Rethink Priorities Plans for 2019

This post was co-au­thored by Peter Hur­ford and Mar­cus A. Davis, with edit­ing help from the rest of the Re­think Pri­ori­ties and Re­think Char­ity team.

The effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment is al­lo­cat­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars and mil­lions of per­son hours per year to im­prove the world. Re­think Pri­ori­ties is a re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion aimed at un­cov­er­ing ac­tion­able in­sights across differ­ent EA causes, im­prov­ing the effec­tive­ness of this time and money. We’re guided by our found­ing val­ues – we care about trans­parency, tractabil­ity, short feed­back loops, ac­tion­abil­ity, and im­pact as­sess­ment.

Re­think Pri­ori­ties is an in­de­pen­dent pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity, founded in Jan­uary 2018 by Peter Hur­ford and Mar­cus A. Davis to figure out how to bet­ter al­lo­cate our time and money to­ward do­ing more good. We re­cently ex­panded to a team of ten and have an ex­cit­ing re­search agenda for 2019. Our 2019 bud­get is $447K (see table be­low for de­tails) and we are look­ing to raise $294K more. If you’re in­ter­ested in fund­ing Re­think Pri­ori­ties, or for more in­for­ma­tion, email Mar­cus A. Davis (mar­cus@rtchar­ity.org).

What we did this year

In 2018, our pri­or­ity was our own ca­pac­ity build­ing and learn­ing about how to do good re­search. We com­pleted a deep dive into the cost-effec­tive­ness of vac­cines and learned some les­sons about ap­ply­ing cost-effec­tive­ness es­ti­ma­tions to do­mains with high un­cer­tainty. We launched the Pri­or­i­tyWiki (and got some press) to help sum­ma­rize ex­ist­ing pri­ori­ti­za­tion re­search. We also finished a large hiring round, hiring seven re­searchers and cre­at­ing our re­search agenda for 2019.

We also spent some time an­a­lyz­ing move­ment build­ing strat­egy in co­op­er­a­tion with other pro­jects of Re­think Char­ity. We ran the EA Sur­vey and pub­lished some of our find­ings across five posts (e.g., see this one on dona­tion data) and ex­pect to finish pub­lish­ing one more post by the end of the year.

Our 2018 re­search was mostly (though not ex­clu­sively) fo­cused on farmed and wild an­i­mal welfare. We com­mis­sioned a site visit of farm­ing prac­tices in ru­ral Zam­bia, we re-an­a­lyzed veg out­reach stud­ies, and we col­lab­o­rated with An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors on a de­tailed re­port on farmed fish welfare (pub­li­ca­tion forth­com­ing).

Fi­nally, we spent a sig­nifi­cant amount of time do­ing thor­ough re­search into the in­ver­te­brate sen­tience (fol­low­ing Muehlhauser, 2017, Sec­tion 3.2), sum­ma­riz­ing the aca­demic liter­a­ture across 15+ kinds of an­i­mals and 40+ po­ten­tially con­scious in­di­cat­ing fea­tures, with pub­li­ca­tions ex­pected in early 2019.

2019 Team

At the start of the year and of the pro­ject, the staff of Re­think Pri­ori­ties con­sisted only of Peter and Mar­cus. We made an in­ter­nal hire with David Moss and then de­cided to start a hiring round to ex­pand the team to in­clude more re­searchers. Our cur­rent team is:


Mar­cus A. Davis—Lead Researcher

Mar­cus works on Re­think Pri­ori­ties strat­egy and over­sees re­search. He pre­vi­ously co-founded Char­ity Science Health, where he sys­tem­at­i­cally an­a­lyzed global poverty in­ter­ven­tions, led cost-effec­tive­ness analy­ses, and over­saw all tech­ni­cal as­pects of the pro­ject. Be­fore join­ing the Char­ity Science Health team, he ran Effec­tive Altru­ism Chicago and worked with Re­think Char­ity co­or­di­nat­ing out­reach to lo­cal EA groups around the globe.

Peter Hur­ford—Lead Researcher

Peter works on Re­think Pri­ori­ties strat­egy and over­sees re­search. He also is a Data Scien­tist at DataRobot. He co-founded Re­think Char­ity, and is on the board of Char­ity Science Health and An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors. He has re­viewed and pro­duced re­search on cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion and effec­tive al­tru­ism since 2013.

David Moss—Se­nior Re­search Analyst

David Moss is Direc­tor of Re­search for all of Re­think Char­ity, fo­cus­ing on mea­sure­ment and eval­u­a­tion. He also works as a Re­search An­a­lyst at Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship. David stud­ied Philos­o­phy at Cam­bridge and is an aca­demic re­searcher of moral psy­chol­ogy.

Kim Cud­ding­ton—Re­search Analyst

Kim Cud­ding­ton is a Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. She has a PhD in ecol­ogy with a back­ground in math­e­mat­i­cal mod­el­ing. She is an aca­demic re­searcher of pop­u­la­tion ecol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Water­loo.

