Bob Jacobs

Organizer @ EA Ghent
1448 karmaJoined Gent, België
bobjacobs.substack.com

Bio

Participation
4

I'm a student of moral science at the university of Ghent, where I also started an EA group.         

If you're interested in philosophy and mechanism design, consider checking out my blog.                  

I also co-started Effectief Geven (Belgian effective giving org), am a volunteer researcher at SatisfIA (AI-safety org) and a volunteer writer at GAIA (Animal welfare org)

Despite my criticisms, I do rather like most of EA, except for whatever is going on in Silicon Valley.

How others can help me

If you offer me a job I'll probably drop out of university for it.

How I can help others

philosophical research, sociological research, graphic design, mechanism design, translation, literature reviews, forecasting (top 20 on metaculus).

Send me a request and I'll probably do it for free.

Sequences
7

Invertebrate Welfare
The Ethics Of Giving
Moral Economics
Consequentialist Cluelessness
The Meta Trap
AI Forecasting Infrastructure
High Time For Drug Policy Reform

Comments
118

Topic contributions
10

I made two visual guides that could be used to improve online discussions. These could be dropped into any conversation to (hopefully) make the discussion more productive.

The first is an update on Grahams hierarchy of disagreement


 

I improved the lay-out of the old image and added a top layer for steelmanning. You can find my reasoning here and a link to the pdf-file of the image here.

The second is a hierarchy of evidence:

I added a bottom layer for personal opinion. You can find the full image and pdf-file here.

Lastly I wanted to share the Toulmin method of argumentation, which is an excellent guide for a general pragmatic approach to arguments

Hi Melvin, wonderful work!

Similar to you, I also want to bring about systemic change for animals (see e.g. animal welfare is now enshrined in the Belgian constitution). One problem people like us face is that the EA framework doesn't really gel with it. My group couldn't get any funding from EA, even though we have a decades long track record with things like:

  • Legal prohibition of the sale of dogs and cats in public marketplaces.

  • The closure of several markets where animals suffered routine and abject abuse (due to hidden camera investigations)

  • The prohibition of hunting stray cats in Wallonia and Flanders.

  • The prohibition of keeping wild animals in circuses in Belgium.

  • The decision of all Belgian supermarkets to stop selling eggs from battery hens. Now 90% of all fresh eggs sold in our country come from animal friendly farms (ground system, free range or organic).

  • The European ban on trade in seal products.

  • The Flemish and Walloon ban on slaughter without stunning.
  • 
The ban on fur farming and force feeding in Flanders.

But the impact of changing the constitution is impossible to quantify. With things like medical interventions, we can run an RCT (which the EA framework loves), but the same cannot be done with constitutional changes since we don't have a control country. The problem with RCTs is that they are expensive and measure narrow, direct, continuous effects, while they're unpractical for broad, indirect, or discontinuous effects. Which means those RCT based interventions privilege the status-quo more. Systemic change advocates face an uphill battle in getting EA funding.

But it's more than that; the culture of EA is very anglo-sphere. It's human nature to prefer your ingroup so it's unsurprising that the big EA funders, mostly anglo-sphere entrepreneurs, prefer to give to other anglo-sphere entrepreneurs. The Silicon Valley approach of starting a firm gets you more EA money and attention than lobbying the government for slow systemic change, and it helps if you do it in the anglo-sphere. If you look at all the projects/people EA gives funding/attention to, you'll see that it's dominated by english-speaking/anglo-sphere projects/people to an absurd degree, like, much more than you would expect if you thought EA gave to maximum impact projects/people indiscriminately.
Take for example a look at: the persons on the EA people page, the people that appear on EA podcasts, the AI people/project funding landscape, the AI projects that get attention, the philosophers that get attention, longtermism people/projects in general, all the people EA made famous, the people who work at EA organizations, the EA survey showing that EAs disproportionately move to the UK/US, individual EA university chapters in the US/UK being so well funded that they can throw regular pizza parties while our entire country can't get a single community organizer despite being the center of EU-legislation, the EA forum having a tag for the US and UK but almost no other countries, the EA forum having a tag for UK policy and US policy but not for other countries... You get the point.

So to get funding, I highly recommend you first get someone who knows a lot of insiders in the EA anglo-sphere, and who can speak/present themselves as one of them.
Secondly, throw some numbers around. In academia, it's bad form to claim to be able to quantify unquantifiable things, but EA funders want numbers, even if they're made up.
Lastly, don't beat yourself up if you don't get funding, and don't assume you're not effective because the "effective altruists" funders don't consider you to be. Again, we didn't get any funding, and we did change the constitution, while just last week it came to light that EA funders did, e.g. give $100.000 to a video game that never got developed. Just because they call themselves effective doesn't mean they are effective. Like other humans, they're also very biased in favor of their in-group.

