I think Singer would argue we should shame or lock up people if and only if that did the most good. It’s not at all clear, as a fact of the matter, that would be the best option
Just picking up on the importance, neglectedness, tractability table, Hauke, can I ask you to explain what you meant by those three terms (or, at least the last two) and how you see them as fitting together to give you an estimate of cost-effectiveness? I notice you did a fermi estimate too, so can you say what the relationship is between I, N, T and the fermi estimate? This isn’t a critical question—I’ve been thinking about cause prio a lot and I’ve realised it’s not clear to me how people use these concepts in their decision-making. Hence, if you could say a bit more that would helpful.
is tractability: cost-effectiveness, resources requires to solve the problem, subjectively-perceived easiness, or something else?
Is neglectedness: resources going towards the problem? if so, how directly targeted at the problem did you have mind? Is it about counterfactual replacability? Something else?
Is the idea I, N, and T somehow give you an intuitive cost-effectiveness estimate and then you build the fermi estimate as an explicit follow up?
Sorry if this seems pedantic and I’m not engaging with the spirit of your post. The research looks very thorough and I’m glad you did it. As a non-expert on the subject matter I probably don’t have much of substance of add to that.
Thanks for this write up and well done to the winners. Am I right in thinking this is the last instance of the EA forum prize, or will there be further months?
Can you spell out why you’d like to see that? As read I your comment I immediately thought ‘I would also like to see this’ and then realised I wasn’t sure why self-reports of reasons would be useful.
I think that GWWC & GiveWell’s earlier use of QALYs created a lot of path dependence, such that current EA prioritization remains influenced by the QALY framework even though no organization explicitly uses it at present.
I find this to be the most plausible explanation of what has happened. Your counterfactual story is rather helpful!
Peter Singer is not competitive with Usain Bolt when it comes to running.
He’s faster than he looks...
But more seriously, now I understand your point, I think it’s plausible psychedelics could beat AMF (assuming we count the value of AMF the standard way, looking just at the self-regarding effects of saving lives, i.e. the value to the saved person) and more research would be useful to think through this. I had a go at comparing AMF to drug policy reform for psychedelics nearly 2 years ago. I think my model is not out of date but it’s at least indicative. The main problem isn’t the potential of psychedelics to be impactful, as that’s clear—the idea is psychedelics could be much better treatments for mental health, which is huge in scale, and changing the law would improve treatments for huge numbers of people—but about what the mostly counterfactual things (for EAs) to do are. It’s not obvious what the best leverage points for money/time are and I haven’t been able to justify the time to look (I’m trying to finish a PhD in philosophy and this is not a philosophy topic).
I’m unsure what you mean by ‘not competitive with’. Aren’t all causes competitive with each other in the sense that one unit of resources (i.e. money or time) you spend on one isn’t one unit you can spend on another cause?
Hello and welcome! If I can be forgiven for tooting my own horn, I (with Lee Sharkey) wrote a detailed series of forum posts “High Time For Drug Policy Reform” back in August 2017, which primarily focused on the potential of psychedelics as a treatment for mental health. I also mentioned it a promising area in an EAGlobal talk in 2018.
To address your point, I think the reason more EAs don’t pay attention to psychedelics is a combination of EAs not thinking mental health is an important problem (something I’ve also written about) and because psychedelics are weird and unfamiliar. Regarding mental health’s importance, I think EAs are increasingly interested in the longterm (this would also explain a relative lack of interest in poverty and animal welfare) or they are focused on poverty but don’t believe mental health treatments are comparably cost-effective with anti-poverty ones. I think mental health treatments are comparably cost-effective—at least in the same ballpark although it’s unclear which is better on current evidence—when we use self-reported happiness scores to judge effectiveness. You might then doubt we can sensibly measure happiness, which I argue we can in this forum post.
Can you say what these lessons are? Would be good to have a write up of advice and I would like to see an EA forum post on this.
I agree this is plausible, but I think you would accept that this is conjecture and still quite a long way from what we want, which I assume is some sort of quantified, evidence-based, comparative analysis.
I think your short argument misses the point. The obstacle isn’t the lack of such infrastructure—I imagine academics could use the existing tools if they asked politely or created their own—but the lack of demand for such infrastructure.
