Charity/Effective Altruism

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Josh Hurst
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Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Josh Hurst » Sat Aug 15, 2015 7:32 am

Hi Folks,

I'm not sure if there have been many discussions of charity on this forum before, or if the concept of Effective Altruism has ever been raised. I've been largely inactive over the last few years on here, but figured that since the topic of Effective Altruism is fairly important to me, and that a lot of you guys think in a similar way, then maybe it would be worth raising the subject here.

I'd like to generate a bit of discussion around the ideas of; charitable giving, effective altruism, choosing your career from a "most good" perspective, etc.

So, to start with maybe some of you wouldn't mind answering some of the following questions; who has come across the concept of Effective Altruism before? Does anybody here consider themselves to be an Effective Altruist? If so, how have you tried to communicate this concept to a wider audience? What other forms of charity are people on here involved with? Is anyone familiar with the works of Peter Singer? If so - what are your thoughts?

As many of you are friends with me on Facebook, you may have noticed me sharing posts related to this general theme over the last year or so. If you have - could you give me some feedback as to; whether you have seen these posts, whether you've seen them and followed up on them, if they've worked, or if they just make me look like a self-righteous DICK!? :)

For those of you who do not know anything about this I have included an edited version of an email which I recently sent to a high profile person in the media in an effort to "indoctrinating" them in to the EA way of thinking:

"Which is better – to restore vision to 600 people who suffer with curable blindness but cannot afford surgery (via Seva Foundation), or to train one guide dog for an American citizen to help them get through day to day? Both of these cost an estimated $30,000 dollars. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the former is obviously the most effective use of resources. Your eyes have been opened to the concept of “Effective Altruism”…

EA in essence is charitable giving in a way that is proven to be the best at alleviating the most suffering. Sounds good, right? If your purpose is to do good – then why not do good the best way you can?... and it’s not even that hard – it is surprisingly easy…
The principles behind Effective Altruism are simple, as laid out in the “EA” handbook:
1. Be open to all the possible ways to do good and pursuing the path with the biggest positive impact;
2. Using evidence to figure out how to do the most good; and
3. Choosing to make altruism a significant part of one’s life.
All that one has to do to start being effective at solving some of the World’s most basic and urgent problems is look up which charities to donate to via Givewell (http://www.givewell.org) and decide an amount to give, a starting point for which can be advised via going to The Life You Can Save and finding out more (http://www.thelifeyoucansave.org). You can also see how much your donations can do by using the impact calculator (which is what I did for the above example): http://www.thelifeyoucansave.org/Impact-Calculator
The philosopher Peter Singer is a great place to start on this topic if you don't know much about it already (he started The Life You Can Save and basically founded the animal liberation movement). The video in the following link is a TED talk given by Peter Singer on the subject and why it is our duty to make a difference to people who need our help. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Diuv3XZQXyc
If a young student working part time at KFC who I met recently can do this, then people with full time jobs and a heart should be no different. "

I look forward to reading your responses :) If you have any questions then I'll be happy to try and answer them or follow up as best as I can.

Cheers

Josh

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Josh Hurst » Sat Aug 15, 2015 7:38 am

For those who are interested, some of my favourite charities (most of these are recommended by GiveWell) are: The Fred Hollows Foundation, Against Malaria, Evidence Action, Give Directly, and The Hunger Project.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Ryan Taylor » Sat Aug 15, 2015 9:46 am

I've only heard of EA from you. I make a monthly donation to Shelter and, as a result of losing my dad this year to a brain tumour, I now try and raise money for Brain Tumour Research where possible.

But yes, I do sometimes wonder just how effective these charities are at actually getting results and making the most of donations. Like, I get texts quite frequently from Shelter telling me about a recent case where Shelter has helped (could be fictitious?) but it doesn't have any impact on me in terms of wanting to help more - if anything, it's more of a nuisance receiving texts from them and would imagine this is the case for most people. And surely they are paying money for this text service each time? And similarly with Brain Tumour Research - I have started helping that charity because of personal matters but is it the most effective Brain Tumour charity of it's kind? I don't know. It seems the most popular.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jennifer Steadman » Sun Aug 16, 2015 1:20 pm

I'd consider myself an effective altruist in theory if not in practice. I'm studying instead of working at the moment and don't have the disposable income to regularly donate, and when I do specifically donate, it tends to be to support friends' fundraising attempts or get something I want (entry to a quiz night, a CD from a charity shop) rather than to specifically further the cause I'm donating to.

But I wonder why people don't analyse the effectiveness of charities more often. There's been a recent downturn in public trust in charities in the wake of various charity scandals, and people are regularly happy to bemoan overhead costs - senior executives getting huge salaries isn't really on, but paying people to work for the charity isn't a bad thing (this is a reeeeally long article but there's some good stuff about why obsessing about overheads is futile) - but there's rarely discussion about which charities to prioritise. Of course there'll be personal factors affecting decisions, as with Ryan's example, but it's never really questioned that RAISING MONEY FOR CANCER/ANIMAL RIGHTS = VERY IMPORTANT.

People will always have their own priorities, but the amount of money donated to cancer research groups is uncomfortable - it's obviously a noble cause, but equally a speculative one that requires millions of pounds be spent in the pursuit of a cure or prevention that may not even exist. Of course it would save lives if these things were found, but should it be people's #1 priority? Surely measures that already exist to save or improve significantly more lives should be at the top of the priority list, and once those issues have been dealt with, we come back to cancer prevention/cures later? (Personally I'd really like to raise money for land mine removal programmes - saves lives, prevents injuries, makes previously unusable land available again for agriculture, housing, businesses etc and has potential to improve economic development in the 80 countries affected by them.)

Additionally, from a completely utilitarian perspective, we already have an ageing population. Is funding charities that tackle diseases disproportionately affecting the elderly, thereby increasing longevity, really the best idea? It's not at all rational, least of all economically (pensions cost 42% of the welfare bill, £104 billion per year, while the average cost of NHS services for retired households is almost double that of non-retired households). Completely heartless, but not sure you can argue with it.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Josh Hurst » Mon Aug 17, 2015 6:26 am

I'm very sorry to hear about your Father, Ryan.

With regards to what Shelter are doing with the texts, there have been many studies conducted on donation related behaviour. They generally find that to appeal to people's "Affective System" of decision making, rather than the "Deliberative System" will result in more donation (i.e. when presented with an "Identifiable Victim" or general information, those presented with the former tend to be more generous). I'd say that this is what they are trying to do, and is why charities will send all of that literature out about the work they have done - as it may get you to increase your recurring donation, or at the least be less likely to cancel it. (Although it seems that they can't pull the wool over your eyes, maybe you should put that Deliberative System to use :P )

For example, in one such study a group of people was told that a single child needed lifesaving medical treatment at a cost of $300,000. A second group was told that eight children would die unless they were given treatment that could be provided for all of them at a total cost of $300,000. Those who were told about the single child gave more, which is bizarre when you think about it. An individual in need tugs at our emotions - which is our Affective System at work. It takes over even though we may know our Deliberative System to be right. Even Mother Theresa said, "If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." That kinda goes back to my opening bit about helping all those people who seem intangible to get sight-restoring surgery vs helping blind little Jimmy (aww, bless him, poor little Jimmy) to get a guide dog... However, the mass is made up of Jimmy's!!!