For those voting in the EU election and general elections in Belgium, here's an overview of the party positions when it comes to animal welfare:

(For more details, click this link)

✅ means more in favor    ❌ means more against

Federal election (Flanders):

policy proposal

PVDA

🔴

GROEN

❇️

VOORUIT

🔺

Open-VLD

🔵

CD&V

🔶

N-VA

🔆

VB

⬛️

VAT rate reduction on veterinary care and pet food
A ban on traditional fireworks

Federal election (Walloon):

policy proposal

PTB

🔴

ECOLO

❇️

PS

🔺

LE

🐬

Défi

🌸

MR

🔵

VAT rate reduction on veterinary care and pet food
A ban on traditional fireworks

Flanders election:

policy proposal

PVDA

🔴

GROEN

❇️

VOORUIT

🔺

Open-VLD

🔵

CD&V

🔶

N-VA

🔆

VB

⬛️

Better living conditions for broiler chickens in Flanders
A ban on live cooking and cutting lobsters in half
A phasing out plan of Boudewijn Seapark
A ban on the painful surgical castration of piglets
A ban on chick killing
Stricter legislation around the dog and cat trade
A duty of care for horses, dogs, cats and rabbits
The development of cultured meat in Flanders
Animal testing: for an animal-free strategy in Flanders
A Flemish ban on the sale of products that harm animal welfare
Animal welfare as a criterion in environmental permit procedure
A punishment of animal abuse through GAS fines 
total score11/1212/128/123/120/1211/127/12
Highest score      

Walloon election:

 

PTB

🔴

ECOLO

❇️

PS

🔺

LE

🐬

Défi

🌸

MR

🔵

Total score12/1311/138/1310/136/135/13
Highest score     

EU election (Flanders):

 

PVDA

🔴

GROEN

❇️

VOORUIT

🔺

Open-VLD

🔵

CD&V

🔶

N-VA

🔆

VB

⬛️

Total score9/1010/1010/108/100/1010/100/10
Highest score    

EU election (Walloon):

 

PTB

🔴

ECOLO

❇️

PS

🔺

LE

🐬

Défi

🌸

MR

🔵

Total score9/109/107/109/106/107/10
Highest score   

Brussels election:

 

PVDA

🔴

ECOLO

❇️

GROEN

❇️

PS

🔺

VOORUIT

🔺

LE

🐬

Défi

🌸

MR

🔵

O-VLD

🔵

CD&V

🔶

N-VA

🔆

VB

⬛️

Score5/65/66/64/66/65/65/64/63/60/66/65/6
Highest score         

Highest score Federal election (Flanders):  PVDA, GROEN, VB

Highest score Federal election (Walloon):   PTB, PS, MS

Highest score Flanders election:                   GROEN

Highest score Walloon election:                    PTB

Highest score EU election (Flanders):         GROEN, Vooruit, N-VA

Highest score EU election (Walloon):          PTB, Ecolo, LE

Highest score Brussels election:                  GROEN, Vooruit, N-VA

TLDR: Just like my post on the topic pointed out, the leftwing parties tend to be best for animal welfare, but the far-right can often be better than the center-right

*A million pounds if we round down, not to mention it could've been much more if it was invested.
The venue is not the biggest cost of those EAG events, since you also need to pay for things like travel grants, catering, equipment... This also doesn't establish that buying it is better than renting. Not that it matters, the only thing listed on the Wytham Abbey website is a grand total of eleven workshops.
Even if you don't want to give the money to animals or the developing world, and even if you don't want to invest the money to have more to give later, and even if you don't want to invest it into community building in poor countries but rather in rich countries, then this money still could've been spent better.

Inside Wytham Abbey, the £15 Million Castle Effective Altruism Must Sell [Bloomberg]

From the article:

Effective Ventures has since come to a settlement with the FTX estate and paid back the $26.8 million given to it by FTX Foundation. [...] It’s amid such turmoil that Wytham Abbey is being listed on the open market for £15 million [...]

Adjusted for inflation, the purchase price of the house two years ago now equals £16.2 million. [...] The listing comes as homes on the UK’s once-hot country market are taking longer to sell, forcing some owners to offer discounts.

I still think the intangible reputational damage is worse, but a loss of a million pounds (that could've been spent on malaria bed nets) would be nothing to sneeze at either.

(archive link)

But how is public ownership of firms compatible with ownership of firms being exchanged on markets?

