Discover more from Thing of Things
Link Post for August
Effective altruism, rationality, law, health, short stories, poetry, fun
Actionable: Charity Entrepreneurship is looking for founders to found the following charities: SMS reminders for children’s vaccine appointments; entertainment content that prevents violence against women; structured pedagogy for teachers in developing countries; fish welfare policy in Greece; lobbying farmed insect industry stakeholders; fundraising for animal advocacy.
A poll of social-movement experts finds that they believe that the use of nonviolent disruptive tactics is the single most important factor for a movement’s success. Nonviolent disruptive tactics are especially useful if the public is aware of the issue and sympathetic to the movement. The most serious internal threats to a movement’s success are infighting and lack of any clear objective.
Especially Good: this interview with a person who worked with George W. Bush on PEPFAR. It’s good partially because it’s informative about global-health policy and partially because it’s full of people being really, really good. Sample: “In the 2008 reauthorization, Mike Pence, who's a social conservative and a fiscal conservative, stood on the floor and said, “look at the stuff we vote on all the time. How many times are we able to vote for something, which we know, because the data are there, that we're saving millions of lives for a relatively small amount of money. We can find $15 billion somewhere else. Not here.””
GiveDirectly sent money to victims of a flood in Nigeria. What went well: seeking community input ahead of time. What went poorly: not paying people before the flood, not pre-enrolling enough people ahead of time.
Actionable: In the short term, GiveWell expects its funding to remain constant rather than increasing, because Open Philanthropy is directing money to other causes. GiveWell expects its research to produce more outstanding opportunities than it can fund.
An Argentine court declares a cougar to be a “subject of rights” who deserves as much freedom as humans do.
Experts agree that there is no “gold standard” for measuring how bad pain is in animals, but in general we should prioritize alleviating longer-duration less intense pains over shorter-duration more intense pains.
Australians overwhelmingly support animal-welfare protection laws, with the plurality of Australians believing animal suffering should be weighted evenly to human.
Farmed-animal welfare ballot initiatives are a cost-effective way to improve the lives of animals, with 99% of the benefits coming from the effects on caged hens. However, they are somewhat less cost-effective than corporate cage-free campaigns.
The Count Your Chickens Report grades companies on how well they’re achieving their goals of phasing out the use of the lowest-welfare chicken meat.
The ASPCA rates supermarkets on how farmed-animal-friendly they are.
Methane emissions from cows and other ruminants are a major cause of climate change. Switching to alternative proteins is key to preventing climate change.
Many animal advocates say that customers would switch to plant-based or cultivated meat if it were just as tasty, cheap, and convenient as animal meat. There’s no evidence for this claim. Most customers would continue to eat animal meat, even if plant-based or cultivated meat were taste-, price-, and convenience-competitive. People choose meat for psychological and social reasons, such as their beliefs that it is natural and socially normative.
People think beef is better than plant-based and cultivated meat on every axis—environmental impact, nutrition, appearance, taste, the wellbeing of farmers—other than animal welfare.
Wild animals are most likely to be admitted to wildlife rehab centers because of trauma, usually collisions with vehicles or windows or attacks by cats. Of course this way of measuring animal morbidity is very biased: for one thing, it only counts wild animal injuries and illnesses that humans notice and decide to do something about. But it’s still interesting data that suggests vehicles, windows, and cats may be major ways humans cause harm to wild animals.
A poll of leaders in the effective animal advocacy community found that they believe resources should be concentrated in Asia, on farmed fish and insects, and on targeting businesses and governments. The most commonly cited problems for effective animal advocacy are the poor evidence base and difficulty appealing to the people who could help the movement the most. The most-needed skillsets in the effective animal advocacy community are policymaking, expertise in the developing world, and priority-setting. Effective animal advocacy charities are almost all funding-constrained. (Make it rain, friends!)
A meetup was held about criticisms of effective animal altruism. Effective animal advocacy funders tend not to fund potentially effective but hard-to-measure projects. Funders can warp grantees’ programs towards what the funder wants them to do and away from their comparative advantage or what (with their better knowledge of their area) the grantee thinks is most effective. Effective animal advocates need to pay more attention to criticisms of alt proteins and of corporate campaigns, and to organizational health. Effective altruism is notably white and male, effective altruist materials tend to be English-only, and much effective altruist outreach targets wealthy privileged people (e.g. groups at top universities). New effective altruists and people who don’t identify as effective altruists often feel unwelcome at effective altruist events and meetups. Effective animal advocacy’s demanding culture and focus on maximum effectiveness tends to burn people out and fill them with doubt about whether they’re doing enough.
