BenHoffman comments on Fact checking comparison between trachoma surgeries and guide dogs - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: vollmer 11 May 2017 07:30:20PM *  5 points [-]

I agree with those concerns.

In addition, some people might perceive the "guide dogs vs. trachoma surgeries" example as ableist, or might think that EAs are suggesting that governments spend less on handicapped people and more on foreign aid. (This is a particularly significant issue in Germany, where there have been lots of protests by disability rights advocates against Singer, also more recently when he gave talks about EA.)

In fact, one of the top google hits for "guide dog vs trachoma surgery" is this:

The philosopher says funding should go toward prevention instead of guide-dog training. Activists for the blind, of course, disagree.

For these reasons, I suggest not using the guide dog example at all anymore.

The above article also makes the following, interesting point:

Many people are able to function in society at a much higher level than ever before because of service dogs and therapy dogs. You would think that’s a level of utility that would appeal to Singer, but he seems to have a blind spot of his own in that respect.

This suggests that both guide dogs and trachoma surgeries cause significant flow-through effects. All of these points combined might decrease the effectiveness difference from 1000x to something around 5x-50x (see also Why Charities Don't Differ Astronomically in Cost-Effectiveness).

Comment author: BenHoffman 13 May 2017 02:22:40AM 1 point [-]

On the ableism point, my best guess is that the right response is to figure out the substance of the criticism. If we disagree, we should admit that openly, and forgo the support of people who do not in fact agree with us. If we agree, then we should account for the criticism and adjust both our beliefs and statements. Directly optimizing on avoiding adverse perceptions seems like it would lead to a distorted picture of what we are about.

Comment author: Julia_Wise 15 May 2017 12:17:09AM *  3 points [-]
Comment author: saulius  (EA Profile) 13 May 2017 10:31:53AM *  1 point [-]

The article Vollmer cites says:

Singer’s idea about the relative value of guide dogs sets up a false dichotomy, assuming that you can fund guide dogs or fund medical prevention. In fact, you can do both.

In this case that seems to be the substance of the criticism. You can't anticipate every counter-argument one could make when talking to bigger audiences, but this one is pretty common. It might be necessary to say

if I have to decide where to donate my $ 100...

Not sure it would help, it could be that such arguments trigger bad emotions for other reasons and the counter-arguments we hear are just rationalizations of those emotions. It does feel like a minefield.

Therefore, when comparing any 2 charities while introducing someone (especially an audience) to EA, we must phrase it carefully and sensitively. BTW, I think there is something to learn from way Singer phrased it in the TED talk:

Take, for example, providing a guide dog for a blind person. That's a good thing to do, right? Well, right, it is a good thing to do, but you have to think what else you could do with the resources. It costs about 40,000 dollars...