Thanks for writing this up. I agree that ESM is the theoretically ideal measure of happiness. I made a few comments on a recent post about QALYs vs ESM I thought I should link too here.
A couple of other comments. First, I’d be happy to chat to you about this. Do get in contact.
Second, SWB measures are increasingly being taken seriously. See the global happiness policy report and the fact 170,000 articles and books have been published on SWB in the last 15 years and the graph below for a change over time. However, the focus on mainly on life satisfaction, rather than on ESM measures, and looks set to stay that way. The reason for this is a combination of (a) some SWB researchers, e.g. Helliwell, think life satisfaction, not happiness, is what matters, (b) it’s easier and cheaper to collect data on life satisfaction, (c) as a result of (b), there is much more work that has been done to established what will increase life satisfaction, which is what is needed to guide policy and do cost-effectiveness—see my happiness manifesto post and Origins of Happiness for more, (d) as a result of the fact more work has been done with life satisfaction, there is now path dependence where it’s easier to use life satisfaction because other researchers are/have.
Third, have you had an take up from researchers on this? If they’d said they aren’t interested, did they give reasons?
Three thoughts. First, it’s not really the case that EAs use QALYs/DALYs. GWWC and GiveWell used to use them , but GWWC no longer exists as an independent entity and GiveWell now use their own metric. 80k mostly focus on the far future and so QALYs/DALYs aren’t of primary interest. Have I missed someone? I think Founders Pledge do use them. Not sure what goes on ‘under the hood’ for The Life You Can Save’s recommendations.
Second, even if you wanted to use the experience sampling method (ESM) as your measure of wellbeing, you couldn’t because there isn’t enough data on it. There are only two academic projects which have tried to collect data en masse—trackyourhappiness and mappiness. The former is now defunct (Killingsworth works for Microsoft now I believe) and the latter isn’t actively being used (I spoke to the creator, George MacKerron a couple of months ago) I discuss this in a previous forum post. The best I think we can do, if we want to use subjective wellbeing (SWB) measure is life satisfaction.
Third, I think ESM is the theoretically ideal measure of happiness and thus EA—indeed, everyone—should use it as the outcome measure of impact (I assume wellbeing consists in happiness). What follows is that ESM is superior to all other measures of wellbeing, including QALYs/DALYs, wealth, etc. I’m hoping to do some research using ESM at some point in the future if I can.
I think it would be misleading if OP had said ‘substantial proportion’. I read ‘substantial number’ as a comment on the absolute numbers, which is vague (how many is ‘substantial’) but not misleading.
Yup. In which case, it is a ‘big list’ for such folks.
Though I am saying that 80,000 Hours’ research can’t offer a single, definite ranking of what is best for everyone to do, that doesn’t mean that their research isn’t very useful for people figuring out what it is best for them to do
Well, they do offer A list of the most urgent global problems. I’ll grant this isn’t a list of what it is best for everyone to do, but it is (plausibly, from their perspective) a list of what it is best for most people to do (or ‘most EAs’ or some nearby specification). Indeed, given 80k has a concept of ‘personal fit’, which is distinct from their rating of the problems, the natural reading of the list is that it provides a general, impersonal ranking of where (average?) individuals can do the most good.
I’m concerned you’re defending a straw man - did anyone ever claim 80k’s list was true for every single possible person? I don’t think so and such a claim would be implausible.
A couple of comments
Almost everyone in EA holds either a longtermist view or a person-affecting view
This puzzled me slightly. One reason is that longtermism and person-affecting views are different categories; the former is a view about where, in practice, value lies and the latter is a view about where, in theory, value lies. You could be a totalist (all possible people matter), which is not a person-affecting view, but be a near-termism. I think a better set up would have been: ‘psychedelics look good whether you just value the near-term or the long-term’. I suppose that leaves out the ‘medium-termists’, but I don’t know how many people there are who hold this view, whatever it is, inside or outside EA.
