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deletedDec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021
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Such an impressive and inspiring range of projects. I am excited to live in the world where these dreams become reality. What a cool project, Scott.

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>Despite the growing importance of this field, there are relatively few technical biosecurity centers in the US, and the West Coast is underrepresented. This causes serious problems like poor pandemic readiness, limited understanding of biowarfare risks, and the biosecurity grad student who I'm dating living 3,000 miles away from me.

One of these problems is not like the other ones 😂

Here in Boston, to me it seems like there are lots of biotech people but few biosecurity specialists. I think they're concentrated around Washington DC.

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I'm glad to see several worthy projects got funded! I'm especially looking forward to Michael Todhunter's results.

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You are a cool dude

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This is delightful to see and makes me feel optimistic about the rationalist community having a growing, positive impact on the world.

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> This is the part where I post applications publicly on the blog (if you gave me permission) and readers can look at them and decide to support them or not. About 500 of you gave me permission to do this, and your applications together total about 1,500 pages of text. Substack probably won’t let me write a blog post this long, and you guys won’t read it even if I do, so I’m still thinking about how I want to handle this. Please give me until sometime in January to work something out, but rest assured, I haven’t forgotten about this.

I have a suggestion here. You have 500 ACX++ grants. I'd first weed out the ones you find objectionable. That not only do you not want to fund but you think lack merit. Then I'd pair them in small groups of highly different proposals. Then I'd let each person do a paragraph in a public Open Thread and tell them to be there to answer questions. The ones who won't agree are forfeiting their right to be included in ++.

I suspect this will cut down the number significantly. Those that remain will be rationed out over a year. But in exchange the grantees will get more exposure than people hunting through 2,000 pages or a huge database. And if you like it you can do this on a rolling basis instead of making it into a huge Christmas nut to be cracked like you did this year. (It'll also give you more content for however you weigh that.)

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Earlier today Matthew Yglesias had a tweet about how despite widespread belief that numerous government institutions failed during the pandemic, there's been virtually no legislative effort to change anything. So I'm really glad to see ACX putting $100k toward a better FDA. Trying to fix what's broken instead of just having fun complaining. Hell yeah!

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love everything about this, thank you for putting in so much effort Scott <3

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This is super amazing work from all involved.

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This is inspiring!

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founding

"SD, $5,000, to fund an honors' thesis on neutrino research. S is an undergraduate who wants to work on neutrino physics with one of his professors, but needs outside funding to be sure it will work."

SD, if you're out there and want any outside help / input / collaboration, please feel free to reach out. I'm a particle physics postdoc (mostly working on dark matter), know a thing or two about neutrinos, and think your idea is super interesting and useful. If nothing else I can connect you with people working in neutrino physics who may be more helpful than me. You can reach me at

joshaebyATgmailDOTCOM

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Well done Scott. It doesn’t look like being “outed” by the NYT was a bad thing in the end. I hope to do some small contribution. I’ll also sign up here.

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Thank you for this initiative, Scott. It has surfaced many worthwhile endeavors. It is admirable that you took on all the related effort, with the help of many supporters and funders.

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> if they're smart enough to attempt this project, they're smart enough to know about XYZ Grants which is better suited for them (...)

This sounds like the grant reviewers assume that "likely to succeed at project" is very strongly correlated with "able to navigate searching for funding". For some of the projects that got awarded this sounds eminently sensible to me (e.g. the affect public policy things), but not for others (e.g. most of biology-adjacent projects). I wonder if I'm wrong about the latter (i.e. if success at projects that ostensibly are not about influencing people is strongly correlated with ability to navigate social mazes). Thoughts?

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2021: the year when a blog about medicine, rationality, and fighting Moloch funded a research program about breeding beetles.

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Beetles which can biodegrade plastic strike me as worryingly double-edged. Plus side, plastic not hanging out in the environment forever is probably better for us, and for the global ecosystem at large. Minus side, aren't there things made out of plastic where its non-biodegradingness is essential to their function? Is anyone in charge of knowing the full list of things which might fail catastrophically if plastic-biodegrading beetles were released into the environment?

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This is amazing. I mostly write to praise Scott and the team. But can't help but to contrast with the many philanthropies I know well....such exciting ideas/people he has curated, in such a short period, with so little red tape.

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You refer to Nils Kraus as N in a later sentence. Not sure if you forgot to anonymize, or just a typo.

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This is just incredibly impressive that you pulled this venture out of thin air, roped in all the support and expertise you needed (or could find), let it grow way beyond what you anticipated, and then pulled off this very wide ranging list of worthy projects to support. Wow. It warms my heart to see.

