Comment author: Ben_Todd 03 June 2018 10:41:58AM 3 points [-]

On the practical point, one help is that I think cases like these are fairly uncommon:

The previous example used donations because it’s easy and clear cut to make the case that this is the wrong move without getting into more difficult issues, but it generalizes to talent as well. For example, recently, Fortify Health was founded. Clearly the founders deserve 100% impact- without them, the project certainly would not have happened. But wait a second: both of them think that without Charity Science’s support, the project would definitely not have happened. So, technically, Charity Science could also take 100% credit. (Since from our perspective, if we did not help Fortify Health it would not have happened, so it is a 100% counterfactually caused by Charity Science project). But wait a second, what about the donors who funded the project early on (because of Charity Science’s recommendation)? Surely they deserve some credit for impact as well! What about the fact that without the EA movement, it would have been much less likely for Charity Science and Fortify Health to connect? With multiple organizations and individuals, you can very easily attribute a lot more impact than actually happens.

In our impact evaluations, and in my experiences talking to others in the community, we would never give 100% of the impact to each group. For instance, if Charity Science didn't exist, the founders of Fortify might well have ended up doing a similar idea anyway - it's not as if Charity Science is the only group promoting evidence-based global health charities, and if Charity Science didn't exist, another group like them probably would have sprung up eventually. What's more, even if the founders didn't do Fortify, they would probably have done something else high-impact instead. So, the impact of Charity Science should probably be much less than 100% of Fortify. And the same is true for the other groups involved.

At 80,000 Hours, we rarely claim more than 30% of the impact of an event or plan change, and we most often model our impact as a speed-up (e.g. we assume the career changer would have eventually made the same shift, but we made it come 0.5-4 years earlier). We also sometimes factor in costs incurred by other groups. All this makes it hard for credit to add up to more than 100% in practice.

Comment author: Halstead 04 June 2018 02:06:04PM *  1 point [-]

good points. This can also go the other way though - an org could leverage money from otherwise very ineffective orgs. Especially with policy changes, it can sometimes be the case that a good org comes up with a campaign that steers the entire advocacy ecosystem to a more effective path. A good example of this is campaigns for ordinary air pollution regulations on coal plants, which were started in the 1990s by the Clean Air Task Force among others and now have hundreds of millions in funding from Bloomberg. If these campaigns weren't started, environmental NGOs in the US and Europe would plausibly be working on something much worse.

I don't think the notion of 'credit' is a useful one. At FP, when we were looking at orgs working on policy change, we initially asked them how much credit they should take for a particular policy change. They ended up saying things like "40%". I don't really understand what this means. It turned out to be best to ask them when the campaign and policy change would have happened had they not acted (obviously a very difficult question). It's best to couch things in terms of counterfactual impact throughout and not to convert into 'credit'.

Similarly with voting, if an election is decided by one vote and there are one million voters for the winning party, I think it is inevitably misleading to ask how much of the credit each voter should get. One naturally answers that they get one millionth of the credit, but this is wrong as a proposition about their counterfactual impact, which is what we really care about.

Indeed, focusing on credit can lead you to attribute impact in cases of redundant causation when an org actually has zero counterfactual impact. Imagine 100 orgs are working for a big policy change, and only 50 of them were necessary to the outcome (though this could be any combination of them and they were all equally important). In this case, funding one of the orgs had zero counterfactual impact because the change would have happened without them. But on the 'credit approach', you'd end up attributing one hundredth of the impact to each of the orgs

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 01 June 2018 09:32:13PM 1 point [-]

Forget about the organization's own counterfactual impact for a moment.

Do you agree that, from the world's perspective, it would be better in Joey's scenario if GWWC, Charity Science, and TLYCS were to all donate their money directly to AMF?

Comment author: Halstead 04 June 2018 01:54:28PM 1 point [-]

yes

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 31 May 2018 10:35:57AM 2 points [-]

I agree with you that impact is importantly relative to a particular comparison world, and so you can't straightforwardly sum different people's impacts. But my impression is that Joey's argument is actually that it's important for us to try to work collectively rather than individually. Consider a case of three people:

Anna and Bob each have $600 to donate, and want to donate as effectively as possible. Anna is deciding between donating to TLYCS and AMF, Bob between GWWC and AMF. Casey is currently not planning to donate, but if introduced to EA by TLYCS and convinced of the efficacy of donating by GWWC, would donate $1000 to AMF.

It might be the case that Anna knows that Bob plans to donate the GWWC, and therefore she's choosing between a case of causing $600 of impact or $1000. I take Joey's point not to be that you can't think of Anna's impact as being $1000, but to be that it would be better to concentrate on the collective case than the individual case. Rather than considering what her impact would be holding fixed Bob's actions ($1000 if she donates to TLYCS, $600 if she gives to AMF), Anna should try to coordinate with Bob and think about their collective impact ($1200 if they give to AMF, $1000 if they give to TLYCS/GWWC).

