The Oxford Prioritisation Project is a new research group in the effective altruism community. The Project’s goal is to allocate £10,000 to an organisation that accepts donations, in the way that will have the greatest positive impact. As a team, we are conducting in-depth research on how best to allocate the funds.
This blog is the best way to keep in touch with what we are doing.
We plan to publish:
- Detailed summaries of our research as it unfolds
- Quantitative models
- Explanations of our views at the time of publication, how these have changed, and what evidence would make us change our minds again
- Explanations of the reasoning and assumptions behind our quantitative best guesses
- Strategic considerations about where to focus our research efforts
This blog has several purposes:
- Allowing anyone to benefit from our research, follow our recommendations, and build on them
- Sharing material and providing a model for people who would like to emulate the Oxford Prioritisation Project by starting something similar
- Invite feedback from our readers. Our goal is to have the greatest possible impact with our final grant. If you point out mistakes in our work or make well-considered suggestions, you'd stand a good chance of influencing our decision.
I'm excited to get started with this new project, the first of its kind. I hope you'll enjoy our blog.
Here's a list of the first few posts, with excerpts. All posts are also available as Google Documents, if you'd prefer to read and comment that way.
I review an informal argument for existential risk reduction as the top priority. I argue the informal argument, or at least some renditions of it, are vulnerable to two objections: (i) The far future may not be good, and we are making predictions based on very weak evidence when we estimate whether it will be good (ii) reductions in existential risk over the next century are much less valuable than equivalent increases in the probability that humanity will have a very long future.
I started by consulting a report by Max Dalton at the Centre for Effective Altruism. It aims to provide cost-effectiveness estimates of medical research into diseases prevalent in low-income countries, mostly by reviewing existing literature on this topic, complemented by some new calculations of estimates. First, Max gives some reasons why one would expect, ex ante, that tropical disease research is neglected, important and tractable. Then he goes over cost-effectiveness figures in the existing literature that attempts to estimate it, and gives new estimates based on adapting GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness calculation for research into cancer. The resulting cost-effectiveness estimates from all these sources range from 5 to 235 $/DALY,
As discussed in previous meetings and on Slack, I have looked into 1) General numbers on cost-effectiveness within MH; 2) Whether there are research institutions that could be potential recipients for the OxPrio Project; 3) More detailed info on BasicNeeds; 4) Detailed info on StrongMinds. On the first note, I found in the DCP3 report that there was little evidence on the cost-effectiveness of various interventions. The numbers that do exist vary significantly between and within disorders driven by cost of labor and contacts with the health care system, making a cost-effectiveness analysis difficult to create. On the second note, I found no research institutions that
CRISPR is a new biotechnology under development that will allow editing genomes. In particular, it would probably allow a technique called “gene drives” that ensure that the gene edit will be passed on to all offspring of the parent animal, allowing it to spread potentially to all members of a species if it is fast-reproducing. Within effective altruism, there has been some excitement of using this technology to prevent mosquitoes from carrying the malaria parasite or to reduce suffering in wild animals. While expressing optimism, David Pearce mentions that CRISPR gene drives could be used by bioterrorists
QAYS LANGAN-DATHI: “SHOULD WE COVER GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS AT ALL? IF WE DO, WHAT ARE THE MAIN RISKS TO CONSIDER?”
Mr Langan-Dathi called our attention to a summary spreadsheet of the Open Philanthropy Project’s current priorities within Global Catastrophic Risks. The top priorities were biosecurity, geoengineering, geomagnetic storms, and potential risks from artificial intelligence. The spreadsheet describes the highest-damage scenario for each risk, as well as possible philanthropic interventions to mitigate it.
The top three sources of existential and global catastrophic risk over the early to mid 21st century are likely to be thermonuclear war, artificial superintelligences, and engineered biological agents. Of these, I intend to briefly address biological technology risk, focusing particularly on the risks associated with CRISPR and related genetic engineering technologies, excluding the risk from gene drives (which will be addressed separately by Mr Peters. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a novel biotechnology capable of exerting extremely fine control over genetic systems through use of bacterial proteins, and doing so at a fraction of the expense and effort that more traditional systems incur.
As a starting point I have been mostly consulting the website of GiveWell, a nonprofit “dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give”. I briefly examined how they arrive at their conclusions to see if I agree with it.
In their current list of top charities they recommend charities that work on malaria prevention, deworming and cash transfer. How do they arrive at these recommendations? In their page on their process, they explain that first they decide to
Ms Gliva researched livestock gift interventions, such as those pursued by Heifer International. Ms Gliva had considered donating to Heifer International in the past, and wanted to find out more about it, from a prioritisation perspective. Key excerpts from her research report are:
If livestock ownership is the best way to improve quality of life and economic standing then, theoretically, a cash gift should have the same effect. This may not be the case if the recipients are poorly informed or uneducated to the point of making sub-optimal purchases. However, in my opinion, the burden should rest on the charity to demonstrate
LOVISA TENGBERG, “ARE MENTAL HEALTH INTERVENTIONS A POSSIBLE TARGET FOR THE OXFORD PRIORITISATION PROJECT?”
According to a report by the Center for Global Development (CGD) in 2015, up to 10% of people (~700 million) worldwide are affected by mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse, dementia or schizophrenia, and over a billion are likely to experience one in their lifetime, including 80% from low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). It is among the top five leading causes of non-communicable diseases, and represents 7.4% of the world’s total global burden of disease, accounting for 22% of all days lived with disability (as measured in DALYs). According to the GCD report, the
I’m excited to report that the Oxford Prioritisation Project is underway, with a fantastic team that’s already blowing me away with its competence and drive. It includes a senior research fellow in development economics, students in the natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and political theory, doctoral researchers in computer science and neurosurgery, and a software engineer. We have had our first two full-team meetings. In the inaugural meeting, which Max Dalton and