The first part of my career involved a ton of fundraising, in and out of academia, and working with foundations on various joint endeavors. It can be a pretty slow-moving, trend-following world. But also, some of the expertise (to raise money well and to give it away well) are for sure real skills. It's astounding to me that you pulled this off in such a short time, and I hope you will write more about the process of it.

I'm interested in the question of what funded groups might want to talk to each other about. I know a lot of foundations try to start up those kinds of cross-pollinating conversations and that on the side of the people funded, they sometimes say "yes" to whatever the funders propose in the hopes it will lead to more funding, even if they think it's a waste of time. I think funders get impatient encountering the same kinds of organizational stumbling blocks in the groups they fund (I consult for organizations so I get that too). Some kind of honest assessment of when those networking opportunities are seen to be beneficial by the people in them would be nice to have.

Thank you for helping to bring so much good stuff into the world! I hope beyond the exhaustion it sounds like this produced, that you have a real sense of satisfaction in it. It's a remarkable thing you did, in a whole different direction from your writing and your psychiatry practice.

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"Why would somebody working on biochemistry want to talk to someone working on political activism just because they got a grant from the same person?"

Going to conferences of people who all think and dress the same way and work on the same issue is beneficial in one way; going to conferences like EA or SciFoo is beneficial in a different way--optimizing for serendipity.

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It would have been useful to know that one option was funding, of some sort, for politics/political careers, not necessarily for me personally. There are some interesting Senate seats up this cycle that might be viable options for third party candidacy who knows what they are doing where the existing brand name options are mediocre or in conflict with the kinds of things you, Scott, care about.

There are, given the divergence in my interests vs Scott, more very exciting projects on this list than I would have expected. Though part of that may be all the extra money and effort many people contributed.

I'll also somewhat second the comment by someone that people involved in grants perhaps associate being able to get grant funding too much with having good ideas, as far as the "why are they asking you and not this other potential option for money".

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I hesitate to ask because it seems like surely you've thought of this, but....whatever tax status your grant fund has, have you evaluated if giving to politicians impacts it?

Double-OF-COURSE-YOU-RESEARCHED-THIS-energy: do the laws in Australia allow you to give large sums to political actors, and the actor to accept it? I do note that the person is not running for office themselves, but, ya know.

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I’m sort of curious if there are any ideas that you specifically didn’t fund that you’d feel comfortable talking about

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Very glad to see approval voting (AV) get funded (and promoted) on ACX. We see ranked choice voting (RCV) making inroads around the country, but there seems to be very little awareness of the pathologies of RCV that make it inferior to AV. [This is based on my remembrance of analysis on RangeVoting.org, which smells trustworthy to me.]

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I'm awed and inspired to read about so many cool projects happening around this community. Thank for doing this, Scott!

Also I'm super proud to be Beny's brother even if I don't understand enough biochemistry to know what he's actually doing :)

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Such an exciting list! And I was very happy to see Seattle Approves up there -- they're addressing the meta problem of "why can't the US political process solve more of the country's problems?"

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Some really fascinating grants here (and a couple that I think might be ethically... questionable). Setting those aside, this is a really cool thing you've done here.

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Lots of fascinating projects, thanks for sharing

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Dec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021

> Nils Kraus, $40,000, to experiment with new ways of measuring precision weighting in humans. The precision-weighting of mental predictions is one of the absolute basics of the predictive coding model of the mind, but we know very little about it and have trouble testing hypotheses about how it works.

I'm quite interested in this; is there a way to follow this work as it develops? (And is there a good source on the current state of understanding?)

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founding

I'm one of the three cofounders of Mantic Markets, and I wanted to give a heartfelt thanks to Scott! Not just because we won a grant, or because he's namedropped us, or even because he's been so nice about us blatantly stealing the "Mantic" name...

But because it's fairly (~70%) likely this project would not have existed without ACX Grants. James and I were online friends, and we'd chatted before about collaborating on something. The existence of ACX Grants gave us an excuse to actually do something! I flew out to meet James and Stephen; and in our process of writing the grant application, we got so excited that we decided to just build out the prototype, whether we heard back or not. We've been hacking on it ever since (that's why our prototype is already live)!

Like Scott, I don't really know if Mantic will ultimately work out. (If you think _you_ know, bet on https://mantic.markets/ManticMarkets/will-mantic-markets-have-over-1m !) But this grant has already made me two good friends/cofounders, and a really exciting December so far. Thanks again for running this program!

