[Help please/Updated] Best EA use of $250,000AUD/$190,000 USD for metascience?

by AspiringPhilanthropist3 min read22nd Dec 20208 comments


Scientific progressMeta-scienceRequests (Open)Community

[Cross-posted on the SSC subreddit] [Cross-posted on OnScienceAndAcademia Forum]
UPDATE: I posted something similar 18 months ago, but am reposting due to some updated details and the fact that the money is now in hand.

SUMMARY: Need to donate $250,000AUD/190,000USD to "improve science" in about six months, would appreciate advice on where to put the money.

An elderly relative of mine has sold a property and wants to donate a substantial amount of money ($250,000 AUD = $190,000 USD) to “improve science”, by which they mean metascientific efforts that industry or academia probably would be reticent to fund otherwise. Examples would be things like Registered Reports, efforts to ameliorate the replicability crisis, altering publishing incentives, etc. The money is available in 3 months and ideally would be donated within six months. 

They are aware of my interests in Effective Altruism and my training as a scientist and thus want me to take care of it entirely. However, I am very junior and have little experience applying for grants let alone allocating money. Any recommendations for how I should go about most efficiently getting this money to improve science? Bonus points for doing it in a manner that would be tax-deductible in Australia (edit: international also ok).

Particularly good recommendations are likely to have a substantial impact on how this money gets allocated, so if you think you have a good idea I’d very much appreciate it. I can’t just give the money to AMF or the EA Funds, it has to be at least indirectly allocated to basic science or meta-science. I’m not sure who to ask – I’d speak to my PI, but it seems extremely awkward to go “hey, so I have this big potential source of funding that I can influence but it’s not for us, any advice on how to give it away to others?” I’d be happy to direct the money to be thrown into a bigger pile if there’s another group I haven’t heard of that either solely funds improving science or will let me allocate the money to that end.

Thanks to everyone who provided some suggestions last time I posted, including on basic science opportunities back when I was considering a slightly larger remit. Some suggestions from the last time I asked this question:

Thanks in advance!


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I'm a researcher based in Australia and have some experience working with open/meta science. Happy to talk this through with you if helpful, precommitting to not take any of your money.

Quick answers, most of which are not one off, donation target ideas but instead would require a fair amount of setup and maintenance.

  • $250,000 would be enough to support a program for disseminating open / meta science practices in Australian graduate students (within a broad discipline), if you had a trusted person to administrate it.

  • you could have a prize for best open access paper published by a non PhD

  • you could fund a conference such as AIMOS https://aimos.community/ (I have no affiliation and no knowledge of how effective this is)

  • you could ask the Centre for open science people how to effectively spend the money

I joined a few sessions at the AIMOS (Association for Interdisciplinary Metascience and Open Science) conference a few weeks ago. It was great and I wrote up some notes about the talks I caught here. That said, beyond hosting their annual conference, I'm not really sure what other plans AIMOS has. If it's of interest I can put the OP in touch with the incoming 2021 president (Jason Chin from USyd Law School) to talk further.

Otherwise, many of the speakers were from Australia and you might find other ideas for local donation recipients on the AIMOS program. Paul Glasziou from Bond Uni mentioned something in his plenary that stood out to me - inefficient ethical reviews can be a huge source of wasted research time and money (to the tune of $160 million per annum in Australia) - if that's of interest he may be able to suggest a way to spend the money to push for ethical review reforms in Australia.

Gavin, all your comments have been very helpful and I am following up many of them. It would probably be useful to me to at least send Jason an email as he may have an opinion, so putting me in touch with him would be very helpful, thank you.

I'm glad to see interest in directing money to support impactful metascience projects - my intuition is that work on metascience could make a substantial contribution to advancing several EA cause areas, although I don't think enough work has been done yet on developing an EA perspective to confidently indicate specific aspects worth pursuing. Still, in parallel to trying to conduct impactful scientific research myself, I've grown interested in open science and metascience over the last couple of years and am on the board of the Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and  Education (IGDORE), so I'll throw out a few suggestions of donation ready Open Science projects that seem promising. However, I should note that while I think these initiatives could contribute to expanding OS, I haven't evaluated the space comprehensively and I can't say these are the best opportunities, nor could I claim that this will substantially contribute to any EA cause area beyond the general refrain of 'making science more open and reproducible will generally be beneficial for society'.  

One initiative I'm particularly excited about at the moment is Free Our Knowledge (FOK) - a platform for researchers to take collective action pledges that lead to positive changes in research culture. Although COS does have a 5-step pyramid for changing research culture, I think that FOK  could go along way towards accelerating culture change towards Open Science. For instance, in one of Björn Brembs's Open Science TV interviews (I think the 3rd or 4th) he comments that he often hears 'I don’t care about these journals but everybody else does' from physicists about why they continue to publish in pay-walled journals. Using a collective action pledge could break this coordination problem rapidly. (Interestingly, LessWrong also has a discussion on coordinated action which seems to be entirely disconnected from FOK.) Anyway,  FOK is currently unfunded, and I'm sure a bit of funding would go a long way. The founder (Cooper Smout) has previously applied for funding with COS as a fiscal sponsor and could probably receive money via them, but as he is based in Brisbane and might be able to form a non-profit to receive an Australian tax-deductible donation directly. I can put you in touch with Cooper to talk further if you'd like. 

