Comment author: davidc 03 April 2017 09:06:07PM *  3 points [-]

For what it's worth, I think maybe this would be improved by some more information about the standards for application acceptance. (Apologies if that already exists somewhere that I haven't been able to find.)

[Edited to remove the word "transparency", which might have different connotations than I intended.]

Comment author: DavidMoss 10 May 2016 09:30:00AM 6 points [-]

Also, even assuming that this did successfully target recidivists (rather than just getting vegetarians to download resources on vegetarianism) we should presumably expect recidivists to be more likely to relapse or be less than 100% vegetarian, thus further reducing the impact.

Comment author: davidc 10 May 2016 12:54:13PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, recidivists reverted once, so it seems reasonable to expect they're more likely to again. That makes the net impact of re-converting a recidivists unclear. Targeting them may be less valuable even if they're much easier to convert.

Comment author: jonathonsmith 10 May 2016 02:07:15AM 0 points [-]

The only reason I wouldn't put that document out publicly is because it wasn't written for wide release, so maybe Nick would want to clean it up before having it shared around. I know I usually spend more time polishing the look and language of a document that I intend to be passed around publicly. But that is the only reason, we're definitely happy to share any details people are interested in.

Comment author: davidc 10 May 2016 02:16:54AM 1 point [-]

Image is working for me now.

Comment author: jonathonsmith 10 May 2016 01:48:12AM *  0 points [-]

Nick wrote up a pre-study plan that I can send your way if you (or anyone else) would like to see it. Really though, it was a pretty simple study. We targeted people who liked one or more of the following terms / pages (below) with ads encouraging them to give eating veg another shot. But definitely let me know if you have any specific questions and Alan or I can get you the details. As an aside, can you confirm for me that the images are showing up now?

Terms used to target study audience:

  • Vegetarianism
  • Vegetarian Cuisine
  • Lacto Vegetarianism
  • Ovo-lacto Vegetarianism
  • Semi-vegetarianism
  • Flexitarianism
  • Vegetarian Times
  • VegNews
Comment author: davidc 10 May 2016 01:55:56AM 3 points [-]

Image is not showing up for me still.

Is there any reason to share those details privately instead of being transparent in public?

Thanks for letting us know about this study!

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 09 May 2016 08:55:10AM 7 points [-]

Thanks for posting! That sounds very promising. Could you maybe look into why the images are not displayed? And are the details of the study documented somewhere? Thanks!

Comment author: davidc 09 May 2016 02:31:44PM 8 points [-]

I'll second the request for details. Especially within EA, it's pretty important to provide details (study plan, hopefully a pre-registration of the proposed analysis, the analysis itself, raw data, etc.) when mentioning study results like this.

Comment author: SophiaSea 24 April 2016 09:44:38AM 2 points [-]

The point of cause neutrality is to be indifferent between causes based on any criteria except how much good you can do by focussing on that cause area. The advantage of being cause-neutral is, instead of choosing what to do based on how much you like the cause or any other reason, you are choosing based on how much of a difference you can make.

People who exclude causes because they think there is less room for doing good are cause-neutral, people who exclude causes based on other reasons are not cause neutral. As the reason you are exclusively focussed on animals is because that's where you think you can help the most, you seem cause-neutral. Cause-neutral people can come to different conclusions as to which causes to support, what makes them alike is how they decide on the cause(s) they currently focus on.

GWWC is cause-neutral if it would be willing to no longer focus on poverty and global health if it was convinced that by focussing on other cause areas they could do more good. It is my understanding that the only reason they are committed to poverty and global health is because this cause area is where they believe they can do the most good. If they were to receive evidence that contradicted that, they would no longer focus on poverty and global health. The reason they are focussed on this cause is because they care only about the difference they can make in their cause selection. The reason they focus on this cause is because they are cause-neutral.

Comment author: davidc 04 May 2016 02:04:00PM *  1 point [-]

The value in discussing the meaning of a word is pretty limited, and I recognize that this usage is standard in EA.

Still, I've done a pretty bad job explaining why I find it confusing. I'll try again:

Suppose we had an organization with a mission statement like "improve the United States through better government." And suppose they had decided that the best way to do that was to recommend that their members vote Republican and donate to the Republican Party. The mission is politically neutral, but it'd be pretty weird for the organization to call itself "politically neutral".

This isn't a criticism of Michelle's post or GWWC, since their usage of the phrase is (as I now know) standard in EA. (Initially I was criticizing this post, but I was confused. Sorry!) Instead, it's a criticism of how EA uses the term generally. The "EA definition" is different from a common-sense definition.

As I see it now, "X-neutral" is implicitly "X-neutral for some purpose Y". The way EAs use "cause-neutral", Y is basically "cause selection". It means that EAs haven't committed to a cause before they select a cause. That's a good and useful part of EA, but it's also pretty narrow and (I claim) not the most natural meaning of "cause-neutral" in all contexts.