Anyway, the main point of the above is, if you are wondering about the effectiveness of those particular charities, you might be better off changing your approach by giving to a GiveWell recommended charity - that way the nagging doubts will go away (but the homeless man sleeping on your doorstep won't...). That way you can be sure that you are getting a genuine return on investment in terms of deaths prevented... which must be the ultimate aim, right?

Jen - that's cool. I'm guessing that when you have the disposable income you will start to donate? I started off much in the same way to you, and I think your good habits will continue when you get to the point of having disposable income to make regular effective donations, and so they should :) I like your idea about land mine removal. The essay is fairly long but reveals some interesting information... and does leave you with a slight sense of futility.

As Peter Singer details in "The Life You Can Save", a sense of futility can be very influential in people's decisions on charitable giving... so we should try and look at the positives, where they exist :) The example he uses is a study where people were told that several thousand refugees were at risk in a Rwandan camp. The people were asked how willing they were to send aid that would save the lives of 1,500 of them. In asking the question, the researchers varied the total number of people they said were at risk, but kept the number that the aid would save at 1,500. People turned out to be more willing to send aid that saved 1,500 out of 3,000 people at risk than they were to send aid that saved 1,500 out of 10,000 at risk. In general, the smaller the proportion of people at risk who can be saved, the less willing people are to send aid. We seem to respond as if anything that leaves most of the people in the camp is futile - although of course for the 1,500 who will be saved by the aid, and for their families and friends, the rescue is anything but futile, irrespective of the total number in the camp. The conclusion of that study by co-author Paul Slovic was that "the proportion of lives saved often carries more weight than the number of lives saved". The implication is that people will give more support for saving 80% of 100 lives at risk than for saving 20% of 1000 lives at risk (i.e. saving 80 lives over 200 is preferable...), when the cost of saving each group may be the same.

Regarding cancer charities, one funny/tragic thing is that I know a cancer researcher (like, a proper scientist!) who is also an Effective Altruist. She feels that she's somewhat wasting her time (and everyone's money) with her current career direction :/ And yes - with the GiveWell charities I will change my donations when they change their recommended charities, which is pretty much what you alluded to.

On your last point, I don't know a lot about that - it seems like the kind of thing where you could easily say something that's ethically dubious, so I might leave it for someone else to answer :P

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Mon Aug 17, 2015 10:07 am

Jennifer Steadman wrote:Additionally, from a completely utilitarian perspective, we already have an ageing population. Is funding charities that tackle diseases disproportionately affecting the elderly, thereby increasing longevity, really the best idea? It's not at all rational, least of all economically (pensions cost 42% of the welfare bill, £104 billion per year, while the average cost of NHS services for retired households is almost double that of non-retired households). Completely heartless, but not sure you can argue with it.
I'm not sure this makes sense. You skip from utilitarian to economic without missing a beat. We have an ageing population, so that means lots of old people, so from a utilitarian point of view, we should take care of these people. Economics is a separate matter!

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jennifer Steadman » Mon Aug 17, 2015 11:06 am

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Jennifer Steadman wrote:Additionally, from a completely utilitarian perspective, we already have an ageing population. Is funding charities that tackle diseases disproportionately affecting the elderly, thereby increasing longevity, really the best idea? It's not at all rational, least of all economically (pensions cost 42% of the welfare bill, £104 billion per year, while the average cost of NHS services for retired households is almost double that of non-retired households). Completely heartless, but not sure you can argue with it.
I'm not sure this makes sense. You skip from utilitarian to economic without missing a beat. We have an ageing population, so that means lots of old people, so from a utilitarian point of view, we should take care of these people. Economics is a separate matter!
I was working on the first definition of utilitarian rather than the second. Why would economics have to be kept separate from the idea of actions benefiting a majority?
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Mon Aug 17, 2015 11:12 am

Jennifer Steadman wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Jennifer Steadman wrote:Additionally, from a completely utilitarian perspective, we already have an ageing population. Is funding charities that tackle diseases disproportionately affecting the elderly, thereby increasing longevity, really the best idea? It's not at all rational, least of all economically (pensions cost 42% of the welfare bill, £104 billion per year, while the average cost of NHS services for retired households is almost double that of non-retired households). Completely heartless, but not sure you can argue with it.
I'm not sure this makes sense. You skip from utilitarian to economic without missing a beat. We have an ageing population, so that means lots of old people, so from a utilitarian point of view, we should take care of these people. Economics is a separate matter!
I was working on the first definition of utilitarian rather than the second. Why would economics have to be kept separate from the idea of actions benefiting a majority?
Well, I suppose there might be some connection, but they're still separate concepts, and anyway since the elderly form quite a high proportion of society, they surely must get a reasonable share of the "goodwill". It's also not just for their benefit - younger people will surely feel more secure in their lives knowing that they will be helped out in their old age if they need it.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jennifer Steadman » Mon Aug 17, 2015 11:25 am

Josh Hurst wrote:Jen - that's cool. I'm guessing that when you have the disposable income you will start to donate? I started off much in the same way to you, and I think your good habits will continue when you get to the point of having disposable income to make regular effective donations, and so they should :) I like your idea about land mine removal. The essay is fairly long but reveals some interesting information... and does leave you with a slight sense of futility.
Aye, for sure - will be good to be able to contribute more. I mean, I still donate occasionally if a crisis crops up - my friend's family have set up a charity and donation scheme to help migrants in Calais and are making a documentary about life in the camp (here), but I donated to that more because the coverage of the migrant 'crisis' has been quite sickening than because they're affiliated with someone I know.

Was looking into doing one of these earlier in the year (and may yet do it next year) but would be interested to know how beneficial they actually are, or if it's just a vanity project... This thread has inspired me to find out. Cheers Josh, lots of eye-opening stuff here!
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jennifer Steadman » Mon Aug 17, 2015 11:58 am

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Jennifer Steadman wrote:I was working on the first definition of utilitarian rather than the second. Why would economics have to be kept separate from the idea of actions benefiting a majority?
Well, I suppose there might be some connection, but they're still separate concepts, and anyway since the elderly form quite a high proportion of society, they surely must get a reasonable share of the "goodwill". It's also not just for their benefit - younger people will surely feel more secure in their lives knowing that they will be helped out in their old age if they need it.
It's not that I don't want them to have goodwill! Stuff like care homes, hospices, companionship for lonely older people, or support for those who are ill isn't what I was somewhat against - charity will become increasingly important to these given that the state care sector is already struggling and will struggle more with the rise in minimum wage unless the government increases funding. It was about trying to increase longevity when charities raise and spend millions trying to cure illnesses that affect the elderly far more than the young. Without wanting to go down a eugenics route (eek), trying to cure everyone of everything is unsustainable, so if it's about saving lives then priority should be given to supporting charities that save young lives (esp common but curable diseases in the third world). Funding towards charities that help the elderly should probably be more about caring for them than curing them. Obviously, ideally you'd do both and economics wouldn't come into it, but it's currently impossible to separate them.

