I think these issues are extremely complex, and I think you bring up a good point, one with underlying values that I agree with. Nevertheless, many of my research interests are in Alzheimer's, chronic severe pain, and life extension. I think that people in poor countries ultimately are going to improve their length and quality of life, and there's a strong trend in that direction already. I am long on Malaria being eradicated within the next 30 years. We mostly know what to do; what's holding us back is a combination of environmental caution and the challenges of culturally sensitive governance.
I'm most concerned with the despair and suffering of the elderly and chronically ill, from a sheer "loss of utility" perspective. These problems are incredibly complex: we still just have one Alhzeimer's drug, and it buys you maybe an extra year. We don't understand how pain works. Most of the utility of the investment in R&D lies at the end of the research process, so the non-neglected nature of these problems is irrelevant from the perspective of utility. Of course, it's quite relevant from the perspective of basic fairness. That's just less of a motivator for me.
Beyond that, I'm sort of an immortalist. I think that the best way to get people to broaden their moral horizons and think long-term is to make them life longer, happier, healthier lives. I honestly do think it's an emergency that even in the industrialized world, life expectancy is only into the late 70s and our declines come with lots of suffering. You spend your best years trying to save up to afford your worst years. Preaching about animals and the poor and our descendents doesn't work on a scale big enough to change the world. The only way I see to change the situation is to dramatically improve the experience of old age and reduce chronic suffering. My intuition is that happy and relaxed people are more compassionate, and that it's fear or the experience of pain and dementia that undermine our happiness and contemplative ability.
Thank you :)
Do the book and other resource recommendations especially apply to people interested in working on animal welfare?
Here is that review I mentioned. I'll try and add this post to that summary when I get a chance, though I can't do justice to all the mathematical details.
If you do give it a glance, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the critiques regarding the shape and size of the marginal returns graph. It's these concerns that I found most compelling as fundamental critiques of using ITN as more than a rough first-pass heuristic.
The end of this post will be beyond my math til next year, so I’m glad you wrote it :) Have you given thought to the pre-existing critiques of the ITN framework? I’ll link to my review of them later.
In general, ITN should be used as a rough, non-mathematical heuristic. I’m not sure the theory of cause prioritization is developed enough to permit so much mathematical refinement.
In fact, I fear that it gives a sheen of precision to what is truly a rough-hewn communication device. Can you give an example of how an EA organization presently using ITN could improve their analysis by implementing some of the changes and considerations you’re pointing out?
I also hoped to imply that ITN is more than a heuristic. It also serves a rhetorical purpose.
I worry that its seeming simplicity can belie the complexity of cause prioritization. Calculating an ITN rank or score can be treated as the end, rather than the beginning, of such an effort. The numbers can tug the mind in the direction of arguing with the scores, rather than evaluating the argument used to generate them.
My hope is to encourage people to treat ITN scores just as you say - taking them lightly and setting them aside once they've developed a deeper understanding of an issue.
Thanks for reading.
Agreed. However, one of the subcritiques in that point is the divide-by-zero issue that makes issues that have received zero investment "theoretically unsolvable." This is because a % increase in resources from a starting point of 0 will always yield zero. The critic seems to feel it's a result of dividing up the issue in this way.
I leave it to the forum to judge!
There’s a range of posts critiquing ITN from different angles, including many of the ones you specify. I was working on a literature review of these critiques, but stopped in the middle. It seemed to me that organizations that use ITN do so in part because it’s an easy to read communication framework. It boils down an intuitive synthesis of a lot of personal research into something that feels like a metric.
When GiveWell analyzes a charity, they have a carefully specified framework they use to derive a precise cost effectiveness estimate. By contrast, I don’t believe that 80k or OpenPhil have anything comparable for the ITN rankings they assign. Instead, I believe that their scores reflect a deeply researched and well-considered, but essentially intuitive personal opinion.