24

“EA” doesn’t have a talent gap. Different causes have different gaps.

There’s been a lot of discussion and disagreement over whether EA has a talent or a money gap. Some people have been saying there’s not that large of a funding gap anymore and that people should be using their talent directly instead. On the other hand, others have been saying... Read More
Comment author: hollymorgan 31 January 2018 11:07:05PM 3 points [-]

What's your current Room For More Funding / how can we get updates on your current RFMF?

Comment author: ea247 02 February 2018 01:04:56AM 3 points [-]

Good question. We currently have $375k raised, and we have determined we could likely run a good quality study for less than originally estimated, so if we continue to run our operations at the same scale, we still have around $200k RFMF. However, there’s a decent probability that it will all be filled around July, so we are not actively seeking funding until after we get that sum confirmed one way or the other. We are recommending for those who can afford to do so to hold off until that time, and fill the gap if it does not get filled, or donate to their second choice if it does get filled. This of course depends on the urgency that the second choice needs funds and a lot of individual factors, so would depend on people’s personal circumstances.

Additionally, depending on how you take donor coordination into account, it still might make sense to donate now regardless, and we are indeed still accepting funds. More donations now will make it more likely that all of our RFMF is filled in July and make our organization more robust through being less reliant on a smaller number of large donors. Furthermore, it seems likely that other donation options are in a similar situation, it just might not be mentioned.

The best way to get the most up to date information is to contact us directly and ask for the latest.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 16 January 2018 11:14:25PM 2 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: ea247 17 January 2018 12:53:00AM *  2 points [-]

Fair point, that deworming and cash transfers increase consumption instead of directly increase well being, or at least that's what GiveWell's main analysis rests on. I do recall that the GD study actually did look at SWB and on page 4 (bit.ly/2B97A1Y) it says that it increased a bunch of different happiness metrics as well (depression, stress, happiness and life satisfaction). However, if you only looked at that effect, GiveDirectly may not be that cost-effective. I haven't investigated it that much from that angle.

In terms of preventing infant mortality, it seems unlikely that losing a child wouldn't cause immense suffering to the parents, especially the mother. People often think that this wouldn't happen because people just "get used to" babies dying, but the odds that a child will die is actually quite low nowadays, even in the developing world. In India, where I have the most experience, it's measured in deaths per 1,000 live births, not 100, because it's that's rare. Additionally, because I don't think death is nearly as bad as DALYs would have it, I looked a lot into parental mourning before choosing SMS reminders. I don't have anything formal I wrote up I can point to (though I might at some point), but my research found that most parents, after the loss of a child, are depressed for around a year, with some tail ends of people who never appear to recover.

If it's the metrics issue that's leading to drug policy reform, I would recommend looking into preventing iron deficiency (through supplements or fortification) as an alternative. It's more evidence based and iron deficiency causes massive unhappiness. Anecdotally I've had friends who transformed from sad grumpy monsters into happy productive members of society after realizing they were deficient. Additionally there's evidence it increases income, increases IQ if taken during pregnancy, and decreases mortality in certain circumstances, so it's pretty robust no matter the metrics you care about.

Lastly, I'll admit that I haven't read all of your posts / critiques of AMF's effectiveness, so I'll have to go and do that :)

Comment author: ea247 16 January 2018 07:29:21PM 5 points [-]

This is fantastic! Thank you for writing this. I think that far too often people see a problem then say, "it's not tractable because I can't think of anything you can do about it" before they've even given it 10 minutes thought. And often causes require far more than 10 minutes thought to come up with some good potential solutions!

Comment author: Milan_Griffes 15 January 2018 03:40:21AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks for the thoughts.

I started looking through the CEA and thought it seemed optimistic in various ways

It would be helpful if you could point out places where our best-guess value seems optimistic. The model does include a pretty steep evidence discount – best-guess assumes just a 20% chance that each effect replicates.

I looked it up and AMF is around $1,965 per life saved, equivalent to 36 DALYs, so 1,965/36 = ~$54/DALY

As mentioned in our post, GiveWell has moved away from the DALY framework, so it's not clear that a simple conversion like this is the way to convert its model outputs into DALYs. (We've asked GiveWell for clarification on this.)

the rigors of a GiveWell CEA as well, which would definitely have less optimistic numbers, especially given the low evidence base.

Why do you think a GiveWell CEA would definitely yield less optimistic numbers?

... it might not win compared to the existing top charities.

I don't think this is a great way to think about comparing charities. Quantitative models are complicated & very sensitive to their input parameters, so a "winning" charity may only be winning because of the way a model is structured.

This isn't to say that quantitative comparisons aren't useful. Instead, I think quantitative comparisons are useful for winnowing out interventions whose cost-effect falls orders of magnitude below that of top charities. But I don't think the fidelity of any quantitative model we use today is sufficient to discern the best intervention between interventions on the same order of magnitude.

It becomes even trickier to think about when comparing interventions across very different domains. For example, x-risk interventions either dominate global health interventions (if you take cost-effectiveness estimates literally & are a total utilitarian), or aren't competitive at all (if you only believe cost-effectiveness estimates above some threshold of rigor, so aren't compelled by back-of-the-envelope estimates that massively favor x-risk).

In practice, it seems like the EA community gets by without making direct effectiveness comparisons between x-risk & global health interventions, and instead houses both as priority cause areas.

Something like this is my hope for drug policy reform – a sufficiently compelling case is articulated such that EA decides to house it as a priority cause area (already done to some extent, see Open Phil's grants to the Drug Policy Alliance: https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/us-policy/criminal-justice-reform/drug-policy-alliance-drug-decriminalization). It doesn't seem necessary to "win" the cost-effectiveness comparisons, only demonstrate that its cost-effect is competitive under plausible assumptions.