"Cause-neutral" sounds like a phrase whose meaning you could understand based on a small amount of context, but really you need the special EA definition. This makes it jargon. Jargon can be helpful, but in this case I think it's not.

Comment author: richardcanal 24 April 2016 06:19:49AM *  0 points [-]

Also if this is the case, we should probably update the Wikipedia article as well:

"Giving What We Can is an international society for the promotion of the most cost-effective poverty relief, in particular in the developing world."

Oh and the Centre for Effective Altruism website: "Giving What We Can is an international society dedicated to eliminating extreme poverty."

Comment author: davidc 25 April 2016 01:05:30PM 1 point [-]

That's not really inconsistent with cause-neutrality, given Michelle's definition (which I admit seems pretty common in EA).

(As long as GWWC is open to the possibility of working on something else instead, if something else seemed like a better way to help the world.)

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 25 April 2016 12:49:48PM 1 point [-]

I think even if there's no tension, there could still be an open question about how you think your actions generate value. For example, cause-neutral-Jeff could be donating to AMF because he thinks it's the charity with the highest expected value per $, or because he's risk averse and thinks it's the best if you're going for a trade off between expected value and low variance in value per $, or because he wants to encourage other charities to be as transparent and impact focused as AMF. So although it's not surprising that cause-neutral-Jeff focuses his donations on just one charity, and that it's AMF, it's still interesting to hear the answer to 'why does he donate to AMF?'.

But I agree, it's difficult not to slide between definitions on a concept like cause neutrality, and I'm sorry I'm not as clear as I'd like to be.

Comment author: davidc 25 April 2016 12:59:18PM 0 points [-]

Not really your fault. I'm starting to think the words inherently mean many things and are confusing.

Thanks for the posts.

Comment author: Michelle_Hutchinson 24 April 2016 07:42:43PM 0 points [-]

Hi David, It doesn’t seem problematic to me to say that a person or individual could be cause-neutral but currently focused on just one area. If that weren’t the case, the only people who would count as cause neutral would be those working on / donating to cause prioritisation itself. That seems like a less useful concept to me than the one I tried to carve out (though equally plausible as a way of understanding ‘cause neutral’). One way to frame my understanding of cause neutrality is that what matters is not whether a person/organisation is currently focused on one area, but if they’d be willing to switch to focusing on a different area if they became persuaded it would be more effective to do so. There’s also the difference between an individual and an organisation being cause neutral. It’s very plausible that a cause neutral individual could work for an organisation that isn’t cause neutral. It even seems plausible that an organisation might be not cause neutral, while being staffed entirely by people who are cause neutral. That would be true, on my understanding, if it were the case that those individuals would be willing to pivot away from working on that cause if it turned out not to be the best, but wouldn’t do so by pivoting the organisation (rather by closing it down, or finding others to staff it). On this understanding, Giving What We Can is both run by individuals who are cause neutral, and (separately) is cause neutral as an organisation.

Comment author: davidc 25 April 2016 11:45:33AM 0 points [-]

Yep, we're just using different definitions. I find your definition a bit confusing, but I admit that it seems fairly common in EA.

For what it's worth, I think some of the confusion might be caused by my definition creeping into your writing sometimes. For example, in your next post (

"Given that Giving What We Can is cause neutral, why do we recommend exclusively poverty eradication charities, and focus on our website and materials on poverty? There are three main reasons ..."

If we're really using your definition, then that's a pretty silly question. It's like saying "If David is really cause neutral, then why is he focused on animals?" or "If Jeff is cause neutral, why does he donate to AMF?" Using your definition, there's (as we've both pointed out) absolutely no tension between focusing on a cause and being cause neutral.

Comment author: davidc 23 April 2016 01:19:46AM *  0 points [-]

I'd suggest that we interpret "cause-neutrality" in a more straightforward, plain-language way: neutrality about what cause area you support; lack of commitment to any particular cause area.

As with your definition, cause-neutrality is a matter of degree. No one would be completely neutral across all possible causes. In an EA context, a "cause-neutral" EA person or organization might be just interested in furthering EA and not specifically interested in any of the particular causes more than others. But they might want to exclude some causes from EA, which is a limit on their "cause-neutrality", and might be a thorny subject.

For example:

  • I don't know who runs this website or how cause-neutral they are as an individual or organization, but it seems to be run in a pretty cause-neutral way.
  • I'm not cause-neutral (I'm almost exclusively focused on animals, because I think that's where I can help the most).
  • Expanding the pledge made GWWC more cause-neutral, but looking at the website, the organization doesn't come across as particularly cause-neutral to me.
  • Etc.

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