What have I started? Rationality sounds horrible when you write it down. I blame politics for making everything about the economy.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Tue Aug 18, 2015 5:54 pm

Jennifer Steadman wrote:It's not that I don't want them to have goodwill! Stuff like care homes, hospices, companionship for lonely older people, or support for those who are ill isn't what I was somewhat against - charity will become increasingly important to these given that the state care sector is already struggling and will struggle more with the rise in minimum wage unless the government increases funding. It was about trying to increase longevity when charities raise and spend millions trying to cure illnesses that affect the elderly far more than the young. Without wanting to go down a eugenics route (eek), trying to cure everyone of everything is unsustainable, so if it's about saving lives then priority should be given to supporting charities that save young lives (esp common but curable diseases in the third world). Funding towards charities that help the elderly should probably be more about caring for them than curing them. Obviously, ideally you'd do both and economics wouldn't come into it, but it's currently impossible to separate them.

What have I started? Rationality sounds horrible when you write it down. I blame politics for making everything about the economy.
This has been an interesting discussion; at first I thought Josh was going all god-bothering on us and positing some sort of philosophy that boils down to "being nice"; personally I think if you need a reason (such as religion) to treat people with respect and kindness then there's probably something wrong with you in the first place. But I now realise this is a bigger discussion than that, as all the previous posts have proved.

Obviously I don't have the answers. If we had a working state, why would we need charity at all? But that's another, even bigger discussion.

Here's a scenario that I may have outlined before, if so forgive me:

Many of you will know that since about...oh, around 1980, there's been a gradual undertaking to remove asbestos from all public buildings; up until the 1970s it had been used as a very effective flame retardant, so there was a lot of opposition to its eventual ban - the health concerns had been known since the 1920s - but it eventually was banned and it all had to be removed. Privately-owned buildings (I think) also have to have it removed, but I mention public buildings in particular because I distinctly remember a team of workmen coming to my school sometime in the mid-late 1980s to take all the asbestos out of the ceiling and replace it with flame-retardant foam.

Asbestosis is a disease that takes, typically, about 30 years to develop, so a person excessively exposed to asbestos at the age of 25 will probably start to develop symptoms by the age of about 50 and by the time they're 55, their lungs will be pretty much useless; few live much longer.

Now, if it was a condition that anybody actively involved in the removal of asbestos had to be 65 or older, would that be better? They would be extremely unlikely to ever develop asbestosis, because by the time any symptoms would develop, they'd probably have died of something else anyway.

Callous? Realistic? Stupid?
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jon O'Neill » Tue Aug 18, 2015 8:02 pm


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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Tue Aug 18, 2015 10:39 pm

OK, try this. In (particularly) sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of sickle-cell anaemia is far higher than would normally be expected amongst a typical population. Sickle-cell anaemia isn't very pleasant and the symptoms are certainly life-affecting in a pretty bad way. It's a genetic disease, not contagious, and the reason it is so prevalent is because the cohort of the population carrying the gene that causes them to develop sickle-cell anaemia are immune from malaria. Malaria is a far bigger killer in the region: it kills more, it kills earlier and its communicability makes it extremely difficult to eradicate.

There's a method by which sickle-cell anaemia can be induced even if there is no genetic susceptibility. Do you induce the disease to all newborns to ward off the future threat of malaria? On average, it would raise life expectancy amongst some populations by 20 years or so, which has got to be good, right?
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 12:56 am

Nobody?

OK, let's try...

You arrive via some hypothetical device in a hypothetical future, which by complete chance is exactly the same as Earth was in 1901 and as time goes on, this "future" proves to broadly mirror all the sociological and societal changes of the 20th century as you recall it, but all slightly tweaked (for instance, in this world, there is a gigantic ocean-going liner called the Titanic, which doesn't sink on its first crossing, but rather the second, in 1913; there is no world war in 1914, instead it starts in 1916, etc.)

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jon O'Neill » Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:42 am

JimBentley wrote:
OK, try this. In (particularly) sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of sickle-cell anaemia is far higher than would normally be expected amongst a typical population. Sickle-cell anaemia isn't very pleasant and the symptoms are certainly life-affecting in a pretty bad way. It's a genetic disease, not contagious, and the reason it is so prevalent is because the cohort of the population carrying the gene that causes them to develop sickle-cell anaemia are immune from malaria. Malaria is a far bigger killer in the region: it kills more, it kills earlier and its communicability makes it extremely difficult to eradicate.

There's a method by which sickle-cell anaemia can be induced even if there is no genetic susceptibility. Do you induce the disease to all newborns to ward off the future threat of malaria? On average, it would raise life expectancy amongst some populations by 20 years or so, which has got to be good, right?
I don't know.
JimBentley wrote:Nobody?

OK, let's try...

You arrive via some hypothetical device in a hypothetical future, which by complete chance is exactly the same as Earth was in 1901 and as time goes on, this "future" proves to broadly mirror all the sociological and societal changes of the 20th century as you recall it, but all slightly tweaked (for instance, in this world, there is a gigantic ocean-going liner called the Titanic, which doesn't sink on its first crossing, but rather the second, in 1913; there is no world war in 1914, instead it starts in 1916, etc.)

What do you do?
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Matt Morrison » Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:44 am

There are few people I love in this world more than you Jim. My family, and a couple of friends I've known for a long time. And that's about it.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:25 pm

JimBentley wrote:Nobody?
Be patient.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 2:21 pm

Matt Morrison wrote:There are few people I love in this world more than you Jim. My family, and a couple of friends I've known for a long time. And that's about it.
Thanks man (you know that you and Heather are in my top ten too, right? Indra too, she gets a free pass, obviously). But enough schmaltz.

There's a few subjects/problems I just don't like to engage with, usually because I don't feel that I know enough about them to add anything valid to a discussion. But there's a few that I just don't like to engage with because there's so much moral ambiguity that all the possible outcomes are - in one way or another - pretty horrific. One of those is the population problem and particularly the skewed population profiles of the different continents.

Europe, Asia and Australasia (broadly) and North America, for instance, have ageing populations (some European countries - Germany, Austria - actually have declining populations because the birth rate isn't keeping up with the death rate). Average age of death currently about 75-80. South America's average age is skyrocketing and will soon be similar to the other developed continents; average age of death currently about 60-65, but moving up fast. Africa, meanwhile, has a population dominated by the young; of the 1.1 billion people living in Africa, over 50% are under 20 and the average age of death is - across the continent - about 35-40. Birth rate is very high but it more than keeps up with the death rate, so Africa's population is actually increasing pretty quickly.

Now if I was Donald Trump, there would be a simple solution to this problem: kill all the Africans and turn Africa into Trumpland. Think of the revenues! Diamond mines, gold mines, virtually unlimited solar power on tap! And with all those pesky brown people out of the way, Donald and his mates would be also able to set up extremely lucrative wildlife parks in which they could kill wild animals to their hearts' content. Also I'm sure he'd find a way to process all the dead African bodies into some sort of nutritious gruel to feed the animals.

You can't argue that Donald's solution wouldn't solve the overpopulation problem, but it's so absurd and self-serving that it would only be considered realistic by idiots.

But what is the solution? There is going to be overpopulation crisis in Africa pretty soon, which means a lot of people are going to die and a lot of people are going to try to get out. Where are they going to go?

Anyway, my point, if there was one, is that some problems have no answers, or at least no answers that would be palatable to the majority of the public. People who argue in terms of "the answer is either A or Z" are usually wrong. It's usually somewhere in between, more like "M" or something.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:25 pm

Jon O'Neill wrote:Invent TV, apply for Countdown, win Series 1.
But you'd be like "I've just thought of this brilliant idea to broadcast pictures and sound to the nation!" And everyone else would be like "Great! How does it work?" And you'd be like "Oh shit. Turns out I don't know any more than you lot. I just rely on other people's knowledge."