Because governments can trade. E.g., if the governments of the Netherlands and Germany are looking to sell some firms they own, and the governments of Belgium and Luxembourg are giving competing offers to buy those firms, we have a market without the firms being privately owned.

Good post.

Economics is completely bankrupt as a science

His thesis still irritates me. Lukeprog claims philosophers are doing shoddy work, and he can e.g. solve meta-ethics all by himself. He starts writing his meta-ethics sequence and it has just the basic intro stuff, but nonetheless since he claimed he could solve it, it gets promoted to one of the few curated sequences on Less Wrong. And then he just...stops, he never gets even close to solving meta-ethics and it remains in the Less Wrong curated sequences. It's been 6 years since the last post Lukeprog, where is the solution to meta-ethics?

My early intellectual influences were rationalists or free-market leaning economists, such as Scott Alexander and Robin Hanson. When I take a sincere look at the evidence today and try my very hardest to discern what is actually true from false, I conclude they mostly are getting things right.

I think the difference with star-craft is that with altruistic interventions there is less of a blatant self interest to believe a certain thing, which means it's easier to shift over time. I started out also reading Scott Alexander etc (and still do) but over time also added academic texts and my beliefs shifted to the left, even though I don't have a strong self interested reason to believe in either of them. If academia was also split into equal factions like the star-craft community we would have to be more worried that interventions from each faction would cancel each other out (like your pro-charter city anti-charter city example), instead we see that academia mostly converges on leftwing ideas, even across different countries, different demographics and different generations. If everyone switches to one 'concession' intervention the smaller group (in this case the rightwing) benefits more.

Maybe instead we can match people up, so the large general group has an equal number of people donating to 'concession' interventions as there are in the non-general group, who all give to 'concession'. If there is a lot of convergence there is little concession, if academia is almost perfectly split there's almost only concessions.

The real problem is that people like you, me, and academics (researchers) are not really the people with the power to decide which interventions get money. That's mostly decided by non-researchers who spend their lives focussing on accruing political or economic capital, rather than knowledge about altruistic interventions. We can make cooperation mechanisms to match our donations all we want, but a random billionaire can just decide to donate billions of dollars, more money than we will ever see, to the museum next to his house. It may be wise to do this kind of monetary coordination at the federal level aka taxes and subsidies.

To minimize the chance of statistical noise or incorrect inference polluting our conclusions, we create experiments with randomly chosen intervention and control groups, so we are sure the intervention is causally connected to the outcome.

The problem with RCT's is that they are expensive and measure narrow, direct, continuous effects, while they're unpractical for broad, indirect, or discontinuous effects. Which means those interventions privilege the status-quo. I don't see why we should limit ourselves to only randomized controlled trials. Case-control studies are cheaper and can be done by individual researchers or small teams. The fact that they have less statistical power is irrelevant when we have literally zero studies about so many things. The same thing can be said for cohort studies. If we find an intervention with orders of magnitude more impact than others through a cohort study, I'm not going to wait for an RCT (If that would even happen because in practice not everything is measurable with RCTs) before I start donating.

How do you have capital markets without private capital?


If the capital is not privately owned (private property) but rather socially owned, for example public property (owned by a state entity), collective property (owned by a collective),  cooperative property (owned by a co-op), etc...

Hi Vasco,

Thanks for notifying me, it's probably because the EA forum switched editors (and maybe also compression algorithm) a while back. I remember struggling with adding images to the forum in the beginning, and now it's easy.

I looked at some old posts and it seems like those that used .png and .jpg still displayed them, so people don't need to check up on their old posts. I looked at older comments and both .jpg and .png still work from three years back. I also found an .png in a comment from five years back. Hopefully this helps the devs with debugging, and maybe people should check on their .jpg comments from four years ago or older (mine were jpegs). I reuploaded them and they were visible in another browser, so I think it should be good now.

removing important parts of one's body

I mean it's not an important body part, you can live perfectly well with only one kidney, which is why I'm giving it away. If by some cruel twist of fate I do end up needing another kidney, I'll be on the top of the recipient list thanks to my donation.

I think you might be influenced a lot by your feelings

Of course I am, empathy is a feeling after all. I don't see why this is a reason to not do it.

wait a few years after you have graduated and you have a comfortable, stable income

I will not do the procedure during the school year, and will take as long as I need to recover afterwards. I'd prefer to do it sooner rather than later, since earlier interventions are almost always better than later interventions due to the higher amount of knock on effects (e.g. if I convince someone to be vegan now it's better than years in the future, since I'm saving the animals in the intervening years). Also I study ethics, so a "comfortable stable income" is probably not happening anyways :)

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