(I’m also wondering whether I am being overly concerned with theoretically justifying things!)
I think I would agree with this. It seems like you’re trying to demonstrate your knowledge of a particular framework or set of frameworks through this exercise and you’re letting that constrain your choices a lot. Maybe that will be a good choice if you’re definitely going into academia as a political scientist after this, but otherwise, I would structure the approach around how research happens most naturally in the real world, which is that you have a research question that would have concrete practical value if it were answered, and then you set out to answer it using whatever combination of theories and methods makes sense for the question.
Suggestion: use an expert lens, but make the division you’re looking at [experts connected to/with influence in the Biden administration] vs. [“outside” experts].
Rationale: The Biden administration thinks of and presents itself to the public as technocratic and guided by science, but as with any administration politics and access play a role as well. As you noted, the Biden administration did a clear about-face on this despite a lack of a clear consensus from experts in the public sphere. So why did that happen, and what role did expert influence play in driving it? Put another way, which experts was the administration listening to, and what does that suggest for how experts might be able to make change during the Biden administration’s tenure?
These both seem like great options! Of the two, I think the first has more to play with as there is a pretty clear delineation between the epistemic vs. moral elements of the second, whereas I think debates about the first have those all jumbled up and it’s thus more interesting/valuable to untangle them. I don’t totally understand your hesitation so I’m afraid I can’t offer much insight there, but with respect to long-term policymaking/shared beliefs, it does seem like the fault lines mapped onto fairly clear pro-free-market vs. pro-redistributive ideologies that drew the types of advocates one would have predicted given that divide.
FYI, there is an existing discussion of this question on the forum here.
Great piece! FYI, I wrote an essay with a similar focus and some of the same arguments about five years ago called All Causes are EA Causes. This article adds some helpful arguments, though, in particular the point about the risk of being over-identified with particular cause areas undermining the principle of cause neutrality itself. I continue to be an advocate for applying EA-style critical thinking within cause areas, not just across them!
Aside from that, neither Open Phil nor Good Ventures are structured as private foundations (Open Phil is an LLC), so Moskowitz & Tuna aren’t subject to the 5% payout rule anyway.
This comment made me laugh out loud, all the more so because I couldn’t tell whether you were joking.
Perhaps a small number of people who have thought about IIDM carefully and systematically could share their object-level arguments on which approaches seem the most promising to them.
Hi Jonas, I can share some personal reflections on this. Please note that the following are better described as hunches and impressions based on my experiences rather than strongly held opinions—I’m hopeful that some of the analysis and knowledge synthesis EIP is doing this year will help us and me take more confident positions in the future.
Re: institutional design/governance specifically, I would guess that this scored highly because of its holistic and highly leveraged nature. Many institutions are strongly shaped and highly constrained by rules and norms that are baked into the way they operate from the very beginning or close to it, which in turn can make other kinds of reforms much more difficult or less likely to succeed. The most common problem I see in this area is not so much bad design as lack of design, i.e., silos and practices that may have made sense at one particular moment for one particular set of stakeholders, but weren’t implemented with any larger vision in mind for how everything would need to function together. This is a common failure mode when organizations grow opportunistically rather than intentionally. My sense is that opportunities to make interventions into institutional design and governance are few and far between, but can be tremendously impactful when they do appear. It’s generally easiest to make changes to institutional design early in the life of an institution, but because the scale of operations is often smaller and the prospects for success unclear at that point, it’s not always obvious to the participants how much downstream impact their decisions during that period can have.
One of the biggest bottlenecks to improved decision-making in institutions is simply the level of priority and attention the issue receives. There tends to be much more focus in institutions on specific policies and strategies than on the process by which those priorities are determined. At the same time, institutional cultures tend to reflect their leaders’ priorities, especially if the leaders are in place for a while. Thus, I’m optimistic about interventions that target the selection and recruitment of leaders with an eye toward choosing people who understand the importance of decision-making processes and are committed to making high-quality decision-making a priority in the organizations they come into.
I think there’s a version of moral circle expansion that is very relevant to institutional contexts. Institutions tend to prioritize first and foremost their direct stakeholders, i.e. the interests of people close to the institution. If more of them took seriously the effects of their decisions on everyone, not just those who are their primary voting constituents or intended beneficiaries or paying customers, that would represent a dramatic cultural shift that would make lots of other improvements more feasible. I see this as more of a long-term strategy that will not be easy to pull off, but the potential benefits from making progress on this dimension are massive.
If anyone’s thinking seriously about doing as Linch suggests and would like to talk about the nuts and bolts of consulting, feel free to get in touch. I’ve been consulting independently for four years and am happy to share what I know/discuss potential collaborations.
