Thank you very much for writing this. I was very interested in your comments on Johns Hopkins CHS, and found your critiques very interesting. Those who found this interesting may wish to take a look at recent call notes from SoGive’s recent call with them, which can be found here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/d2LyLQZpoiqbCnrBo/call-notes-with-johns-hopkins-chs
I also copy and paste below the excerpt which specifically tackles the critiques raised here.
CHS explicitly recommended against wearing DIY masks in early March (a position reversed by the end of the month). When asked about this, CHS observed that there’s still not great data and evidence on masks. And that there’s a risk that using it without proper training could lead people to touch their face more. However on balance CHS has updated their opinions on this, and further acknowledges that masks are helpful for source control.
CHS were not discouraging people from pressing ahead with travel plans as late as 6th March. When asked about this, they observed that it was a change in emphasis between a commonly-held earlier view, which was that travel bans don’t achieve much because they ultimately don’t change the number of people infected, they only delay the inevitable. The change in view was because they had previously underestimated the value of delaying infections.
When discussing the items referred to in the previous two paragraphs, CHS referred to the already established received opinion or “dogma”, and how recent experience has been upturning that dogma.
I perhaps need to clarify what I meant by Impact Finance. Given that this risks being confused with Impact Investment, I’ll rename it to Conditional Impact Finance.
Conditional Impact Finance occurs when a Project receives funding involving a Conditional Donor and an Impact Investor as follows:
(1) The Conditional Donor (who may be a pool of donors) agrees to fund the Project *on the condition* that they achieve a certain outcome
(2) The funds needed + a bonus go into escrow. If the outcome is achieved the funds are paid out, if not they are returned to the donor.
(3) In order that the Project receives the funds it needs to proceed with the work, it receives funding from an Impact Investor (or a pool of investors).
(1) Examples of conditions (fictional):
“The ABC innovative education Project will receive funding if a longitudinal RCT shows that employment rates among beneficiaries are at least 15% higher than control in 15 years’ time”
“The DEF malaria Project will receive funding if the malaria-linked mortality rate in Busia, Kenya is better than a control under a RCT conducted by LSHTM”
(2) A bonus is needed primarily to pay the interest on the debt (although perhaps a bonus for the staff might be a good idea too)
(3) If the project fails, the impact investor loses out. This means that all the incentives that currently apply to financial markets now apply to impact.
I consider this better for any reasonably sized project. If we are thinking of just one person doing some work on their own, I could imagine Impact Purchase maybe having some value.
I believe this is what is being done by alice.si
I’m confused why there are several people apparently excited about this idea. It strikes me that impact finance so obviously outperforms impact purchases. So much so that I’m worried that I must be misunderstanding impact purchases.
Impact finance solves both of the stark problems of impact purchases:
(a) if the people doing the work only receive money after the event, how do they live?
(b) what incentive do purchasers of impact certificates have to purchase?
alexrjl is correct, SoGive can do this.
a “progress bar” of how much has been raised and what the target is
a section showing other people who have donated (and options to anonymise name or amount or both)
customisable sections for the person running the fundraiser, including ability to customise images and text
Here’s an example: https://app.sogive.org/#fundraiser/sanjay.DRHEz44p.ccdce9
If you want minimal clicks from seeing the fundraiser to having donated, you could simply include one of these links and once you’re on that page you have a donate button right there.
If this is of interest to you let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, might be worth checking where you are based. This was originally designed for the UK, and then adapted for overseas (e.g. USA)
This commented was pointed out to me by someone who thought I may be extremely well qualified to answer this.
I have been on the trustee boards of about half a dozen charities and performed short term consulting stints (about a month at a time) for another 10(ish) charities globally, and have seen how each of those engages with its donors.
I’m also know people people/organisations surveying charities about questions like how much more valuable is unrestricted than restricted funding.
I would be happy to put something together on this topic, however I’m snowed under with other things for the time being, but could add it to the list and tackle it later?
Roughly speaking, organisations that rate/assess charities fall into two categories:
Those that include thoughtful, impact-oriented, cost-effectiveness-aware analysis tend not to use a formulaic or index-based or scalable approach. Examples of this sort of organisation include GiveWell. I created this chart some time back, since then Founders Pledge could probably added to this category.