Assuming things ran the same, you'd have to wait 80 years to apply for Countdown series 1. You'd be over 100 and if you hadn't already died of natural causes, you'd have died of asbestosis thanks to your decision to earn some extra money after retirement.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:41 pm

JimBentley wrote:Many of you will know that since about...oh, around 1980, there's been a gradual undertaking to remove asbestos from all public buildings; up until the 1970s it had been used as a very effective flame retardant, so there was a lot of opposition to its eventual ban - the health concerns had been known since the 1920s - but it eventually was banned and it all had to be removed. Privately-owned buildings (I think) also have to have it removed, but I mention public buildings in particular because I distinctly remember a team of workmen coming to my school sometime in the mid-late 1980s to take all the asbestos out of the ceiling and replace it with flame-retardant foam.

Asbestosis is a disease that takes, typically, about 30 years to develop, so a person excessively exposed to asbestos at the age of 25 will probably start to develop symptoms by the age of about 50 and by the time they're 55, their lungs will be pretty much useless; few live much longer.

Now, if it was a condition that anybody actively involved in the removal of asbestos had to be 65 or older, would that be better? They would be extremely unlikely to ever develop asbestosis, because by the time any symptoms would develop, they'd probably have died of something else anyway.

Callous? Realistic? Stupid?
I think this is quite interesting. It also reminds me of something I heard once that when you reach a certain age you can basically eat what you want and it makes no difference. Actually I'm not sure it was exactly like this, but I think it related to certain foods like cream or something. But don't quote me on it.

But anyway, I'd be surprised if they can't safely remove asbestos with today's technology. Just put a handkerchief over your mouth or something. The handkerchief may have been invented after 1980, but it must have still been a long time ago (definitely before 2000). But I was reading a book recently that was talking about exploring abandoned buildings and it was talking about the precautions you should take, and he went into some detail about asbestos and how to avoid getting any in your lungs.

Maybe there are still dangers - it's difficult to keep away from all the asbestos dust even if you throw away all your clothes before removing your mask etc. So yes, there probably is an argument for what you're proposing. It would be interesting to see the statistical likelihood of developing symptoms after each amount of time. If it typically takes 30 years to develop, might it sometimes take 20 years? Would that make a difference? And do we take into account predictions of future life expectancy? Obviously the whole thing would involve informed consent but it's always uncomfortable to see the less well off putting their health at risk for financial reward. But is that just the squeamishness of the comfortable or a valid concern? I certainly think it's a valid concern that there are these less well off people in the first place that might want to put their health at risk.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:49 pm

JimBentley wrote:OK, try this. In (particularly) sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of sickle-cell anaemia is far higher than would normally be expected amongst a typical population. Sickle-cell anaemia isn't very pleasant and the symptoms are certainly life-affecting in a pretty bad way. It's a genetic disease, not contagious, and the reason it is so prevalent is because the cohort of the population carrying the gene that causes them to develop sickle-cell anaemia are immune from malaria. Malaria is a far bigger killer in the region: it kills more, it kills earlier and its communicability makes it extremely difficult to eradicate.

There's a method by which sickle-cell anaemia can be induced even if there is no genetic susceptibility. Do you induce the disease to all newborns to ward off the future threat of malaria? On average, it would raise life expectancy amongst some populations by 20 years or so, which has got to be good, right?
Interesting. Of course this does depend on certain things. If you can induce non-genetic sickle-cell anaemia, would this non-genetic type be curable if malaria became less of a threat? How much would it cost? How much would it cost and how much time would it take to make malaria significantly less of a threat? Are some people (other than those with sickle-cell anaemia) at less risk than others of developing malaria? Can this be measured, and should this be taken into account?

This is definitely one of those things that isn't a definite black and white issue. All the pros and cons would have to be looked into.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 5:50 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:Just put a handkerchief over your mouth or something.
I've only got this far so far but please, read up on the asbestos-related diseases. Hey, let's clear out the nuclear waste next, all you'll need is a protective layer of tinfoil.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:08 pm

JimBentley wrote:There's a few subjects/problems I just don't like to engage with, usually because I don't feel that I know enough about them to add anything valid to a discussion. But there's a few that I just don't like to engage with because there's so much moral ambiguity that all the possible outcomes are - in one way or another - pretty horrific. One of those is the population problem and particularly the skewed population profiles of the different continents.

Europe, Asia and Australasia (broadly) and North America, for instance, have ageing populations (some European countries - Germany, Austria - actually have declining populations because the birth rate isn't keeping up with the death rate). Average age of death currently about 75-80. South America's average age is skyrocketing and will soon be similar to the other developed continents; average age of death currently about 60-65, but moving up fast. Africa, meanwhile, has a population dominated by the young; of the 1.1 billion people living in Africa, over 50% are under 20 and the average age of death is - across the continent - about 35-40. Birth rate is very high but it more than keeps up with the death rate, so Africa's population is actually increasing pretty quickly.

Now if I was Donald Trump, there would be a simple solution to this problem: kill all the Africans and turn Africa into Trumpland. Think of the revenues! Diamond mines, gold mines, virtually unlimited solar power on tap! And with all those pesky brown people out of the way, Donald and his mates would be also able to set up extremely lucrative wildlife parks in which they could kill wild animals to their hearts' content. Also I'm sure he'd find a way to process all the dead African bodies into some sort of nutritious gruel to feed the animals.

You can't argue that Donald's solution wouldn't solve the overpopulation problem, but it's so absurd and self-serving that it would only be considered realistic by idiots.

But what is the solution? There is going to be overpopulation crisis in Africa pretty soon, which means a lot of people are going to die and a lot of people are going to try to get out. Where are they going to go?

Anyway, my point, if there was one, is that some problems have no answers, or at least no answers that would be palatable to the majority of the public. People who argue in terms of "the answer is either A or Z" are usually wrong. It's usually somewhere in between, more like "M" or something.
The classic overpopulation problem. Actually I watched some programme a year or two ago where some statistician claimed that although the world's population is still growing, we've already reached "peak child". Yeah, it was this guy.

A lot of people in this country (and presumably in other rich countries) like to just think of overpopulation as not their problem. But I don't think there's any logic to the position that just because someone is born in a rich country they have the right to a better life than somebody else. That also goes for rich families of course. Why should I get to stay in the UK just because I was born here and someone else be forced to stay in some poor country?

And I often wonder to myself whether there's any justification in me not donating almost all of my money to some sort of charity. And I know I'm going off topic here, but if one person has £2000 and another has £1000, and the person with £2000 donates £1000 to charity, they now have the same amount of money. But is there any reason why the person who has not yet donated any money is now under any more of an obligation to donate than the other one? Has the donor bought himself some moral points that exempt him? Does he have the right to feel smug and righteous? This is a question I often ponder.

But anyway, I don't know what the solution to overpopulation is. Maybe it will sort itself out as that statistician seems to think it might. I think birth control is an important factor though and as people become more educated they are less likely to have 200 children. But I certainly think that rich countries need to do more about helping the poor countries in this regard.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:09 pm

JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Just put a handkerchief over your mouth or something.
I've only got this far so far but please, read up on the asbestos-related diseases. Hey, let's clear out the nuclear waste next, all you'll need is a protective layer of tinfoil.
It was a joke. Come on. You need to up your game!