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I am only here to say that "sufficiently advanced beetles" is the sort of Vorkosigan chaos energy that I hope there is more of in the world.

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Wow. Republicans are evil. I wish I hadn't read that.

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1Day Sooner staff member here—thanks so much, Scott! These grants are an awesome idea, and honestly I’m kind of blown away by the company we’re in. Good luck with your projects, everyone!

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> My father has been stalled on an important research project for years for lack of the right kind of statistician

Just out of curiosity, what is it and what would the right kind of statistician be? I'm a statistician and I know a lot of statisticians. Often we feel we are short on important projects, while society is yelling that it is short on statisticians. It's hard to square that circle.

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I got such a rush reading this. I hope that there are periodic follow up posts.

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Thank you Scott at everyone who contributed to this new grant. I'm honored to have RaDVaC included in this group of creative, important, really interesting projects. This will help take our work at RaDVaC to new levels; in my view this is a big moment for vaccinology and the future of global health. We're going to do some kickass science.

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This legitimately made me cry. I'm writing this with tears coming down my face right now, because this is the group of people that are going to save the world.

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This was cool to read. My best wishes to everyone here, in taking their ideas to completion.

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Dec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021

I just want to state my most heartfelt gratitude towards Scott and the other funders for their munificent generosity. Thank you *so much* especially for supporting the www.endohazard.org project, which I strongly believe can lead to huge beneficial second and third order effects. Thank you!

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"Other times a reviewer was concerned that if you were successful, your work might be used by terrorists / dictators / AI capabilities researchers / Republicans"

Right. "Republicans." Because if we've learned anything over the past two years, it's that only one side of the political spectrum is capable of doing harm.

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15 minutes of reading NA's Reddit history has convinced me that he's probably not actually interested in EA and that you've been taken for a ride.

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"D, $5,000, to help interview for CS professor positions."

Huh? Interviewing for CS professor positions was taxing in all sorts of ways, but it wasn't expensive. In fact, universities were super accommodating, saving me the cost of a personal flight to Toronto in between interviews.

"Everyone with experience in movement-building says that getting your members into top positions at top colleges is important, and this is a surprisingly cheap opportunity to make that happen."

Huh. I'm guess I'm one of those members. Do we have any coordination mechanisms?

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Great work Scott! Lots of love to all involved. I can't wait for the follow ups!

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This is the most exciting and innovative thing I have encountered in months. It's gone way, way beyond my expectations. Kudos once again, Scott.

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Decent list. Compared to some other EA-adjacent funding, this was relatively light on "$X to my friend for personal growth, because they are awesome and after personal growth they will affect the world for the better". That's a good thing. But it still had a bit of this category/pattern, which is a bad thing.

For example, getting money to apply for faculty positions in CS is pretty useless -- the interviewing universities will refund all the plane tickets anyway.

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I support further experiments in connecting EA to political structures. For instance, there are many serious ongoing openings for engagement in the U.S. that should be appealing to the EA community, some of these likely among the very highest-leverage near-term opportunities to improve lives across the world at scale. Just some of these include: better vaccine distribution; the opportunity to provide aid to poorer countries at a scale of hundreds of billions of dollars to help them through the pandemic; augmenting sanctions policies so fewer people starve to death; ending various foreign escapades (the U.S. is complicit in a blockade of Yemen that has the potential to cause hundreds of thousands of surplus deaths) and more. And it can be striking how much difference can be made with relatively modest engagement, especially in light of the magnitudes of the potential outputs.

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This is a fantastic initiative and I really hope it becomes a template for others.

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Thanks to Scott and all the generous donors on behalf of me, Delia Grace, and the pigs, farmers and pork-lovers in Uganda! Very exciting to be part of such an eclectic and talented group

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Hey Scott,

I submitted AI related grant, and I can't be sure if it was rejected, LTFF did not start working on it, or my spam filter ate their mails.

It would be great if you could send status updates about such grants.

Thanks in advance!

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This was an astonishingly fast submission, review and grant allocation process, compared to how this is traditionally done. Impressive, not least taking into account the large number and diversity of the projects seeking a grant. Based only on reading this blog post, it seems that the review process succeeded in selecting exiting projects. Made me think if there are more detailed tips or tricks concerning how Scott organised and implemented the decision-making process, that could be useful for other public or private organisations (or wealthy individuals) funding research. Consider this a suggestion for a possible future blog post.