Actionable: The Long Term Future Fund and Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund are funding-constrained. Oliver Habryka made a very charming fundraising attempt: “I myself have a bunch of reservations about the LTFF and am unsure about its future trajectory, and so haven’t been fundraising publicly, and I am honestly unsure about the value of more than ~$2M, but my sense is that we have a bunch of grants in the pipeline right now that are blocked on lack of funding that I can evaluate pretty directly, and that those seem like quite solid funding opportunities to me.” Love it. We need more of this energy in the world.
Especially Good: Unlike most people who are skeptical about AGI being invented soon, Sarah Constantin has engaged deeply with the arguments against her position. She argues that current-generation AI models are nowhere near “agency”: the ability to change the physical world in pursuit of its goals. In particular, she believes current-generation AIs lack and will not develop causal modeling ability and the ability to pursue goals even if their model of the world is seriously wrong. I particularly appreciate that she’s clearly written down what she predicts AIs will and won’t be able to do, so we can see if she’s proven wrong.
People are most likely to think that AI risk reduction shouldn’t be a global priority because they think other issues, especially climate change, are more important. Other common objections are that AI isn’t a risk yet (although it might be in the future) and that AI wouldn’t cause extinction (even though it might cause other problems).
Computer-security culture emphasizes openness, curiosity, and breaking things to fix them. Biosecurity culture doesn’t. The difference is because “with biology there is no vendor, a specific fix can take years, a fully general fix may not be possible, and mitigation could be incredibly expensive.”
Ethical recruitment of volunteers for human challenge trials: pay them well, share results with volunteers, give them clear information about their health and the risks of the trial, trust individuals to make tradeoffs for themselves instead of being paternalistic.
Far-UVC has the potential to be the best technology we know of to mitigate a pandemic before we even know it is happening. However, far-UVC is a new field, and there are serious concerns about safety, especially eye safety and indoor air chemistry.
Filmmakers spent three times as much on Oppenheimer as philanthropists spend each year on nuclear war prevention. Nuclear security studies is underfunded and undiverse both epistemically and demographically. It pays little attention to key problems like AI, deterrence in the new US-Russia-China world order, and preventing escalation after the first bomb goes off.
Uyghur refugees from China face wait times of up to eight years to get work authorizations. Many were professionals in China who have been unable to contribute economically to the United States because of being ensnared in bureaucracy. They experience poverty, depression, insomnia, physical sickness, and survivor’s guilt—alongside their fear for their relatives that remain in China.
A preliminary examination of nighttime lighting in Tibet shows that the number of detention centers has been relatively stable over time. However, since 2019, there’s more activity in high-security detention centers, suggesting that the Chinese government may be detaining more Tibetan dissidents or for longer periods.
Especially Good: Friend of the Blog Keller Scholl has been telling me for years to read The Power of the Powerless, an essay by Vaclav Havel, who shepherded the Czech Republic towards democracy. He was right! It’s really good. Havel is eloquent about Communist totalitarianism as a self-perpetuating system: everyone punishes those who defy the system because they’re afraid of what would happen if someone punished them. Totalitarianism loses when a critical mass of people speak the truth as they see it, instead of the not-even-wrong lies of totalitarian ideology; people speak out when they have some truth they care about more than they care about not being punished. I’m only beginning to capture it though. Read it.
Effective Altruism Movement Issues
If no one has made a grant to a promising-sounding person or organization, there might be a reason. They might produce mediocre work, or have character issues, or be pursuing a line of interest a lot of people are already working on.
Saying something “looks bad” isn’t about public relations—it’s about the situation being one where the base rate of wrongdoing is very high.
Especially Good: Impact obsession is wanting to do the most good that you can do, even at a cost to the rest of your mental health. The whole article is good, but I really appreciated the reframe that you should want to be the least impactful effective altruist. The more people there are who are better than you, the more progress we can make on serious problems.
The Chicago-style seminar is an alternate way of giving a talk on an academic paper where instead of summarizing the paper everyone reads it in advance and then asks questions or pokes holes in the paper.
Copying the experts might not be a good strategy, because you will get things wrong that the experts wouldn’t and need to prepare for that.
Mainstream macroeconomics did the best of any economic school of thought at predicting the course of 2020s inflation. A point in favor of deferring to academic consensus?
Aella had intense anxiety that turned out to be caused by gas. In the wake of this experience, she began to distinguish “sky problems/solutions” (childhood trauma, distorted thoughts anything solvable by introspection) and “earth problems/solutions” (bad sleep, gluten intolerance, car breakdowns). She argues that many people in her circles misidentify earth problems as sky problems.
