Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 04 December 2017 03:02:43PM 0 points [-]

Note to self for next year: ACE tracks money moved.

Comment author: Elizabeth 04 December 2017 07:09:05AM 2 points [-]

These are all great comments, thank you.

Saying MBSR will have an effect for 38 years after treatment seems extremely generous. Do you have any data either way on how long the benefits of mindfulness last for? I've seen stuff saying CBT works for 5 years on depression(/anxiety) without much of a drop, but 38 years is very long.

The only studies I remember (and it's been a while since I did this) checked in at 18 months and still showed significant improvement. I'd be very interested if you have a source for the CBT numbers, since that seems directly applicable.

What is 'time cost of initial work'?

Time to attend the class.

What does 'negative years of life after treatment' refer to?

guesstimate doesn't have a sigmoid function, so I used a constant minus a lognormal range.

The effects of MBSR on deprssion/anxiety (or is it just anxiety? I haven't check the studies yet) you report are much weaker than I expected.

All of the studies I read were on mild-to-moderate depression or anxiety, and ended with people having no-to-mild depression/anxiety on average. It wouldn't surprise me if in reality some people got very large benefits and others got none, which would make this a somewhat better intervention because people who didn't benefit could stop.

you seem to be assuming the DALY weight of each hour meditating is 0.5, which is roughly as bad as it is to be anxious anyway, no? Surely time meditating can't be that painful.

I think treating it as bad as death is a ceiling we won't reach, but I do think many people find meditation actively unpleasant, especially if they have a mood disorder, relative to doing something distracting. If meditation were more fun than watching TV we wouldn't have to justify it with long term health.

Another worry comes when I ask myself "would this be a good thing for EAs to fund?" It seems anyone with access to the internet could self-teach mindfulness if they really wanted to.

The costs of learning are so low relative to the costs of practicing they end up not making a big difference in the model.

It seems a bit weird for EAs to be paying for the medical treatments of other people in the developed world.

I am surprised to hear you say that, given your emphasis on mental health, which is suffering independent of material circumstances. Given that only 40% of Americans have the savings for an unexpected $1000 bill (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/63-of-americans-cant-afford-500-car-repair-or-1000-emergency-room-visit-300200097.html) , I find it quite realistic that people would benefit from others paying for care, although I expect the time to take the class and practice to be even bigger barriers.

Then my concern is one of cultural barriers and that take up of mindfulness would be quite low (intuitively, this seems like a bigger problem for mindfulness than CBT).

My intuition is the opposite: CBT was developed in a very specific cultural context and seems to take as an assumption that nothing is actually wrong. Mindfulness meditation has been practiced for... long enough that getting an actual date is infeasible.

If the true obstacles aren't money but awareness or motivation, that suggests the better things for EAs to do might be paying for public campaigns that advertise mindfulness, e.g. via Developed Media International. My concern is then neglectedness: there are(/will be) companies trying to market mindfulness to people for a profit. If this is true, EAs might want to leave this to the market to provide and do something else. I'm not quite sure how to think about this either.

My research on media interventions was very pessimistic, even for DMI (http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1ha/mental_health_shallow_review/). This time could be different, but I think it's a very hard problem.

I think you raise a valid point that there's a vibrant market in mindfulness apps, and I'd be very curious to know how they stacked up to the formal program.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 04 December 2017 01:22:11AM 0 points [-]

FYI, I note this is my comment above:

Presumably the appropriate counterfactual is how pleasant is meditation vs whatever they would have been doing instead with that time (e.g. watching tv?).

If 1 hour of TV is as fun as 1 hour of mindfulness, you should just ignore the effect on mindfulness for that hour of the person's day and look at it's effects on the rest of the person's life, where the person is probably somewhat happier.

Comment author: Robert_Wiblin 04 December 2017 12:44:10AM *  7 points [-]

"Within countries, per capita GDP growth does not appear to lead to corresponding increases in well-being."

I spent a bunch of time looking into this 'Easterlin paradox' and concluded it's more likely than not that it doesn't exist. If you look across all the countries we have data on up to the present day, increased income is indeed correlated with increased levels of SWB. Not all things are positional or absolute, it's just a mix.

