13 karmaJoined May 2017


Hi Toni, thanks for posting. My apologies if the questions below have been answered elsewhere; I have not engaged very much with your research over the past year or so.

I'm wondering if you could provide a bit of clarification regarding the role of CEEs in the formation of your overall view of cost effectiveness. You describe CEEs and (e.g.) leadership quality as being independent features in determining the marginal effectiveness of donations. I understand "independent" here as meaning that each feature can vary as the other(s) are held constant (roughly, of course there will be some correlation between all of the criteria).

This makes sense, but I think it isn't hitting the core of Halstead's argument. The criteria seem to comprise a multiplicative model, where setting any of the variables to a sufficiently low value is enough to bring the estimated marginal impact close to zero. If donations don't cash out in the implementation of cost-effective interventions, then the rest of the features don't matter; likewise if the leadership is so poor that the organization disbands. In this view, something like CEEs are critical even if they are not "core" in a sense of being much more important than the other criteria, such that a compelling argument against the evidence of cost effectiveness does feel per se like a compelling argument against the evidence for marginal cost effectiveness.

While the criteria may vary independently, it doesn't seem that they independently contribute to animal welfare (i.e. contribute additively rather than multiplicatively).

Also relevant are one's prior on the cost effectiveness of animal welfare charities, and one's confidence in arguments in the style of CEEs. If I think that most animal welfare interventions have little impact, then I need compelling evidence that a particular charity is doing better in order to form a positive overall view of the org. If my prior is more optimistic, then other considerations pointing to organizational quality will be sufficient to think the org is a worthwhile target for donations (especially if I think my ability to form accurate CEEs is weak).

Reviewing your paraphrase of Halstead's argument:

  1. ACE's corporate outreach intervention report is flawed.
  2. Corporate outreach accounts for 90% of THL's and Animal Equality's CEEs.
  3. Each charity's CEE is the primary piece of evidence that the charity improves animal welfare. Therefore,
  4. ACE does not provide much reason to believe that their recommended charities improve animal welfare.

It seems to me that a compellingly positive CEE, primary evidence or no, is nonetheless a necessary component in the belief that an organization will improve animal welfare, particularly if one has a pessimistic prior. As such, effectively attacking the CEE is basically decisive. I'll note that my argument somewhat rests on a conceptual confusion: the CEE as you use it isn't actually your estimate of cost-effectiveness, just the subset that is easily quantifiable. The argument still seems to carry given a pessimistic prior and a lack of justification for the subset of impact that is hard to quantify.

I expect you have a more optimistic prior on the benefits of animal welfare charities, and I take your point (as I understand it) that there are benefits that are hard to capture in a CEE, such as movement capacity should we find some great intervention later on, and the maintenance of enthusiastic grassroots support for use as leverage in corporate campaigns. Does ACE have material explicating and justifying its understanding of this systemic/hard-to-quantify value? Is there something else I'm missing about your argument for independence, such that arguments for the value of something like strong leadership don't rely on/flow through arguments for the cost-effectiveness of programs?

Ah, yes. Agreed. Thanks for the clarification.

Hey Max, thanks for linking these.

I have a question about an argument for the benefit of reserves made in the second link:

Assuming that core programmes are roughly as effective next year, additional funding mostly reduces the funding needs of the organisation next year, thereby freeing up money for those donors who would have given next year. Assuming those donors still donate that money somewhere else, then their alternate donations are likely to produce at least almost as great value as this organisations’ core programmes.

I read this as saying that the benefit of donating to Organization A this year is that it will free up money for Organization B next year. But if Organization B is almost as good (as assumed in the quoted text), then why not donate to them directly this year?

On this reading, it seems like the impact of reserves for Organization A is whatever benefit Org A draws from the other arguments you offer (potential for capacity-building, freeing up staff-time from fundraising efforts next year) minus something like a discount rate / the cost of Organization B getting resources one year later. It's not obvious to me that this will always, or usually, be positive.

Am I missing something here?