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EricHerboso comments on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: EricHerboso  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 09:26:11PM 3 points [-]

I work for ACE, but below are my immediate personal thoughts. This is not an official ACE response.

There is also a further option, that we consider whether EAs could prioritise meta-evaluation projects for ACE and other EA related groups. If we desire to optimise evidence based (rather than more ideologically weighted) opportunities for donors, it could be argued that we ought to limit donations until these criteria are met…

Just to be clear, you are proposing that EAs stop donating to ACE and ACE’s top charities and instead use the money to fund an external review of ACE. This is a dramatic proposition.

ACE believes transparency is extremely important. It would not be difficult for an external reviewer to go through ACE’s materials privately. We welcome such criticism, and when we find that we’ve made a mistake, we publicly announce those mistakes.

If you’re serious about performing an evaluation of ACE, you should be aware of our most recent internal evaluation as well as GiveWell’s stance on external evaluation.

With that said, I don’t believe that the effort/expense of going through an external review is warranted. Below I will explain why.

Like some others I was a little surprised…

In your opening line, you linked to Harrison Nathan’s essay “The Actual Number is Almost Surely Higher”. I and other staff members at ACE strongly disagree with the criticism he has made in this and other essays. Last year, we responded to his claims, pointing out why we felt they were inaccurate. Later, he gave an interview with SHARK, where we yet again responded to his criticism. When he continued to give the same critiques publicly, we gave an in-depth response that goes into full detail of why his continued claims are false.

If you share any of the criticisms Nathan made in his essays, I highly recommend reading our latest response.

…it would seem reasonable that EAs might choose not to fund GFI or the other top ACE charities, primarily because these are not neglected groups.

When ACE recommends a charity, the concept of neglectedness is already baked into that recommendation. One of the criteria ACE uses when evaluating charities includes checking to make sure that there is room for more funding and concrete plans for growth. This factor takes into account funding sources from outside of ACE.

The OPP’s grant to GFI was taken into account when making GFI a top charity. Bollard’s statement that he thought OPP would take care of GFI’s room for more funding in the medium term is from April 2017, after our latest recommendations were made. I’m not on ACE’s research team, so I don’t know the exact details behind this. But I can assure you that as ACE is updating our yearly recommendations in December 2017, this is exactly the kind of thing that will be taken into account, if they haven't already done so.

…it may well be the case that EAs ought to invest in developing more inclusive frameworks for intervention, and concentrate more resources on movement theorising. It is my belief that undertaking work to further explore these issues through a system of meta-evaluation could in turn create a stronger foundation for improved outcomes.

I agree that exploring more is particularly impactful when it comes to effective animal advocacy. But I disagree with your proposal on how to do this.

I’m most excited about additional research into potential intervention types, such as the work being done by the ACE Research Fund and ACE’s new Experimental Research Division. I think it makes a lot of sense for us to focus on more research, and my personal donations are geared more toward this area than the direct advocacy work that the top charities perform.

Your alternative proposal is to fund groups like Food Empowerment Project, Encompass, and Better Eating International specifically because “they tend to fall outside the welfare / abolition paradigm favored by EAA, ACE and Open Phil”, and thus presumably are relatively neglected. I strongly disagree with this line of thinking, even though I personally like these specific organizations. (I’ve personally donated to Encompass this year.)

80k Hours points out that being evidence-based doesn’t have nearly as large an impact as choosing the right cause area. When it comes to the welfare/abolition paradigm, avoiding welfare organizations is costly.

This isn’t to say that abolitionism isn’t a worthy goal; I personally would love to see a world where speciesism is eradicated and no animals are so callously harmed for food. But to get from here to there requires a welfare mindset; abolitionist techniques lack tractability.

One of the reasons why ACE likes being transparent is that we recognize that our philosophy might not correspond exactly to those of everyone else. By making our reasoning transparent, this makes it easier for others to insert their own philosophical underpinnings and assumptions to choose a more appropriate charity for them. This is one reason why we list so many standout charities; we believe that there are donors out there who have specific needs/desires that would make it more appropriate for them to fund a standout charity than any of our top charities. We are currently in the process of making it even easier to do this by creating a questionnaire that allows users to answer a few philosophical questions, allowing us to customize a recommendation specifically tailored to them.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 02 September 2017 08:21:01AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for your comment.

This is what ACE say in relation to the criterion.

“4. The charity possesses a strong track record of success. The charity has a record of successful achievement of incremental goals or of demonstrated progress towards larger goals. Note that this implies the charity has been in existence for some length of time. While very young charities may have strong potential to return large results for small initial amounts of funding, donating to charities without track records is inherently risky.”

I think it is reasonable to say that GFI has not been in existence for a particularly long time, having launched in 2016, and having been reviewed in 2016. Whatever other considerations might mitigate this issue, it still stands that the charity has been in existence for a very short period of time, and GFI did not possess a strong track record of success, and therefore it couldn’t in my view meet criteria four. But like I said in the article, I think there is room for flexibility with newer groups.