My impression is that people who study this topic are divided on the correct interpretation of the data, so you should take everyone's views (including mine) with a pinch of salt.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 04 December 2017 12:37:17AM *  2 points [-]

Hello Elizabeth, thanks for writing this up. I think this is important work so please take all my points belows as friendly suggestions for improving the methodology so we can get a better answer or just clarificatory questions because I don't know what something is (I always find it quite hard to understand other people's CEA models).

Saying MBSR will have an effect for 38 years after treatment seems extremely generous. Do you have any data either way on how long the benefits of mindfulness last for? I've seen stuff saying CBT works for 5 years on depression(/anxiety) without much of a drop, but 38 years is very long.

What is 'time cost of initial work'?

What does 'negative years of life after treatment' refer to?

The effects of MBSR on deprssion/anxiety (or is it just anxiety? I haven't check the studies yet) you report are much weaker than I expected. The 7% number suggests that just 7% of the 'DALY-badness' of anxiety has been removed, suggesting it makes a dent in, rather than 'cures', the condition. Do you know what's going on here? Is MBSR partially effective (and how does this compare to CBT)? Are these perhaps studies on low anxiety people that got completed cured? Something else? I would think the effect, while it lasts, would have a much higher impact.

Time cost for continued practice seems odd to me. First, it's pretty implausible every person who went on an MBSR course would do 1 hour's practice each day (and very implausible if you assume they will do this for a next 39 years!). Second, you seem to be assuming the DALY weight of each hour meditating is 0.5, which is roughly as bad as it is to be anxious anyway, no? Surely time meditating can't be that painful. Unless you think meditation is actually unpleasant, something people suffer through to get less stressed when not meditating, I'd remove that part of the CEA. Meditation seems neutral/good IME. The appropriate counterfactual is how pleasant is meditation vs whatever they would have been doing instead with that time (e.g. watching tv?).

Your model also seems to assume that, if not for the treatment, the person wouldn't have had MBSR at all. Given the spread of mindfulness practice worldwide, I think this is better thought of as "if we fund this intervention, how much earlier will it cause 1 average person to start practising mindfulness than they otherwise would have?" If they person would have been an avid mindfulness-er 5 years later anyway, the effect is just 5 years. There's also the possible counterfactual that teaching this one person caused them to speed up the spread of mindfulness because they pass it on to their friends. And there's the possibility they would have used something else, such as CBT, to treat their depression/anxiety, anyway rather than left it untreated. Or that their depression/anxiety would have ended naturally. I'm unsure how to work through these counterfactuals, but it ought to be flagged even if you ultimately say "I'm just going to leave aside these counterfactual effects as too complicated".

Another worry comes when I ask myself "would this be a good thing for EAs to fund?" It seems anyone with access to the internet could self-teach mindfulness if they really wanted to. Hence the relevant obstacles are that people don't want to do it or aren't aware of it. I doubt there are hordes of people who know about MBSR and would do it but are lacking the funds to pay for the course themself. In the developed world, people could probably cough up $300 themselves. It seems a bit weird for EAs to be paying for the medical treatments of other people in the developed world. Suppose, instead, this is a medical treatment to be offered the depressed/anxious in the developing world. Then my concern is one of cultural barriers and that take up of mindfulness would be quite low (intuitively, this seems like a bigger problem for mindfulness than CBT).

If the true obstacles aren't money but awareness or motivation, that suggests the better things for EAs to do might be paying for public campaigns that advertise mindfulness, e.g. via Developed Media International. My concern is then neglectedness: there are(/will be) companies trying to market mindfulness to people for a profit. If this is true, EAs might want to leave this to the market to provide and do something else. I'm not quite sure how to think about this either.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 03 December 2017 08:17:20PM 0 points [-]

I'm impressed by how perceptive you are even in such an unaccustomed environment!