In the opposite corner is those organisations whose methodology is more formulaic/scalable.
At the time I created this chart, there was a gap for analysis that was scalable, but also impact-oriented and cost-effectiveness-aware.
Since then I’ve set up SoGive to resolve this gap. You can have a look on https://app.sogive.org/ and search for charities or cause areas there. Some charities are assessed as Gold, Silver, or Bronze. We are still working through the charities, so not all of them have a rating. If you click through to a charity’s page, you’ll see a tab called analysis. Lots (but not all) major UK charities are covered her. In the US the closest organisation to SoGive (in terms of approach) is Impact Matters.
Thanks Sean_o_h. In case it’s not coming across clearly in the write-up, some donation opportunities considered are directly relevant to COVID-19, and some are less directly relevant (e.g. they cover pandemics generally, which may be an appealing donation idea for those inspired to donate because of COVID-19).
An indication of whether the project is directly or indirectly relevant is given in the table in section ‘0. Exec Summary’ (see the table with the purple header)
“I must admit I am confused. I don’t know why you are making recommendations for COVID-19 donations if you’d also prioritize the neglected needs of the developing world? ”
This is to answer the question of where to donate if the donors *specifically* wants to donate to something COVID-19-relevant.
“I am skeptical that anything in Categories 1 and 2 are cost-competitive with existing EA work—and at the minimum this cost-effectiveness is still far from being established. ”
Lots of the organisations in categories 1 and 2 would be considered to actually *be* existing EA work. The first-mentioned organisation (Johns Hopkins CHS) is recommended by Founders Pledge.
″ What kind of criteria were you using to generate these recommendations? ”
The criteria are: where the organisation falls into a category which is more positively viewed *and* which already has some analysis to support it.
“1.) If the response is likely not enough, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to help? ”
Yes, it would be worthwhile to help. The question isn’t whether it would achieve something and not nothing. The contention is that the higher rated donation opportunities would outperform.
“2.) I also very much doubt there won’t be an affect on Trump’s re-election chances, but I don’t think it is relevant. ”
The reason why I consider it relevant is that it gives the Trump administration a stronger incentive to help those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. This means that the cause of helping those in the US is unlikely to be neglected, and substantially less neglected than supporting those in sub-Saharan Africa
This appears to belong to Category 4: crowding out the work of government.
GiveDirectly counters that the government response will likely not be enough. That may well be correct, but it will probably be enough to ensure that it doesn’t damage Trump’s re-election chances.
If ever there’s a time when focusing on the neglected needs of the developing world applied, it’s now. I don’t know to what extent African governments will be advocating social distancing, but it will be very hard to implement for people who don’t have savings, and the risk that the current instability could spark inter-state conflict is much higher in the developing world than in the US.
Giving cash to people in the US would not be recommended.
I actually never looked at them until the COVID-19 situation, when I started to refer to them. So that does seem to support your suggestion
I asked a related question on the EA facebook page a few months back. Here’s the question I asked: https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/2592010687521939/
I copy below the question I asked, and the response which I thought was most useful. (I’ve tried to include the image, but if it didn’t work, click through to the fb page)
The 80,000 hours article on extinction risk includes a table from an FHI survey in 2008 (scroll down for source) (edited to clarify not necessarily current views of 80k)As molecular nanotech weapons top the list, this makes me wonder what is being done about this? The only organisation that I’m aware of in this space is the Foresight Institute (https://foresight.org/) featuring Eric Drexler. I also found the Center for Responsible Nanotech http://www.crnano.org, but I couldn’t tell if the website was out of date.I’m interested in discussion along the lines of:!( https://i.imgur.com/swpETg7.jpg )
Which orgs are working on this?
What are the gaps relating to molecular nanotech weapons?
Is there analysis on where to donate to tackle this?
Would a donation to biorisk orgs already cover this? I’m thinking of those recommended by Founders Pledge (https://founderspledge.com/research/fp-existential-risk) or possibly those mentioned by Open Phil (https://www.openphilanthropy.org/focus/global-catastrophic-risks/biosecurity)
Does anyone think this table overstates the risk from nanotech weapons? (e.g. because the nanotech people surveyed are more biased than other specialists? Or recent developments make the info out of date?)