This is an interesting article about the itch impulse in humans (did you know that itch travels on different nerves than pain?) but I’m mostly linking it because it is awful/fascinating that [rot13 for body horror] n jbzna fpengpurq vagb ure bja fxhyy.
While “women and men need different doses of Ambien!” is a popular talking point for people who are worried that medicine isn’t paying enough attention to women’s unique needs, it isn’t actually true. Even though the FDA recommends that women take a smaller dose of Ambien than men, there’s no science behind it: when you control for weight, women and men have the same response to Ambien.
Feud law is the form of law that existed before the state, in which if you are wronged you threaten to harm the person who wronged you unless they compensate you. Different feud-law systems have different ways of resolving the problems with feud law, such as making sure that people only threaten each other when they were actually wronged, making sure people do threaten each other when they’re wronged, protecting the weak, and keeping feuds from going on forever.
Teenagers who carry guns usually do so because they’re afraid that people will hurt them. Being feared is a survival strategy. Gangs are also a survival tactic: they often provide support and resources to kids who otherwise have nothing.
The Houston Forensic Science Center is a center of reform in the diseased field of forensics. 5% of the analysts’ work is “blinds,” unmarked fake cases with a known answer, in order to test their accuracy. The analysts receive a reward whenever they correctly identify a blind as a blind. The center also has to work really hard to keep prosecutors from contacting the forensic analysts—up to and including calling people’s spouses on vacation.
Radley Balko’s proposed Republican debate questions. I said “ouch” to myself severa times.
Francesca Gino, a Harvard professor who lied about her data in a paper about honesty, is suing the people who uncovered the truth for defamation. It would sure be inconvenient for Francesca Gino if this got a lot of people to tell their friends that Francesca Gino is a liar who faked her data in a paper about honesty. Or if more people took the opportunity to read the very interesting blog posts which explain, in easy-to-follow and fascinating detail, that Francesca Gino is a liar and fraudster. Don’t let the censors win.
Chinese Doom Scroll
I’m sorry guys I just really love this blog.
OP’s boyfriend won’t eat anything—pigs feet, swamp eel, crayfish, frogs, pork intestine, spicy hotpot, or kebabs. Chinese women are very cynical about the reasons that they wear makeup. Chinese people think a normal person wouldn’t accept their partner, an actor, doing a nude scene. “Letting men take back their bride price once they divorce is basically just letting them fuck you for free.” Astonishing ableism.
Review of Joy Ride. Complaints include: the Chinese government cares more about drugs than that; Chinese people think it’s ungrateful to want to know your birth parents if your adoptive parents are perfectly good; no Chinese person has business meetings at nightclubs; TOO MUCH HAY; NOT ENOUGH SMOG.
The Chinese Communist Party. From 1949 to 1999, China went through about 800 years of technological progress. The article covers the Korean War, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution in a clear way without dwelling to excess on the atrocities.
The Yuan Dynasty was a hell of a stationary bandit: the Yuan ignored the needs of the peasants for infrastructure and famine relief in order to extract taxes to pay for wine and sex workers.
Short Stories and Poetry
Dex: The friend who recommended it to me described it as “ADHD horror” and I really can’t think of a better description.
Shiva, Open Your Eye: A lovely entry in the field of “what is it like to be the cultist of an eldritch horror?” The prose is luminous, each word precisely chosen.
Skin-Light: “My whole life I have obeyed it—its every hunting. I move beneath it as a jaguar moves, in the dark-liquid blading of shoulder.”
The Rules: “This poem does not take place at dawn or dusk or noon or the witching hour or the crescendoing moment of our own remarkable birth, it is 2:53 in this poem, a Tuesday, and everyone in it is still at work.”
Feeding The Worms: A poem about earthworms’ tastebuds being all over their bodies.
I Try To Sing It Along But I Get All Wrong: “God told me I had been almost right about the ponies, just looking at it backwards. Things, God told me, grow smaller.” Content note for discussion of atrocities.
The Wine-Dark Sea: Did everyone else know all along that Patrick O’Brian had written a poem about the sea?
From The Point of View of a Cat: “In his paws he carries a sharp black claw and he scratches with it on white sheets of paper. This is the only game he plays.”
Interview With A Falling Angel: “You should know— this human form I have: I’m only passing through on the way to lesser things.”
A Toast To The Alchemists: “Alchemists, you were right, it is possible.”
Especially Good: Unit of Measure: “All can be measured by the standard of the capybara.”
The Mind Mine: an RPG setting where an eldritch horror slumbers below the ground. Mortal miners carefully remove all the hatred and replace it with empathy and happiness before the horror awakes and kills us all.