Donation Post: 2018

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This year I am splitting my donations between the Animal Welfare Fund (animals), Evidence Action (global poverty), and the Longevity Research Institute (anti-aging).

I’m taking basically the same approach with all three places I’m donating this year. I am not donating to particular programs that I think are high impact, such as malaria nets or cellular agriculture. Instead, I’m delegating my donation decisions to particular people or organizations. In two cases, I’m betting on a specific person that I have reason to believe is more informed, has better judgment, and is generally capable of making better decisions than me. In a third case, Evidence Action, I’m betting on an organization’s process and epistemics: while I know little about their current charities, I’m impressed by their transparency and commitment to admitting when things they’re trying may not work.

The Longevity Research Institute is a new charity which does not yet have 501c3 status. In general, organizations that do basic research focus on understanding the biology of aging, while biotech companies study drugs as treatments for specific diseases. The LRI focuses on grants to develop drugs that will extend life and prevent disease in healthy people. It was founded by my friend Sarah Constantin, who is one of the smartest people I know; I have consistently been impressed by her carefulness and the breadth of her knowledge. I don’t have the understanding of medicine to know whether what they’re doing is sensible. Donating to the LRI is, fundamentally, a bet on Sarah.

The LRI is a new project which is just getting off the ground. Early donations can be far more valuable than donations later in a project’s life, because they make the difference between the organization existing and not existing. Once an organization has a track record, it is easier to convince donors to support it, so the room for more funding is often smaller.

People whom I think should consider donating to the LRI:

  • Young people who want to selfishly invest in life extension research. (The research is unlikely to bear fruit in enough time to benefit older people.)
  • People who know Sarah Constantin and agree with my assessment of her character.
  • Risk-neutral effective altruists who want to support new projects.

Evidence Action starts global poverty charities that rigorous research suggests have the potential to benefit many people at a low cost. They currently run one GiveWell top charity, Deworm the World, which facilitates school-based treatment of parasitic worms. Their other charity, Dispensers for Safe Water, places free chlorine dispensers near wells so that people can easily disinfect their water. The charities going through the incubation process are No Lean Season (which subsidizes workers moving to the city to get jobs during the agricultural off-season) and Winning Start (which improves literacy and numeracy among primary-school children by having volunteers tutor them).

I’m excited about Evidence Action for several reasons. There are many programs we know work to help the global poor that no one is really implementing. GiveWell has written about their difficulties finding charities that implement priority programs with rigorous monitoring and evaluation. Evidence Action has already created one GiveWell top charity and I expect that it will create more in the future.

Further, Evidence Action has a notable commitment to monitoring and evaluation of their programs. Programs that look good in pilot studies often fall apart when they’re scaled to thousands or millions of recipients, which is why Evidence Action doesn’t just rely on promising early studies but does RCTs that test whether the program still works when it’s expanded. They also collect ongoing monitoring data for the programs that have graduated from Evidence Action Beta, such as Deworm the World, to make sure the programs are implemented well.

By far, the single thing that excites me most about Evidence Action is their reaction to No Lean Season failing to have the desired impact. They could have claimed that 2017 was a weird year or that the study was poorly conducted. Instead, they identified issues that might have caused No Lean Season not to have an effect, such as mistargeting. They are going to run a second RCT in 2018 of a program that they believe has fixed these issues; if that doesn’t work, they are open to shutting down the charity. They did not contest No Lean Season being delisted as a GiveWell top charity. They have been consistently open and transparent about the situation. This is exactly how I want charities to respond to evidence that their program does not work.

People whom I think should consider donating to Evidence Action:

  • People who want to reward Evidence Action for admitting that No Lean Season may not work.
  • People who want to invest in improving charity epistemics.
  • People who want more global poverty charities implementing priority programs to exist.

The Animal Welfare Fund is chaired by Lewis Bollard, the program officer responsible for farmed animal welfare at the Open Philanthropy Project. He makes grants from the Animal Welfare Fund to a variety of animal welfare projects that for various reasons are not appropriate for an Open Philanthropy Project grant. The Animal Welfare Fund has funded a variety of animal-related causes, including wild animal welfare, animal welfare in the developing world, cellular agriculture, animal welfare research, and effective animal activist movement building.

I used to work for an organization, Wild-Animal Suffering Research, that received a significant percentage of its funding from the Animal Welfare Fund. I was extremely impressed by Lewis Bollard when we went through the grantmaking process. His questions were insightful and cut to the heart of the matter; he was clearly thoughtful and capable of changing his mind in response to new evidence.

When I look at the grants the Animal Welfare Fund makes, I am generally very excited. The Animal Welfare Fund typically seems to look for opportunities where a lot of good can be done for very little money and that the typical small donor won’t know about. Past grant recipients that I’m excited about include:

  • The Intercept, for investigative reporting about factory farming.
  • Utility Farm, for work on tractable interventions into wild-animal welfare, such as humane insecticides and keeping cats indoors.
  • A factory-farm photographer in Poland, to buy him a car so he can keep traveling to factory farms.
  • Animal Welfare Action Lab, to replicate surveys about people’s opinions on clean meat.
  • A project to translate Animal Liberation into Swahili, Hindi, Ukranian, Romanian, and Georgian.
  • The world’s first Bangladeshi documentary about factory farming.

Importantly, the Animal Welfare Fund does not primarily make grants to organizations that use leafleting or online ads to try to convince people to become vegetarian or vegan. I think the advertise-to-people-in-developed-countries-until-they-become-vegetarian-or-vegan strategy is likely to be cost-ineffective.

In the past, the Animal Welfare Fund has only had one manager, Lewis Bollard. However, it has recently shifted to have three additional managers: Toni Adleberg and Jamie Spurgeon of Animal Charity Evaluators and Natalie Cargill of Effective Giving. I don’t believe I’ve personally interacted with any of these managers (although I’m both faceblind and terrible with names, so I don’t want to rule it out!). The new system has less of a track record; however, the latest round of grants seems to be similar to previous grants.

People whom I think should consider donating to the Animal Welfare Fund:

  • People who prioritize animal welfare and do not think we should concentrate on persuading people to be vegan/vegetarian.
  • People who support “weird EA” animal causes.

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