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"Why would somebody working on biochemistry want to talk to someone working on political activism..." Well, why would anyone talk about those topics on the same blog? It is all part of the codex, while all fields of research have their specific tools, they also useful tools of the general craft. As a PhD-student, I really like the events where you get to talk to PhD-students from other fields, because you have a good opportunity to learn about the field of others, and more importantly, learn how your field is seen by others and try to give it a more positive/reasonable image to the person talking to you.

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This is awesome

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Incredible work, huge praise to the applicants and the work of Scott and the reviewers picking out these exciting projects. Very interested to hear about how the various projects progress.

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Great work, and thanks for the effort (except suing chicken factories, come on)!

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This whole post makes me almost weep with happiness!

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Congratulations to winners! I was asking the PI in my new lab if I can apply as well, but he said this wouldn't be the right time. Maybe next year.

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"Other times a reviewer was concerned that if you were successful, your work might be used by terrorists / dictators / AI capabilities researchers / Republicans and cause damage in ways you couldn't foresee. " -- I cannot believe that you actually wrote this. Very disappointed. (Not in the grants, in what how you chose to write the intro.)

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Is there any way to support the next ACX grant with private donations? I am sure many of your readers would love to participate in such a high-impact and diverse portfolio of projects

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On a different note, I would like to invite you to visit by blog. I am Dutch and writing in English. It would be great to get feedback, both regarding my English and the general writing style of my blog. I would greatly appreciate it.

henkb.substack.com

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As an Australian, happy to see the grant to "NA", especially after browsing AshLael's comments history.

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> they're smart enough to know about XYZ Grants which is better suited for them, which means they're mostly banking on XYZ funding and using you as a backup

Um, doesn't this confuse "smart enough" with "experienced with applying for grants"?

Sure, if it's considered a norm to apply for N grants in parallel, this means an experienced grant reviewer would encounter N times more applications like that, and it's reasonable to assume this as the default, and to try to adjust for this kind of selection bias.

But as a person who had applied for the first time, this sounds... surprising, to say the least.

Intuitively, it sounds intrusive and rude to just spam every grant program out there. Is this really expected and OK?

Would really appreciate comments from an experienced grant reviewer.

Still, thanks a lot for highlighting this point! Will keep it in mind.

(I've never previously considered grants as a realistic source of funding -- coming from the industry background, and given anecdotal evidence about the amount of bureacracy from friends who successfully received ones. Decided to apply only because the initial post was so much more welcoming and really different from what I've heard about grants previously)

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Now this is the timeline that I want to live in

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It seems like the system you used to publish the rest of book reviews worked pretty well. Perhaps something similar would work with the grant applications.

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Amazing, excited to see what will come out of all these projects. Great Job Scott, truly inspiring

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I am very surprised that experiment.com was not mentioned. I am constantly frustrated that there are not more medical science projects there to support.

And the ones that I _do_ want to support get funded almost instantly. Come on, researchers, take my money!

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I'm very excited to see how these turn out, especially the one that you admit is very likely to end up being a disaster if not overtly evil lol

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Dec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021

"Alice Evans, $60,000, for sabbatical and travel to fund her research and associated book on "the Great Gender Divergence", ie why some countries developed gender equality norms while others didn't."

God, no.

Someone on Reddit looked at some of her other work. https://www.reddit.com/r/CultureWarRoundup/comments/rpgdcg/december_27_2021_weekly_offtopic_and_loweffort_cw/hqeq5pg/

The chickens one is also pretty bad (and I'm not going to claim originality, this was pointed out on Reddit too, I didn't even notice the clause): to help kickstart their project of suing factory farms that violate animal cruelty laws *or otherwise expose themselves to legal action.* Translation: If they don't violate animal cruelty laws, we'll use the $72000 to find something else to get them on.

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Good for you, Sir. I am such a fan.

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If Scott couldn't fund your project, but it might be a good fit for a Focused Research Organization, please get in touch with us at https://convergentresearch.org/.

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so the grant for "D" is really a blinded grant for a team studying psychological torture and an addiction to pain, right

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Thanks for doing this in such short a time! This is really amazing and I am very excited for many of these projects!

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Hi, I'm would like to make up some of the $150,000 (I can't give the entire thing but I am willing to give what I can) that you say Kartik Akileswaran and Jonathan Mazumdar are looking for but you didn't list a way to get in tough with them. I'm hesitant to use a contact I found on Google for fear of being scammed by the wrong Kartik Akileswaran or Jonathan Mazumdar. I also can't seam to find, Dr. Alexander's e-mail listed on ACX or Substack anywhere. I'm probably just missing it.