Notes:Here’s the 80k article: https://80000hours.org/articles/extinction-risk/The ultimate source of the table is this survey: https://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/reports/2008-1.pdfFurther reading:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_nanotechnology#Riskshttp://www.crnano.org/dangers.htmhttps://www.realclearscience.com/lists/top_methods_human_extinction/molecular_nanotech_weapons.htmlhttps://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/17/mini-nukes-and-inspect-bot-weapons-being-primed-for-future-warfare.html
A PARTICULARLY USEFUL ANSWER (from Howie Lempel):
[Disclaimer: I was working on GCRs at Open Phil when the below page was written but I did not write it and don’t have any interesting inside information on Open Phil’s views on the topic. The views below are my own only.]
Open Phil put out a (very) shallow investigation of risks from atomically precise manufacturing (i.e. nanotech) back in 2015. One thing they found is:
“Unless APM is developed in a secret “Manhattan Project”—and there is disagreement about how plausible that is —the people we spoke with believe it would be extremely unlikely for an observer closely watching the field to be surprised by a sudden increase in potentially dangerous APM capabilities.”https://www.openphilanthropy.org/.../atomically-precise...
This suggests we might expect risk reduction work to naturally ramp up if/when the tech starts developing and that it may be more efficient for risk reduction work to be done once the field makes some progress.
More on this:“People who are watching the field and know what to look for would be unlikely to be caught off guard even by rapid developments in atomically precise manufacturing. While development could be surprisingly fast, it would be possible to observe the substantial advances in various capabilities of nanosystems (e.g., mechanical stiffness of various types of nanostructures, number of moving parts of mechanical systems, and lattice sizes of materials used to build intricate systems) that would come before the technology reaches its mature form. Hypothetically, surprise could come if there were a secret project aimed at developing the technology, but that would be implausible in the present climate.”GiveWell’s non-verbatim summary of a conversation with Eric Drexler, October 8, 2014.https://files.givewell.org/.../Eric%20Drexler%2010-08-14...
[Note—I haven’t thought about the issue recently enough or deeply enough to have my own view on how valuable work on APM risk might be today.]
Presumably the benefit comes from flattening the curve. I.e. if we don’t introduce control measures, the demands on the healthcare system will be unmanageable, whereas if we spread them out, then the healthcare system can cope with the demand.
I don’t know how to add images in comments, so here’s a link to a relevant image: https://imgur.com/ckt0ujv
And this is the article the image came from: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/3/6/21161234/coronavirus-covid-19-science-outbreak-ends-endemic-vaccine
I have a maths background, qualified as an actuary in half the industry average time, and am comfortable with stochastic models, including markov chains and monte carlo methods. Are you able to provide more information? In case you don’t want to do so in public, I have sent you a direct message via the forum.
I actually think that a true measure of the climate impact of having a child should not just factor in the extra carbon they will be responsible for over their lives, but also the very small probability that they will be responsible for doing something awesome (e.g. “solving climate change”), which may be enough to offset the expected carbon footprint.
(Of course, this only makes sense if you think that the tail positive risk of them doing something amazingly positive outweighs the tiny probability that they will do something stunningly negative!)
Thank you for giving this some thought. The impression I have from this is that the concerns you raise relate to either spurious levels of accuracy or edge cases.
But maybe my impression is wrong. If you could provide some specific examples where either 80k or another org has made a wrong decision because of these considerations, I would find this piece much more interesting.
Thanks for the encouragement. I think that aiming for a “perfect” write-up has been a barrier to publishing content, so I intend for us to publish more shallow reviews to address this.
To answer your question, I think the best focus areas would be the six bullet points highlighted near the start of the article, with a particular focus on the first two (are the stoves actually used, and are they actually clean?) and the last (what is the best way to fund this work?).
Also, we would further investigate the very useful comments made by MatthewDahlhausen (which seemed very useful and was upvoted by me) and look further at the GiveWell analysis as mentioned by cole_haus (I was aware of this, but had not had the capacity to review it properly)