Comment author: Halstead 03 December 2017 07:54:03PM *  7 points [-]

One factor pushing against climate change being a >0.1% existential risk is that >6 degrees of warming would most probably take 150 years+ to happen because the oceans would absorb a large portion of the warming generated. By this time, it's plausible that we will develop artificial superintelligence, which will have (a) killed us already or (b) will enable us to solve the climate change problem by developing new forms of clean energy and carbon dioxide removal technology. Indeed, we are likely to get the tech mentioned in (b) even if we don't develop artificial superintelligence. This suggests that inferring from estimates of climate senstivity overstates the existential risk of global warming because it includes warming over 100 year+ timescales.

This suggests most of the risk comes from abrupt runaway irreversible warming. It's not clear what the risk of that is.

Comment author: Elizabeth 03 December 2017 04:53:14PM 0 points [-]

You're the second person to argue for this (other was on my personal blog), and I hear the argument. I think there's a slippery slope of what to control for here- if I include sleep, I'd also want to look at how happy people were when meditating relative to the activity it displaced.

Comment author: Alex_Barry 03 December 2017 04:29:31PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the post, as a minor nitpick, shouldn't the maximal DALY cost of doing something for an hour a day be 1/16, since there are only 16 waking hours in a day and presumably the period whilst asleep does not contribute?

Comment author: LeeCrawfurd 03 December 2017 12:50:18PM 3 points [-]

This argument is wrong on education.

It is true that schooling is often low quality and positional, but even so there are stacks of evidence showing that it is still socially productive, eg

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0305750X94900078

In response to Open Thread #39
Comment author: rdharding2 03 December 2017 07:06:41AM 0 points [-]

Thanks Will Pearson for creating this open thread!

Hi EA Community,

I recently heard about this forum and would like to share a pitch for your consideration. It relates to our need as a global community to address human population growth by tasking every nation with the responsibility to stabilize their population at a sustainable level.

Feedback is welcome and appreciated. Thank you.

THE PITCH

Goal To catalyze an international campaign that leads to the UN establishing a Framework Convention on Population Growth. Further, the goal I have in mind is to present a joint international position statement with signatory organizations and/or individuals representing countries from every inhabited continent to the UN in 2018 prior to COP24 and UNEA-4.

Note: I would like to attend the 2018 meeting of the UN's Commission on Population and Development in April and am seeking fellow supporters to join me.

Context Several environment-related international treaties exist today, yet none of them address the root cause of our oversized demands on the planet: human overpopulation. Every country deserves a voice at the table and this would provide them that opportunity.

We as a global community can't view the UN's population growth projections as destiny -- 9.8 billion people in the year 2050 should be viewed as wholly unacceptable if we're keeping future generations and other species as well as our own livelihoods in mind. The earth simply can't support this. We are choosing short-term aggregate economic growth over long-term environmental, economic, political, social, and cultural stability, putting the future habitability of the entire planet in jeopardy. We know this is true and such knowledge demands action.

My thought is, if we can get human overpopulation + continued growth to be formally recognized by the UN as a global issue that must be addressed via national population policies (like the NDCs for the Paris Agreement), then people around the world will become more amenable to openly discussing local population matters, such as unintended pregnancy rates, sexuality education programs, access to family planning information and services, and migration, as well as foreign aid and economic justice.

Vision My vision for the UN treaty is that it would formally recognize existing human overpopulation + continued growth -- within the context of the IPAT formula -- as a significant environmental issue and existential threat to the survival of humanity (one of several, to be sure). It would also promote a 3-pronged solution at national and international levels to achieve the goal of sustainable populations in every country.

3-pronged solution (1) Emphasize education about the issue of existing human overpopulation + continued growth, including why it poses an existential threat and why embracing small families to achieve a global TFR below 2.0 for the foreseeable future is an essential component of the solution. (2) Prioritize the "ease of access" model of fertility decline, which appears to fit every country's situation and addresses the goals of rapid fertility decline followed by sustained sub-replacement fertility rates by way of freedom to make informed family size choices, not coercion. (3) Promote smaller "normal" family sizes -- we need to establish a new normal for the Anthropocene.