I was raised to be quite paranoid and I'm trying to figure out how to verifiability give money to the right people. Are there any suggestions on how I should do this? If Dr. Alexander can see the e-mail associated with this comment then feel free to e-mail me with contact information for the pair. If it is known that Scott Alexander checks his Twitter DMs then I can probably contact him through a friend of mine.

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Dec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021

Okay, here's where I need some clarification. Take this:

"Still other times, my grant reviewers tied themselves up in knots with 4D chess logic like "if they're smart enough to attempt this project, they're smart enough to know about XYZ Grants which is better suited for them, which means they're mostly banking on XYZ funding and using you as a backup, but if XYZ doesn't fund these people then that's strong evidence that they shouldn't be funded, so even though everything about them looks amazing, please reject them."

Then take this:

"Alice Evans, $60,000, for sabbatical and travel to fund her research and associated book on "the Great Gender Divergence", ie why some countries developed gender equality norms while others didn't. A large body of research shows that gender equality, aside from its moral benefits, is also deeply important for economic development. Dr. Evans is an expert on the interaction of gender, history, and economics, whose work has been cited on BBC, Al Jazeera, and Sky News. She blogs here and podcasts here."

That is a project that should be funded either by her publisher for the forthcoming book on it, or her university department. Are Princeton University Press suddenly so penniless they no longer pay out advances? https://press.princeton.edu/news/the-great-gender-divergence

Anyway, there a couple of things I would like to know further:

(1) How do you define "gender equality"?

(2) There are plenty who complain that we don't have gender equality even now, today, in the developed Western world. Are we going to see talk of the pay gap, or will all this be subsumed into "women can be prime ministers, too!"

(3) I know it's a blurb, but there seems to be already a structure in place for why this is so:

"Inspired by research on The Great Divergence, Evans asks why, as societies around the world have become more gender-equal, some regions have become more equal than others. Something radical happened over the twentieth century: women entered the workforce and became political leaders across the world. This had never happened before, not in the entirety of human history. What changed? And why is progress so uneven?

The Great Gender Divergence will explain the causes of Europe’s “precocious equality,” how East Asia and Latin America caught up, why gender equity in the Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa has lagged behind, and why South-East Asia was always ahead. Evans offers a comparative history of how societies come to support gender equality and why this varies around the world, telling a story about geography, economic growth, strong states, and militant activism."

So it would seem that Dr. Evans has already answered the question posed and it is about "geography, economic growth, strong states, and militant activism".

Myself, I would put the difference in one word: "education". Can I now hold my hand out for a share of $60,000 for a pleasant junket jetting around internationally while I 'research' a topic I have already made my mind up on?

However, let me quote one grant that I do think is a good and useful idea:

"Michael Todhunter, $40,000, to continue work on automating testing cell culture media."

Yep, badly needed, and I wish him good luck on this.

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Good job raising all that money. Congratulations to the donors and grant winners.

> illegal fuel enrichment produces neutrinos which could theoretically be detected from thousands of miles away

To nitpick: I do not understand why fuel enrichment (as in U-235 enrichment, e.g. in a centrifuge, which involves neither nuclear reactions nor the weak interaction in particular) would produce neutrinos. Are you sure you are not talking about monitoring the anti-neutrinos from reactors used to breed Plutonium?

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What sort of follow-ups can we expect on the status of these projects, if any?

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"Still other times, my grant reviewers tied themselves up in knots with 4D chess logic like "if they're smart enough to attempt this project, they're smart enough to know about XYZ Grants which is better suited for them, which means they're mostly banking on XYZ funding and using you as a backup, but if XYZ doesn't fund these people then that's strong evidence that they shouldn't be funded, so even though everything about them looks amazing, please reject them."

Completely understandable, but there are many reasons that a given philanthropy might not donate to a seemingly obvious recipient. Only one of the reasons (and, I suspect, not the most common one) is that they made a full, fair, and objective investigation into the recipient, and decided to reject it for reasons that everyone else would agree with.

If Foundation A gives a lot of money to Issue B, and if a proposal relates to Issue B but got turned down by Foundation A, there could be lots of reasons for that:

1. Foundation A took a solid look at the proposal, and decided for objective reasons that it wasn't worth funding compared to everything else related to Issue B. (Fair enough).

2. It's December, and Foundation A didn't look at the proposal at all yet, because their internal process requires the proposal to have been submitted by June 1 for a decision to be made by the Board on Nov. 1, and there's now a new funding cycle that won't make decisions until March of next year.