Derek Foster—Re­search Analyst

Derek is a Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. He stud­ied philos­o­phy and poli­tics as an un­der­grad­u­ate, fol­lowed by pub­lic health and health eco­nomics at mas­ter’s level. Be­fore join­ing RP, Derek worked on the Global Hap­piness Policy Re­port and var­i­ous other pro­jects re­lated to global health, ed­u­ca­tion, and sub­jec­tive well-be­ing.

Luisa Ro­driguez—Re­search Analyst

Luisa Ro­driguez is a Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. Pre­vi­ously, she con­ducted cost-effec­tive­ness eval­u­a­tions of non­profit and gov­ern­ment pro­grams at Im­pactMat­ters, In­no­va­tions for Poverty Ac­tion, and GiveWell.

Saulius Šimčikas—Re­search Analyst

Saulius is a Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. Pre­vi­ously, he was a re­search in­tern at An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors, or­ga­nized Effec­tive Altru­ism events in the UK and Lithua­nia, and worked as a pro­gram­mer.

Neil Dul­laghan—Ju­nior Re­search Analyst

Neil is a Ju­nior Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. He also vol­un­teers for Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship and An­i­mal Char­ity Eval­u­a­tors. Be­fore join­ing RP, Neil worked as a data man­ager for an on­line voter plat­form and has an aca­demic back­ground in Poli­ti­cal Science.

Ja­son Schukraft—Ju­nior Re­search Analyst

Ja­son is a Ju­nior Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. Be­fore join­ing the RP team, Ja­son earned his doc­torate in philos­o­phy from the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin. Ja­son spe­cial­izes in ques­tions at the in­ter­sec­tion of episte­mol­ogy and ap­plied ethics.

Daniela R. Wald­horn—Ju­nior Re­search Analyst

Daniela is a Ju­nior Re­search An­a­lyst at Re­think Pri­ori­ties. She is a PhD can­di­date in So­cial Psy­chol­ogy, and has a back­ground in man­age­ment and op­er­a­tions. Be­fore join­ing RP, Daniela worked for An­i­mal Ethics and for An­i­mal Equal­ity.

2019 Re­search Agenda

With our team, we are well po­si­tioned for 2019 to pro­duce sub­stan­tial amount of high-qual­ity re­search on a num­ber of top­ics.

We in­tend to con­tinue our fo­cus on farmed and wild an­i­mal welfare for 2019, as we still see an­i­mal welfare as an im­por­tant, ne­glected, and uniquely tractable is­sue that our team is well-poised to ad­dress. How­ever, in 2019, we’d also like to al­lo­cate some amount of time to work­ing out­side an­i­mal welfare, such as im­prov­ing men­tal health, strength­en­ing the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment, re­duc­ing catas­trophic risks to the sur­vival of hu­man­ity (e.g., nu­clear weapons, bio-ter­ror, ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence), and im­prov­ing the qual­ity of the long-term fu­ture.

Pro­jects we may take on in 2019 po­ten­tially in­clude:

  • Anal­y­sis of the im­pact of bal­lot ini­ti­a­tives for an­i­mal welfare—Bal­lot ini­ti­a­tives to im­prove an­i­mal welfare have racked up re­cent wins, such as Mas­sachusetts’s Ques­tion 3 (2016) and Cal­ifor­nia’s Propo­si­tion 12 (2018), as well as Cal­ifor­nia’s Propo­si­tion 2 (2008). We’re go­ing to ex­plore the cost-effec­tive­ness of these re­sults both qual­i­ta­tively and with quan­ti­ta­tive econo­met­ric mod­els. We’ll these mod­els to iden­tify the most promis­ing fu­ture op­por­tu­ni­ties, which could help iden­tify good fund­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the 2020 elec­tion.

  • Anal­y­sis of the im­pact of cor­po­rate cam­paigns in an­i­mal welfare—Cor­po­rate cam­paign­ing is one of the most well-funded and well-re­garded an­i­mal welfare in­ter­ven­tions cur­rently pur­sued by the effec­tive­ness-ori­ented an­i­mal welfare ad­vo­cacy com­mu­nity. We’ll an­a­lyze the cost-effec­tive­ness of cor­po­rate cam­paign­ing in more depth as well as un­der­stand po­ten­tial failure modes and how to com­bat them.

  • Iden­ti­fy­ing ways to im­prove wild an­i­mal welfare—Wild an­i­mal welfare seems very im­por­tant, as there are vastly many an­i­mals in the wild and their lives plau­si­bly con­tain a lot of suffer­ing. Wild an­i­mal lives are also trans­formed by hu­mans ev­ery day with lit­tle re­gard to their welfare. We in­tend to learn more about what wild an­i­mal lives are like and what in­ter­ven­tions could help im­prove their welfare. We plan to use fo­cus groups and sur­veys to bet­ter un­der­stand how the pub­lic thinks about wild an­i­mals.