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:15 pm

JimBentley wrote:Nobody?

OK, let's try...

You arrive via some hypothetical device in a hypothetical future, which by complete chance is exactly the same as Earth was in 1901 and as time goes on, this "future" proves to broadly mirror all the sociological and societal changes of the 20th century as you recall it, but all slightly tweaked (for instance, in this world, there is a gigantic ocean-going liner called the Titanic, which doesn't sink on its first crossing, but rather the second, in 1913; there is no world war in 1914, instead it starts in 1916, etc.)

What do you do?
What sort of things could you do? Are you talking about from a moral point of view? Because it's only broadly similar, it's not like you've got the classic "kill Hitler" dilemma. So I suppose it's a matter of whether you want to cash in on your knowledge. I don't see anything particularly morally wrong with that. It's all anyone does. Does it matter how you came upon your knowledge? You could be upfront about it and say you're from a slightly more advanced civilisation. Then even if they don't believe you, you've at least been honest when it comes to inventing stuff.

I'd probably say that in our world we've realised that religion is wrong so you might as well give up on it now.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:19 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:Actually I watched some programme a year or two ago where some statistician claimed that although the world's population is still growing, we've already reached "peak child". Yeah, it was this guy.
If you read what that "guy" was writing, it was all hypothetical. Yes, it would be great if it all happened, but it won't, and the world population will continue to rise in the same bizarre, geographically-skewed way that it is doing at the moment.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:22 pm

Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:24 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
JimBentley wrote:You arrive via some hypothetical device in a hypothetical future, which by complete chance is exactly the same as Earth was in 1901 and as time goes on, this "future" proves to broadly mirror all the sociological and societal changes of the 20th century as you recall it, but all slightly tweaked (for instance, in this world, there is a gigantic ocean-going liner called the Titanic, which doesn't sink on its first crossing, but rather the second, in 1913; there is no world war in 1914, instead it starts in 1916, etc.)

What do you do?
What sort of things could you do? Are you talking about from a moral point of view? Because it's only broadly similar, it's not like you've got the classic "kill Hitler" dilemma. So I suppose it's a matter of whether you want to cash in on your knowledge. I don't see anything particularly morally wrong with that. It's all anyone does. Does it matter how you came upon your knowledge? You could be upfront about it and say you're from a slightly more advanced civilisation. Then even if they don't believe you, you've at least been honest when it comes to inventing stuff.

I'd probably say that in our world we've realised that religion is wrong so you might as well give up on it now.
That's why I love this question. You can't bet on anything because while things are broadly similar, they're not exactly the same. It's the answers to the question that I love, they say a lot about the answerer.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:25 pm

JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Actually I watched some programme a year or two ago where some statistician claimed that although the world's population is still growing, we've already reached "peak child". Yeah, it was this guy.
If you read what that "guy" was writing, it was all hypothetical. Yes, it would be great if it all happened, but it won't, and the world population will continue to rise in the same bizarre, geographically-skewed way that it is doing at the moment.
That guy wrote:It's a largely untold story - gradually, steadily the demographic forces that drove the global population growth in the 20th Century have shifted. Fifty years ago the world average fertility rate - the number of babies born per woman - was five. Since then, this most important number in demography has dropped to 2.5 - something unprecedented in human history - and fertility is still trending downwards. It's all thanks to a powerful combination of female education, access to contraceptives and abortion, and increased child survival.

The demographic consequences are amazing. In the last decade the global total number of children aged 0-14 has levelled off at around two billion, and UN population experts predict that it is going to stay that way throughout this century. That's right: the amount of children in the world today is the most there will be! We have entered into the age of Peak Child! The population will continue to grow as the Peak Child generation grows up and grows old. So most probably three or four billion new adults will be added to the world population - but then in the second half of this century the fast growth of the world population will finally come to an end.
It doesn't sound that hypothetical. It sounds as if the number of children has already levelled off, even if whether it will remain this way is obviously not known.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:25 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?
Have you ever played with "Goal Seek" on Excel by any chance?
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:27 pm

JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?
Have you ever played with "Goal Seek" on Excel by any chance?
No. Is it good?

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:33 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?
Have you ever played with "Goal Seek" on Excel by any chance?
No. Is it good?
How can you - of all people - not be familiar with Goal Seek? I've not used it much lately but I used it a lot in one of my former jobs in the mid-1990s. Basically it's a "change x to make y optimum" thing. I thought you'd be all over it.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:35 pm

JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:
JimBentley wrote:Have you ever played with "Goal Seek" on Excel by any chance?
No. Is it good?
How can you - of all people - not be familiar with Goal Seek? I've not used it much lately but I used it a lot in one of my former jobs in the mid-1990s. Basically it's a "change x to make y optimum" thing. I thought you'd be all over it.
I've just watched a YouTube video of it. Looks quite interesting.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Wed Aug 19, 2015 7:53 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:I've just watched a YouTube video of it. Looks quite interesting.
Hey, there's plenty more where that came from, baby. I'm thinking you and me should get together and really shake this politics stuff up - your money, my brains (I'm assuming you have money) - plus your brains and my money (I don't have any...of either) - it's an unbeatable combination.

Beats the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall triumvirate anyway.

P.S. Sorry Josh, for all the off-topic talk.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Heather Styles » Wed Aug 19, 2015 8:16 pm

"Once that when you reach a certain age you can basically eat what you want and it makes no difference." I know you said not to quote you, Gevin, but I really want this to be true!

And in answer to your original questions, Josh: I am not aware of having come across Effective Altruism before, but it sounds like a good thing. I have never considered myself to be an Effective Altruist. Self-righteous dick alert: Throughout my adult life I have supported a number of charities, mainly with money but sometimes with time and energy. I have just bookmarked www.thelifeyoucansave.org to read later - it looks interesting.

I would be interested to know what others think about the relative value of human life and non-human animal life. To quote, not Gevin this time but the lyrics of a song (Watercress, Cruelty):

"I know it's cruel to go out hunting foxes,
Or to put my aftershave in rabbits' eyes.
But what I want to know is how far do I go,
Does this rule extend to embryos and flies?"

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Ian Volante » Thu Aug 20, 2015 11:37 am

I think you should definitely put flies in rabbits' eyes. Totally legit and likely real-world scenario.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Aug 20, 2015 12:09 pm

JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:I've just watched a YouTube video of it. Looks quite interesting.
Hey, there's plenty more where that came from, baby. I'm thinking you and me should get together and really shake this politics stuff up - your money, my brains (I'm assuming you have money) - plus your brains and my money (I don't have any...of either) - it's an unbeatable combination.

Beats the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall triumvirate anyway.

P.S. Sorry Josh, for all the off-topic talk.
Let's do it.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Thu Aug 20, 2015 2:34 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:I've just watched a YouTube video of it. Looks quite interesting.
Hey, there's plenty more where that came from, baby. I'm thinking you and me should get together and really shake this politics stuff up - your money, my brains (I'm assuming you have money) - plus your brains and my money (I don't have any...of either) - it's an unbeatable combination.

Beats the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall triumvirate anyway.