Given that, I would add 'increased co-ordination' to the list of things that could help with the problem. Given the highlighted fact that often multiple steps by different organisations are required to achieve particular impact, we should be thinking not just about how to optimise each step individually but also about the process overall.

Comment author: Halstead 31 May 2018 02:32:24PM 2 points [-]

I think this is a fair comment. I probably misinterpreted the main emphasis of the piece. I thought his main point was that each of the organisations is misstating their impact. I do think this was part of the argument and I think a few others did as well given that a few people started talking about dividing up credit according to the Shapely value. But I think the main part is about coordination and I agree wholeheartedly with his points and yours on that front

Comment author: rohinmshah  (EA Profile) 29 May 2018 06:29:02PM 1 point [-]

To try to narrow down the disagreement: Would you donate to GWWC instead of AMF if their impact calculation (using their current methodology) showed that $1.10 went to AMF for every $1 given to GWWC? I wouldn't.

Comment author: Halstead 30 May 2018 09:39:06AM 0 points [-]

In Joey's example, I can donate $500 to GWWC instead of AMF. If I donate to AMF, AMF gets $500 compared to the world in which i don't donate. If I donate to GWWC, then AMF gets $1000 compared to the world in which I don't donate. Clearly, I should donate to GWWC if I care about counterfactual impact. If GWWC donates the $500 directly to AMF, then value has been lost.

The coordination problem is a separate question to how individual organisations should count their own counterfactual impact.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 29 May 2018 01:07:00PM 3 points [-]

Where are you actually disagreeing with Joey and the conclusions he is drawing?

Joey is arguing that the --EA Movement-- might accidentally overcount its impact by adding each individual actor's counterfactual impact together. You point out a scenario in which various individual actor's actions are necessary for the counterfactual impact to happen so it is legitimate for each actor to claim the full counterfactual impact. This seems tangential to Joey's point, which is fundamentally about the practical implications of this problem. The question of who is responsible for the counterfactual impact and who should get credit are being asked because as the EA Movement we have to decide how to allocate our resources to the different actors. We also need to be cautious not to overcount impact as a movement in our outside communications and to not get the wrong impression ourselves.

Comment author: Halstead 29 May 2018 02:30:45PM 0 points [-]

If that is what he is arguing I agree, but I don't think he is arguing that. He writes

"This person would become quadruple counted in EA, with each organization using their donations as impact to justify their running."

Each organisation would in fact be right to count the impact in the way described.

Comment author: Halstead 29 May 2018 01:34:38PM *  2 points [-]

Here are my less rushed thoughts on why this line of thought is mistaken. Would have been better to do this as a comment in the first place - sorry about that.

This is a shorter and less rushed version of the argument I made in an earlier post on counterfactual impact, which could have been better in a few ways. Hopefully, people will find this version clearer and more convincing.

Suppose that we are assessing the total lifetime impact of two agents: Darren, a GWWC member who gives $1m to effective charities over the course of his life; and GWWC, which, let’s assume in this example, moves only Darren’s money to effective charities. If Darren had not heard of GWWC, he would have had zero impact, and if GWWC had not had Darren as a member it would have had zero impact.

When we ask how much lifetime counterfactual impact someone had, we are asking how much impact they had compared to the world in which they did not exist. On this approach, when we are assessing Darren’s impact, we compare two worlds:

Actual world: Darren gives $1m to GWWC recommended charities.

Counterfactual worldD: Darren does not exist and GWWC acts as it would have if Darren did not exist.

In the actual world, an additional $1m is given to effective charities compared to the Counterfactual WorldD. Therefore, Darren’s lifetime counterfactual impact is $1m. Similarly, when we are assessing GWWC’s counterfactual impact, we compare two worlds:

Actual world: GWWC recruits Darren ensuring that $1m goes to effective charities

Counterfactual worldG: GWWC does not exist and Darren acts as he would have done if GWWC did not exist.

In the actual world, an additional $1m is given to effective charities compared to the Counterfactual WorldG. Therefore, GWWC’s lifetime counterfactual impact is $1m.

This seems to give rise to the paradoxical conclusion that the lifetime counterfactual impact of both GWWC and Darren is $2m, which is absurd as this exceeds the total benefit produced. We would assess the lifetime counterfactual impact of both Darren and GWWC collectively by comparing two worlds:

Actual world: GWWC recruits Darren ensuring that $1m goes to effective charities
Counterfactual worldG&D: GWWC does not exist and Darren does not exist.

