This post was written by a subset of Clearer Thinking team members, and not all of the team members involved with the regranting necessarily agree with everything said here.
Update: the same week that we posted this, we were devastated to learn of the events surrounding FTX and to learn that the Future Fund team resigned. We slightly updated the conclusion, but we have not changed the body of the post (because the focus of it was to share information that we learned during the regranting program, and we still think it serves that purpose). Our thoughts are with the many customers and others who have been affected by the devastating events at FTX.
As part of the Clearer Thinking Regrants program, we evaluated over 630 project proposals and ended up with 37 finalists. In the many hours that we spent evaluating these finalists, we learned some things that surprised us and saw many potential opportunities to help the world that we hadn’t considered before. Of course, if you’re an expert in any of these areas, what surprised us non-experts may not surprise you.
Our aim in this post is to share object-level information that we did not know before the regranting program and that we think readers may find interesting or useful. In several cases, we are sharing the fact that specific organizations or projects have significantly more room for funding than we would have guessed, even after accounting for the outcomes of our regrants program. We hope that readers find this information useful. By highlighting some organizations that have room for more funding, we hope that this will lead to impactful giving opportunities.
- We were surprised that there hasn't been more work to quantify the risks from large-magnitude volcanic eruptions (considering the impact that such eruptions could have).
- We were surprised that the Rethink Priorities Surveys Team has significant room for funding for their own project ideas (since most of their work is research/consulting for existing orgs).
- We hadn’t previously considered the extent to which the use of boiling as a water treatment method in low- and middle-income countries contributes to indoor air pollution (and, therefore, to potentially negative health outcomes).
- We were surprised to learn that the Happier Lives Institute (HLI) has substantial room for additional funding.
- We hadn’t considered that there may be significant new ideas about how to reduce the chance of nuclear war (given the age of the field).
- Some of our team hadn’t realized how difficult it can be to tell whether there’s a vitamin deficiency in a population, and none of us had realized that point-of-care biosensors might be feasible to roll out in the foreseeable future.
- We hadn’t realized that 1Day Sooner conducts activities outside of their human challenge trial work, and that these activities have significant room for funding.
1. We were surprised that there hasn't been more work to quantify the risks from large-magnitude volcanic eruptions (considering the impact that such eruptions could have).
Toby Ord’s best guess (discussed in The Precipice) is that there is a ~1 in 10,000 chance of an existential catastrophe via supervolcano eruption within the next 100 years. He also thinks that most of the risks associated with volcanic eruptions would relate to them causing the collapse of civilization and/or reducing the chance of recovering from that collapse, and that further research quantifying these risks would be helpful.
Volcanologists Mike Cassidy and Lara Mani have argued that there has been insufficient attention paid to quantifying these risks, as well as to identifying where large-magnitude volcanic eruptions are most likely to occur and which measures should be taken to mitigate these risks. It was surprising to us that these questions have not already been investigated in greater detail, considering the impact that such eruptions could have (and that improved quantification may be quite low-cost if carried out by the right team).
2. We were surprised that the Rethink Priorities Surveys Team has significant room for funding for their own project ideas (since most of their work is research/consulting for existing orgs).
During our regranting investigations, we became more aware of how Rethink Priorities has been supporting a variety of EA organizations by conducting research on their behalf, most of which is private and therefore not published. We were surprised to find out that they have significant room for additional funding for pursuing their own project ideas aimed at benefiting the entire EA ecosystem (as opposed to their bread-and-butter work of conducting research supporting particular organizations). This is still the case at the time of this post.
The Rethink Priorities team told us that they would like to “identify more generalizable, replicable insights, about how people think about EA and how best to promote it, as well as to explore new questions that are not yet on the radar of specific organizations.” They also note that they have significant room for funding for this line of research.
In contrast to their envisioned systematic, generalizable research, the Surveys Team points out that many of the current projects they complete at the request of other organizations are “very time-limited, and focused on quickly addressing the immediate needs of decision-makers on specific questions.” The Surveys Team told us that if they were funded to run their own research rather than only to work on behalf of specific organizations, they believe they could produce more research that is broadly valuable to the movement as a whole.
3. We hadn’t previously considered the extent to which the use of boiling as a water treatment method in low- and middle-income countries contributes to indoor air pollution (and, therefore, to potentially negative health outcomes).
