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What are examples of EA work being reviewed by non-EA researchers?

In addition to Will MacAskill's critique of functional decision theory (MIRI-originated and intended to be relevant for AI alignment), there's this write-up by someone that refereed FDT's submission to a philosophy journal:

My recommendation was to accept resubmission with major revisions, but since the article had already undergone a previous round of revisions and still had serious problems, the editors (understandably) decided to reject it. I normally don't publish my referee reports, but this time I'll make an exception because the authors are well-known figures from outside academia, and I want to explain why their account has a hard time gaining traction in academic philosophy.

What are examples of EA work being reviewed by non-EA researchers?

Here's a thread in which a World Bank economist critiques GiveWell on research/publication methods. (GiveWell responds here.)

AMA: "The Oxford Handbook of Social Movements"

I just feel like it's hard to come away with much of long-term value. I sort of nod along as I read thinking, "That's plausible," and that's about it. (To be concrete: I make Anki cards for most nonfiction I read and I've only made around 1o or 12 across 200 pages which is way fewer than normal for me.) I think I generally want my non-fiction to have at least one of:

  1. Solid empirical findings (i.e. widely and repeatedly attested within the field)
  2. Falsifiable models with some explanatory depth (i.e. not just mindless curve fitting or a listing of all possible causal factors)
  3. Insightful conceptual analysis (e.g. mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive taxonomies)

Regarding 1, several empirical studies are mentioned but they don't seem to add up to a coherent or even non-contradictory whole.

There's basically none of 2.

The book is probably closest to achieving number 3, but still not great. I would have liked, for example, if they talked about why the classic agenda of "collective action frames", "mobilizing structures", and "political opportunities" is a better organizational scheme than the alternatives.

The book also focuses more on apportioning credit and on the history of the thinking in the field than I'd prefer.

All that said, I understand different readers are looking for different things.

Lant Pritchett's "smell test": is your impact evaluation asking questions that matter?

I remain pretty confused by this line of argument. I basically parse it as: we should strive to make the actions of developing countries similar to the (best) actions of developed countries. But actions seem of merely instrumental interest and what we actually care about is states (conditions) that are conducive to development.

The recommendations from these two perspectives (actions vs states) converge only insofar as the best actions are invariant across states. But this is quite a big claim and contradicted by e.g. Rodrik who insists that "Institutional innovations do not travel well".

It seems like the development interventions we commonly see can be readily justified by the state-based view. For example, no, we didn't see widespread deployment of insecticidal nets in the US, but, yes, we did see deliberate effort to achieve and good returns from achieving a low burden of infectious disease in the US. No, we didn't have women's self-help groups, but, yes, we did achieve a state of increased gender equality and of increased integration of women into the formal economy.

TL;DR: Why would we expect the same actions to produce the same end state given different starting states?

AMA: "The Oxford Handbook of Social Movements"

Another book in this area is Handbook of Social Movements Across Disciplines. Unfortunately, I'm most of the way through and it's a bit underwhelming.

Against anti-natalism; or: why climate change should not be a significant factor in your decision to have children

Here's a half-baked argument for natalism vis-à-vis climate change:

Carbon emissions in the highly developed countries most EAs live in are generally trending in the right direction (i.e. there seems to be at least relative decoupling between emissions and consumption). The bulk of emissions growth over the next several decades will be in other large, rapidly developing countries like India and China. Green technology transfer is a way that highly developed countries can positively influence emissions in the critical rapidly developing countries (see e.g. this). Economic models generally propose that a larger population generates more ideas and a higher rate of technological change (e.g. Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990). Therefore, the (smallish?) direct impact of increased emissions from greater population in highly developed countries might be outweighed by more green technology and technology transfer to the crucial rapidly developing countries like China and India.

Harsanyi's simple “proof” of utilitarianism

Thanks for writing this up!

For those interested in more info:

Chloramphenicol as intervention in heart attacks

Chloramphenicol is an approved drug, but not approved for this purpose. Approving Chloramphenicol as a coronary treatment requires human trials that will probably cost $25 million.

I am extremely far from an expert here so there may be some subtlety, but off-label uses are generally possible. From Wikipedia:

However, once a drug has been approved for sale for one purpose, physicians are free to prescribe it for any other purpose that in their professional judgment is both safe and effective, and are not limited to official, FDA-approved indications. This off-label prescribing is most commonly done with older, generic medications that have found new uses but have not had the formal (and often costly) applications and studies required by the FDA to formally approve the drug for these new indications.

Edit: The full post at the link acknowledges this:

As an approved drug (though for another purpose) any doctor can prescribe Chloramphenicol for any purpose. Of course, they don’t know to do this. And — perhaps more importantly — such bold action can get American doctors sued for malpractice.

Thoughts on electoral reform

I just finished reading Democracy for Realists recently which argues that:

They demonstrate that voters—even those who are well informed and politically engaged—mostly choose parties and candidates on the basis of social identities and partisan loyalties, not political issues. They also show that voters adjust their policy views and even their perceptions of basic matters of fact to match those loyalties. When parties are roughly evenly matched, elections often turn on irrelevant or misleading considerations such as economic spurts or downturns beyond the incumbents’ control; the outcomes are essentially random. [...]

Achen and Bartels argue that democratic theory needs to be founded on identity groups and political parties, not on the preferences of individual voters.

I'm not fully settled on how much weight to give to this perspective, but I think it's important to remember the empirical facts of voting as it happens in the real world and not just the idealizations of social choice theory. Presumably this leads to a quite different notion of the optimal electoral system and the optimal series of electoral reforms.

(This isn't meant to say that the social choice theory perspective and the points brought up in this post are unimportant. I just thought it was an interesting book and a good reminder to look at this whole other set of criteria.)

If you (mostly) believe in worms, what should you think about WASH?

A few of the summary points in Safe Drinking Water for Low-Income Regions are interesting and may provide reason for a bit of pessimism:

  1. Safe drinking water from “source to sip” consists of a series of interactions between technologies, their delivery models, their scales and costs of production, and consumer uptake and consistent use. Safe drinking water is a system, not a product or an intervention.
  1. It seems unlikely that household treatment and safe storage systems—with the possible exception of boiling—can be transformative at scale under current prices, delivery models, and preferences, but they are effective and protective in specific contexts.
  1. Cost analyses for “low-cost” systems are usually reported on a partial basis, with installation costs and some operational costs included. The enabling costs of social marketing, mobilization, education, reminders, and community- or household-based unpaid labor are mentioned but not explicitly accounted for.
  1. Delivery models and business models significantly affect costs and uptake, at all three scales of service. Yet they are rarely made explicit.
  1. Safe water systems can be highly effective, but consumers undervalue drinking water quality and have low willingness and/or ability to pay for safety. This is a particular challenge for arsenic mitigation or avoidance, as arsenicosis is only evident after several years of exposure.

Without an in-depth of understanding of either deworming or WASH, it seems like the implementation issues for WASH may be more severe?

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