Comment author: ea247 16 January 2018 06:38:00PM 0 points [-]

The reason why interventions like AR or x-risk are accepted by the EA movement (although not by all EAs) is that from a CEA perspective they do better than GiveWell top charities. The reason a lot of people still don't accept them as interventions though is because people discount based on evidence base differently, with some people taking non-evidence based CEAs more seriously than others. If drug policy does worse from a CEA perspective than GiveWell, AR and x-risk, and is worse from an evidence perspective than GiveWell charities, where is its advantage?

You could make a case that it's better from a metric perspective (ie preventing unhappiness through depression rather than DALYs which has issues with it, like over-valuing preventing death according to a lot of value systems), but deworming improves lives; it doesn't prevent death. Same with GiveDirectly.

For giving detailed feedback on the CEA, I unfortunately just don't have the energy to do the full thing, but if the final number still isn't enough to make me switch from GiveWell charities, it doesn't make sense to look more into the details. However, one thing that jumped out to me that others mentioned was the chance of the ballot coming through. I think looking up the historical rate of ballot initiatives being passed would be a good thing to look into.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 16 January 2018 11:14:25PM 0 points [-]

On your original comparison to GW charities, I wouldn't just take GW's analysis as the canonic truth on the matter. Their CEA is pretty complicated, but ultimately they value charities based on how well they either 1. save lives or 2. increase consumption.

What you think about the value of saving lives is a philosophical question. I've written about this elsewhere so won't repeat myself. What you think about the value of increase consumption (SCI and GD) is probably an empirical question. If you value happiness then increasing consumption is a really bad way to increase aggregate happiness because of adaption and comparison effects (I discuss this in my EAG talk).

When I think about GW charities, I'm am highly sceptical they do much good at all. I know, highly controversial....

I say this because it opens the space to look at other things, like mental health and pain, both of which drug policy reform help.

However, even if you take GW's calcs at face value (I'm not sure exactly what that is) I think it would still be possible to build an EV calc for drug policy reform that rivals them. In this post I suggest a campaign for rescheduling psychedelics could spend £250 billion and be competitive with AMF. Milan's calcs are really helpful because it's important to start filling in the details of this analysis. In many ways, Milan's is more complete than mine, which is quite simple.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 14 January 2018 06:21:37PM 1 point [-]

This seems like a good project and I found the 2-axis picture helpful. The only bit that stood out was global warming. I'm not sure how you're defining it but my sense is that global warming of some sort seems pretty likely to be a problem in the next 100 years. If you mean a particularly severe form of global warming, it might help to have a more expressive term like "runaway climate change" or "severe climate change" and possible also a term for a more moderate form that appears in another box.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 14 January 2018 01:20:42PM *  2 points [-]

Thanks for doing this. I found the way you'd quantified the treatment benefits very useful.

Two sets of comments:


I would have found it very helpful if you'd explained the context of the intervention. Some questions that sprung to mind:

what are ballot initiatives in Calfornia and how do they work? is this to raise funds to put this up for a vote? If so, what are the costs involved and why do they vary? Is this to put this to put it up for a vote and campaign for it? Something else?

What exactly do you mean by 'drug liberalisation'? Changing the medical laws, the recreational ones? If so, in what way? I understand you want to be 'agnostic' on the details, but I'd say you're closer to being 'vague' as I'm really not sure what you have in mind. Another way of being agnostic would be to say "there are options A to F of how this could work in practice, we don't know which is best and it would/wouldn't change the model for these reasons"


I'd also have found it helpful if you'd explained what you're doing at the various steps of the model and why. I assume that anyone, such as myself, interested to look through the model would also read a text explanation and this would aid comprehension. Important counterfactuals to consider seem to be:

-How many years of benefit there are before this happens anyway. Your answers were 2, 5 and 10 years. Could you explain your thinking there and what it's sensitive to?

-Why did you model the effect just in California? I think most of the benefit of something like this is that it would speed up drug reform around the world, i.e. what California does today, the world does tomorrow. It would be good to have something, even vague, on how much better this looks if we include a domino effect.

-You state this would need $6m, $14m or $38m in funding. In addition to knowing exactly what that is funding for, I'd want to know about the expected value at different sums raised. i.e. if I can just scrap together $100k, am I right in thinking this is a waste of time? If that's true, that changes who the relevant audience is and it would only be major funders.

-You mention depression but not, as far as I can see, anxiety. Is there a reason for that?

-Are you assuming the people who would be treated with psychedelics wouldn't otherwise receive treatment? What are you assuming here?

I might have other things, but that's probably enough for now.

Comment author: Michael_PJ 13 January 2018 12:32:59PM 3 points [-]

I think you're right that having "an organization" talking about X is necessary for X to reach "full legitimacy", but it's worth pointing out that many pioneers in new areas within EA just started their own orgs (ACE, MIRI etc.) rather than trying to persuade others to support them.

Having even a nominal "project" allows you to collaborate more easily with others and starts to build credibility that isn't just linked to you. I think perhaps you should just start MH&HR.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 13 January 2018 07:17:48PM 0 points [-]

Interesting thoughts, actually...


What does the R stand for?

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 12 January 2018 04:05:09PM 4 points [-]

I'm still waiting for anyone to tell me where my EV calcs have gone wrong and drug policy reform wouldn't be more cost-effective than anything in GiveWell's repertoire.