Another initiative I'm quite enthusiastic about is the Open Science MOOC (OS MOOC). They have a good reputation in the OS community and are a grass-roots effort to develop educational courses on different aspects of OS.  I'm not sure what their current funding situation is, but I do know that it's mostly a volunteer-led project so I expect they could productively use some further funding. Unfortunately, as OS MOOC is EU based, I doubt there will be a way to make any donation tax-deductible. Again, I could put you in touch with somebody on the steering committee if this is of interest. 

Lastly, while it's a bit self-serving, I should point to IGDORE as a potential funding recipient as it's another organisation I'm naturally quite excited about. We are a virtual institute committed to supporting and encouraging scientists to conduct open and replicable research, with the longer-term goal of providing services around good scientific practices and scientific education, and less EA relevant, to promote improved quality of life for scientists and support independent researchers. IGDORE members include both passionate advocates of open science, as well as students and researchers who wish to conduct open science but are either not supported or otherwise hindered in doing this at their primary academia institution. As the organisations above, we are unfunded and volunteer-led, so even a modest donation could substantially develop the organisation. Our immediate goals are to develop a package of OS Support Services to offer via a research consultancy and an educational platform that will initially host OS content and then be grown into a Massively Online Open Science Training (MOOST) service that provides supervised research training that goes beyond standard MOOCs. While both of these initiatives aim to generate revenue to make IGDORE self-sustainable in the long term, we need seed funding to higher administrative and technical services to move them forward. Let me know if you'd like to talk more about this. (while IGDORE is distributed, our financial address is in Sweden, so probably not tax-deductible). You are also more than welcome to post about this on the On Science and Academia forum, which is an open forum maintained by IGDORE and used by members of the other two organisations mentioned above, if you'd like to engage the OS community directly in discussing your donation.

I should also point out that besides being on the board of IGDORE, I know the people from FOK and OS MOOC quite well as several are also members of IGDORE. So my recommendations generally lean towards what would be considered the more 'radially progressive' branch of the OS community, that pushes for systemic reform of academia and publishing if they can't adopt open and replicable principles in their current format. A more mainstream OS perspective is represented by the organisations that presented at Metascience 2019 (which includes COS). However, as the OS community is still quite small, I think it will be hard to find completely un-conflicted recommendations.

PS. I wouldn't be so confident about COS's funding security. While they do list many funders on their site, I have heard they are now more funding constrained and last year they started monetising most of the Open Science Framework services. This might not be a problem for services used by larger institutions, and I appreciate that COS needs to make its services financially sustainable, but this has put pressure on academic communities using OSF Preprints (particularly those from developing countries), and I believe some have now moved to other platforms (see more here). 


I am interested in the topic of meta-science from an EA pov, though far from being an expert, and have collected a bunch of resources on prioritization and  coordination in science which I'll share with you privately. I'll probably be interested in taking at least a couple of days to help you with finding resources/ideas and with evaluation of specific opportunities - particularly if you would publicly publish what you can about the process and takeaways :)

Two further possible suggestions you might consider:

Perhaps Cochrane might be a good organization to support. They work at improving how systemic reviews are done in medicine and seem highly influential. I was interested in their (internal) prioritization work recently. I am not sure how budget-constraint they are though; They seem to use several million pounds per year and they get funds from the NIH and NIHR.

JLA is an organization that aims at improving prioritization in medical research - mostly acting to involve benefactors and care takers in setting research goals. Again, I don't know much about donating to them.

If you're comfortable sharing these resources on prioritisation and coordination, please also let me know about them.

We plan to post it publicly in a couple of months, but I'll send you privately what we have now :)

What a great opportunity! I wonder if people at SparkWave (e.g., Spencer Greenberg), Effective Thesis, or the Happier Lives Institute would have some ideas. All three organizations are aligned with EA and seem to be in the business of improving/applying/conducting social science research.

Also, I have no idea who your advisor is, but I think a lot of advisors would be open to having this kind of conversation (i.e., "Hey, there's this funding opportunity. We're not eligible for it, but I'm wondering if you have any advice..."). [Context: I'm a PhD student in psychology at UPenn.]

If that's not a good option, you could consider asking your advisor (and other academics you respect) if they know about any metascience/open science organizations that are highly effective [without mentioning anything about your relative and their interest in donating].

Finally, it's not clear to me if the donor is only interested in metascience or if they would also be open to funding "basic science" projects. "Basic science" is broad enough that I imagine it could open up a lot of alternative paths (many of which might be more explicitly EA-aligned than metascience). Examples include basic scientific research on effective giving, animal advocacy, mental health, AI safety, etc. Do you have a sense of how open to "basic science" your relative is, or was basic science just meant as a synonym for metascience?

Finally, good luck on this! :)