3. Foundation A already exhausted its internal budget for Issue B for now.

4. Foundation A hasn't quite exhausted its internal budget for Issue B, but staff are saving the rest while they argue about an expansion into Issue C.

5. Foundation A has a new President with a different vision for the organization, and unbeknownst to anyone has decided not to invest in Issue B going forward.

6. Foundation A has decided to revisit its entire strategy on Issue B, and the strategy planning and discussion will take a year before they make any more grants.

7. Foundation A's staff had already put a lot of time and internal capital into arguing for a particular approach to Issue B, and this new proposal takes a slightly different approach, and they are embarrassed to change direction so quickly.

8. Foundation A's staff have been involved in an internal squabble for reasons unrelated to Issue B, but which make it impossible for now to get the necessary agreement.

9. Foundation A hasn't funded it *yet* . . . but might soon!

10. Foundation A is itself playing a strategic game where they are trying to anticipate what other funders might do, and that is delaying everything.

11. Prominent grantees of Foundation A are skeptical or insecure about the newcomer proposal, and Foundation A wants to preserve good relationships with them.

12. The decisionmakers at Foundation A were somehow rubbed the wrong way by the proposal and/or accompanying PowerPoint.

13. The decisionmakers at Foundation A just don't have a good feeling about the grant, for reasons that they can't articulate.

None of these rationales are only hypothetical--they do happen. And I could keep going. There are many reasons why we wouldn't expect the efficient market hypothesis to apply in philanthropy. And it doesn't. Due to the lack of market feedback and the prevalence of idiosyncratic philanthropist/staff preferences, there are many $20 bills lying on the ground for anyone to pick up. This is 1) exciting for potential philanthropists and 2) cause for concern about the overall incentive structure in philanthropy.

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I'm really happy to see the endohazard project here. I've been finding the research into (and huge public blind spot around) EDCs and POPs so alarming that it's basically displaced all of my concerns about climate change. I think there's a good chance that we're basically manufacturing another Great Oxygenation Event.

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If you proposed an ACX grant in an area related to alt-ac (alternative models to the standard University system, broadly conceived), please consider dropping me a line. You can find me by e-mail at sdedeo[at]andrew.cmu.edu

This is because, in tandem with a few colleagues within the system, I’ve been thinking about alternatives to how we provide what is currently described as “elite” education (small seminars, research mentorship, residential, etc). It would be helpful to learn what other people are thinking about.

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I really want to know what the Australian political lobbyist guy is planning to do with $90,000. Seems like it could take a lot of different directions, depending on what your policy proposals were and which party you were talking to.

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The beetle thing and plastic.

1. this is such a fun idea you can't help loving it.

2. do we need it? we need to stop throwing plastic in the water system. and collect it all in one place. to either bury or burn.

3. I was thinking of a wood/ plastic analogy. beetles are to plastic as termites are to wood.

if I want to get rid of some wood, do I turn to termites or fire?

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One thing that would be cool is if there was some feedback for the rejected proposals, on why it was rejected, even if it's very brief. Even if you disagree with it, it would be awesome to know what potential funders have thought of your idea when first hearing about it.

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For the person titled D receiving a $10,000 grant, I thought this paper about how early death can be selected for by evolution might be relevant: https://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.238103

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>L, $17,000, to breed a line of beetles that can digest plastic. Darkling beetles (and their associated gut microbes) can already do this a little. Maybe if someone selectively bred them for this ability, they could do it better. Plastic is generally considered bad for the environment because it's "not biodegradable", but maybe everything is biodegradable if you have sufficiently advanced beetles. This project will find out!

The contrarian perspective here is that since plastic is made from hydrocarbons, it's actually a good thing that it doesn't degrade. Throwing non-biodegradable hydrocarbons in the dump = carbon sequestration.

I hope these new beetles don't fart out CO2 or methane after eating plastic...