Underlying this 3-pronged solution are the 5 principles presented in a paper written by Population Matters Director Robin Maynard. The 5 principles are (1) Universality, (2) Proportionality, (3) Equity, (4) Equality, and (5) Choice. [http://robinmaynard.com/portfolio/population-matters/]

For solution (2) above, the keynote address by Martha Campbell from Population & Sustainability Network's first annual meeting in 2005 provides helpful context.

For all 3 elements of the solution, Population Media Center President Bill Ryerson's essay from the 2010 Post Carbon Reader Series provides excellent context. [http://mahb.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/2010_Ryerson_TheMultiplierofEverythingElse_PostCarbonReaderSeries.pdf]

Top reasons for pursuing a treaty through the UN (1) To tell the story, the "whole truth" about human overpopulation

Great opportunity to tell the human overpopulation story, to share the story with a global audience including world leaders and members of the general public, and to publicly and formally assert that human overpopulation is solvable by embracing small families* for the foreseeable future.

(2) To bring the term "overpopulation" and the existing reality of human overpopulation into the mainstream

The UN is recognized globally as a lawful, mainstream international governing body. Formal UN recognition of existing human overpopulation and the solution of embracing small families* could help legitimize the issue and the solution in the eyes of world leaders as well as members of the general public.

(3) To make national population policies necessary and politically expedient

The Paris Agreement has helped apply pressure on governments and the private sector to "act on climate change". Efforts to date have been somewhat misguided since they are focused on "downstream" issues, and that's precisely why our cause could benefit from having a similar international accord -- hopefully one that is universally ratified -- that prioritizes action specifically on human overpopulation and highlights the clear, compassionate solution: embracing small families*. As our colleague Karen Shragg likes to say, if we don't act on overpopulation then all of our other efforts will never be enough.

  • It's worth noting that I don't believe this treaty should be overly prescriptive about particular family sizes. I'm including a "1 child, on average" clarification to describe what constitutes a small family as an unofficial, prudent guideline given the depth of overshoot we're already in. While I'm envisioning this as a non legally binding international accord, it seems like it's high time that we explicitly encourage those family size decisions that will most benefit our shared cause within a reasonable time horizon given the other existential threats we currently face. The "1 child, on average" clarification takes into account the (at least narrowly) accepted notion that 0 children is fine, 1 child is good, and 2 children is enough.

Language The specific language used in the treaty (and even preliminary documents as the campaign grows) will likely make or break this initiative. Population size and growth are understandably sensitive issues, and to ignore this is likely to accept failure. Fortunately, I don't have any deep ties to particular terms (e.g. overpopulation) and have no issue challenging those that do. I want big results (as we all do), and the language that will best allow us to get there with a mutual understanding among all member states is the language we should use. Winning some "battles" should not be misinterpreted as winning the "war". Winning the "war" is the focus of this initiative, which I believe will be achieved by breaking the mainstream silence on human overpopulation and the resultant overshoot compassionately.

Comment author: Khorton 03 December 2017 02:07:32AM 0 points [-]

I'd find this pretty surprising based on my knowledge of the Canadian (Albertan) & British education systems. Does anyone have evidence for standardized exams decreasing "corruption"? (Ben, I'm not sure exactly what you meant by corruption here - do you mean grades that don't match ability, or lazy teaching, or something else?)

Comment author: ThomasSittler 02 December 2017 11:35:11PM *  0 points [-]

I have no disagreement with that :)

Still, I don't actually see that much evidence that recipients spend the money on positional goods to a significant extent. To simplify, they seem to mostly buy food and productive assets.

In response to Open Thread #39
Comment author: WillPearson 02 December 2017 10:28:18PM *  0 points [-]

I'm thinking about funding an analysis of the link between autonomy and happiness.

I have seen papers like

https://academic.oup.com/heapro/article/28/2/166/661129

and http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/psp-101-1-164.pdf

I am interested in how reproducible and reliable they are and I was wondering if I could convert money into an analysis of the methodology used in (some of) these papers.

As I respect EA's analytical skills (and hope their is a shared interest in happiness and truth), I thought I would ask here.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 02 December 2017 10:27:14PM *  2 points [-]

For the benefit of readers: The individual who wrote this is almost certainly Carmi Turchick, an (his words) "autodidact independent scholar". He reports he presented works relating to his blog at the Symposium on the Psychology of War and the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences, and presented a poster at the Human Evolution and Behaviour Society.