P.S. Sorry Josh, for all the off-topic talk.
Let's do it.
Sorry Gev, but didn't you realise? Ed Miliband has grown a beard. I'm afraid most of my attention will be focused on this - which I think we can all agree is the major political story of the day - for a while.

Meanwhile, let's look into setting ourselves up as a religion instead of a political party; let's face it, we could always do with those tax breaks given that our only donees are going to be idiots.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Aug 20, 2015 10:31 pm

JimBentley wrote:Sorry Gev, but didn't you realise? Ed Miliband has grown a beard. I'm afraid most of my attention will be focused on this - which I think we can all agree is the major political story of the day - for a while.

Meanwhile, let's look into setting ourselves up as a religion instead of a political party; let's face it, we could always do with those tax breaks given that our only donees are going to be idiots.
I'm always open to new business opportunities. Let's get this going. We need to sort out our God(s) first. One or many? Names?

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Aug 20, 2015 10:47 pm

Heather Styles wrote:I would be interested to know what others think about the relative value of human life and non-human animal life. To quote, not Gevin this time but the lyrics of a song (Watercress, Cruelty):

"I know it's cruel to go out hunting foxes,
Or to put my aftershave in rabbits' eyes.
But what I want to know is how far do I go,
Does this rule extend to embryos and flies?"
It's an interesting one. I think people hold contradictory views about this. People hate animal cruelty when they want to, but they turn a blind eye when the end result is their dinner plate. People don't need to eat meat of course, but even if they did, the conditions farm animals are kept in is often horrendous. I'm obviously guilty myself as only a vegetarian and not a vegan, but I don't go to the lengths some people do to convince themselves it doesn't really matter when it comes to what they eat. I think they need to legislate on the conditions animals can be kept in. A meat ban may be unrealistic, but I'd be quite happy for a resultant hike in prices. And yes, the uproar about that lion was insane.

But anyway, what makes a human life more valuable than an animal life? People often find it difficult to answer this. But you can argue that as more intelligent animals we have more consciousness and our lives have proportionally more "worth". Also, we are more able to contemplate our life and death and what might happen in the future. So if animals are kept in good conditions without any fear of death, does it matter if you then secretly (to them) kill them? Obviously it would be more difficult to pull the wool over our eyes, but what if you did? You could kill someone with no friends or relatives in their sleep. What would people make of that? If the entire Earth was wiped out in an instant with all life on it, would that be a tragedy of some sort? Does anyone need to feel the tragedy? Would be any different from if these people and animals had never been born?

Also, if we're judging people against animals on cognitive ability, what about handicapped people? Do they have less worth? Obviously they would normally have family who care about them, but I'm sure we can come up with scenarios that take that out of the equation. Most people would be too horrified to even discuss this, but people are often completely irrational when it comes to moral arguments. Nothing should be off the discussion table.

Embryos are an interesting one. A lot of people think that abortion at any stage is murder, but apparently quite a high proportion of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions at quite an early stage without anyone knowing. So by the same token, these must all be horrific tragedies. I would generally look at when an embryo can start to think and feel. Not when it becomes "viable" (able to survive outside the womb), as I see that as a completely arbitrary and unargued-for criterion even though people use it all the time.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Aug 20, 2015 10:48 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?
Come on - I want some discussion of this (that isn't about Excel).

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Thu Aug 20, 2015 11:02 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?
Come on - I want some discussion of this (that isn't about Excel).
OK fine. I've long been of the opinion that compensation paid by government departments to individuals in (usually civi but sometime criminal) cases is an absurd concept. It's like being asked on the violent death of your mother by a crazed axe maniac whether you would like two apples or four apples to make it better.

To be honest I want to know what you want all these legs for?
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Clive Brooker » Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:11 am

Gavin Chipper wrote:But anyway, what makes a human life more valuable than an animal life?
Your comments are all about animals which are kept by humans. Whilst I would naturally like to minimise the suffering of kept animals, it's not a subject about which I have the greatest concern.

I often speculate that the world must have been an infinitely better place before humans began to dominate. As a human I have little choice other than to make the best of it and accept many of the benefits, but I dislike much of what my species has done to the world. If you ask me to value the life of an individual member of an endangered species against several million humans threatened by famine, the snow leopard gets my vote.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jon O'Neill » Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:18 am

Clive Brooker wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:But anyway, what makes a human life more valuable than an animal life?
Your comments are all about animals which are kept by humans. Whilst I would naturally like to minimise the suffering of kept animals, it's not a subject about which I have the greatest concern.

I often speculate that the world must have been an infinitely better place before humans began to dominate. As a human I have little choice other than to make the best of it and accept many of the benefits, but I dislike much of what my species has done to the world. If you ask me to value the life of an individual member of an endangered species against several million humans threatened by famine, the snow leopard gets my vote.
So so easy to say that knowing that you and anyone you care about are not and probably never will be threatened by famine.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jennifer Steadman » Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:29 am

Heather Styles wrote:I would be interested to know what others think about the relative value of human life and non-human animal life. To quote, not Gevin this time but the lyrics of a song (Watercress, Cruelty):

"I know it's cruel to go out hunting foxes,
Or to put my aftershave in rabbits' eyes.
But what I want to know is how far do I go,
Does this rule extend to embryos and flies?"
I'm the sort of hypocrite on animal cruelty that Gev mentioned. Shocked and disgusted by some animal cruelty, but not going to give up eating meat (I'd like to reduce my consumption of meat, but for environmental reasons rather than animal welfare). Animals we eat are born and bred with the end goal of them being eaten, so they'd never have been born if not for people wanting burgers and suchlike. Poached animals or maltreated pets weren't born for that reason so it seems 'worse'. There are flaws in that argument, but there are flaws in pretty much every argument vegans/vegetarians come up with. Those that have pets are surely treating animals as inferior to humans by keeping them captive? There's always going to be some amount of cruelty to animals (putting down infected animals that threaten a whole herd, killing dangerous animals when they escape or attack humans, swatting annoying insects) - quite frankly I just can't be bothered to care that much about it all. Not on a cognitive ability level, just on a 'I prioritise my species above others' one.

Don't agree with animals being used for cosmetic testing purposes, pro medical testing for dangerous diseases/pain relief. And totally in favour of abortion (95% of women who've had one don't regret their decision), but I'd stick by the idea of doing it before it's viable - any other unwanted dependent inside you (like a tapeworm) would be considered a parasite, regardless of whether it's sentient. To abort it once it's capable of surviving independently should be considered murder.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Zarte Siempre » Fri Aug 21, 2015 10:31 am

Personally, I think charity should simply be about what you support, and what your outlook on life is.

I'm not really interested, and indeed can be quite irritable about anyone telling me or anyone else, without knowing individual circumstance, what charities they should or shouldn't be donating to.

If I donate to a charity that has a smaller outreach, then it'll be because I feel some sort of connection with that charity, and thus don't feel I have to justify whether my donation will help one person or a thousand people.