This is a really great post, and I particularly appreciated the visual diagrams laying out the “problem tree.” A number of aspects of what you’re writing about (particularly choice of research questions, the lack of connection with the end user in designing research questions, challenges around research/evidence use in the real world, and incentives created by funders and organizational culture) strongly resonated with me. You might find it interesting to read a couple of articles I’ve written along these lines:
A short piece called “The Crisis of Evidence Use” gathers some empirical data illuminating just how deep the problem you’re describing runs. From my perspective the amount of waste in our collective knowledge-building systems is just, one might say, astronomical.
For strengthening the connection between commissioned research and end users, I’ve proposed a model of adding a decision support “wrapper” around the analytical activities to ensure relevance to stakeholder concerns. I welcome feedback and would love to find more partners to help test this idea in practice, so if you know anyone who’s interested, please get in touch.
Finally, I just wanted to note a number of overlaps between this post (as well as the meta-science conversation more generally) and issues we’re exploring in the improving institutional decision-making community. If you haven’t already, I’d like to invite you to join our discussion spaces on Facebook and Slack, and it may be worth a conversation down the line to explore how we can support each other’s efforts.
It’s actually worse than that. As I discovered when researching COVID giving opportunities for the FRAPPE donor group last year, Johns Hopkins experts explicitly recommended against wearing DIY masks in early March (a position reversed by the end of the month) and were not discouraging people from pressing ahead with travel plans as late as March 6. Sanjay had a phone call with them about a year ago in which he confronted them about these reversals, and they offered a sort of half-hearted defense.
I don’t have any inside information about why CHS made the choices it did, but my naive view is that I agree with your comment that mistakes like these should reflect poorly on CHS. CHS’s core competency may be more in the area of pandemic preparedness than dealing with the pandemic once it’s already here, but their experts were quoted in the media a TON last spring and had significant ability (= responsibility) to shape the public conversation about COVID, particularly in the US. And yet lots and lots of people far less credentialed than CHS epidemiologists had correctly figured out by the first week of March that it was smart to wear a mask and to avoid being around others more than was absolutely necessary. It was left to pop-up initiatives led by non-medical experts like #Masks4All to upend the conventional wisdom about masks that had been propagated by the WHO and CDC. I feel like CHS ought to have been well positioned to challenge the prevailing narrative and was instead getting in the way at a time when it really mattered.
(Disclaimer: speaking for myself here, not the IIDM group.)
My understanding is that Max is concerned about something fairly specific here, which is a situation in which we are successful in capturing a significant share of the EA community’s interest, talent, and/or funding, yet failing to either imagine or execute on the best ways of leveraging those resources.
While I could imagine something like this happening, it’s only really a big problem if either a) the ways in which we’re falling short remain invisible to the relevant stakeholders, or b) our group proves to be difficult to influence. I’m not especially worried about a) given that critical feedback is pretty much the core competency of the EA community and most of our work will have some sort of public-facing component. b) is something we can control and, while it’s not always easy to judge how to balance external feedback against our inside-view perspectives, as you’ve pointed out we’ve been pretty intentional about trying to work well with other people in the space and cede responsibility/consider changing direction where it seems appropriate to do so.
I actually think you are an unusually skilled moderator, FWIW.
Amazing! It seems not-totally-crazy to think you may have had a hand in this :)
What Facebook threads are you referring to?
Thanks for adding the rec! It looks like they are working together, actually. From Swasti’s updates page: “The campaign is in association with Swasti.org which in-turn is working with the Swasth Alliance & ACT to procure oxygen concentrators for the most in-distress areas in the country.” It sounds like you’ve been in touch with Swasti directly, have you heard differently?
Excellent work! Do you know if there’s any relationship between Swasti and Swasth, which also has an oxygen campaign?
The professional politicians of the Republican party were not close to siding with Trump. Will the Republican speaker (elected by the median house Republican) see higher expected value in supporting a coup or rejecting it? The party loses massive membership if they support, and gains defacto political power if they win. But Republicans just want to veto bills, so why transition to a populist regime. It will never be a good choice for the party.
The Republican House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, was on Fox News November 6 saying, “Donald Trump won this election, so everyone who’s listening: do not be quiet. Do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes...Join together and let’s stop this.” He later signed onto an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit that, if successful, would have overturned the election in four states after the results were already certified. He then voted to reject certification of the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania after the insurrection, along with most of his caucus.
Hi Ramiro, that would be fine, although I recommend you caveat with the context that this is all in development/subject to change/etc. Thanks!