Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Utilitarian Financial Activity

My donations in 2016:
$10000 to the Against Malaria Foundation, which provides mosquito nets that protect Africans from malarial mosquitoes. GiveWell judged it the charity that could best put new money to use when I donated a few months ago.

$5000 to Deworm the World, which provides deworming pills to treat intestinal parasitic worm infections that cause severe illnesses in Africa and India. The educational benefits of deworming may give them the best expected value of any antipoverty charity, as intestinal worms severely impair students' school performance.

$5000 to Senator Jeff Merkley's Leadership PAC, which helps Democrats win Senate races and coordinates the party around one of its most talented and progressive legislative tacticians. This is my top pick for blocking bad Trump Administration initiatives, and I'll put up a big post about it when I donate again in a few days.

$1000 to RESULTS, which lobbies Congress for more global antipoverty funding, including vaccinations and AIDS / TB / malaria treatment. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio says, “RESULTS is the greatest citizens' lobbying organization in the history of Western civilization.”

$1000 to the Good Food Institute, which supports companies promoting plant-based meat alternatives. Real-tasting "clean meat" will eventually end factory farming, and we'll get there faster with a well-funded group that helps its producers push through regulatory obstacles created by corporations that do the factory farming.

When I took my job at Singapore in 2008, I told myself that I'd donate 25% of my annual income to a mix of political and charitable causes. I've fallen slightly below the 25% goal in previous years (while exceeding my 10% Giving What We Can pledge), but I hit it this time. If you're interested in making an end-of-2016 contribution to any of these groups and have any questions, feel free to ask.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Help them get into some good philosophy

I've given 74 talks since I left Singapore in April. Now I have a sort of fright at how many person-hours have been spent listening to me talk about things in philosophy that I think are fun. I really hope it was worth so much of people's time!

Giving a talk or writing a paper are both, in a broad sense, types of teaching. In a big lecture class for students, you're probably teaching stuff other people thought of first. In a department's weekly colloquium, you're supposed to teach stuff you thought of first. A paper is like a colloquium except you get to use footnotes and you don't get to use interpretive dance.

When you're teaching, you're trying to help your audience get into some good philosophy. The details of the various modes differ in various ways -- how much is supposed to be your own philosophy? who's the audience? how do they interact and contribute? do you make ephemeral living sounds or flat permanent letters? -- but the most basic goal is the same. Help them get into some good philosophy!

I like the idea of taking the best possible undergraduate lecture as our model for talks and papers and books. I'm thinking of the lecture that grabbed your attention and gave you a clear picture of an awesome problem or an amazing discovery. It was on your mind later that day. Maybe you told a friend about it. This happened because your teacher showed it to you clearly, and made you feel why it mattered. Maybe there were jokes! Jokes can help you get into some good philosophy.

Perhaps I should think of all my research activity (talks, papers, books) as aiming to be like that lecture. Of course, there are all kinds of modifications for format and audience and other such details. Sometimes you're giving a talk at a department full of experts, and it's Q&A, and you're supposed to answer their objections on the spot. What are you supposed to do?

Help them get into some good philosophy.