Comment author: ea247 16 January 2018 06:38:00PM 2 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: ea247 15 January 2018 01:33:10AM 4 points [-]

I echo Michael Plant's sentiments. I'm glad you're quantifying the benefits of this potential intervention.

I started looking through the CEA and thought it seemed optimistic in various ways, but then I realized I could just look at the end number and see if, even without adjustments, it beat GiveWell recommended charities. Unfortunately it doesn't. You said that GiveWell's charities are in the range of hundreds of dollars per DALY and that didn't gel with my memory. I looked it up and AMF is around $1,965 per life saved, equivalent to 36 DALYs, so 1,965/36 = ~$54/DALY. SCI was $1,080 per life saved, so $1,080/36 = $30/DALY. GiveDirectly is $11,663/36=~$323/DALY, but the reason they recommend GiveDirectly is in part because it has a lower barrier to prove itself in evidence because it is a very "direct" intervention. (source: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/13b_qt-G_TQtoYNznNak3_5dzvzgCSUPJnk3l5dMisJo/edit#gid=1034883018) These numbers hold up roughly when you look at estimates from 2012 when they were still using DALYs.

Nevertheless, if you are considering where to donate, your best guess estimate is less cost-effective than GiveWell interventions. This is before it goes through the rigors of a GiveWell CEA as well, which would definitely have less optimistic numbers, especially given the low evidence base.

I'd like to end on a note that I think that posting new cause areas to the EA movement is scary because it's a critical minded bunch, so hats off to you for having the courage to do so. Keep trying; I commend you for it. Unfortunately, even if you defend it as well as it can be defended, it might not win compared to the existing top charities. However, if nobody does this work, no new causes will be "discovered", and so even if it doesn't win, this sort of work is very likely to be net good in expectation.

Comment author: Denkenberger 10 February 2017 01:12:26PM 1 point [-]

Very interesting! That's great you did a sensitivity analysis, though it is a little surprising the range was so small. Did you do scenario where you might become convinced of the value of far future computer consciousnesses and therefore the effectiveness might be ~10^40 times as much?

Comment author: ea247 10 February 2017 08:49:55PM 3 points [-]

Thanks. Good question. While researching this I did include a probability that I would be convinced of far future causes, but given the monster length of my post as is, decided not to include it. :P

My 95% confidence range of increased value of the best option actually ranges from 80% as good as my current one (ie making a poorer decision than I’d previously come to) to one million times better, because I put a greater than 2.5% chance of being convinced of a far future cause. However, the bulk of my probability lies closer to the smaller amounts, averaging out to the ~500x range.

However, I think that this will change dramatically over the years. I am trying to prioritize considerations that rule out large swathes of the decision space. I think that near the beginning of researching I will be able to make a decision on some calls that might rule out the higher values, narrowing my confidence interval so it no longer includes the extremely high numbers. This would lower the value of the marginal year of research quite a lot. That’s hard to include in the calculations though, and it very well might not happen, or may actually become wider or have higher upper bounds.

12

What if you’re working on the wrong cause? Preliminary thoughts on how long to spend exploring vs exploiting.

  Summary If your main contribution to EA is time, how long should you spend trying to figure out the best thing to do before you switch to taking action? The EA community has spent a lot of time thinking about this question as it relates to money, but money... Read More
Comment author: Richard_Batty 06 February 2017 10:04:12AM 7 points [-]

This is really exciting, looking forward to these posts.

The Charity Entrepreneurship model is interesting to me because you're trying to do something analogous to what we're doing at the Good Technology Project - cause new high impact organisations to exist. Whereas we started meta (trying to get other entrepreneurs to work on important problems) you started at the object level (setting up a charity and only later trying to get other people to start other charities). Why did you go for this depth-first approach?

Comment author: ea247 06 February 2017 09:38:10PM 4 points [-]

So this response could also be a whole post in of itself, but briefly, there were 3 big reasons:

1) We thought that it's generally quite hard to start an extremely effective charity and also quite hard to influence pre-existing ones. Additionally it's quite easy to start something ineffective. GiveWell only gives even us and New Incentives a 10-20% of successfully starting a charity, and I think these are relatively high rates compared to what I would expect to happen if we only attempted to inspire. (e.g. Our team already has experience founding an EA meta-charity for example). 2) We were in a pretty good position to start something. We had a strong team that worked well together and the timing seemed quite good for starting a direct charity in the poverty space and we thought this space was very high impact.
3) We figured once we had starting something we would be much stronger mentors and know the process a lot better. We have already found this to be very true as we are coaching other projects through this process.

In general, I could imagine switching to a strategy that is more hands off and tries to inspire folks in a very meta way (e.g. incubator or heavy mentoring). If we see a few people pick up our CE ideas and take a good shot at them our probabilities of doing something like this would go up a lot.

Comment author: ea247 05 February 2017 08:48:40PM 5 points [-]

Great post. Completely agree with the general concept and have a few positive updates on the Charity Entrepreneurship front.

We are working with another team to get one of the other promising ideas from our initial CE research founded. A public post on this will come out sometime in the next month or so.

Additionally we are in fact working on expanding the model we used on Charity Entrepreneurship for health to a much wider subset of causes and crucial considerations to end up some with charities we/others can start in broader areas. Our first post on this, which is going up publicly very soon, is on explore/exploit and optimal stopping, but in the context of starting charities. We also talk about multi-armed bandit problems in it.

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