My post here asked the question whether we ought to think more before we donate to GFI, not that EAs shouldn’t want GFI to be fully funded, or necessarily any of the other groups that ACE recommend. As I said, I think it is highly unlikely GFI wouldn’t be, as they are viewed as such a good prospect. I would generally expect most people to agree that it would be a good idea to think more about the different issues that are related to funding, and I would expect very few people to agree that GFI shouldn’t be fully funded.

I personally don’t donate money to ACE, for some of the reasons i have stated and others that follow, but just like with GFI, it isn't that i wouldn't want to see it fully funded, but I think other EAs could consider the issues more, and it might be they think it is a less good idea to put as much money into ACE until certain issues are resolved.

Some EAs believe there are few issues, others believe there are more, i'm one of the people who believe there are more. In my view there are also reasons to believe that ACE have been underfunded for some years, as i believe scope should have been expanded, and more charities evaluated, but i am uncertain whether there has been much interest in resolving a number of these issues, partly because people weight them differently. Whilst I was in favour of Open Phil donating $500,000 to ACE this year, as a way to potentially resolve some issues, and i am not in favour of the $1m funding cap.

I would prefer that more EAs consider reasons for thinking differently about the situation in relation to donations overall, including whether or not to let larger philanthropic organisations do most of the funding of top groups, or just to let them to do it, and for EAs to look at a broader range of organisations outside the ‘mainstream’. Something which might have more appeal to people outside of EA, and that would need to be instigated from within EA. It’s not even an either/or situation in terms or evaluation, it would be possible to do both, if there was a desire to do this.

It’s true I’m not presently very satisfied with the process at ACE, and I think there are reasonable grounds that some other people might like to think differently about what to do in relation to that situation too. Incidentally, I would be in favour of independent and funded external meta-evaluation for all evaluation groups related to EA, and I see no reason why this shouldn’t be encouraged in order to improve the likelihood different issues are taken into account (that organisations might be missing) and to support evaluation groups to do the work they do. I regard it as incorporating a strategy to increase the likelihood different issues are fairly considered. It also gives reassurance to donors, and I see no reason not to put a system in place as a matter of best practice, or as is sometimes considered, better than best practice. This is something I have spoken about before with ACE, and I find the reasons to do it compelling, not least because it could add more legitimacy to the evaluation process.

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On the issue of interventions, I also believe they need to include meta-evaluation. So what is the impact of say, vegan advocacy in relation to reducetarian advocacy? What is the impact of marginalising veganism to focus on ‘mainstreamness’? Or for saying we need to use the idea people love animals but hate vegans? I’m in favour of working out which interventions are effective, and within different approaches, not just comparisons between approaches to attempt to work out which one is ‘best’ (welfare or abolition). I would also like to see how ACE are considering the differences between top down and bottom up advocacy, social movements, ethical systems, and how ideas are represented or distorted within a mainstream / non-mainstream context. I think this could be something for the Experimental Research Division, and I think a good place to begin would be with foundational issues, with dialogue across the animal movement to establish where people are at with these forms of ideas.

It also wasn’t really my intention to suggest that Encompass or BEI fall outside the paradigm of abolition and welfare, but it is my belief the Food Empowerment Project do. They were all examples of groups I am more interested in, but I haven't spoken to either Encompass or BEI to know where they see themselves in relation to welfare / abolition (nor do i intend to at the present time).

The problem I am referring to by mentioning the dichotomy of welfare and abolition is that it doesn’t provide enough scope for different groups to fit in, if people reject the EA idea of welfare and also reject abolition, where do they go? Where are these different approaches generally explored within EA? I am not saying this doesn't happen at all, but it happens very little, and in a very marginal way. So i wonder where the curiosity largely exists in relation to what different people are doing in the animal movement outside the idea of 'welfare'? For me it looks a lot like larger organisations are being functionally rational within the movement, which is understandable to a degree, but i think this has impacted how evaluation works (I think Robert Jackall explores some of these issues in the book "Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers." I also believe Jonathon Smucker maps some of the issues in his new book "Hegemony How-To".)

I also question whether ACE should use the abolitionist / welfare paradigm without really having completed a thorough consideration of its origins and implications. If this examination does however exist, i would welcome seeing it.

Without this work I disagree about the idea of a ‘welfare’ mindset for tractability. How has that been articulated? What are the alternative mindsets? Where are they considered and comparisons made? People are highly interested in doing effective advocacy and some people want to be consistent with their approach, and find that is a sound way to empower people with the knowledge to make changes, whilst others are more interested in marketing techniques.

If we are in favour of diversity then we need to acknowledge and understand different approaches, and find ways that improve the work different people do, rather than adopting a dichotomy of welfare / abolition and saying welfare is best and that everyone ought to do it if they want to be most effective. For example, if we are looking at issues of social justice and speciesism, then the framework we use reasonably ought to fit with other frameworks in relation to discrimination and oppression. However, if people want to do conventional welfare, or reducetarianism, then ok, but the limitations ought to be acknowledged, and how they relate considered. I don't think I have seen where organisations in EA have completed this type of work, where it has had cross movement input.

As a movement model I would probably consider something along the lines of the following, to more easily refer to different ideas in the animal movement and improve communication. Though i would consult broadly to get more ideas:

Welfare, new welfare.
Reducetarian, reducetarian animal rights.
Vegan, animal rights.
Abolitionist Approach.