For populations in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) who don’t have reliable access to safe drinking water, the most common household water treatment method appears to be boiling (Rosa & Thomas, 2010). Furthermore, this is often done using solid fuels, which contributes significantly to indoor air pollution (Cohen et al., 2020). We knew that indoor air pollution contributes to morbidity and mortality, and among other things, this may negatively impact neurodevelopment (Rees, 2017), but we had not previously considered that the practice of boiling water could therefore be a significant health hazard due to the fuels used to heat the water.
All these pieces of information became decision-relevant for us when we were evaluating an invention (called “Water Box 2.0”) that was proposed as one possible water treatment method that could replace boiling (though it’s not the first time a replacement has been proposed). Water Box 2.0 has been undergoing user testing in households that currently boil all their drinking water.
4. We were surprised to learn that the Happier Lives Institute (HLI) has substantial room for additional funding.
There are two things that stand out to us when we think about HLI:
(i) They recently identified an issue in GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness estimates for deworming charities. As part of that post, the HLI team made a series of recommendations, including incorporating decay more into their models of charities’ cost-effectiveness, as well as increasing reasoning transparency when making charity recommendations. GiveWell responded to this analysis by updating their cost-effectiveness estimates relating to deworming charities and planning further research into how deworming charities’ impact decays over time. GiveWell also recently announced a Change Our Mind competition and has said that they will retroactively award HLI a prize for their post.
(ii) As far as we are aware, HLI is the only group trying to quantify the benefits of charitable interventions based on the improvements in happiness/wellbeing they create (rather than based on other frameworks such as QALYs or DALYs) and trying to identify highly effective giving opportunities based on this happiness/wellbeing-focused approach that may have been missed by other perspectives.
Given the points above, we expected that HLI would have a larger funding base. We were therefore surprised to learn that HLI has a lot of room for additional funding (including for a Grants Strategist and seed funding for a grantmaking fund). This is still the case at the time of this post.
5. We hadn’t considered that there may be significant new ideas about how to reduce the chance of nuclear war (given the age of the field).
We were not expecting to encounter new ideas for reducing the probability of nuclear war, given how old this field is. Consequently, we were interested in the proposal by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) to research, develop, and widely implement a “practical framework and toolkit to assist policy practitioners in planning ‘nuclear off-ramps’ [de-escalation strategies] to avert nuclear weapons use during a time of tensions or conflict.” The basic approach involves studying previous cases where nuclear war could have broken out, then, as BASIC puts it, “uncovering the core ingredients and optimal conditions that enabled de-escalation.” These components would then be compiled in a format that could be easily drawn upon in times of potential nuclear war crises (i.e., it would aim to provide key decision-makers with concrete options for de-escalation when nuclear use is imminent). According to BASIC, no such tool currently exists.
BASIC’s proposed project would include the development of a Nuclear Off-Ramps Advisory Panel and would culminate in meetings with officials and experts from each of the world’s nuclear possessor states. This proposal was surprising to us insofar as it appeared (to us, at least) to be a relatively novel idea for an intervention aiming to reduce the future probability of nuclear war. (Of course, one can only guess regarding the probability that, if developed, it would get used during a nuclear crisis.)
6. Some of our team hadn’t realized how difficult it can be to tell whether there’s a vitamin deficiency in a population, and none of us had realized that point-of-care biosensors might be feasible to roll out in the foreseeable future.
Among low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), from 1988–2018, only seven countries (5.1% of LMICs) reported on the vitamin B12 statuses of their population (Brown et al., 2021). Although we can’t be sure (owing to this lack of data), untreated, undiagnosed deficiencies are suspected by some researchers to be relatively common, including among pregnant women and newborn children. Given that the consequences of such untreated deficiencies are significant (including potential negative effects on infant cognitive and social development and mental health), one might wonder why it is not more common for countries to screen for B12 deficiency in their population. Screening data could then be used to justify supplementation or fortification campaigns (in populations where such interventions would be beneficial).
We were interested to hear from Project Helio that, after speaking with data collectors for various organizations (WHO, CDC, UNICEF, Asia’s Food Fortification Program, Micronutrient Forum, PATH, and USAID), they have come to the conclusion that the main barrier to population screening for B12 deficiency is the prohibitive cost of current testing methods. Subsequently, they plan to develop a low-cost point-of-care biosensor, aiming at <$5/test, that could assess the B12 status of LMIC populations, thereby enabling those who need treatment to be identified in a cost-effective fashion. We will be interested to see results regarding the eventual accuracy and cost-effectiveness of the sensor they are developing.