  • Do­ing sur­veys and pol­ling—We think bet­ter un­der­stand­ing pub­lic at­ti­tudes could be key to iden­ti­fy­ing and un­der­stand­ing effec­tive be­hav­ioral or policy change. We plan to run mul­ti­ple sur­veys, such as an­a­lyz­ing rea­sons peo­ple be­come veg­e­tar­ian to bet­ter un­der­stand the po­ten­tial for in­di­vi­d­ual diet change, un­der­stand­ing pub­lic in­ter­est (if any) in ban­ning slaugh­ter­houses (fol­low­ing up Sen­tience In­sti­tute (2017)). We’d also run polls to iden­tify pop­u­lar, cost-effec­tive poli­cies that could po­ten­tially be im­ple­mented via bal­lot mea­sures or lob­by­ing gov­ern­ments (we’ve iden­ti­fied a pol­lster who may col­lab­o­rate with us quite in­ex­pen­sively). Lastly, we’d like to un­der­stand how EAs think about ethics, col­lab­o­rat­ing with EA Foun­da­tion on their de­scrip­tive ethics re­search.

  • Un­der­stand­ing EA move­ment growth—We’d like to run the EA Sur­vey again in 2019. We also will con­tinue col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Lo­cal Effec­tive Altru­ism Net­work, a fel­low pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity, in un­der­stand­ing the effec­tive­ness of cur­rent move­ment build­ing ini­ti­a­tives and what makes move­ment build­ing ini­ti­a­tives more suc­cess­ful.

  • Un­der­stand­ing men­tal health in­ter­ven­tions—We’d like to un­der­stand if we can rely on $/​DALY or $/​QALY met­rics to cap­ture men­tal health benefits or, if not, if there is a bet­ter cost-effec­tive­ness met­ric that bet­ter cap­tures men­tal health benefits. Once we have a good frame­work for pri­ori­tiz­ing men­tal health, we’d like to see if we can iden­tify any men­tal health op­por­tu­ni­ties that are com­pet­i­tive with other EA op­por­tu­ni­ties.

  • Anal­y­sis of catas­trophic risk re­duc­tion—We’d like to start learn­ing how to do work in these ar­eas. We’re in­tend­ing to start with shal­low re­views on or­ga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to nu­clear de-pro­lifer­a­tion. We’d also like to see if we can ap­ply in­surance risk fore­cast­ing tech­niques to in­form es­ti­mates of catas­trophic risk.

While this list is not meant to be a defini­tive look at which pro­jects we will ac­tu­ally com­plete in 2019, it rep­re­sents our broad pri­ori­ties. As such, our work will span mul­ti­ple do­mains, but we in­tend to fo­cus the ma­jor­ity of our time on an­i­mal welfare.

2019 Goals and Mea­sur­ing Progress

We see our pri­mary means of im­pact as in­fluenc­ing and in­form­ing the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment. Our 2019 goal is to es­tab­lish our­selves as an effec­tive al­tru­ism re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion with a path to­ward in­fluenc­ing key donors and de­ci­sion-mak­ers, es­pe­cially in the an­i­mal ad­vo­cacy space. While the hope is that re­search we do may un­cover im­por­tant in­ter­ven­tions that could ab­sorb mil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing, we’d like to start in 2019 sim­ply by en­sur­ing that at least four peo­ple or in­sti­tu­tions grant­ing at least $50,000 in 2019 each cite our re­search as a fac­tor in their de­ci­sion-mak­ing. We also in­tend to an­nu­ally run a for­mal sur­vey to dis­cover if our tar­get au­di­ence of large-scale donors has read our work and if it has in­fluenced their de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

Fundraising

Of course, we can’t do this with­out money! Our 2019 bud­get is ~$447K:

But thanks to gen­er­ous fun­ders, so far we’ve already raised ~$153K, thus mak­ing our fund­ing needs ~$294K for 2019:

Fungibility

While we are a pro­ject of Re­think Char­ity, we main­tain an en­tirely sep­a­rate bud­get and fundraise sep­a­rately. All fund­ing speci­fi­cally ear­marked to Re­think Pri­ori­ties will be used for Re­think Pri­ori­ties re­search only and will not be used for other Re­think Char­ity pro­jects.

Fur­ther­more, we’re able to ac­cept fund­ing ear­marked to a par­tic­u­lar pro­ject area (for ex­am­ple, if you only want to fund work into wild an­i­mal welfare). We’ve done care­ful ac­count­ing to cre­ate bud­gets for each pro­ject and to min­i­mize risk of fun­gi­bil­ity be­tween pro­jects. How­ever, un­re­stricted fund­ing would be most valuable to us to al­low us to pur­sue our high­est pri­or­ity re­search agen­das or change our re­search plans if we find more im­por­tant pro­jects.

Conclusion

We’re ex­cited by our new team and our am­bi­tious re­search agenda for 2019. To fund this, we’re look­ing to raise $294K and we hope that you will con­sider sup­port­ing us. Cause pri­ori­ti­za­tion re­search is valuable and widely ne­glected. Re­think Pri­ori­ties is uniquely-placed to make a tractable im­pact on difficult prob­lems.

If you’d like to fund im­por­tant re­search into farmed an­i­mal welfare, wild an­i­mal welfare, EA move­ment build­ing, men­tal health, re­duc­ing catas­trophic risks, or some­thing else, please con­tact Mar­cus A. Davis (mar­cus@rtchar­ity.org).