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Dec 30, 2021·edited Dec 30, 2021

Thanks for doing this and for this post! I'm one of the guest fund managers on one of the EA Funds (the EA Infrastructure Fund, specifically), and *I would really like many of these people to apply to EA Funds for a top up or a substantially larger grant right now (if they haven't already), and for many others to apply later on for "next phases" of these projects or for new projects*. https://funds.effectivealtruism.org/apply-for-funding

This can pretty easily be worthwhile in expectation because:

1. It should take 0.5-2 hours to write an application (setting aside time actually planning the project)

2. The actual evaluation process is typically pretty quick too, for both the applicant and the grant evaluators

3. It's faster for things that don't end up funded (so it's relatively unlikely for lots of time to be spent without impactful-in-expectation work ending up funded)

4. EA Funds's impact is probably most bottlenecked by number of good applications received (more so than by fund manager time or money available) (I'm most confident of this for the Long-Term Future Fund and the Infrastructure Fund)

Scott, did you or someone else already heavily emphasise roughly that message to the grantees? If not, could you do so? Let me know if there's any way I can help (I can be reached at michaeljamesaird AT gmail DOT com )

Here are two posts that might be helpful:

List of EA funding opportunities: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/DqwxrdyQxcMQ8P2rD/list-of-ea-funding-opportunities

Things I often tell people about applying to EA Funds: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/4tsWDEXkhincu7HLb/things-i-often-tell-people-about-applying-to-ea-funds

Also, many readers of this comment should probably consider applying too.

(Caveat: This is mostly a message I spam repeatedly in lots of EA-adjacent contexts, rather than something I'm saying because I think lots of these projects in particular sound extremely impactful and funding constrained. And there are many projects listed here that I don't feel very excited about from an impartially altruistic perspective, even if they sound cool from a vaguely-progress-studies perspective. That said, many do sound either likely to be great or *likely enough* to be great that submitting an application is worthwhile in expectation.)

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This is kinda what I imagined early university/bell labs or google/steam research looked like. Eclectic, smart people asking for money to try to solve interesting problems and getting money to do so. This was one of the most inspiring posts you've ever put together, intentionally or not. Makes me more optimistic than I've been in a while about what the future holds. Thank you.

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Reading all these projects imbues me with some measure of EAmposter Syndrome - so many amazing ideas that can impact so many lives!

Nevertheless, I'm humbled by the grant and trust it represents, and will do my best to live up to it. Back to the 'scope.

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Scott, you are probably already doing this, but if not… My wife is a professional fundraiser for a granting organization. I told her about the ACX grants. She recommends that, for tax reasons alone, you establish yourself as a foundation under the appropriate tax code. Especially if this is not going to be a one-off, make sure the IRS doesn’t come and bite you. Anyway, I hope you have already talked to lawyers about this.

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I've seen some concern about bias against Republicans, so I asked at datasecretlox.com about what Republican or (as it turned out, Republican-adjacent) grants would look like, and got some interesting answers, and I'm asking again here.

https://www.datasecretslox.com/index.php/topic,5490.msg199936.html#msg199936

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I would be interested in seeing the version of this post with the unsuccessful candidates, maybe those 500 people can submit their own TLDR blurb with a link, and Scott just post the whole thing?

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As for a ‘group’ of ‘forum’: the SSC reddit sounds definitely like a nice place for the winners to share follow up stuff and status updates etc etc back to the community! maybe with subject prefixed by an agreed on [ACX 2021 Grantee] tag or something?

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Dec 31, 2021·edited Dec 31, 2021

This is amazing. I do worry that Scott is too trusting to transfer millions of dollars around, and may get into sticky legal situations. E.g., researcher Z has spent $20,000 on an approved project, but the funders haven't yet delivered Scott enough money to pay researcher Z $20,000; or a major donor died leaving Scott without a legally-binding promise to deliver the money; and Scott is on the hook for it. The usual practice is to have a legal team and some full-time staff to manage contracts and payments.

How will payments work? Will Scott have the money, or legally-binding promises for them, before the grantees start spending money? Do grantees get the money up-front or after-the fact, is it in installments, do the installments require milestone deliverables? Does each project need to deliver a final report for public distribution before receiving their final payment? What is the status of the intellectual property produced? I have no need to know myself, but hope these things get addressed before it's too late.

In the past, before grants came with excruciatingly-detailed contracts outlining milestones, deliverables, and payments, grantees sometimes spent all of the money doing the research, without leaving enough time or money to organize, summarize, and publish the results. There were archaealogical digs which excavated important sites, yet never published any of their findings; so all we have left are boxes of artifacts without information beyond which site they came from.

Today, grantees must deliver reports, but these reports might not be saved, or even read, let alone be published or publicly available.

I don't know if it's possible to sign a binding contract to make a donation in the US. US contracts must have "consideration" to be enforceable, meaning that a donor signing a contract to hand over money must, by that contract, receive something of approximately equal value to that donor in return. So a contract with a donor to donate some sum of money couldn't be binding unless it's tied to specific research projects, and to the donor receiving some sort of compensation from those projects. Perhaps the compensation can be an emotional value, but I doubt it can be anything as general as "the feeling of satisfaction from making the world a better place".

