Comments on “Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty”

Agreed. I didn't mean to imply that totalism is the only view sensitive to the mortality-fertility relationship - just that the results could be fairly different on totalism and that it's especially important to see the results on totalism and that it makes sense to look at totalism before other population ethical views not yet considered. Exploring other population ethical views would be good too!

If parents are trying to have a set number of children (survive to adulthood) then the effects of reducing mortality might not change the total number of future people much, because parents adjust fertility

I think my concern here was that the post suggested that saving lives might not be very valuable on totalism due to a high fertility adjustment:

A report writtenfor GiveWell estimated that in some areas where it recommends charities the number of births averted per life saved is as large as 1:1, a ratio at which population size and growth are left effectively unchanged by saving lives.[45] For totalists, the value of saving lives in a 1:1 context would be very small (compared to one where there was no fertility reduction) as the value of saving one life is ‘negated’ by the disvalue of causing one less life to be created.

Roodman's report (if I recall correctly) suggested that this likely happens to a lower degree in areas where infant mortality is high (i.e. parents adjust fertility less in high infant mortality settings) so saving lives in these settings is plausibly still very valuable according to totalism.

Comments on “Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty”

This is a great summary of what I was and wasn't saying :)

Thanks for the link - looking forward to reading. Might return to this after reading

Comments on “Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty”

You're very welcome! I really enjoyed reading and commenting on the post :)

One thing I can’t quite get my head round - if we divide E(C) by E(L) then don’t we lose all the information about the uncertainty in each estimate? Are we able to say that the value of averting a death is somewhere between X and Y times that to doubling consumption (within 90% confidence)?

Good question, I've also wondered this and I'm not sure. In principle, I feel like something like the standard error of the mean (the standard deviation of the sample divided by the square root of the sample size) should be useful here. But applying it naively doesn't seem to give plausible results because guesstimate uses 5000 samples, so we end up with very small standard errors. I don't have a super strong stats background though - maybe someone who does can help you more here

Founders Pledge Report: Psychedelic-Assisted Mental Health Treatments
I wish this preference was more explicit in Founders Pledge's writing. It seems like a substantial value judgment, almost an aesthetic preference, and one that is unintuitive to me!

We don't say much about this because none of our conclusions depends on it but we'll be sure to be more explicit about this if it's decision-relevant. In the particular passage you're interested in here, we were trying to get a sense of the broader SWB benefits of psychedelic use. We didn't find strong evidence for positive effects on experiential or evaluative measures of SWB. As you rightly note, just using PANAS leaves open the possibility that life satisfaction could have increased (the former is an experiential measure and the latter is an evaluative one). But there wasn't evidence for improvements in evaluative SWB either so that fact that we place more weight on experiential than evaluative measures didn't play a role here.

The only time that we've used SWB measures to evaluate a funding opportunity, we looked at both happiness (an experiential measure) and life satisfaction (an evaluative measure).

I wonder which of hedonistic and preference utilitarianism you're more sympathetic to, or which of hedonism and preference/desire theories of well-being you're more sympathetic to. The former tend to go with experiential SWB and the latter with evaluative or eudaimonic SWB (see Michael Plant's recent paper). I don't think it's a perfect mapping but my inclination towards hedonism is closely related to my earlier claim that

experiential measures, such as affective balance (e.g. as measured by Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)), capture more of what we care about and less of what we don't care about, compared to evaluative measures, such as life satisfaction

This might explain our disagreement.

e.g. favoring affective balance over life satisfaction implies that having children is a bad decision in terms of one's subjective well-being. (If I recall correctly, on average having kids tends to make affective balance go down but life satisfaction go up; many people seem very happy to have had children.)

This is an interesting example, thanks for bringing it up. I don't have a strong view on whether having children increases or decreases hedonistic well-being (though it seems likely to increase well-being in desire/preference terms). So I'm not too sure what to make of it but here are a few thoughts:

1. This could well be a case in which life satisfaction captures something important that affect and happiness miss - I don't have a strong view on that.

2. The early years of parenting intuitively seem really hard and sleep-depriving but also fulfilling and satisfying in a broad sense. So it seems very plausible that they decrease affect/happiness but increase life satisfaction. I'd expect children to be a source of positive happiness as well, later in life though, so maybe having children increases affect/happiness overall anyway.

3. If having children decreases affect/happiness, I don't find it very surprising that lots of people want to have children and are satisfied by having children anyway. There are clearly strong evolutionary pressures to have strong preferences for having children but much less reason to think that having children would make people happier (arguably the reverse: having children results in parents having fewer resources for themselves!)