The difference between the Actual world and the counterfactual worldG&D is $1m, not $2m, so, the argument goes, the earlier method of calculating counterfactual impact must be wrong. The hidden premise here is:

Premise. The sum of the counterfactual impact of any two agents, A and B, taken individually, must equal the sum of the counterfactual impact of A and B, taken collectively.

In spite of its apparent plausibility, this premise is false. It implies that the conjunction of the counterfactual worlds we use to assess the counterfactual impact of two agents, taken individually, must be the same as the counterfactual world we use to assess the counterfactual impact of two agents, taken collectively. But this is not so. The conjunction of the counterfactual worlds we use to assess the impact of Darren and GWWC, taken individually, is:

Counterfactual worldD+G: GWWC does not exist and Darren acts as he would have done if GWWC did not exist; and Darren does not exist and GWWC acts as it would have done if Darren did not exist.

This world is not equivalent to Counterfactual worldD&G. Indeed, in this world Darren does not exist and acts as he would have done had GWWC not existed. But if GWWC had not existed, Darren would, ex hypothesi, still have existed. Therefore, this is not a description of the relevant counterfactual world which determines the counterfactual impact of both Darren and GWWC. This shows that you cannot unproblematically aggregate counterfactual worlds, it does not show that we assessed the counterfactual impact of Darren or GWWC in the wrong way.

To reiterate this point, when we assess Darren’s lifetime counterfactual impact, we ask: “what would have happened if Darren only hadn’t existed?” When we assess Darren and GWWC’s lifetime counterfactual impact, we ask “what would have happened if Darren and GWWC hadn’t existed?” These questions inevitably produce different answers about what GWWC would have done: in one case, we ask what GWWC would have done if Darren hadn’t existed, and in another we are assuming GWWC doesn’t even exist. This is why we get surprising answers when we mistakenly try to aggregate the counterfactual impact of multiple agents.

Comment author: Denise_Melchin 29 May 2018 12:27:00PM 2 points [-]

I think it would have been better for you to post this as a comment on your own or Joey’s post. Having a discussion in three different places makes the discussion hard to follow. Two are more than enough.

Comment author: Halstead 29 May 2018 01:29:58PM 0 points [-]

yes fair comment

Comment author: Halstead 29 May 2018 11:14:42AM 0 points [-]

Note that if we make a credit adjustment to the counterfactual impact of each individual agent, such that each gets (say) 50% credit and the aggregated impact adds up to $1bn, it would still be wrong to aggregate this counterfactual impact for the reasons outlined in the last three paragraphs.

Comment author: Flodorner 28 May 2018 02:09:06PM *  1 point [-]

"The alternative approach (which I argue is wrong) is to say that each of the n A voters is counterfactually responsible for 1/n of the $10bn benefit. Suppose there are 10m A voters. Then each A voter’s counterfactual social impact is 1/10m$10bn = $1000. But on this approach the common EA view that it is rational for individuals to vote as long as the probability of being decisive is not too small, is wrong. Suppose the ex ante chance of being decisive is 1/1m. Then the expected value of Emma voting is a mere 1/1m$1000 = $0.001. On the correct approach, the expected value of Emma voting is 1/10m*$10bn = $1000. If voting takes 5 minutes, this is obviously a worthwhile investment for the benevolent voter, as per common EA wisdom."

I am not sure, whether anyone is arguing for discounting twice. The alternative approach using the shapley value would divide the potential impact amongst the contributors, but not additionally account for the probability. Therefore, in this example both approaches seem to assign the same counterfactual impact.

More generally, it seems like most disagreements in this thread could be resolved by a more charitable interpretation of the other side (from both sides, as the validity of your argument against rohinmshah's counterexample seems to show)

Right now, a comment from someone more proficient with the shapley value arguing against

"Also consider the $1bn benefits case outlined above. Suppose that the situation is as described above but my action costs $2 and I take one billionth of the credit for the success of the project. In that case, the Shapely-adjusted benefits of my action would be $1 and the costs $2, so my action would not be worthwhile. I would therefore leave $1bn of value on the table."

might be helpful for a better understanding.

Comment author: Halstead 28 May 2018 04:24:30PM 0 points [-]

So, on the Shapely value approach, we would ignore the probability of different states of affairs when deciding what to do? This seems wrong. Also, the only time the discount would be the same is when the probability of counterfactual impact happens to equal the discount applied according to the shapely value. This would only happen coincidentally: e.g. the chance of being decisive could be 1/1,000 and the shapely discount 1/1m.

Comment author: MatejVrzala 28 May 2018 10:20:41AM *  0 points [-]

If we have: impact = one life saved = 100%

and several organizations assign this impact to themselves

There is still just one life saved

but several organizations are taking together more than 100% credit for it

100% != 200%

Comment author: Halstead 28 May 2018 11:09:31AM 0 points [-]

See the post following this one explaining why this is not a puzzle.

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