Without contracts for donations, it would be wise to get the donations up-front, so Scott doesn't end up on the hook if some donors fail to pay. Better yet might be for Scott not to be in the loop handling money for all of these grants, but to link each funder with specific grantees and let them work out their own contracts.

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Don't mean to be rude, but did Alice Evans really need $60k? She's an academic at two elite universities and is doing research which strikes me as broadly indistinguishable from other people working in gender studies. Would this work really not be done without such funding?

And from (an admittedly brief) perusal of her work, it seems she completely shirks consideration of any heritable biological differences between sexes or populations that could at least partly explain the phenomena she investigates, which must surely limit the depth of insight (e.g. concluding that cultural/political factors explain X difference between countries with the implicit idea that these things are just a matter of random chance like which parts of the world have arable land or something).

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Can we get a post on why the hell Bryan Caplan never loses a bet??

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Jimmy Koppel: Would someone connect me to him?

I'm giving software developers coaching in the Effective Altruism community:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/FkWHn6WaFGzrzqb9P/i-m-offering-free-coaching-for-software-developers-in-the-ea

This seems somewhat similar, except (1) most of my discussions are focused on career development, only a few are on technical skills, and (2) I'm approaching the scaling problem differently

I wonder if we'd change each other's minds about something, or collaborate about something, I have no idea really, but it seems worth reaching out

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Jan 7, 2022·edited Jan 7, 2022

"A large body of research shows that gender equality, aside from its moral benefits, is also deeply important for economic development." [[Citation Needed]]

I see a large correlation between gdp per capita and gender equality norms, but that could just be that the countries that were smart enough to develop a high GDP per capita were also smart enough to abandon or attenuate their traditional religions.

On the other hand there's a large anticorrelation between gdp per capita and gender equality in choice of profession. So the countries with more gender-egalitarian ideologies have less gender-egalitarian labor allocation. This undermines the OP. My first paragraph seems like a much more likely explanation.

[Edit: maybe they are just talking about the very basic first steps of gender egalitarianism, i.e., giving women access to contraception and control over their own fertility, so that reproduction doesn't outpace the capacity of schools and other infrastructure. That seems very plausibly beneficial to growing GDP per capita in third world countries. But I'm still very doubtful that taking it further than the gender norms of a TFR<2.5 country confers any additional benefit to GDP per capita]

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Feb 4, 2022·edited Feb 4, 2022

Nuclear tests already generate shockwaves detectable by seismometers thousands of miles away.

The stated plan to detect mere enrichment via neutrinos is impossible. Maybe he means transmutation of U-238 to Pu-239? That involves a beta decay that would release a neutrino.

Solar neutrino flux is circa 10^15 per m^2 per second.

Let's calculate the neutrino flux due to someone producing a critical mass (10kg) of Pu-239 in a year, 1km away.

Total neutrinos = number of plutonium atoms = (10000g/239g)*6.022e23 = 2.5e25

Neutrinos per second = 2.5e25 / (365*24*3600) = 8e17

Surface area of 1km radius sphere = 1.25e7 m^2

Neutrinos per second intersecting 1m^2 target at 1km distance = 6.4e10

So that's four orders of magnitude below the background noise.

But maybe you can very precisely detect the energy of the neutrinos and thus distinguish between plutonium neutrinos and all others. You'd also need to simultaneously get a precise direction vector, because there are hundreds of legitimate plutonium producers around the globe. (e.g., every uranium reactor has a side effect of making some plutonium). I don't know enough physics to say whether it's possible to design a neutrino detector with those parameters. But I know that the largest neutrino detector in the world (https://icecube.wisc.edu/about-us/facts/#:~:text=IceCube%20detects%20275%20atmospheric%20neutrinos%20daily%20and%20about%20100%2C000%20per%20year) gets about 275 neutrinos per day out of a solar flux ~15000 times bigger than the signal we're looking for. So in the case of the guy making 10kg of plutonium in a year, 1km away, it'd receive about 7 neutrinos in a year. So in terms of quantity alone, detection is just barely possible if you're within 1km of the largest neutrino detector in the world. If you're not on the same continent, (it's located at the south pole), forget about it.

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What a cool suite of ideas and initiatives. And your insights on grantmaking and the process are just as valuable. Delighted to see the good you are doing (even though my idea didn't get up).

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I wonder what the status of these grants is now that more than a year is over and there we can start judging their outcomes

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