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joshjacobson comments on Saving expected lives at $10 apiece? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: joshjacobson  (EA Profile) 15 December 2016 01:01:11AM *  3 points [-]

I haven't previously engaged with your writing on this topic; I appreciate your calling attention to the promise of this as a cause area, and your persistent, rational engagement with the topic.

First of all, I was thrilled to see an acknowledgment of the inconsistency of the VSL with the underfunding of global charities. I myself have considered writing a paper specifically on this topic and the implications with regard to CEA/CBA.

Second, looking at the paper, it seems that the conclusions in the final table are without discounting future lives saved. If you were to apply discounting, how are your CEA conclusions affected? Would be interested in seeing the sensitivity analysis there.

Third, which component of the 1% risk would you find most questionable / possibly affecting the overall CEA conclusion? I generally buy that number, and that this is a promising cause area, but I'd like to investigate it a bit more myself, and your writing thus far implies that your response would be trustworthy on this.

With regard to your main question in this post: "How to communicate the cost-effectiveness to EAs and the general public. The charity we are starting would not only do the direct work to get prepared, but it would also hopefully motivate additional funding."

You are doing the right things to communicate to EAs. You are taking a statistical, skeptical, researched approach. The next steps would just be to make a stable, promising organization in this space with a solid plan for people to engage with and then move beyond just the forum and work on directly engaging with the meta charities and EA donors yourself.

I doubt that communicating with the general public should be a goal of yours. Instead, you most likely intend to communicate with those who are outside the EA community but are interested in food security, ag issues, and global risks. Many of them will already be predisposed to agree with your conclusion and many of its components, though they often will not be as quantitatively adept and engaged. Case-studies can be quite appealing to this audience; referring to regional and global food shortages of the past and the inadequacy of current preparation can be compelling.

In general it's easier to provide feedback on established messaging, such as a website, fundraising prospectus, or mission statement, which I'd be happy to do. Will also be happy to discuss future plans and steps for moving forward if helpful; I do believe I could help with regard to organizing, founding, and messaging.

Comment author: Denkenberger 16 December 2016 03:14:49PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback and your careful read!

Second, looking at the paper, it seems that the conclusions in the final table are without discounting future lives saved. If you were to apply discounting, how are your CEA conclusions affected? Would be interested in seeing the sensitivity analysis there.

We say: "This is because future lives saved are typically not discounted, and the number of lives saved per year would likely increase because of population growth." I think one reason that lives are not typically discounted is that the value tends to grow with GDP per capita, and many say we should only discount at the GDP per capita growth rate (this is valuing utility equally, with a logarithmic utility function). If one did discount lives at a greater rate than GDP per capita growth, it would reduce cost effectiveness somewhat, but we are focusing on the risk in the next couple decades, so it would not be a dramatic change.

Third, which component of the 1% risk would you find most questionable / possibly affecting the overall CEA conclusion? I generally buy that number, and that this is a promising cause area, but I'd like to investigate it a bit more myself, and your writing thus far implies that your response would be trustworthy on this.

The most important uncertainty in the risk is for the multiple breadbasket failure, because that is the largest estimated number. I think the UK government report is reliable, but there may very well be differing opinions in the climate/extreme weather community. However, I did not even try to quantify the number of risks, including regional nuclear war (for example, India-Pakistan), complete global loss of bees as pollinators, a super crop pest or pathogen, a conventional world war or pandemic that disrupts global food trade (and the resultant famine caused in food-importing countries), etc. So even if the multiple breadbasket failure scenario is significantly less likely than the report indicates, I still think order of magnitude 1% probability per year of a 10% global agricultural shortfall is defensible.

The general public may indeed not be a good place to look for funding. However, the more people that know about these solutions ahead of time, the less likely people are to panic and the more likely they are to cooperate in a catastrophe.

Thanks for your offer of additional feedback and help. Our initial website is here.