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When speaking with non-EAs, talk about cost of intervention or cost of averting a death?

by warrenjordan 1 min read12th Apr 20202 comments


If I talk about top GiveWell charities, should I focus on the cost of the intervention or the cost of averting a death? For example, if I'm talking to a non-EA about Malaria Consortium, should I talk about how it only takes $5 to provide medication to children vs. $2300 to avert a child's death?

It would make sense to talk about both, but which one would resonate with them more - especially during your first conversation?

When I first stumbled upon EA, I think the cost of the intervention got me "hooked" - then as I discovered GiveWell and read more about EA, I learned about the cost of averting a death.

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I honestly think that talking about both numbers should be doable even for a brief conversation. Many things are very cheap to provide to people (e.g. a hot meal), so it seems like an intervention being low-cost wouldn't be too compelling on its own. You could try working the figures in together, like so:

"It costs about $5 to provide medication to one child. Normally, that just (describe the normal effect of the medicine; reducing symptoms?). But sometimes, it actually saves the child's life. Research shows that it only costs about $2300 to save one child from dying." (This may sound too "certain" and not hedged enough, but I think you sometimes have to make allowances for that if the conversation is very short.)

If I'd done more research on Malaria Consortium, I'd also try to figure out what "avert a death" or "save a life" means in this case; I'd like to be able to say that every $2300, on average, probably leads to one child living a long and healthy life who would otherwise die, but I don't know whether that's what the number represents here.