try not to mention that too often. For most people, there's a stronger signaling effect if they think you just happened to remember what they liked.

In response to comment by tjohnson314 on On Caring
Comment author: Philip_W 09 December 2014 01:51:30PM 1 point [-]

(separated from the other comment, because they're basically independent threads).

I've concluded that my impact probably comes mostly from my everyday interactions with people around me, not from money that I send across the world.

This sounds unlikely. You say you're improving the education and mental health of on-the-order-of 100 students. Deworm the World and SCI improve attendance of schools by 25%, meaning you would have the same effect, as a first guess and to first order at least, by donating on-the-order-of $500/yr. And that's just one of the side-effects of ~600 people not feeling ill all the time. So if you primarily care about helping people live better lives, $50/yr to SCI ought to equal your stated current efforts.

However, that doesn't count flow-through effects. EA is rare enough that you might actually get a large portion of the credit of convincing someone to donate to a more effective charity, or even become an effective altruist: expected marginal utility isn't conserved across multiple agents (if you have five agents who can press a button, and all have to press their buttons to save one person's life, each of them has the full choice of saving or failing to save someone, assuming they expect the others to press the button too, so each of them has the expected marginal utility of saving a life). Since it's probably more likely that you convince someone else to donate more effective than that one of the dewormed people will be able to have a major impact because of their deworming, flow-through effects should be very strong for advocacy relative to direct donation.

To quantify: Americans give 1% of their incomes to poverty charities, so let's make that $0.5k/yr/student. Let's say that convincing one student to donate to SCI would get them to donate that much more effectively about 5 years sooner than otherwise (those willing would hopefully be roped in eventually regardless). Let's also say SCI is five times more effective than their current charities. That means you win $2k to SCI for every student you convince to alter their donation patterns.

You probably enjoy helping people directly (making you happy, which increases your productivity and credibility, and is also just nice), and helping them will earn you social credit which is more likely to convince them, so you could mostly keep doing what you're doing, just adding the advocacy bit in the best way you see fit. Suppose you manage to convince 2.5% of each class, that means you get around $5k/year to SCI, or about 100 times more impact than what you're doing now, just by doing the same AND advocating people to donate more effectively. That's six thousand sick people, more than a third of them children and teens, you would be curing extra every year.

Note: this is a rough first guess. Better numbers and the addition of ignored or forgotten factors may influence the results by more than one order of magnitude. If you decide to consider this advice, check the results thoroughly and look for things I missed. 80000hours has a few pages on advocacy, if you're interested.

In response to comment by Philip_W on On Caring
Comment author: tjohnson314 26 December 2014 06:27:28PM 0 points [-]

(Sorry, I didn't see this until now.)

I'll admit I don't really have data for this. But my intuitive guess is that students don't just need to be able to attend school; they need a personal relationship with a teacher who will inspire them. At least for me, that's a large part of why I'm in the field that I chose.

It's possible that I'm being misled by the warm fuzzy feelings I get from helping someone face-to-face, which I don't get from sending money halfway across the world. But it seems like there's many things that matter in life that don't have a price tag.

Comment author: tjohnson314 17 December 2014 01:02:59AM 11 points [-]

"You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1 against."

  • Ernest Rutherford
In response to On Caring
Comment author: tjohnson314 10 October 2014 11:12:30AM 5 points [-]

I'm sympathetic to the effective altruist movement, and when I do periodically donate, I try to do so as efficiently as possible. But I don't focus much effort on it. I've concluded that my impact probably comes mostly from my everyday interactions with people around me, not from money that I send across the world.

For example: - The best way for me to improve math and science education is to work on my own teaching ability. - The best way for me to improve the mental health of college students is to make time to support friends that struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts. - The best way for me to stop racism or sexism is to first learn to recognize and quash it in myself, and then to expose it when I encounter it around me.

Changing my own actions and attitudes is hard, but it's also the one area where I have the most control. And as I've worked on this for the past few years, I've managed to create a positive feedback loop by slowly increasing the size of my care-o-meter. Empathy is a useful habit that can be trained, just as much as rationality can be.

I realize that it's hard to get an accurate sense of the impact a donation can have for someone on the other side of the world. It's possible that I'm being led astray by my care-o-meter to focus on people near at hand. I do in principle care equally about people in other parts of the world, even if my care-o-meter hasn't figured that out yet. So if you'd like to prove to me that I can be more effective by focusing my efforts elsewhere, I'd be happy to listen. (I am a poor grad student, so donating large amounts of money isn't really feasible for me yet, although I do realize I still make far more than the world average.) For now, I'm doing the best that I can in the way that I know how.

To conclude, I wouldn't call myself an effective altruist, but I do count them as allies. And I wouldn't want to convert everyone to my perspective; as others have mentioned already, it's good to have a wide range of different approaches.