To me, charity should be a very private thing (obviously in instances where you're doing something to receive sponsorship etc. it can't be) but general philanthropy etc. should just be something that one gets on with.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Fri Aug 21, 2015 11:36 am

Jennifer Steadman wrote:I'm the sort of hypocrite on animal cruelty that Gev mentioned. Shocked and disgusted by some animal cruelty, but not going to give up eating meat (I'd like to reduce my consumption of meat, but for environmental reasons rather than animal welfare). Animals we eat are born and bred with the end goal of them being eaten, so they'd never have been born if not for people wanting burgers and suchlike.
The thing about them never being born is often brought up, but the same argument could have been made of slaves. And generally unless the world had gone exactly the way it did, an entirely different set of people would exist now, so you can presumably justify any past event on the basis that what we have now wouldn't currently exist otherwise. So anyway, there would still be animals, just different ones.
Poached animals or maltreated pets weren't born for that reason so it seems 'worse'. There are flaws in that argument, but there are flaws in pretty much every argument vegans/vegetarians come up with.
I think that's pretty weak. You're using your gut reaction to explain your moral belief (which we're probably all guilty of in many cases), but then justify it by just making some general claim about other people's arguments! But in any case, regardless of whether one eats meat, this doesn't change anything about the welfare of these animals while they are alive, and the conditions are often appalling. Suffering is suffering, regardless of how the animal came into existence.
Those that have pets are surely treating animals as inferior to humans by keeping them captive? There's always going to be some amount of cruelty to animals (putting down infected animals that threaten a whole herd, killing dangerous animals when they escape or attack humans, swatting annoying insects) - quite frankly I just can't be bothered to care that much about it all. Not on a cognitive ability level, just on a 'I prioritise my species above others' one.
I think people are often cruel to keep some pets. But dogs kind of evolved alongside us, and are quite well adapted to living in human company. Cats also generally get independence by being allowed to wander the streets. And if it's not a cognitive ability thing but just about your species, what if there was another species that was at our level of intelligence on the planet? Would you see them as fair game for maltreatment? It's getting dangerously close to racism!
Don't agree with animals being used for cosmetic testing purposes, pro medical testing for dangerous diseases/pain relief. And totally in favour of abortion (95% of women who've had one don't regret their decision), but I'd stick by the idea of doing it before it's viable - any other unwanted dependent inside you (like a tapeworm) would be considered a parasite, regardless of whether it's sentient. To abort it once it's capable of surviving independently should be considered murder.
With abortions - the date at which premature babies can survive has gradually got earlier over the years thanks to medical advances. I'm not sure what the "official" limit is now, but let's say it's 23 weeks. Then if they improve things so a baby can survive at 22 weeks, would it then be murder to abort a baby at 22 weeks when previously it wouldn't? I think we're connecting unconnected things here. "No, sorry you can't have an abortion now, even though you would have done at the same stage of your pregnancy last year. Why? Well, it's because if your baby happened to be born now, there's a chance we'd be able to keep it alive." There's no logical connection.

And anyway, if a baby can survive at 23 weeks, instead of an abortion, would it be acceptable to induce birth? Then if it dies, fine - it was just a parasite. If it survives, fine - it has survived. An unborn baby is reliant on its mother the whole time when it's in the womb so in that sense a parasite, so surely a woman should have the right to have it removed at any stage.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Jennifer Steadman » Fri Aug 21, 2015 12:44 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:But in any case, regardless of whether one eats meat, this doesn't change anything about the welfare of these animals while they are alive, and the conditions are often appalling. Suffering is suffering, regardless of how the animal came into existence.
Oh yeah, I don't support animals that will be eaten being kept in horrible conditions. I buy free-range/organic meat where possible.
I think people are often cruel to keep some pets. But dogs kind of evolved alongside us, and are quite well adapted to living in human company. Cats also generally get independence by being allowed to wander the streets. And if it's not a cognitive ability thing but just about your species, what if there was another species that was at our level of intelligence on the planet? Would you see them as fair game for maltreatment? It's getting dangerously close to racism!
Not really sure what your point about intelligent animals is? All I said was that I value humans above animals, because I'm a human and my friends and family are humans. (Well, tbqh I probably value my pet gerbils above the majority of humans, but that's entirely sentimental.) If I'm an animal racist because I value humans above mosquitos, I will quite happily live with that.

All your points about my weak arguments really just come down to the fact that I don't really care that much, tbh. I probably should, but I don't - but y'know, I don't get hugely up in arms about stuff like Cecil the lion. (Enjoyed the Mail getting seriously indignant about Cecil's undignified death, right above their main story about how they think the army should go to the migrant camp at Calais and raze it to the ground.)
With abortions - the date at which premature babies can survive has gradually got earlier over the years thanks to medical advances. I'm not sure what the "official" limit is now, but let's say it's 23 weeks. Then if they improve things so a baby can survive at 22 weeks, would it then be murder to abort a baby at 22 weeks when previously it wouldn't? I think we're connecting unconnected things here. "No, sorry you can't have an abortion now, even though you would have done at the same stage of your pregnancy last year. Why? Well, it's because if your baby happened to be born now, there's a chance we'd be able to keep it alive." There's no logical connection.

And anyway, if a baby can survive at 23 weeks, instead of an abortion, would it be acceptable to induce birth? Then if it dies, fine - it was just a parasite. If it survives, fine - it has survived. An unborn baby is reliant on its mother the whole time when it's in the womb so in that sense a parasite, so surely a woman should have the right to have it removed at any stage.
It's 24 weeks but exceptions can be made if the woman's life is in danger.

I think any criteria here is arbitrary, really. (Also I need to get my stuff ready for CoMK so can't spend ages thinking carefully about a response, but essentially it boils down to that.)
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Sun Aug 23, 2015 10:01 pm

JimBentley wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:Where do people stand on utilitarianism in its purest mathematical form? Obviously it relies on the assumption that you can represent everyone's mental wellbeing with a single number. But once you've bought that, it's all go.

But then, you get some interesting consequences. Obviously giving someone £1 results in a much smaller gain in utility for them than the loss in utility for someone losing their leg. But if you can work out the numbers, there must be a point where if you gave enough people £1 it would be worth someone losing their leg for. Yes, it might even be more than the population of the Earth, but is this a reasonable position in principle?
Come on - I want some discussion of this (that isn't about Excel).
OK fine. I've long been of the opinion that compensation paid by government departments to individuals in (usually civi but sometime criminal) cases is an absurd concept. It's like being asked on the violent death of your mother by a crazed axe maniac whether you would like two apples or four apples to make it better.

To be honest I want to know what you want all these legs for?
I think that's a good point. If your mother's been violently murdered or something, it's unlikely that any amount of money will somehow make up for it (depending on individuals' relationships with their mothers). But I would say that this is an argument against utilitarianism; it's more that there's a limit to how many utility points you can get by getting more and more money (or apples). If someone gave me £1,000,000, it would have the potential to massively change my life and give me a lot of utility points. But if they then gave me another £1,000,000, it wouldn't give me the same utility boost. The benefit would start to tail off, so it would never reach one mother.

Legs are useful. Obviously.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by JimBentley » Sun Aug 23, 2015 10:08 pm

Gavin Chipper wrote:Legs are useful. Obviously.
You're not wrong there. But your obsession is becoming...disturbing.
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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Mark James » Wed Aug 26, 2015 11:45 am

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/pete ... -altruism/

A friend of mine liked this article on facebook. Just wondering what you think.

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Josh Hurst » Thu Aug 27, 2015 5:38 am

OK - I've been off for a week or so and missed most of the discussion as it was going down. I'll try to form a somewhat coherent response or at least acknowledge some of the interesting input...
JimBentley wrote:personally I think if you need a reason (such as religion) to treat people with respect and kindness then there's probably something wrong with you in the first place.


