Peter_Hurford comments on A model of Animal Charity Evaluators - Oxford Prioritisation Project - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 21 May 2017 11:05:29PM *  3 points [-]

There is a fixed pool of charities that ACE will evaluate, which consists of 10-15 charities.

While I think this is a good simplifying assumption, it's incorrect and potentially makes a dramatic change to your model. The reason is that I think this assumption is what implies that "ACE will likely identify pretty-good charities very early on, and additional rounds do not lead to much change".

However, I'd view ACE as potentially still building research capacity to eventually evaluate more speculative and harder to understand options (such as the recent recommendation of The Good Food Institute) that previously could not be evaluated and may end up being cost-effective.

I also think this capacity will produce lumpy breakthroughs in evaluating cost-effectiveness and refining accuracy. Many of these breakthroughs have not happened yet and I could see them potentially dramatically changing the top charity list for ACE.

I don't have strong views on whether ACE is the best place for donations, all charities and causes considered, but I do strongly think that assuming ACE has already hit diminishing returns to research investment is a mistake and I do weakly think that building more research capacity and direct research are the most important investments in the animal-interested EA space.

(Disclaimer: I'm on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators, but only speak for myself here. I do not speak for ACE and I may have (and often do have) differing opinions than the ACE consensus.)

Comment author: ThomasSittler 23 May 2017 10:58:34AM *  1 point [-]

So there are a couple of claims here.

(i) ACE is building research capacity

(ii) ACE having more of this capacity in the future will enable them to evaluate a larger number of charities (including ones that are harder to evaluate).

(iii) ACE having more of this capacity in the future will enable them to evaluate charities with higher expected impact.

I'm not sure whether you're claiming (ii) or (iii) or both. And could you say a bit about what evidence you see for these three claims? Thanks for the useful comment!

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 25 May 2017 02:12:52AM 1 point [-]

I would strongly assert (i) and (ii) -- ACE has used money to hire more research staff and a good amount of marginal research staff time is going into harder to evaluate charities (Good Food Institute is the most prominent example, but there's ongoing work into cultured meat, protests, wild animal suffering, etc.).

I would weakly assert (iii) -- I don't really know right now whether the EV for these "new" charities is higher (if I did know that, we could argue that maybe they should be recommended now). However, the confidence bounds on something like political work or wild animal suffering, in my personal intuitions, dwarf current ACE top charities in both directions (i.e., a decent chance of being a lot better or a lot worse than current top charities). I hope to see ACE tackle these kinds of things soon!

Comment author: Sindy_Li 24 May 2017 01:01:14PM *  1 point [-]

Tom and Peter:

For an early stage charity like ACE it seems that capacity building is indeed a very important consideration (related to Ben Todd's point about the growth approach). E.g. it would allow them to move much more money later, and at the moment moving not that much money is a reason why they don't look so good in our model. Unfortunately we aren't able to incorporate this in our quantitative model (IMO another reason to look beyond quantitative models for decision making at this point, but people may have ways of incorporating it quantitatively -- it won't be hard to make a theoretical model of R&D, but fitting it empirically will be the big challenge).

On (i), Open Phil's Lewis Bollard's recommendation and ACE's own plan make it look like capacity building is something they try to do.

On (ii) and (iii), these have been true for GiveWell historically. E.g. on (iii), last year they added quite a few top charities. But I don't know ACE enough to say if they will grow in the way GiveWell did.