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ThomasSittler comments on High Time For Drug Policy Reform. Part 4/4: Estimating Cost-Effectiveness vs Other Causes; What EA Should Do Next - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: ThomasSittler 13 August 2017 08:29:56AM *  5 points [-]

Thanks for this impressive series of posts, Michael!

In the body text you write:

As far as I’m aware, there are no cost-effectiveness estimates comparing near-term causes like Give Directly and AMF to far-future ones, so I don’t know how much better X-risk charities are supposed to be.

But then you acknowledge in footnote 7 that there do exist such models. Michael Dickens' model is one example, and so are the models we developed during the Oxford Prioritisation Project, which you can tweak to your liking. Since not everyone may read the footnote, one thing you might do would be to amend the body text.

In a Part 2, you outline Six Ways DPR Could Do Good, yet your quantitative model only seems to take into account the first of these, improved treatment for mental health. Do you think it's the biggest effect? Or was it the easiest to model? Do you have plans to model other ways DPR could do good?

Assume the research caused by the rescheduling reveals ways to increase the happiness of each of these 10m people by 0.1 for a single year.

Does this assume that every single person suffering from depression or anxiety in the UK will adopt the new treatment? That seems unlikely. One way to get at this might be to look at current adoption rates of existing medication like SSRIs. These may be lower than adoption rates for new drugs would be, because SSRIs are less effective, but should give an interesting base rate.

You assume a 0.1 change. How does this relate to the studies on psilocybin you cite in part 2? For instance, you might look at how to translate changes on the QIDS (Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology) scale into changes in HALYs. We did something very similar in our model of StrongMinds. In particular Konstantin and Lovisa wrote:

StrongMinds measures impact on the 27-point, linear PHQ-9 scale. To convert PHQ-9 impact to DALYs averted, Global Burden of Disease DALY-weighting of most severe depression (0.658) was divided by PHQ-9 points-weighting of most severe depression (27) to render 0.024 DALYs averted per PHQ-9 point reduced.

Finally, with regard to the £166m figure. It would be useful to get an order of magnitude estimate of the cost of past campaigns to achieve this kind of policy change, and their rate of success. A quick google scholar search throws up: Advancing the Empirical Research on Lobbying, Figueiredo and Richter, a literature review.

I want to stress that although my comment focused on areas of possible improvement in your post, I strongly support your doing this work and I think it's good. Good luck!

Comment author: MichaelPlant 13 August 2017 10:29:26AM *  1 point [-]

Hello Thomas,

no cost-effectiveness estimates comparing near-term causes

On reflection, I should state 'there's only one model' rather than 'there are none' but mention one in the footnote. I guess I meant, which is still true, "there are no models I known how to use"...

ix Ways DPR Could Do Good, yet your quantitative model only seems to take into account the first of these, improved treatment for mental health.

I think the mental health effect is the biggest, it's also the easiest to think about because I know what the numbers are - it would take me a long time to assess the happiness impact of DPR caused by reducing crime (how much happiness does a crime remove? how many are there around the world? how many of those are attributable to drugs? etc...). I don't plan to do any further modelling as I need to get back to my thesis and the detail of DPR now looks like it will be outside it. FWIW, I think the mental health impact of DPR is about 80% of it's value, but when I asked Lee the same question (before telling him my view) I think he said it was about 30% (we were potentially using different moral philosophies).

Does this assume that every single person suffering from depression or anxiety in the UK will adopt the new treatment?

Yeah, I'm not clear on this. It's probably unreasonable to assume everyone would get/use the new treatment, although that's what I initially thought. I take the 0.1 as the (mean) average change across all those could be treated.

You assume a 0.1 change

I just guessed the number based on (a) the happiness impact of removing depression via other methods and (b) my qualitative sense from reading the studies of how much more effective psychedelics seems to be than alternatives. If there's a cardinal scale I can use that shows how much better psychedelics are that would be great, but I didn't dig through because doing something like what Lovisa and Konstantin did didn't occur to me.

with regard to the £166m figure. It would be useful to get an order of magnitude estimate of the cost of past campaigns

I agree it would be good to do this. I looked into this a bit but couldn't find anything useful on the cost-effectiveness of lobbying (I skimmed your paper too; it doesn't really bear on the question at hand). It's also a long way from my area of expertise and thought I was better to share what I had rather that wait until I'd found time to dig into this (which may not happen for months). If anyone read this and wanted to have a go, I'd be very grateful.

FWIW, two more things, 1) I think £166m figure is conservative and the real figure is closer to £10.5bn.

2) This is compared to AMF. As I note above and have argued elsewhere, you would have you to hold a particular, implausible philosophical view to believe AMF is as cost-effective as I stated; I was being generous to my imagined critics. A more realistic comparison is probably Basic Needs, which I say above is about 3x less cost-effective than AMF on AMF's unbelievable numbers, So really we should multiply the ammount we would spend on a DPR campaign by three to get something like £560m (conservative) or £35bn (optimistic).