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ThomasSittler comments on Oxford Prioritisation Project Review - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: MichaelPlant 13 October 2017 10:57:38AM *  9 points [-]

Hello Tom, thanks very much for this write up. Three comments:

I very much admire your ability to self-criticise, but I think you're being overly harsh on yourself. It didn't turn out as well as you hoped, but you couldn't have known that in advance, which was the point. I think this is a good example of what is sometimes called 'hits-based charity': EAs trying new things with a high expected value but a low probability of success. I also hesitate to call this a failure because, as you noted, quite a few lessons were learnt. I think your (only?) substantial mistake was in having too high expectations about what a part-time student group could achieve. Perhaps you took "EAs", who are typically smart, consciousness and driven as your reference group, rather than "student club/society" which no one really expects to be very productive or world-changing.

On reflection, I wonder if OxPrio fell into a sort of research no-man's land. It was too detailed for student, average EAs to engage with, but maybe not in depth enough to attract critical commentary and engagement from full-time researchers, such as those in CEA or GiveWell, whose research you were, to some extent, replicating. I'm not sure who you thought the target audience of your research was.

I think a contributing factor to not having much local, Oxford university engagement is that you'd selected a team. Presumably the people who would be most interested in OxPrio's research applied. I imagine many of the people who applied, but you rejected from the team, then decided that, as a standard psychological reflex, that they didn't want to be involved further (disclaimer: I applied and was rejected, but ended up being really curious about what was OxPrio were doing anyway). Hence the process of selecting alienated much of your intended audience. I don't have suggestion for what would have been better, I just think this is worth factoring in.

Comment author: ThomasSittler 13 October 2017 05:13:17PM 5 points [-]

Thanks for the comment! I substantially disagree. The Project created some benefits, but (with low confidence) I don't think the costs were worth it. I'm seeing a lot of people note the benefits of the Project and conclude that the Project was net-positive, without engaging with the costs and/or counterfactuals.

Regarding the selection, I disagree that this was a substantial effect. But it's something we should discuss in person.

Comment author: nonzerosum 16 October 2017 01:30:53AM 1 point [-]

The Project created some benefits, but (with low confidence) I don't think the costs were worth it.

I think it's worth separating the outcome with the expected value at the time the project was begun.

It can still have been a +EV decision to have done it based on the information you had at the time.

i.e. it can't be evaluated as not being worth it because it didn't turn out to be worth it, it can have been worth doing because the expected value at the time made it worth it, even if it ended up not being net-positive.