7. We hadn’t realized that 1Day Sooner conducts activities outside of their human challenge trial work, and that these activities have significant room for funding.
In addition to the work that 1Day Sooner is known for (i.e., advocacy on behalf of volunteers for human challenge trials, which they believe may have sped up the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines if they had been implemented effectively), they have a project aiming to advocate for a faster regulatory pathway by which prototype vaccines could rapidly be approved and distributed at the onset of a potential pandemic. These vaccines, initially developed in advance of a pandemic, would include pan-sarbecovirus vaccines and prototype vaccines against pandemic pathogens more generally.
We were previously totally unaware of 1Day Sooner’s planned work on this faster regulatory pathway, which they call the Warp 2 Pathway. The reforms they hope to facilitate include faster entry into and exit out of Phase 1 clinical trials and multiple options for proof of efficacy via surrogate biomarkers. The goal is to establish relatively narrow emergency use authorization followed by rapid confirmatory trials before broader authorization and licensure. At the time of this post, 1Day Sooner still has significant room for funding for their Warp 2 Pathway work. We will be interested to see how they approach these reforms if they receive sufficient funding. If successful, the project would get vaccines tested and disseminated more quickly in times of need.
We learned a great deal running the Clearer Thinking Regrants program and the accompanying forecasting competition. We are grateful to all of the people who applied to our program. We are also grateful to the Future Fund team for wanting to fund it. Based on our experience with the program, we think there are likely quite a number of promising smaller-sized giving opportunities available, where $10,000-$500,000 gifts might make a big difference to help a small-sized or new projects have a chance of getting off the ground (thereby increasing the probability that they one day turn into larger, potentially high-impact projects). We would be excited by future efforts to identify more such opportunities.
In the body of this post, we have attempted to avoid evaluative language and have tried to stick to describing facts about what surprised us during the Clearer Thinking Regrants program. If you notice any mistakes in the facts we mention, please let us know so that we can correct them.
For anyone who is interested in supporting any of the organizations mentioned above, please note that we also conducted reference checks for the leader(s) of each project mentioned in this post. All projects mentioned above had leaders whose reference checks reflected favorably upon their ability to execute their project well.
Here is a list of the projects mentioned in this article, along with information about the people leading each of them:
- Quantifying the existential risk potential from large volcanic eruptions via climate, food and cascading risk modelling: This project is co-led by Mike Cassidy and Lara Mani.
- Rethink Priorities (Surveys Team): The Rethink Priorities Surveys Team is led by David Moss.
- Water Box 2.0: This project is co-led by Paul Berg and David Conklin.
- Happier Lives Institute Grants Strategist and seed funding for a grantmaking fund: This project is co-led by Michael Plant and Lily Yu, both at the Happier Lives Institute.
- Off-Ramps: Averting Near Nuclear Use in Crisis and War: This project is led by Rishi Paul at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC).
- Project Helio: This initiative is led by Ashley Mo and Aoi Otani.
- Reforming regulations for pandemic countermeasures: This project would be led by a yet-to-be-hired project director with regulatory experience, Josh Morrison (President), Gavriel Kleinwaks (Strategic Projects Lead), and Enlli Lewis (Regulatory Policy and Research Coordinator), all at 1Day Sooner.
Thank you to all the grant applicant finalists mentioned here, for making us aware of giving opportunities we had not known about before. Thank you to Adam Binks, Amanda Metskas, Catherine Low, Richard Möhn, and Travis Manuel for their helpful edits and comments on earlier drafts. Edit (Nov 15): We are also grateful to the (now resigned) Future Fund team for wanting to make this program possible.
This post is not focusing on the outcomes of the grant applications, but if you are interested in those outcomes, you can review them in Manifold Markets. (As you can see at that link, we recommended that all projects listed in this post should receive at least some funding. You’ll also see that the projects listed here are not the only ones that we recommend should receive some funding. Our criterion for including one of the selected projects in the current post was simple: we included it if it introduced us to information that surprised us.)
We expect that anyone who becomes interested in these organizations through our post will do their own investigations and come to their own conclusions. We simply thought it would be useful (in expectation) to share the fact that certain organizations and projects have a surprising (to us, anyway) amount of room for more funding. Please contact us if you want to be put in touch with any of the groups listed here. Note that we conducted reference checks for the leader(s) of each project mentioned in this post. All projects mentioned above had leaders whose reference checks reflected favorably upon their ability to execute their project well.