I take this academic record to be pretty modest for someone who claims to have novel understanding about how to 'solve war', so it doesn't seem unreasonable for people to screen out claims like this on this heuristic, and doesn't imply they take themselves to know literally everything nor have no interest in new ideas. Just that the likelihood of good new ideas arising from this reference class is too low for it to be worth indulging them with scarce attention.

Of course, such a screening heuristic means one won't see diamonds in the rough. I can reassure others this is unlikely the case here. For my sins I had a look at the Altruism and War work. It is very long, not very well written, and falls into the standard autodictat's trap of taking as startlingly original insights already made elsewhere - in this case, the idea 'maybe intra-group altruism can drive intragroup conflict' was first ventured by Darwin in the Origin of Species, and there has been considerable research since, usually under the heading of 'parochial altruism'.

When I made these suggestions to Turchick (alongside a recommendation he would be better served trying to work in academia) he offered in reply a vituperative parting shot suggesting I was demonstrably incompetent in the subject of my PhD, that I failed to review his second paper because I plan to steal ideas from it for my own academic career, that I'm an 'egotistical little punk running my mouth', and so on and so forth ad nauseam.

I hope the wider EA movement does not mourn the loss of his contributions too heavily, and beg forgiveness to whatever extent my interaction with him provoked this state of affairs - which I, of course, gravely and bitterly lament. I hope others take some solace from, as Achilles was spurred on by guilt by his role at causing the death of his friend Patroclus to redouble his efforts against the Trojans, so I redouble my meagre egotistical punk-like efforts to in some small part compensate for what Turchick would have provided. I also take further solace that Turchick is not wholly lost to us, and the shrewd and penetrating criticism he offers may provide some glimmer of hope for our movement to avoid his prognostications, although I fear they are Cassandra-esque in their accuracy.

[I am a moderator for the EA FB group, but moderation decisions regarding any of Turchick's posts were 'before my time'.]

Comment author: BenHoffman 02 December 2017 09:58:43PM 2 points [-]

We should also expect this to mean that countries such as Australia and China that heavily weight a national exam system when advancing students at crucial stages will have less corrupt educational systems than countries like the US which weight locally assessed factors like grades heavily.

(Of course, there can be massive downsides to standardization as well.)

Comment author: BenHoffman 02 December 2017 09:56:36PM 1 point [-]

I think the thing to do is try to avoid thinking of "bureaucracy" as a homogeneous quantity, and instead attend to the details of institutions involved. Of course, as a foreigner with respect to every country but one's own, this is going to be difficult to evaluate when giving abroad. This is one of the many reasons why giving effectively on a global scale is hard, and why it's so important to have information feedback of the kind GiveDirectly is working on. Long-term follow-up seems really important too, and even then there's going to be some substantial justified uncertainty.

Comment author: BenHoffman 02 December 2017 09:53:42PM 1 point [-]

There's an implied heuristic that if someone makes an investment that gives them an income stream worth $X, net of costs, then the real wealth of their society increases by at least $X. On this basis, you might assume that if you give a poor person cash, and they use it to buy education, which increases the present value of their children's earnings by $X, then you've thereby added $X of real wealth to their country.

I am saying that we should doubt the premise at least somewhat.

Comment author: BenHoffman 02 December 2017 09:50:20PM 5 points [-]

For some balance, see Kelsey Piper's comments here - it looks like empirically, the picture we get from GiveDirectly is encouraging.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 02 December 2017 09:44:47PM 0 points [-]

I know little about it and what I know may or may not still apply to whoever makes the decisions at the DoD today. The way I understood it, it was some sort of trade off between reducing suffering and keeping the political situation stable (war or refugees or complicated network of international allegiances vel sim.). The activist I talked to had a particular example in mind, but for this public article we decided on just the wording you quoted. I’d rather like to connect you to him directly if you’d like to know more since I don’t feel like I know well how sensitive what information is and he knows much more too of course.

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