Hi all,

A friend linked me to the 'red team' contest, and since I undertake cost-effectiveness modelling professionally I thought that would be a useful place I could contribute, potentially.

I'm not an active member of the EA community, so I'd like to ensure I don't straw man the state of the art here; would it be fair to say GiveWell's evaluation of some of its most cost-effective charities represents what the EA community would consider to be a high-quality cost-effectiveness model? If not, what would the EA community consider to be a high-quality cost-effectiveness model in an EA context?


(To be clear, the model is great but I think there are a number of areas where it could be improved upon!)

Thanks so much,


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I would say that GiveWell's cost-effectiveness analyses are considered excellent (here is a guide from 2019), but they should be taken in context.
From https://www.givewell.org/how-we-work/our-criteria/cost-effectiveness/cost-effectiveness-models "we consider our cost-effectiveness numbers to be extremely rough."
"There are many limitations to cost-effectiveness estimates, and we do not assess charities only—or primarily—based on their estimated cost-effectiveness."

And this old blog post: https://blog.givewell.org/2011/08/18/why-we-cant-take-expected-value-estimates-literally-even-when-theyre-unbiased/

They definitely have a much smaller weight than what I first assumed: I initially thought all GiveWell did was to make cost-effectiveness analyses of dozens of charities and recommend the most cost-effective ones. It seems that's completely wrong, and they rely a lot on other criteria and less quantitative or public information.

You might also be interested in the series: Concerns about AMF from GiveWell reading (especially Part 3 and Part 2)

And this FAQ from 2017 from GiveWell

Thank you - really helpful additional information and very useful to have it confirmed that GiveWell are considered high quality models by the EA community. Really appreciate it.

See also


I'd say Michael Dickens and Sam Nolan are probably peak performance. 

This is a classic, devastating methodological piece too.

I would guess that other orgs besides GiveWell also have cost-effectiveness models/analyses.

Couldn't find any public OP analyses on a cursory look
I guess that if one wants to red team effective altruist cost-effectiveness analyses that inform, e.g. giving decisions, non-public analyses may be relevant.

Thank you - these are really helpful to help me understand. On the Sam Nolan piece especially quantifying uncertainty was one of the biggest critiques I had of the GiveWell model so I'm glad this has already been considered!

This has been considered by Sam, but it's still a valid criticism of GiveWell's models as they are now.