One thing I'd note here is that the rigor of GiveWell analysis versus your EV calcs is very different. There are other EV calcs out there with similar rigor that promise significantly higher $/good stuff, such as most stuff in the far future cause-space.

I argued you, whoever you are, probably don't want to donate the Against Malaria Foundation. I explain it's probably a mistake for EAs to focus too much on 'saving lives' at the expense of either 'improving lives' or 'saving humanity'.

I'd also note that GiveWell replied to your argument here:

Comment author: MichaelPlant 12 January 2018 05:49:14PM 2 points [-]

the rigor of GiveWell analysis versus your EV calcs is very different

Sort of a side question, but could you say what sort of thing you had in mind? i.e. the particular sense in which GW's calc are rigorous. I ask because I find their assumptions odd/pretty disatisfying and think they leave out loads of stuff. I mean to write about when I find time.

This isn't to say my calculations are more rigorous than theirs. GW have loads more detail.

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 12 January 2018 04:32:42PM 2 points [-]

Sure, but I don't think the right summary here is "no one has told me how my EV calc is wrong."

A better summary probably includes something like "EV calcs are complicated and their outputs are very sensitive to the modeling assumptions used."

Comment author: MichaelPlant 12 January 2018 05:43:32PM 2 points [-]

Yes. I think I was over-selling my point and that was a mistake. Our back and forth was useful and I'll have to think about it again when I look at DPR again.

By way of explanation, I think I was venting my frustrationg at the ratio of "time I spend researching and writing about drug policy reform:serious interest it received"

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 12 January 2018 06:02:41AM *  4 points [-]

I'm still waiting for anyone to tell me where my EV calcs have gone wrong

For what it's worth, we had some back & forth regarding modeling assumptions around drug policy reform cost-effectiveness:

Comment author: MichaelPlant 12 January 2018 11:08:23AM 0 points [-]

I remember. I don't think we quite got the bottom of the issue however and couldn't agree what the right counterfactual was.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 12 January 2018 12:11:13AM *  6 points [-]

I worry you've missed the most important part of the analysis. If we think what it means for a "new cause to be accepted by the effective altruism movement" that would proably be either:

  1. It becomes a cause area touted by EA organisations like Give Well, CEA, or GWWC. In practice, this involves convincing the leadership of those organisations. If you want to get a new cause in via this route, that's end goal you need to achieve; writing good arguments is a means to that end.

  2. you convince individuals EA to change what they do. To a large extent, this also depends on convincing EA-org leadership, because that's who people look to for confirmation a new cause has been vetted. This isn't necessarily stupid on the part of individual EAs to defer to expert judgement: they might think "Oh, well if so and so aren't convinced about X, there's probably a reason for it".

This seems as good as time as any to re-plug the stuff I've done. I think these mostly meet your criteria, but fail in some key ways.

I first posted about mental health and happiness 18 months ago and explained why poverty is less effective than most will think and mental health more effective. I think I was, at the time, lacking a particular charity recommendation though (I now think Basic Needs and Strong Minds look like reasonable picks); I agree it's important new cause suggestions have 'shovel ready' project.

I argued you, whoever you are, probably don't want to donate the Against Malaria Foundation. I explain it's probably a mistake for EAs to focus too much on 'saving lives' at the expense of either 'improving lives' or 'saving humanity'.

Back in August I explain why drug policy reform should be taken seriously as new cause. I agree that lacks a shovel ready project too, but, if anything, I think there was too much depth and rigour there. I'm still waiting for anyone to tell me where my EV calcs have gone wrong and drug policy reform wouldn't be more cost-effective than anything in GiveWell's repertoire.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 29 December 2017 12:16:17PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for this Ben. Two comments.

  1. Could you explain your Impact-Adjusted Significant Plan Changes to those of us who don't understand the system? E.g What does an "rated-1000" plan change look like and how does that compare to a "rated-1"? I imagine the former is something like a top maths bod going from working on nothing to working on AI safety but that's just my assumption. I really don't know what these mean in practice, so some illustrative examples would be nice.

  2. Following comments made by others about CEA's somewhat self-flagellatory review, it seems a bit odd and unnecessarily self-critical to describe something as a challenge if you've conscious chosen to de-prioritise it. In this case:

(iii) we had to abandon our target to triple IASPC (iv) rated-1 plan changes from introductory content didn’t grow as we stopped focusing on them.

By analogy, it's curious if tell you 1) a challenge for me this year was that I didn't run a marathon this year and 2) I decided running marathons wasn't that important to me (full disclosure humblebrag: I did run(/walk) a marathon this year).

Comment author: MichaelPlant 19 December 2017 07:58:14PM *  10 points [-]

Thanks for the update, much appreciated.

I only have a question in one area: could you say a bit more about how the individual outreach team will find people and how it might try to help them? Maybe I'm misreading this, but there's something worryingly mysterious and opaque about there being someone in CEA who reaches out to 'pick winners' (in comparison to, say, having a transparent, formal application process for grants which seems unobjectionable).

One worry (which I'm perhaps overstating) is this might lead to accidental social/intellectual conformism because people start to watch what they do/say in the hope of the word getting out and them getting 'picked' for special prizes.

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