Founders Pledge Report: Psychedelic-Assisted Mental Health Treatments

Hi Milan, thanks very much for your comments (here and on drafts of the report)!

On 1, we don't intend to claim that psychedelics don't improve subjective well-being (SWB), just that the only study (we found) that measured SWB pre- and post-intervention found no effect. This is a (non-conclusive) reason to treat the findings that participants self-report improved well-being with some suspicion.

As I mentioned to you in our correspondence, we think that experiential measures, such as affective balance (e.g. as measured by Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS)), capture more of what we care about and less of what we don't care about, compared to evaluative measures, such as life satisfaction. But I take your point that PANAS doesn't encompass all of SWB.

On 2, behaviour change still hasn't been studied enough for there to be more than "weak evidence" but yeah, I agree that reports from third-parties are stronger evidence than self-reported changes.

Also interesting here – individuals may rescale their assessments of subjective well-being over time. I speculate that the particulars of the psychedelic experience may drive rescaling like this in an intense way.

Yeah, I don't think we understand this very well yet but it's an interesting thought :)

Founders Pledge Report: Psychedelic-Assisted Mental Health Treatments

I've hopefully clarified this in my response to your first comment :)

Founders Pledge Report: Psychedelic-Assisted Mental Health Treatments

Thanks for your questions, Siebe!

Based on the report itself, my impression is that high-quality academic research into microdosing and into flow-through effects* of psychedelic use is much more funding-constrained. Have you considered those?

Yes, but only relatively briefly. You're right that these kinds of research are more neglected than studies of mental health treatments but we think that the benefits are much smaller in expectation. That's not to say that there couldn't be large benefits from microdosing or flow-through effects, just that these are much more speculative.

Note that we think it's more likely than not (59%) that psilocybin will turn out to be less effective than existing treatments for depression (pg. 35). Even the mental health benefits are fairly uncertain and these other benefits you mention are even less likely to materialise. The kinds of research you suggest could be valuable but I think it makes sense to focus on the mental health treatments first.

On microdosing specifically, we mention our specific concerns (pg. 21):

Another psychedelics intervention that is often suggested as potentially promising is microdosing: taking psychedelics in very low doses. Here, however, the evidence is even sparser. We currently see no reason to think this will have benefits comparable to those of higher-dose psychedelic-assisted mental health treatments, as there is reason to believe that with classic psychedelics, the latter benefits are mediated by ‘mystical-type’ experiences, which microdosing doesn’t occasion. Furthermore, we don’t know much yet about the risks of prolonged microdosing, and from a legal perspective, making microdosing available for healthy people seems much further away than psychedelic-assisted mental health treatments.

I think the last point, about microdosing being further away than mental health treatments, applies to many flow-through effects. If, indeed, psychedelics could bring about wide-ranging benefits, then the best first step is probably to get them approved as mental health treatments anyway and so advancing this seems valuable. If approved, it will also be easier to carry out other kinds of research.

2. Did you consider more organisations than Usona and MAPS? It seems a little bit unlikely that these are the only two organisations lobbying for drug approval?

This is related to your other comment, so I'll answer both together.

I was confused about the usage of the term drug development as it sounds to me like it's about the discovery/creation of new drugs, which clearly does not seem to be the high-value aspect here.

Drug development can but need not involve the creation of new drugs. It's the process that has to happen in order for banned or new substances to be approved for medical use. It involves high-quality studies to prove efficacy and safety. Drug development is very expensive - it costs at least tens of millions of dollars (usually more) to go through the FDA approval process. So actually, there just aren't many organisations able to do this. Usona and MAPS aren't just lobbying for approval, they're conducting clinical research in order to approve psilocybin and MDMA for medical use.

Another org also doing drug development of psilocybin (but for treatment-resistant depression, rather than major depression) is Compass Pathways. Compass is for-profit though, so we didn't consider it as a funding opportunity here.

What are some low-information priors that you find practically useful for thinking about the world?

I don't think Greaves' example suffers the same problem actually - if we truly don't know anything about what the possible colours are (just that each book has one colour), then there's no reason to prefer {red, yellow, blue, other} over {red, yellow, blue, green, other}.

In the case of truly having no information, I think it makes sense to use Jeffreys prior in the box factory case because that's invariant to reparametrisation, so it doesn't matter whether the problem is framed in terms of length, area, volume, or some other parameterisation. I'm not sure what that actually looks like in this case though

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