(Updated January 31st at 7:58pm PDT.)
UPDATE: We made it, thanks to you all!
The Winter Fundraiser is officially, and successfully, closed.
Humanity cannot foresee every challenge facing us in the coming decades. But what we can say with confidence is that our future looks far brighter if it contains people who possess not only raw intelligence and good intentions, but something more. People who are skilled at weighing evidence, and risks; who subject their own beliefs to scrutiny, yet don’t lose their drive; who understand the biases built into the human brain; who are attuned to their emotions and intuitions, but not ruled by them.
This is the mission of the Center for Applied Rationality: to develop, test, and teach the art of effective decision-making, for individuals and for the world.
And right now, your support for that mission makes an exceptional difference. From now through January 31, 2014, all donations to CFAR up to $150,000 will be matched one-for-one by several generous supporters*.
“It’s important for our future to have researchers and innovators with strong rationality skills, who can think about risks, and make solid plans and follow through on them. That’s why I’m sponsoring math and science Olympiad winners from my country, Estonia, to attend CFAR’s workshops.”
If you have any questions about our plans, our history, or our mission, you can read on, or click below to schedule a call with our Executive Director, Anna Salamon. She’ll be happy to talk, and our app will help you find a time that’s convenient for you:
2013 was CFAR’s first full year in existence, and it’s certainly been a busy one. Below, I’d like to share with you a picture of how we’ve grown and what we’ve achieved over that period, as well as the next steps we’re planning.
Over the last year, the Center for Applied Rationality…
Ran many workshops. That includes six four-day workshops in the Bay Area, as well as many beta-tests of new formats, such as one-day workshops, workshops in other states (Utah and New York), and workshops for groups (starting with a project team from Facebook).
Awarded dozens of altruism scholarships. 2013’s workshop participants included students trying to plan an altruistic career, researchers studying existential risk, entrepreneurs tackling open science and health care reform, managers at charitable foundations, and people working in education, policing, nursing and local politics, who wanted to bring applied rationality back to their fields.
Began providing six weeks of follow-up calls to each workshop participant, to help our skills stick, and to learn more about how our classes work on real life problems.
Launched our online research program, in which we test the effectiveness of rationality techniques, in controlled trials, on hundreds of volunteers.
Ran a series of evening events promoting rationality creatively, such as a Rationalist Debate, and, during Halloween week, a Bayesian Murder Mystery.
Taught a semester-long course on rational thinking for UC Berkeley undergraduates, in partnership with Nobel Laureate Saul Perlmutter.
Ran our second annual SPARC (Summer Program on Applied Rationality and Cognition), a week-long summer camp for mathematically gifted high-schoolers.
Taught at the 2013 Effective Altruism summit, giving several days of rationality training to over 50 of the world’s most motivated Effective Altruists.
Happily, we’ve now reached the point where our workshops consistently run smoothly, garner high ratings, and provide us with some regular revenue. That means we can focus increased attention, going forward, on long-term investments in our mission:
1. Building community.
We have over 350 alumni now, and as that number rises, we’ll need infrastructure in place to foster a thriving community. For the last year we’ve maintained an active alumni mailing list, where people troubleshoot and swap tips daily. But the strongest communities aren’t online-only. In mid-2014, we’re planning our first-ever alumni reunion, bringing past participants from around the world together for several days to forge new connections and brush up their rationality skills.
2. Extending our reach.
We’ll be continuing to experiment with shorter, cheaper, mobile, and more widely accessible variations on our current workshop model:
In December and January, we’re running a series of short workshops on particular issues such as programming, having better arguments, and setting resolutions.
In February, we’ll be running a workshop in Melbourne, Australia, and considering running more foreign workshops soon.
We’ve repeatedly been asked for other forms of rationality training besides workshops – consulting, one-on-one coaching, webinars, and evening classes. In 2014, we’ll begin beta-testing several of these.
By this time next year, we’ll have the capacity to reach more people, in more places, from more varied backgrounds, and for less cost.
We’re ramping up our online research program in 2014. In the short run, the results we get will feed back into our curriculum; in the longer run, they’ll feed into the wider research community. Several professors and PhD students have already expressed interested in collaborating with CFAR on more formal, publishable tests once we’ve honed in on promising hypotheses.
In particular, this year we’ll be increasing our focus on “epistemic” rationality: the ability to reason clearly and objectively, and generally form accurate models of the world. It’s trickier to teach than “instrumental” rationality, but no less vital. Last year saw some progress on this front — our “Building Bayesian Habits” class, for example, began performing much better after we figured out how to help people notice their intuitive, “System 1” expectations of probabilities. We’ll need many more of those mini-breakthroughs to build a truly strong epistemic curriculum.
4. Helping people help the world.
We’ll continue to give out free rationality training to people who want to help the world, with altruism scholarships to our standard workshops, and with our third annual SPARC for gifted high schoolers. But we’re also starting to develop curriculum that’s explicitly about how to use rationality to do more good. In January, we’ll be holding our first “Epistemic rationality and altruism” mini-workshop.
Additionally, in 2014 we’re launching a scholarship program for K-12 teachers who want to incorporate rationality into their teaching. In our long-term vision, school curricula would all include training in probability, logic, cognitive biases and good decision-making habits. In the short term, we think that giving rationality training to individual teachers, each of whom will pass it on to hundreds of students, is a good first step. And those teachers’ pioneering efforts will give us valuable information about which strategies for teaching rationality in schools are most effective.
Your donations can make these next steps in our mission possible, and help create a well-tested art of rationality to give to the individuals and institutions whose decisions will be determining the course of our world’s future.
We’d greatly appreciate your support, especially right now during our matching drive when it goes twice as far. Click below to find out how to donate to CFAR, and invest through us in the world’s future:
“I’m co-president of an effective altruism student group at Harvard. Rationality training helped me create and successfully execute a plan to vastly increase our campus presence–everything from making uncomfortable cold calls to powering through bureaucracy, and from running complex events to quickly updating on feedback. So far our progress has been amazing, and I credit a lot of this success to CFAR’s excellent material.”
Our heartfelt thanks, and happy holidays, from me and everyone at CFAR,
Julia Galef, President
Center for Applied Rationality
*150,000 of total matching funds has been generously pledged by: Matthew Wage, Peter McCluskey, Benjamin Hoffman, Janos Kramar & Victoria Krakovna, Liron Shapira, Satvik Beri, Kevin Harrington, Jonathan Weissman, and Ted Suzman.
The Center for Applied Rationality is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Questions? We’d love to talk — contact CFAR’s president, Julia Galef, to set up a short Skype conversation about CFAR, what we’re trying to accomplish, where money goes, volunteer opportunities, and related questions.