Ha! Agreed...
JimBentley wrote: There's a method by which sickle-cell anaemia can be induced even if there is no genetic susceptibility. Do you induce the disease to all newborns to ward off the future threat of malaria? On average, it would raise life expectancy amongst some populations by 20 years or so, which has got to be good, right?


Interesting...
JimBentley wrote: There's a few subjects/problems I just don't like to engage with... But there's a few that I just don't like to engage with because there's so much moral ambiguity that all the possible outcomes are - in one way or another - pretty horrific. One of those is the population problem and particularly the skewed population profiles of the different continents.

...what is the solution? There is going to be overpopulation crisis in Africa pretty soon, which means a lot of people are going to die and a lot of people are going to try to get out. Where are they going to go?

Anyway, my point, if there was one, is that some problems have no answers, or at least no answers that would be palatable to the majority of the public. People who argue in terms of "the answer is either A or Z" are usually wrong. It's usually somewhere in between, more like "M" or something.


Yup - this is a tough one, but some of the charities that Effective Altruists would encourage you to channel donations towards are population-based charities (e.g. Population Services International). Additionally, there's this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkSO9pOVpRM, that's my A and Z...

Mark James wrote:https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/08/pete ... -altruism/

A friend of mine liked this article on facebook. Just wondering what you think.


Nice input, Mark. I hadn't come across that and it certainly made me think about the limitations of EA more than I had done before. I reposted that article on an EA Facebook group and was directed to this response: http://www.jefftk.com/p/anti-capitalist ... e-altruism

I think that because the view that "capitalism is a failure" exists doesn't mean that we should ignore concepts like EA whilst trying to overcome barriers or advocate systemic change (although I'm not a Marxist...). Lobbying and petitioning, while well intentioned, may actually never produce tangible results. Even if results (i.e. systemic change) are produced, who's to say they will actually result in a better outcome? EA produces results, even if as a concept it can only exist within a subjectively poor/broken framework. In an ideal situation we wouldn't need to give to charities. Also, most people aren't activists working on systemic change, so their attention isn't diverted - the reason for them to bat against EA diminishes vs someone with a semi-coherent argument like the Jacobin one... The argument is basically against EA because they are anti-capitalism/pro-communism.

I suppose in terms of a solution to abject poverty they think that removing capitalist systems will result in millions dying from Malaria each year being a thing of the past? The problems of remote Aboriginal communities in Australia will probably be resolved too and they won't need the eye-surgeries that can be provided by the Fred Hollows Foundation to restore sight...? Nevertheless, it's certainly interesting to think about and an angle I hadn't looked at before.

Indeed, default systems can be terrible and should be changed when there is evidence to suggest that changing would result in benefit. Take opt-in organ donation for instance; a 2003 study (Johnson and Goldstein) entitled "Do defaults save lives?" showed that with "opt-in" organ donation systems, the highest proportion of registered donors, even after extensive public relations campaigns, is 27.5%. In the then 7 countries with "opt-out" systems, the lowest proportion of potential donors was 85.9%. So yes - where systems aren't working and there is a clear alternative, we should put effort into changing them. Sometimes we need the right kind of nudge to change behaviours that are detrimental to ourselves, which (although I haven't read it) is discussed in "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness" (Thaler and Sunstein). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nudge_(book)

Zarte Siempre wrote:Personally, I think charity should simply be about what you support, and what your outlook on life is.

I'm not really interested, and indeed can be quite irritable about anyone telling me or anyone else, without knowing individual circumstance, what charities they should or shouldn't be donating to.

If I donate to a charity that has a smaller outreach, then it'll be because I feel some sort of connection with that charity, and thus don't feel I have to justify whether my donation will help one person or a thousand people.

To me, charity should be a very private thing (obviously in instances where you're doing something to receive sponsorship etc. it can't be) but general philanthropy etc. should just be something that one gets on with.
Thanks for the input, Zarte :) Yes - it should be about what you support. I support using logic, reason and evidence to help me make my decisions. I thought that people on a Countdown forum may have a similar approach... :P Not that charity HAS to be sacrificial, but in donating to personal causes, isn't that a bit selfish in a way? Obviously though, it IS logical to do that and I'm absolutely not trying to inflame you or start an argument. Also - the concept of EA isn't prescriptive.

In terms of me being a pusher (which is what my boss called me the other day... :/ ) I would firstly try to make people realise their position of relative affluence, then make them feel guilty and undeserving of it, then encourage them to try to redress the balance somewhat, and then get them to redress it in the best way... Of course I am mainly joshing with you here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hkpn-yhy_7U).

Not that I'm narrow minded (if I was I wouldn't have started along this train of thought or had various unsuccessful attempts at vegetarianism... not that I'm trying to justify myself to you at all...), but now that I've taken the EA argument on board I don't really see any way back for me. Everyone is different though...

Your view on what charity should be is pretty different to Peter Singer's. He frequently talks about how anyone who is trying to make a difference should really talk about it amongst their peers (an idea which when I read it made me want to bring the topic up in this forum...). Specifically, it was what he wrote on pages 64 and 65 of "The Life You Can Save" about "Getting it in the open" which made me want to post this topic (incidentally he echoes Jim's earlier sentiments here about motivations to give and essentially being a sociopath if one donates only because of their religion... I'm pretty sure that's what they're both getting at anyway). He says, "... specifically, we tend to do what others in our "reference group" - those with whom we identify - are doing..." and "...if by sounding a trumpet when they give, they encourage others to give, that's better still."

Based on the economics, ethics and psychology studies he cites around the general concept of talking openly about charity, it's something which I think is a good idea and will continue to do. However, as we've seen, people certainly have different motivations behind their charitable giving, so someone who does it for the "warm-fuzzies" more than having a measurable positive impact might not want to talk openly about it as much, if at all. Hopefully that didn't irritate you too much. I'm just explaining my stance on this more than trying to criticise yours, and I don't doubt that you're a very very very good and charitable person, as are a lot of people who think EA is batshit.

For now I'm out of time, so I'll respond to some others when I get the chance. Cheers for joining in guys :)

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Gavin Chipper » Thu Aug 27, 2015 11:53 pm

Jon O'Neill wrote:
Clive Brooker wrote:
Gavin Chipper wrote:But anyway, what makes a human life more valuable than an animal life?
Your comments are all about animals which are kept by humans. Whilst I would naturally like to minimise the suffering of kept animals, it's not a subject about which I have the greatest concern.

I often speculate that the world must have been an infinitely better place before humans began to dominate. As a human I have little choice other than to make the best of it and accept many of the benefits, but I dislike much of what my species has done to the world. If you ask me to value the life of an individual member of an endangered species against several million humans threatened by famine, the snow leopard gets my vote.
So so easy to say that knowing that you and anyone you care about are not and probably never will be threatened by famine.
Also is it just people threatened by famine? There are so many people on this planet and not so many snow leopards so which is worth more - one snow leopard or one Clive Brooker?

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Re: Charity/Effective Altruism

Post by Josh Hurst » Tue Sep 01, 2015 9:49 am

Some good content in here if you're interested in seeing what happened at the Effective Altruism Global conference last month: https://vimeo.com/cyperusmedia/videos/page:1/sort:date

I've only watched a couple so if anyone has a gander please let me know what you think :)

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