Also robust: interventions that increase the set of well-intentioned + capable people
CFAR & Paradigm Academy are aimed at this
The psychedelic experience also seems like a plausible lever on increasing capability (via reducing negative self-talk & other mental blocks) and improving intentions (via ego dissolution changing one’s metaphysical assumptions)
I would like you to say more about this. It seems plausible to me that training rationality is orders of magnitude more impactful for the longrun, so this is an objection to counter.
under a longtermist view, psychedelic interventions are plausibly in the same ballpark of effectiveness as x-risk interventions
I don’t think you’ve shown this. It’s more plausible to me that Xrisk is a top tier intervention and rationality and the ‘mindset-changingness’ of psychedelics are in the lower tiers. This would still make them potentially very interesting from a long-termist perspective—in the bucket of ‘things to do take seriously and possibly fund if X-risk has absorbed as many resources as it can’.
Just FYI, I wrote a mammoth series of articles on drug policy reform 18 months or so ago where I argued that psychedelics for mental health looks very promising from the near term perspective. In other words, I explicitly claim what you’re claiming! I haven’t had a chance to do more work on it since and I add the usual caveats about not necessarily agree with everything past-Michael wrote.
Also, just because psychedelics are promising as a category of intervention, it doesn’t follow that setting up a retreat of this kind is the best way to go within that (sub)cause area. You’d need to argue for that too.
This post did not convince me that the business was created ‘for EA reasons.’
I think this is uncharitable and I gave small downvote as a result. Given those involved in this business are involved in the EA community and there is at least a plausible story to tell about why this is impactful, you’re essentially claiming accusing the OP of acting in bad faith when there isn’t compelling reason to do so.
And contrary to Forum standards, it was written to persuade, not to inform
I reread this and didn’t notice that it was written to persuade vs inform.
otherwise why would there be no studies listed that found no effect or a negative effect?
I’ve been looking at the research of psychedelics for a while—see https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/wu9nEXWtvhEnYQTxG/high-time-for-drug-policy-reform-part-1-4-introduction-and and the other three posts in the series. I can’t recall a study claiming psychedelics have no or negative effects. I agree that is potentially suspicious, but it’s in line with my view that they have positive effects and there isn’t much research on this.
But I don’t know any practising doctors in the EA community, so this is definitely the wrong place to advertise
Again, I think it’s bad faith to assume the purpose is simply trying to make money from the participants of this forum. I think it’s fine, good even, for people in the community to tell others what they are doing. Where else is one supposed to make these announcements?
So it doesn’t seem to be that there’s any insoluble tension between taking account of individual difference and communicating the same message to a broad audience
I don’t think the tension is between those things. The tension is between saying ‘our research is useful: it tells (group X) of people what it is best for them to do’ and ‘our research does not offering a definite ranking of what it is before for people to do (whether people in group X or otherwise)’. I don’t think you can have this both ways.
While this isn’t entirely personalized (it’s based only on certain attributes that 80,000 Hours highlights), it’s also far from a single, definitive list
Then it seems reasonable to interpret it as (an attempt at) a definitive list if you have those attributes.
I understand why the author is arguing that 80k doesn’t offer a big list but I think that argument is undermines the claim that 80k is useful (“Hey, we’re not telling anyone what to do?” “Really? I thought that was the point”)
80,000 Hours’ research does not and cannot yield a “big list” of the best career paths, because no such thing exists. Instead, we should use 80,000 Hours content to map out our own personal lists and figure out how to do the top things on them.
These two sentences seem to be in a lot of tension. If giving advice about which careers did the most good were entirely personal, then it necessarily follows that you could make no general recommendations at all about which careers are better in terms of impact and therefore 80k should stop what they are doing. However, if you can make general recommendations and thus say which careers have more impact that others, then there is a ‘big list’ after all.
We might disagree about who this is a ‘big list’ for—the average person, an omni-skilled graduate of a top university, the average reader of 80k’s content—but however we fill that out, it’s still possible to see it as a ‘big list’.
I’m entirely with you that it doesn’t make sense to feel bad if someone else can do more good than you. The aim is to do the most good you can do, not the most good someone else who isn’t you can do. Despite recognising this on a conceptual level, I still find it hard to believe and often feel guilty (or shame or sadness) when I think of people whose ‘altruistic successfulness’ surpasses mine.