SoGive's moral weights -- please take part!

by Sanjay2 min read5th Apr 20212 comments

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Moral WeightMoral Uncertainty
Frontpage

Contents

  • Motivation: how moral weights work supports SoGive’s charity ratings
  • What we have done so far
  • What we plan to do next
  • How you can help (participate in the SoGive moral weights survey)

Motivation: how moral weights work supports SoGive’s charity ratings

SoGive performs charity analysis on a broad range of charities. Our output is an easy-to-understand rating (e.g. “Gold” or “Silver”). We aim to cover a sufficiently large number of charities that if you heard the name of a charity you could consult SoGive and have a good chance that SoGive has a write-up.

Historically we simply compared all charities to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF). We believed then (and believe now) that this is a legitimate, philosophically well-founded comparison. Any decision to donate to charity X is also (implicitly) a decision *not* to donate to AMF (as well as being a decision not to spend it on anything else).

However this approach suffered from a number of issues.

  1. Lots of people who had not thought deeply about these issues felt that it was invalid to compare (e.g.) a charity helping homeless people in Coventry with AMF’s malaria net distributions
    1. This is problematic because SoGive’s key insight was being lost -- the whole point is that SoGive provides the data to let donors move on from “holidays for veterans vs malaria nets” to “ONE holiday for a veteran vs TWO lives saved” or “THREE homeless people helped vs SEVENTY years of depression averted”. 
    2. While this quantification adds valuable extra information, this insight was being lost for those who thought that comparing everything to AMF was us being overly simplistic
  2. Lots of subtle moral assumptions were being kept implicit, and making those explicit is valuable
    1. Frequently the differences in cost-effectiveness were so substantial that almost any reasonable set of moral values would reach the same conclusion. However this was not always the case. For example, reasonable people have wildly differing opinions about the moral value that animals have.
  3. The persistent references to AMF were problematic
    1. If we changed our mind about AMF being a charity which meets the standard to be rated Gold, we would have a lot of work to update our analysis
    2. It made us look like a shill for AMF

Our approach so far

  • Interviews with major donors known to SoGive or SoGive’s founder
    • Purpose was to test question framing for understanding, as well as to identify potentially missing questions and hear some reasoning
    • Recorded quantitative answers to the questions as well as notes on the above.
  • Pilot general population surveys
    • Tested for inconsistency between different framings
    • Tested for comprehension by asking people to provide reasoning
    • Noticed that people had a tendency to put 0 when (based on their reasoning) they meant “infinity”, adapted survey accordingly.
    • Noticed scope insensitivity with different framings, adapted survey accordingly.

Our plans for next steps

  • Perform the survey on a larger nationally representative sample of UK population
  • Request that members of the EA community participate in the survey
  • Internal estimates from the SoGive analytical team 
    • SoGive team members will be encouraged to come up with weights and reasoning without consulting the survey results or each other.
    • They will then anonymously record both their reasoning and weights.
    • All of the SoGive team will then be provided with:
      • Notes and weights from the HNW interviews
      • Summarised survey results from the large sample
      • Survey results from the EA community, also including their reasoning
      • The weights and reasoning of SoGive team
    • All staff will then update their weights based on the new evidence.
    • We will take the median of these updated weights.

How you can help

Please take the survey!

Ideally, we would like thoughtful, considered responses, and are happy for participants to create a separate google doc and link to it if there’s not enough space in the survey to set out their reasoning.

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2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:09 AM
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I feel it was valuable to me to think about the questions in the survey, made me reconnect a bit with why I became an altruist in the first place. There seem to be some issues in the second survey though. The question with button seven and button eight has some typos (button seven is referred to as button A and then the question asks to compare button seven to button A). And then after I answered a question about education and higher income, I just see a blank screen, and I'm not sure if my answers were recorded.

Thanks very much for pointing out that error -- now corrected. I've looked at the answers which have been recorded, and they include an answer which includes comments similar to the comment you made here, so I think it's been recorded. Thank you very much!